Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Poets, Like Therapists, Need To Practice 'Self-Care'!

The Importance of Self-Care for Poets

I’m currently participating in a workshop at Rooster Moans (aka Poetry Coop) and the group energy has led to many mutual reflections, including one on self-care. The basic idea is that that poets, much like therapists, use empathy to emotionally connect with wrenching issues: suicide, abuse, life-changing loss, and many others. Therapists are taught to practice “self-care” as part of their training, and can seek support from networks of colleagues in professional environments. Poets, however, have no such training. They are often left to deal with painful psychic states alone, without guidance.

Not only that, the way that poets employ empathy is less regulated, as a matter of practice, than therapists. Therapists are taught to moderate how much they assume a client’s perspective. Poets, however, dive in with full leaps, chasing after their muses. Therapists talk of boundaries in terms of proper and necessary limitations. Poets seek to break through boundaries, riding the gallop of headlong passions. Like other artists, poets sometimes even talk of possession or channeling. Given these mind-plumbing shifts, such brave bards might be in need of significant self-care.

In the current workshop there are a number of writers who are absolutely courageous. One of them is attempting to translate the work of a foreign poet who focuses on AIDS. The act of translating another’s work is itself a psyche-dissolving task. You could lose your sense of identity, immersed in another’s perspective. Adding to the risk is the agony of dealing with AIDS and its repercussions: the physical misery, the grief of family, the idiocy of bureaucratic logjams, and so on. A therapist whose clients have AIDS-related issues would need to practice serious self-care--shouldn’t a literary translator, too?

More than a few of the other writers in the workshop are braving realms of terrible loss. Empathy is being turned inward to summon the most raw and candid expressions. Therapists avoid this technique in practice: the therapist’s insightful gaze is always outward, toward another person, someone whom they do not know personally, outside the therapeutic relationship.

This leads to a consideration of the axis of subjective versus objective. Only in certain classical forms of therapy, such as Freudian psychoanalysis, do therapists strive to remain entirely detached; however, the concept of objectivity helps therapists to form a connection with a client that is balanced: a level of empathic and emotional contact supported by collective institutional experience and clinical research. The very notion of objectivity provides a kind of aegis in the mental health field. It warns against ‘going too far’, immersing so deeply in a client’s pain that effective counseling is hampered.

What is objectivity to a poet? Something to be torn up into pieces to make a wild mosaic! Art and objectivity don’t mix. Instead, the poet embraces subjectivity, steps forward instead of back, in an attempt to find voice and manifest unique creative expressions. Subjectivity, in this sense, runs renegade from constrictive norms. It is the wild, wild west of the mind in contrast to the principled community of prudent order.

None of this is meant to disparage the work of therapists. I worked on a crisis hotline for thirteen years, in the capacity of a volunteer counselor and also as a trainer of volunteers; so I have had a taste of what therapists do, and I want to emphasize: therapists are some of the most virtuous people in the world, strong psychically and patiently giving. Their own issues do get triggered via their practice; and as part of their self-care they have to listen to their own hearts, deal with their own psychological history, in a way that provides catharsis and sublimation.

Therapists do scream into their pillows, but not 'on the job'. They might also turn to poetry, even as poets might turn to counseling, to deal with their own feelings.

Therapists are in constant contact with a wide range of suffering people. They work long hours, often with a large case load. Many of their clients might be in grave crisis, or on the verge of such crisis. The therapist sits face-to-face in close proximity with someone in dire psychic need, providing care, validation, and guidance. Dealing with anguish is the norm. Clients could even have physical wounds visible, such as cuts or bruises from abuse, trauma, or a recent suicide attempt.

Poets proceed very differently, but their modus operandi is also psychologically profound. Like therapists, poets use empathy to investigate heart-tearing subjects. The poet does so without a structure of professional boundaries and principles for protection; without objectivity as a moor; while embracing their soulful task as an ardent quest. They have no client/healer separation to rely on as a buffer. Their ‘client’ might be their own tear-stained eyes, staring back at them from the mirror. Poets, also, focus on loved ones such as family members or romantic partners, a line that therapists are forbidden to cross by ethical standards. In short, the poet’s methods dismantle the protections that keep counselors from getting lost in a boundary-less place, one beyond social constructs of identity and reality.

In a way that therapists are not, poets are on their own.

You are probably asking, “What do you mean, exactly, by self-care?”

First of all, I’m not an expert on this subject. I have only a few basic suggestions.

That said, the simple answer is: making time for yourself to engage in activities that regenerate and empower your spirits. Within this broad statement, every person must find their own salutary path. In counseling circles, a supportive group of colleagues is considered wonderful for self-care. Self-care does not mean having to be alone or isolated. Poets talking with other poets, bolstering each other’s self-esteem, might be an excellent salve.

Another option is counseling. Many therapists have therapists. I personally wish we all had a good therapist. A nonjudgmental, accepting listener who helps one find a personalized healing path is so special.

Aside from those suggestions, we all have activities, hobbies, or impulses that pull us. It is important that these are done FOR YOU--not for your partner, not for your kids, not for anyone else. Self-care is not code for put-others-first care. When I worked on the hotline, some of our volunteers who took time to rest ended up supporting relatives or friends, or volunteering at other places!

You might have already figured out that the key element of self-care is time. You have to make time for you, no one else--you. Maybe that means going to a concert and hanging out with good friends--or maybe it means taking a nap. Whatever works! There is a corollary to this freedom, though: activities that are part of unhealthy cycles, such binge drinking, don’t count as self-care. Such Faustian bargains with your subconscious might allow you to keep going as a poet for a while, but only at a very destructive cost, to yourself and others as well.

Without self-care, therapists become less effective and eventually burn out. I am fairly certain a similar effect applies to poets. We are woefully behind therapists in recognizing the psychological ramifications of our scary, daring, ecstatic journeys of soul. It is important for us to be good to ourselves, not only as a mode of regeneration, but to enhance the fulfilment of the artistic journey as well!

Thanks for reading!


PS: The workshop is: Gilding the Lily: The Roots That Clutch, taking place on poetrycoop.com.

PPS: Many thanks to Cindy (last name unknown), Kim Peter Kovac, and Maureen Alsop from the workshop for helping me to forumlate these ideas!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Last Poem Ever In Bolts of Silk!!


After 8 years of publishing sensuous, animal-friendly poems, Bolts of Silk is closing up shop. It is a bittersweet moment as I was informed that my poem "Elemancy" has been posted, and is probably going to be one of the last few poems ever to be presented on the site. Editor Juliet Wilson certainly deserves a rest, and I am happy for her that she will have more time to use her prodigious energies in any way she wants. She will be continuing with her very popular blogs, such as Crafty Green Poet (craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com).

She informed me that Bolts of Silk will remain available as an archive. Over the years, twenty-three of my poems have been published in BoS. I may be the poet most-published in the journal! It is a momentous change, especially coupled with my resolve to spend most of my mental fuel working on my novel. It may be time in which my own poetry activity changes.

Best of luck to Juliet Wilson! Bolts of Silk lives on as a presence on the web, and in my heart.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Poem: Who Will Hear?

I was honored to run a poetry workshop at the 7th annual Rainbow Ball, held at the University of Maine, Machias, over the weekend. The event, attended by high school students throughout the region and Maine, celebrated LGBT and other gender/sexual diversities, providing entertainment and crucial information.

The theme for the Rainbow Ball was superheroes, and my workshop was titled, "Words as Wings, Spells and Other Superheroic Things!!"

Below is a poem I wrote for the workshop, in lieu of a lecture. The poem, by example, attempts to show the place of the craft in realms both personal and political. The kids I worked with were awesome, open and precocious. Many of them wrote heart-searing poems right there in the workshop!



Who Will Hear?

i want to be heard by you
more than anyone
but it seems you are less likely to hear me
than anyone,
and that is part of my shout
as i write this.
but i do know one thing:
someone will hear this poem--someone will.
i’m not sure who or where
but i am not the only one
who has felt the brick wall
of a shoulder turning away;
who has felt the iron gate
of family or community, locking shut.
some people close their thoughts
within layers of fear
to keep who i am from getting in.
this poem is me daring to speak.
this poem is my courage,
singing out in a world that
is often ugly in the ways it perceives.
as i write these words,
i realize there is one person
who needs to hear them
more than anyone else--and that is me.
i deserve to embrace my own voice
and my own right to shout out
and to sing and laugh--
to be proud of who i am.
it does not matter
if this poem earns someone else’s high grade.
just by writing down what I feel, what I think--
that makes this poem special,
and it reminds me that I am special,
and through all the emotions
and all experiences that i will have throughout my life;
and all the joys and hopes; the loves
and sweet memories; and also the
frustrations and fears, and
the walls of ears that just won’t hear me,
through all this,
throughout everthing,
i am beautiful --
just the way i am.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Acceptance: Five Quarterly ... Almost (!?)


Five Quarterly (also referred to as 5Q) has five new editors every quarter. They select only five poems and five stories for the issue. The stratagem behind this is explained quite well on site:

Founded in 2012, Five Quarterly is an online literary project that invites readers of all kinds to participate in our editorial process and offers writers a place where they can feel comfortable and excited about submitting their most personal work. Each quarter, five new guest editors ultimately select five poems and five pieces of fiction for online publication. We hope that this model will help to introduce fresh perspectives, diversify the face of publishing, and encourage an expanding literary community. (website: ABOUT section)

Nearby is the ultra-cool motto:

Five new poems. Five new stories. Five new editors.

Speaking as someone who has submitted poetry over the last twelve years--seemingly everywhere--I want to say: 5Q is indeed original. The dynamic built into the raison d'etre is geared to throw branches of community far and wide. Truly remarkable. Vastly memorable.

There is only one potential downside. However, Founders Vanessa Gabb and Crissy Van Meter have a more-than-satisfactory solution.

Let me spell out this potential problem--which, again, has already been defused by Gabb and Van Meter--in a case study. This will be my first case study ever! In fact, maybe I have just invented a new discipline, a new -ology: the study of the organizational structure of literary journals: journalology.

Anyway, here is my very first case study.

Case Study for 5Q

Assume the five editors for a 5Q issue have very different tastes, and each picks only one poem for the issue (remember, only five poems appear). It would seem, then, that most poets who submit are competing for a single slot. Why? Only one editor (at most) will have the same style-preference as any hopeful poet. The odds of acceptance, in this case study, are slipping over the rim of the big zero.

I want to drag out, uh, I mean elaborate the analysis of the case study a little bit more. Let's do some empirical research!

The latest issue of 5Q is Winter 2014. Who are the five editors? Are they likely to have diverging tastes? Or do they seem likely to share preferences?

Here are shortened versions of their bios (from p.2):

Jason Kichline is the Emmy award-winning producer of the web-tv series Reporting Aids.

Mary Sotnick ... is Executive Director of Watermark.

Lara Taubman Wisniewski is an arts editor and curator.

Eric Vasquez works as an Art Director at World Wrestling Entertainment.

David Whelan ... lives and writes in London.

Looking at this quintet of guest editors, I sense some serious dissonance. These folks might well have very divergent tastes. In fact, my speculation is that they each started with control over two slots in the Winter issue: one poetry and one story. Possibly, they traded picks among themselves, like corporations swapping carbon credits. In any case, they each were the sole deciders of just a few slots in the zine.

Now, let's do a quick rundown of the five poems in the Winter 2014 issue. Are they similar? Or very different? Will there be five very-different styles on display?

I want to start by saying that all five poems are extremely good. The 5Q method is superb for maxing quality. It's kinda frightening actually, how superlative these poems are (and how devastating to my ego as an artist).

First in the line-up is “girls girls girls” by David Blumenshine. Trust me, almost no poem ever written could compete with this one (and certainly nothing of mine). This is a wild, dark fugue that romps and seduces and dramatically bashes through a thin-skinned maze of emotions. In short, it spikes the reader along at least several psychological indices.

The next poem, presented in a different font, is Clay Cantrell’s Stray Dog Blues and Others (subtitle: for Robert Barbour). This is lyrical and enspelling; tender with pain and heart-waltzing. Although sometimes feverish, it does not flirt with tantrums like “girls girls girls.” Conclusion: Very very different poem.

Third is “Due” by Ashleigh Lambert. This wrestles the reader with supple arms of anguish and anxiety, revealing a cruelness even inside its kindness--and yet ultimately revealing the fear and pain of a troubled state of pregnancy. New font. Beautiful, poignant, vicious voice. Nothing like its predecessors.

Fourth, “Missing School As a Sick Child” by John McKernan. I was immediately struck by the unique use of visual space. This poem is nostalgic yet nuanced by philosophical ornaments. It is somewhat like prose, dominated by powerful figures, and a child’s small sense of identity. And yet another new font. So far, all the poems are camping out in different geographies.

Finally, “FOURSQUARE: METAPOETICS” by Anthony Ramstetter, Jr. This is the most structured of the five poems, divided, as in algebra, by a mantissa and abscissa--and yet it also captures bathyal thought-patterns with stark lucidity. It madly theorizes with the abandon of Dionysus turning into Freud (“Anything naked has its greatest agency when it is approaching disappearance”). In sum, it does a nasty pole dance around the straight-laced cross in the center.

There you have it, the full Case Study! My conclusion: the five poems and the five editors are very different. Hence, it is quite likely that any poet who submits to 5Q is hunting after a single available slot, one that only comes up once a quarter. Not only that, the poems in 5Q are exceedingly fine. If you are not in top form, you have zilch chance of getting in. Imagine a galaxy-wide deep six wastebasket.

However, and this is a HUGE “however,” the brilliant Founders, Vanessa Gabb and Crissy Van Meter, have found a way to turn exclusivity into wonderful inclusivity. They actually make rejection a way to expand participation in their project. This is just pure genius!! How?

If your poem makes it to the final round of the editors’ readings, and yet doesn’t get accepted, you still get published--in a sister journal called Almost Five Quarterly (A5Q). Not surprisingly, A5Q is pretty darn busy, publishing a piece every week. From the site:

Though 5Q guest editors ultimately have to pass on so many excellent submissions per issue, each week our team showcases work(s) that reached the final round of guest editor readings. Because of the nature of our project, we only offer ten spots per quarter, so almost totally counts in our book. We like to think of A5Q as that dope sister restaurant next door where you could go for food just as good. Check out our current issue and happenings at fivequarterly.org.


I am happy to report that my poem, “Irises In a Portrait” will be hanging out at the “dope sister restaurant”! There’s a big backlog, so it won’t be appearing until July 4. But this will be the happiest Independence Day of my literary life!

It is obvious that Editors--uh, I mean Founders--Gabb and Van Meter have to be brilliant: they have writers crooning in ecstasy after being rejected by them!

My apologies, but I am going to regress into sheer praise and astonishment:

5Q is a mighty, mighty awesome journal!!!

And, also, Viva la A5Q!


Friday, April 4, 2014

Release: Blast Furnace Volume 4 Issue 1

With a theme of Magical Mystery, the latest issue of Blast Furnace has published! How happy I am that my poems "Birch" and "Behavioral Drift" are included. To see them, and the wonderful work of the other contributors, you can follow this link:


The guest editor is Stefanie Wielkopolan, whose first book of poetry, Border Theory, is available from Coffee Bean Press.

"Behavioral Drift" is actually a poem about flames in a woodstove. It gets mighty cold here in remote Maine, and I sit watching the fire dance fairly often. There are plenty of birch trees around, too; hence, "Birch." It is written in the magical-realist style of Neruda and Lorca. Here is the first stanza, which hopefully will entice you:


obelisk of elephant eyes,
silk of muscular currents,
papyrus of the trunk,


There are many metaphorical transformations, all praising this incredible tree, in the poem. It contains the word "ambrosine," which I have stored in the back of my mind for years, waiting for a special moment to use. It finally happened!

Dear reader, Be good to yourself as we journey through this incredible miracle called Life.


PS: See my blog entry on March 31 for more on Blast Furnace and its stupendous Editor, Rebecca Clever.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Release: Wilderness House Literary Review, Volume 9 Number 1

Wilderness House has just released its first issue of its ninth year of publication. I'm very pleased that three of my poems are included ("Post Feast," "Last Impressions Of Some Clerk," "Burn Victim").

I recommend you peruse all the contributors' poetry, for a delightful and edifying variegation. However, here is the direct link to my work, as time is often imperious:


I'm getting on a plane tomorrow, to go from Los Angeles to Maine, and I am not certain if I will be able to walk. I might have to do it in a wheelchair. I don't care, I just want to get back. I wish the pains that keep cropping up in various parts of my feet, crippling pains, would simply subside. But when one goes, another seems to rear up. It's very cruel of fate to let me think I will soon be walking again--and then to insert another crippling pain the next morning.

It's been going on for a couple months, and has worn me down psychologically. Bargaining, anger, depression, denial, cheery displacement--they rotate in the carousel of my mind. It's a bizarre and intense lesson about the nature of reality, and how my thoughts interact with it. I can't say it's fun, or that it is ultimately good for me, or my health, not at all--but it fills me with vehement emotions that I can barely, sometimes, channel into my writing. Maybe that channeling, ultimately, is the only positive aspect.

The worst of it all is that I have become a whiny creature, when others have it far worse than me. But I have to process.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Acceptance: Blast Furnace Press


It is a tremendous thrill to have two of my poems (“Birch” and “Behavioral Drift”) accepted by Blast Furnace Press, run by its more-than-competent Editor, Rebecca Clever. This journal is, in itself, such a happy story. In 2010, I was lucky to find it setting up shop on the web. I knew right away BFP was going to be special (see my old blog entry!). Now, in 2014, Blast Furnace is a new member of CLMP, has almost 150,000 hits, and was recently put on a top ten list of internet poetry venues:


More important than all that, Ms. Clever emanates a scintillant positive energy. She is excited by and intensely involved in the sheer beauty of poetry as an art form; and she is charismatic in sharing her enthusiasm with contributors and interviewees.

Speaking of which, her latest interview, with Susanna Childress, is an absorbing, emotional read. Childress effervesces with appreciation for the craft. She speaks with a noble virtuosity, spending a great deal of time on Barbara Hamby, who helped her organize the poems for her book, Jagged with Love. This book won two major prizes (one selected by Billy Collins, US poet laureate). But I want to go back to Childress’ praise of Ms. Hamby, which is so well-written and so full of candid appreciation that it touched me. There was something salubrious in this lack-of-egoism, something I don’t see much in the world today. And, indeed, Ms. Hamby seems another person who selflessly gives, completing a wonderful circle of mutual care.

The truth is, no poet is great alone. Great poets have opened up to feedback, suggestion and alteration. This takes an open heart, and a two-way empathy in a critical yet sensitive dynamic. An astute observer can sometimes see a soul-level ‘voice’ trying to break free, even before the author. We are subconscious creatures, after all, largely controlled by forces below our surface appraisal.

There are important lessons in this for humanity. Humble interactions, enriched by deeply listening, can lead to exquisite expressions of release and truth.

Indeed, we tend to deny the truth in ourselves daily, as part of the requirements of quotidian life.

Having gone on about this, I understand now what I most want to say. All editors are, by their position, giving people, who spend a great deal of time with others’ poems; but there are some who immerse in working with others, striving to bring about mutually beneficial relationships. The goal is not self-aggrandizement, nor is the behavior affected or artificial. As someone like Ms. Clever helps others, listens to others, promotes others, her own trajectory tends to rise on its own. This is the kind of magical chemistry that bolsters the success of Blast Furnace Press. I’m not a person who is naturally inclined to giddiness, but when I think of BFP’s journey, I can’t help but feel a little elevation in my pulse.

You’ll find this editor open to reading your submissions no matter your standing or status, beginner through veteran. It’s a very special venue, a true standout, in the poetosphere.

Many hoots of approval to Ms. Clever!



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poem: The Real

Kenny Cole, in his Parabellum project for UMMA (see previous blog post), used several of my poems, two of which have never before been published. One of those poems is below. The theme is in the spirit of Cole's anti-war, anti-conformity message, heartily expressed through provocative art.

To see all the poems in Parabellum, go here:


Fly Well In the Dark,



The Real

it hurt it hurt it hurt
the lack of heaven
in the slow dance of the sky.

the blurbs fairytales peddled and
politicians proclaimed,
and an entire culture lapped up and thought,


even entered the outer
perimeter of Truth,
or bore witness to the manufactured evil
in the pits between its spires.

if there was a god
who didn’t on the chains of souls fascinate,
she was chastised, marginal,

a swift flimsy icon
saddled with an impossible task:

to make the Good strong
and nurture trust
by sharing her breasts of bread.

real gods had knives--in their mean tongues,
in the cut precision
of the fat on their diamonds.

they slashed without law,
gutting the quests of the young,
swilling the scarlet of war.

the coinage and smear
of beauty and city spoke to the truth:
violence was the real Jesus.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

'Parabellum' Gets Another Rave Review

Latest Review of Parabellum

Another review has come out of Kenny Cole’s Parabellum exhibit at the University of Maine Museum of Art, which includes several of my poems. All the reviews are tremendously positive, focusing on Kenny’s brilliance, the multi-layered, many-dimensioned nature of the artwork.

A wonderful aspect of this work of genius is its thoroughly anti-war, anti-jingoism theme.

My participation in this project is entirely due to Cole's generosity. He could have used any poet, or even his own phrases. Indeed, I consider him as much a poet as an artist, as I have stated in this blog (various links are below).

I do get mentioned in the reviews, which has been most heartening. For instance, from the latest review, by Daniel Kany:

The texts inside the paintings are from the poems of [Owl Who Laughs]. While I was trying to understand the poetic fragments, I read them out loud. It was only then that their tenderly plaintive lusciousness (imagine the tears of a beloved child) was fully – and movingly – revealed.

“Dense and Masterful ‘Parabellum’ at University of Maine Museum of Art”

A link to another review is below, plus directions to Kenny’s website, where you can find samples from the exhibit. Over two-hundred surfaces were painted and organized into a layered format, including gouaches and authentic 19th century newspaper. Viewers were allowed to open/close the canvases, as you would a book, to reach various depths of presentation. My poetry occurs beneath all else, at the hidden-most point of thought and sensation.

To read the poems included in Parabellum, you can go to Kenny’s website. I’m greatly honored that he posted them:


It is wonderful to get recognition, and yet much of my journey as a poet is quite painful. I steadily confront the saddest topics, and the greatest dangers to our future. Sometimes I question the importance of what I am doing. I simmer in doubt within my solitude. In the end, this is part of the gamut of psychic challenges I decided to accept. The poet, or artist, dares to ride a pendulum of feelings, and even tries to become more sensitive, attuned to laughter, rage or wailing, as these bubble up from the mind’s living caverns.

It is a complex pursuit. Perhaps I am somewhat like a monk flagellating himself. We all have many voices in us, and they are not always consonant. To balance their energies is to juggle pluses and minuses. I think poetry wears me down in some ways, and lifts me up in others. Am I ultimately selfish or sacrificial? I hope the truth lies somewhere between, beyond the false dichotomy.

Be good to yourself and seek the good,



Link to Kenny Cole’s site, re: Parabellum:


Review links:



Some of my thought on Kenny Cole and/or Parabellum:





Monday, March 17, 2014

Poem: Howl

This is a slightly altered version of a poem that originally appeared in Negative Suck.

Carry Forth (or should I say forthright?),




a shock of straw
pokes a parchment maze.

out of cold boney muscles
a random scarecrow climbs,
its feet the aftermath of coyote
on rabbit.

free us say the curves
of a tarnished aluminum bay.
dreadnoughts of cumulus
hold the world against their fat.

under greenblack
bleachers of spruce,
conic skulls vie
with shit-out pips of raspberry.

sluggish deer
rue a bevy of ticks,
which nudge like little bishops
on a board of juicy squares.

tibias of birch, once the legs of a wolf,
which tribes, now dead, skinned
to clad the stomachs of sleek canoes,
long rotted,