Friday, April 30, 2010

Poem: Rain In The Streets

This poem appeared very recently in Poetry Friends ( Editor Susan Culver has an uncanny knack for choosing my very best poems and rejecting bad submissions.

Honestly, this poem is, right now, one of my top ten picks from all the poems (thousands) I have written.

This is how I FEEL about life, one of my many sides, anyway.



Rain In the Streets

stripped-down gargoyles.
a thirsty cubism
of the grotesque.

carnage polishing
the apathy of tar.
buffing a phalanx
of windshield frowns.

the sizzle dense
as circles writhe away,
boulevards of tangles
ingested by iron.

people shrivel to fret
in a brick-laden algebra,
afraid of the shapeless
freedom from the sky,

reminded of their squelched pulse
and the storms in heartbeats.
histories of desire
as prolific and censored as rain.


gush into buried pipes,
babbling to feed nothing at all:
dead ends, paper trails,
the roots of money--


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Acceptance: Skyline Review

Skyline Review editor Victoria Valentine contacted me recently about one of my poems (“Innerness”). At the time, I had forgotten about my submission (it had been almost a year), so this came as a wonderful surprise. Editor Valentine explained that she had stepped away from publishing due to unwanted necessity, but was now back in business.

It is a sign of true dedication when an editor returns to us whiny poets after a personal hardship. It’s a tough job and there’s rarely profit in it (but see below, you’ll be amazed!). Good editors are akin to starving artists. The medium they use to create their art is written work gleaned from many souls, a palette of rare passions well-expressed.

This is especially true in Valentine’s case. A google search turns up praise and positive reviews for her journey as a one-women publishing virtuosa, who for years produced perhaps the most aesthetic literature magazine the print world has known.

Valentine’s magazines are true works of art formed not just by her great aptitude for wordcraft but also a stunning sense of color, image, format and space.

Her accomplishments, however, are not limited to management. Valentine possesses a powerful and wide-ranging skill, which has resulted in a novel and a children's book in addition to her publishing press and magazines. She has somehow run this conglomerate single-handedly (though her daughter sometimes helps out).

If you add all this up, Valentine emerges as one of the great entrepreneurs of the small press. At one time, she achieved a nation-wide circulation of about 10,000.

You HAVE to be impressed. Here’s part of the Wikipedia entry on Water Forest Press, run by Valentine:

“Water Forest Press is an independent book publisher located in rural Pennsylvania. Water Forest Press was created by Victoria Valentine, as an imprint of Skyline Publications. Skyline Publications produced print magazines that were retired in 2004. Water Forest Press replaced Skyline Magazines with Skyline Review, Literary House Review & Hudson View Poetry Digest books. Skyline Publications published monthly literary magazines that were distributed nationwide in stores, libraries, universities and homes, with a readership of approximately 10,000 per issue. “A Tribute To America” issue (dedicated to 9/11) was reprinted three times. All proceeds from the Tribute Issue were donated to local fire houses to purchase needed equipment.”

As far as I can tell, her adventure began in 2001, when she initiated Skyline Publications. In less than ten years, she created a literary venture of countrywide proportions. This despite competition from the internet and academic journals with university funding. (See the Wikipedia entry on “Victoria Valentine” for more).

I just have to say WOW again.

How did she reach a circulation of 10,000, you might ask? The answer is quality literature combined with fantastic visuals and sensuous details.

Go here to see a sample, and also to experience Valentine’s eloquence as she describes the magazine and entices potential readers:

Here are some other relevant links:



I am going to end with part of the email I sent as a response to the acceptance notification. Please consider buying a copy of Skyline Review or another of Skyline imprints. Victoria Valentine has done something almost impossible: produce works of art so lovely and captivating that they conclude the necessity of keeping beautiful paper journals alive.

Excerpt from my email:

“I spent the last hour researching you and your publishing journey, finding, among other things, the Wikipedia entry on Water Forest Press, essays by you, interviews, and a review in Feminist Review. I work hard on my poems and I was concerned because some paperbound magazines today accept most anyone and make ignoble profit selling expensive copies to contributors.

I was absolutely wrong to even consider this possibility in your case. I did nothing but show how na├»ve and uninformed I am. You are a true legend and a great publisher, who has demonstrated incredible fortitude. You’re also a very talented writer and ‘interior designer’ when it comes to the style of your magazines. The way you craft sentences, even for the mere purpose of conveying information, is most aesthetic and speaks to your ability. From what I can ascertain on the internet, yours are some of the most beautiful covers and zines I have seen.

This is a skill that is almost lost, I think; but the treasures you publish make all the argument anyone needs to keep this form of literary expression alive.

I thought I would share the above because I hope it is as full of praise as I think, and secondly I am going to try to somewhere find the money to purchase at least a copy of the upcoming issue of Skyline Review. This is the first time I will have bought a copy in which my work appears in many years. Like most all dedicated artists, working at it full time, I barely scrape by.

Thank you again. I’m honored to be included, and do contact me if there is anything more I can do.

Most Sincerely,
[Owl Who Laughs]”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Poem: Accountant

The following poem, “Accountant,” appeared in print in a bittersweet way. You can find it in the last regular issue of Mannequin Envy:

Mannequin Envy is a fantastic journal, headed up by Jennifer Van Buren. It will release one last special “best of” issue sometime this Spring and then cease to publish. I was very honored and even touched to get this acceptance. Adding to the joy, my poems were placed alongside those of Arlene Ang, one of my favorite poets of all time.

I emailed back and forth with Editor Van Buren a while ago, and she said that Mannequin Envy might re-appear someday. It’s a great loss to the online literary world to see it end, but Van Buren and other editors who pour their soul into their zine aren’t getting paid. They are seldom thanked by writers, who are often focused on pubs and don't appreciate those who make the poetry world a beautiful place.

If you have time, read some issues of Mannequin Envy and email Editor Van Buren your thoughts and feelings. Nominations are still open for the final ‘Best Of’ issue. You’ll feel good about it, and you’ll be giving a very worthy person much deserved praise.




the aching lack of quiet
in his fidgety eyes,
which dust spreadsheets for hours,
striving to cleanse the last contrary motes—
this is what replaced
spirited battles with mastodons,
and he feels castrated by the change,
sterilized beneath the shaved jawline
of his mathematical analysis of nothing.

for that is what
penny and dollar signs are:
squiggles and scintilla.
and the numbers after them
just teeth in keys of ink,
a way to open illusory gates.
everyone must walk through those gates,
forgo unsmeared stars
to inhale equations born in a lining
of muffler puke.

there’s magic in the little numbers,
and his bittersweet fingers
cater to them fast.
to please them is to bed
one half of god, to decrypt any question
except the one which suggests
that the numbers themselves


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Shangri-la of Poetry Mags: The Centrifugal Eye

When I started this blog, I was uncertain who-what-where-when it would be about. But as I’ve continued, a central purpose (among others) has evolved: praising good editors. We writers really ought to thank these wonderful people more. Let’s face it, editors are far more important to the poetry community than individual poets. They collect the best offerings from our souls and array them into amazing statements of verbal beauty, much as a sculptor molds clay, except in the case of the editors, the raw material is the words of their chosen contributors.

This analogy is even more apt when the editor takes an active role in shaping the poems. However, in my experience this is very rare. An acceptance note is often as terse and formal as its commonplace cousin, the rejection slip. Even poets who ‘get in’ are often left with a sense of loneliness and distance. The requested poem appears in print silently, the new issue rises quiet as dawn, and then sinks into the archives. Those who expect a big moment of direct communication with another person are bound for disappointment.

In my eight years of submitting work, I’ve had a number of these moments, the pall of silence that occults the thrill of acceptance and prompts a sighed, “Is that it?”

Editors, of course, should ignore such whining. They work extremely hard behind the scenes. Dialoguing with poets more than slightly is beyond the pale of human stamina. It is “supererogatory,” if you want to use the jargon of professional ethicists.

However, not long ago I chanced upon such an editor, one who achieved the state of personal interaction we poets dream of. Not only did I receive the lucky acceptance letter from her, I was told I would receive proofs to ponder. Well, no big deal. Diligent editors sometimes supply proofs. It takes extra effort and signals professionalism, but isn’t extraordinarily rare.

The proofs came and I opened the file with a tingle of excitement (it’s always a special treat for me to see my words in the format of the journal, and to re-read them with a sense of pride. I worked hard for this, after all). I noticed right away that the editor, Eve Hanninen of The Centrifugal Eye, had inflicted color-coded notes on my precious poems.

Uh oh! Previous experience with pen-happy editors left me with a sting of dread. Never before had an editor suggested several changes without clashing with my sense of ownership. I’ve actually turned down acceptances where the editor attempted an “invasion of the body snatchers” maneuver, using my poem as host.

But then I took another glance, and another, at the suggestions offered by Editor Hanninen. Wow. They were subtle--yet powerful. Minor tweaks that enhanced the pieces. Could it be that after long years I had found that Shangri-la of magical acceptance? Not just an appreciative eye but a stare of deep and insightful understanding?

The answer is yes. Hanninen, and her Centrifugal Eye, became for me synonymous with a probing grasp of the personality, style and soul of her contributors’ poems. At first I was in shock, and my big ego swelled and soared; but eventually I realized how lucky I was to have found this moment in my literary journey. In my back-and-forth with Hanninen concerning the edits, I learned that she had a background as a professional in the art and literary worlds, and that she had turned to The Centrifugal Eye with full dedication as a cosmic vehicle (hence TCE’s logo of the swirling galaxy around an Eye) to showcase her passion for both visual and written mastery.

Honestly, I have never felt so validated on a person-to-person level by an editor. Not only is Hanninen exceptional, she seems to enjoy, even thrive off, the brutal pace needed to assemble her fine zine. When I offered her this perception, she replied as follows:

“You're very perceptive, [Owl Who Laughs]-- TCE is a thrilling journey for me. It's been nearly 5 years of non-stop creative endeavors and cultivation. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. ;) Richly-rewarding, during all the integrated processes, yet you're right: there are dramas and divas, heartbreaks, losses, and infinite stress. Despite all the latter pains, TCE has been not only an inanimate sculpture of my making, it's grown from the very start like a living garden of relationships. It's a community, without having to be a forum. On some fronts, it's a private dominion of my own, yet it's populated with artists and colleagues, many whom have become my friends. Yes, the end results always cheer me enormously, yet it's the processes that stimulate me most.”

As you can see from the above, TCE involves a whole team of versaholics, with Hanninen’s genius at the congenial helm. She seems to have found an optimal harmony of group gestalt, deadline fever, and the thrill of creating an impeccable magazine.

DO submit to this site. And DO it quickly, before a flood of submissions and contributor-interactions makes it impossible for Hanninen and her crack team to open the gates of Shangri-la to those who find her.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Letter To The Future

“A Letter To the Future,” is an essay I wrote, published in The Trumpeter, a venerable journal of ecosophy. It is probably the most passionate outpouring that will ever come from my soul, a vehement tirade against the status quo. The essence of the letter is an extended appeal to people in the future, apologizing for how badly my generation has behaved. How ashamed I am, and how hopeless I feel, except perhaps by transcending the barrier of time, reaching out to a healthy place, one not possible in today’s primitive culture of exploitation.

I was reminded of my essay by a video on YouTube, where a dark genius of a man (going by the name of WordedRite) is apologizing in a similar way. His arguments are better presented than mine, though he does not speak with my naked angst and the horrible eloquence it invoked in me:

It was strange to see someone reflect my sad perceptions. It took over ten years for me to bump into such a person, probably because I am a recluse. Earth First, I know, is full of tormented folks who hate what we have done. The Warlock-ish fellow, WordedRite, holds back slightly in terms of emotion to reach a wider audience. I, on the other hand, rant wildly and yet also poetically, issuing my first major jeremiad, maybe my last.

If I initiated an eco-tribe, it would be based on a motto of horror and revulsion at the behavior of today’s humanity. It would embrace a fierce urge to beg the gods to intervene, if there are gods. It would center on a heartfelt need to apologize to those coming after us, those saddled with a legacy of mass extinction, horrid pollution and war-mongering.

Not only that, our stupidity inflicts an indelible mark of failure. We are, to our consummate shame, the eternal example of what not to do. We have abused our power like greedy despots. We let our lust for “resources” and construction ruin the beauty of planet Gaia. We let techno-titillation numb and degrade our minds. We besmirched our souls with the shit of materialism.

I APOLOGIZE to the future for this.

It’s obvious that people in my time are like instinctive animals whose rationality and conscience has not overcome the visceral urge to breed, take, and expand--all leashed to the available food. We’re predictably expansive. Ironically, most of us end up crushed in poverty, while the rest bloat in wealth. This is the karma we have earned. The result of the ignorant vanity that infects our heads.

Here’s a quote from “A Letter To the Future,” capturing only a fraction of my eternal grief:

This letter is not addressed to anyone infused with the spirit of my era. I call out to those who have broken out of the vicious cycle, who escape epidemic ignorance, the kind that infects all levels of consciousness, resulting in egregious moral pathology and psychological dysfunction. Those I seek necessarily look upon my time as one ravaged beyond redemption by consummate greed, violence, oppression, and barbarism; they must see it as an age of unprecedented destruction and persecution, as a tortured time when humanity ruthlessly earned fitting condemnation as a cancer strangling all life on the planet Earth, indeed, sucking away the vitality of the great globe itself.

Long ago I made a pact with Honesty. On that day, I sold my soul. The buyer was a terrible, dangerous force, and gave me in return a special gift: to sing with all my heart to those who cared to hear.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Thick With Conviction Releases Its Latest Issue

Thick With Conviction has just released its latest issue, and it is surely worth a look:

The quality of this journal is a well-hidden secret. TWC (as it is often abbreviated) has placed a poem (by Paul Hostovsky) in the Best of the Net anthology, and won the Hiss Award in 2008. It also harbors some magical golden fruit: interviews with many of today’s most talented poets, stashed away in a special archive.

An interview with the mastermind behind Owl Who Laughs, including a very forgettable photo, can be found here:

The reason for this secrecy is TWC’s net address. The url is embedded in the complexities and annoyances of This means that google searches don’t typically turn up the site, and when you do find it, cutesy pop-ups interfere with your reading pleasure.

I importune the editors: CHANGE YOUR WEB ADDRESS.

Take a lesson from Joanna Valente, whose new journal Yes, Poetry! switched its url. It was Now it is simply:

TWC’s new addy would then be: -- and this great journal would get more of the attention it deserves.

Making TWC’s excellence all the more impressive is its history of being run by young yet very smart people. It was founded by Karina Bowman and Sara Blanton-Allison, who did not have huge resumes and tons of publications, only lots of pluck and gumption. Later, Kristina Marie Blanton joined as co-editor, and the Blanton sisters and Bowman ran the journal for years, turning it into a topnotch establishment.

When the Blantons moved on to other things, they turned TWC over to the capable hands of Kayla Middlebrook and Arielle Lancaster LaBrea, who are currently at the helm. Keep going you’re doing fantastic! ... Except,


A healthy happy economy, ripe with culture and art, will not be predicated on dominance and exploitation. It will thrive on the noble cooperative spirit that waits like a rosebud in the human quest.

Setuva Puma-Dancer, Dances with Gi

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lee Sharkey's Poem For Marion K. Stocking

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Maine’s First Lady, Karen Baldacci, hosted a tea for poets at the Blaine House, where I was given a copy of Lee Sharkey’s “In the wind.” This poem was written in honor of Marion K. Stocking, who died last year after an amazing tenure, decades long, as editor at Beloit Poetry Journal.

Beloit is one of the most prestigious and admired journals.

“In the wind” was first published in Maine Arts magazine, and Lee gracious permitted me to re-publish it here. It is a powerful testimony of remembrance, superbly wrought. But more importantly it presents a great depth of feeling, soulful in tribute and evocative of a beautiful timeless spirit.

I’ve read this piece over and over and it still calls to me. Lee has provided a monument to Marion Stocking in a few magical stanzas of well-chosen words.

I thank her greatly. And I hope all my life to humbly acknowledge the legendary excellence and dedication of Marion K. Stocking. Indeed, it is seriously possible that she is greatest poetry editor in the coming and the going.



In the wind
(for M K S)

If you walk the same path every day through the woods
clearing the way in your coming and going

you know when branches have fallen. Each branch downed
has a trace of the wind of descent vibrating through it.

In the time between coming and going,
in the rain of branches from the understory,

you can read the night, the wind, the lack of it,
what has happened back to happening.

The forest is sloughing dead to make room for the sun.
And you, bent there to gather branches,

have always been walking
the dark woods children hurry through

to get where they are going--
yet the forest is the coming and the going.

Lee Sharkey

(Lee allowed that her email be provided for comments)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unofficial Review: Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival

Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival
Augusta, Maine 2010

Below are some thoughts on the Festival, which I attended both days (Friday April 16 and Saturday April 17). It was held, as usual, at UMA in Jewett Hall and the Student Center.

I want to start with the strengths. There was some excellent poetry, including work by Maine’s Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl. Another star was Robin Merrill. These poets, and a few others, delved deep with superb craft and unique skill, never sounding pedantic, sentimental, or self-indulgent.

Another plus was the large number of attendees, especially Friday night, and the warmth and excitement they generated. The Festival was very well organized and the ambience was enjoyable. There was complimentary food that was quite toothsome. Not only that, Jewett Hall provided a backdrop of culture and art, enhancing the experience.

Finally, young and student poets were encouraged and promoted with awards and opportunities to read. The audience and the organizers all received them most warmly and enthusiastically. I believe the chief organizer was Ellen Taylor, who was clearly exceptional.

Now I want to mention some mixed elements.

The panel on Poetry & Economics, the centerpiece of Saturday’s schedule, had four very knowledgeable people, a group of experienced editors, publishers and/or book sellers. They provided great information. However, the overall effect was depressing and demoralizing.

All four speakers came across as ambivalent mandarins. On one hand, they praised poetry as a non-conformist expression of highest truth and angst; and yet they also emphasized that millions of poems are published every year, and that there is no way to wade through them. Also, many poets are bad poets without knowing it, and have unrealistic expectations.

Not only that, US culture is not highly rewarding of poets. At one point the audience was chagrined when it was pointed out we hadn’t bought (show of hands) the latest Pulitzer-winning collection.

At the nadir, one panelist claimed he was “jaded” and said to another panelist that he didn’t know how he or anyone could continue as a seller. This panelist also said that his ideal poet had a full-time job in the 'real' world, and fit poetry in around the cracks in a busy lifestyle.

It was depreciatory and even terrible. Imagine speaking at a major poetry event and bashing people who dedicate themselves to poetry.

Instead of inspiring us bards, the panel effectively slighted our importance. Their demeanor was one of exasperation and acquiescence, despite a flaccidly delivered idealism.

I want to mention one panelist in specific, and that is Gary Lawless. This fellow, to me, was the best of the four at speaking with passion, heart, and truth. He is obviously brilliant, and ought to be teaching poetry and the history of poetics.

He let me down at only one place, but it was crucial. When asked if the US was acting immorally in marginalizing poets, he said no, and gave a response that appealed to cultural relativism.

What he should have said, in my opinion, is: yes, the US has acted immorally in marginalizing poets. For instance, our shiny superficial culture of materialism is unhealthy and unwise, and is antithetical to the depth and profound soul-searching good poetry inspires.

The best thing about the panel was that it validated the essential importance of a certain kind of poetry: poetry that challenges the status quo with naked emotion and raw imagery aligned (though not didactically) with the highest virtues.

The next aspect of the Festival about which I was mixed: humor. There were a large number of funny poems. Chuckle-makers seemed, in fact, to be a central theme.

This might be due to a penchant for Henny-Youngman-style jokes by local legend Terry Plunkett, for whom the Festival is named.

Some of the humorous poems were exquisitely wrought and magnificently performed. Chris Fahy, in particular, showed mastery of this difficult art, as did Robin Merrill (yes, I’m mentioning her again).

The best laugh-sparkers tended, ironically, to have a ‘deep’ side as well as that je-nais-sais-quoi of superb comedy.

On the down side, there was a hefty serving of phrases that were saccharine and silly, lacking the special quality that engages the listener.

Perhaps the problem started Friday night when the featured administrative speaker, launching the Festival, started off with a good five minutes of Henny-Youngman-style jokes to honor the habits of Dr. Plunkett.

This ridiculous antic belied the deeper purpose of poetry (as expressed, say, by the panel of four mavens) and set the wrong tone for a serious artistic event, in my humble opinion.

Poetry is Neruda, Lowell, Plath, Sexton and the wit of Collins. Not cutesy blurbs that would be at home on Sesame Street.

This brings me to the worst part about the conference: a great deal of vapid unpolished work.

Again, I have to mention the administrator who launched the Festival with his speech. He peppered the audience with many minutes of one-liners; presented a portraiture to a retiring friend of his, also an administrator (many minutes more); and ended with a long spiel about his own personal philosophy of life: people are all selfish and poets are simply selfish people who get more out of writing poems than making money.

It was, I am sorry to say, a misuse of critical time, which painted poetry as a personalized dalliance and poets as quotidian narcissists. I was extremely disappointed.

As a professional philosopher, let me say this: it makes no sense to say that everyone is selfish (the word loses meaning if you do). Clearly some people are more respectful of feelings than others, allowing a straightforward definition of selfish vs. unselfish. The administrator, de facto, was very disrespectful of poets and quite presumptuous in his faux erudition concerning egoism (the theory that people should be, or are, selfish).

Can you tell I am tired of conceited bureaucrats?

Anyway, there was a good deal of tedious poetry. Hours of it. It was hard to sit and listen as poet after poet dowsed us with a turgid explanation of their ethos wrapped in clumsy polysyllabic phrase.

One invited guest spent fifteen minutes steeped in the equivalent of vituperation, slamming her home town on all fronts: the people, the attitudes, the cleanliness, the politics, the backwardness--and so on. As if to mitigate these long minutes of sesquipedalian attack, she made sure to use a famous line from Milton, explaining that heaven could be hell or in her case, hell could be heaven.

Another debacle occurred when a doyen of a local poetry community said that 16-year-olds have not yet earned the right to feel sorry for themselves. This callous generalization extinguished any inclination I had to appreciate his darkly existential (and self-absorbed) poems.

I suppose the general mediocrity of the prose (it was mostly all prose work, kin to the short story) is acceptable, given the purpose of the Festival to build community and give voice to a wide variety of folks. However, those of us seeking excellence were left wanting much more. By the end, I felt like starving beggar who had been handed a few orts, then cudgelled repeatedly about the head.

All in all, the Festival provided a few jewels and plenty of opportunities to network (for instance, Henry Braun was there, a true legend of national importance). It also encouraged young poets and warmly opened its arms to wordsmiths of all backgrounds across the state.

In the end, I would ask, mainly, for two improvements: (1) Allow a seasoned passionate poet, not an administrator, to give the first speech, (2) Invite (pay for) a few more exceptional poets, while reducing the time allotted to the precious repeat performers and other invited guests.

Participants included:


Claire Hersom
Gary Lawless
Mark Melnicove
Alice Persons
Carol Kontos (Facilitator)



Betsy Sholl
Chris Fahy
Dan Burt
Ellen Taylor


Robin Merrill
Dawn Potter
George Van De Venter
Jim Thatcher
Carol Bachofner
Ted Bookey
George Drew
Geraldine Cannon
Jeffrey Thomson
Robert Chute
Herb Coursen

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Poem: Ghost In The Machine

The last few days I have been traveling and attending the Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival in Augusta, which is Maine's big event during National Poetry Month. I'm not the most gregarious or socially agile soul, and it is rather difficult of me to hover on the fringes; but here I am, experiencing a modicum of really good poetry and a larger soporific dose of rather mediocre work.

(You can see from the above statement why I am not a wonderful networker).

Anyway, the following poem was published in Thieves Jargon, a streetwise online zine with a deserved reputation for lean mean quality work.

Thanks for reading.



Ghost In the Machine

i am red squid and pink squid
tangled together around bone,
and two breathing graves.

i am a cauliflower of fireworks
on spliced cable
which branches down
to spark in palms and soles.

i am in denial,
fancying myself more than illusion,
not wyrm or will-o’-wisp,

making decrees
and snickering to sneer,
pooh-poohing the clues.

a magistrate
unaware of his perch,
or the depth of its weight,

ignorant of his codex,
denying the source
of all he tries.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poem: Church Memory

Here is a poem I recently published in a wonderful journal affiliated with SUNY Albany called Offcourse. (see blog entry in December 09 for more)

If you read through this poem (which took five months to edit) you'll find that my childhood experience of being a Catholic wasn't all that hunky-dory.



Church Memory

people like llamas,
unseen from the neck down,
taut in the stanchion of the pews.
slaughter animals,
like the man nailed to the boards above us,
the lurk of torture
in the vaults and groins,
the sword-and-angel frescoes.

the blood-red chasuble
dominating the priest’s white,
like a silk leech on the scruff.
the fang-sharp latin.
the bloodlessness
of the choirboys’ pose.
our chants lumpy, guttural
and numb.

women with thick perfume
baring pearled necks,
obedient and filleted in pink dresses.
men in basalt wool
with lava streaming down
their patriarchal throats.
our collective penitence
mute and sad.
then ardent and fake.
each of us alone with our lies
as we ate that great preposterous unmentionable

Monday, April 12, 2010

It is not the madness of the world that defeats idealists, it is the continuous madness.

Channeled by Aristine Eaglewoman, Iris Sextamegistus

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Acceptance: Poetry Friends

Poetry Friends is a wonderful place to go if you want to get deep very fast by reading one or two pieces. Sometimes when I have writer's block, I go to this site to access my passion by reading really good poems. No other venue affects me so reliably with such power and passion.

Indeed, the subtitle of this journal is "A Collection of Really Good Poetry." Editor Susan Culver only selects a handful each month, often less. For the last twelve months, starting with March, she has taken 5, 5, 3, 2, 7, 2, 4, 4, 7, 13, 7, and 7 poems respectively.

Before Poetry Friends, Culver edited Lily Lit Review, a monthly journal that ran for four years and combined every accepted poem (often a dozen or more) with vivid original photography or art. Now she has perfectly balanced her time to provide the same literary flourishing with a smaller number of absolutely engaging works.

When I finish editing a special piece, usually after months or years, and it finally makes me cry or feel some sublime sense, I consider sending it to Poetry Friends. I'm greatly greatly honored that my poem "Rain In The Streets" is currently featured.

Here are links to my poems previously accepted:

I've praised Editor Culver before in this blog, and time is very mean to me today, so I am going to leave off here.

Thanks for reading and go leave a comment at Poetry Friends!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Acceptance: Rivets Lit Mag

This relatively new journal just took two of my poems: "Unseen Ghost" and "Doppelganger." Editor Dale Debakcsy apologized for taking too long; but I submitted at the beginning of February and found the response time quite acceptable. One strength of this zine, apparently, is the editor's gracious professionalism.

Another strength, of course, is the poetry. Not only are the words well-wrought, some of the contributors have fascinatingly quirkish pasts. For instance, Hugh Fox has this in his bio:

"Originally from Chicago, childhood immersed in opera, violin, musical composition, symphonies, opera, only child, father an M. D., frustrated violinist, mother an actress who ended up a secretary, so all their theatrical-literary-musical frustrations ended up in Fox who has 110 books published, but still has 40 unpublished he hits 78 on February 12th..."

Here's another one from Simon Leigh:

"I’m a former university professor, writing full-time in Toronto. From Melbourne, Australia, I was educated way beyond my intelligence at Sydney University, Oxford and the University of New Brunswick. Thirteen years at universities ended in a construction job digging drains, then thirteen years as a racing driver ended in a concrete wall at Mosport. I now ski race and play valve trombone. "

Yet another cool thing about this journal is the black-and-white art that accompanies every issue (three so far). There are intriguing and fairly dark messages in the drawings. On the cover of the third issue, two lovers dance in a whirl while their fingers morph into grasping tentacles.

I think the editor has a penchant for illuminati-style clues. For example, a cryptic latin motto can be found nestled in the site, if you look closely:

Tacitae per amica silentia lunae

This phrase, which means something like "under the friendly silence of the moon" comes from Aeneid and was taken up by W.B. Yeats, who uses it to describe a mysterious and profound quest.

The obscure link to Yeats might also have something to do with occult muses in the form of alternative personalities or daimons:

"In the first decade of the century, Yeats--along with virtually everyone in the artistic world--was still dabbling in the occult, looking for insight and inspiration. In 1906-9 he studied with the Golden Dawn society again and by 1912 he was dabbling in automatic writing and going to seances. In June of 1912, at one of Mrs. Wreidt's (an American medium) seances at Cambridge House in Wimbledon, Yeats began making brief contacts with--among others--a "Leo." In July of 1914, the contact became clearer; this was the voice of Leo Africanus, a geographer and explorer of the Italian Renaissance, offering Yeats insights and advice. If Yeats would write to him, he would respond through Yeats's own hand. A look at this correspondence, published in The Yeats Annual in 1982, gives one an idea of the inception of the daimon theory."

I'm not sure what this intriguing editor is up to, but it's well worth finding out. The poetry is fine, the atmosphere is splendidly idiosyncratic, and you will find no hint of conformity or boredom--even though the name of the journal is a humble construction rivet (which, pardon the pun, is handled by the editor with a nice twist).


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The US Military Has Gone Evil

On April 5, two absolutely horrific cases of US military abuse were showcased in the New York Times. First, the US military admitted killing pregnant Afghan women in a Special Operations raid, something it has denied for months. Who knows how or why the savage leaders of our weapon-heavy Empire get away with these disgusting deceits.

Lies, Lies, Lies!!!

And then it turns up that the US Special Forces “dug bullets out of the bodies of the [pregnant] women to hide the nature of their deaths,” according to a NATO report. This report was later denied by a “senior NATO official.”

Gee, who should we believe? The side that denied for months that the US was guilty and then finally admitted culpability? I think not!

We are on the verge of a major scandal here. The question is no longer whether the women were viciously killed by US soldiers, but whether there was a cover up.

Did US soldiers dig bullets out of the bodies to hide their crimes?

The London Times says YES:

And in what could be a scandalous turn to the investigation, The Times of London reported Sunday night that Afghan investigators also determined that American forces not only killed the women but had also “dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath” and then “washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened.”

(“US Admits Role In Killing Afghan Women,” NYT, April 5, 2010)

A “senior official” says no:

We have discovered no evidence in our investigation that any of our forces did anything to manipulate the evidence at the scene or the bodies,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the deputy chief of staff for communications for General McChrystal.

(“US Admits Role In Killing Afghan Women,” NYT, April 5, 2010)

Lies, Lies, Lies!!!!

First of all, if there was no cover up, why did the US military deny their soldiers did the dirty deed for months? It doesn’t make any sense. The military could have claimed it was investigating and wouldn’t ascertain guilt or innocence until they were through. Instead, there was straight-up denial. Why?

The reason is obvious: a cover up. The reporter on this story, Richard A. Oppel Jr., makes a good point when he wonders how US soldiers could have somehow been unaware that their bullets killed the women.

Are they that stupid?

Or shall we go with common sense? It was a cover up. Which means more Lies, Lies, Lies from the military.

Oh, I’m sure this is an isolated incident, right?

No. Civilians are being killing brutally and wantonly all the time in Afghanistan:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has tried hard, and with some success, to reduce civilian casualties through new rules that include restricting night raids and also bringing Special Operations forces under tighter control. But botched Special Operations attacks — which are blamed for a large proportion of the civilian deaths caused by NATO forces — continue to infuriate Afghans and create support for the Taliban.

(“US Admits Role In Killing Afghan Women,” NYT, April 5, 2010)

Let’s take a deep breath and take stock of the situation. First, killings are being inflicted on innocent civilians by the US military on a wide scale.

Second, these are especially evil killings, at least in some cases. I don’t say “evil” lightly. The military initially claimed the pregnant women were dead hours before the Special Ops raid, that they were found tied up and stabbed in a back room (“US Admits Role...”).

The initial story is so different than the “abrupt about-face” version. Why say the women were found tied up, stabbed and tortured--if they weren’t?

You have to wonder, what did the sicko Special Forces do to these poor mothers with new lives in their wombs? In any case, shooting pregnant women and covering it up is horrible enough.

Vile and despicable sin wrapped in Lies, Lies, Lies!!!

If that weren’t enough to see that the US is an atrocious monster, there’s a second article published by the New York Times on April 5. This one is called, “Video Shows American Killing Of Photographer.”

This is not just any video. This is a leaked, secret document revealing the perspective of the helicopter pilots and also what they were saying:

Reuters had long pressed for the release of the video, which consists of 17 minutes of black-and-white aerial video and conversations between pilots in two Apache helicopters as they open fire on people on a street in Baghdad. The attack killed 12, among them the Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and the driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.

(“Video Shows...” New York Times)

Note that Reuters “had long pressed” for release. So, we’re looking at another cover up, or at least unethical stall tactics.

As I read this article, I was shocked. The victims are some men on the street who show no obvious sign of having weapons. The pilots act like pimple-faced kids playing a video game, assuming the group to be insurgents, mistaking one of the reporter’s cameras for a weapon, and gunning them all down.

Then they “revel in their kills.”

Here are the direct quotes from the article. It makes me want to vomit:

“Look at those dead bastards,” one pilot says. “Nice,” the other responds.

A wounded man can be seen crawling and the pilots impatiently hope that he will try to fire at them so that under the rules of engagement they can shoot him again. “All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” one pilot says.

A short time later a van arrives to pick up the wounded and the pilots open fire on it, wounding two children inside. “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one pilot says.

At another point, an American armored vehicle arrives and appears to roll over one of the dead. “I think they just drove over a body,” one of the pilots says, chuckling a little.

(“Video Shows ...” )

Perhaps it is not an accident that these two news stories were published by the Times on the same day. In any case, it is time for US citizens to WAKE UP and realize that the rhetoric and patriotic propaganda about freedom and democracy hides a violent malevolent evil.

Think of Darth Vader and his conscience-less storm troopers. Think of helicopter pilots with the mentality of cruel 13-year-olds flying multi-million-dollar killing machines and mowing down scores of innocent people.

This is WRONG. It is utterly undeniably hideously WRONG. And I for one am speaking up to say I totally disagree with my country’s brute imperial ways. I apologize, so ashamed that my tax money is going for this.

I don’t know what I can do except speak out, protest, and write poems, SCREAMING through literature about the senseless stupidity of war.

Please forgive me, gods. Whoever you are, wherever you are judging us from, I am so sorry that we citizens of the Empire are such perverse and two-faced petty failures.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fixing the US, Part V: We Need Leisure Time!

Here is a comment I posted on a New York Times blog entry by Paul Krugman. Krugman points out that European social systems are designed to allow their citizens a good deal of leisure; yet here in the United States, we work harder in constant stress.


Posted by: Owl Who Laughs
Location: Maine

For tens of thousands of years, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle fostered a good deal of leisure. Humans were not designed to toil into exhaustion at an incessant pace, one that gobbles up most of life and annihilates countless opportunities for meaning, passion, and depth.

Only in countries that embrace free market extremes, such as the United States, where the pursuit of money is sadly prioritized far above the pursuit of virtue, could this question of the relevance of leisure even be debated. It indicts us that this is an issue.

Future anthropologists will look back on our obsession--wasting our lives in a funnel of stress, hassle and bustle--as remotely as we look back on the Roman practice of ogling mass slaughter in the Arena.

Being born is like winning the lottery. To squander your existence after achieving such a gift is anathema to the deepest principles and intuitions of beauty and dignity.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Poetry Editors Can Be Mean

Poetry editors are wonderful people, even the ones who are annoying or mistaken. They put in a lot of time and intend the best (usually). Sometimes, however, they can be more brutal than helpful, without realizing it.

I recently submitted to a journal that has been around awhile, with a team of editors led by one central figure, who (he announces in his staff notes) does most of the work himself, spending “hours” each day on his computer. He has spent fifteen years teaching poetry, he says. Obviously he is dedicated and immersed.

I decided to be humble before this august personage, and omitted any mention of my 400 publications in my bio. The bio I sent him ran like this:

“I teach environmental ethics for the University of Maine. Much of my writing is done in a hut in a spruce forest. If a bear charges you, stand your ground. It's probably a bluff. If a moose charges, run!”

I guess I set myself up to be treated like a greenhorn, and boy did I get it! The same night I submitted, I received a rejection back from this diligent editor, along with significant personalized commentary:

“These seem like kaleidoscopic images, the pieces tumbled out and disassembled. The focus in each poem is lost in trying to reassemble the piece into a coherent entity. You may be playing with form too much, and typographical gimmickry which distracts the reader from ‘getting it.’ Unity is important, images that resound well together and a theme that coheres. I would suggest reading a lot of poetry that speaks personally to the kind of poetry you want to write -- and emulate them. What you sent, I can't print as they are. So, good studying.”

It might be that I sent a particularly bad batch of poems; or, more likely the editor and I have different preferences. What I want to get at is this: editors are sometimes wrong when they give advice, and poets who don’t remember this, or are too sensitive, end up getting hurt.

I am somewhat comfortable with my literary voice, and have been rejected and dejected plenty. Enough to develop some resistance--though I'm still bothered to hell by harsh criticism. Can you tell ;). I think it's my defense mechanism.

A more vulnerable poet who gets a vocal rejection might be wounded and dissuaded from following her heart and listening to her own inner muse. Not good!

So remember: editors are not gods, though sometimes they act as supercilious. Take their decrees with a grain of salt.

Also, what you say in your cover will often influence how you are perceived and treated. That's just basic psychology. If you come across as a newbie or a supplicant, you might get a condescending lecture. Some people seem to like getting a condescending lecture; but for the rest of us, it’s a chance to grow and move on.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Acceptance: Brink Magazine

This exceptional magazine just took three of my poems: "November Leaves," "Othello's Ghost," and "Writer's Block." Their acceptance rate is extremely low and the team of editors includes Charles Gershman, a professional writer at the Yale School of Medicine, and nonfiction writer Jenny Blair, who has appeared on Good Morning America, spoken at Stanford about writing, and penned a column for the Hartford Courant (she's also an emergency room physician).

They are dedicated to advancing the literary (and also visual) arts, as evidenced by their creation of Brink Media in addition to the Magazine:

There is a great deal of good poetry out there, and so editors at stellar venues have to be very selective. Brink falls into this category, the category of superlatives; that is, those journals whose quality can hold not only a candle but a torch next to the New Yorker and the Poetry Foundation.

Check out their contributors and see if you don't agree!

I'm honored and humbled at this moment and need to try and calm down, or I won't be able to write for a couple of days. Adrenal ecstasy summons my werewolf.