Friday, May 30, 2008

Reading at Robin's 6/12 @ 6pm

Come hear me do what I do
Thursday, June 12th at 6pm
at Robin's Bookstore, 108 S. 13th St
along with Plan B Pressmates Kristine Grow & Michele Belluomini

Monday, May 26, 2008

a pair of poems

odd years

a priest blessed our house and said he can tell
if you have god or not, he can see it in your
eyes, some final word grown deep into soil
that translates the stampede of rain into a distant blah

blah. roofer tells me the siding was a real hack
job. another says whoever did the siding should be
shot. how long will i live here. my neighbor
clara calls me an angel and flaps her wings. born

again, bobby says, her husband used to be mob.
he sits on their bed now watching her blow dry plastic
against the window, a hundred some odd years
blackened in the street below. wet tires roll over

them. where are we going. i like to imagine
myself in new york or san francisco in the fifties, clothes
lines crossed between apartment buildings, writing
into my wooden desk at the window, stepping out

onto the fire escape for a smoke and waving to my
neighbor, who doesn’t mind leaves falling on his roof.
real city life in a real city, beautiful promise against
motion. yesterday real city workers cut down the large

sycamore that stood guard of our block, old tree that
we loved, my wife & i at least. why are you doing this,
i asked one of them. they found somethin under there,
he said, blah blah, he said, blah blah blah, i said.


for the birds

yeah i know god is in the blah blah
but what’s that get anybody really
no benches at this bus stop
just me and a guy who looks like
gabriel garcia marquez
we wait and wait
he goes picking through the garbage
along the curb and comes up with
a large rubber flashlight
goes across the street to sit down
and mess with it but he can’t get it
open, lifts an eyeball, catches me
looking so i look down the street for
the bus it isn’t coming, it’s just me
and the guy and his flashlight and the birds
that’ve come down to feast on some chips
marquez has salvaged from a trashcan
and crunched up in a pile on the street
for them

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This Modern World

As usual, Tom Tomorrow right on the money with this comic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

polish your gun

for Mike Huckabee & other hucksters & wannabes

in the idleness of accomplishment we fortified
the boundaries of our polish with morals who
must each stand between 5’10” & 6’2” tall and
whose waist-size cannot exceed 30” and whose
gloves are moistened to prevent them from losing
their grips on the rifles, which they carry on the
shoulder away from the polish. after two years
each moral is given a wreath pin that is worn on
his lapel signifying that he served as guard of the

There is really no single professional

"There should never be a time when an artist can say: I have done a good job and tomorrow is Sunday. As soon as you stop you must start again."
--Pablo Picasso

"The trick naturally is what Duncan learned years ago and tried to teach us—not to search for the perfect poem but to let your way of writing of the moment go along its own paths, explore and retreat but never be fully realized (confined) within the boundaries of one poem . . . he complicated things for us by saying that there is no such thing as good or bad poetry. There is—but not in relation to the single poem. There is really no single poem . . . Poems should echo and reecho against each other. They should create resonances. They cannot live alone any more than we can.”
--Jack Spicer, from Admonitions

And in his talk-poem “dialogue,” David Antin suggests that artists are not professionals. There is no such thing as a professional poet, he says; there are only amateurs. Antin points to the etymology of the word ‘amateur’—a term often used in the pejorative (he’s just an amateur)— to build his case. The word ‘amateur’ literally means one who loves something. At one time, Antin explains, an amateur was distinguished by his passion and knowledge for something. Exactly when and where this was I don’t know; but I like the idea. Amateurism was admired “because it was free and not contingent upon the circumstances or manner of reward” as professionalism was.

These ideas from Spicer, Picasso, and Antin, especially when taken together, push focus away from the product, off the trophy, and towards how to live, how to be. They suggest alternatives to what we know. And because often I feel pulled, forced even, in the other direction, toward the product—the fetishization of which represents a denial of life, as life is motion, moving, moving, while product after product is like stop sign after stop sign—I learn from these statements, which are acts of faith really (professions, in the old sense), again and again.

To be sure, I have at least one product fetish—the book. I love books, like to justify them as motion machines, caress them, hold them, smell them. No intentions here of giving them up. And I have my favorite shirts, too, and some other things. But if we can see these things we value, along with our reasons for valuing them, as parts of one piece, and that piece a moving thing we cannot measure, perhaps a larger book we cannot claim, while sometimes jumping haphazardly from the I to the We, then we might be okay, we might be good.

The real danger isn’t falling in love with objects, of course. It’s objectifying ourselves and each other. When I say I feel “forced toward the product,” I think not only of writing but, say, looking for a job in this culture in which teachers are simply cogs—professional cogs. Professionalism, when divorced from amateurism (as defined by Antin), is a practice of disconnect, a practice of the ‘single poem,’ if you will. Professionalism, as it’s commonly understood, underscores a certain distance from people that’s necessary if you want to climb a monetary ladder and earn respect from those above and below you; and professionalism commodifies people—a professional is a product, a saleable thing, and in a hyperconsumerist society it becomes possible to think of him or her as it. The term also serves as a class signifier, as in Condos Designed Exclusively for Young Professionals!! The professional is an attractive product; can’t say I’ve never been tempted.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t get paid to become expert at something. But your professionalism does no good, ultimately, if you abandon your amateurism—that is, your passion, which entails a willingness to sacrifice, to take risks for what you believe in and what you love.

As a teacher, I experience tensions between professionalism and amateurism every day (far more often than I do as a poet, since teaching is a job—I get paid for it—and besides, a professional poet is no poet at all). Sometimes I ditch my amateurism in favor of professionalism when it’s convenient to do so—if I’m having a bad day, for example, I might tell myself, well, at least I’m gettin paid. More often the challenge is finding the right level of formality in how I interact with my students; this varies from student to student and course to course, so sometimes I feel like a chameleon, which can be exhausting. But I know that over time I’ve become a better teacher by insisting on my amateurism—i.e., working on my own creative terms, as much as I can, for the sake of my students—not my professionalism, despite voices that say why bother, there’s no incentive, etc. To do good—a good that extends beyond oneself—requires a way of being that is not required to succeed as a Young Professional. This way of being is something I’m learning. I don’t expect the learning to end.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

First City Review Launch Party, 5/17

Several things going on this weekend. Saturday I'm going to The Philadelphia Book Festival, which includes a street fair of publishers, booksellers and other goodies from 11-5 (Sunday too) at 19th-20th & Vine. Then I'm headed over to the release party for the first issue of First City Review. Party begins at 4, reading at 6 by Chad Willenborg, Thaddeus Rutkowski, & Johannah Rodgers. Click on this nice poster for details. And finally I'll be stumbling up to Fishtown somewhere for the release party for FORGE, a Temple University lit journal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Big Big Media – it’s Quantageous. Headlines from Yahoo News, May 9th, 2008:

Americans Cram 31 Hours into a Day

Russian Billionaire Buys $36 Million Mansion

Superdelegate Will Sell His Vote for $20 Million

Judge Sends Hulk Hogan’s Son to Jail for 8 Months for Crash

Man Loses 28 Relatives in Myanmar Cyclone

U.S. Reinforces Armor to Iraq Vehicles as Roadside Bombs Surge


Bigger Stronger Faster:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

mother’s mother’s mother’s letter

a teddy bear in a sailor suit with a little american flag
in the southwest corner of the page looks forlorn, stationed
there against its will. the cursive runs northeast, kites taut across

the white space. the white space is superimposed
on the middle of an american flag much larger
than this paper. its big colors imagined out in all directions

frame the message: “i went to bed early the other night and
left all the doors and windows open—not very responsible.
the grapevine has it you will be in san francisco july 4th

which means this letter will be waiting for you when you
return—i will be anxious to hear back. all i have done for
the past 3 days: mowed, watered, hoed and pulled weeds

and bachelor buttons. my neighbors keep telling me how much
work it is and i keep telling them it beats the hell out of square
dancing. anyway, i’ve decided that heaven is a place where the iris
are always in bloom and where bind weed does not grow.”

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

for your thoughts

just once i went in junco & grouse
the shortlived bookstore and bought
A Brief History of Time and in it

found a receipt from Wawa Food Market
from 19 yrs ago, 03-02-89,

two items totaling a dollar fifty-nine
one-sixty was tendered
one penny returned