Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dick Jones - 3 Poems


On the night
that I was born,
the bells rang out
across the world.

In Coventry, in Dresden,
the cathedral bones sheltered
worshippers with candles,
witnessing the ruins.

In Auschwitz-Birkenau,
the story goes,
the death’s-head guards
sang, “Stille nacht,

heilige nacht”.  Their voices
slid across the Polish snow.
The sweetest tenor was Ukrainian,
the man they called Peter the Silent. 

He never spoke and he killed
with a lead-filled stick.
In the Union Factory, packing shells,
they dreamed of Moses.


In Horton Kirby, fields froze
and ice deadlocked the lanes.
My father rose in the cold
blue-before-dawn light

and cycled sideways,
wreathed in silver mist,
to the hospital.  Each turn
of the track betrayed him 

and scarred by thorns and gravel,
he bled by our bedside.
My mother laughed, she remembers,
as the nurse administered.

“Been in the wars?” she asked.
Outside, across the Weald,
from out of a cloudless dawn
the buzz bombs crumpled London.

Outside a town in the Ardennes
Private Taunitz hung
like a crippled kite
high in a tree.

A cruciform against the sky,
he seemed to run forever
through the branches,
running home for the new year.

Outside Budapest three men
diced for roubles
in the shelter of a tank.
Fitful rain, a moonless night.

Sasha struck a match
across the red star
on his helmet, the red star
that led them to this place.

Extra vodka, extra cigarettes,
a rabbit stewed,
the tolling of artillery
to celebrate the day.


The blackouts drawn,
December light invaded.
We awoke, slapped hard
by the early world.

Our siren voices
climbed into the morning,
a choir of outrage,
insect-thin but passionate.

Through tears our parents
smiled: within the song
of our despair they heard
a different tune.

And as our voices
sucked the air, swallowing
the grumble of the bombs,
only the bells survived.



Some mornings I lie half awake
waiting for the slow secret
of light to be revealed.

From rumour
into palpable fact,
the proposition of light

is merciless: the great affirmative
blades its arrival
into walls and ceiling.

Light like a voice
talks in corners,
disputes with darkness.

Light besieges the house;
a million photon breaths
liberate the windows.

In love with light,
called out of black sleep,
I rise into its clamour.



Night falls. It bellies up
to windows, crowds the house.
Da capo – dancing blind again:

stuck in a lift, trapped
in a mineshaft, premature
burial. A hood, a mask,

a carbon lens across the eyes.
A brush with oblivion, I mutter,
cottonmouthed and bitter. Sleep

is a secret whispered 
to everyone else;
I’m kept in the dark.

Then cries from your cradle:
birdsong, catcalls – you have
a menagerie in your throat.

I climb the stairs in twos
and find you caught
between solstice and equinox

with a pulse beating behind
your eyes. I hold you tight
and draw your dream

in a heartbeat. You smile
and, turning in my arms once,
you spill sleep like a benediction. 

The cipher cracks. Darkness
has no name. I slide
between its sheets.

Dick Jones
© 2010

Writers Talk - Dick Jones

I don’t recall exactly when I first started visiting Dick Jones blog, Patteran Pages, but it has been a regular stop on my cyber rounds for some time, & I’m also most gratified to note that Dick is a frequent visitor & commenter here.  Dick Jones is, as far as I can determine on cyberspace, a kindred soul: a poet musician who has served an apprenticeship to the Beats & also loves old-time blues.  His poetry is of a high quality—his language is precise without calling attention to the fact, his poetic thought & expression are clear, & he has an admirable understanding of poetic form in the most important sense—not as an ability to reproduce poems in various set forms, but as an ability to allow for organic shaping of poetic line, stanza & expression.  Asked for a brief writerly bio, Dick offered the following:

"Initially wooed by the First World War poets and then seduced by the Beats, Dick Jones has been exploring the vast territories in between since the age of 15.  Published in a variety of magazines throughout the years of rambling. Amongst them are Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review, Qarrtsiluni, Snakeskin, Mipoesias, Three Candles, Other Poetry, Ouroboros Review. Grand plans for the meisterwerk have been undermined constantly either by a Much Better Idea or a sort of Chekhovian inertia. So I have no prize collection to my name; I have masterminded no radical creative writing programmes in a cutting edge university department; I have edited no recherché poetry magazines with lower case titles.

I’m a male version of the playground mum, looking after three young kids and vacuuming the stairs while my partner goes out to work. For fun and profit, I play bass guitar, bouzouki and percussion in a from-Celtic-to-the-blues unplugged trio. "

Please check out Dick Jones’ set of three poems over at the Writers Talk blog—& so: on to the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I self-identified as a writer one winter’s afternoon at the age of 11, on the completion of a short story that I was quite sure at the time was a small masterpiece. I was so impressed with it that I determined there and then to discard my ambition to become a space shuttle pilot and instead to become an author.

A little more realistically, I recognized in my mid-teens that, whatever was, in fact, to be my métier in life, I was unable to stop writing – that it was a compulsive activity that served needs at the deepest level of my being.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

My most recent poem arrived in bits while I was caught in traffic on the way to a hospital appointment. It was raining, not hard but persistently, and the windscreen wipers were on the setting whereby they only operated when there was a certain quantity of moisture on the screen. As I stared mindlessly at their patient, unhesitating response to the pocking of rain across the glass, I was struck by the notion of persistence in the face of certain failure. The confident sweep of the blades seemed to imply a calm assurance that a single 180-degree passage forward and back would eliminate the presence of water in one swift movement. But there it was again across the windscreen as the wipers rested horizontal, their task fulfilled. So back they swept...

And as they moved with undiminished energy each time, the first line of the poem arrived in one piece: ‘Sitting traffic-jammed in rain, the wipers’ all-effacing hand...’ The traffic was edging forward and although I had my notebook open on the passenger seat beside me I couldn’t scribble anything down so I pinned the line in place by repeating it out loud several times. Repetition established a sense of rhythm and propulsion and the increasing need for continuation towards an immediate conclusion and the initiation of the next line. At that point I had no clear idea of any unifying theme or intended direction to the emergent poem. But I knew that the hypnotic action of the wipers across the persistent reiteration of the raindrops had drawn up some current of creative thought, inchoate at that point but demanding content, form and structure.

By the time I parked the car I had the first stanza composed in my head and I scribbled it down immediately, relieved as I always am by the appearance of written words on a surface. Then, sitting in the grim waiting room for a good hour-and-a-half for my blood test, I wrote out the rest of the poem, my pen simply recording the arrival, spasmodic but persistent, of words, phrases and entire lines.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I have had poems published fitfully in journals during many years. Initially, this meant sharing cramped foolscap pages in floppy mags stenciled off duplicators in editors’ living rooms (my first at age 16), with occasional appearances in posher print mags via moveable type and offset litho. I was early online and in the mid ‘90s I thrilled to the sight of my name above a piece of deathless verse in one of the first online poetry journals (whose name, disgracefully, I now forget!)

I opened up the Patteran Pages within the legendary Salon Bloggers community in February 2003, posting poems from the start. The Salon Bloggers were, in the main, very articulate, very vocal liberals firing off flaming arrows in the direction of Dubya’s White House. So the company was good and the quality of writing excellent. I shared houseroom with several fine poets and the sharing of criticism and appreciation was enormously supportive and encouraging.

Finally exhausted by the rickety steam-punk technology that drove the blogging software (or more frequently didn’t), I bailed out in 2005 and decamped to Typepad. Shortly after (but unconnected with) my departure, Salon pulled the plugs on their blogging platform and the resultant diaspora took the Salonistas hither and yon. Those with whom I’m still in touch remain amongst my most cherished of comrades-in-blogs.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Not a bit. It remains the solitary, sometimes almost hermetic activity it’s always been for me. Beyond a cheerful and forbearing acceptance of its importance to me, my partner takes no interest in my writing. I’ve always written most productively either surrounded by noise and activity (provided I’m left on my own as a single, still point at the eye of the hurricane) or during the long, silent watches of the night. So I neither intrude on family time, nor does it intrude on mine. (As I write now, 6-year-old Maisie is playing, alternately, a harmonica and a penny whistle, both at volume; Rosie [7] is looking for a pair of pyjamas that I know are hanging off the back of a chair only feet away from her; and Reuben [8] is watching a DVD of the highlights of a Manchester United versus Juventus game).

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I was, briefly, a member of a local poetry group and I enjoyed and benefitted from the interaction with the other members. But I never really penetrated the sanctum sanctorum at the heart of the group and eventually I drifted away.

I have regular interactional contact with a number of bloggers, many of whom are also in constant communication with each other. This provides a sense of community – the more so in respect of those bloggers with whom I have had long-term relationships, or those with whom I share specific offline interests.

But, like Groucho, I’m not a natural joiner of clubs and the strange, paradoxical balance that is held between intimacy and distance within online relationships suits me well. That having been said, I have met several of my blogger friends and have found that in all cases the personal closeness and commonality of interest and priority have been reiterated face-to-face.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

These goals are simple and shameless. a.) I would like to expand my constituency of Patteran Pages readers so that, without losing any of the particularity of relationship that I enjoy now with my current readers, I might achieve what all writers, if they’re being honest, want to achieve: widespread communication. And b.) I would like a reputable and well-constituted poetry publishing house to bring out a book of my poetry.

But even if neither of these goals are achieved (and my efforts to propel myself with greater force towards both have met with no success so far), the writing will continue because it’s an imperative – a bit like breathing in and out!

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

It varies, but most of the time I’m working my way down the sax section from a Branford Marsalis soprano, through Charlie Parker alto and Andy Sheppard/Jan Gabarek tenor to a driving, throaty Gerry Mulligan-style baritone.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

3 Poems - Peadar O'Donoghue

Pictures and Postcards

Mountains to mist, Beckett to boxer to blonde-
platinum of course, looking me straight in the eye,
over the slope of her shoulder.
She says nothing, and a million things.
not one can I catch as, like the accusations, I fly.
I’m back on the midnight bus as it pulls out and pulls in
passengers from the random roundabouts of my youth,
girlfriends dressed to kill and dying from the cold.
Yards and years away are barges passing,
coal powered, just like the square panes of light from the
Arndale block that lure people like moths.
The bigger picture hints of a hunt, of war, of winter,
brothers in arms, their quarry sought their silence confident,
reflective, pleased with themselves and whatever they have done.
I remember their faces peering in from the streets to the dreamy Cafés
‘Stay a while’, they seem to say, ‘Drink your coffee,
Compile this list for lesser days.’

(This poem originally appeared in The SHOp #27)

Platform eleven, Hoje Taastrup in early spring.
'“Did you ever say the words?”
“Wait. I can’t hear you!”
Woman leaving on lipstick red train,
brunette, young, and beautiful, asking Old man.
He’s dying, hands behind his back, unforgiving,
and, like a black-strapped Swiss wristwatch, inaudible.
His spectacles and bald patch frame
the last snows of his winter.
Nobody knew them, or about their lives, so who cares?
A flag was waved, a moment found,
two lost strangers, father and daughter
caught in my mind.
Too late, the train leaves,
accusing in rhythmic fading whispers,
“Don’t paint this,
don’t feign mystery,
don’t make poetry,
of a flat-packed scene.”

(This poem originally appeared in Revival #6)

God Woman.

They weren’t fish from the sea
Any more than blue bears were
Black silhouettes of herself
God Woman mother of all
Making progress reach for the skies
Evolution not revolution,
parity stars, lights trouble
uncalled for. We all have a monkey
on our backs ,crystal clear,
blue is black in light relief.
I love the city, I hate the reality,
rapid fire irritation jarring.
We knew it was wrong,
Alchemy, conjuring.
Sing, sing ,sing,
reaction in the nightime:
Hearts on fire;
Blazing light;
Break my heart
Like an egg, like the question,
cracked into the heat.
We who could do anything choose
To do this, or this, or this?

I know the answer
If it's a poem, it has a million
beginnings a million chances,
I’m just dreading the end.

Peadar O’Donoghue
© 2010

Writers Talk - Peadar O'Donoghue

It’s a real pleasure to introduce today’s Writers Talk interview subject, Peadar O’Donoghue.  When asked for a brief biography, Peadar wrote: “I’m an Irish poet photographer and editor of The Poetry Bus Magazine. I’ve been published in magazines including The SHOp, Revival, Village, The Dubliner, Magma, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly, and online (!) in Ink Sweat And Tears.” 

I’d point out in addition that Mr O’Donoghue is the the proprietor of the always entertaining & often raucuous Totalfeckineejit blog where you can find his poetry, photographs & musings on the meaning of existence—or lack thereof.  This blog gave rise to the popular Poetry Bus series which has spurred creative work from a number of bloggers.  The series eventually took 3-D form in The Poetry Bus Magazine, an excellent publication, which you can purchase here.

Please be sure to check out three poems by Mr O’Donoghue on the Writers Talk blog.  & now: Here’s Peadar!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I don’t think I have yet. I think I am constantly changing, evolving, getting older (obviously), thinking more, gaining knowledge, yet paradoxically understanding  less. I have no set idea of myself as a human being, let alone as a writer. Maybe I was one, maybe I could have been one, maybe I’m yet to be one, maybe I never will be, but I do know I’d quite like to keep tying to be one! I started late and am beginning to feel a sense of running out of time.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.
It’s always the same scenario and always at the keyboard. Pen ,or pencil, and paper (I used to have special pens and special notebooks) were once  all I could use, but now it’s exclusively the computer and I’ve got fairly speedy with one finger!  For me writing is the (temporary) resolution of an internal conflict.  I have something , Im not sure what it is, it’s not quite an anger, a hurt, an emotion, a loss, a hunger, an energy, but it  is buried deep inside and is the catalyst of everything I write. Whether it be a poem about love, or a drunken brawl, or the moon, it all comes from the same place. It starts as a mood, becomes feeling then that I have to write, most times drink is involved and music, (I find contemporary music a great inspiration) often it’s in the early hours of the morning, it’s slightly surreal and usually pleasurable no matter how horrible the poem may be. I don’t think I’ve ever written sober, not even answering these questions. I 100% don’t recommend it though. The poem will be written quickly, usually five, ten, up to twenty minutes at the most and I  rarely re-write.  I feel that the magic is in the rawness, a rough diamond, polished pieces are not my style.I’ve tried a few times and the whole thing falls apart. I’m not too hung up on form or style or punctuation or even spelling, within reason of course.  Some writers are alchemists, I’m just a miner, I keep digging mainly coal to keep the fires burning,but if the odd piece of gold turns up now and again then I’m happy!

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I rarely submit poems and if I do it’s usually either to The SHOp a (County) Cork based magazine here in Ireland or to Revival in Limerick. The SHOp has been a huge help to me, an encouragement and an inspiration. It’s my favourite magazine.  I don’t really consider anything to be properly published unless it’s in a physical magazine or a book. I’m not a fan of ezines, there’s no romance about them, no magic, no tactile organic earthiness to them, they are cold and clinical.  Ask me again next week though, and I might say I love them!  But for now I think paper magazines have a personality that is often greater than the sum their parts, online mags no matter how good (and there are some splendid ones) are invariably the opposite.  Electronic books are now being foisted on us too as they will make more money. I say fuck money, give me a book that I can keep on the shelf with a book mark in, that can gather dust, that I can admire as an object with a beautiful cover, that I can flick to a certain page and back again instantly with the skin of my hand on a dead ( but replenishable) tree, that I can smell and touch and grow old with. I can even rip it up or burn it if I hate it!  If I got to the stage where someone wanted to publish a collection of my poetry but only as a download, I’d be delighted, but bitterly disappointed too.I know the numbers game but I’d rather ten people had my book on their shelves than a hundred downloads.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

That’s a tough question.  Collette, my wife, is a good critic and supporter, she takes an interest without being too interested! If she likes something, she’ll let me know, but she wouldn’t pretend and she is really pleased when I get things published. Other people (relatives) have virtually no interest in my writing or my magazine. If anything it irks them. I don’t know why. I don’t tell anyone else that I write, it’s not something I like to be known really, I like to keep it quiet. I guess overall it has a negative effect.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I don’t belong to a real group of writers but through the internet I have met other writers. I think the internet is a fantastic tool for this. The Poetry Bus (The Magazine as well as the weekly task) would be nothing without the internet. There is a real community out there that help and support and promote and congratulate/ commiserate with, each other. I’d like to think I’m part of that community. We all get on great, maybe because we never actually meet! I’m joking!

Blogging itself is addictive, exhausting , wasteful, wonderful, affirming, insecurity inducing, bragging and brash, I’m ambivalent about it, but the love far outweighs the hate! It’s a wonderful tool for the ‘poet’up in his lonely garret. There is a huge groundswell in the new online poetry world and spoken events here in Ireland, it has the potential to bcome a revolution. The establishment have the ball and won’t let us play. For years people have been trying to get a touch of the ball and join in. That’s only for a chosen few. So now we are saying ‘Feck it’ we’re getting our own ball and everybody can play.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I’d love to dig up a few more lumps of gold, maybe have a book of them. I’m not terribly ambitious I’d also love The Poetry Bus Magazine to survive (financially) and thrive (artistically)

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

Without doubt, a second hand electric guitar!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

3 Poems - Tess Kincaid


Somewhere along the line,
the big zero of time was twisted
at the waist to become an eight.
An hourglass of days, slipping slow
from the top, then fast below the belt.
Is it providence, or a lemniscate of fate?
I like to think of myself as a verb
and not the object. Chop-chop!
I wait the hours. I empty my head of winter.
I am frightened by other people’s fears,
but not of the eight, not of the hourglass of days.

Poetic Justice

It started like a guilty thing.
I won’t pretend it was accidental.
He turned and I was lost.
Frost knit his eyebrows,
my lashes. We spit in the gorge
for luck; it landed broadside
on stones and ice. His people
are big spitters; they spit for fate,
mine spit for hate. This was no
dicey romance; what happened
to me, happened to him.
Angels have a way of knowing
things; they spit an avalanche
the day he kissed me in the snow.



Take me fast, quiet,
two guards at every door.
Wrap me tight in your extravagant
straitjacket where the strangling
is clean and silent, since when I kiss,
it will not be as a sister.
You have seen my complete dossier;
I would have made a great man,
but I am a woman, subtle,
but effective. Do not toss
me, deranged, in your landfill.
It is more palatable to give me
something rich and strange,
tribal, like a Viking funeral.

Tess Kincaid
© 2010

Writers Talk - Tess Kincaid (aka "Willow")

Tess Kincaid aka “Willow” is a self-proclaimed magpie, poet, Hoosier by birth, who lives in small town Ohio at Willow Manor, a ramshackle limestone house on the banks of the Scioto River, with her husband and resident ghosts. She stumbled into the blogosphere on a whim one gray February day and her life hasn’t been the same since.  Feel free to stop by and pay her a visit at Life at Willow Manor.  

I'd just like to add that if you want to put together a successful blog, Life at Willow Manor would be a great model to use.  Tess has assembled a blog that is always diverting to read & is always a visual pleasure as well.  I had the pleasure of meeting Tess last spring during a cross-country road trip, & I must say that the good spirit found in her blog presentation is also abundantly there when you meet her in person.  Finally, please don't forget to check out the Writers Talk blog, where you'll find a set of three poems by Ms Kincaid!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

Poetry has always been an integral part of me.  My earliest memories are of my grandmother reading the delightful Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley.  As a precocious colt-legged girl, I adored memorizing little pieces for “show and tell”.  Fascinated with the rhythm and textures of words, I read poetry aloud to a captive audience, my youngest sister and her stuffed animals.  It became a delicious habit, which I imposed on my closest friends, and later, my husband and children.  It wasn’t until a year or so ago, waking up one day in an empty nest, that I began to write my own poetic tools of torture. Only in recent months has it occurred to me, that I am, indeed, a poet; a curious, sadistic notion.

Describe your creative process.

I am a collector, a magpie at heart.  I keep several notebooks handy to jot down words and phrases that tickle my fancy.  Sometimes an entire poem will come to me in that wonderful semi-lucent space, just before waking, and other times the process is like digging a trench.  Most of my inspiration comes from my macro views of the mundane.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process?

Since I am a fairly new writer, I am currently sending my first chapbook manuscript out for publication, a process which I’ve found is not for the faint of heart.  It is, however, a huge encouragement to know hundreds are currently reading my poetry posted via my blog, Life at Willow Manor.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

My husband and adult children have been my personal cheerleaders, but many of my friends and extended family don’t really “get” me, as a poet. I’ve learned to skirt the subject, if I throw out the word “poetry” and it lands like a dead fish on the coffee table.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to?

It’s exciting to be part of a virtual “Bloomsbury” community of talented poets and writers. The immediate feedback and rapport is tremendously supportive. Last February, I started a creative writing group blog, Magpie Tales, which has been the impetus for much of my writing. 

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

My current goal is to procure a publisher for my poetry.  I also have a rough outline for an autobiographical novel, actually more biography than novel, since truth is often stranger than fiction.

Bonus question:  If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

A button accordion, since my writing is small and quirky.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Counter Clockwise - Karen Schindler

Counter Clockwise

A simple shift….
a crow bar's wrench
to the left

In the iris of your
dark heart

To make a space,
a sliver….
an opening

To actually see,
touch and feel

The light that
is me

Karen Schindler
© 2010

Writers Talk - Karen Schindler

Karen Schindler writes even when she's not writing. A wonderer, a cherisher of experiences, she lives life with gleeful abandon and pulls others into her wake.  Karen has been or is about to be published at Eclectic Flash, Voxpoetica, WeirdYear, 52 Stitches, Flashes in the Dark, InkNode, Negative Suck, Blink/Ink and various other ezines and print anthologies. You can find Karen and more of her work at Miscellaneous Yammering, or visit her hanging out as the managing editor of Pow Fast Flash Fiction when she's not busy ghostwriting and editing for a living.

Karen says: "Be sure to visit me at Miscellaneous Yammering where there's always something to make you smile."  I concur; & I add: don't forget to check out Karen's poem "Counter Clockwise" over on the Writers Talk blog!

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to?

Oh my gosh, I love the online writing community. I remember the day when I first connected with a group of people who were as prone to flights of fancy as I am. There was a big multi- part fast and furious conversation going on and smack dab in the middle of it, I stopped, dumbstruck with the joy of the experience and said aloud to an empty room “ My god, I’ve found my people.” It was like being struck in the head by lighting, or suddenly falling in love. Or it might have been a bit like those people who snap and run through their old workplace with an uzi….but I think it was more like the first two scenarios.

Describe your creative process?

Most days I feel like there is a meteor headed toward my house and the words, much like rats fleeing a sinking ship, have to get themselves onto the page before the impact. Then there are days where there are no words at all. On those days I go to the park and hug trees. It's a win/win situation.

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I’ve been writing my whole life, but I didn’t describe myself as a writer until the last couple of years. These days I introduce myself at gatherings as a writer/editor. The only problem with that is people now pitch me ideas, or ask if they can just “send me a little something to look at” when I have a minute. When that happens it makes me think that I might know a little bit about how a doctor feels when he gets backed into a corner at a cocktail party so the person can show him their rash.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process?

I think anything that’s been released into the world whether electronically or in print has been published. I don’t understand the hesitation that people have when they hedge their credits with the words “but it was only published online.” There are an amazing amount of opportunities to get your work read on the web. Some print publications have a smaller audience than a lot of ezines. If you create it, and they come to read it, you’ve done the job you set out to do. You’ve unleashed your words into the reader’s imagination, and that’s publishing as far as I’m concerned.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

There are two things that I have to watch out for A) noticing the glassy eyed stare of the poor trapped civilian [read: “non writer”] I’ve button holed and duct taped to a chair to make them, once again, listen while I discuss my latest WIP  and B) writing people I know into my stories either consciously or unconsciously before the statute of limitations runs out on whatever it was that they did.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

My long term goal is to one day have my best selling novel on the shelves of the paperback department of any grocery store that I go into. If the buyer who provides books to Giant Eagle has heard of you, then you’re pretty much a household name.

And….most importantly…. in my book jacket cover I want to be on a pony.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

A flugelhorn.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pinky Toe - HKatz

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pinky Toe
(with grave apologies to Wallace Stevens)

A man played the piano
with his toes.
Only the pinky fell short of the keys.

A man who is drowning
writhes like his pinky toe.

Potbellied and self-possessed,
the pinky is a charm
conferring prosperity.

One day the pinky will go to market
and never come back.

The pinky sleeps with its head
tucked into itself.
The blackbird sleeps the same way.

The sound of my pinky
tapping on the floor:
a dimple on the flesh of silence.

Wise men say the body
is only as strong as its weakest part;
I take good care of my pinky toe.

The pinky is the first
to succumb to the frost
and the last to thaw.

Were a hitchhiker to extend his pinky
in place of his thumb
cars would careen to a halt.

When the pinky toe bows
other toes follow its lead.

A girl was born with six toes.
She did not know which
was her true pinky.

He loved to kiss his wife’s pinky toe.
It was, he thought,
much cleaner than her mouth.

A flower’s bud stunted
never to bloom –
only the pinky can understand.

© 2001-2010

Writers Talk - HKatz

By day, HKatz is a mild-mannered graduate student.  By night, she’s a mild-mannered graduate student who writes.  At school she studies the human mind and is especially interested in young children’s developing language and cognitive abilities.  As a writer, she writes about anything that interests her (often the mind of a human or an anthropomorphized creature is involved), and she loves to play around with words.  When she was a teenager she won a bunch of writing awards from local to national level and had one of her one-act plays performed at a local playhouse.  For several years after she kept to herself writing-wise, though recently that’s changed; one example of this change is the existence of her blog, The Sill of the World, to which she welcomes you all.

On a personal note, I would have to say that The Sill of the World is one of the best blogs I read on a regular basis.  HKatz posts a feature each Sunday called “The Week in Seven Words.”  The writing in that feature is exquisite—HKatz writes with remarkable clarity & perceptiveness & the condensation of language available to a true poet.  Hope you enjoy her interview—I certainly did—& be sure to check out her wonderful poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pinky Toe,” on the Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I had the first inklings in third grade, when I wrote a couple of stories, one from the point of view of a leaf and another told by a groundhog who loved to party all night.  But I think it was from seventh grade onwards that I came to understand that, no matter what else I’d be doing with my life, I’d need to write too.  My English class in seventh grade was structured such that part of the week was devoted entirely to creative writing, and it was the first time in my life that I wrote regularly; I loved it.  From tenth to twelfth grade I took another creative writing class with an inspiring and demanding teacher and wrote different kinds of poems, short stories, one-act plays, and multimedia projects.  I also wrote a novel in high school, and though it won’t be presented to the public eye in its current form (not if I can help it) I regard it proudly as my first major writing effort and will maybe rewrite it one day, as I actually like the characters and some of the ideas quite a bit.  In college I took more writing classes and in the few years following graduation I wrote almost entirely for myself and for a couple of people close to me.  Only in the past year or so have I started to be more public with some of my writing and to work on it in a more consistent and disciplined fashion.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

The creative process is not infrequently marked by the need to write in inappropriate and inconvenient times and places; I’ll get an idea for a story (or for a way to revise a story I’m already working on) or a specific sentence will come to mind, and I’ll want to get it down on paper (and sometimes it’s not enough to just get the sentence or idea down – I need to start writing more and more, because my brain is already supplying a web of associations, characters, connections, plots…).  This has happened to me in the middle of exams (resulting in my teacher’s confusion as the margins around a set of equations or an essay on the Battle of Waterloo is filled with little jottings like ‘killed by a falling tree branch’ or ‘why not make them twins???’) It also happens when I’m sitting with other people at a restaurant, or five minutes before a meeting or appointment, or hours before a huge project is due, and it’s like an itch that comes over me and I need to write it down in whatever notebook I have handy, on the backs of assignments and handouts, badly labeled Microsoft Word documents, receipts, index cards (which I sometimes misplace, to my great frustration…); the itch might also come over me on the Jewish Sabbath, when I don’t write at all, so I repeat the words to myself or try to organize the thoughts in easily retrievable ways.  This unpredictability is a part of the fun and excitement of writing, and I’m thankful for it.

To be clear though - it’s not that I just sit around waiting for inspiration or illumination.  I write as often as I can, even when I’m not necessarily inspired to do so; and this is something I’m working to be more disciplined about – to sit and write and see what comes and resist strong tendencies to procrastinate – because after the first bit of heel-dragging, it’s often possible to be productive.  Even on the worse days, when the writing seems to dribble out like sludge, often there are dribbles that I can later work with.  I also love when writing surprises me.  I can have an idea of certain characters and what will happen to them, but then the characters might take over and nudge me in other directions (which can be amazing, or sometimes result in unworkable absurdity, which is at least amusing).  I’m thinking of a character I’ve been working with recently.  I meant for her to be a sharp and droll older woman, but she completely derailed and became a saccharine grandmotherly soul who tittered and offered freshly baked cookies as the cure for all of life’s woes…  and no, I didn’t want her to stay that way, and I’ve started to do some extensive re-writing to bring her back to the dry sharp-eyed dame in my mind, but I left the cookie-baking part in and that’s made the character more interesting.

For the poem (or whatever the heck it is) that I submitted to the Writer’s Talk blog – “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pinky Toe” – I share it here largely for personal, sentimental reasons (the earliest draft on my computer is from February 2001, though I’ve revised it and shown it to people since).  But I remember writing it because I was in a playful mood and had just talked with someone about whether or not there are things you can’t write about because they’re too inherently insignificant or dull. 

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I’m not familiar yet with traditional publishing processes.  As a younger and more inexperienced writer I often read about the slim to nil chances of getting something published, the cliques and fads that stifle creativity and encourage conformity, and how the quality of the writing in and of itself doesn’t guarantee publication.  But until I start sending out a lot of my work, I won’t know where I stand with traditional publishing; at this point I’m still writing mostly for myself and a writers group, and am working to revise and edit my work when I have the time.  I already have a strong tendency towards self-doubt, and I don’t want to let that hold me back; I hope to keep plugging away and figure things out as I go.

These days I publish most regularly on my blog, which I’m happy I started (I was wary about blogging at first and didn’t know what would come of it).  Thankfully I’ve met wonderful people online and have gotten great thoughtful comments and emails from readers.  Although I haven’t posted my own stories or poems there I might in the future.  On the blog so far I’ve been working mainly on one ongoing writing project – my ‘Week in Seven Words’ – and also sharing some photos and some commentary on fiction and poetry I read.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Writing is solitary; other than that, I don’t know.  I’ve gotten some sincere encouragement from people close to me, urging me to keep writing; others see it as a nice hobby that has its place but is not really a practical use of time (and they have a point, while also missing the point).  I also worry sometimes that when I do start making my stories more public, people I know will think that they can figure me out or deduce things about me based on the writing; there’s a sense of exposure and scrutiny.  We’ll see how things go.

I think the main struggle with writing now is finding time for it, in light of the fact that I have relationships that I want to form and sustain and that I’m a student, which takes up an enormous amount of time.  Writing doesn’t always fit easily with what else is going on in my life, so that’s the main struggle; but I can’t see myself giving up on it either (if I go too long without writing I get terribly restless and feel like a huge pressure is building up inside).

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

Offline, in January 09, I joined a writers group in my community.  At any given meeting there are usually no more than 10 people present, and the group is made up of several regulars as well as people who drop by on occasion; we meet roughly once every two weeks throughout the year, except for the summer, when the meetings are usually three or four weeks apart.  I love the group.  The members come from different backgrounds and have different interests as writers and readers, so they present a variety of perspectives on any given piece.  Most importantly, the feedback they give is clear, honest and specific.  The group encourages me to write regularly and be productive.  And they’re a lot of fun to meet with; we have wonderful discussions, and as a member I also get to see good writing in the works.

Online through my blog I’ve met great people too, and there are certain blogs I visit regularly (Robert Frost’s Banjo included).  So I feel like I’m part of an online community of people who love writing, photos, music and art.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

To persist in writing regularly and to manage my time better – even though I don’t like the expression ‘time management’ (it doesn’t capture the messiness of mental processes or the fact that even when you’re not doing anything in particular your brain might be working hard on something).  I suppose what I’d like to improve most is discipline – to make sure I’m regularly working on something, whether writing, re-writing, or finding potential venues for the work.  I hope to figure out how to fit writing into what is often an uncompromising schedule.  Sometimes I feel pulled in multiple directions and respond to that pressure by procrastinating too much, which is a kind of self-sabotage (though on the other hand, taking a break has its place too and can result in better ideas and writing…).  These things are tricky.

Since the end of junior year of college or thereabouts I’ve slowly been working on a novel.  Work on it has stopped and stalled at various points; I love the characters, but realized about a year and a half ago that there wasn’t much of a plot to speak of (just me making the characters stroll around and talk, which is great for getting to know them better but not so great for a coherent novel).  Fortunately by now a better story has emerged for the characters.  At some point I’d like to sit down and get it written.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

I’m thinking of a piano in my parents’ house.  Mostly I played on the keys and loved it – the range of notes, the grand chords and delicate trills, the blur of sound when I held the pedal down too long.  And after I was done playing on the keys I liked to go around to the side of the piano, lean into its belly, and run my fingers over the strings; I loved those other noises too, the strange purr and whispery echoes. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Grace Poems - Jack Hayes

Grace #1

A smoky-gray evening fraught with black-headed grosbeaks, when time passes thru you & casts a shadow—you’re at the confluence of what must be
& what might—& radio voices echoing in outer space beyond the cell tower glinting in blush rose sunset atop the mesa

You could reach for the sky but you couldn’t touch it—the phosphorescent planet off to your left—the thin dime moon to your right—the smoky-gray air fraught with hummingbirds & a helicopter’s fixed pulse—you can hardly help but think about deserts: crows swooping giddy over Owyhee fossils & petrified wood & the one diner standing wooden & tin-roofed between Jordan Valley & McDermitt—spiked Joshua Tree March blooms & an abandoned diner its windows boarded with plywood at the Mohave’s northern edge—a black upholstered armchair on the porch in a Nevada ghost town—the sunrise whitewashing mineral deposits across rocks & sand & hot springs

A serving of coconut cream pie in a chrome & linoleum diner in Needles, CA
—a wrong turn at Barstow towards the City of Angels—an angel-winged begonia blooming in a February corner beside a glass-top table—a piper betle’s heart-shaped leaves spilling off a shelf below an icon of Our Lady of Mercy—a mulberry dress with gray print a china bust of the BVM a dormant poplar—time passing thru you & casting an echo across the porch

Grace #2
A smoky gray evening fraught with long-billed curlews & a pergola awash in pink roses & a maroon Pontiac Bonneville marooned in Daly City all unstuck in time—a wall clock lemon yellow & cornflower blue & thistle pink its face scalloped & floral—a checkerboard linoleum floor in a theater lobby
—a single instant that stands in for forever like a luna moth in a truck stop sodium lamp

A Pennsylvania interstate phosphorescent at 3:00 a.m. & strewn with cigarettes & impossible laughter & poetic voices & other suicidal gestures—a smoky gray evening fraught with a gray Dodge pick-up hauling a horse trailer down North Grays Creek Rd & the polyrhythms of hummingbird wings—& here comes another star & it’s just as you say the stars are shattered glass like a C major 7 chord that won’t stop ringing

A mild dissonance a cognitive dissonance a tiger lily a paperback copy of Alcools tipped over on a shelf a pack of Camel lights beside an Adirondack chair a Bloody Mary garnished with celery all unstuck in time—a willow tree fraught with sparrows & the limbs are guitar strings in smoky gray air you cannot touch—a statue of Nuestra Señora housed in a scrap metal shrine beside a pink rose—a single instant that stands in for forever

Grace #3
A smoky gray evening fraught with swallows & electric light wires & a slight anticipation of the underlying pulse—& an N scale Union Pacific derailment somewhere along an N scale Tehachapi pass overlooking the windmills &
cell towers & other metal trees sprouting across the Mohave’s dry wash—a desk lamp equipped with a fluorescent coil light bulb a copy of Ring Lardner’s You Know Me, Al & a paperback open to something by Vallejo on a black upholstered easy chair in a Nevada ghost town

A random silence—a phonebooth under an orange top hat neon sign some miles past Vacaville a grilled cheese sandwich an order of French Toast the sun splashing honey & heartbreak across a gray formica table top—a large orange juice on the rocks beside a cut glass ashtray brimming with stubbed- out Camel straights—a stand of vibrantly orange willows erupting against the February snow how that snow shrinks into muddy earth like memory on a Lake Fork ranch

Time passes thru you a Union Pacific freight train inexorable & liberally tagged with graffiti in motion along the Columbia River—a meadowlark in a bitterbrush an afternoon game in the bleachers at Candlestick Park speaking French—a radio wave in the cycle of Saturn’s rings—time passes thru you a Raleigh 10-speed coasting beside the dahlias in Golden Gate Park—there is no such thing as silence only an absence of articulation—a feeling you’ve been here before amidst the black-headed grosbeaks with the same dish of blackberry cobbler the same Our Lady of Mercy icon—OK let’s get moving

Grace #4

A smoky gray evening fraught with the black-headed grosbeaks & moths—a fountain bubbling with transparent water time is just passing thru a semi- truck on Highway 95 blacking out the poppy orange sunset for one instant— a sleep disorder a marble statue of our Lady in a shrine past Buffalo NY a white sundress dark hysterical sunglasses a breaker exploding on the rocks at Rockaway, OR like an HO Union Pacific freight in an N scale world

There was a row of Chinese Elms in green Vermont light you don’t remember—there was a whitewashed brick building muralled with trellised pink roses—there was a bowl of yellow curry an American Spirit cigarette a wooden table outside the coffee shop a Calla lily you don’t remember—time is just passing thru like a white Plymouth on a 3:00 a.m. interstate like the cirrus clouds in white sundresses outside a wood-framed glass door

Just passing thru—a red tour bus a blue ghost light a silver ring a black & white canvas awning a blue jumper an embarrassment of reflecting pools lined with white quartz a paperback Apollinaire leaning on a pine shelf the tart odor of linseed oil on an August morning under a sky-blue sky the stars’ shattered glass—the catbird’s marimba trills the sparrow’s natural harmonics a statue of the Black Madonna in an upstate gift shop a china bust of the
BVM underneath a dormant poplar in someone else’s hands the same Our Lady of Mercy icon a lullaby goodbye an aluminum full moon sound wave

Jack Hayes
© 2010

Writers Talk - Jack Hayes

Hello folks—it’s me!  No, I mean it’s really me.  Due to a change in scheduling, I’m the Writers Talk interviewee this week.

Y’all know me, right?  OK, here’s a brief bio, just in case:

  • Jack Hayes-born Bellows Falls, VT 1956
  • Educated University of Vermont (BA); MFA in creative writing/poetry from the University of Virginia, 1986.
  • Some publications in magazines, three self-published books: The Spring Ghazals (poems 2008-2010); The Days of Wine & Roses (San Francisco poems 1989-1996); Nightingales in a Stateside Zoo (Charlottesville poems 1984-1989).  All are available here on Lulu. 
  • Maintains this blog & a few others.
  • Plays guitar & banjo & ukulele & performs on same.
  • Has lived in Westminster, VT; Burlington, VT; Charlottesville, VA; San Francisco, CA; & Indian Valley, ID, where he currently resides with wife & fellow writer/musician Eberle Umbach.
  • Apologizes in advance for interview’s length.

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

After an initial go at this question, it now strikes me as a bit of a moving target—I mean my identity as a writer has been quite fluid over a long period of time.  If I’m looking at the question as asking “when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer,” then I’d say it was probably when I read J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit at 9 or 10 years old.  Upon completing the book, I immediately began a novel of my own, which my mother has preserved to this day.  I do not plan to publish it or my other juvenalia, however!  From this point—1965 or 1966—I thought of myself as a writer—& wrote on a mostly regular basis—until I stopped writing 30 years later in 1996.

But there were other points of “identity” along the way.  For instance, until I was in my mid 20’s, I thought of myself as a fiction writer who occasionally dabbled in poetry.  At a certain point in the early 80s, I saw that my strengths were actually in poetry, & I put fiction writing on the shelf—permanently, it would appear.  It’s odd to think of this now, but it was only a couple of years before applying to MFA programs in 1984 that I’d actually started writing poetry “seriously.”  But the years were so much longer then.

& then, there was the period from autumn 1996 until spring 2008 when I didn’t write at all.  What was my identity then?  Ex-poet?  I actually went out of my way to bury that identity—I turned down offers to come to San Francisco to read, for instance, & in terms of creative life I thought of myself as a musician.  & how do I see myself now?  My identity locally is still that of musician.  Yet I continue to write poetry, even tho from a certain perspective I’m struck by the absurdity of that. 

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

This is really the hardest question for me, as I don’t particularly like to discuss process—maybe it’s my superstitious side—always on the look-out for a possible jinx.  A couple of general points: first, I’m not very big on revision—since I look at my poetic process as being in large part improvisational, I generally stick with what I come up with in the first couple of drafts (not counting “false starts”).  Thomas Hardy said something to the effect that a poem “loses its freshness” after a few drafts, & I find that to be true for my writing.  I do know others rely on many drafts—hey, whatever works.

Because my poems are improvisational, they tend to be creatures of the moment—in my mind, at least.  I’m intent on the process while actually composing—then it slips away once the poem is completed.  I rarely look back over past poems unless I’m compiling a manuscript or looking for something to post, etc.

But I’ll try to write about the “Grace” poem sequence—four prose poems that punctuate the various sections of The Spring Ghazals.  At a certain point in February of this year I realized I needed to be finished with composing the book—since the fall of 09 I’d been aware of The Spring Ghazals as a “book,” not just some poems I’d happened to write recently.  There was a lot of turmoil involved in writing these poems, & I reached a point where I said, “this has to be done.”  But I realized I wanted some connecting thread—some sequence that would comment upon & also tie together the books’ thematic elements. 

Why did I decide to use the prose poem form?—I can’t recall specifically, but I love the form for its flexibility, & that was no doubt a consideration.  Why did I call the poems “Grace?”  I’ve tried for 2-1/2 years now to look on the poems in The Spring Ghazals as offering some sort of psychic redemption from some severe turmoil.  I believe it was important to me to try to reach a poetic space where there was some “grace” amidst the welter of images & emotions.  Did “I” succeed?  As far as the “I” that’s a fictional narrator goes, yes, I believe so.  Beyond that?  Next question.  You can read the “Grace” poems sequence on the Writers Talk blog—or you could purchase The Spring Ghazals!  See next question.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I’ve written about this quite a bit both on this blog & on The Spring Ghazals blog.  When I was younger, in my 20s & 30s, I published in literary journals.  At the time, I fully expected to follow the conventional route to a career as an academic poet, with a tenured professorship either as a writer or a scholar.  Somewhere along the way, I rebelled against this.  However, I think in retrospect that there was a problem with my rebellion in that I didn’t carry it all the way thru; while I remained prolific in terms of poems written thru the 90s, I didn’t really figure out how to “effectively” develop a poetic presence outside the mainstream.

When I started the Robert Frost’s Banjo blog, I didn’t intend to post my own poetry—actually, tho I’d written several poems a few months before starting the blog, I wasn’t writing poetry in August 2008 when the blog launched.  At a certain point I did start posting poems, & I was struck by the fact that the poems probably had a larger audience than they would have if published in book form.

But as regular readers know, I decided to self-publish both my poems from San Francisco & my poems from the last couple of years back in February of this year.  Why did I opt for putting the poems in books?  They were being read & appreciated on Robert Frost's Banjo, & the blog has a good readership in more than one sense.  But a blog is not a book.  As far as creative writing goes
—poetry in particulara blog may mimic an anthology in some ways; at its best, it may mimic a serialization.  But at least using current technology, it can't replicate the experience of a book of poetry.  

Given that I wanted my poetry to be experienced in this way—because assembling the manuscripts had been itself an act of makingself-publishing seemed like a “no-brainer.”  I knew the grind (& expense) of sending poems out to lit mags & contests in order to build up enough publications to shop a manuscript, & given the fact that I’m not pursuing a potential academic career, this conventional route made no sense to me.  These days, with print-on-demand, self-publishing ranges from free to cheap, & I found the actual task of uploading manuscripts, etc. to be pretty painless.  In the case of the recent poems, I even shelled out a modest amount money for a better distribution package, confident that I’d more than break even on this.

But the aftermath of publishing has been mostly filled with disappointment, which is always a bad force to allow into one’s creative life.  Sales for both The Days of Wine & Roses & The Spring Ghazals have been very slow—as of this writing, we’re talking single-digit sales for each book.  Now, I know there’s no real money in poetry, because there’s scarecely any market for it, especially in the States, but I did expect more than this.  It’s also frustrating, because I have a tendancy to brood on what I may have done wrong—not publicized enough, publicized too much, publicized ineffectively
or: is the poetry just plain no good?  At a certain point, one’s ego gets caught up in this & if you’re not careful it can be quite detrimental.

So I don’t know where I stand vis-à-vis publishing “going forward.”  It’s quite possible that if/when I publish more poetry, I’ll do it privately, just for distribution among close friends.  This is more than a bit of a ponder these days.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Who thought up these questions!  As the old song goes, “If they asked me, I could write a book.”   But I don’t know if I can answer this question in any succinct form.  Here’s my attempt at doing so: “some of my best friends are writers”—no seriously, it’s true!  I’ve always gained inspiration from writer friends, & I generally find their way of viewing the world congenial to mine
—furthermore, we all love words, so it's fun to talk with with them or correspond with them.  On the other hand: my tendancy to entangle relationships in the poetic writing process has wrecked havoc both on some important relationships & also, I think, on my own psyche.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

With the very significant exception of my wife, Eberle Umbach, my writing community is all in some sense virtual, since Eberle is the only writer I know locally.  Obviously I do see some of my “3-D” writing friends from time to time, but at this point we’re far dispersed geographically, so most of the communication is online.  I do have writer friends in California who I get to see a bit more regularly. 

But I must say, I’ve developed some very satisfying relationships with writers that I know only virtually.  Although only a handful of people have purchased The Spring Ghazals, a few virtual writer comrades have really gone out of their way to publicize it, & I appreciate that so much.  I also think the Writers Talk series has helped me to expand my virtual writing community & get to know some folks better.  Twitter has been a really good tool in this regard
—just saying, in case you're still among the doubters.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

To keep writing—I don’t mean this in a flip way.  Stopping is always an option—I did it once before.  But ultimately, I don’t think stopping is good for me.  Continuing despite the fact that it seems an absurd exercise is necessary for whatever part of me might be called a soul.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

Ruling out some favorite instruments as not being quite appropriate, I’d have to say the upright bass.  Rhythm is a strong element in my writing, but I think I succeed in creating some music as well—at least outlining the chords!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hölderlin Masked - Mairi Graham

Hölderlin Masked

The poem near my heart
flutters like a small blue bird held to my breast,
flashes, like a kingfisher plunging after prey,
across my line of sight,
mutters like the wind in its wings,
thrashes like the cold silver thing brought out of its element
by strong claws and a needle beak.
Thus is it ripped untimely.

That is not what I meant to say.

There are sparrows outside the windows,
their dappled backs like sunlight on bare earth.
In the morning I hear them singing -
a stutter of notes and trills
loud in this carceral quiet.
Interrupted complicated
suspended in the cool air
perfecting the silence with sound.

That is not what I meant to say.

The madmen have been deprived of their screaming.
The truth, the doctor reminds us,
is not ours to tell. And anyway,
the world is not ready for it.
I am a hooded hawk –
calm, calm, perfectly calm.
I am a caged canary
muzzled by a rag over my bars.

That is not what I meant to say.

The poem near my heart
hides like a small blue bird held to my breast,
ascends like a raptor to the heavens
on fevered draughts,
rides the shifting wind, glides and climbs then
descends like the dove in foehn and fire
to lose its song in a confusion of tongues.
Thus is it revealed and not revealed to the world.

Mairi Graham
© 2009

Writers Talk - Mairi Graham

Mairi Graham is a portrait and landscape painter and a writer. She also makes sculpture out of the rusted detritus of our agricultural and industrial past. Her father believes this is a form of insanity but has been known to help carry fifty pounds of dirty metal half a mile over rough ground. She posts her poetry at Secret Poems From The Times Literary Supplement. In another life she writes about late 18th and early 19th century women writers.

On a personal note, I'd like to mention that the poetry on Mairi's blog is remarkably good—her skill with language, image & form are first-rate, & the thematic depth of the poems is always compelling.  Given my high esteem for Ms Graham's poetry, I'm most gratified that she agreed to participate in the Writers Talk series; & I'm even more gratified that she has been a staunch supporter of my own poetic efforts.  Don't forget to check out Mairi's poem "Hölderlin Masked" on the Writers Talk blog.  & now: on to the interview.

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

My mother used to read the dictionary for fun and her favourite answer to any question to do with words was “look it up.” I had to write a poem for a Brownie badge when I was about ten, and realised poems were a great way to use all those words I loved but couldn’t work into playground conversation. I’ve lost the poem but remember it was about “nature” and contained a good deal of gemstone imagery, and sparkle and dew. In grade six, I came across the word “torque” while I was supposed to be looking up something else in the classroom dictionary. From Latin torquere, to twist. It wasn’t the scientific or mechanical definitions that caught my eye but the necklace or armband made of twisted metal, worn especially by the ancient Britons and Gauls. I was smitten, and I knew immediately that there was a story attached to the word, and that I had to figure out what it was. That I was duty bound to do so, because no-one else would or could. That’s the thing about stories, in whatever form. If you don’t tell the ones given to you, they’re lost. A sensible child might have been crushed by the weight of responsibility but I just got a pencil and started to work.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be a book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

I work in all three areas and I suppose there are similarities between the approaches. Somehow an idea comes to me. In the case of a novel it’s usually an image that needs to be expanded on, or explained. Two men sitting under a pier in the rain, for instance. One of them a poet and one a man with no memory. That sort of additional knowledge arrives with the image, in much the same way information is given in a dream. I often write poetry to prompts chosen from the Times Literary Supplement, choosing what strikes me as I’m reading. What strikes me depends to a certain extent on what sort of mood I’m in, and whether the image evoked is one that resonates. “
Hölderlin Masked,” for instance, jumped out at me one day, as suggestive and interesting. Ideas for essays always spring from curiosity over some detail of something I’ve read. Why, for instance, did the anonymous author of a manuscript in the Princeton library claim her novella was “imitating” the 18th century German dramatist August Von Kotzebue. Or, why did Jane Austen so much prefer the hero of one unspecified book to the hero of another? And what were the books in question? Nothing earth-shattering in any of these instances, but it’s the way something opens out that’s of interest.  Curiosity is the common denominator. Whatever I’m writing, I move from idea to research. I want to know as much as possible about the subject I’m tackling, mainly in order to get hold of that “opening out” aspect . In the case of a novel, I want details of setting and history. A lot of details, as the details are often where the interest of the thing is hidden. I might visit the place and take notes and photographs, and then research background material.  Even a poem requires some research, a little or a lot, depending on the subject. In the case of Hölderlin, I read about him, his life, his work and the mask or hood the doctor in the asylum he was confined to put on his patients to keep them quiet, and somewhere I came across the fact that he fed and watched birds.  Once the research is done – hours, weeks, months, depending on what it is I’m working on – I let it all sit and stew for a bit. Or for years.  I write late at night, between nine in the evening and three in the morning. Six hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet.  I don’t mind the dog snoring or the cat purring but I don’t want to hear anything else. If I’m writing a longer piece I’ll try to put together a sketchy outline, but things grow organically and the outline often changes. Poems seem to form themselves in my head. I write them down as they’ve occurred to me and then revise and expand what I have. Whatever I’m working on, revision is the most important part of the process.  I revise as I write and I go over prose dozens and dozens of times. Poetry seems a more spontaneous form and I sometimes work on a piece for just a few days, with only minor shuffling and revision, often in the interest of internal rhyme, or metre.  In the Hölderlin poem I wanted something that played with the idea of a world inverted, topsy turvy, so I worked on placing the rhymes at the beginning of the lines of two of the verses instead of the ends, and then allowing the other two verses to break out of the restrictions of order or form. The revisions were mainly about getting the rhyme and tone to work with the subject, and matching the bird imagery to the emotional and physical reality of incarceration and mental illness.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)?

Small independent presses interest me. Places that will deal with a manuscript because it’s good, or has the potential to be good, even though it’s unlikely to make a fortune.  I have very little interest in the large publishing consortiums that rule the business, or in most of the books they put out. They waste resources, both natural and human, and seem sadly uninterested in advancing literature. A bad book by a known name always seems to trump a good book by an unknown. I know that’s not true in every case, but it’s true in too many. The role of the literary agent underlines this. The responsibility for sorting books has been shifted away from the publisher, making the priority of the business clear. Only a manuscript that will bring in enough money to make it profitable for both the publishers and the agent is worth considering. In order to do that the first question asked about a new property has to be – “Is it promotable?” instead of “is it wonderful?” “Who wrote it,” often plays too large a role in considerations. All of this leads to the policy of one big blockbuster over a dozen books with smaller sales potential. I suppose it must make good business sense but it doesn’t make good reading. I like traditional books – ink on paper – and will go out and pay for them, but I also like the great wide world of internet publishing. I post all my poetry on a blog. If you read it, I’m delighted. If you comment on it, I’m doubly delighted. Many more people read my work there than would if it was on a shop shelf, and that’s worth a lot to me. It’s worth more than whatever small amount I might have made if I’d published it in the old fashioned way, and I don’t have to spend a lot of time I don’t have sending things out to journals. Someday the poetry establishment will pay attention to online work but for now, it seems as if poems on paper are the only route to recognition. Your blog is unlikely to make you the next poet laureate or get you a post as writer in residence anywhere in the real world. On the other hand, I publish my articles in scholarly journals that don’t pay a cent for them but make them easily available to people with similar unaccountable interests and lend them a whiff of respectability. I’m also interested in the possibility, tossed about in various places lately, of patterning publishing on the music business. Offer your work to an audience and ask for a good will offering. Something akin to the storytellers of old. Most writers suffer from a compulsion to share. They want someone to listen.  Most people want to be entertained. A nice symbiosis. If the listener likes what he hears he can toss something into the hat toward keeping  body and soul together and more stories coming. Will it work? I’m eager to know.

How has being a writer affected your relationships? 

My dog thinks I spend too much time writing and not enough time playing ball. My cat thinks I don’t work hard enough because sometimes there’s no warm lap available when she wants to nap. My bird – a blue celestial parrot – wouldn’t mind if I worked from seven in the morning till seven at night, as long as I thought out loud and let him help with the typing. After seven, he just wants me to be quiet, whatever I’m doing. My husband is an academic and works about eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. I’m sure he’s happy I have something to keep me out of trouble.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any? This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

 One of the wonderful things about the internet is its ability to deliver like minded people into your living room, wherever you are. I know a few writers but I don’t see them often, and when I do we don’t sit and talk about writing. In fact, I’m terrible at talking about my work. But in the virtual world there are lots of people who love to write about writing. You can show them your work and they’re often incredibly generous in their comments, or you can look at someone else’s work and share your thoughts. It doesn’t matter what sort of question you have, someone out there has an answer and wants to write about it. The only problem is time. The more of it you spend chatting online the less you have for writing.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

To improve. Uninteresting but true.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be? 

Optimally, a ‘cello. It has been described as sounding most like the human voice. It’s the emotional range of the instrument that appeals, its capacity for great intimacy, and poignancy and sorrow and ebullience. It’s something to aspire to. In reality? Probably a kazoo.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meet Me in Nuthatch - Chapter 1 - Jacqueline T. Lynch



Everett Campbell wanted more time. That’s all. He walked the mile into town instead of taking his truck. The icy slush slopped over the tops of his work boots and stung his ankles. He did not mind. It made him feel tough, indomitable.

That feeling indomitable came at so little cost was nice, but made him feel somewhat guilty as well. He had been raised to believe effort was a virtue—maybe the biggest virtue.

Stepping, occasionally sliding down Campbell Road like an unsteady surfer onto Bookbinder Street, Everett ran over in his mind the list of the things he had to say.
Then his work boot traction departed, and his long legs flew out before him in a sciatic-inspired ballet. He landed hard. The back of his head bounced on the ice a couple of times. Fortunately, his rear end took the brunt of it.

Everett heard the slow crunch of snow tires before he saw the accusing headlight beams approaching. With relief, he realized it was Marv’s car, and not Roy Murphy’s. He began to flail his arms and legs rhythmically, as to appear to be making a snow angel.

Marv stuck his head out the car window, guffawed, and shook his head.

“Jeez, Ev, you scared me for a minute. I thought I was coming up to some dead guy. Last thing I need right now. Stop being such a joker, will ya? You’re impossible!” Marv chuckled, rolled up his window, and drove on to the meeting. Everett noted that Marv did not offer him a ride to the meeting to which they were both going. But, he reminded himself, he still needed time to think, even if his rear end was wet and freezing.

He did a systems check on his body, while the clear, deep black sky and the distant, crystal white stars created the classic tableau above his head. He hesitated only briefly to give them notice. They were there, same as always. Check. He got up with relief and gratitude that he was unhurt, marveling at it, and congratulating himself for it.

For Everett, there was only one concern, the ridiculous solution he had planned to solve their problem. It being ridiculous was what really appealed to him.

    The plastic, pink, faux-Dickens lanterns dangled in a more or less straight line down the road, now that he had turned onto Bookbinder Street. They bobbed and waved in the wind, their symmetry broken up only by the few that were cracked or had gone missing over the decades since they first appeared to herald the Christmas season, and from economy as much as sentiment, reused annually. Some in town voiced the opinion that the plastic lanterns had never been exactly attractive, but all privately agreed it would not be Christmas without them. Status quo was, for them, a form of sentiment.

Everett volunteered to help hang the lanterns on every light post that still had a bracket for them, just as his father and uncle had done since the 1950s, when they were purchased.

Everett stopped at the lantern that bobbed in the wind before the entrance to the old school. Built in 1902, the Nuthatch School had closed in middle 1990s when the town became absorbed into the county regional school system. The building that had once held all twelve grades in eight rooms and a hall now housed the Town Offices, the Senior Center, the library, and the storage closet where they kept the Christmas lanterns when it was not Christmas.

Town meeting tonight. About twenty people showed up, generally the same twenty people as always, give or take. The three town selectmen sat behind the big library table at the head of the old kindergarten classroom: Norm Hooker, Marv Howe, and Miss Finchley. All wore their coats, because they did not heat the building over the Christmas holiday.

“Any new business?” Norm asked, “Or can we go home?”

Everett squished himself into an old student desk. A man behind him asked, “When are we going to get town water up my way, Norm?”

“That’s old business,” Norm said, his bushy eyebrows slamming together as he frowned, “and stop asking me. Yes?”

Everett had raised his hand.    

“For godssake, whad’ya want, Everett? Just speak up.”

“I got a proposal,” Everett said.

He could feel the room skid to a stop.

“A proposal?” Norm rested his chin on his hand, because he was tired. It made him look cute somehow. “Well, Everett, it’s been the longest time since we had one of those.” There was some perfunctory chuckling, but that was as funny as Norm could ever make himself be, so without milking it, he continued, “What is it?”

Everett stood, like in the Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom of Speech," but not out of respect; the student desk was maiming him.

“I think we should make it a new town ordinance that we all have to live like it was 1904.”

They were hesitant to laugh at first, because it was cold, and because Everett had no reputation for being terribly funny. He certainly was no Norm. What he lacked in delivery, he usually made up for in execution. Everett Campbell was infamous for being the best practical joker in town.

“April Fools is four months away, Ev. And I liked your suggestion last April better, that we make a new town water tank out of Legos.”

“Do you still have the model you made?”

Now there was laughing, more like perfunctory huffing. Their laughter expressed their individual and communal reserve.    

“That was a joke then, Norm,” Everett said, “This isn’t.”

“Then it’s stupid. Sit down. Anybody else? Oh, Miss Finchley, don’t bother putting that in the minutes.”

Miss Finchley paused, fountain pen in hand, a green, celluloid Esterbrook she had owned since 1954. She filled the bladder by a small lever on the side. Everybody admired it, took their children to see it while Miss Finchley patiently gave demonstrations neatly writing her name. She had given out more autographs in thirty years than Elvis and Elizabeth Taylor in their whole careers combined.

“You haven’t heard me out,” Everett said, “I want to explain.”

“Explain what?”

“The man has the floor, Norm,” Miss Finchley said.

“He’s not making sense.”

“Doesn’t have to make a bit of sense. That’s democracy.”

Norm sighed and rolled his eyes to the broken ceiling tiles. Miss Finchley was not to be contradicted.

“Fine. Everett, please make it quick. It’s wicked cold in here.”

“Why did we have to have a meeting when there’s no heat?” someone said from the back of the room. “This meeting couldn’t have waited until next month?”

“You’re out of order, Josh. It’s Everett’s turn,” Miss Finchley said.

“Sorry, Miss Finchley. Sorry, Ev.”

“Go ahead, Everett,” she said.

“Yes, Miss Finchley. Thank you. Well, we were watching Meet Me In St. Louis on TV, my family was, on Christmas Day. My daughter loved it. She’s eleven.”

“We watched It’s a Wonderful Life,” Louisa Conroy said, shaking a box of Tic Tacs like a maraca and popping several at once.

“Um, yeah, we saw that five or six times in the past couple of weeks, too,” Everett continued, “But, on Christmas Day, we watched Meet Me in St. Louis. Reception was pretty good, too, with the plating factory shut down in Worsted for the holiday.”

“Yeah, I noticed that, too,” Sam Jurado said, “Reception was quite good. Uncharacteristically good.”

“Hey, yeah, Norm, I got an issue to raise,” Big Fat Jerry called, “when are we going to get cable?”

“You go and call the cable company and have them laugh in your face, Jerry,” Norm said, “I’m tired of doing it.”

“Were you watching Meet Me in St. Louis?” Kenny Mislow asked Sam Jurado.

“No, I didn’t find out that was on until it was almost over. I was watching some German choir singing German Christmas carols, from somewhere over in Germany.”

“That was on PBS.”


Everett looked from one speaker to another, and finally found an opportunity to interrupt, “So, anyway . . .”

“It was nice, the Christmas carols, but it was all in German, so you didn’t know what they were saying.”

“They didn’t have the words on the bottom?”

“Yeah, only they had them in German. Assholes.”

Everett tried again.

“About the movie . . .”

“Yes, that was a good movie,” Sam said, “I missed the Trolley Song part. I turned it on after that.”

Bud Markey, owner of the small bar on upper Bookbinder Street, quaintly named in a moment of cheery inspiration “Bud’s House of Beer,” sat on the windowsill, where it was even colder, but he was too big for the student desks.

“I like that part,” Bud said. His voice carried a wistful tone.

“Me, too,” Sam said. “Judy was so young.”

Norm had had it. He began to put on the mittens his mother made him. “Folks, let’s let Everett say his piece and then we can go home and warm up.”

The room quieted with dutiful swiftness and a dubious show of respect, and Everett felt the discomfort again of everybody’s full attention.

“Yes, it was a good movie,” Everett continued, “But, my point is, I got an idea that we could try to make an ordinance to live like they did in the 1904, like in the movie.”

“You want us to run around singing ‘The Trolley Song’?” Norm was on a roll tonight. More chuckling.

“I know most of it.”

“Shut up, Bud.”

“Watch your stinkin’ mouth.”

“Norm,” Everett said, “today my last best friend drove out of town with his family to start over . . .”


“Oh, no Bud, I didn’t mean you aren’t my best friend, you are.”

“I like that.”

“I’m talking about David Pellier. He and his family left town today. We went to school together. Well, he’s sure not the first to leave, is he? He probably won’t be the last.”

“I still thought I was your best friend.”

“You are, dammit! Jeez, will you let me finish!” Everett swiped his toque off, and brushed his gloved hand through his thick, black hair, now infiltrated with gray.

“My kids have practically no one to play with anymore. They’ve got to ride a bus an hour and a half every day to the regional school. We got sixty-three people living here, no industry, one variety store with a gas pump. No money for roads or water, maintenance, or much of anything. We have to do something. Why not this?”

“Because it’s nuts, Everett.”

“Not that the movie wasn’t good, though.”

“I like It’s a Wonderful Life better. Why don’t we do that one?”

“It’s not the movie,” Everett said, “It’s the idea. It’s for tourism.”

“Tourism? Why would anyone want to come here?”

“Exactly. What is there that’s here? What do we got? We don’t have much land for farming, with the whole town practically sliding off the north side of the mountain. We don’t have a lot of zoned property for industry or business. State forest takes up a good chunk of the land area. But tourism--that’s something else. You don’t need much of anything to be a tourist attraction.”

“He’s right,” Bud said, “Some people will go anyplace just to say they been there.”

“My cousin went out to Los Angeles, California, to take a picture of himself at those concrete steps where Laurel and Hardy had to carry up a piano,” Sam Jurado said. Everybody looked at him for an even longer period of time than after his Judy Garland remark. “Well, he did. He likes Laurel and Hardy. He has a picture of them in his kitchen.”

“Think of the Amish, living the way they do, for generations,” Everett said, trying to pull everybody back on track, feeling his own way as he went.

“That’s their religion. They’re used to it.”

“Yeah, but what I mean is, think of the people driving all over Amish Country just to watch these people doing nothing but being themselves.”

“That’s a little extreme, Ev.”

“Think of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Chocolate factory. Or, take a place like Disney World, that’s a completely made up place. Or think of Plimouth Plantation or Sturbridge Village, recreations of places set in certain times.”

Miss Finchley had been watching Everett, a slight smile softening the hard line of her jaw, noting, but not commenting on the incongruity of lumping Disney World with an Amish community. She asked, “Why 1904, Everett?”

“It was a long time ago--that’s all, really. A hundred years ago. People think of the old days as better. Romantic. Think of the stir we’d cause by choosing to conduct our public business . . . just public, I’m saying. People can still do whatever they want in their own homes, but if we were to wear those old-fashioned clothes on the outside and just . . .”

“Like one of them reality TV shows? I hate those. I hate people who watch ‘em--and worse, I hate people who watch ‘em and talk all about ‘em at work.”

“Are we going to have to eat bugs, do stunts, and be followed around by camera crews?”

No! I’m just saying, time is running out. We have to try something.”

Bud wiggled on the counter by the window, trying to get comfortable.

“No TV, and horseshit all over the roads, Ev. Oh, sorry, Miss Finchley. I mean poop. Oh, uh, sorry, again. Anyway, Ev, is that what you want?”

“I want to live a good life in the same place my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. I don’t know why I can’t. They had a future here and I don’t. None of us do. How much business are you doing at the bar, Bud?”

“You mean other than Marv?”

“We’d make fools of ourselves.” Norm said. “What’ll people think of us?”

“I think sometimes nobody else knows we’re here, Norm.”

“Are you making a motion, Everett?” Miss Finchley said, prompting him.

“Yes, Miss Finchley. I propose we conduct public business within the town limits as if Nuthatch was living in 1904.”

“Who would be the judge as to what was accurate and what wasn’t?”

“Miss Finchley.”

Miss Finchley smiled slightly with only a quick jerk at the corner of her mouth that always foreshadowed her wry delivery.

“Contrary to popular belief, I am not that old.”

“He just means you’re knowledgeable, Miss Finchley. Everybody knows that. Is anybody going to second this dumbass motion?”

It was growing colder, so several people seconded at the same time, arms reaching for the sky as if they were all being held up at gunpoint, hoping to speed things up.

“A motion has been made and seconded. All those in favor?”

Jacqueline T. Lynch
© 2010

The novel Meet Me in Nuthatch
is available as an ebook thru & as a pdf thru  Smashwords