my poems

27 posts

My Poem in the Sunday Paper (Or: “Extra, Extra, Read All About It!”)

Although poetry is a familiar sight in small literary and university-based journals, it is increasingly rare to find it in larger, more mainstream magazines and newspapers. Meaning? When you do see poems in such widely-distributed periodicals, you cheer its editors and their priorities, which include getting more eyes on more poetry!

Perhaps the most famous example comes each Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, which features a regular column dedicated to poetry. 

Another, just up the coast a few miles, comes from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald’s Sunday paper, the Maine Sunday Telegram, where the poet Megan Grumbling edits and introduces the “Deep Water” poetry column each week. In the June 13, 2021, paper, she writes a gracious introduction to my poem, “Core Body Temperature,” which will appear in my third poetry collection, Reincarnation & Other Stimulants, due out in a matter of weeks.

Like many of my poems, the idea stems from a few simple words — in this case, a man who once knelt in a Maine lake, water neck-high, on a scorching hot day and told us he wasn’t coming out until he “lowered his core body temperature.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but both the words and the example surely impressed me, leading to this poem.

 

Go Deep! Go Wild!

Deep Wild

If you’re a FB person, I invite you to visit Deep Wild Journal’s Facebook Page, where they featured my poem “Thoreau Knows” yesterday to commemorate Henry David’s 203rd birthday.

The poem will appear in the print journal, Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry, the 2020 issue, which is scheduled to be released any day now. As I say of any journal that publishes my work, buy! I put my faith where faith is put!

So go ahead, FB types. Do some good for the little guy (Deep Wild Journal). Read their FB page. Endorse it. Then read it and, if you’re a writer and a lover of nature, submit to it for its next issue.

How Do You Like THEM Apples?

m80

There’s nothing quite like the quiet after a storm. Thus my love for the Fifth of July, waking early, hearing only birds and wind through tree and leaf. It makes me feel so, I don’t know. Independent of noise.

Thank you, God.

Yesterday was a passing strange day for this blog. Holidays are slow days for online traffic. Notoriously. I only put my poem “It’s the Fourth of July” up because, well, it was the Fourth of July.

But a lot of people must have been home and on the web because a lot of people visited “Updates on a Free-Verse Life.” Most the site’s seen in over a month, in fact. And from all quarters of the Internet.

No one bought a book, which, ironically, was the prime reason for starting the blog so many years ago, but hey, poetry books usually sell only when they come out. Period. Two years later? It would be like Lourdes, where you’d have to separate the mirac- from the –ulous to find readers willing to take a chance on you.

Plus there are all sorts of myths (truths?) about sales and poetry books. One is that only other writers of poetry books buy poetry books, but even that has limits. As a poet, you can only extend your fiduciary kindness so far.

Two is that established poets outsell still-establishing poets (“Here, Peter Quince!”) by a country mile (“country” being Russia, east to west).

Three is that poetry books cost too much. Yes, there’s that. Though you can also argue that poetry by its nature is richer reading than prose because it holds up to rereading and, like music, offers greater pleasures through the act repetition (think “refrain” instead of “refraining from reading”).

In any event, there’s no getting around the fact that parents advise their children to grow up and become lawyers and doctors, not poets. “My son is a doctor,” women will say to their golf party at the club, never, “My son is a poet. How do you like them apples.”

Oh, would it were so. Just to see the expressions on the faces of ladies wearing lime-green skirts and visors before they tee off on the absurdity of it all.

Happy Fifth, folks. Enjoy your barbecued leftovers or, if you’re not American, enjoy the all our ironies from afar. (Assuming you’re bored with enjoying your own!)

So On and So Fourth of July

fireworks

Here we go again. My third least favorite holiday (after Valentine’s Day and Halloween, I mean). The one no one calls July 4th and everyone calls “The Fourth of July.”

Still, this year brings an unusual Fourth. First there’s the elephant in the world, Covid-19, rubbing its hands in glee at the thought of big gatherings. Especially maskless, “I have my rights (to spread disease that might kill people)!” gatherings (thank you, Typhoid Donny).

Second, there’s the dream that America might actually be thinking of circling back. You know, to the mess the Founding Fathers left for future generations (Civil War being the result). The one still festering because of words like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (except women, Blacks, American Indians, and assorted other minorities) are created equal.”

What if, some people are finally asking? What if we went back to all the beautiful language and ideals in our roots and made it real for everyone, not just the few and the privileged?

So there’s that.

But this poem, a few years old and originally printed in Issue 14 of Unbroken Journal as well as in my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, is more of a lark. A rant, in fact, against all the  (insert invective here) fireworks. And drinking. And general mayhem particular to colors red, white, and blue.

Hey. American or not, red or blue, too, Happy Fourth to you!

 

IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY

by Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

A Day in the Life (Non-Beatles Version)

clock

5:30 a.m. Rise and, first and foremost, get water boiling for a carafe of freshly-ground coffee. The first cup is the best. Always. But that never stopped a man from nursing numbers two and three.

6:00 a.m. Before checking the old inbox, repeat three times: “I need some good news today.” Click. See Merriam-Webster’s word of the day only. Well, at least it’s not bad news.

6:30 a.m. Begin writing. The focus has moved in the direction of a YA novel, but some mornings I’m still in the mood to tinker with poems from MS #3, even though it’s out a-courting some nine lucky publishers. I Know, You Know, and Don’t Know (the names of Mark Twain’s dogs, and you can look it up) that, when the manuscript is accepted, these revisions will be allowed through the pre-publication gates, so it is a worthwhile habit.

7:30 a.m. Timeout for breakfast. For me, it’s been the same drill lately. The night before, I take out an 8-ounce Bell jar, put a few raisins and a dash of cinnamon on the bottom, fill halfway with organic Old-Fashioned Oatmeal, then another round of raisins and cinnamon, followed by the second half of oatmeal, topped off with a third and final touch of raisins and cinnamon. Then I slowly pour in unsweetened almond milk (you could use the milk of your choice) until all the oats are just covered. Put on the top, set in the fridge, and know that, by morning, it will be cool bliss. I follow up this cold oatmeal breakfast with a sliced orange.

8:00 a.m. More coffee, more writing. Some days it’s more deleting than writing. Some days I get to show off my addition skills. But more often I find myself tearing down yesterday’s progress, like a little bully boy at the beach who kicks other kids’ sandcastles down. The bully in me = eyes 24 hours wiser.

10:00 a.m. Take a reading break. Whatever the book of the moment may be (and right now, it’s Robert Bly’s News of the Universe), usually, or sometimes I go to the two “ongoing” reads when I’m in the mood for them: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (and would we had a leader who read it and followed it — or was even capable of reading it and following it!) or the Complete Essays of Montaigne. By now, Marcus and Montaigne are my best buds, a sad commentary on males and their lack of close friends, at least compared to women. Still, in the time of Covid, this lone wolf stuff works to guys’ advantage, no?

11:00 a.m. If it’s not raining, I make a short drive to the beach, where I get out and walk four miles. At the beach, everything is normal and as it ever was: the surf, the sand, the seagulls and all the other S’s. They have no clue what “coronavirus” means. Nor do they care to. I can learn from cheek like that. I get a lot of “writing” done while I walk, too, thinking about that morning’s writing and where it went wrong or could go “righter.” As I logged many years at the ocean’s side as a boy growing up, looking out at the shards of sunlight on the seas’ surface brings me back, too. From your eyes, without being able to see your body, you forget that you’ve aged because, damn, it all looks the same, just like the days when you were young and limber.

11:30 a.m. How is it I never gave white sharks a second thought all those years I swam in the ocean? Now-a-summer, it seems that’s all I think of while in the briny, being vigilant, being ready to do battle with the weapons at hand (read: none). Of course, there’s no telling if I’ll even be able to swim at the beach this summer. It depends on the C-word (for once, not “cancer”) that the surf, sand, and seagulls have never heard of because they never listen, anyway.

12:30 p.m. Home for lunch. These days, not much, because you cannot eat as much after 50, for one, and because lunch is the least interesting of meals, anyway. For me, it’s typically a protein powder shake (vegetable source) with frozen organic strawberries and blueberries and a sliced apple thrown in. And please, don’t get on my case about the “organic” thing by calling me a “foodie” or a “yuppie” or whatever label people like to throw about in our label-addicted world. “Organic” predates the conventional, herbicide- and pesticide-laden fruits and veggies we eat now. “Organic” simply means REAL and CONVENTIONAL because it’s what your granny (or certainly great-granny) ate before all the chemical giants came to the fore in the era of WW II (in that sense, we are all Germany and Japan). So “organic” means “real food,” straight and simple, the way it was from time immemorial. Got a problem with that?

2:00 p.m. Practice on-line French. I took cinq ans of French back in the day but recall precious little (or, as they say in Paris, “petite presciouse“). They say that this, along with learning a musical instrument, is your best hedge against Alzheimer’s. I try to do at least 30 minutes of practice de français une jour.

2:30 p.m. I think to myself: “Remember when people worried about Alzheimer’s? Remember when “going viral” was a good thing?” Then I stop thinking for a bit, at least in that direction. Safer that way.

3:00 p.m. Time for a 30-minute nap, though it’s not a sacred animal for me or an assured thing or even an everyday thing, necessarily. It all depends on how the old insomnia thing was acting the night before.

3:30 p.m. Afternoon coffee, about as late as I dare. This is a small leftover cup from the morning, so nowhere near as good, but still good, and still better than snacking on processed food (again, thank you WW II era). I do this while going through another hour or two of reading the book of the moment.

5:30 p.m. Supper. I’d make a lousy European or cosmopolitan sort, as those folks like to eat at 9 at night or so. Still, there is good new for early suppers like me. The later in the evening you eat, the more likely it is that calories become fat while you sleep. Unless, of course, you’re blessed with one of those metabolisms. You know, the ones where adults can eat like 14-year-old boys and still look like healthy sticks.

6:30 p.m. On bad days, the nightly news, although this almost assuredly brings on a bout of indigestion. On good days, straight to some bubble-brained comedy. Of late, it’s been the six seasons of Schitt’s Creek and the six seasons of Community. Now it’s Netflix movies. This is all Covid-caused. Previous to this homebody-by-force stuff, I mostly loathed the movies and television shows. You know. Like Holden Caulfield did. After the word “phonies,” he probably said, “I hate the movies” more than anything else.

8:30 p.m. Last check for “good news” in the inbox from editors fighting it out for the privilege of publishing my poems (and what a joyful cartoon image THAT is!). Why do these people take so long? Why do I continue to dream that, some day, some editor will happen to read the work I submitted via Submittable on the same day it arrives and JUMP on it before any other editor can? Blame the last thing out of Pandora’s Box. Anyway, after this delusion, I repair to the kitchen to make tomorrow morning’s Overnight Oatmeal (see 7:30 a.m. entry for, ahem, recipe)

9:00 p.m. To bed with the book of the moment. This usually lasts all of 20 minutes before I drop the book on my face, making a literary divot on the bridge of my nose.

2:30 a.m. If I’m lucky to get this far, the first wake up. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get back to sleep within 20 minutes, but if it goes longer than that, it usually drags out for 90 minutes at least, forcing me to witness that most unseemly of hours: 3 to 4 o’clock, the hour that inspired me to write these poems:

 

Insomnia
Ken Craft

Three is the loneliest number on a clock
when the night can’t save you.

No doubt it is the constellated tug,
a conspiracy of stars, the silent, primal

voice that whispers the uselessness,
that grinds greater gears,

that mocks the hubris of careful plans,
set alarms. Every blanketed life around you

sleeps safe and happy and secure
like nothing can touch them, like change

has made its exception, named it you,
and passed finally over the frosted roof.

 

 

3:30
Ken Craft

In the dark
from over the water, a rooster
celebrates my insomnia

 

5:30 a.m. Wake and sing the simple ditty by some obscure minstrels from long ago: “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.” And a fine déjà vu to you, too, using something as dated as a comb.

May you all have a great “day in the life” of your own, for today and many more.

The Physics of Aging

astro

When you market your poems, you’re often as surprised by the ones editors don’t select as the ones they do.

“Really?” you say, when they select “A” from the bundle of five you submitted instead of, say, “C” or “D,” which you liked better.

Then, when a publisher accepts your collection, the clock starts ticking and time works against you. A point is reached where you can no longer market the remaining poems that did not win a spot in poetry journals and thus, the Acknowledgments page.

Orphans, you can call them. But sometimes poets hold a special place in their hearts for some of these orphans — the guys that were rejected more than once by editors who just didn’t see the poem as a “fit.” (Editors love that word, though it gives writers fits.)

One longish (for me) poem I was always partial to is “The Physics of Aging,” found in my rookie effort, The Indifferent World. I like how it’s divided into three parts that seem different yet share a thread. I like how it gets high on alliteration, especially the first part’s “…mortality stumbles on / starlight, slows like satellite / parabolas raking the soft black / silt of a summer night.”

Of course, as any experienced poet will tell you, coming up with a great phrase like “raking the soft black silk of a summer night” does not a poem make. It’s like doing a great hundred yard dash in a 5-mile race. You’ve still got work to do, kiddo.

Anyway, it was fun. And I still have fond memories of writing it. And I still enjoy rereading it. What else can a poet ask of his own stuff?

 

The Physics of Aging
Ken Craft

I. Einstein Says

In space, aging trips against air
so thin it’s unseen; the march
to mortality stumbles on
starlight, slows like satellite
parabolas raking the soft black
silt of a summer night; in this
empty silence, Einstein says,
age gets silently sucked
into vacuums of immensity,
of immortality. Time
slows. God yields.

II. Story of the Star Sailor

Time jammed on noon Eastern
Standard, the astronaut peered
through his bubble helmet, swiped
a fat, clumsy glove at some
celestial smudge that turned out
to be inside the polycarbonate.
Squinting scientifically, he verified
that Ponce de León,
Conquistador of Death, got
as far as the Pleiades in his age-
old quest. Said star
sailor felt for the reassurance
of his vent pad—carafes of cupped
oxygen from Cape Canaveral—
then sipped of time, borrowed
and decanted. No moments later,
he transmitted coordinates
to Houston: “Spanish flag
floating beside Taurus, over.”
The astronaut waved
his immense hand at the blue planet
below. With youthful indiscretion,
he coined his upcoming
reentry “the second coming.”

III. Dust to Dust

Here I humbly shave
before a thinner space,
the thrift of a mirror.
Its silver truths shift
in hydrogen clouds. Swirling
a bath towel, I observe
the distant whorls of me, white
stubble hidden in nebula
of steam and Barbasol. Within
seconds, unbeknownst
to mankind, the second coming
will shred Einstein’s
sky, bleeding the blue
days upon us.

 

“The Physics of Aging” © Ken Craft, The Indifferent World, FutureCycle Press, 2016

Tony Hoagland Gives His Blessing

art of voice

Yesterday I picked up Tony Hoagland’s posthumous book and, I assume, the last, The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice. The purpose of this 168-pager is to promote ways writers can add “voice” to their poetry, and it doesn’t hurt that the essays enclosed have plenty of voice themselves.

“Voice” is one of those literary terms that everyone knows but no one wants to define. Hoagland is happy to oblige. He calls it “the distinctive linguistic presentation of an individual speaker.”

In his opening paragraph, he goes on: “In many poems voice is the mysterious atmosphere that makes it memorable, that holds it together and aloft like the womb around an embryo. Voice can be more primary than any story or idea the poem contains, and voice carries the cargo forward to delivery. When we hear a distinctive voice in a poem, our full attention is aroused and engaged, because we suspect that here, now, at last, we may learn how someone else does it—that is, how they live, breathe, think, feel, and talk.”

Sound pretty awesome. Sounds pretty “I’ll have some of what he’s having.” And as Hoagland further proves, voice forges a relationship between writers and readers. Voice eliminates the very idea that a reader might discontinue reading your poem after line three or thirteen. At the mercy of voice, a reader can’t help herself. She’s yours. She. Must. Read. On.

“A poem strong in the dimension of voice is an animate thing of shifting balances, tone, and temperature, by turns intimate, confiding, vulgar, distant, or cunning—but, above all, alive. In its vital connectivity, it is capable of including both the manifold world and the rich slipperiness of human nature,” Hoagland adds. Clearly, then, it is a topic worth 168 pages.

For me, in the early going of this book (which I’m still reading and, no doubt, will write plenty more about here), it is a blessing. The late Hoagland’s blessing to me personally. Which just goes to prove his point—the fact that I would take the early messages in this book personally, I mean. It is all a product of voice.

In Chapters 2 (“Showing the Mind in Motion”) and 3 (“The Sound of Intimacy”), Hoagland says it’s OK to ignore the common poetry-writing rule of cutting to the bone (details in future posts). Why? Because, too often, all that economy kills voice.

Hoagland even goes to bat for colloquialisms like “Here’s the thing,” “Hang on a sec,” “Laugh if you like,” “Know what I mean?” and “Well, you see….” Use words like that in a poetry writing class and the instructor will have the scissors out in the first minute. Or imagine a workshop approach where you read a poem with any of those expressions. Your workshop classmates (competitive lovelies that they are) will have the polite daggers before you get to the last line.

“Writing like this is superfluous,” they would say. “Wordy!” they would succinctly (by way of example) shout. “Prolix” the show-offs would smirk.

But what if it is all in the service of voice? Sure, it has to be done right, but many beginning poets feel as if it outright cannot be done. Poetry must be concise at all costs. Adjectives and adverbs are guilty until proven innocent.

And all of that is true. Until it’s not.

For that thought, I thank Hoagland and will continue to thank him as I read (and then reread) this little book. He has given me his blessing to be wordy if it serves a purpose and if it bonds the reader to my work.

If all this sounds like a tightrope walk, welcome to the business. Still, it’s good to learn once again that there are no easy answers or recipes to success when it comes to poetry. Answers are merely opinions, and that’s what makes for horse races (and books about writing poetry).

 

It’s the Fifth of July

fireworks

… and I’m posting my poem “It’s the Fourth of July,” which originally appeared in Unbroken Journal, a poetry journal dedicated to prose poems.

And hey, the Fifth makes a cameo at the end of the poem, so who’s to fault me for being untimely?

 

It’s the Fourth of July
Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

200 Candles for Ivan Turgenev!

turgenev

It’s hard to keep up with family birthdays, much less venerated writers’ birthdays. You stumble across them by accident on the Internet, however. How else would I know that Ivan Turgenev just turned 200 on Nov. 9th?

Like many bibliophiles, I have fond memories of my Russian phase. In fact, if my literary leanings were to be portrayed in print, they might be titled Portrait of the Russian Lit. Reader as a Young Man. As a teen, I was consuming Russkies like pizzas: Turgenev, Chekhov, Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, and especially Tolstoy.

But Turgenev was one of the first. Chiefly reading Sketches from a Hunter’s Album (which has since been published under many like-sounding names), a collection of short stories that I will forever associate with the place where I read them, a Maine farmhouse sitting on top of a hill. I was holed up in that house during a freak November nor’easter.

But what did that matter to me? I had my Turgenev, my wood-burning Franklin stove, plenty of food and drink, and friends and family who had joined me on a deer hunting trip (the least of my ambitions at the time… I was more there for atmosphere than venison).

When I returned to Connecticut days after the storm abated, I continued my Turgenev bender. I still have the black Penguin paperbacks on my bookshelf, too: Fathers and Sons, Home of the Gentry, Rudin, On the Eve.

Now it’s been decades since I read poor Ivan Turgenev’s. He waits patiently on the shelf in hopes of my return. The prodigal reader, and all that. But he’d be happy to know that he did inspire a poem. Appearing in my first collection, it’s called, appropriately enough, “Turgenev Time.”

A gift, then, for Ivan with appreciation:

 

Turgenev Time
by Ken Craft

As a young man, I lay in a finished
basement for years, bound
to an oatmeal carpet, sickly and citrus-skinned
in the tangerine glow of incandescent bulbs.
Outside it was winter in Connecticut; far
away it was Hell in Vietnam; but inside it was merely
hard Berber rug, a gas heater,
and my gentrified Russian novels.
The knot-paneled room offered neither hope
nor despair nor thought of escape. Warm-woozy,
I dozed, awakened, read
more as the heater exhaled
comfort.

In the books, lime trees rattled and rooks took wing.
Bough to fragrant leaf, kvas-drinking peasants
laughed and cursed. On the wind came the smells
of horse and rain and superfluous ideas.
Outside it was spring in Oryol; inside it was
black-backed Penguins, ocher-edged paper,
ink in Monotype Bembo, the chalky outline
of my sun-starved body on the floor.

I remember my mother’s art deco clock, gold spikes
gripping the dark pine wall, how it dripped
hours and minutes, weighing tick for heavy tick
with the pinging heater, submerging
me and my future pasts—all of them—
in the calm killing current of Turgenev time.

 

— © Ken Craft, The Indifferent World, Future Cycle Press, 2016

Random Thoughts: August Edition

augustus

Yes, it’s time for some Random Thoughts (Copyright and Patent Pending) for the month of August, named after the formidably crowned Caesar Augustus:

  • Speaking of August, summer is fast running out of real estate, at least for teachers. It officially ends on September 23rd, yes, but for educators, it ends on the first day of school, whatever day that happens to be in your corner of the world.
  • That day, by the way, is a day of mourning for tanned teachers returning to the trenches and a day of joy for weary parents everywhere (who, as July and August can attest, have earned their joyous stripes by now).
  • For teachers, July and August are in no way equal. July is like Saturday on a weekend—as vast as the desert and school-thought-free—whereas Sunday is a patch of cricket-charged meadow, leg-scratching its warnings: “Tomorrow is Monday-read-September! Tomorrow is Monday-read-September!”
  • It’s OK, though. I just heard the loons calling my number from the lake. I don’t know why these birds have become borderline worshipped by the greater public, but I’m glad they have. I like their size, their red eyes, and their crazy-as-hell-make-that-our-world-today calls.
  • Did you know the bald eagle and the loon are sworn enemies? And that eagles often steal meals captured by hawks? And that Ben “My Main Man” Franklin wanted the wild turkey over the bald eagle as our national symbol because the eagle was such a lazy opportunist?
  • I think “lazy opportunist” might be a better symbol for a capitalist country, however. Sorry, Ben. I still like your hundred-dollar bills, though. We poets earn them all the time. Alas, the currency is always in the mail.
  • I am forever amused, when listening to the classical channel streaming on-line, to the serious way announcers pronounce good-ole Johann Sebastian’s last name: Baccchhhh. It’s like some classical thing has caught in their throats. Or like they are choking into the mic at the crucial moment.
  • Or maybe it’s just German.
  • I just finished Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient because the Booker people, in a successful bid to sell more books, labelled it the Booker to End All Bookers. Truth be told, I think it holds up better as an extended poem than a logical novel. Like the girl nursing the titular hero, I lost patience by the end. More than once! Thus, the plural. Of patients, you see.
  • (Note to self: If you’re working too hard for a joke, it’s not a very good joke.)
  • Fast approaching: September 1st, a day umpteen poetry markets (read: colleges) open. Ready, set… reading fee!
  • And yes, the non-reading fee market is shrinking like plastic wrap these days. You may well wonder who’s reading your work for all these fees. In many cases, it’s not the editors. In some cases, it’s no one at all. Slush-pile volunteers are a varied crew, many of them more intent on incoming texts than your poem.
  • I am now charging “rejection fees” to the tune of $3 each received in my new “for-pay-only” inbox. I call it The Empire Strikes Back! and it is a lucrative trade.
  • In other words, Pay is your Pal. Dot all-is-calm.
  •  In the New York Times Book Review, we get Boris Fishman reviewing Keith Gessen’s A Terrible Country (referring to a man’s return to his native land, Russia). Fishman mixes quote with paraphrase to give us this, “…yes, Putin was a coldblooded killer, but ‘he was our coldblooded killer,'” which could not help but remind me of another country, only one led by a coldblooded liar who is supported by people of similar logic (“…yes, he is a coldblooded liar, but he is our coldblooded liar”), Mr. Ten Guesses.
  • If you want further explanation of that “we know he’s a liar but we love him anyway” logic, this Emily Ogden piece is a must-read. In summary: “If he pisses off the people we want to piss off, we don’t much care. In fact, we love his shtick all the more!”
  • So much for the requisite political asides in our monthly Random Thoughts edition. It is a requirement of the Resistance, and I live too close to the Concord Bridge not to heed its call.
  • Spoiler Alert: In the end, the Minutepoets win.
  • In a nod to the King of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, I have adopted his line regarding my book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness.. Here it is: “Order Soon! Only 2 Remaining! More on the Way!”
  • Translation in Bezos-$peak: “Hurry, damn it! Those two will be worth money some day– more than a rejection fee, even!”
  • Happy Monday and Happy Fleeting Summer, people. Keep reading, and make sure that poetry collections are part of your regime.
  • As Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, once said: “Read literature. Not too little. Mostly poems.”