Toni Amato is Right, As Usual

The new writing group met last night for the first time. I’ve done my best to appear confident about this new venture, but anyone who knows me well knows the turmoil of the waters beneath the placid surface. Facilitating workshops is not new to me — I’ve done it in various venues and for various years for more than 20 years — but this particular project lies quite close to my heart. Fear of failure and fear of success dogged my steps in the months leading up to its opening.

I feel particularly grateful for the love and support of my two teachers: Toni, who first challenged me to consider the possibility of starting a workshop similar to his, but on the opposite side of the Boston hub. He’s provided support both practical and spiritual — and will no doubt continue to as my own confidence waxes and wanes. And Barbara, whose workshop sparked the necessity of finding a place to generate new stones to polish and polish under her guidance. She said to me, “My first workshop was two friends who were there for free, and one person who paid $40.” That was 30 years ago, and 125 books and countless journal publications have emerged from her workshop since.

This time last week, I was reciting a litany of fears to Toni, and he responded — as he often does — that the universe would give me just what I needed, moment by moment. Last night, that was a small group which merged effortlessly. And a group decision to focus on generating works of poetry, the form I am concentrating on myself.  In three hours we worked four different prompts, and by the end of the evening we felt expansive and full of possibilities.

We meet again in two weeks, when two more new members will join us. We have space for a few more, but whether the group stays small or expands to capacity, I’m sure the universe will provide just what is needed.

I’m Reading at the Newton Free Library Next Tuesday, October 8

I just discovered that I am scheduled to read at the Newton Free Library on Tuesday, October 8 at 7pm. I’m so glad that Barbara at PoemWorks reminded me that Doug Holder had asked me to read for the series way back at the end of last December.

My reading is the day after the monthly PoemWorks reading at Newtonville Books. The following evening (Wednesday, October 9) I begin facilitating a writing group that will meet every other Wednesday through the beginning of December. So it’s going to be an all-writing kind of week for me.

Next month (Tuesday, November 12), two poets I know personally and greatly admire — Alexis Ivy and Charles Coe — will also be reading at the Newton Free Library. From the descriptions of the two folks scheduled to read with me on Tuesday — Wendy Ranan and Lawrence Kessenich — I will be in quite illustrious company myself. An open mic follows the reading.

If you are in town I would love to see you there. I know some of the Dverse Poets are Bostonians and would love to meet you in person. Directions by car and public transit are on the Newton Library website. Either way, wish me luck. It’s been some months since I’ve read in front of an audience.

I’ve Been Published in The dVerse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry

My longest poem, “Letters from Provincetown,” has gone through a number of iterations since I first penned it in 1998. And now it’s been included in the newly released dVerse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry.

Edited by Frank Watson (aka Follow the Blue Flute), the volume contains work from poets who frequent the dVerse Poets Pub, an online community that I find has a nice balance between friendly members and quality work. I’ve made a number of helpful connections at their weekly Open Link Night and also enjoy their other regular series, including Form for All and Pretzels and Bullfights.

A friend recently chastised me for downplaying my accomplishments. So if you’d like to support my work and also read an interesting variety of voices from around the world, I suggest giving it a look. The book is available in print and ebook at Amazon and debuted in the top 20 poetry anthologies on the site.

Buy the book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-dVerse-Anthology-Voices-Contemporary/dp/1939832012

Spring and All, in the Aftermath

When I was 13 and knew everything, when I was jaded as only the very young can be jaded, I loved T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I loved its ennui. I loved the flowing, imaginative, and so very, very bored voice of the speaker, fiddling with peaches and coffee spoons, scattering couplets about for charm.

Now that I am 39 and know very little, I kind of want to punch T.S. Eliot in the face. But tonight, on a night in late April when horrific things have happened in the city where I live, when very little seems to make sense in the world — and yet, when I know I am simply experiencing for the first time what many other people live with every day — I find solace in the bare modernism of one of Eliot’s contemporaries.

William Carlos Williams was a country doctor in a small New Jersey town. He hung out with the avant-garde in New York City, back when it was still possible to drive 20 miles outside of New York City and be in a small town. I don’t know a tremendous amount about his personal life, and perhaps that is for the best. After all, I admired Eliot’s work for years without learning about his anti-semitism. All poets are flawed in some way; in the modern age, it’s usually the flaws that drive us to such an unrewarding medium of self-expression.

Tonight M and I walked the spiral path to the top of a hill in the Arboretum. Boston springtimes are very uncertain; I never stop bracing for another round of sleet until Memorial Day is over. But this week, while the city reeled from the force of two homemade bombs that exploded in a crowd of civilians, the trees began to unfurl their blossoms.

Springtime flowers in this city are tough. With some vegetable intelligence, some faith I cannot comprehend,

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–

Williams speaks in an unflinching way of cold and modern realities — realities that another poet might try to soften with rhyme and metaphors. And without the window dressing, he manages to drill down to the beauty of the thing itself.

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the scourge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast–a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish,
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines–

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches–

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined–
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance–Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

— William Carlos Williams, Spring and All, William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems, ed. Charles Tomlinson. New York: New Directions, 1985. Page 39.

Quantity, Quality, Dubious Dichotomy

About six months ago I joined a writing workshop. I’m still not sure whether it was a good decision or a bad decision. One the one hand, there’s the whole “make me a better writer” argument. On the other hand, I find myself cringing from imagined criticism before I write a single word.

Maybe I was better off posting mediocre haiku after mediocre haiku and getting random praise of dubious sincerity from strangers I met on the Internets.

I’ve written and rewritten this third paragraph three times now, not sure exactly how to say what it is I want to say. Did Emily Dickinson agonize over her verse like this? Do I really want to be Emily Dickinson? Her life kind of sucked.

I leave the workshops variously energized, exhausted, and frustrated. For a while I was sure I wasn’t coming back. But then I was accepted for publication somewhere, and asked to read somewhere. I felt like I’d broken through some kind of barrier, one composed mainly of my own hang-ups.

The workshop leader herself is expansive, creative, extravagant. She has lived the kind of life I thought I wanted to live: professorships at this university and that university; poet in the schools; workshops in France, in Maine, in Taos NM. She has written books of beautiful poetry. I want very badly what she has, but I’m not sure what that is.

After the first class, she said, “Wonderful! You are a wonderful poet, a wonderful critic!” At the beginning of the new term, she said “Welcome home,” and gave me a hug.

And then proceeded to rip into my poem when it came around the table. Is it just me? Am I being too much of a sensitive poet? Finding a reason not to walk the road I’d fantasized about for so long? Even after reality-checking with a friend, who agreed that she does seem harsher toward me than the other students, I don’t know. Can’t articulate it. Can barely articulate it in this post. Have no idea how to ask for things to be different — or if it’s even possible.