Thursday, February 14, 2013

Praise for Danielle Cadena Deulen

I had the privilege of attending a fantastic reading by poet and nonfiction writer, Danielle Cadena Deulen.  I just finished teaching her lovely book, Lovely Asunder, and it's definitely worth checking out.  I especially admire her lyricism and stylistic range and based on my students' responses, they really dug it, too.  Need proof? Here's a sample poem:

I Want You Dangerously
by Danielle Cadena Deulen

open. But I am a woman, so cannot
              open you the way I would if (at the hinge
                            of your spine, the tight latch

of your knees) I had a key, or hammer. I mean
              no violence, just as good men
                            never mean violence,

but still I tremor, tremor. Your mouth
              a ruin—your eyes like the dark ascending
                            wings of a bird—

I watch magpies destroy
              the nests of sparrows. Pillage.
                            Plunder. If I were a Viking, I'd take you

home, my only and best prize.
              I'd marry you to my bones.
                            Oh, tell me you want my

burnt sage, saltwater scent—my barricade
              across the roads of your body—or tell me
                            to leave you the fuck alone, and I'll go

further inland, like a lenient
              hurricane—all of your beautiful
                            levies intact.

She has a great sense of humor, too, and gave a very insightful talk to our graduate and undergraduate students.  Oh, I should also add that her fiance, Max Stinson, happens to be a fantasy fan so we were able to geek out and talk about George Martin, Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan, etc.  Poetry and fantasy in one night?  I never would have thought it possible!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here's a seasonal poem from my third poetry book.


There he goes, toddling off-stage
with that gnarled scythe resting
crosswise a sash in last year’s fashion,
his dripstone beard, his great
nose like a pilgrim’s plough-blade.

And here comes his successor—
a drooling infant dressed in a top hat
and star-spangled diaper,
blissfully unaware how he will age
three months each day in office.

Father Time could say something.
He could warn the poor toddler
of the need to arm himself,
to get a handle on more than his bowels
if he wants to hold this mess together.

But Baby New Year just grins
like a pacifist and the old man departs,
yielding at last his gothic hourglass
of sand made from the bones
of dinosaurs, sea cows, Babylonians—

all that expires under Time’s watch.
Meanwhile, the Dutch launch fireworks,
the Greeks bake coins in cakes,
Japanese monks ring temple bells
and the Scots gift coal and shortbread.

But here, we Americans just kiss
and kiss while that old drama plays out
on confetti-fogged billboards,
the tips of noisemakers blaring up one
strangled, universal note to the sky.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Latest Poetry Feature on Atticus Review

As the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review, it is my great pleasure to help promote the work of some fantastic, possibly underrated poets.  This time, I'm shining the spotlight on Peter Bethanis.  Peter's blend of humor, accessibility, and biting social commentary make him a force to be reckoned with.  Need proof?  Take a look!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Explication of Ted Kooser's "A Rainy Morning"

A Rainy Morning
by Ted Kooser

A young woman in a wheelchair,
wearing a black nylon poncho spattered with rain,
is pushing herself through the morning.
You have seen how pianists
sometimes bend forward to strike the keys,
then lift their hands, draw back to rest,
then lean again to strike just as the chord fades.
Such is the way this woman
strikes at the wheels, then lifts her long white fingers,
letting them float, then bends again to strike
just as the chair slows, as if into a silence.
So expertly she plays the chords
of this difficult music she has mastered,
her wet face beautiful in its concentration,
while the wind turns the pages of rain.

I was midway through my first semester in grad school—which, for me, meant a preoccupation with getting laughs and/or raising eyebrows in workshops so I’d have something to swagger about at the local beer garden afterwards—when I stumbled across A Rainy Morning by Ted Kooser.  To be honest, at first, I didn’t think much of it.  Too few lyrical pyrotechnics, not enough risk.  Of course, back then, I still thought of risk in terms of how much you might potentially offend an audience with obscenity, blasphemy, or loud, wholly foreshadowed narrative turns.  It didn’t occur to me (or maybe I just didn’t remember) that another totally legitimate form of risk (especially with narrative poetry) is to simply pull the drain on one’s own ego and focus entirely on the imagery and action of a single scene. 

Eventually, after a few more readings, the light bulb came on—which is a nicer way of saying I got my head out of my ass and realized what I should have realized all along.

At the risk of stating the obvious, in this poem, Kooser relies on simple language and straight-forward descriptions; in fact, all but two of the words in the poem (pianist and concentration) are a mere one or two syllables.  This suggests a validation of everyday human experience that extends beyond this unapologetically colloquial scene, every bit as much as William Carlos Williams’ rain-glazed wheelbarrow.

But the real genius here is Kooser’s comparison of a young woman in a wheelchair to an impassioned concert pianist performing before a rapt audience—that is, the juxtaposition of a handicap (something generally seen as negative, something we’d like to avoid having or even acknowledging) with a venerated, center-stage performer whose skill, artistry, and validity are beyond question.  In so doing, he not only implies the existence of an audience; he makes us that audience!  We hear the thunder of the chords; we feel the rain in our eyes.  (Maybe we even start wondering exactly what blessing/curse is turning our pages.)  But don’t worry; sure, the scene is fairly bittersweet (its basis is still a solitary handicapped woman pushing her wheelchair through the rain, after all), but if we can acknowledge the quiet artistry of her long white fingers playing that practiced melody, it’s a short leap to accepting the validity of our own lives, our own efforts in all their bumbling, beautiful absurdity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

In Memory of the Day Wall Street Lost its S**t

This week, I’ve been showing Inside Job in my college classes as a springboard for a section on research and argument.  While I generally like the film, I concede that it has some problems and for fear of coming across as too liberal, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time trying to come up with a conservative rebuttal (even though the documentary actually goes after Obama as much as Wall Street and George W. Bush).

In doing so, I’ve read probably a dozen far-right screeds (like this one) alleging that the film is awful because… um… well, that part’s not exactly clear, but it seems to have something to do with the film showing about ten seconds of Barney Frank, compared to over an hour of conservative economists swallowing their gilded feet.  I’m going to assume for now that yes, Barney Frank is a baby-eating, pinko devil who held a gun to bankers’ heads and forced them to give predatory loans to poor people already crusted in their own filth and stupidity. 

OK, moving along…

What I find disturbing is the number of articles alleging that the Wall Street tycoons who steered the economy into a trashcan overflowing with syringes and soiled baby diapers didn’t actually do anything wrong!  After all, most of what they did was legal, they were motivated by profit, they did profit, and so in a sense, they did exactly what they were supposed to do. 

Granted, that’s a bit like a dentist pulling out your tooth by removing your jaw then handing you the bill, but I must be missing something, right?  I mean, despite the banal/robotic expressions and sesquipedalian phrases, these guys apparently invented a mystical world where mortgages abound like golden geese, financial conflicts of interest don’t exist, and you can buy titanic amounts of insurance for something you don’t even have (aka a credit default swap).  Surely, I must just be too intellectually shallow to grasp how bankers making billions while the market crashed and home ownership tanked was actually just the silver lining on an unholy amalgamation of overbearing liberalism with sheer happenstance.

(Note to self: I think Joe Biden has a bridge he wants to sell me.)

So far, I haven’t found a single conservative review expressing even a dash of concern over income disparity in the United States where CEOs make about 100 times what their workers make (in Britain, I think it’s only about 12 to 1).  The prevailing thought is that this is simply a natural byproduct of healthy capitalism.  Never mind that these are probably the same swinging dicks who couldn’t tell the difference between sympathy and empathy during the Sotomayor confirmation (hint: they’re two totally different words!); I’m pretty sure the Great Recession kinda dismembered that whole “You have pay top dollar to get top talent!” argument.

Before you (yes, YOU!) go accusing me of being a hemp-loving Rage Against the Machine socialist, I’ve never implied, said, or believed that wealth should be distributed evenly.  In fact, I don’t think it should.  I happen to work [more or less] by choice in a profession that doesn’t pay worth a damn, but I don’t think that profit and integrity/morality/goodness are mutually exclusive.  Hell, if I’m going to be honest, I don’t want to make as much money as the next guy; if things were going to change, I’d probably like to make more than he does.  A lot more.  And I recognize that this is a normal product of human psychology and a natural, necessary component of ambition—not to mention my addiction to gold-plated baby shoes (never worn). 

But let’s examine another sign post of conservative economics: the belief that a free market naturally eliminates bad/unsafe products and fixes disparities in workers’ pay through some kind of Zen-like karma magic.  Have a factory job that doesn’t pay you enough?  Thinking about knocking over a convenient store?  No problem!  All you have to do is get really, really good at pulling levers and another factory will hire you for more money.  After all, companies need quality labor in order to compete; thus, you may use their gentlemanly conflict is to your advantage, or some such fanciful bullshit.

To better illustrate, let’s apply this same idealistic head-in-the-sand reasoning a bit more broadly.  Suppose you have an ice cream shop that starts mixing their previously delicious ice cream with the bones of dead innocent circus animals.  Before long, people will simply stop going there and it’ll go out of business.  Problem solved.  Therefore, it’s in the best interests of corporations to “do the right thing,” even if it’s not for purely wholesome motives, because it’s good for business.

OK, believe it or not, the overwhelming problem with this kind of reasoning isn’t that it’s stupid.  It’s that it assumes our fellow human beings aren’t stupid!  In a world where Sarah Palin almost gets to the White House and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is as popular as Game of Thrones, I fully expect to find the bones of circus animals in my ice cream.  Moreover, I’m kind of surprised when I don’t.  And I’m very surprised when there aren’t front page articles on magazines in grocery stores, alleging how said bones will help you look younger and healthier with skin that, like Alexander the Great, emits a naturally pleasant odor (sure it did, Plutarch!).

The point is that even if we pretend outsourcing doesn’t exist (hint: it does) and all of us start the race on the same line (hint: we don’t), the only way you can expect this to be maintained in the natural world is if the world itself does the fair/right thing with some kind of laxative-free regularity.  And I seem to remember reading somewhere that it doesn’t.

Now, an easy and common counter-argument to this is to point out that politicians, like CEOs, are human beings—meaning they’re flawed and corruptible.  Therefore, giving one greater power and hoping he/she will graciously protect me from the other doesn’t make a lot of sense.  That’s a decent point (despite being bullshit) and would probably be valid if, instead of regulation, I was proposing fascism.  But I’m not. 
It’s interesting that the far-righters saying that we should fear a big, centralized government don’t seem all that concerned about big, centralized corporations.  As far as I’m concerned, both could stand to have their wings clipped.  What I can’t figure out is why that’s not the conservative position (or everyone's position, for that matter).

I vote in elections and live in this country and in so doing, I accept the consequences if the candidate I like loses to a different candidate.  I’ll bear the effects of that without complaint (just kidding) and wait until the next election to do my small part to change things.  Yet even if corporations decide not to buy elections with the Supreme Court’s blessing, here’s something else to consider: don’t unelected corporations actually have a greater impact on our daily lives than politicians?  Obviously, I’m not saying that all businesses should be subject to general elections; I’m just saying that it’s na├»ve to think that we could exist for long in a largely corporate-owned country (no matter who’s in the White House) without some kind of checks and balance. 

Once you accept that, you simply need to look for candidates who have the best (or in the case of Obama v. Romney or Democrats v. Republicans, the least bad) record in that area. That’s a point I wish Inside Job had made more clearly, rather than spending most of its time showing a bunch of Wall Street idiot-savants behaving under free rein exactly as you’d expect them to.

Bragging Up My Former Students

One of the best things about being a writer who also teaches is getting to promote the accomplishments of former students (including  those accomplishments that might be outside the realms of literature).  So I contacted some former students (hopefully, I can safely call them friends) to see what they’re up to these days. Without further adieu...

Angela Abbott received her Master of Arts in Teaching in Wilmington North Carolina in 2011. She worked at the only alternative military school in the country (located in southern Indiana) as an English teacher and now is moving back to Wilmington to teach English at a Reform School. Last spring, she was selected as a World Book Night giver, meaning she could give roughly 25 books away to her students to promote literacy. She’s done readings at Jengo's Playhouse in Wilmington, NC and Village Lights Bookstore in Madison, IN. She is currently working on a series of poems written from the perspective of her Southern alter ego, Ruby Ann.

Joe Betz is living with his wife in Bloomington while she finishes a graduate degree in public policy.  He is currently an adjunct at the Ivy Tech in Bloomington and in Indianapolis.  After leaving Ball State, he entered the MFA program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, home of the journal Natural Bridge (to which you should submit things).  He rushed through the MFA program in two years instead of three because he got married and moved to France for a year, in a city called Nancy, or as his step dad calls it, "Fancy Pants Nancy, France."  He taught English.  He became a socialist and only writes poems condemning greed.  Not really.  He is back in the U.S., living in Bloomington, IN and teaching English courses (occasionally creative writing) at Ivy Tech- Bloomington and Ivy Tech- North Meridian while his wife, Megan, earns a graduate degree in public policy.  Concerning publications and awards, Joe won the Goldstein Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review in 2009, which was judged by Paul Muldoon; in 2010, he won his graduate program's poetry prize, the James Russell Grant Poetry Prize; in 2011, he was a semi-finalist for the Indiana Review Poetry Prize; and most recently he has placed a few poems in Hayden's Ferry Review, a St. Louis friend's letterpress, and in his own words, has “been rejected by many others.”

Joe Cermak is a second year law student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (in Indianapolis) where he has earned the Resident Merit Award. Last summer, he studied abroad in China at Renmin University of China in Beijing.  Then for two weeks, he interned at a Chinese law firm called Deheng Law Firm, which is one of China's largest firms “with offices all over the place.”  He’s currently following his interest in business law but still does creative writing when he can (including some edgy, well-received poetry at the law school’s talent show).

Elaine Douglas is about to start work as a news reporter/anchor for the Radio Group's seven radio stations - WALLS 102 (WALS), WGLC, 100.9FM Rocks! (WBZG):, The Q (WSTQ/WIVQ), Classic Hits 106 (WYYS) and AM 1250 WSPL. She'll be covering news events, writing news stories and delivering newscasts on air. She'll also be posting news stories on stations’ websites and occasionally host on-air shows.

Shaun Gannon is in his final year of the poetry MFA program at the University of Maryland, College Park.  He is the co-creator of the online poetry community Let People Poems and has been published in print and online in places such as West Wind Review, Everyday Genius, and Red Lightbulbs. His most recent collection of stories, Brown Fuzzy Words, is available online for free through Love Symbol Press.

Eric Greenwell is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Idaho.  His work has appeared in Rattle, Main Street Rag, Chiron Review, and Barnwood International Poetry Mag.  He has worked for Fugue and also recently won U. of Idaho's Academy of American Poets Prize.  For more info, check him out at

Alysha Hoffa has published poetry, nonfiction, and book reviews in Southern Indiana Review, Sliver of Stone, Fictionfix, Atticus Review, and Broken Plate (where she also served as Poetry Editor).  She currently speaks to disgruntled customers over the phone and gets through her days by petting her mentally retarded cat and drinking lots of coffee.

Laura Kuhlman is starting her second year of the Ph.D. program in English Lit. at the University of Iowa, where she’s excited to be designing and teaching her own courses.

Jessica Mayflower is now a paralegal at a small Family Law Firm.  There, she does a lot of editing, legal writing and research.  She’s also a professional blogger for B1057 for Emmis Communications. As a side project, she hand-crafts and sells art books.

Krishna Pattisapu earned her M.A. in Speech Communications from Southern Illinois University in 2010.  She's currently working on her PhD in Culture and Communications at the University of Denver.

Marissa Coon Rose has had poems or stories published online in Word Riot, The Lyric and Camera Obscura. She’s currently working on a novel and revising a poetry chapbook while balancing her day job as supervisor of the Information & Education Department at Muncie Public Library.  She was also a finalist in Lyric's college poetry contest, and won the October 2010 "Bridge the Gap" contest at Camera Obscura.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Enter this contest!

I want to take a moment to plug the Palettes & Quills chapbook contest (deadline Sept 1), prize $200 and 50 copies. This year's judge is J.P. Dancing Bear. I was fortunate enough to win this contest in 2010 and I was honestly blown away by the good nature and hard work of these folks! They didn't just publish the chapbook; they brought me out for readings AND promoted the chapbook all over the place. Easily one of the best and most professional bunches I've ever worked with!  I already linked to their page above but I'll cut and paste their guidelines here, as well.  Good luck!
Palettes & Quills 3rd Biennial Poetry Chapbook Competition
with Judge J. P. Dancing Bear
Open to All Writers
Prize: A $200 cash award plus 50 copies of the published book. Additional copies will be available at an author’s discount. All finalists will receive one free copy of the published book. All contest entrants will be offered a special discount on the purchase price of the published book.
A complete submission should include:
·     Manuscript between 14-50 pages on 8 ½ x 1" paper. Use a standard 12 pt font, such as Garamond or Times New Roman. Manuscripts should be in English and contain no illustrations. 
·     A cover sheet with the contest name (The Palettes & Quills 3rd Biennial Chapbook Contest), your name, address, telephone, email, and the title of your manuscript. Your name should not appear anywhere else in the manuscript.
·     A title page with just the title of the manuscript.
·     An acknowledgements page. Poems included in your manuscript may be previously published, but please include an acknowledgements page listing specific publications.
·     A complete Table of Contents.
·     Payment of a $20.00 non-refundable entry fee (check or money order payable in U.S. dollars made out to Palettes & Quills). Please do not send cash. Multiple submissions are accepted, but we require a separate entry fee for each manuscript you submit.
·     Self-addressed stamped post card for confirmation of receipt and a self-addressed enve stamped envelope (please use a Forever Stamp) for announcement of the winners. (International submissions must include an IRC.)
·     You must also include a statement that all poems are your own original work.
Mail your entry to Donna M. Marbach, Palettes & Quills Chapbook Contest, 330 Knickerbocker Avenue, Rochester, NY 14615. Manuscripts will not be returned. No electronic or faxed submissions will be accepted. However, we will request an electronic copy of the winning manuscript.
Deadline: September 1, 2012. Manuscripts postmarked after September 1 will not be read.
Winners will be announced on the Palettes & Quills website in December 2012.
Manuscripts by multiple authors will not be accepted. Translations will not be accepted.
Simultaneous submissions are accepted. If your manuscript is accepted for publication elsewhere, you must immediately notify Palettes & Quills.
Judging: Final judge is J. P. Dancing Bear, the author of nine collections of poetry, most recently, Inner Cities Of Gulls (2010, Salmon Poetry), and winner of a PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles National Literary Awards. His next two books : Family of Marsupial Centaurs, will be released by Iris Press; and Fish Singing Foxes, will be released by Salmon Poetry. He is editor for the American Poetry Journal and Dream Horse Press. Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show, OUT OF OUR MINDS, on public station, KKUP and available as podcasts.