About Me

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I am a writer, poet, and free-lance editor. Author of Lawmen of the Old West: The Good Guys and Lawmen of the Old West: The Bad Guys. I've had poems and stories in di*verse*city, Blood and Thunder, West View, The Enigmatist, and others. I love poetry but enjoy all forms of writing and editing. I'm the author of two books of poetry, Songs on the Prairie Wind dealing with the people, land and history of the rural Southwest and Voices of Christmas, the traditional Christmas story in free verse persona poems. I do contract editing of other writer's manuscripts. I'm the worst guitar player in the Common Folk band at Trinity Episcopal Church. I'm an imperfect husband to the perfect wife (she might read this sometime), father (great grown kids) and grandfather (they're great kids, too)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Austin International Poetry Festival

Ok, time for some promotional stuff. Listen, the Austin International Poetry Festival (www.aipf.org) (hereinafter refered to as AIPF) is one of my favorite things to do every year. The Seventeenth Annual AIPF is coming April 23-26, 2009. I am hoping to see all my old friends from past festivals and a whole bunch of new ones. The weekend will be packed with more poetry than you know what to do with. There's more going on than you can do, in fact. In fact, if you try you might end up like I did last year with a major blood pressure event caused by living on coffee, little food and less sleep for four days. That by the way is not a festival requirement and I have promised to slow down next year. (I think She Who Must Be Obeyed is planning on going this time to keep an eye on me.) For those who have never been, everything starts on Thursday afternoon with signing in at Ruta Maya Coffee Shop and starting to meet and greet. That evening will be a reading of the poems selected for the anthology, di*verse*city. (more on the anthology in a minute) followed by an open mike that will go about as long an anyone wants to get back up there and read another one. Friday and Saturday will each start with workshops which will be listed before too long on the website. There will be featured readers and special times like the Slam on Friday at 9:30 pm. Like I said, there is more to be done that one person can do I probably won't stay for the whole "all nighter" that I expect to take place on Sat. I did that last year and I don't think it was good for me. You come do it, though, to uphold the tradition.

Oh, yes, the anthology. Well, you can have poems considered for the anthology by registering by Feb 1, 2009 and submitting up to three. The complete guidelines are on the website, be sure you read them before submitting. Those go to an editorial committee who chose the poems to be in the anthology and forward a number of those to an independent judge to chose first, second, third and, sometimes, some honorable mentions. I've had honorable mentions twice but never quite in the money. (however, to my great satisfaction. one of those was the year that the judge was Coleman Barks)

If you get a poem in the anthology, you get a free copy. You know how that goes. Registration isn't expensive, just $35 with a submission or $30 without. You should be able to find reasonable priced accomodations at what ever level you chose to travel. For convenience, somewhere south of downtown along I-35 south is probably your best bet. I haven't checked yet this year but I've been able to keep mine at about $50 a night in past years. I find pretty cheap rooms but they've been comfortable. I haven't been asking Motel 6 to keep a light on for me, either.

If you can, plan a little extra time. April is a great time to be in the Texas Hill Country. There should be lots of wild flowers out and, depending on the rain patterns of winter and spring, maybe we'll even have some bluebonnets left.

Come on to Austin, I think I'll be hosting a couple of venues and maybe you'll be reading in one of those.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Creative Nonfiction, A Question

Today we had our monthly writers—workshop, meeting, class—I’m never sure what to call it. It seems to change from month to month. We meet at the John Ed Keeter Library in Saginaw. (that’s Texas, if you didn’t know) It was a nice little group, varied in age, experience, and focus on writing and I had a great time. I got to get all professorial which is my natural wont although I don’t think it’s the best thing for the group. The others seemed to enjoy themselves. I did end up with a thought on a point that I have struggled with.

First let me admit to having done exactly no research at all, none, zilch. I just keep reading about “creative nonfiction” and have picked up some ideas about it but probably just enough to get me in trouble. If I ever want to know more I should go some year to The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference of the Southwest at the University of North Texas. (http://themayborn.unt.edu/conferences.htm) I would get an earful there I’m sure.

I just wonder if I would really come to understand the idea of “creative” and “nonfiction” going together. What started this train of thought was a participant in the workshop this morning gave me a simple definition. “It’s telling a true story as if it were fiction.” I thought, “Well, that’s clear and easy to understand.” but that was just before I started trying to think about the limits of the creativity that could go into such a project. That’s sort of what I was trying to do with my profiles of Old West lawmen in my two books but it seems to me that if you are telling a historical story as if it were fiction then you would need to create dialogue that history doesn’t give you and suppose actions that you think are implied by the outcomes that you know occurred. At some point this has to become fictionalized history instead of creative nonfiction, I think. My problem is how to define that point.

Input anyone?

I read this small piece of metrical verse (a very old form of English poetry) to the group today. I wrote it as a result of an observation of a woman and child that grew into something more in my imagination. It has a definite form but no rhyme. We got rhyme from the French along with neckties and other irritations.

For the Child’s Calm

For the child’s calm she collects herself and
holds threatening, treacherous tears at bay.
Smiling, she strokes his silky black hair
while behind his back she bites her nails
and bravely blinks the blinding drops away.
This public place has pushed her pride
to make a mask of moderated pleasure
to hide the hurt that he brought on.
Abuse isn’t blows and bruises every time,
words and worry can wreak the same.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Which Comes First, the Writing or the Tears?

It’s always fascinating to see or hear about how writing has affected the reader but sometimes the most dramatic effect is on the writer. I keep thinking about the way I ended that poem I posted on here last time titled, I Have Sung My Soul Out. I have never quite figured out where that ending came from. I sure didn’t have it in mind when I started the piece. It just showed up when I got there and I’ve never been sure whether it works well or not of even what it means exactly.

I took a songwriting workshop a few years ago with the great Massachusetts singer/songwriter, Bob Franke. It didn’t make a songwriter of me, I’m not sure that’s going to happen but I hope to try some more. (Are you listening, Lindy?) I don’t even remember much that Bob told us in that 4 hours except for something I have quoted to every writing group or class I have ever taught, lead, or spoken to since. He said, (roughly) “If you don’t shed any tears somewhere in the process of writing a song you didn’t get close enough to the truth.” Looking back I see a lot of poems I have written that didn’t cause any tears. I also see a few that did and, you know what? Those are the best of my work. I’m not going to throw away the rest but I am going to continue to write and as I do, I intend to try to “get close enough to the truth” to make me cry and, hopefully that will move readers as well.

Ok, so here’s one that did make me cry in the writing. It’s a slice of my life. This poem was first published in Blood and Thunder, a journal from the University of Oklahoma.

Dad's Room—ICU—Woodward Hospital

Fifteen years of emergency admissions,
strung on various tubular indignities,
when you could only force one word
between each gurgling breath,
I must have heard you tell two dozen nurses,
"Mr. Cain died in 1958,
my name is Elmer."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why poetry? What I don't know and what I do.

This will be a short one and probably repetitive of some of the things I wrote in 2005 when I started (and dropped) this. The last post about the Burnet and Austin Poetry Festivals got me thinking about poetry in general. Specifically, why bother? I have two answers of sorts. The first is, I don't know. Why struggle so hard to get perfect words in the perfect order with the right rhythm when you know you're got going to get anything more than satisfaction out of it. Ooops, maybe that's part of it. The satisfaction of getting something done that feels exactly right. Still, remember what Guy Clark sings in Cold Dog Soup? "There ain't no money in poetry that's what makes the poet free. I've had all the freedom I can stand." I can relate to that. What I can't do is stop trying to make poems. I like that feeling of satisfaction and, face it, I like it when you tell me that my poem moved you, touched you, made you laugh, or just that you liked it. So what's another good reason? That can't be enough, can it?

Maybe not, maybe the best reason for writing poetry is because you write prose. Huh? Yep, that's what I said. I'm convinced that the discipline of finding the exact word to create the phrase that makes the perfect picture or conveys the complete emotion that you want the reader to see/feel is a practice that will make your prose writing better. Oh, I don't think you want to be thinking in poetic terms when you write your novel. But developing that sense of how to create in the readers mind that picture/feeling with the fewest words and the smoothest line will unconsciously bring to to brighter, more complete pictures and truer emotions. That has to be worthwhile.

This all fits with my feeling about revision. I'm convinced that storytelling is the heart of fiction but the ART of fiction lies in revision. It's that editing process that causes you to--do what? --find the perfect words in the perfect order just as in a poem. I am reminded of that famous Oscar Wilde story which I'm sure I will misquote but the substance is there. He was said to have written to a friend and said, "Yesterday I worked all day on a poem. In the morning, I took a comma out. In the afternoon, I put it back."

Ok, an effort of mine:

I Have Sung My Soul Out

I have sung my soul out
in public for those anxious
for a turn to spread theirs
on the floor by mine
to be walked on by
practitioners of this
same arcane art.

I have read my poems,
mostly to poets,
in coffee shops and bars
and bookstores and
never believed that those
daggers or maces I forged
in the secret ironworks
where I truly live
ever found targets worthy
of their sanguinary tempering.

Now you come to take
away my greatest conceit.
My poem changed your life,
you said, but I can’t find
a single scar to show
that it changed mine.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Well, I started this blog in 2005 and never followed up on it. Now that I have started a new one called Mind Lint I think I'll try to use this one for more talk about writing and related topics.

Let's start with a short trip. Two weeks ago I went to the Hill Country of Texas at the invitation of good friends, both poets of considerable skill, to attend the Burnet Poetry Festival. It was a thrill to see a poem of mine used on the back cover of their anthology, The Enigmatist, (but I did accuse Mike of not wanting to contaminate the work inside with my stuff.) Having my work in the same place as Gary Snyder and Li Young Lee was a real ego boost. I think the reason we go to these things even knowing that we will be reading to each other and buying each other's books is because we need the relationship with others that are trying to do the same thing we are. It works! I always come back from events like this with new vigor in my writing, with a new committment to the process (edit, revise, edit, rest, edit, then with great reluctance, let go).

Now I'm working on new pieces to be ready for submission to the biggie, the Austin International Poetry Festival. The seventeenth of these will be held next year April 23-26 and I'm proud of the fact that I have been a participant the last nine years. I hope that they will, once again, ask me to host a venue or two, that was a real pleasure last year. English poet, John Row, was the feature in my venues and was a treat. Especially fun and sometimes moving were his stories about his "day job" as Poet-in-Residence ("that doesn't mean I live there!") at Suffolk Prison, Suffolk, England. I'm anxiously waiting for more information on who is coming this year. The festival has shrunk a little these last couple of years due mostly to the expense of travel. The British contingent is down a few and I'm not sure that Singapore is sending anyone this year but we still have many states and a few foreign countries represented. Last year saw poets from the US coming in from Maine to Washington State, California to Florida. Spain, Australia, New Zealand, England and Mexico were some of the countries represented. The total was over one hundred and we had a great time. Academics, performance poets, slam poets, lyric poets who had never shared their work before, they were all there. This is still, I think, the largest non-juried poetry festival in the country. That means if you sign up and show up you get at least one venue to read at with a ten minute block of time to read. No critique (unless you ask for it afterward) just appreciation for your willingness to expose yourself in your work. Maybe someone will see this (if anyone sees it) and decide to make the trip. You can check out registration information at www.aipf.org . Email me if you have any questions.

Ok, enough for this time. Hopefully there will a next time very soon.