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)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review of Black Dog and the Road

This will be a first. Not my first review but the first here and I hope the first of many. We should establish some ground rules. Understand that I wouldn't bother talking about a book that I thought had no value. If I thought it was trash, I wouldn't mention it at all. Now, if you should ask me to review your book and it never shows up, does that mean I thought it was worthless? No, not at all. There are a lot of reasons, it could have been scheduling, it might be because I don't feel qualified to speak to your sort of writing, maybe the writing was good but the subjects you wrote about weren't compelling to me. It could be that I didn't like it, too, but you will never know.

Now on to book number one. Because of the rules for reviewing on the internet (and I object only to the fact that print reviewers don't have the same requirements) I need to tell you that I know the publisher of The Black Dog and the Road. I consider that person a friend. In spite of that, I had to pay for my copy of the book and no other consideration was received.

Harry Calhoun's book, with the picture of the title's "Black Dog" on the front cover and a picture of some road on the back is a delight to read. The poems are well crafted free verse with attention to the concrete details of life. They lean much on that black dog but also deal with such diverse elements as the mirror the poet, "...just installed.." in the bathroom for his wife which leads to solitary thoughts of loss reflected in it and the green towels and the waiting spouse who, not understanding, still is patient with his need for solitude at a time of grief.

There are poems, (don't all poets write them?) about poetry. One, called, After sampling poetry magazines from an online listing (Calhoun's capitalization, or lack thereof) has a tone that reminds me somewhat of Billy Collins' poem Introduction to Poetry which comes from his frustration with graduate students trained to tear poems apart for meaning instead of enjoying them for what they are. In Calhoun's poem it's his frustration and rejection of what he reads on line and the reinforcement of his sense of what he is doing. They both hold on to a gentle sense of humor through their irritation.

A number of the poems in this book deal with the dying and death of the poet's father. There is little of the maudlin here, however, and much of the detail strikes me at times and places in my own thoughts, some helpful and some places I would rather not go. As in this from the poem called, Closing:

The closing on my father's house
is the nail in his coffin
but there is so much open...

There is so much to like in this book as well. There are a few things that I admire less. Calhoun has a habit of ending his poems with a single, separated line. If I counted right, in 42 out of 66 poems, the last line is separated from the last stanza. They are often short lines, occasionally only one word. Once in a while it worked for emphasis but not often. Occasionally it was tacked on to a poem that I felt was complete already as if to say, "Just in case you missed the point." Mostly, it just felt like an unnecessary separation and gave the sort of "bump" one feels when a poet seems to have missed the line break that was needed. A very minor complaint is the practice of only capitalizing the first word of the title. It bothered me in the reading but I found it really distracting when trying to write about them. This, of course, has nothing to do with the value of the poems but, there you go.

I particularly enjoyed the book ends of this work. The final poem, The tao of dogwalking is ostensibly about walking that "Black Dog" but is really more concerned with understanding how to move into the future with acceptance and comfort. The initial poem helps the reader understand the intent and effort of the author.

(poem used by permission of Diminuendo Press)

The craft, practised

you dream every day that you will nail it
like Christ to the cross
like the seam between legend and truth
sewn so that the seam is suddenly seamless

dream that you make it all make sense
and name it for the nonsense it is
and somewhere someone in a distant white tower
will strike a flint and light

a tiny sputtering fire
against an endless morning
mist and drizzle

and squinting
at the flame

will care

Harry Calhoun makes us care with The Black Dog and the Road.

The book is available from Diminuendo Press.

You can visit Calhoun's online Journal, Pig in a Poke 

When you buy it, email them and tell them I sent you, maybe I'll get on the list for those free review copies.

Monday, May 03, 2010

What I'd Like To Tell New Yorker Magazine

I recently returned a rather nastily worded bill threatening my credit rating if I did not pay up immediately for my subscription to the New Yorker. I sent it back asking for an accounting to date to that I could pay for any issues mailed since the old subscription expired. I admit, I had forgotten that when I took it out two years ago the fine print said it would be automatically renewed and then I guess I just ignored the notice that said it had been. I will pay my bill but I don't want the magazine anymore.

I considered telling them why was cancelling but decided that they wouldn't care, probably wouldn't even understand what I was saying. Instead of telling them, I'm going to tell you. Of course, I don't even know if there's a "you" out there but I'll feel better, anyway.

Here's the deal. I subscribed to the New Yorker without having read an issue for many years. I did it because I thought I would enjoy the stories and poetry. I didn't much. What I discovered is that they have bought into the whole "academic" idea of writing that says if you are enjoying reading something it can't really be good. It's like my father used to say about medicine, "The worse it tastes, the better it is for you." Well, I have news for them. I don't read fiction or poetry with a view to what's good for me, I do it because I enjoy what I read. I prefer fiction with characters who engage my interest, elicit my sympathy, and go somewhere by the end of the story. I prefer poetry that says something to me on the first read and like it best when I find layers of thought that come out with subsequent study. I'm not going to make a value judgment here. I'm very aware that different things appeal to different people. It's just that I'm afraid that a fair number of readers are reading stuff (or saying they read stuff in coffee shop conversations) that bored them but were afraid to admit it.

The thing that amazes me is that we can be convinced that the literature that appealed to us as kids is not worthy of our attention anymore. They may have been adventure stories but they made us care about the protagonists, get involved in their worlds, and hope for their final victory. I'm not talking about the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys, here, I'm thinking of Dumas, Twain, Scott, yes, and Heinlein and Clark and many others. In fact, I believe that much of the best fiction writing happening today is being written for the YA (young adult) audience. It used to be for everyone. (Maybe it still is, how many of you grownups have read and enjoyed Rowling, Riordan, Clement Moore and other "YA" authors?) Ok, yes, I'm sorry, I tried to read Twilight and only made it a few chapters. I thought the writing was awful. (However, my grown children, having more determination than I do, tell me that I quit too soon and it picked up in the final two thirds. I've never been willing to give a writer that much slack.) Outside of the academically abhorred genre fiction I find very little literature that appeals to readers, that make them care about the story and the characters. I read and care about, Percy Jackson, Precious Ramotswe, Mary Russell, Maggie Quinn, and every character A. Lee Martinez has every created from the depths of a really strange mind. I can't care about the people that live in much of the "literary" fiction of today.

Backing off of the rant, those are the things I would tell the New Yorker if I had a chance to sit down in a coffee shop and could get it to listen. However, it's a corporate entity and those have a terrible track record for listening to individuals. Besides, maybe I'm wrong and all of you love those stories of dreary people who go through a dreary day and are just the same (or dead) at the end. Maybe you like poems that string words together with no apparent attempt at meaning so that, if there is one, you have to spend hours thinking it out to decide what it meant. Not, me, I think I'll read some more Billy Collins then start a new A. Lee Martinez tonight, I haven't read Divine Misfortune yet.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm not sure what it is that makes me resist continuing something I start but it's sure there. So, back to this. The main thing is that I'm just back from the Austin International Poetry Festival. I hosted at one venue, read at three others, and conducted a workshop. Everything went really well and, as usual, I came back energized and eager to accomplish something. This will be the first thing I accomplish. Next maybe I should finish putting that book of poems together that Diminuendo Press say they want.

The workshop I did has made me do a lot of thinking. I hope the effect was similar for those who came to it. I called it, The Where IS the Who: Writing Poetry of Place. My point was that, for me, a poem that sets out to describe a location, bit of scenery, river, pond, flower, mountain, or molehill needs to invoke in me some emotion and the ability of the poet to direct that reaction is part of that writer's skill.

I believe that in every poem worth the name there are at least two emotional sets in play, the writer and the reader. There may be more than that. Notably when the writer has created or co-opted a narrator whose feelings do not necessarily reflect their own. Look at Browning's, My Last Duchess. The poem may also deal with the reaction of some player other than those mentioned. A good deal of narrative poetry that tells a story will do that.

Interestingly, these thoughts have generated a number of ideas for poems that I will work on later. Spending four days listening to poetry read and talking to poets from all over will do that, too. A special contact was Lori Desrosiers from MA (not ME like it said in the program.) She was special. Poet, singer/songwriter, and all around good person to get to know. I was honored to have her play my guitar at the "big read" for featured poets from areas besides Texas.

Ten years of attendance leads to a feeling of family. I started to name some names but I'd leave someone out and I don't want to do that. Anyway, hopefully any of them who read this will realize how important they are to me.

On the original subject, I don't expect I'll get any better at being consistent posting these but I intend to try. I would like to get into some specifics on the act of writing. It would help me clarify my thinking and, with luck, mean something to you, as well. Thanks for reading and, as always, I would love to hear from you.