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)

Friday, August 01, 2014

Just Dreamin'

I have been thinking lately about my own shortcomings as a writer and, to a certain extent, as a person. This will be very much less about my strengths (I think I have some.) and mostly about my weaknesses and what I wish I was able to do. It will also be an open invitation not only for comment but to consider getting involved.

I am disorganized, unfocussed, lacking in technical expertise, and prone to procrastination. These are not good qualities for someone who would like very much to be involved in creating a journal of good (or at least, attractive to me) writing. On the other hand, I'm a good editor, I am passionate about writing, I have numerous contacts in the writing world, tremendous patience with beginners who want to learn, and the time to devote to the work.

I am a very fortunate man. Through the serendipity of love I found a life partner who fills most of the holes in my personality and temperament as far as the ordinary (and the extraordinary) parts of life but her artistic drives are in a different direction than mine. That isn't a problem for the most part but it leaves me with a dilemma. I need to find someone with my passion for sharing literature who fills the empty spaces in my skills in the literary world. They need to be someone I can like and work with, whose ideas of what is good in the written word are compatible with mine, and is good at details, record keeping, collaborative effort, and organization. They should be someone who cares enough about publishing that they don't mind if little or no money is ever made from it. Money would be nice but we need to be satisfied as long as we aren't spending a lot of our own to do this. Also nice would be if this person was more technically proficient than I am so that they could give me guidance on those sorts of issues.

Let me make this clear. There would be some start up money necessary to do what I would like but I'm not looking for a bankroll. It would. however, be necessary to share whatever monetary risk was involved. Would I object if someone with deep pockets said, "You do the artistic work and I'll handle the business end and fund the project. Spend whatever you need."? Don't be silly. Of course I wouldn't. Am I expecting someone like that to show up, or even exist? Of course, I don't.

Am I just daydreaming here? Probably. Few dreams ever come true but on the other hand, pretty much every great thing started with one.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review of Her, by Fatima Hirsi

Once again, I have abandoned this space for a while. I’m not sure why I keep doing that but the interruptions are many and, for the most part enjoyable, so I’m not really complaining. I spend time playing with grandchildren, making music, playing World of Warcraft, and running around with the amazing Spice of My Life, Isabel, so I’m not really complaining. That said, I could be keeping up with this blog and I have a lot to talk about so here we go again.
A couple of years ago an old friend emailed me to say that a young woman who was working for him in the store he managed was writing poetry and, he thought, really good poetry but she didn’t have contact with other poets. He suggested that if I liked her work as much as he did that maybe I would give her some encouragement and contact with the local writing community.
Her name is Fatima Hirsi. I was impressed and we talked. She was eager, open, and talented. I really liked her writing. That first year, at my suggestion, she went to the Austin International Poetry Festival. She was a big hit just in the open mike readings (she was among the “last poets standing” at 6am after the Midnight to Dawn Instant Anthology Open Mic reading.) She has continued to write, improve, and perform. This year, 2014, she was asked back to AIPF as one of the poets who are specially invited so that their work can be featured. That’s an honor not many of the poets who have attended for years have had and it’s completely a result of the quality of her writing and its intense engagement with her deepest feelings.
This year Fatima gave me a copy of a new chapbook, self published as is most poetry. My regard for her work continues to grow. It is a very interesting and self aware group of poems. The title is Her. Let’s look at some of the poems.
I started writing this because I wanted to honor my friend and her work. I started after reading several of the poems, out of sequence, at various times. One thing a honest reviewer must do is sit down, more than once, and read the entire book straight through. I have done that and am now uneasy about writing about it.
I mentioned before that Fatima’s work reached into her deepest feelings and in each individual poem that is true. What rocked me back on my heels was the power of the collection when read all at once. The theme here is the author’s overwhelming desire for a child. Not just any child, either, but the one that appears at the corner of the writer’s eye, “…never straight on but always loud in her presence.” The one with the, “White dress. Wild lion mane of hair.” that is always there and may be a spirit of the dead or, “waitin to be born.”
Interesting to me is the fact that there are two poems here in forms that I’m not fond of. There is an “alphabet” poem, Demeter’s Grip, one that totally escapes the “child’s alphabet book” model to stay entirely within the theme of the book. The book ends with, The Place-Holder Child, which is a prose poem or poetic prose, whatever you want to call it. Whatever you call it, it is a powerful conclusion for this collection.
There is power here and honesty, so much of the writer’s—well, as I said before, “deepest feelings.” I can’t recommend this little book enough but the reader coming to it must be prepared to share that much of the writer. You must be prepared to experience the joy of love, the fear of never finding, the pain of loss, the very real emotions that come through these poems. I’m not going to give you one of the hardest ones by any means, you’ll have to get the book for those but here’s the one that opens the discussion.

The Quiet House with Loud Dreams

One window of our new house does not have a screen.
After reading bedtime stories by the man who wrote
The Book of Lost Things it’s impossible to sleep
In this storm. The rain is harassing the bare glass and
It sounds like someone is tapping to come in—
The Crooked Man is scratching or those faeries
Who steal children have found the wrong home—
I am alone with my man and there is no crying
In the next room. We have no one to soothe
After giant claps of thunder but me
And the two restless cats.

I know I'm expected to give some critique when I do a review but if there are poetic faults in this book they are obliterated by the power of the poems. The only thing I can come up with is that some of the poems, like the one reproduced above start every line with a capital letter which I find to be a minor annoyance in reading poems. What a desperate attempt to include a negative in a review.

You can contact Fatima at flowerwordspoetry@gmail.com to buy the book. It's not expensive at $7.00 + s&h. I think you should get a copy

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.

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.