Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nightsun Writers Conference

Now that the daffodils are out, are you thinking ahead to summer?  I am.  This July, from the 24th to the 27th, I'll be teaching young adult fiction at the Summer Nightsun Writers Conference.  The event (located at Frostburg State University in Maryland) also will feature Bruce Weigl (poetry), Brenda Clough (sci-fi, fantasy), Marion Winik (nonfiction), and Clint McCown (fiction). 

The festivities will include workshop opportunities, individualized feedback, craft sessions, and readings by faculty, participants, and special guests.

Interested in joining us?  Drop by the website for more information.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Delphi, Greece and a Poem by Anne Sexton

I photographed this laurel tree, and the columns behind it, in Delphi, Greece--office of the oracles, omphalos of the earth. Mount Parnassus, home to the muses, rises imposingly behind it:

As with so much of Greece--where the names Penelope, Adonis, Calliope, and Apollo are still popular, where cities are named for Poseidon, Athena, and Hermes--the ancient myths echo powerfully in Delphi.

Finding these photos in a recently rediscovered cache of missing study tour snapshots, reminded me of this poem, by Anne Sexton, one of a handful that first made me fall in love with poetry and want to write it myself.  From the myth of Daphne, transformed into a laurel tree in her flight from the amorous god Apollo, Sexton conjures longing and regret of flesh turned into wood:

Where I Live in This Honorable House of 
the Laurel Tree

I live in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
Too late
to wish I had not run from you, Apollo,
blood moves still in my bark bound veins.
I, who ran nymph foot to foot in flight,
have only this late desire to arm the trees
I lie within.  The measure that I have lost
silks my pulse.  Each century the trickeries
of need pain me everywhere.
Frost taps my skin and I stay glossed
in honor for you are gone in time.  The air
rings for you, for that astonishing rite
of my breathing tent undone within your light.
I only know how untimely lust has tossed
flesh at the wind forever and moved my fears
toward the intimate Rome of myth we crossed.
I am a fist of my unease
as I spill toward the stars in the empty years.
I build the air with the crown of honor; it keys
my out of time and luckless appetite.
You gave me honor too soon, Apollo.
There is no one left who understands
how I wait
here in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.

Delphic stray

Saturday, April 12, 2014

After Greece: Odds and Ends

Ruins of a temple to Apollo
Thought I'd share my essay on James Merrill's poem "After Greece."  Contemporary Poetry Review just published it here.  And if you aren't familiar Merrill's gorgeous poem, read it here, at the bottom of this post.

In related news, this week I stumbled across my missing photos from Greece.  Not all of them.  The coveted Santorini mule pictures are still missing.  But most have been accounted for.  Having them back is a true gift.

To celebrate, here are some snapshots I took on the Island of Naxos.  Here's the beachfront taverna where we had breakfast:

And an alleyway in the old walled city:

And here's our wake as we waved goodbye.

Friday, April 11, 2014


It's spring on Hawk Hill, and last Sunday was Admitted Student Day.  This time for once I got to attend as the parent of an incoming hawk, and to see my workplace, Saint Joseph's University, through the eyes of someone about to begin a new chapter there, about to discover and define his adult self.

Is it any surprise the colors were a little brighter, the air a whole lot fresher than they've been in a long time?

For the very first time, I got to see the inside of the art department, where my son Noah wants to study. I got to see the sculpture in progress, the still lifes waiting to be painted:

I got to visit the stained glass and carved wood sanctum of the art history classroom and absorb some of Noah's readiness to move in and get started.  

All of which helped me remember the reason I wanted to be a college professor in the first place: so I could spend my working life on a campus, surrounded by the energy of people learning new things and by the bright color and hubub of new beginnings.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Last Friday, I finished the rough draft of my novel-in-progress, set in Greece.  But not without a struggle.  I knew how I wanted the story to wrap up, the arrival point to where my characters had been traveling from the first page.  But somehow I couldn't seem to write the last few sentences.  The thought of doing so threw me into a minor panic.  How to find the words that would end the whole story with a satisfying click?

Never mind that this is only a first draft, that whatever I've put on the page so far will be rewritten three, six, ten times before it's done.  I couldn't consider that first draft complete until I could get down a final sentence I could believe in.  I kept writing and writing, well beyond where I'd planned to end things, just to avoid putting down a last sentence.  Better not to end than to end halfheartedly.

Finally, I gave up.  I distracted myself with other, tangentially related things--namely searching for the missing photos of my last trip to Greece.  I had taken thousands, then misplaced the tiny memory card I'd stored them on.  Suddenly it became urgent: I needed to see photos of Greece.  And not somebody else's photos.  My own.

And then I found a cache of forgotten photos.  Not the missing ones on the memory card; those remain tantalizingly lost.  But a few random snapshots I had managed to download onto the netbook I use when I travel.  This one, for example:

Taverna, Syros

Maybe it was the simple act of distracting myself.  Or maybe it was the light I'd managed to capture in those photos--somehow both honeyed and sparkling.  The light of things drawing to a satisfying close.  Either way, the photos sparked something in my brain--a new neural pathway to where I needed to go.

Two sentences later and I could consider my first draft complete.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Jesse Malin Unplugged at Penn

The storytelling side of Jesse Malin came out to play last Thursday night at a special event at the University of Pennsylvania's charming Kelly Writers House.  

At his concerts, Jesse's fans are treated to rambling, entertaining stories between songs.  But this time around, the stories took center stage.  And what stories they were--about the early importance of KISS and Jim Croce in his life, about starting a punk band, Heart Attack, at twelve years old and playing Max's Kansas City, about joining the hard core band D Generation and trying to live up to the strict "politics of punk rock church," about meeting Bruce Springsteen and duetting with him on the song "Broken Radio," and about the power of speaking your wishes out loud.  

Music critic Anthony DeCurtis only needed to ask a few questions and Jesse was rolling.

And Jesse even treated us to a few songs in between the anecdotes.

This unusual event was the result of a pledge made in Jesse's recent Kickstarter campaign by someone with ties to U. Penn.   Before they broke out the wine and cheese, Jesse treated us to one last song from his eagerly anticipated new album, due out in November.  And now I'm anticipating it even more eagerly.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April Odds and Ends

Daffodils on the Penn campus

Now that spring has sprung for real, and there are colors to be seen (not just the endless gray of a landscape coated with road salt), I just want to say:

Tomorrow, Saturday April 5, from 1 to 4 p.m., I'll be signing copies of Catherine and Jane at Books-a-Million, at the Springfield Mall.  (This is a reschedule.  Last weekend I had a really yucky cold and didn't want to spread my germs.)

I'll be blogging soon about a unique event that took place last night at the University of Pennsylvania's Kelly Writers House: a Q and A session with none other than singer/songwriter Jesse Malin.

And, finally, I'll be reading some of my favorite children's books in the Indies First Storytime event.  If you're anywhere near Bethany Beach, Delaware on Saturday May 17, swing by Bethany Beach Books at 3 o'clock.  I'll gladly take suggestions about which two picture books I should read, though I do have one or two in mind already. 

A handful of contenders: