Showing posts from October, 2013

We've got that P.M.A.--A Night at the Wonder Bar With Jesse Malin

P.M.A.--Positive Mental Attitude--is Jesse Malin's credo--or one of them, anyway.  If you look closely, you'll see the outline of the letters on his electric guitar.  This weekend, when we were sorely in need of a little P.M.A., we drove over to Asbury Park to see Jesse play the Wonder Bar.
Jesse's been working on a new album, and he hasn't been playing live much lately.  Always an energetic performer, he was on fire Saturday night.  His songs--new and old--were delivered with the enthusiasm of someone completely pumped to be back onstage after a long hiatus.  By the night's end, Jesse was hurling himself around the stage with a ferocity I'd never seen before, channeling his former self--frontman for punk band D Generation.  I was up against the stage--because where else would I be?--and a couple of times I thought I might need to catch him...or at least break his fall.

One of the night's highlights was an electrifying performance of The Ramones' "Ro…

Rocktober Update

It's that crazy time of the academic year, so I'm behind in my blogging.  I'll be writing soon about the truly soul-healing Jesse Malin show I saw last weekend in Asbury Park.  And then I'll be blogging about an upcoming Butch Walker show.  So stay tuned.

I also wanted to include a  quick update on  Reuben, our surviving dog, who has been pretty glum since losing his best friend Feefee.  We've been taking him on walks and on extra trips to the grocery store.  As you can see, he's looking a bit perkier.

Happy Birthday, Sylvia Plath!

Yesterday, the Poetry House at West Chester University threw a party for the late, great Sylvia Plath.  Poets, artists scholars, and visual artists were on hand to talk about what Sylvia's work has meant in their lives.  

Plath was one of the giants who made me want to write poetry in the first place, so I was glad to be on hand to celebrate her genius, and to hear from the many talented women who had gathered to pay tribute.

One of the wonderful presenters was Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, who read this poem:

Sonnet Saint Sylvia February 11th, 4:30AM
Now’s the very time that she did it. Time both of day and of year. The violet hour, between wake and sleep. Her milk-fed boy in the sealed room. The poems stacked neat.  The kitchen clean. Her wifely duties quite done.
Only then did she kneel at the oven. Her heart untrained for distance. Tired of the hurdling, tired of the run. Dying to rest before morning cracked the door on another gray day. She sought the darkest places she knew— the basement, the…

Emotional Eating

Over the last few days, I've been obsessing over kourabiedes, the Greek shortbread cookies I had for the first time a few summers ago on the island of Andros.  Made mostly of ground almonds and dipped in powdered sugar, they really were heavenly--what cumulus clouds would taste like in cookie form.

These days I hardly ever eat cookies.  But the house has been much quieter and sadder without Feefee in it, and when I think of what might make me feel a little bit better, all I can think of is those faraway cookies that tasted like lightness and almonds and summer and Greece.  I know that's pretty much the definition of emotional eating, but I have to say I don't care.  Sometimes a person's gotta have what a person's gotta have.

Tonight after a not very satisfying dinner, I proposed a trip to the Euro Market, a Bulgarian grocery store that carries Greek food.  Though the store was about to close in ten minutes and we live about ten minutes away, Andre and I hopped in th…

"Heaven for Arden"--A poem by Mark Doty

Last night, Andre and I brought our good Feefee girl to the vets and had her put down.  For when there are no words there is always--thank heaven--poetry.  And nobody writes as well about dogs as Mark Doty:

Heaven for Arden
Back when Arden could still go for a walk--a real walk,

not the twenty yards or so
he stumbles and lurches now--

he used to be anxious and uncertain, looking to me,

stopping awhile, tentatively, to see if I'd agree
to go no further, sometimes whining a bit

in case I'd respond.  Sooner or later,

the turn would come; we'd gone far enough
for one day.  Joy!  As if he'd been afraid all along

this would be the one walk that would turn out to be   

Then he could take comfort
in the certainty of an ending,

and treat the rest of the way as a series of possibilities;
then he could run,

and find pleasure in the woods beside the path.

"Some Infinities Are Bigger Than Other Infinities"

In John Green's heartbreakingly beautiful book The Fault in Our Stars, his heroine, Hazel, a teen who has been fighting cancer, tells us: "I am not a mathematician, but I know this.  There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1,  There's .2 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others.  Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million.  Some infinities are bigger than other infinities."

Without giving any spoilers, I'll mention that this mind- blowing thought comes to stand for the length of time Hazel has with Gus, the boy she loves, who also has cancer.  Though their time together could turn out to be brief, Hazel comes to feel that it's nonetheless an infinity.  

This notion of smaller and bigger infinities comes to mind tonight as I sit on the couch, my dogs nearby.  One of the sorrows of loving our pets is how painfully brief their lifespans are compared to ours.  We can love them from puppyhood to thei…

To "drink the moment through long straws": a poem by A. E. Stallings

Today as I prep for tomorrow's poetry class by reading A. E. Stallings's Olives, I thought I would share one of that book's many ravishing poems:

These tulips make me want to paint:
Something about the way they drop
Their petals on the tabletop
And do not wilt so much as faint,

Something about their burnt-out hearts,
Something about their pallid stems
Wearing decay like diadems,
parading finishes like starts,

Something about the way they twist,
As if to catch the last applause,
And drink the moment through long straws,
And how, tomorrow, they'll be missed.

The way they're somehow getting clearer,
The tulips make me want to see--
The tulips make the other me
(The backwards one who's in the mirror,

The one who can't tell left from right),
Glance now over the wrong shoulder
To watch them get a little older
And give themselves up to the light.

Cut flowers always break my heart.  The minute I put them in a vase, I start watching for signs of their inevitable decay, grieving fo…

Need a Flash of Inspiration?

The Eratosphere Flash Fiction workshop is going splendidly so far...but it's not too late to join in the fun.

 I'll be sending out a prompt each day, and, in response, you are invited to submit a work of flash fiction--1,000 words or less.  You'll get useful feedback from other writers, and possibly also from me.  And after day five I'll be picking an overall winner from all the submitted stories.

Here is today's prompt.  I hope to see you at the 'Sphere!

A reminder/invitation

Tonight's the night; I'll be giving a poetry reading with Amy Small-McKinney.  The fun begins at 7 p.m. in Towne Book Center and Cafe, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, at the intersection of Routes 422 and 29.

So hop a car, a bus, a train, or a rat-driven spaceship and swing on by!

Book Blog Roundup

Just when it seemed fall might never come, the neighborhoods around campus are bursting into flame.  (Not literally, though.)

So on this lovely Fall evening, I want to alert you to some interesting recent book blog action. If you love Young Adult fiction, I suspect will probably love this post on the subject by novelist Chuck Wendig.

And if you love literary retellings, you might want to see my guest post today at one of my all-time favorite book blogs, Bookshelves of Doom.  In it, I list my ten all-time favorite retellings of classic novels. 

A poem from Mekeel McBride

Here is a poem for this gorgeous fall day, from one of my favorite poets: Mekeel McBride.  I took my first college poetry class with Mekeel, and her teaching was as delightful as her poems--as filled with a playful appreciation for language's surprises and delights. 

The poem I'm sharing today isn't exactly playful, but to me it feels fittingly autumnal--about things that are stripped away, and the desolate beauty that remains.  And that image of the suddenly weightless fish feels powerful and true, the perfect simile for the strange and terrible freedom that comes with loss.

Lake Meadow Sky
It was only after I lost what I loved most,
saw it disappear as surely

as a fish feels the weight of water being pulled away
from its body, too terrified to give credence to the cold
hook buried deep in its throat

that I, weightless in the skyward arc, knew
I would have to love everything.

Thursday Writing Roundup

Last night, I stayed up late to finish my midterm grading so I could spend today delving back into the Greek novel.  The dogs--Rooby Doo and the Feefinator--are providing moral support.

In other news, a Romanian blogger living in Italy is doing a book giveaway today and one of the books is Catherine.  So if you speak Romanian--or even if, like me, you just speak Google Translate--drop by and enter.

A reminder to fiction writers:  The EratosphereFlash Fiction Workshop starts tomorrow, and I'll be playing Distinguished Guest, providing daily writing prompts, giving feedback on some of the stories, and, five days in, choosing a top entry.  If you want to take part, you'll need to register, but it's quick and painless.  

And if you happen to live in my neck of the woods, consider coming out to hear me read Saturday night with Amy Small McKinney. It's at 7 p.m. in Towne Book Center and Cafe, Plaza Drive, Collegeville, PA, at the intersection of Rt. 422 and Rt. 29.

Small Forgotten Miracles: A Poem and a Writing Prompt

Here's one of my all-time favorite poems from one of my all-time favorite contemporary poets, Naomi Shihab Nye.  I love it for the deeply human significance it finds in something so "small and forgotten":

The Traveling Onion

It is believed that the onion originally came from India.  In Egypt it was an object of worship--why I haven't been able to find out.  From Egypt the onion entered Greece, and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.

--Better Living Cookbook
When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in sooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion, straight
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onio…

Calling All Fiction Writers

Guess who's going to be serving as Distinguished Guest for the 2013 Eratosphere Flash Fiction Workshop?

Hint: It's not Ophelia.

How it works:  The event begins this coming Friday, October 18 and runs for five days.  I'll be dishing up a writing prompt each day, and writers will post their flash fiction (1,000 words or less).  Writers get feedback from other participants, and I'll be chiming in here and there with feedback too.  After that you can revise your submissions.  

On the last day, I'll be choosing an overall winner of the Flash Fiction Workshop.

If you're a writer and you don't know Eratosphere, you might want to pay them a visit.  Named for Erato, the Greek Muse of lyric poetry, Eratosphere is a charmed place where poets and fiction writers post their work and provide each other with really smart feedback.  Eratosphere is associated with the wonderful journal Able Muse, and also with Able Muse Press, which brought out my second book of poetry, This Be…

Blessed are the Faithful: A Night With the Del-Lords at Brighton Bar

Why am I obsessed with the Del-Lords?  If you've seen them play live, you already know.  The band embodies the spirit of rock and roll--four extremely talented guys who clearly love what they are doing, and who give the music their all. One guitarist of the calibre of either Scott Kempner or Eric Ambel would be enough for any band, but the Del Lords have them both.  Kempner, Ambel, and powerhouse drummer Frank Funaro trade off on lead vocals--again, more than enough talent for one band.  And the newest Del Lord, bassist Steve Almaas has really clicked, bringing energy and enthusiasm to their live show.

Of course, none of that would quite matter if the songs themselves--rootsy garage-band-style rock and roll--weren't flat-out great. Scott Kempner's songs are studded with lyrical gems.  Lines like "The rich come first/the poor come last/the whole world sticks it to the middle class," ("Get Tough") and "I've never been any farther west than the …

Anything is an Occasion: An Interview with Photographer Howard Dinin, part two

Yesterday, I published part one of an interview with photographer Howard Dinin, on the occasion of the publication of his new book of photography, Sitting.  Today, I lead with the photo above, for how it captures the cafe experience--a community of solitary people, each wrapped up in his own thoughts.  Of all the many kinds of sitting, that one in is my personal favorite, so of course I love this photo and envy the people in it.  I also love the dappled sunlight, the cafe's weathered wood and cobblestones, and the way the picture manages to be both warm and cool at once.
Now here is part two, for your reading enjoyment:

AL: When we left off, yesterday, you were telling me about the organizing principle to Sitting.
HD: I’m an adherent of the school of thought that clings to the theory that there’s no such thing as logic.Logic is backfill.We know what to do, we know where we’re going to get, and we get there. Then later on somebody asks, how did you figure out how to do this?And the…