Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dispatch From Hawk Hill: The Last Day of Class

Hawk Hill--our fond nickname for Saint Joseph's University--has burst into blossom just in time for the last few days of class.  This is the crazy busy time of year, with huge stacks of papers and journals to be graded, high-stakes faculty meetings to attend, and many loose ends to be tied up.

It's also time to give out course evaluations and wait awkwardly in the hallway while the students fill them out.

Summer--when I will be finishing my Greek novel draft 2.0 and polishing my poetry-collection-in-progress--is so close I can almost taste it.  

Greek Sweets

Monday, April 28, 2014

Country Road Trip: To West Virginia and Back

Spring is road trip season, and last Friday I took off on a drive from Philadelphia to Morgantown, West Virginia, to visit my sis.  She moved there earlier this year to undertake a year-long dietary internship, and her love for her adopted home town knows no bounds.

West Virginia gets a bad rap, especially among I-95-corridor types.  (Cue the jokes--some of which I've admittedly made myself--about banjo music, meth labs, and having a purty mouth.)  My sister was eager to show me what Morgantown, West Virginia is really like: a funky college town surrounded by some truly gorgeous countryside.  A neat rail-to trail path wends along the Monongahela River.  The city is home to a number of intriguing restaurants, homey brew pubs, lots of live music (including bluegrass, of course), and a charming little place called Blue Moose Coffee where we had Sunday morning quiche.

Best of all, the city's just down the road apiece from the Fiestaware Factory and its annual tent sale:

We got a little lost on our way to the tent sale, and wound up driving through some neighborhoods that did more closely conform to stereotype. I wish I'd taken a picture of the shack with "I miss you darlin" and a daisy spray-painted on the outside.  (And I really hope Darlin sees this tribute and comes home.)

The tent sale alone was worth the trip with awe-inspiring amounts of Fiestaware at binge-inspiring prices.  I was too busy digging for treasure to take pictures of the sale itself.  Luckily the outlet store was nearby--offering up a rainbow of photo opportunities:

After that, we took a drive to Tractor Supply to ogle chicks:

The weather wasn't very cooperative, or we'd have done a lot more walking.  By the time my sister saw me off on Sunday morning, the sun was finally shining:

And I'd seen enough of Morgantown to know I want to go back and see more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Chasing Bruce: Seven Reasons Why

Photo by Rhonda Delaune Welch
When you've seen Bruce Springsteen perform over fifty times (most of those in the last decade), people tend to ask you why, often in the gentle, concerned tone reserved for dealing with the delusional. Why spend so much time and money chasing one performer?  Isn't one show pretty much the same as all the others?   

Here's my answer, in seven parts:

1)  Every show is different, with Bruce drawing from his extensive catalog, tossing in new material and rarities among old standbys like Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, Badlands, and The Rising.  Miss a night, and you might just miss that one song you've been chasing forever.

photo by Michael Zorn, from

2)  Every show is special.  Of course Bruce is famous for playing concerts that clock in at over three and a half hours--playing longer and with more gusto than musicians a third his age.  He starts with a setlist, then calls audibles, keeping the show fresh by shaking it up at the last minute.  And he takes audience requests, so there's always hope that if you make an eye-catching sign, he just might play your song.

3) But some shows are extra special.  Take last Saturday night's show in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Bruce started with a very rare song, The Iceman, from his multi-disc outtakes album, Tracks.  The rest of the show was sprinkled with covers inspired by audience-made signs--Louie, Louie, Mustang Sally, and Brown-Eyed Girl--and unusual choices from his own material: From Small Things, Light of Day, and My Love Will Not Let You Down--surprise after surprise after surprise.

Photo by Rhonda Delaune Welch
4) A Springsteen show is epic.  The mood ranges from playful frat rock to sexy soul to angry political commentary to high romance to elegy and back again to celebration--with all the shifts in mood carefully orchestrated to bring everyone in the crowd along for the ride.  And sometimes a song you've heard many times before will pierce you straight through the heart for the first time.  For me that song this time around was Racing in the Street.  Saturday night, I heard the lyrics--really heard them in a way I never had before--and was moved to tears.

5)  A Springsteen show is interactive.  Bruce crowd surfs.  He pulls people on stage to dance and play his guitar.  He runs through the crowd, brings children onstage to sing, then hoists them on his shoulders.  Where you sit or stand matters, because if you're really lucky you just might get a kiss, or a hug, or at the very least some serious eye contact.  If you're willing to take part in the grueling pit lottery that determines who gets to stand in front of the stage, you might get to be a part of the show.  But even if you're in the nosebleed seats, Bruce wants you to stand and be counted; he works hard to reach every single soul in the house.  When the lights come up for Born to Run, and every face in the audience becomes visible, it's a powerful moment: so many people soaking up Bruce's energy and giving it back in a huge tidal wave of love.  

Photo by Rhonda Delaune Welch
6) The legendary E Street Band.  Nobody--but nobody--does it better.

7) Every show is a party.  Come to enough of them and you become part of a core of die hards who travel together, who put up out-of-towners, who help each other find tickets, who argue on fan websites about Bruce minutia, who celebrate and mourn together, and who understand there's no situation in life for which one can't find the perfect Springsteen line.  

Saturday night's crowd: photo taken by one of Bruce's roadies

Southern Misadventures

I'm just back from a very ambitious little roadtrip--Philly to Charlotte, North Carolina and back, and all to see a single show.  Of course when the act in question is Bruce Springsteen, it's a given that the show will be epic and the journey worthwhile, even if that journey includes a flat tire on a very busy highway.  

Luckily, that highway ran through North Carolina.  Also luckily my travelling companion, Diane, thought to call our local buddy Todd, who got on the phone with IMAP--Incident Management Assistance Patrols--a wonderful North Carolinian institution that saved the day and got us on our way.

Special thanks to Ronnie Minor of the North Carolina Department of Transportation  for being so kind, prompt, and helpful.  Did I mention that it was Easter Sunday, and that we felt pretty stranded and helpless beside route 85 on an Easter Sunday with traffic whooshing by us...until he showed up and saved the day?

Of course I'll be writing about the concert in some detail.  Stay tuned!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Where the Band Is

List of things to pack:

Song request sign: check
Dancing shoes: check

And that's about it.

There's nothing better than a road trip to see Bruce Springsteen, unless it's a last minute surprise road trip to see Bruce Springsteen.  I'm so grateful to my husband Andre for this late birthday present, and for holding down the fort while I run amok.  And I'm thankful to my friend Diane for scoring some tickets and for being Thelma to my Louise...or Louise to my Louise...since neither of us wants to be Thelma, and for the fellow Bruce fanatics who are opening their home to us.  And for the friends we'll meet up with along the way.

In case you're wondering, Susan Sarandon is Louise

Next stop: Charlotte!

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:


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

This is our Time: A Night at Mexicali Live with Willie Nile

Willie Nile
For a musician who draws so much inspiration from the hard-edged New York punk scene, Willie Nile is a gentle soul.  You can hear it all over his lyrics--"One Guitar"--a pacifist anthem about the power of music, for example.  Or in "The Innocent Ones," a song that bursts with empathy for the vulnerable and powerless.  But Willie's music brings an edge of punk intensity to balance out his big-hearted idealism.  That's true on his new album, American Ride, and even more true live, when Willie and his band--bassist Johnny Pisano, guitarist Matt Hogan, and drummer Alex Alexander--never fail to play their hearts out.  

Matt Hogan
Andre and I have seen Willie and his band live before, but never as headliners, and we've always been left wanting more.  This year on my birthday that wish came true.

We traveled to Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey:

 for dinner and tales of concert-going misadventures with some warm and welcoming Nileaholics:

And then, of course, there was the show itself, as high energy and full of great new material and beloved old standbys as we could have hoped.  Matt Hogan is a marvel, and nobody defies gravity like Johnny Pisano.

Johnny Pi
And as an added birthday bonus, after the show we got to hang with the band.  Johnny Pisano, known to his devoted fans as Johnny Pi, happens to be a longtime friend of my cousin, actor/musician Michael Jeremiah, and he welcomed us with stories of the old days in the neighborhood and on the road.  (For a brief time, Johnny played in Michael's band XDavis.)  

And I got the chance to add to my collection of Selfies With The Stars:

With Johnny
(Okay...not technically selfies, since Andre took them.  Maybe I should rename this series Spousies with the Stars?)

Willie and me
If you don't know Willie's music, you should.  Here's a taste from the new album:

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...