Saturday, August 30, 2008

Guest Blogger: T.M. Gottl

Poem Without Meaning

My future sister-in-law told me that her writing professor assigned her class to "write a poem that has no meaning." I thought that assignment sounded more like a philosophical debate for a lit theory class than a writing assignment.

Before someone could even start writing such an impossible assignment, he'd need to define "meaning." Does he just not want his students to try to write a metaphoric poem? Does he want a poem that's completely literal with none of those hidden layers of meaning? Or does he just want random words written on the page in such an order that they won't make sense? My initial reaction was to tell her to turn in a blank sheet of paper. After all, by writing any words on the page, wouldn't she be giving meaning to something? The words on the page are indicators pointing to other ideas, objects, and abstract concepts, thereby imbued with meaning. Writing anything at all would end up meaning something, even if that something didn't happen to be terribly insightful or poignant.

I don't think writing a poem without meaning can be done. And if someone claims to have written one, I don't think it could really be a poem.

Personally, I love playing the game called "What does that mean?" My favorite responses to that question are, "I don't know," and "What do you think it means?"

Is that fair? Probably not.
But is it true? I think so.

Without trying to delve into too much more lit theory, I think the readers' interaction and the meaning that they give to a piece matter more than anything I ever intended while writing it. From that point of view, an author could never write a poem without meaning unless no one ever read it.

I might be a bad poet for admitting this, but I often write without intent. I don't frequently plan where the poem will begin and end ahead of time, and often I write my best work in that way. Yes, there's always an editing and revision process, but even so, the finished product won't always "make sense" to me. But then I will read that piece at an open mic or a show, and someone will explain how he or she connected to the poem in a way that I never understood before.

To whom should the poem have no meaning? The author or the reader? Maybe this is a better question to be asking.

Since a professor probably won't tolerate the student who will hand in a blank sheet of paper (or the student who will write a poem without turning it in, thereby depriving it of its meaning), it almost sounds like he's instructing his students to purposely write bad poems.

I want to give this professor the benefit of the doubt and hope that he only wanted to make a point, using this as an exercise to illustrate certain theory concepts. But even so, I think that's a poor way of making a point.

In an art form so dedicated to the use of precise language, to ensuring that every word, punctuation mark, and line break means something and contributes to the piece as a whole, why would anyone purposely instruct his students to write something "meaningless"?

T.M. Göttl is a winner in the poetry category for the 2007 Wayne College Regional Writing Awards. The 2002-2003 edition of the literary magazine, The Mill, published some of her work, and she has performed at readings such as Wayne College’s Annual Poetry, Prose, and Acoustical Jam, the Erewhon Poetry Society, Deep Cleveland Poetry, and Gallery 324.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blind Review Friday

Here we go gang.
Time for another edition of Blind Review Friday.

The author shall remain anonymous (unless they chose to divulge themselves in the comments.)

Those commenting are also welcome to remain anonymous if they wish.

Incendiary comments will be removed

If you would like your piece thrown to the wolves send it to with "Workshop the hell out of this poem" as the subject line.

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

Monday, August 25, 2008

NEO Field Guide

Full name: Terry Provost

Age: Hawaii Five Oh

Habitat: Terrestrial habitat is Lakewood, Ohio, but spiritual and intellectual habitats are almost boundless.

Range: Brandt Gallery, Borders Strongsville, The Literary Café in Tremont, the Water Street Gallery in Kent. Previously spotted in venues from Mac’s on Coventry, and the Kamikaze Coffee House to various libraries, including Cleveland Main, Cleveland Heights, and Lakewood. A wide range of disappearing and ecologically endangered habitats from the Beachland Ballroom, to the Bookstore on W 25th, to Brady’s Cafe.

Diet: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Arundhati Roy, Lynn Margulis, Uri Avnery, Albert Goldbarth, Richard Rorty, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Movies: “Water”, ”Diva”.

Distinguishing Markings: “Compassionate Imperialism (and its “links to terror”).

Predators: The entire global ecosystem of limitless, smug, crony-capitalist greed.

Prey: Same as predators.

If the Elm Deserves to be Paid

Were the elm to be paid the fair worth of its shade
or the apple so paid for its fruit
the ocean rewarded for swimming
the air for the song of the flute
the sun to be paid for its cascading shine
the dream reimbursed for its calling
the spin of the globe for the keeping of time
the vault of the sky for not falling,
if the wood and the stone earned a lien with each home
and each kiss paid its tax to the moon
if the hope in each heart mailed its dues to the stars
and love took its tithe from the blues,
there'd be nothing but thanks to be kept in the banks
empty safes stuffed with memories of gold
and the armies of war, unmanned and ignored
could be fabled in stories untold.

Contact info:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Book Review: Constellation of the Dragonfly by F. J. Bergman

In an earlier post, I congratulated local poet Cat Valente for winning the Rhysling Award this year. My congratulations were not entirely accurate. Valente won for the "Long Poem" category, which means that her poem was over 50 lines long. The winner of the "Short Poem" was F. J. Bergmann, with her poem "Eating Light," previously published in Mythic Delerium. So I was quite eager to read her newest book, Constellation of the Dragonfly out on Plan B Press.

F.J. Bergmann lives in Wisconsin and at She has no literary academic qualifications, but is kind to those so afflicted. Journals that have published her work include Beloit Poetry Journal, Cannibal, DIAGRAM, Margie, North American Review, nth position, Southern Poetry Review, Unpleasant Event Schedule, Ur-Vox, VOX, and a number of science-fiction journals. Her hairstyle is deceptive. One of her pseudopodia can reach all the way from the bedroom to the refrigerator. Her favorite authors all write speculative fiction. Her previous chapbooks are Sauce Robert (Pavement Saw Press 2003) and Aqua Regia (Parallel Press 2007).

What first grabbed me about the book was the cover illustration. I know you can't judge a book by such things, but it really is a gorgeous cover, and actually mirrors the poems in the book. There are lots of clouds and insect wings, everything with an almost transparent quality. The other thing that grabbed me about the cover was the price of the book. I know F. J. Bergmann has little to do with this, but this chapbook is 13.00. 13.00!!! That's almost the price of Bergmann's other two books combined. This is a stunning book, and obviously of the highest quality printing, but it seems pricey.

However, the poetry is worth the price. At around fifty cents a poem, Bergmann delivers a great deal for the reader's money, and more. Usually, with any book of poems, there are at least one or two that rub me the wrong way as a reader. Either they don't fit with the collection, or seem thrown in simply because they were published in a magazine of import, etc. This is not so with Bergmann; each and every one of these poems is powerfully crafted and strong in both imagery and message.

If I had to choose one word to describe the poems in this book, it would be "ethereal"--each one of these poems seems light, almost delicate, as if the very act of reading them might break them. Still, Bergman is able to use that quality to discuss some heavy topics. My favorite poem of the collection has to be "Volition". I love the way Bergmann never actually discusses her topic directly, but alludes to and hints around it until it actually catches up with the reader at the end:

Hoping to entice things with feathers
we constructed many types of feeders,
the ones the squirrels could climb,
equipped with little remote-control guillotines
and the ones that nothing could climb.
We tried all the commercial varieties of seed
and then began to experiment with our own
mixtures of fern seed, seed money, and dragon's teeth.
When we hit on the right combination
after n(n+1) attempts,
over a winter of sleepless nights,
they began to crystallize out of the frosty air,
to delicately cock their heads and dilate their pupils
and blink rapidly at the pungent fumes
emanating from the bait.
After they had stopped struggling and finally
hung upside down, stunned and somnolent,
we carefully detached their little claws from the line
and inserted them at the beginning of each chapter
in the family Book of shadows,
and when their plumage had compressed
and flattened to transparent thinness
we mounted them on white velvet,
behind bulletproof glass, in silvergilt frames
with a small brass plaque engraved with
a description of what each one had once
intended to become.

This is a very sad, haunting poem, and Bergmann's imagery and subtle avoidance of directness only adds to the ephemeral tone of this piece.

Yes, for a chapbook, it's a bit pricey, but upon reading F. J. Bergmann's Constellation of the Dragonfly, a reader will see that the money was well spent. The poems are stunning. and the book itself is well designed and put together. This is an incredible collection and belongs on any poetry reader's shelf.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Blind Review Friday

Here we go gang.
Time for another edition of Blind Review Friday.

The author shall remain anonymous (unless they chose to divulge themselves in the comments.)

Those commenting are also welcome to remain anonymous if they wish.

Incendiary comments will be removed

If you would like your piece thrown to the wolves send it to with "Workshop the hell out of this poem" as the subject line.

The Whippoorwills

Torn from the lucid whippoorwills,
torn from the angular flocks of jade,
torn are the frightened market calls
and the wooden booths of silk and fog.

Under the sheltered lake and frosted jetties,
under the florid green mask,
the peddlers pull, with sirens and whale-song,
their promises in cards and
fasting scribbles.

We listen to the asphalt grinding,
to the locks of mortared lives
reaching the broken-faced ends
of terrible novels and magazines.
Unbirthed plagues of nominal marriage,
rebirth, calling, culling back the silken scarves,
fitting into lapping heather fields, the ivory climb
into languishing hills.

All torn from the lucid whippoorwills.

Somewhere calls the lady star,
lifting the undead poets, the undead painters.
A resurrection floats the solvent
leaking melted hands by twos and by tens,
the insolent scratching
and pouring of thunder down the throat.
Stand in these times of broken fingers,
of lore and scandal rolling through
fur and dust,
heaviness laughing, able-bodied thrills
and the late-night madness and pain,
torn from the lucid whippoorwills.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writers and Their Friends

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for friends, even in writing. This small press publishing can be an intimate affair at time because we work together, cooperate, share the load and support each other. Some can be suspicious of this, but for me it's a sign of an alternate and independent system...the other option is to let the big boys in publishing and bookstores and grants programs make the decisions for us. So, I have always supported the Literary Center's Writers and Their Friends event where regional writers are honored for their work. Submissions are made, nominations really, and some kind of a committee makes the selections. Then actors/performers present the work in a night of celebrating work by regional writers and publishers. I'll be there with Bottom Dog Press/ Bird Dog Publishing books to reach their nearest audience.

But what surprised me this year was the narrow range of those being honored. Only 10 writers, while in the past it was more like 20. Okay, but then when I looked at the kind of publishers being for their books, they are almost all University or big press titles.


Kazim Ali The Fortieth Day Published by BOA Editions, 2008
Michael Dumanis My Soviet Union Published byUniversity of Massachusetts Press, 2007
Ted Lardner Tornado Published by Kent State University Press, 2008
Philip Metres To See the Earth Published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2008
Cinda Williams Chima The Wizard Heir Published by Hyperion, 2007
Shurice Gross Parable of the Rain Dance Published in Barn Owl Review, 2008
Paula McLain Ticket To Ride Published by Harper Collins, 2008
David Giffels All The Way Home Published by Harper Collins, 2008
James Renner Amy: My Search for her Killer Published by Gray & Co. Publishers

Okay, I salute these folks for their good work, but I wonder at times if working locally in the small presses that to my mind really get the regional writing to the people of this area isn't a strike against one among our peers or those who judge us. There should have been some regional small presses represented.

2008 Writers and Their Friends Biennial Literary Showcase
Saturday September 6, 2008 7pm at The Ohio Theater,
Playhouse Square
Book Browse, Showcase, and Reception

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

Palestine's Mahmoud Darwish, who just passed away, was called the greatest contemporary poet of the Arab world. It was not uncommon for 25,000 people to show up at one of his readings. Damn, we'd KILL for those kind of numbers! You can read more about him here. If we are to understand anything about life and mystery in the middle east, we must turn to the poets. So what can Mahmoud Darwish teach us? Here is his poem "Rita and the Rifle." What does it say to you about life and experience in that part of the world?

Rita And The Rifle
Between Rita and my eyes
There is a rifle
And whoever knows Rita
Kneels and plays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes
And I kissed Rita
When she was young
And I remember how she approached
And how my arm covered the loveliest of braids
And I remember Rita
The way a sparrow remembers its stream
Ah, Rita
Between us there are a million sparrows and images
And many a rendezvous
Fired at by a rifle

Rita's name was a feast in my mouth
Rita's body was a wedding in my blood
And I was lost in Rita for two years
And for two years she slept on my arm
And we made promises
Over the most beautiful of cups
And we burned in the wine of our lips
And we were born again

Ah, Rita!
What before this rifle could have turned my eyes from yours
Except a nap or two or honey-colored clouds?
Once upon a time
Oh, the silence of dusk
In the morning my moon migrated to a far place
Towards those honey-colored eyes
And the city swept away all the singers
And Rita

Between Rita and my eyes—
A rifle

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hello - is there anybody in there?

Once again -

Billy Collins is peering inside the giant catfish searching, searching, and searching for a poem to fill this week's Blind Review Friday slot.

We don't know why he thinks there are poems in the fish - but then again we've never been asked to be poet laureate so he must be onto something.

Help the guy out – send your piece to

with the subject line workshop the hell out of this poem just like it says over there in the left sidebar.

All poems received will be put into the cue.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Book Review: The Nightmare Collection by Bruce Boston

Bruce Boston began publishing speculative poetry as early as 1970, yet his work did not begin appearing in genre publications until the late seventies. Since that time he has received more major awards for speculative poetry than any other author: a record seven Rhysling Awards, a record six Asimov's Readers' Awards, and two Bram Stoker Awards for his collections Pitchblende (2003) and Shades Fantastic (2006). The Nightmare Collection is his brand new poetry collection, published on Dark Regions Press. The prolific SFPA Grandmaster brings us sixty poems collected from places like Asimov's SF Magazine, Dark Wisdom, Strange Horizons, Talebones, Weird Tales, and includes new works as well.

What makes this collection so intriguing is its multiple use of forms. Boston really shows off his talents by giving examples of both his formal poetry and his free verse, as well as a few prose poems. The collection moves from the metered, blank verse of "Crossing the Styx" to the free verse of "Gargoyle People" to the ballad-esque "Tale of the Bluegone Boy" to the prose poem "Interrogation at City Gate," all with in a matter of pages. This wide variety of forms really shows off Boston's skill as a poet and his poetic ability.

Boston's poems are very dark, and the variety comes through there, as well. Though many of the poem visit traditional horror tropes, albeit in new ways, there are also poems that could be seen as dark science fiction (such as "Your Bad Binary Brother") or even darkly ironic, such as "Dark Gourmet," which satirically reads:

is such
a perfect diet

I can continue it
to the grave
and beyond.

One can never
be too thin...

Of all the pieces in the book, my favorite were the mythologically based poems. Boston really captures some of the iconographic images of Greek mythology, but paints them in a new light (or perhaps shadow?). One particular favorite that stood out was the prose poem litany "Futurity Wears The Head," which includes lines like:

Futurity is vivid as black light violet, cool as a retrospective on heroin jazz. It needs no makeup to sport a Mediterranian tan.

Futurity takes your hat at the door and your shirt at the table. It leads you down a hall where your portrait becomes ancestral.

Futurity beds you on a mattress too hard with pillows that migrate through the night. It bestrides the lines that scroll across your back to mark you with its legend.

All in all, this is a great collection of poetry. If I had to pick out one thing that irked me, it would be the repetition of the "People" pieces. Boston has created a series of poems, all of which are titled "X People" wherein X is a specific noun taken to metaphorical extremes in the poem. There are poems on "Gargoyle People," "Bone People," "Crow People," "Werewolf People," "Cat People," etc. Most of the "People" poems are light and humorous. However, instead of seeing these pieces as detracting from the dark tone book, I almost see them section dividers or light pallet cleansers, almost like amouse bouche arriving before a heavy meal.

I strongly recommend The Nightmare Collection by Bruce Boston. For 9.95, it's a very solid deal. You will be getting a lot of dark poetry bang for your buck from one of the honored, award-winning masters of the genre.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Haikuu and Other Stuff

Hi Folks: Here's the 2nd China Love Notes haiku. Has anyone else written haiku or other kinds of poems in response to this tragedy? Peace, Mary:

Day and night names drop
from why? One man walks miles arms
open for missing son.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blind Review Friday

for another edition of Blind Review Friday.

The author shall remain anonymous (unless they chose to divulge themselves in the comments.)

Those commenting are also welcome to remain anonymous if they wish.

Incendiary comments will be removed

If you would like your piece thrown to the wolves send it to with "Workshop the hell out of this poem" as the subject line.

Ice Cream

To buy an ice, my aunt and I walked up Gwilym Terrace
then Plymouth Street,
to a white café where a Seven-Up sign hung by a nail
and cooling lorries ticked in the car park

We left Nan alone in
her kitchen, hot and old
Bring me an ice, there’s a lovely hair flying
from its pins, her kissed face smelling of Pears
ankle boots fidgeting under
her patched black skirt.

On their wedding day, my grandfather’s hands spanned her waist.
He made their first married breakfast and carried it
bare feet on the stair carpet
a bracelet hidden under the

My aunt and I chose ice creams from the deep freeze
asked for
wafers, lemonade,
sat at a hot window seat where
I watched mine melt in
its metal bowl.

By the time we got back Nan was asleep in her chair
one hand holding the other on her lap, gentle,
on her thumb-skins the
imprint of her journey
to this point.

Who would tell her, when she
that we hadn’t brought her an ice from the café at the end of Plymouth Street,
because it was too hot,
and from there to here was just too

Neo Poet Field Guide

Full name: Carmen "King Mob" Tracey

Age: 24

Habitat: Where understanding breaks down.

Range: The Lit(erary Cafe), The Language Foundry, bars with no
one in them, back alleys, dying cities, coast to coast.

Diet: Nate Thor Krieger, Rob Rosin, Michelle Krivanek, Nick
Flynn, Aesop Rock, John Darnielle.

Distinguishing Markings: Huge beard and lobster hands... er, claws.

Predators: None.

Prey: All of you.


"wish you were here / wine and split knuckles"

graveyard shift: i
sit in th sunroom and watch th lights flicker in th cemetery, th top floor dark
and mine.

th clever, clever dead. so quiet, and still. no sorrow,
no pain. their choke rattles my lungs, grasps my throat

a fresh
coat of black paint

or a swarm of red


my boundless envy fr them is mounting,
collecting lk melted wax into a monument embedded at th center of my brain, grey
and ready.

a candle.

a railroad spike.

dark root full of blood.

a pillar of ash.

those tricky
bastards. no dreams, no hopes, no heartache.
their nights are flat as playing
and they have managed th spectacle of
graceful and
tipping their hats, saying "goodnight,"
smiling grave teeth,
stepping into a long black car,

vanishing forever.

Contact info:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Supersale on The Shantytown Anomaly...

The Shantytown Anomaly is a 20 page chapbook journal featuring Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror poetry, scifaiku, articles and the occasional short-short story. In celebration of their new website, they are having a huge sale. Each issue is normally $3-4, but right now you can buy five issues for $5!!! This is a huge deal, and an opportunity to get a lot of great poetry for a really low price, including issues featuring Dwarf Star nominated poetry, and a Rhysling Award winning poem.

Currently, the issue I have is number three. This is a GREAT issue of speculative poetry. There are some very dark horror poems, some well crafted formal poems, including three pieces by Rich Rostow that are combinations between villanelles and triolets. There are also two pages of scifaiku--short poems that resemble haiku, but use science and scifi words instead of kigo. There is also a short prose piece from Lee Clark Zumpe.

My favorite piece in this issue has to be "Future Macho," by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff. This is a great poem about men becoming obscolete, and what happens when they (we?) do. Just the opening stanza causes a wry smile to cross the reader's face:

He keeps it on his bathroom shelf,
bottled, stored away in brine,
some obscenely sculpted pickle,
and shows it off at parties, grinning,
winking vulgarly at all of us who've
seen it far too many times before.

I strongly recommend readers and fans of poetry visit The Shantytown Anomaly's new homepage, and take advantage of this incredible deal.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Book Review: Bits and Pieces by Greg Schwartz

Bits and Pieces by Greg Schwartz is a chapbook, hand numbered, which contains 18 poems. Most of these poems are horror or science fiction, but Schwartz runs the gamut of those genres, touching on everything from eroticism to humor. The chapbook itself cost $5.85 with shipping from genre mall, but with my order I also received a free scifaiku postcard, as well as a copy of Shantytown Anomaly, an added $4 value, for free! Obviously, the Spec House of Poetry, publishers of both Shantytown Anomaly and Bits and Pieces, is interested in promoting their poets and other projects, as well as taking care of their customers!
What makes Schwartz's work so compelling is the way he plays with expectations. Poems may start out horrorific and scary, but end up humorously. Also, the opposite is true. Take, for example, the following:


pulls a package
from the freezer
unwraps a finger
dips it in hot sauce
and turns on
The Twilight Zone.

This poem is quite humorous, until the reader's imagination takes over, and considers the next step--the crunch of a finger bone in one's teeth, the taste of human flesh mixed with hot sauce. Yeah...creepy. This is the balance that Schwartz plays with, giving the reader just enough detail to laugh or sigh, and then letting the reader's imagination carry it further into the dark places of the imagination.

My only problem with this book is the lack of scifaiku. Schwartz runs the Haiku & Horror blog, and I was hoping for more of his short work. We are treated to three very solid pieces, but a fan of Schwartz's micro-work, I would've liked more. What this means, of course, is that Spec House of Poetry will have to put together a collection of Schwartz's haiku, so that readers can buy that as well. Until then, we have Bits And Pieces, a great collection of poems. To purchase this book, visit Spec House of Poetry.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wot Eye Ment Wuz...

sort of plays along with all the discussion revolving around form and what constitutes a poem.

I think one of the themes that I have heard reiterated a couple times is once we decide to define groups of words as poems, haiku, sonnet, whatever - then the very labeling creates exclusion and everybody should be against exclusion. Bring grammar or syntax into the equation and one becomes downright draconian.

I’m very interested in this train of thought as I am currently writing a teacher’s text book on vocabulary acquisition – which if we take the former argument of bothering to define anything as being some form of elitism may be futile.

Personally I find this line of reasoning akin to watering down pitching in the major leagues, but that’s just one shmo’s opinion. Here's a news item that I feel fits into this discussion.

LONDON (Reuters) - Embaressed by yor spelling? Never you mind. Fed up with his students' complete inability to spell common English correctly, a British academic has suggested it may be time to accept "variant spellings" as legitimate.

Rather than grammarians getting in a huff about "argument" being spelled "arguement" or "opportunity" as "opertunity," why not accept anything that's phonetically (fonetickly anyone?) correct as long as it can be understood?

"Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea," Ken Smith, a criminology lecturer at Bucks New University, wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

"University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell."

To kickstart his proposal, Smith suggested 10 common misspellings that should immediately be accepted into the pantheon of variants, including "ignor," "occured," "thier," "truely," "speach" and "twelth" (it should be "twelfth").

Then of course there are words like "misspelt" (often spelled "mispelt"), not to mention "varient," a commonly used variant of "variant."And that doesn't even begin to delve into all the problems English people have with words that use the letters "i" and "e" together, like weird, seize, leisure, foreign and neighbor.

The rhyme "i before e except after c" may be on the lips of every schoolchild in Britain, but that doesn't mean they remember the rule by the time they get to university.

Of course, such proposals have been made in the past.

The advent of text messaging turned many students into spelling neanderthals as
phrases such as "wot r u doin 2nite?" became socially, if not academically, acceptable.

Despite Smith's suggestion, language mavens are unconvinced. John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, says rules are rules and they are there for good reason.

"There are enormous advantages in having a coherent system of spelling," he told the Times newspaper. "It makes it easier to communicate. Maybe during a learning phase there is some scope for error, but I would hope that by the time people get to university they have learnt to spell."

Yet even some of Britain's greatest wordsmiths have acknowledged it's a language with irritating quirkiness. Playwright George Bernard Shaw was fond of pointing out that the word "ghoti" could just as well be pronounced "fish" if you followed common pronunciation: 'gh' as in "tough," 'o' as in "women" and 'ti' as in "nation."

And he was a playright.


Blind Review Friday

for another edition of Blind Review Friday.

The author shall remain anonymous (unless they chose to divulge themselves in the comments.)

Those commenting are also welcome to remain anonymous if they wish.

Incendiary comments will be removed

If you would like your piece thrown to the wolves send it to with "Workshop the hell out of this poem" as the subject line.


Mufflers Crickets Birds
Call From Thickets

:brick lined
wide ruled
leger for pedestrial

banking on words
language mattering
less than surge:

Mufflers Crickets Birds
Call From Thickets

:or serged like sewn in
to maybe widely matter

by brick

Mufflers Crickets Birds
Call From Thickets

(note - some of the word spacing on lines could not be translated into this post due to constraints of the blogger template, line breaks have been preserved - mgs)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Slam this!

Here is a report, from The Isthmus, on the National Poetry Slam:

Spoken word artists are naturally a loquacious bunch, so it’s only natural that more than a few are sharing their experiences at the National Poetry Slam in Madison, Wisc., this week. The five-day showdown opened on Tuesday with a series of 12 bouts between 48 teams, less than a third of the total in the two preliminary rounds of competition. Poets from several teams competing on this opening night have plenty to say about their own and others’ bouts on the first night of the slam.

One member of the Worcester Poets Asylum team the scores from his bout at the Brink Lounge, in which the squad from central Massachusetts finished second to Chicago Mental Graffiti and ahead of Boston Lizard Lounge and Accident Slam from Eureka, California. The poet also provides the score and comments on the winning effort put in by Boston Cantab at the same location earlier in the evening. “New England had a very good night tonight,” he declares, “and I hope it will continue for the rest of the week.” Read more here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What I meant was...

All this talk about form revolving around what is a haiku - what isn't haiku and who decides has got me to pondering.

What about punctuation, correct grammar, strict adherence to other forms and then of course the grand daddy question - is the piece poetry? I mean, can we just slap down 14 lines and call it a sonnet - or do we go that extra graded on a curve step of trying to have around 10 syllables a line, or do we actually attempt iambic pentameter and what the hell is a downbeat anyway?

What makes a piece a poem? I been known to say the next time I hear a poem being performed by some slick preeminent performance poet who is strutting and spouting about his or her metaphors and similes doing this or that without using any metaphors or similes that I will blow my brains out (metaphorically speaking of course.)

So how important is form?
Is it a poem if the only meaning to be discerned from the piece is that which is bobbing right on the surface?
Does correct grammar come into play at all?
Is it an affront to the artist to demand more than preaching to the choir?
Does lack of narrative constitute experimentalism?
Questions questions questions.

I'll leave you with a sonnet:

The Poetry Instructor

They look at me and ask “What should I write?
Which of our thoughts deserve to be on page?”
As if I flip the switch on a spotlight
Illuminating images for stage

I tell them to grab hold of moments
Sufficiently firm they cannot escape
Buoyantly enough they are not bent
That one may reproduce their shape

Instead they wear their hearts upon their sleeves
Rend open boxes full of misery
Lay siege to concepts which we all agree
Are safely held by the majority

I sigh a weary sigh, throw up my hands
What can I say; they’ve gone and won the slam

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

can we drum up any?

i work at a grocery with a dozen or so young men from the Sudan, known as "Lost Boys", who escaped man-perils and lion- and land-perils, to make it to USA, to live the good life. St. Ignatius High School supports a group which supports the local Lost Boys---monies go to buy them basic things, like combs. but also, higher things, like education.

they seem to be on the lookout for fundraising ideas. one thing they had was bowling night. to rent a lane, one made a donation to the lost boys.

what if we had a literary event--poetry, maybe music too, on the theme of hope and persverence. and Cleveland! the new home for some pretty persrvering men?

performers could sell sponsorship to local businesses---we could say something corny, like : Think Global, Act Local. and invite friends and family, who can bring in simple house-hold items, like notebooks. floss. gently used microwaves?

if there is interest, i will see to it.

Haiku, Ghazals and Juxtapositions...

With all this talk about haiku recently, as well as an article in National Geographic about Persia, I was thrown to another form based on juxtapositions--the ghazal.

For readers not familiar with the form, a brief description. A ghazal is a series of couplets, the second line of each ending in a specific rhyme and refrain. The opening couplet ends in both lines in this rhyme/refrain combination, almost setting it up for the reader/listener. In addition, each couplet must be distinct from the others--the usual description is "beads in a necklace"--where they could work on their own as a seperate unit, but work within a structure for a complete whole.

A more developed description by Agha Shahid Ali (the poet attributed with brining the ghazal to the west) can be found here. Here is an example of a ghazal he himself wrote.

I have led a fairly uninteresting life, punctuated with moments of intense feeling, passion and longing. I cannot write the traditional, confessionalist-inspired, Iowa-derivative narrative poem, nor do I feel like constantly inventing or constructing narratives to appeal to this style of writing. I've written them, some have been published, anthologized, etc., but there has to be more. I'm much more interested in the non-narrative poetic forms: riddles, haiku, tanka, ghazals, achipelagos, etc. What is key about all these forms is the juxtaposition--laying two things next to each other or on top of each other to resonate against each other and cause a reaction or profound moment for the reader. Repeating this pattern, the author can take the reader's hand and walk them through a series of emotions, or have them journey deeper into a specific emotion, much like Virgil walking Dante through hell. If only I could be that successful... ;-)

So, that being said, a contest announcement. The Ghazal Page has recently had two contests, each one asking poets to write ghazals based around a specific refrain--"clouds and rain" and "the moon". My poem (titled "Ghazal" in accordance with the form) and J. E. Stanley's "Lunaticus (in D minor)" were both selected for the moon contest. The new refrain is "sugar." The deadline is October 1, so there's still time to put together a solid piece. I'd love to see what you guys come up with, even if it's only a couplet or two. Perhaps a collaborative piece could be thrown together and submitted to the contest? Let me know what you think.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Haikuu and other stuff

Hi! Thanks again to all who posted to blog #1. This time I'm posting the first haiku in a series I wrote in response to the earthquake in China. The series is titled "China Love Notes." Again I ask all interested poets to post their own haikus in response to this one. Thanks and Peace,


China shifts like a grave.
Brave people pretend it's over
help tomorrow come.

Gatherings of Poets

I wonder if anyone else every watches the gatherings of poets that we have at readings and speculates on how this interaction is creating new art, new work and visions of what a poem can be. At Sunday Joe's in Cleveland this past Sunday, we had poets from Cleveland, Toledo, Elyria, Lorain, Sandusky, and Huron, a wide range of works and approaches, and while it was going on I got this sense of crosss-polination happening. T.M. Gottl read her surrealistic visions, Toledo poets belted out their calls to Poetry, Huron folks spread the word of people along the lake. It was a real montage-collage, and it happens all the time. Don't underestimate the power of these gatherings. They connect us and make us new. Larry

Haiku and Cleveland...

I've been reading through books from Jim Kacian's Red Moon Press, specifically the "New Resonance" series, trying to deepen my understanding of contemporary haiku. I have been actively publishing in the haiku field for a few years now, and have a haiku collection coming out on VanZeno press sooner or later, but like any poet, I'm always seeking more.

In this video, editor Jim Kacian lists 7 steps for haiku mastery.

1-Entry level haiku (simply knowing 5-7-5 syllables), which is the "welcome" stage.
2-Content (What is a good haiku about?)
3-Technique (What's your style, as opposed to imitating someone?)

He lists these as one large group, again, all basic stages.

4-Reconsider form (my poem needs this, not "haiku needs this")
5-Reconsider content (what do I need to include for my poem?)
6-Reconsider technique
7-Mastery (you do these things because it's what you are)

I'm always curious as to how this relates to Cleveland, both academically and non-academically. While I'm not sure I completely agree with those binaries in poetry (perhaps more of a sliding scale?) or in a town like Cleveland, I am concerned with the potential for haiku in this city. As far as I know, I am one of maybe three or four poets from Cleveland to be published in Frogpond, the Haiku Society of North America's tri-anual magazine, and that might be over stepping it. I certainly hope that I'm wrong, so if you've landed there or any of the other biggies, let me know.

Some questions:

1) Are people studying haiku? If so, how? If not, why not?
2) Are people sending their haiku out?
3) Is haiku being addressed in the academy? If so, how? If not, why not?
4) What are the potentials for haiku in Cleveland?

In my experience, the answer to the first three questions is no, with a possible "maybe" for question 1. A lot of folks I know have read Kerouac's Book of Haikus, but have not read Wililam J. Higginson's The Haiku Handbook, Lee Gurga's Haiku: A Poet's Guide, or even Cor Van Den Heuvel's A Haiku Anthology. Many folks have read America Zen, but how many then went on to explore bottle rockets, Stanford M. Forrester's haiku magazine? So the study, the actual gathering of information, reading poems and what's been done in a genre, etc. does not seem present. Some of this could be ignorance (people don't know these books exist?) and some of this could be avoidance (people aren't interested in haiku), but it seems to be a problem.

Why? Because Cleveland is a city surrounded and infiltrated with nature, and haiku, as a form that, in one aspect, shows and explores man's relationships with nature. We are a city aching for haiku, and yet I can count on one hand the number of haiku collections (taking into consideration a fairly specific definition of haiku, i.e, breaking the 5-7-5 myth, etc.) published in this city or by it's authors, and have fingers left over, which irks me for some reason.

Haiku is also a very marketable form. A major issue with a lot of non-poetry readers is that it "takes too long" or that "they don't have time," either to read in general or to delve into the connotations and intricacies a poem might require. A haiku is three lines--THREE LINES. If a non-poetry reader doesn't have time for three lines, there's a problem. Haiku also have a guerilla poetential. A haiku is short enough to fit on a t-shirt, sticker, postcard, short enough for text messages and e-mail signatures.

So why aren't folks pursuing this? Alternately, with so many resources available, both on-line and in print (library!!!), why do folks remain ignorant about haiku and what's been done in the genre, specifically academics whose job is to teach poetry? Are things being done in the community, and I'm simply ignorant? If not, what can be done to change this?

NEO Poet Field Guide

Full name: Gina M. Tabasso
Age: 39 (July 14, 1969)
Habitat: Brunswick, OH townhouse
Range: Microbreweries, Asian restaurants, rib and wing joints, coffee shops, barns (yes, with an “n” though “bars” are fun, too), overseas, vertical hills on trail rides through mud and rivers and rock, Maine, Nova Scotia, Chicago
Diet: 20th-century British novels, contemporary and canonical poets, Russian lit, horse books, nonfiction; mostly protein, beer and vodka
Distinguishing Markings: Mangrove, The Common Review, Upstairs at Duroc, The MacGuffin, Mid-American Review, Slant, Blue Mesa Review, Pavement Saw, and many others; long, curly hair; tall; lots of curves
Predators: Gasoline costs, inflation, illness, car accidents, raccoon urine in my house, insane men who are trouble, my parents
Prey: Hot, young contractors; men under 35
Call: excerpted from “Forming”

What is your collapsed name,
the one that folded you
imploding like a
when your leg bone gave out
when you were born to race,
a dappled
comet streaking
jet and cranberry breath?

What club do you
belong to
that loves foam and sweat
pulls hair from your neck
ties your
windpipe open
mummy wraps your legs
until you want to drink moon
and run through the center
of the sun, lightning
flickering in the

Contact info:

Friday, August 1, 2008

RGB Really Good Books

My daughter Katie is a sixth grade teacher and she keeps a cardboard box in her room labeled: Really Good Books in hasty hand letters. If a student reads a book from the classroom library and feels the title deserves the designation, into the box it goes. It's a simple, populist review system that inspires reading and discussion.

So, I made us a box on the assumption that folks don't just sit around reading poetry ALL the time and might in fact be in the market for a really good book recommended by a friend. People suggest books to me all the time. I write the titles down on old grocery receipts and checkbook deposit slips and jam them into whatever bag I'm carrying never to be seen again. And then the next time I'm at the library or bookstore, I spend way too much time wandering the aisles looking for a really good book, my mind a blank whirl. I then start to cruise the shelves with a hunt and peek process, listing toward authors with whom I already have a passing acquaintance.

What I'm hoping is that folks will respond to this posting with really good books that they read during their summer vacation. (In Cleveland, just having the sun out 3 days in a row is a vacation, so if it's just something you read on the bus and it was really good, put it in the box.)

Here's the first one I want to toss in. The Septembers of Shiraz a debut novel by Iranian American Dalia Sofer, who emigrated to the US at the age of 10 bringing with her vivid images of life, revolution, and her own father's imprisonment and release in Tehran after the fall of the Shah's regime. The reluctant protagonist, Issac, is a Jewish gem dealer in Tehran who chooses to quietly stay in his homeland when many of his friends flee. When the revolutionary guards come for him, the reader follows his harrowing journey into a torturous prison and the subsequent staggerings of his wife, daughter, and son (who is studying abroad in NYC) in alternating chapters. The writing is vivid and sparse, drenched in eyewitness detail that focuses less on the political disputes than on the day to day realities of a family hobbled by change as the revolutionaries quickly overtake the violent, intolerant reputations of their former oppressors. Against this historical backdrop the author shows the reader that whether the topic is families or revolution, there is no such thing as a flawless stone.

Personal note: I get a lot of my information about the world through fiction (that is the fiction written to be fiction, not the distortions brought to us by the MSM). Other books about the Middle East that I would toss in the RGB box are: The Bookseller of Kabul, Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kabul, The Bastard of Istanbul, Three Cups of Tea (memoir), Under the Persimmon Tree, Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, and Haveli. Those last four are teen novels, but don't let that hold you back, it just means the protagonist is a teenager. Catcher in the Rye would be a teen book if it were released today.

So, what else is new? What else goes in the RGB box?

Blind Review Friday

Okay - here's our second blind review Friday selection. The author shall remain anonymous (unless they chose to divulge themselves in the comments.)

Those commenting are also welcome to remain anonymous if they wish.

Incendiary comments will be removed

If you would like your piece thrown to the wolves send it to with "Workshop the hell out of this poem" as the subject line.


Too much sugar on a Friday.
too much guilt on a Sunday.
Need me some veggies

and time to clean my dirt road soul
who walks alone. Time to party
with the road kill dead rot sadness
shouting in my head.

I remember the slow pull
of your sticky lip
when I drove away.

No more pills snuck into my cake

All pills out, with frosting on them
All to see and take without me
Around a table they pass them out
And drink a cup of tea with a spoonful
of sugar.

My pink cheeks will lower into a cool bath
with my eyes closed
in a satin Victorian squeezed dress,
mermaid hair, soft water.
Death will come in a breath of wind
A knife lay on the side tub
just in case.

Stack the days on top of what isn’t said
like weights from a workout machine
with blue edged bubbles of evil thoughts:
Die you slut, die you whore, die you cunt.

I’m so grateful time continues
Maybe she will forget.

I’m so grateful
time continues.
Maybe she was drunk.

I’m so grateful time continues.
Maybe she won’t see.
She did see. Someone told me.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau