Friday, May 29, 2009

Bad Poetry 2: the great Wergle Flomp

Continuing the discussion of bad poetry...

There is, of course, poetry that's so bad that it's good.. and then there's poetry that's even worse than that. That's where Wergle Flomp comes in.

The origin of Wergle Flomp is recounted by David Taub It has to do with the website formerly known as the National Library of Poetry. (If you want to know about National Library of Poetry, Dave Barry explains all.) Turns out, what they do is to have an open poetry contest to which people are solicited to send poems... and then everybody who sends in a poem gets "selected" as a semifinalist to be in their anthology... a copy of which they can buy for only fifty dollars. Along with plaques, and other memorabilia. At, say five thousand "selected" poets, fifty dollars per poet-- that's a nice chunk of cash. There are exposes here and there.

But back to Flomp. What David Taub wondered was, just how bad can a poem be, and still get that letter "In celebration of the unique talent that you have displayed..." How bad can it be? He tried worse and worse poetry. Like, Stephen AbutLOL's "Wots a pome," featuring the immortal lines:

Very serious stuff is pomes
you can write them in your homes.

and which got that letter ... your poem was selected for publication, and as a contest semi-finalist, on the basis of your unique talent and artistic vision."

Even the pseudonym "Wergle Flomp", writing a poem that made no sense whatsover, got the letter.

So in the spirit of the great Wergle Flomp ("flobble bobble blop/yim yam widdley woooo/oshtenpopple gurby"), the Wergle Flomp poetry contest was inaugurated. The rules of the contest are simple: what's the absolutely worst possible poem that can be submitted to the contest-- or the international library of poetry or any similar contest? It's a contest for poetry that's not just bad, but excruciatingly bad

A really good--by which I mean, really bad--Wergle Flomp poem is earnest and so so tone deaf as to be embarassing.

I'm happy to point out, by the way, that Cleveland features in the first stanza of the winning Wergle Flomp poem from 2008, Benjamin Taylor Lally's "FIRST EDITION, 2008":

O, I also enjoy singing about America
When I am in the shower
O song—O awesome song,
O the mouth-song that comes out of my mouth,
Like food when I don't feel good.
O-hi-O, Cleveland is your capitol.
O, how this pen fits in my hand,
Like a magic microphone or something.
When I write, the words just plop out of it,
Out of me,
Me the poet.
I am a poet.

Hey, we're famous. Or something.

So, if you really want to see some bad poetry-- check it out.

Blind Review Friday

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.

This weeks piece comes from an established poet who will be named next week:

Herb Garden

"And these, small, unobserved . . . " —Janet Lewis

The lizard, an exemplar of the small,
Spreads fine, adhesive digits to perform
Vertical push-ups on a sunny wall;
Bees grapple spikes of lavender, or swarm
The dill’s gold umbels and low clumps of thyme.
Bored with its trellis, a resourceful rose
Has found a nearby cedar tree to climb
And to festoon with floral furbelows.

Though the great, heat-stunned sunflower looks half-dead
The way it, shepherd’s crook-like, hangs its head,
The herbs maintain their modest self-command:
Their fragrances and colors warmly mix
While, quarrying between the pathway’s bricks,
Ants build minute volcanoes out of sand.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book Review: Iron Angels by Geoff Landis

Iron Angels is the long overdue, first collection of poetry by Geoff Landis. Landis, a scientist at NASA Glenn Research Center, has already won the Rhysling Award for his poetry in addition to the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for his works of fiction. Landis' background, intelligence and sense of humor are very evident in this collection. And while much of his poetry is profound, it always remains both accessible and engaging. These are poems for everyone, not just fans of science and science fiction.

My personal favorite is "Earthrise, Viewed from Meridiani, Sol 687," inspired by a photo of the Earth taken from the surface of Mars, with lines like:

"That's you
and me
and everybody you know;
everyone who ever lived,
everyone who ever died.
All of us."

This collection also has numerous poems that, on the surface, seem straightforward and direct, but imply much more than what is being said. Consider "After:"

"After the flash
a moment of quiet
before the sound"

And, as expected from a writer of this caliber, there are several deep, thought-provoking pieces. "Snapshots," for example, which so accurately captures the haunting sense of disconnection one gets when viewing old photos. In part:

"Who are these people,
frozen in their graceless poses,
with their awkward smiles
and how dare they think that they could ever have once been

There is much humor and wit here, as well, such as in the award-winning "Christmas (When We All Get Time Machines)" and the quite useful "Ten Ways to Tell if Your Cat is a Space Alien." And yes, if you don't know what your feline friend is up to right now, maybe you'd better check. All in all, an excellent collection and valuable addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

Cover Art: NASA, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team. Cover Design: Heidi Della Pesca. (vanZeno Press) Reviewed by J.E. Stanley.

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday
to contributor Geoffrey A. Landis. His name is linked to his NEO Poet Field Guide entry.

Speaking of the NEO Poet Field Guide - we could use some nominations. Please backchannel these suggestions to - include an e-mail address for your nominee if possible. Self nomination is not discouraged and nobody needs to know if you nominate yourself ;)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ordinary Genius - A Guide for the Poet Within

Poet Kim Addonizio has a new book
out entitled "Ordinary Genius - A Guide for the Poet Within". (She co-authored "The Poet's Companion" with Dorianne Laux in 1997). You get your money's worth of lessons in its 300 pages. I was a little disappointed at the beginning , reading ideas like keeping a journal or writing a poem with the first line of someone else's poem, but the book got meatier with every chapter. "Ordinary Genius" is dense with inspiration, poem starters and exercises, as well as chapters like "Your Genius, Your Demons" that contain Addonizio's well thought-out philosophies on poets and poetry. She offers adoring insights on everyone from Shakespeare and Whitman to Cleveland's own George Bilgere.

She dares to have a chapter called "Love and Sex Poems" and somehow brings a fresh approach to those time-worn subjects. Addonizio is honest in her assessment of poets when she warns: "When you explore your own life in poetry, it's useful to remember that nobody really cares." And "If you want to be a poet the same way some people want to be a rock star without actually learning the guitar, playing scales or practicing - then you are free to fantasize."

Addonizio teaches the sonnet and pantoum among other poetic forms with ease. Other chapters include such topics as race, class, addictions and fairy tales. All the regulars are there as well: metaphor, imagery, revising, meter etc.

It's a comprehensive resource that I would recommend to a beginner or to any seasoned, war-wounded poet who is looking for his/her lost muse.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Backing off from the controversy for just a moment now, I’d like to talk about a very serious topic:


Chalk up one more seemingly useless social networking site next to the already existing plethora of uselessness to which I subscribe—MySpace, Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MyFace, SpaceBook…And now, I’ve given in and joined Twitter.

[My apologies to those who haven’t signed up for one or more of these and have no idea what the heck the rest of this blog is about. You have my utmost admiration for not falling into such black holes cleverly disguised as “social networks”. Please feel free to stop reading this right now, go grab a cup of tea, put your feet up, and snuggle with an old-fashioned book or some re-runs of House. The rest of you, who have fallen to the seductive wiles of Facebook and her ilk right along with me, please keep reading.]

Twitter seemed useless to me. It’s like your Facebook or MySpace “status”…but without the Facebook or MySpace that goes WITH the status updates. I didn’t understand. That is, until I became addicted to reading the updates of celebrities (and quasi-celebs) like Neil Gaiman, Jimmy Fallon, Steve Poltz, Jason Mraz, Dave Barnes, Darnell Levine…

Some people have truly turned the “status update” into an art form. A new, technology-necessitated art form, but an art form nonetheless. One that is text-based. And short.

See where I’m going with this, poets?

Poetry is supposed to be the most condensed form of literature. So, do you think we can condense it to 140 characters or less [the length limit for any Twitter post]. I’ve recently attempted to post a handful of cinquain and other short poems in my status on Facebook and Twitter. Why not pick a week (maybe this summer) when we all decide to post short poems—be they haiku, cinquain, or other short verse—in our status updates?

In an era of lamentation over the increasing legitimacy of a sentence like, “wat r u 4 2nite?” why not make an attempt at infusing a bit of literacy back into technology? Just once, maybe we could, enmasse, attempt to update our status (stati?) with something a bit more worthwhile than, “Jane is…going to the gym before dinner.” Maybe this could be the new, updated version of various poetry postcard projects that exist out there. After all, the point behind the postcard projects is that the art is viewable and accessible to anyone and everyone, in much the same way that a status update is viewable by just about anyone on the internet, all over the world (depending on your privacy settings, of course).

Thoughts? Or am I just being naive?

Alls Fair...

LONDON _ A fight over who gets to be Oxford University's top poet has set Britain's pens racing _ and weakened the careers of two well-known wordsmiths.

St. Lucia-born Derek Walcott pulled out of the race for Oxford's Professor of Poetry after letters were distributed highlighting sexual harassment allegations made against him at Harvard and Boston Universities in the 1980s and 1990s.

His rival, Ruth Padel, resigned from the prestigious post Monday after admitting she sent e-mails to journalists publicizing the claims.

Some commentators called the move poetic justice, but others say the controversy uncovered the racially and sexually charged undercurrents still coursing through the uppermost reaches of academia.

Padel, the first female Professor of Poetry since the job was created three centuries ago, was elected only after Walcott, a Nobel Literature Laureate, dropped out under pressure from an anonymous letter-writing campaign.

The mysterious missives, dropped in Oxford University mailboxes, reportedly recapped a 1982 incident in which officials at Harvard admonished Walcott for pressuring a freshman into having sex with him, as well as a 1996 sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former Boston University graduate student.

Walcott called the letters an attempt at character assassination. Padel denied having anything to do with them, but The Sunday Times revealed that she had drawn attention to the charges in e-mail exchanges with unidentified journalists. Some of her previous backers called on her to stand down.

"As soon as I was told yesterday that there were people in Oxford who were severely against me I thought it was the right thing," she told BBC radio Tuesday. "I didn't want to divide the university, I wanted to offer it my services, so of course I stood down immediately."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Speaking of bad poetry...

Former GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee writes:

Fancy Nancy

Here's a story about a lady named Nancy
A ruthless politician, but dressed very fancy
Very ambitious, she got herself elected Speaker
But as for keeping secrets, she proved quite a "leaker."

She flies on government planes coast to coast
And doesn't mind that our economy is toast
She makes the Air Force squire her in their military jets
There's room for her family, her staff, and even her pets.

Until now, she annoyed us, but her gaffes were mostly funny;
Even though it was painful to watch her waste our tax money.
But now her wacky comments are no laughing matter;
She's either unwilling to tell the truth, or she's mad as a hatter!

She sat in briefings and knew about enhanced interrogation;
But claims she wasn't there, and can't give an explanation.
She disparages the CIA and says they are a bunch of liars;
Even the press aren't buying it and they're stoking their fires.

I think Speaker Pelosi has done too much speaking;
And instead of her trashing our intelligence officials, it's her nose that needs tweaking.
If forced to believe whether the CIA and her colleagues in Congress are lying;
Or it's Speaker Pelosi whose credibility and career is dying.

I believe in the integrity of the men and women who sacrifice to keep us safe;
Not the woman who has been caught flat-footed, lying to our face.
I say it here and I say it rather clear-
It's time for Nancy Pelosi to resign and get out of here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bad Poetry

We like to discuss good poetry. But that's only a small part of the poetry world-- maybe it's time to talk about bad poetry! Heck, even searching the term "bad poetry" on google gives 218,000 hits! (only slightly fewer than the 246,000 hits for "good poetry".)

The BBC has a page of guidelines (with some examples) on how to write bad poetry, has a bad poetry seminar, and Elizabeth Barrette has a page on how to recognize it, and there are plenty of pages on the web that give you bad poetry on the web-- in fact, there's even a site!

Bad poetry-- celebrate it? Eradicate it? Laugh at the awkwardness of it? Weep at the lost opportunities? Curse at the minutes (hours) that you wasted reading it, time that you'll never ever get back? Or, maybe, just blush in embarrassment-- yeah, maybe the real problem with bad poetry is that awkward shock of recognition. Maybe too much bad poetry is just a little too close to something you wrote when I was a teenager ...or the stuff I wrote last week.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blind Review Friday

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.

Last week's offering Old Men Playing Basketball was by B.H. Fairchild.

This weeks piece comes from a Clevelandpoetics - the Blog Reader:

My Dentist's Son

My dentist's son
whose eyes are blue jewelry
and intricate as a diamond drill,
watches the excavation in my mouth,
with goofy horror.

He is delighted.
A virtuouso actor, he gags
at the stumped tooth
while Dad attempts to crown it.

Such curiosity could burn to the earth's core
or make the universe heave up its entrails.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Smiths get their Lix and Kix at Visible Voice Books on Tuesday May 19th

Tuesday 19 May during Lix and Kix 8 at Visible Voice Books, Dianne Borsenik and I were privileged to host two of Cleveland's finest poets, photographers and artists - Steven B. Smith and Kathy Ireland Smith - giving their first featured reading since returning home to Ohio from several years of living abroad. As you may know, Steve (known simply as Smith) published the legendary ArtCrimes journal for many years and created what at least one authority has called the largest art and poetry site on the internet at Kathy is the founder and editor of what has to be one of the country's best art and poetry zines, The City Poetry. Together they have written a fascinating memoir of Smith's life entitled Criminal (for which they're seeking a publisher). Their mutual blog ( is one of my favorites. And Smith's poetry and collage collection Zen Over Zero is as much a must-have as any book can be. Here are a couple of clips from Tuesday's reading:

Thanks to the Smiths and everyone else who made Lix and Kix 8 a night to remember. Still photos from the event will be coming soon to my Facebook page.

Peace and poetry,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why Blog? Why Me?

Ever since I jumped in and said, "I’ll blog," I’ve been asking myself why I did that? It’s not readily apparent because I’m not burning up with things to say, and I’m only peripherally affiliated with the community that reads this blog. But digging deeper to explore this issue within myself, I’ve discovered personal reasons for blogging that will certainly inform future posts. That is why I’ve decided to begin by explaining where I’m coming from.

I’ll start with the negatives, what this is NOT about for me. As I said, no burning things that I need to say. I already know what I think and feel about poetry, and I’m comfortable with that. Also, as I said, I don’t feel much sense of connection with this part of the poetry community. That, of course, has been my choice. I could go to far more readings and events than I do if that’s what I wanted. It’s not. I probably won’t have much to say about local events simply because I don’t go to many.

I’m going to digress for a paragraph or two to say something about the Cleveland poetry community, if we can even call it that. I belong to a group of poets that meets through CWRU Continuing Education. At any given time, we are a group of about 20 poets meeting weekly. In the many years that this group has existed, it has probably involved hundreds of local poets, many of whom come to monthly Sunday gatherings long after they’ve stopped coming to the weekly group. I’m going to guess that none of these hundreds of people read this blog. Not one. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

I mention this as a small example of what I see as the broader nature of the "Cleveland poetry community." There really are multiple poetry communities that may or may not intersect at various points and may or may not have a few common interests. One of the things that I might hope for this little space is that it could become a place of intersection. (As the perpetual schoolchild I am, I’m visualizing Venn diagrams.) If local poets who are unfamiliar with each other’s works begin to interact here, that might be a way to feed our creative processes. And that, selfishly, is the primary reason why I’ve agreed to blog. I’m hoping that fresh interactions will stoke my creative fires and bring me pleasures.

There was once a discussion here about obligation to community. Personally, I don’t feel any, and I don’t feel any embarrassment about the lack. As I said, I can really only identify multiple smaller communities to begin with, and in any event, I believe those communities exist to serve my needs, not visa versa. I would not blog here if I wasn’t personally benefitting from it. If my participation also benefits others, that’s a nice side benefit, but not my purpose or intent, and surely not my duty.

So what I’m hoping for here are interactions that will stimulate me. Let me stress INTERACTIONS. I don’t need to hear my own voice. I can do that without blogging.

I’m thinking right now about 2 possible ways to blog that might lead to interaction. First, I’d enjoy something creative. Maybe writing a poem and asking for poetic responses to it, or writing a poem jointly by, perhaps, throwing out a line or two and asking for additions. Second, I have opinions and beliefs that will undoubtedly provoke discussion -- like the myths that poetry should always be read aloud, that poets need an audience, that poetry should be accessible. I’ll confess upfront, and perhaps this is my personal failing, I don’t like most poetry. It bores me – other than the occasional gem. I know I’m not the first poet to express negative feelings about poetry.

So I’ll be proceeding from here, on an irregular basis, as life and time allow. I welcome any ideas anyone has about ways to foster interactions, please keeping in mind that my ultimate purpose is to provide creative stimulation and pleasure for myself.

Oh – and I realize that I’ve got my head so far up my ass I could perform a colonoscopy on myself. I promise not to do this in future posts. I don’t want my polyps to gross you all out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why don't modern poems rhyme?

Robert Pinsky, writing in Slate, talks about his views about poetry, "Why Doesn't Modern Poetry Rhyme

I'm not sure I agree with him entirely (I like a well-done rhymed poem, from time to time, and I certainly don't think that appreciating humorous poetry means a person is "a jerk"), but, at least, he doesn't just expound his views; what he does is give example poems, and ask the reader what they think about them.

So what's with Pinsky? Do his views have value, or is he full of it?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blind Review Friday

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.

This week's offering is from an established poet whose identity will be revealed next week:

Old Men Playing Basketball

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Congratulations to the 2009 Hessler Street Fair Poetry Contest Winners!

footage and editing by Ken Kitt, courtesy of PoetryVidz

Wednesday, May 13th, I had the pleasure of reading (and seeing my work included in the Hessler Street Fair 2009 Poetry Anthology) with some mighty fine poets from across northern Ohio (and even from Michigan) at Mac's Backs Books on Coventry. Thanks to Suzanne DeGaetano of Mac's for hosting, to Joshua Gage for editing the anthology and emceeing, to the judges (Suzanne, Josh and Gail Bellamy), to the Hessler Street Fair organization, and especially to all the fine poets who participated. Congratulations to you all!

Winners include:
1st Place - "Grace" by Dan Smith
2nd Place - "Five pounds of sunlight" by Geoffrey A. Landis
3rd Place (tie) - "Autonomic" by J.E. Stanley and "The Sleeping Town" by Jill Riga

I'd also like to let folks know about Ken Kitt's PoetryVidz You Tube channel. Ken films a lot of readings/performances across northeast Ohio and graciously shares the best of his footage online. He's a tireless promoter of our local poetry scene(s) and provides an immeasurably valuable historical record of what makes Cleveland poetry so special. Ken recorded last night's event at Mac's and has already posted several clips, including videos of the four winners reading their poems, at

Thanks, Ken! You're a winner, too.

The Haiku Foundation

Here is press release from Jim Kacian:

Dear Friends:

The Haiku Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to archive the accomplishments of the first century of haiku in English and to create greater opportunities for its second, was chartered in the state of Virginia, USA, on 6 January 2009. It is a volunteer organization primarily designed to create and implement projects centered around haiku. Most haiku organizations have privileged the poet and her needs: education, publication, socialization. The Haiku Foundation instead seeks to foster the growth of haiku itself. This is where poets come when they want to give back.

We are pleased to announce the public unveiling of our website. We hope you will visit it often and with pleasure. Please tell us how it serves you, and how it might serve you in the future. And most of all, we welcome your participation. Please join us to help us realize our goals.

Jim Kacian
The Haiku Foundation

The website is incredible, and the projects they have line up are extremely ambitious. I strongly recommend anyone interested in haiku explore Charles Trumbull's Haiku Bibliography. This resource is essential for anyone interested in haiku. I'm also looking forward to reading Juxtapositions, their new academic journal.

There are lots of opportunities for poets interested in haiku. However, to bring it home, how do you all think we could tie this in to Cleveland? I'd love to propose a conference, small press, class series, journal, etc. that would build a bridge between The Lit, The Haiku Foundation and the city. Let me know if anyone has any ideas.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Humble beginnings...

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Music has been instrumental in writing my poetry. Ahh, I can see the head nods in agreement because it may be true for you as well. I remember the first time I heard The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five…

Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge
I’m tryin’ not to lose my head ah huh-huh-huh-huh
It's like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under…

The Message made me want to go out and testify its truth. Instead, I opted to write my thoughts in a notebook designated for math homework. Screw math. I had life on my mind and the best thing I learned in math class was how to count money. I wouldn’t call what I’d written poetry, but I knew it was something…different. Unlike anything I’d ever seen, but definitely like something I’d heard before. Déjà vu?

Fast forward quite a few years and memories find me in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame soaking in the hip-hop exhibit. Missy Elliot’s bubble suit was rather large, but the only thing that truly caught my attention was hand-written lyrics of Brenda’s Got a Baby by the late, great Tupac Shakur. There it was again… The need to write something down, yet, at the time I understood it had a name: inspiration. I knew there were times when I wanted to write something grand, life-changing even, and absolutely could not. But I was poetically immature and didn’t understand that I couldn’t evoke something so profound all by my lonesome. As I got lost in the sheets of notebook paper ‘Pac scribbled over, I realized he and I had something in common: poetry. What he put to the perfect rhythm, were thoughts I actually lived. It was that moment, and it alone, that solidified my entrance into the realm of poetry and understanding music was fuel for my words.

I want you to travel down memory lane and think about how your involvement in poetry came about. I’m also interested in reading about things that inspire you to write. Please share.

Stay peace

Darnetta ‘Genesis’ Frazier

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What is a Poet Laureate?

I am proud to call the new poet laureate of Cleveland Heights, Gail Ghetia Bellamy, my friend. But when I began to brag about her recent appointment most people responded by asking - what's a poet laureate? (I work with teachers, mind you). The dictionary defines laureate as "one receiving highest honor."

King James I of England bestowed poet Ben Jonson as the first poet laureate in 1616. In America the tradition began in 1937. Our national laureates are also known as the "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress."

Cleveland Heights has chosen a prolific writer and poet as the 2009-2010 honoree. She is the author of Cleveland Food Memories (Gray & Co.), Design Spirits (St. Martin's Press), and the poetry chapbook Victual Reality (Pudding House). Her chapbook Traveler's Salad is forthcoming from Pudding House as well. Gail has a Ph.D in Creative Writing and is currently the Executive Food Editor of Restaurant Hospitality magazine. The former board president of the Poet's and Writer's League of Greater Cleveland (now The Lit) has numerous awards, honors and credits. (See why I like to brag about her?)

As the poet laureate of Cleveland Heights she will write and present poems for public events. Gail and her husband Stephen Bellamy have created a fantastic podcast that can be heard and seen at

White House Poetry Slam

Arizona lawmaker Kyrsten Sinema has been invited by President Barack Obama to attend the first-ever White House Poetry Slam on Tuesday.

The assistant Arizona House Democratic leader is among 100 people nationwide invited to attend a night honoring America’s writers and poets.

The president will speak at the event, which also will be attended by First Lady Michelle Obama.

“It’s an incredible honor any time to receive an invitation from the White House and President Obama,” Sinema said. “But to see our nation’s talent and be a part of history at the first-ever White House Poetry Slam is amazing. I’m very excited to be a part of this moment.”

She added, “This event just displays President Obama’s commitment to the arts and his support for emerging and non-traditional forms of art. He is an amazing president, and I hope to continue to work with him in the future.”

The White House Poetry Slam will feature: James Earl Jones, Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldeman, Jazz pianist ELEW, poet Mayda Del Valle and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Who do you think will be more insulted - the nose in the air poets who consider Slams to be nothing if not low brow - or the self important practitioners of the competition who were not invited to perform?

All Things in Moderation

I promised I’d take a shot at stirring some kind of catalyzing agent into this pot, so I want to broach a topic that’s been on my mind for quite a while:
Moderated readings.

Or, as some call it, “censorship.”

I know this has been a touchy topic around town for quite a while now. Some lash out at such language restrictions. Some blatantly flaunt them, dancing with the threats of angry store managers.

I just want to ask why.

Before the anti-censorship mobs come to string me up, I’m going to make it clear that I’m no prude. You’re not going to scar my tender little ears by throwing out some graphic descriptions or other language not approved by the FCC. I gladly stand up for the freedom of speech, and I’ll be the first person to argue that there are times, pieces, instances when such language is warranted—yea, even necessary—in a poem. But the skillful artist knows the time and the place.

When language restrictions have been repeatedly made clear, there is no need for someone to attend such a reading and drop four-letter words like sprinkles on a cupcake. (And just to be clear, I’m speaking in generalizations here; not calling anyone out specifically. It’s just that I’ve seen and heard this happen all too often.) I can almost understand such a slip if a poet had never been to a certain reading before, didn’t know the rules beforehand, or was used to readings without any rules imposed by the hosting establishment. (Although, when in doubt, wouldn’t one prefer to err on the side of caution?) But long-time attendees have no excuse whatsoever.

Folks like to declare that they are simply standing up for their divinely ordained right to free speech.

I’d like to argue that by doing so, you’re restricting my own.

I’ve said this before, but I’m going to repeat myself. Poetry is already a hard enough gig. We’re already fighting the fearful stereotypes of long-winded and dry high school literature teachers trying to pound iambic pentameter into teenage minds. Or the stereotypes of black-turtlenecked hipsters wearing berets and snapping their fingers. The wider world doesn’t understand poetry, and as such, fears it. Our goal, as poets, should be to make our art as open and accessible to the population at large as we possibly can in order to break down that fear.

So when an autonomous business, like a bookstore or a coffeehouse, graciously opens its doors to willingly host a poetry reading but adds, “We don’t want any bad language. We don’t want to offend our regular clientele,” I don’t understand why this should be an unreasonable request. They want to be open-minded, but they’re still running a business, and need to be as user-friendly as possible to the broadest audience. We just want a place to read and perform, where our words can reach the broadest audience. This should be a happy relationship.

But it’s not, because too many people constantly feel the need to push the limits of those clearly-stated, black-and-white, easy-to-follow rules.

I’ve found many very nice local establishments--good-vibed gathering places, independently-owned shops (hooray for local businesses!)--after which I’ve inquired about poetry readings or the possibility of my performing during their regular open mic nights. And I’ve been turned down. And why?

A precedent was set, long before I even came on the scene. More than once, I’ve heard, “Well, we tried it, but people just got vulgar,” or, “We told people the rules ahead of time, and they still wouldn’t follow them, so now we just don’t allow poetry/spoken word/etc.” And thus, those who fail to respect the wishes of the hosts, who fail to recognize when to keep themselves in check, have stripped the freedom of speech from everyone. Why is it so difficult to open one’s eyes and be a little bit aware of the surroundings and the audience? Keep oneself in check when in a coffee house frequented by family-oriented patrons, but feel free to let loose in the good-natured rowdiness of a venue like the Lit Café.

If we call ourselves writers, shouldn’t we have broad enough vocabularies that we are able to write a poem that is appropriate for a “moderated” venue? And if not, and we feel that the profanity is so central to our work, then why not simply fail to attend a moderated reading? There are plenty of forums here in Cleveland where language restrictions don’t exist. (In fact, I think “moderated readings” tend to be in the minority in this town—and I happily attend both open readings and moderated.) There’s no need to push the envelope in venues with rules when there are far more welcoming forums for those “edgier” poets and poems.

Why try to get your fellow poets forcibly removed from what would have otherwise been a welcoming forum? Why perpetuate further stereotypes of poets as being raunchy and vulgar, as being unsuitable entertainment for a more timid clientele? (Aren’t we trying to prove that poetry is for everyone, afterall?) Why be so closed-minded—that’s right, I said it—closed-minded about people’s reasons for hosting moderated readings? Why make our art even more inaccessible to the masses?

Some point to revolutionary artists of the past, declaring that we need to carry on their tradition of pushing the envelope, but those folks actually had something to lash out against during their time. But today, in 2009, what injustice are you fighting by dropping the f-bomb in a Borders? And whose cause are you furthering? You could be Shakespeare himself, but I guarantee, if you drop a foul cuss in a family-friendly venue—even if the gist of your poem was powerful, thought-provoking, even life-changing--I hate to tell you this, but all they’re going to hear was “fuck”, and they won’t care if the rest of what you had to say was a Pulitzer-worthy dissertation.

We’ve got something to say. Remove the barriers that are preventing it from being heard.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Little Poetic Inspiration

Many of my shortest and seemingly simple poems took years to get right. I tinker with most of my poems even after publication. I expect to be revising in my coffin as it is being lowered into the ground. Charles Simic

If I were in solitary confinement, I'd never write another novel, and probably not keep a journal, but I'd write poetry because poems, you see, are between me and God. May Sarton

You must let your poems ride their luck
On the back of the sharp morning air
Touched with the fragrance of mint and thyme
And everything else is literature.
Paul Verlaine

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The cliches of contemporary poetry?

Jason Guriel wrote an article "A defense of the negative review" (published in the recent (March 09) issue of Poetry). He included some slap-down reviews of three recent books, which certainly is something that warms my heart, but that's not the part I want to discuss here.

I'd actually run across this article from a link in a post "The Seven Poetic Sins, or: Jorie Graham's Disease," in the samizdat blog. Archambeau noticed that Guriel had listed seven poetic  "clichés of the moment." He pulled these out and listed them by number. These are:
1. "reliance on buzzwords" (think: absence, abjection, the body, ellipsis, etc.)
2. "distrust of order" (as both theme and compositional principle)
3. "distrust of linearity and having a point" (call it Ashberying)
4. "anxiety over what words mean" (or, I'd add, the pose of anxiety)
5. "romantic bluster" (think Hart Crane on a bad day)
6. "imprecision" (I bet a comparison of contemporary poetic syntax and that of Swinburne would be instructive)
7. "sympathy for small critters" (I think this one's pretty self-explanatory)

(I urge you to read the whole article to see the longer explanation of each of these)

I find it a fascinating list, in that I had no idea that these were the cliches of contemporary poetry. Perhaps that just shows how unfamiliar I am with contemporary poetry, and why so much contemporary poetry leaves me with a "huh?" feeling: I can't even recognize the tropes.

So, what do you think? Are these really cliches of contemporary poetry? Or just a set of specific dislikes of the reviewer? Are there other cliches we're missing?

And, are cliches bad? If they are bad, can we still revitalize them, find new juice in old withered corpses? Or do we have to leave the alone, let them ferment for a while, before they can be fresh again?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blind Review Friday

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.

This week's offering is from a Clevelandpoetics - The Blog reader:


Does anyone really know what time it is,
And does anyone really care?
Zen might tell that time is
Enough within itself, self-realized, a thought
Ordering the universe, the universe in OM.
Friday is a state of mind.
That much is clear to me, although
Here and now, I have no time, where once,
Everywhere I looked, time lurked.
Where has all that surfeit of time
Escaped to, how can I bottle time
And save some for later? If you
Know, please let me in on it... if you have the time.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gildzen speaks up

There is a great interview with former Northeast Ohio poet Alex Gildzen on the blog Otoliths. Here is an excerpt:

So many colorful people have drifted through my life. I close my eyes and see Jacob Leed preparing gins and tonic, Jonathan Williams photographing Tom Meyer and I skinnydipping in the pool at Twin Lakes, Richard Grossinger doing tai chi in my livingroom, Ira Joel Haber and I laughing so hard our sides hurt, R. B. Kitaj introducing me to David Hockney on my first trip to Europe, Robert Drivas coming at me with a knife, Jean-Claude van Itallie in the Berkshires giving me a cat to bring home, Ned Rorem pausing during lunchmaking to smash a cockroach, Jim Provenzano housesitting for me on Morris Road, Robert Peters portraying Mad Ludwig in my diningroom, Gerald Mast and Peter Burnell preparing lobster for David Meredith and I in Provincetown, Richard Martin giggling through lunch at Barrymore’s, Edward Field gossiping at an Indian restaurant in Akron, James Ellroy wearing a kilt while howling like a mad dog, Todd Moore introducing me to the bookstores of Albuquerque, Matthew Wascovich spreading the Century Dimes on a bridge over RTA tracks in Cleveland.

Check it out!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Looking for the Dirty Dozen


Let's see what we can do - how about it. Do YOU want to contribute to Clevelandpoetics the Blog? Should we hit this sucker with a defibrillator?

We're looking for a dozen new voices.

Reply below - If you haven't already please sign up for a free blogger account as this will make the process bringing you on that much easier. Once we have twelve new contributors we'll add them in one fell swoop and see where that takes us.

If each contributor sets the goal of posting an item at minimum once a month and no more than two or three times a week we should end up with a good mix of ideas and voices. Of course commenting is unlimited.

You in?


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