Wednesday, March 31, 2010

George Bilgere – Macs Backs 3-30-10

bilg01 Most academic poets can be dropped into a few convenient categories. You’ve got your inscrutable scribblers who scratch out “experimental” work of obtuse meanings – political militants lecturing to folks who already agree with them – and the subsection of AWP folks whose very existence seems to be to publish each other’s work.

George Bilgere falls into another category – the dangerously clever. Like Billy Collins, Jeffery McDaniel, Marge Piercy and Ted Kooser, Bilgere’s work is deceptively simple. The accessibility that is so often frowned upon by “serious” poetry instructors invites readers into Georges world of cafes where everyday observations take on archetypal importance.

Most of the reading's fodder was plucked from Bilgere’s new collection The White Museum from Pittsburgh's Autumn House Press. George set up his pieces with fairly long introductions. These prologues though, didn’t take away from the works by over explaining but served well as a vehicle of background knowledge that helped the reader enjoy the forthcoming piece. This is a talent that is well appreciated by this listener when it is done well as it was here.


Subject matter ranged from family – a mother who loved crossword puzzles, an aunt who introduced the poet to Europe, a father’s key ring  – amusement parks, laundry chutes, and the ubiquitous appearance of cafes. I think this is where Bilgere is most comfortable and where his work shines – at a small round table with a strong cup of coffee surrounded by well read folks with nothing to prove.


Like the sage fixture of a cafe who has become part of the ambiance, always good for an opinion or good hearted argument over art or baseball - Bilgere’s work (often making appearances on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac) satisfies the way some desserts do. At first glance it seems a little small but with each bite one realizes the richness of the icing and the complexity of the flavors combine to leave one surprisingly sated – with a cup of coffee on the side of course.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dallas Wiebe & other Stuff

As you probably already know, Plato would have allowed no poets in his utopian Republic. He had his reasons for keeping them out. I should say that he had his wrong reasons for keeping them out. I think about things like that, you see, because I’m a famous poet and I’m in the Republic. Not only am I in the Republic, I am the Republic.
I’ve become a “national treasure.”

from The Light of the Republic by Dallas Wiebe

Reading all of Dallas Wiebe’s writings, at least the short stories which are the bulk of it, can bring you to a place in which the variety in these fictions is experienced as chapters in one long novel (albeit one in which there are occasional digressions). Characters come and go over time. They mature, grow older and die. They speak in catalogues; of family connections; of towns and streets with those curiously comic Dallas Wiebe names, real places and invented ones, a geography in which most of these stories take place; of a great variety of political and social issues, and what emerges, even in the most disparate tales, is a kind of world view. It’s the literal view of Skyblue...

from Dallas Wiebe's Long Novel by Toby Olson

A Saudi woman received a death threat last week after she appeared on “Poet of Millions,” Abu Dhabi’s version of the game show “American Idol” — which features aspiring poets instead of singers — and recited a poem attacking clerics for “terrorizing people and preying on everyone seeking peace.”

Canadian poet Christian Bök wants his work to live on after he’s gone. Like, billions of years after. He’s going to encode it directly into the DNA of the hardy bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans. If it works, his poem could outlast the human race.

Kafka's Midrash on Jonah -Norman Weinstein

The sole way to avoid being swallowed up by the world is to render yourself indigestible.

Of course by doing so you end up with a worse fate since when the earth refuses to swallow you, heaven must.

& since heaven, by definition, can digest nothing still resisting its stranglehold

you end up at the merciless world's mercy & will only note be digested by concentrating every waking thought heavenward

So the faithless find faith by turning away from all exit signs

Boltzmann's multiverse

Friday, March 26, 2010

The More Things Change: Images of Cleveland in the 1940s/1950s

Explore 1940s/50s Cleveland: the Jasper Wood Collection

JWC Cuban Cigar photo
Jasper Wood Collection:
Cuban Cigar Co.
A regular at the jazz spots on Scovill Avenue (Central/Woodland area) in the early 1940s, Jasper Wood was intimately familiar with the neighborhood's residents by the time he started taking their photographs in 1946. Click here to view Wood's extraordinary collection of photographs of this vanished neighborhood, including a rare photograph of noted American boogie-woogie pianist Arthur ‘Montana' Taylor, perhaps Scovill's most famous resident.

The collection also includes images of West 25th Street and Ohio Amish Country. Wood's 1953 poetic film, Streetcar (viewable here: Part 1, Part 2), documents Cleveland streetcars just before service ended in 1954. Click here to read about Jasper Wood and the Scovill Avenue area. Click on any of the following subjects to browse other collections of images of Cleveland's Flats, Euclid Avenue, Edgewater Park, University Circle and the ClevelandFire Department.

From the Cleveland Public Library Home Page.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bottom Dog Press Silver Anniversary Reading

Saturday April 3rd...5 pm-7pm
Mac's Backs Books and Bottom Dog Press invite you to a celebration of 25 year of independent publishing. The event will be held at Barking Spider Tavern in University Circle...5-7 pm...with pizza and poetry and music. Poets from the new Bottom Dog Press Poetry Anthology will read from their work...The book has a poem from each of its 91 books of publication.

Poets who will be on hand include: Karen St. John-Vincent, Mary E. Weems, Ray McNiece, Meredith Holmes, Terry Hermsen, Marci Janas, David Shevin, Jennifer Burd, Michael Salinger, Maj Ragain, Rob Smith, Loren Weiss, Ken Meisel, editor Larry Smith...and Jim Lang reading for Daniel Thompson, and Michael McMahon reading for Russell Salamon.

This is a major event. Join us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making it

I've heard a few comments lately about "making it". It made me think about what exactly it is we're making when we "make it". And what it means to "make it".

I think we most often hear this term applied to those in the arts--musicians, painters, writers, etc--in reference to being able to make a sustainable living at what they love. Becoming a household name, getting a song played on mainstream radio, making an appearance on Jeopardy!--whatever the specifics are, it usually means achieving a certain amount of fame and wealth. Maybe a modest amount, but certain amount nonetheless.

But poets, well, we're a special breed, aren't we? Or at least, we like to paint ourselves as such. But few can argue that poetry is as mainstream an art form as pop music. Very few--if any--poets achieve the rock star status enjoyed by some of those in other creative fields. Very few are even able to make a modest living at poetry. So does that mean that fewer poets "make it", or is our definition of "making it" different for poetry? Yet, we can probably spot those who definitely HAVE "made it". We probably agree that a Billy Collins or a Maya Angelou have "made it". But can you "make it" without reaching quite that high a status? Say, someone who received a Pushcart nomination? And is it even important to "make it"?

If you've spent any amount of time around poets in general, you've probably met at least one or two who don't believe in making money off of their art--maybe you're even someone who believes that yourself. Is there a way to "make it" in that case? Is "making it" even a goal? Do any of us ever expect to "make it" and work toward that goal, or is poetry just something we do for fun, community, socialization, release, art for art's sake?

Let me know your thoughts on what "making it" means to you, whether you're a poet, novelist, graphic designer, musician, teacher, data entry analyst....I'm curious. Humor me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shove off, Green Boy!

For those of you battling the insecurity monster, artist Karen Sandstrom has some choice words to tell it.

(So, now I know what the insecurity monster looks like! Or, at least, what Karen Sandstrom's insecurity monster looks like. Say, isn't it good to know that it's really only six inches high?
nb- click the images for a larger view of the artwork)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cleveland Poets Help "Feed the Gays" March 27th

Click here to visit the Facebook event page for Feed the Gays 2

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Alliance (GLASA) is a student group at Cleveland State University. On Saturday March 27th, GLASA will be hosting its second annual art show, Feed the Gays, to raise money for GLBT & Allied scholarships on campus (undergraduate, graduate law).

From 5pm to 10pm at Union Station and Bounce Nightclub (2814 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland), local artists will exhibit their work, donating 50% of all sales to the GLASA scholarship fund, while a host of performing artists entertain on the Union Station and Bounce stages. Among the scheduled performers: Cleveland poets Lady K & Steven B. Smith at 5 p.m., with Dianne Borsenik & John "Jesus Crisis" Burroughs (accompanied by 10-string guitar master JJ Haaz) at 6 p.m.

The cost to get in is $5, with all proceeds donated to the scholarship fund.

Peace, love and poetry,

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Joy Harjo Coming to Firelands College

Native American poet and musician Joy Harjo will be at BGSU Firelands College Thursday March 25th...Come and hear her play and read her poems. She's a beautiful and engaged poet with a voice that speaks true. Free and open to the public...Firelands College is in Huron, Ohio...about 1 hour from downtown Cleveland...due West on Rte. 2...Then Rye Beach Road south half a mile. She'll be at the new Cedar Point Center on campus. Join us for an experience.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing prompts, part 2

Last week I posted about writing prompts. As a comparison, here are some "prompts" suggested by the literary magazine Hawk and Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability:

1. Consider these words: imagine, create, sustain. Stir well: create able, sustain image. Add ask, learn, try. Then heart, worth, good.

2. Post Thoreau’s reminder: “the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

3. Ask, what’s real? The problem, limits, available energies?

4. Ask, what matters? What do we need? What is worth wanting?

5. Toss the rules. If you need them, they’ll show up again.

6. Wander. Dream. Mull. Unfocus. Take walks in places where you don’t have to pay attention—but where moments of attention reward you with surprise or pleasure. Collect insights, both blinding and fleeting. Let them grow.

7. Use your left brain. Then your right. Left. Right. Left, right.

8. Ask, what will feed my energy, mind, heart, imagination, play?

9. Assemble a team of doers. Talk, eat and drink together, have fun.

10. "Do something. Take a break. Do something more.”
-SueEllen Campbell, author of
Bringing the Mountain Home.

Any of these ring your bells? Well, if they do, Hawk and Handsaw opens for submissions on August 1. Get to it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Words for the Taking

In an interview, poet Eliot Khalil Wilson discussed students who were horrified when he suggested a word change in the poems, not because he had critiqued them, but because they couldn’t use the change as it was his word and not theirs. Wilson’s reply was simple: “I don’t own the language.”

I find the idea of ownership of language a bit interesting, especially in the world of poetry, when the lines between inspiration, allusion and outright plagiarism are so easily blurred. For example, a common writing prompt given to students is to take a famous poem, break it down to its parts of speech, and then use that form as a sort of inspirational madlib to create a draft for a new poem. For example, taking the opening lines of “Disillusionment Of Ten O'clock” by Wallace Stevens:

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.

one would get

:article: :plural noun: :verb to be: :adjective/past participle:

:preposition: :adjective: :plural noun:.

:pronoun: :verb to be: :adjective:

:conjunction: :adjective: :preposition: :adjective: :plural noun:

:conjunction: :adjective: :preposition: :adjective: :plural noun:

:conjunction: :adjective: :preposition: :adjective: :plural noun:.

and then fill in the blanks, focusing on a completely different topic than Stevens, but using his phrasing to create a new piece. The purpose of this prompt, of course, is to teach students to think in terms of phrasing, and to explore non-formal phrasings which clearly work and get them to ask why or how they work. Also, lessons like this teach the importance of word choice with in a phrase, line and poem. This sort of exercise can produce some very stunning poems; however, no matter how successful the new piece, there is still a dependence on the original poet and his or her line breaks, phrasing, etc. Has the second poet, then, stolen from the first in some way?

Another example would be poets who take a line or stanza from another poet, and then create an entirely new piece based on that line. Sometimes the line is used as an epigraph, or the opening line, or imbedded in the poem itself in quotation marks and possibly a footnote acknowledging the original author. Sometimes, though, there is no acknowledgement at all. Has the second author, then, stolen something from the first?

I am brought to the idea of jazz music, and things like covers and standards. These are tunes that are famous for the fact that their multiple versions and interpretations, no two alike. They are widely known by jazz musicians and enthusiasts, and need no acknowledgement beyond, perhaps, a liner note. No one in the jazz community, for example, eschews Miles Davis or Ella Fitzgerald for their versions of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” but appreciate and celebrate the aspects which they brought to the piece. In the same way, as a poet who has lines taken for inspiration, I do not begrudge the poets who have used my lines for inspiration, but take the compliment and celebrate the new takes which those other poets bring to the words.

On the other hand, as a poet who has taken lines and phrasings from other poets, I do not feel as though I am thieving from those other poets, but simply adding my take to their standards. To extend the metaphor, I am simply taking their basic chord progression or melody and adding my own nuances to it to create an entirely new piece. Either way, no crime has been committed.

At what point, then, does this become an issue? I’m thinking here about certain ideas like Cut-Ups and Found Poetry. Cut-Ups are literary aleatorisms based on the destruction and reconstruction of other texts. In the most basic form, a person takes a text, such as a page in a book, and literally cuts it into four pieces, then rearranges those pieces to create a new text based on disjointed sentence structure and new combinations of language. It is a technique popularized by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, but can be traced back to experiments by surrealist artists in the 20s and 30s. The issue, of course, is whether or not this new piece can, in anyway, be considered a theft from the original text or author? To what point must the text be deconstructed for it to be considered an original piece. For example, what if I take the following passage from Ecclesiates:

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

and cut it into quarters, and rearrange it as a poem using minor edits and line breaks:

Rivers come, thither they return

again. All things are full of vanity

saith the Preacher, vanity of seeing,

the ear filled with hearing, the labor

which he taketh under the sun. One

which is done is that which shall be

done: and but the earth abideth forever.

The sun also: whereof it may be said, See,

this is new? It hath where he arose.

The wind goeth toward the south, and there

is no remembrance of former things; neither

shall the wind returneth again according

to vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man

of all his sea not full: unto the place from whence

the generation passeth away, and another generation

cometh of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye

is not satisfied, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth

to his place thing that hath been, it is that which shall be


Ignoring the weak line breaks and lack of craft in this piece for the sake of example, have I stolen something? While the KJV is not a copyright text, what if, instead, I took a paragraph from Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and did the same thing? Have I created a new poem or have I committed a plagiaristic crime?

Found poems are even more tricky. In a found poem, the poet simply lifts entire words, phrases and sections from another text (usually not a poem), then frames them as poetry using minor word changes and line breaks. A great example of this is Hart Seeley’s “The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld,” which takes exact sentences, word for word, from Rumsfeld’s speeches and presents them with line breaks as poetry. Has Seeley stolen from Rumsfeld? What if, instead of political speeches, Seeley had chosen a literary text under copyright? Would the inserted line breaks be enough to create a new work?

I am encouraged by Eliot Khalil Wilson’s thoughts that one does not own language, but I’m also trepidacious when it comes to submitting the successful results of more experimental forms like cut-ups and found poems for publication. As a poet, I don’t make enough money to get sued, but do feel that I have created new texts based on current works that, thought they maintain some allegiance to the original text, are unique enough to stand on their own. I’m curious to know where others stand on these sorts of issues or if anyone even thinks about them at all.


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