Monday, March 31, 2008

James Tate - The Ghost Soldiers

New books by James Tate are always worth attention. This one, though, seems special. He’s found a resonant center for his flights of narrative: War.

Meanderings within a framework of war seem especially resonant for Tate. In much the way that personal tragedy took Mary Jo Bang’s attention into a sphere that many consider to be her strongest work, Elegy (though I’m also partial to Louise in Love. Luckily, I don’t have to choose.), so too does national tragedy seem to have dragged Tate up into a cultural connectivity that will, I believe, connect with a lot of people (Me, for one!). I fully expect this book to be on the award lists for next year. It’s large. And, well, large: 217 pages.

There’s a criticism of Tate that surfaces now and then, the criticism that his is an imagination on auto-pilot, so real destination or gravity. That criticism might still be leveled at some of the poems in this book, but for me, I find that the flatness of some of the poems still retains a floating paranoia of the contemporary condition that serves the overall structure well. Tate is one of our best investigators of the other side of The Common Man: where the speaker is continually waking into situations that have new rules, and the inevitability that these speakers, these common men, will fold naturally into these situations, even if they don’t know what they are. Comic and terrifying by turns, and then flat and common by turns, The Ghost Soldiers lurches along.

(An aside: OK, call me a reactionary, but I really wish Tate would take the plunge and stop calling these things poems. They’re quite good, don’t get me wrong, but they’re as much short movies as they are poems. Or call them tiny plays. Oh, all right, call them poems if you must, but still. You know?)

The War Next Door

I thought I saw some victims of the last war bandaged and
limping through the forest beside my house. I thought I recognized
some of them, but I wasn’t sure. It was kind of a hazy dream
from which I tried to wake myself, but they were still there,
bloody, some of them on crutches, some lacking limbs. This sad
parade went on for hours. I couldn’t leave the window. Finally,
I opened the door. “Where are you going?” I shouted. “We’re
just trying to escape,” one of them shouted back. “But the war’s
over,” I said. “No it’s not,” one said. All the news reports had
said it had been over for days. I didn’t know who to trust. It’s
best to just ignore them, I told myself. They’ll go away. So I
went into the living room and picked up a magazine. There was a
picture of a dead man. He had just passed my house. And another
dead man I recognized. I ran back in the kitchen and looked out.
A group of them were headed my way. I opened the door. “Why
didn’t you fight with us?” they said. “I didn’t know who the
enemy was, honest, I didn’t,” I said. “That’s a fine answer. I
never did figure it out myself,” one of them said. The others looked
at him as if he were crazy. “The other side was the enemy, obviously,
the ones with the beady eyes,” said another. “They were mean,”
another said, “terrible.” “One was very kind to me, cradled me
in his arms,” said one. “Well, you’re all dead now. A lot of
good that will do you,” I said. “We’re just gaining our strength
back,” one of them said. I shut the door and went back in the
living room. I heard scratches at the window at first, but then
they faded off. I heard a bugle in the distance, then the roar of
a cannon. I still don’t know which side I was on.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Minneapolis is a fine city - 2

After, we all trotted over to a bar/restaurant where I got to show off my shiny green shirt in various lighting conditions. I was very pleased that my cousin Jennifer and her husband Ryan (across from me) were able to make it out to the reading. This was the first time a member of my family has been to a poetry reading. For a few more pictures from the evening, please visit Paula's blog: March 21st was fantastic!
And then, of course, it snowed buckets.
Jennifer giving me directions out of the blizzard. "Save yourself, we'll make it somehow!" I think she's saying here. Their daughter Gabbi is smiling from the back. Everyone wave!
It was a fine time in Minneapolis, but it was also great to get back home to rural Missouri, where they just don't build 'em like they used to.

Minneapolis Is a Fine City 1

I had a great time in Minneapolis last week, reading in Paula Cisewski's Imaginary Press Reading Series, now located at Jon Oulman Salon. Above, Dobby Gibson, who read from his new book, due out next year from Graywolf.
Above, Eric Lorberer, of Rain Taxi, and a recent, wonderful essay on the Ashbery bridge in jubilat, reading.
Paula on the right, and Peter on the left. Did I remember his name right? I'm bad with names, though we spent a while having a nice discussion on music: Son Volt, Jayhawks (Gary Louris and Tim O'Reagan...), Wilco, Neil Young, etc.
Dobby Gibson with muscles and Eric Lorberer with an order.

Friday, March 28, 2008

April is, well, you know what April is

April is all sorts of poetry things, here are just a couple:

A blog, and facebook group, Poetic Asides


"In April, Poetic Asides is challenging readers to write a poem-a-day for National Poetry Month (if you're not living in the US--just pretend). To help out, Robert will be offering a prompt-a-day--and he'll be writing a poem-a-day to go with the prompts."

And, also, it’s Poetry Daily’s annual spring fund drive and Poets Picks, they write:

". . . to launch our Spring fund drive and for some special Poetry Month fun, stand by for our annual "Poets' Picks" e-mail feature, beginning on Tuesday, April 1st: we've asked 22 past Poetry Daily poets to contribute to our celebration by selecting poems to be delivered to you by e-mail each weekday in April - their favorites from among The Greats – along with their commentary."

Celebrate Poetry Month with PD: • Give to Poetry Daily!

I have it on good authority (from me!) that one of the poets chose a Wallace Stevens poem. Which one? Hmm. There are so many from which to choose. You'll have to check Poetry Daily to find out...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Four Way Books Intro Prize

2008 Four Way Books
Intro Prize in Poetry
Judge: Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Submission Dates: January 1 - March 31, 2008 (POSTMARK DEADLINE)
by email or regular mail

Awarding publication of a book-length collection and $1000.00

Open to any poet writing in English
who is a US citizen and has not published
a book-length collection of poetry.

For Complete Guidelines please visit:

Four Way Books
P.O. Box 535 Village Station
New York, New York 10014

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thought for the Day

It's Spring! Celebrate!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Just out!
The Laurel Review 42.1

If you’d like this issue, I’ll mail it to you for $5.00.
If you’d like a year subscription, I’ll sell you one for $10.00.
No postage! No handling fees!

Email me at:

In this issue:

Joel Allegretti, "Appalachian Dulcimer"
Samantha Myers, "The June Fields are Half-Planted"
Christopher Salerno, "See Also All of Us," and "Consequence"
Sarah Vap, "living together, nurse-trees" and "moonlight and firelight, beholden to the desert"
Sarah Maclay, "More Soonest"
Debra Cumberland, "The Weatherman"
Noah Eli Gordon, from “The Year of the Rooster”
Anne Shaw, "Catacomb"
G.C.Waldrep, “One Way No Exit,” numbers VIII, XVII, XVIII, XIX
Adam Clay, "Song"
Cynthia Lowen, "Theories of Relativity: Relativity and Simultaneity" and "Oppenheimer Gets Caught in a Blizzard"
Claire Bateman, "Rupture" and "Self-Diagnosis"
Hadara Bar-Nadav, "Qeutiapine" and "Portrait Inside a Face"
Beckian Fritz Goldberg, "I See the Light Come Shining" and "Beached"
Megan Lobsinger, "Resolution"
Katie Hubbard, "Hybridity"
Carolyne Matthews, "Shiv’ah (seven days of mourning)"
Patrick Madden, "Divers Weights and Divers Measures"

Poetry Portfolio Selected by Martha Rhodes:

Nancy Eimers, "Grassland" and "The Pinwheel in Our Neighbors’ Flowerbed"
Jennifer Grotz, "A Debate on Sweetness" and "Silence"
Robert A. Ayres, "Shot," "When Holly Berries Freeze," and "Nettle"
C. Dale Young, "En Fuego"
Rigoberto González, "The Mortician’s Goddaughter Versed in Lust"
Marianne Boruch, "Happiness: Three Definitions"
Cleopatra Mathis, "His Answer" and "When She Spoke, He Closed His Eyes"
Kate Johnson, "Second Life" and "Bird"
Lytton Smith, "Traditional" and "Structural for the Tent"
Ross Middleton, "Family Circus" and "Cartography and Its Discontents"
D. Nurkse, "The Marriage At Zarza" and "Ruth In Exile"
Patrick Donnelly, "Oxygen Catastrophe" and "Homeland"
William Olsen, "The Streetlights Of Mount Home Cemetery"
Jason Shinder, "October," "The Alder Tree," and "Finally, It Comes"
Daniel Tobin, "Intruders" and "Westwood"
Elizabeth Tucker, "Gratuity," "The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia," and "Lumbering"
Didi Goldenhar, "To The Widower"

Sean M. Toren, "32/64"
Toni Mirosevich, "Sectionals"
Ida Stewart, "One Mississippi"
Sharon Chmielarz, "Red, Red Rose, a Loose, Loose Story"
Molly Tenenbaum, "Penny of the Day"
Tasia M. Hane, "This October Morning Ends" and "Footnotes to an Obsession"
Nathan Parker, "Verbs"
PJ Piccirillo, "The Wagon Woman"
Alison Palmer, "Meditation on Sustainability"
John Whalen, "Rimbaud’s Spiders"
Julie Platt, "If We Were Wheels, I Would Believe in God"
Walter Bargen, "Middle Way"
Laurie Blauner, "Nether World"
George Looney, "Whatever Light Needs to Be Forgiven of"
Paige Hill Starzinger, "Eucharist Nervosa"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Do It For the Children

Do it for the Children!

My daughter Natalie’s kindergarten class is hoping to get postcards from all 50 states this month. They’re going to need your help!

I’m encouraging you write a little note to the class telling them something about the state the postcard is coming from.

Horace Mann Laboratory School
800 University Drive
Northwest Missouri State University
Maryville, Missouri 64468

Natalie thanks you:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

GreenTower Press - The Midwest Chapbook Series

GreenTower Press
The Midwest Chapbook Series

The contest is open to anyone who is living in, from, or closely associated with the Midwest, excluding close friends and former students of the editors, as well as employees and students of Northwest Missouri State University.


Ÿ25-35 pages (typed, single-sided, one poem per page).
Individual poems may have been previously published. You may include an acknowledgements page if you wish, though one is not required.
ŸInclude two cover pages: one with title only, the other with name, address, email address, manuscript title, and a short note establishing your connection to the Midwest.
ŸYour name should ONLY appear on the cover page, which the staff will keep on file. Manuscripts will be read blind.
ŸReading period opens February 1 and ends May 1, 2008. Late entries will be returned unread.
Ÿ$10.00 reading fee. Please make checks payable to GreenTower Press. Reading fee gets you a one year subscription to The Laurel Review, starting with the summer issue.
ŸFinal judge for 2008 will be Kevin Prufer.
ŸThe winning chapbook will be published in an edition of 300 copies. Winner will receive one hundred copies. Additional copies offered at 40% off the list price ($7.00) plus shipping and handling.
ŸWinner also will be invited to give a reading at Northwest Missouri State University’s Visiting Writer series, which includes an honorarium of $500.00
ŸAll entries will be considered for publication in The Laurel Review.
ŸWinner will be notified by email or telephone, and will be announced on our website ( ) in July, 2008.
ŸIf you’d like an acknowledgement of receipt send a SASP; please do not send a SASE.

Entries may be sent to:

GreenTower Press
Midwest Chapbook Series
Northwest Missouri State University
Maryville, MO 64468

Questions may be addresses to the editors of The Laurel Review at:

We are pleased to announce that the judge for 2007, Ray Gonzalez, has chosen Rumit Pancholi’s, Anatomy of a Ghost, to be published in 2008. Runners-up were Erin M. Bertram’s, Bestiary with a Broken Window & a Thin Though Not Unkind Smattering of Light, and John Cross’s, Staring at the Animal

Recent chapbooks available from GreenTower Press:

Instructions for a Painting, by Molly Brodak
ITINERARY, by Reginald Shepherd
The BirdGirl Handbook, by Amy Newman
What Night Says to the Empty Boat, by Wayne Miller
Grenade, by Rebecca Hoogs

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mary Jo Bang, Elegy NBCC Award in Poetry

This is a very nice thing to say.

Second from the left:

Mary Jo Bang, NBCC award winner in poetry for “Elegy” (Graywolf Press)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Workshop Statements of Faith: The Anecdote of the Ape

James Tate
Teaching the Ape to Write Poems

They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
“You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?”

Monday, March 03, 2008

Workshop Statements of Faith: Monday

In creative writing workshop, because we are all on a journey, all we can say to each other is what we see at one station. We can’t see the arc. Even if we see several things from a poet, we’re still seeing things from a limited time. Maybe two stations. So all we have is the opportunity to see what we think are the strongest methods of forward momentum, and these things that might be playing against the poem. But that is only a guess.

It’s a difficult balance, a poem, between enacting and asserting, which is my slightly complicated version of showing and telling. In many ways all of a poem is telling, as it’s created out of words, but words have differing tones and textures, some more presentational (chair) and some more abstracted (angry). Presentational and abstracted is another, yet another, version of showing and telling.

Show & Tell. We always end up back there for some reason, don’t we? We’ve been doing it since when, kindergarten? And here we still are. And they’re interrelated. It’s NOT show, don’t tell, it’s Show & Tell. Showing by itself is nothing but tables and chairs. Telling by itself is nothing but assertion.

Along with that, though, our moments together are further complicated by the rushingness of a day, and the air of surety that statements tend to create in workshop (as in: drop the second stanza!), when, more truthfully, we are all equally journeying toward something that necessarily recedes—as art is not a destination but a process.

It’s important to have something you’re writing about. Something that you have to choose. Some image horde. And to bring it, as content, up front. What I mean is the occasion of the poem. Some call it scene. Some call it context. For some people it seems to always equal story or narrative, but it’s not that. It’s the need of a reader to find some center in the work. Even fragments circle a center. Sometimes it’s a conceptual center. An idea the poem circles. Sometimes it is images that are drawn from the same site (living room, courtroom, park, train, etc).

But if we say that a part of a poem isn’t working, or that a poem has “missed an opportunity,” we can’t know for sure if one really has—it’s only what we think we’re seeing, what we’re allowed, or are able to see through our participation with the poem—which is—what is this poem’s contract with the reader, with the world—what is the balance?

There is always a balance of some sort between Writer, Text, and Reader in every art object. One could talk about it as Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, but for my purposes, I like to think of the more abstract concepts of Writer, Text, and Reader, as needing to be addressed in the poem.

I’m not being as clear as I’d like to be. I think of it this way:

The author has needs. (Why am I writing this?)
The reader has needs. (Why am I reading this?)
The text has needs. (Am I being treated fairly? [Which is easier to conceptualize when you think of the text as the subject of the text. What is being written about.]

So my use of the rhetorical triangle is, well, a little fast and loose. Apologies to Aristotle, etc.

But how one addresses these is going to vary wildly. What’s important is that they are remembered.

Content can be a way to address these issues, which is why we often ask poets to reveal more content, usually through calls for narrative. But that is only one way. Content could just as easily be an idea that is worked out through images. It could even be heavily presentational. Narrative is only one option, and one I find overused. How about just unifying the images? Scene, not story. That’s how the Imagists worked.

And when we say to clarify, we’re not saying to make something into realism, though it often sounds that way. Surrealism is often very clear. But it’s still surreal, and can be just as unified as realism. And realism, done well, can be just as disconcerting as surrealism.

Anyway. The organic whole.

And then TONE. I’m always coming back to tone, and it’s so difficult to say anything about it, except that it’s a very important part of the poem. First among equals, perhaps. The mix of things that is precisely THIS poetry.

And, as always, I leave myself with more questions than answers.

If it’s true that there is no “correct” in art, how can workshops function? How should we negotiate a new way to go through and around the “fix-it” misapplication of workshops?

What we are looking for is what? Really, what? A more complete are experience? Well, what is that anyway?

And questions for tomorrow:

Where should one have questions in a poem, and of what sort should they be?

Poems are what, really?
What are paintings?
What are the expectations of the art experience by genre?