Sometimes at the meeting of a poem and an interpretation there is magic.
Charles Bukowski's Nirvana revolves around a young man traveling to an undetermined destination, questioning his purpose in the world. Along the young man's aimless journey, he encounters a moment in time at a charming diner. In just that moment something is awakened inside of him, but even with a sense of purpose, sadness follows. "Nirvana" is a melancholy postcard from memories long past.
I’m pleased to report that the first meeting of The Cross Keys Poetry Society was a happy little success. One never knows how many to expect for a new adult program at a public library, or anywhere for that matter, and with less than three weeks to prepare we decided on a show-up, rather than sign-up approach to start.
From the beginning I wanted our group to be something more than a workshop, a place to really read, discuss and learn from the poems themselves. I wanted the group to be open to writers and readers of poetry alike. Besides, in our small town numbers are thin already, and I feared calling the group a workshop might scare some folks off who would otherwise enjoy an evening of lines and verse.
So we decided to name the group after the old Cross Keys Inn that our property once housed from 1829 until Joseph Priestley bought it in 1864 as a home as his family. Ginsburg, Kerouac, O’Hara and members of the New York School met at the (recently closed) Ceder Tavern. Tolkien, Lewis and other Oxford writer met at The Eagle and Child (or as they called it “the Bird and Baby”).
Were there poets and artists who met here at Cross Keys? Why not? Northumberland is where the North and the West Branches of the Susquehanna River meet. The Inn was right near the old Danville Highway. Commerce up and down the river via railroad and canals made this a happening little town back in the day. So why not a center for art as well, and in the building that would one day become the Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library?
So myth or not, we created The Cross Keys Poetry Society and made plans to make the library’s upstairs board room into our watering hole. We ordered materials, notebooks and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, and proceeded to promote our hearts out to the local paper, radio Facebook, our library website and of course to friends we thought might be interested.
I’m big on handouts, and since we didn’t know how many people to expect, and whether they would be writers, readers or interested bystanders (and I correctly suspected a mix), I approached the first gathering as something of an introduction to poetry, one that could be enjoyed even by folks who have been hanging around poems for decades.
We started with a reading of Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,” and I stated that tonight was not for deep analysis, in fact we’d be enjoying far too many poems to take the spend much time taking them apart to see what winds their wheels. Instead we would “water-ski across the surface of [poems], waving at the [authors'] name on the shore.”
One thing that informed the discussion was my dismay that more than one library patron who, having seen our sign out front, came in and asked about the “pottery classes.” When I said, “No, it’s poetry,” it was as if I had told them we’d be serving pickled pig’s feet. They would scrunch up their noses, or shake their heads, don a look that indicated an actual physical distaste, and say, “Oh, I don’t like poetry.”
So an opening session that was to be about the “What is Poetry? And Where Does It Come from?” turned into “What is Poetry? And Why Don’t People Like It?” I’ll give you the links to the audio visuals, and the main highlights in my next post. So keep your orange peeled (only because I like peeling oranges much more than eyes) for Part 2.
By the way, for local readers and writers, we will be meeting twice a month, on the first and third Tuesdays, so if you are in the area, don’t be afraid to drop by, or stop by and sign up first to get the materials for the next session!
Our August meetings will be:
Tuesday, August 5th and Tuesday August 19th. Both at 6:30 PM
I have been preparing all week for the first meeting of the Cross Keys Poetry Society. We’re meeting at the Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library where I have been working these last few months. It’s the former site of the Cross Keys Inn here in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. You can imagine that I’m both excited and nervous. They’ve asked me to do poetry for adults at the library. I’m thrilled, and I have no idea beyond a few people, who is coming. Thus I have puzzled over where to start, and what poems to read.
If you’re in the area we meet for the first time tonight, Tuesday July 15th, at 6:30 PM. I’d love to see you there. Otherwise, I hope to report back a successful and jaunty start to this new project later. For now, goodnight–I need some sleep!
I SANG to you and the moon
But only the moon remembers.
O reckless free-hearted
Even the moon remembers them
And is kind to me.
From the Chicago Poems, 1916
Recently I mentioned that three of my poems appeared alongside the work of Jason Allen and June’s featured poet Brian Fanelli in Contemporary American Voices. If you haven’t checked them out yet, please do. The July issue is almost here, so for our poems in June click here.
But it’s a great little journal to follow, so be sure to bookmark it. I was tickled to find quite a few poets’ names I recognized in past issues, including poet and blogger John Gallaher, and former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Many thanks to editor Lisa Zaran for her good work, and to Brian Fanelli for his kind invitation. I am honored to appear on those pages.
In other small press news three of my poems appear in the Tic Toc anthology which just came out days ago from Kind of a Hurricane Press. Obviously the theme is Time. You can purchase a hard copy for under ten bucks or download a PDF from their bookstore here. I appreciate editor A. J. Huffman’s diligent editing and the care with which she handles her poets, even making a last minute change I requested (dropping a final unnecessary line in one of my pieces).
Thus far my experience with editors in the small presses and such has been unexpectedly positive. I really haven’t been submitting as much as I had planned this spring, but I have begun comipling submissions for various places for the fall and winter, and I am crossing my fingers for a chapbook contest win for my upcoming collection The School Bus Poems. Wish me luck!
Just a little journal-ing here today, old-school, Journalspace-style, and very sparsely edited. Does anyone remember Journalspace? That’s where I had my blog before it was mainstream to really call them blogs. After MySpace, before Facebook, back in the early part of this (still rather young) century many of less trendy net writers were keeping “online journals” rather than web logs, or blogs. Sadly they lost a ton of data one day and many of us had to rescue our posts from google’s cache.
Blogging and Community
There was a certain level of community that was attractive about Journalspace, because we were not simply keeping web diaries, we were connecting with other people of like interests, via keywords, now called tags and sometimes served with hash (I’ve tried to develop a taste for it, but to be frank, I prefer bacon). If memory serves me right, as it sometimes does, that’s where I cyber-met Bryan Borland, who has since gone on to publish a couple of books of poetry and become founding editor of Sibling Rivalry Press and the literary journal Assaracus.
Sadly there are very few people I’ve managed to follow since those days. But there is a similar community of folks on WordPress, as well as a larger audience of non-bloggers who find my spot here because WordPress has a longer reach, and much greater success promoting our posts to the the rest of the world, rather than just a little circle of journal-ing writers. There is a metaphor in this about modern poetry, but I’ll let it go for now.
The Timely Curse, or Hashtag Hell
So you noticed the title. Yes, Father’s day was more than a week and a half ago. Too late to get on the “trending” wagon. Way past time to hitch my stats to a hashtag star. Some web guru out there is thinking, if he wanted readers for his Father’s Day post he should have posted no later than Father’s Day. True. But this isn’t a Father’s Day post. As the title says, it’s the Post Father’s Day Post. And besides, you know what? I don’t care about the date or the day. In fact I’m bloody sick of all of this SEO talk that is all about timeliness and little about thoughtfulness.
You see, I was too happy enjoying my Father’s Day (which was celebrated more on Monday than Sunday anyway), much too happy to even pause the festivities to write about it at the time. But if now I want to share with you some thoughts that I have pondered on after the fact, the current web wisdom says that it’s too late.
I noticed this regarding internet activity on the recent death of Maya Angelou. I posted a reading and a few words several days after the fact, and by then the only twitter buzz, the only Facebook shares, the only mention at all of her was in regards to her memorial service on or about the day of the ceremony. It’s not the sort of thing you can know about ahead of time, but you damn well better post your RIP message as soon as you get the news if you want traffic to your blog, right?
I’ve seen it again more recently with the appointment of Charles Wright as the new US Poet Laureate, something I am planning to post about after I have read more of his work, and become more familiar with the man. In other words, after (and if) I actually have something remotely unique and hopefully interesting to say about it. Meanwhile I confess I have re-tweeted the NPR article and shared a poem or two on PalPage, but why should I feel an urgent need to write about it? Am I a news journalist, or a blogger poet?
Why have we got caught up in the insanity, the rush to post anything about everything as soon as we know about it? Why are we letting ourselves get pulled by the tide of other people’s information streams? Ratings? Bingo. I think it started long before the days of CNN’s 24 hour news coverage, but that’s as good a place to start as any. Back then we loved to listen and watch as they speculated on what was happening, rather than reported it after the facts were known. Why? Because everyone wants to be the first. Everyone wants to have the traffic.
But have we lost sight of the importance of quality? Have we lost the ability to reflect? I have found myself caught up in this game myself, posting about poet’s birthdays and such, and I don’t mean that I won’t do so in the future, but hopefully It’ll be a bit more planned out, a result of pre-cogitation, rather than regurgitation. I have no desire to become a “curator of content.”
Dad’s Day & Miscellaneous Updates
Boy, I can go on, can’t I? But like I said at the beginning, this is old-school web log stuff, and I’m not forcing you to read it. Not timely, not tweet-able, but hey, sometimes isn’t it refreshing to dwell on an event AFTER the calendar date?
So first, the Monday before Father’s Day. Well, I cannot quite fathom how this happened yet. I’m told this is what is supposed to occur. We care for, nurture, train, discipline and love the hell out of our kids, and one day they show signs of having grown up. And one startling day they stand before you in graduation gowns, smiling for the camera while you wonder where the devil 18 years went.
I’m proud, immensely proud, and as proud as I have ever been, his two brothers having preceded him in ceremonies just like this. He had a rough year health-wise, but look at the brilliant smile on that brilliant boy’s face. I’m honored to have been a part of his growing up. Humbled to have been called Father by all three of these incredible young men. Yeah, this was a great prelude to Father’s Day. And where did he choose to go out to dinner? Ha! Our favorite old pizza shop of course. Priceless (as apposed to merely cheap, and easy on Dad’s wallet).
The weekend of Father’s Day I worked at both the library and that other job. More than 38 hours in three days, and so was wiped out. After seeing the “Happy Father’s Day” message on PalPage (I love calling it that, and I confess it’s stolen shamelessly from Days of Our Lives), I called first my sons and then my own dad and made arrangements for my Monday off. Then I promptly took a much needed nap that lasted for four hours.
I woke up, snacked and finally watched the first episode of Sherlock. Looks promising. Then back to bed, for a Monday morning lie-in that I think was deserved. An early dinner/late lunch was had with my favorite three young men at a ma-and pop country diner at the meeting of two old major roads and two railways, now the home of a big Sheetz across the street, the view from our table-side window. Word to the wise: if you must go out to eat for Father’s Day don’t actually do so on father’s day.
The dinning room at Winngate was empty except for our crew and we were amused by how many state troopers seemed to enjoy frequenting the Sheetz across the road. They must have good coffee and donuts. We felt safe, and dang the turkey sub and vegetable soup was amazing!
Then a visit with my dad not far from there. Bluebirds, hawks, tales of deer being chased by the cows in the pasture. And also the realization that now at 83 there was no longer even a hint of awkwardness in my conversations with Dad. He no longer feels the need to instruct me on being a good father, on getting through life. We simply enjoy the time and conversation, the questions on what flowers the butterflies enjoy the most. Peace, and relaxation. That’s what being with him is like, finally after all these years.
After that we went to see How to Train Your Dragon II, in the same old, but restored Art Deco-styled theater I used to go to when I was a kid. The movie was excellent, and better than the first. But I teased Jonathan (he chose the movie) that it was not exactly a Father’s Day film. And that’s all the spoiler you’ll get from me.
I hope you had a happy dad’s day. If you have kids, I hope you drank up the experience. I hope you called your dad, or at least had a good memory or two. And I trust you had time and leisure to reflect on it long after the fact. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Next up, some more small press publishing news! Thanks for lollygagging around my memories with me. I appreciate it.
As well as Readings, Zines and Libraries
I mentioned some of my recent doings briefly this morning via a reblog before flying from the library job to the restaurant (Have I told you I got the library job? Sorry, but thank you for being happy for me!), but I wanted to slow down and take a little time to give you an update myself.
You deserve it after all the worry I gave you. I know you’ve been wringing your hands for me, hoping I’d land the library position, and pensively pondering whether anyone might possibly publish more of my poems. I apologize for being so silent, leaving you all those nights of lost sleep, those wee hours you stood awake at the window, staring at the moon, half hidden in the clouds, wishing I would write to let you know if I had finished my first chapbook and to whom I was sending it for publication.
Well the good news is, I am now happily employed at the library right up the street from my home. The original interview was way back in January and it seemed that the opportunity had passed, so to be honest, I doubt I ever even told you about it. Hey, how did you know . . .
And yes, three of my poems have been published alongside the work of Brian Fanelli, featured poet for June at Contemporary American Voices, where Brian was given the choice of what poets might appear with him. I am honored to have been chosen along with Jason Allen and his fine work about some crazy late night adventures, one of which includes a moonlit ride in the buff. If you enjoy the poems you read here on my blog you will not want to miss five solid pieces of modern Americana by Brian Fanelli. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but “At the Front Door” gets me, and I see my own dad in “My Father Never Carried a Briefcase.” Read the lot of them by clicking here.
Zines and Readings
I’ve been reading Fanelli’s blog now for some time, as we’ve shared comments and compared notes on our concern for and love of poetry and its place in modern life, and this weekend I finally get to meet the guy, as he’s asked me to come read with him and there other poets at Scranton’s ZineFest. While a couple of my poems showed up at ZineFest last year in the pages of Word Fountain, the literary journal of the Ousterhout Library, this is the first time I will get to experience the action in person.
What’s a Zine, you ask? Well, from their homepage:
According to the Anchor Archive Zine Library, “Zines are self-published magazines made outside of mainstream press and media, by all kinds of people about all kinds of things.” Since 2011, the Scranton Zine Fest has become an opportunity for showcasing these little beauties, as well as comics, letterpress prints, stationary, fine arts, and so much more.
But I encourage you to check out the site for yourself. The poet bios are here, and the list of Zine participants are here. Sara Pokorny has a thorough article about the poetry readings in The Weekender.
And if you happen to find yourself near Northeastern Pennsylvania on Saturday, stop in to the Trip Park Community Center in Scranton. Festivities start at 1, the poetry starts at 2. There will also be music and food and general artsy, indie fun by the sounds of it. I’m looking forward to reporting back to you about the whole experience, but if by chance we could meet, that would be dandy!