So I told you about the new Cross Keys Poetry Society at the library where I work here in my tiny town of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Click here for part 1 of the story (It’s pretty short, and worth it for the background). I want to post updates about the progress and activities of this part-workshop-part-reading-group here on The Dad Poet for two reasons.

1. I want to have a convenient place for our members, and neighbors to see what we are up to, or what they may have missed.

2. I want to inspire you to do this for yourself in your own community, whether it be at a library, a coffee shop or in your living room or back patio. Cannot find a local poetry group? Start one. Do what you love. Make it happen, contact local newspapers, promote the daylights out of it on Facebook. See if the local radio will put a blurb on the air, even just in the community calendar. Stop wishing you had a group like this and just do it.
A helpful definition, no?

A helpful definition, no?

This is my second poetry venture on the local scene (See my posts on our art gallery open mic called Poetry Under the Paintings, which I was so lucky to be asked to help organize), and I couldn’t be happier with the decision, or more grateful that a local art gallery and library are open to hosting a place for the art of poetry.

As I said before, not knowing how the demographics would pan out–writers, enthusiasts, newbies, or old pros–I decided to take a broad approach to the first meeting, sort of a getting acquainted with poetry session, or getting reacquainted, without any pressure to write or analyze. Not yet. So in that spirit I had us dive into a pool of poems, just to feel the cool and enjoy the swim.

What is poetry?

We started with “Introduction to Poetry,” by Billy Collins, and from there traveled the poetry spectrum from the free-verse of E. E. Cummings (Yes, he did spell it that way) to the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. The original thought was to discuss the questions, “What is poetry?” And “Where does it come from?” But the discussion flowed more in the direction of “What is poetry” as it relates to why so many people claim to not like it.

We looked at a lot of definitions of poetry that various poets have given over the years. As Billy Collins has said, “Poets are people not content to say only one thing at a time.” Poets love language so much, and the things it can do in describing the breadth of the human heart, that they are often not content to give a precise definition. Ambiguity is a friend of poets, and this is part of poetry’s magic, all the possibilities, the many angles one light can reflect off a bit of broken glass.Quotation-E-E-Cummings-human-Meetville-Quotes-192422

So how to tell you about the rest of the meeting? A whirlwind of audio, visuals and reading poems out loud. I think I’m going to just give you the links below, and rather than write a detailed essay or share my clumsy notes, I’ll just give you a little brief context. The links we actually used in the meeting will be in bold.

We discussed multiple reasons why people do not like poetry. Some tell me it is because of what they learned or did not learn about it in school, or how it was handled. In fact I had another library staff member tell me, only a tad facetiously, as she started quoting from Chaucer’s “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” that having to memorize it was probably precisely why she didn’t enjoy poetry! We mentioned opinions from Dan Gioia’s “Can Poetry Matter” essay to recent Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri’s assertions that we now live in “a golden age for poetry.”

Perhaps it is a disconnect between academia and the man on the street. As Tim Green, editor of Rattle Magazine recently said on Facebook:

By entering academia, poets anointed a priestly class where a literary elite claim the right to mediate our relationship with poetry. Unsurprisingly, it’s become a bloated, self-serving bureaucracy, and that’s why the broader public has turned away.

I encourage you to add them on Facebook (Tim Green is the editor and makes all the tweets and status updates), in order to see the rest of his brief essay on July 20th. It’s a mere three paragraphs and worth a read.

quote-Oscar-Wilde-all-bad-poetry-springs-from-genuine-feeling-93049Some of the tension comes because of the distance between greeting card verse, the maudlin cliches of what pass for love poems, and the more craft-focused art of translating the emotions of the heart in more original metaphors.

And perhaps there is something of a poetic generation gap problem. Much of the quibble over free-verse versus traditional metered rhyme is because a great deal of what has been written since Pound’s time has not the musical lilt that your grandparents are accustomed to. It doesn’t matter how many modern rhyming poets you mention to some people, they still want to know, “Why doesn’t poetry rhyme anymore?”

Of course we don’t sound like Shakespeare these days because the language has evolved. And we certainly don’t sound like Robert Burns!

Poetry in pop culture:

Do you remember the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral?” Do you recall this poem by W. H. Auden? I’ve never seen the whole movie, but this reading rips my heart out every time. The thing many don’t realize is that the original poem, was written as a satirical cabaret number in 1936. I’m not sure how much of it changed before it was published in print in 1938, but you must admit, it takes the very intense and honest feelings of the bereaved and puts it into some clever lines that hit home. Perhaps the difference between sappy and soulful lies a bit in presentation?

Mad Men's Don Draper reading Frank O'Hara

Mad Men’s Don Draper reading Frank O’Hara

More recently, in season two of the hit TV show “Mad Men” we see establishment guy, model advertising executive Don Draper getting in touch with his poetic side. He is seeing a girl who hangs out among the beat poets and artists in The Village, and he gets his hands on Frank O’Hara’s latest book Meditations in an Emergency. He thinks to send the book to her as actor John Hamm’s rich voice recites part of “Mayakovsky.”

From the fictional 1960’s to the real 1960’s we find Ken Nordine doing what he called “Word Jazz,” basically poetry to the play of improvisational jazz musicians. Here is his piece, with modern visual interpretation, “Green.

Care to venture a guess at the relation between Ken Nordine’s color poem and the “Mad Men” scene? When Nordine’s color poems–there was a whole series–were heard on the air Disc Jockey’s couldn’t replay them when requested because they were actually advertisements. “The Fuller Paint Company invites you to stare with your ears at yellow.” Very Mad Men-ish, no?

Drawing of writer Charles Bukowski

Drawing of writer Charles Bukowski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we are on the advertising topic let’s skip ahead to this very recent (last year I believe) advertisement for Dewar’s Scotch which is powered by YouTube poetry-reading legend Tom O’Bedlam’s rendition of Charles Bukowski’s “So You Want to Be a Writer.” The debate still rages. Anti-establishment poet gets his work stolen and used for commercialism. Baloney! Bukowski loved his drink, and his widow was paid for the use of this poem. Meanwhile more of the general public who otherwise wouldn’t pick up a book of poetry got exposed to a great piece, read by an awesome voice.

And maybe, just maybe these ipod and liquor adverts, displaying what happens when poetry is read out loud and well, will begin to convert a few who thought they didn’t like the art at all.

Aside from that we discussed the need to not take Bukowski’s claims in that poem too far. I found the original commentary from Tom O’Bedlam on this topic here. It’s well worth reading, so I’ll give you a teaser excerpt:

Don’t buy it. This is Charles Bukowski telling Charles Bukowski how to write like Charles Bukowski. He’s guilty himself of all those sins he’s admonishing you against as an aspiring writer.

You might have a natural inborn talent as a writer – or, for that matter, as a plumber or a portrait painter – but that’s not the way to bet. You can’t rely on raw talent. It’s nice to be a genius of course (did somebody else use that phrase?) but most people have to learn their trade or profession.

Back to that generation gap problem. We’ve been jumping around a lot here, from Chaucer and Burns to O’Hara an E.E. Cummings, back and forth in time, over and returning across the Atlantic. But what do these pieces have in common? What is it that makes a poem a poem? Sure, some modern poems don’t rhyme, but face it, neither does Beowulf. And only recently have I realized, thanks to John Nooney’s Poetically Versed blog, that the prose poem has a long history, despite my desire to define poetry by the line.

And I still contend that most poetry is lined, and that despite my love for Zachary Schomberg’s “Testy Pony,” prose poetry might just be a hybrid genre all its own. While some argue that modern free-verse is just prose in lines, I insist that pieces like Schomberg’s “Pony” are poems that look like prose.

And so instead of answering you straight out like a scientist, I’ll quote a poet who gives my favorite definition of poetry:

The wrap up:

So that’s all the answer I’ll give for now. And maybe that’s all we need. Follow along here on the blog, or if you are nearby on the map come to the Priestly-Forsyth Memorial Library on the first and third Tuesdays each month and explore the topic with us.

A few other audio visual highlights from the evening include this interpretation of Shakespeare, by Mathew MacFadyen, and also his reading of “When You Are Old,” by Yeats.  A few posts back here on the blog you can also see his portrayal of William Carlos Williams’ “This is to say,” and Samuel West’s “Proposal,” written by Tom Vaughan from the BBC’s “Poems to Fall in Love to.”

Next time we’ll be reviewing the first few chapters of Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, and discussing where poetry comes from, it’s sounds and how meaning is intricately connected with sound.

Bukowski’s “Nirvana”

David J. Bauman:

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.

Originally posted on Poetically Versed:

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Cross Keys Poetry Recap–July, 2014–Part 1

Cross Keys Poetry Society

The Cross Keys Poetry Society

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?

Our first text.

Our first text.

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


What Poems to Choose?


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.

The Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library in Nort...

The Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library in Northumberland, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, USA. It serves as the Northumberland Public Library and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

I SANG to you and the moon
But only the moon remembers.
I sang
O reckless free-hearted
free-throated rhythms,
Even the moon remembers them
And is kind to me.

–Carl Sandburg,

From the Chicago Poems, 1916

Three Poems in the Tic Toc Anthology


Me, not writing a poem.

Me, not writing a poem.

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!

The Post Father’s Day Father’s Day Post


Photo Credit: Backblaze Blog

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.

The Carolina Theater, Greensboro, North Caroli...

The Carolina Theater, Greensboro, North Carolina, September, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

1522096_10202839489442904_6158584534248102290_nSo 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. 538427_10150896916944163_2074165509_n

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.