Monthly Archives: January 2009

Inauguration Poem – The Sequel

There has been quite a bit of debate banter about the Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem. While I think her delivery sort of undermined her writing, the fact that she’s started a national conversation about poetry is wonderful. Seriously, she was on the Colbert Report the other night and every blogger with at least a minimal interest in literature has had something to say. Anyway, I thought it was worth noting that Kwame Dawes also wrote a poem for the ocassion… “New Day” is written in eight parts. Here’s a highlight:

Already the halo of grey covers his close-cropped head.
Before, we could see the pale glow of his skull, the way
he kept it close, now the grey – he spends little time in bed,
mostly he places things in boxes or color coded trays,
and calculates the price of expectation – the things promised
all eyes now on him: the winning politician’s burden.
On the day he makes his speech he will miss
the barber shop, the quick smoke in the alley, the poem
found in the remainder box, a chance to just shoot
some hoops, and those empty moments to remember
that green rice paddy where he used to sprint, a barefoot
screaming boy, all legs, going home to the pure
truth of an ordinary life, that simple place where, fatherless,
he found comfort in the wisdom of old broken soldiers.

Go here to read the rest.


Can’t Dodge the Recession…

Forgive the awful pun, but it’s true.  The economy has claimed another victim: the Dodge Poetry Festival.

The Morristown-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation confirmed Friday it cannot afford to fund the biennial Dodge Poetry Festival planned for 2010 because of a 30 percent decline in assets.

Go here and here to get you some knowledge.

Lark & Termite


Obviously, I’m a bit biased. Jayne Anne Phillips is the director of the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark. I happen to be a student in said program. Even so, I have to take a moment and let ya’ll know how much I am loving this book. (Present progressive tense because I’m about 75% of way through the book.)

In my humble opinion, her novel looks William Faulkner dead in the eye and promises to be a worthy rival.  And to prove that I’m not entirely off the mark, feel free to read what “established critics” have to say.

New York Times Review

Jayne Anne Phillips’s intricate, deeply felt new novel reverberates with echoes of Faulkner, Woolf, Kerouac, McCullers and Michael Herr’s war reporting, and yet it fuses all these wildly disparate influences into something incandescent and utterly original.

San Francisco Chronicle

In some ways, “Lark and Termite” is not an easy read. It assumes patience and intelligence on the part of the reader. But assembling this novel is its own reward, because this isn’t just a collection of pitch-perfect monologues. A deeply satisfying story comes together slowly, in confessions and omissions, as the mysteries of the past are filled in and the promise of the future unfolds. Much of “Lark and Termite” takes place in tunnels, and this novel is filled with echoes, voices reverberating off each other to create a rich and lasting resonance. You finish “Lark and Termite” wanting to turn back to the first page and start over, making sure not to miss a single note.

Seattle Times

Phillips’ rendering of Termite’s consciousness is fantastically kinesthetic: He can feel “smashed air” swirling around him when he is afraid; “pictures that touch him move and change, they lift and turn, stutter their edges and blur into one other.” He is prescient and knows things other characters do not know; his point of view is a secret between him and the reader.


Lark & Termite is a category of story unto itself: mystical without being gooey; wry and terribly moving; as ornately contrived as Dickens, as poetic as Morrison, yet unselfconscious in tone and peopled with vivid, salt-of-the-earth characters who mostly accept the limits on life’s possibilities with a shrug and another cup of coffee.

Great Advice from Annie Dillard

I’ve been using the winter break to get my head in the “write place” as it were. Part of that has involved reading an insane amount of books.. check out of my twitter profile if you don’t believe me. One of the books I’ve devoured is In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction edited by Lee Gutkind. The introduction by Annie Dillard is actually made up entirely of practical advice for writers. At first, I was a little turned off by it, but days later I was still thinking about her tips. I’ve re-read the introduction twice now. It’s that good. Here are some highlights:

Never, ever, get yourself into a situation where you have nothing to do but write and read. You’ll go into a depression. You have to be doing something good for the world, something undeniably useful; you need exercise, too, and people.

Punctuation is not like musical notation; it doesn’t indicate the length of pauses, but instead signifies logical relations.

Always locate the reader in time and space — again and again. Beginning writers rush in to feelings, to interior lives. Instead, stick to surface appearances; hit the five senses; give the history of the person and the place, and the look of the person and the place.

If something in your narrative or poem is important, give it proportional space. I mean, actual inches. The reader has to spend time with a subject to care about it. Don’t shy away from your big scenes; stretch them out.

Write for readers. Ask yourself how every sentence and every line will strike the reader. That way you can see if you’re misleading, or boring, the readers. Of course, it’s hard to read your work when you’ve just written it; it all seems clear and powerful. Put it away and rewrite it later. Don’t keep reading it over, or you’ll have to wait longer to see it afresh.

3 Poems Featured in MFA/MFYou

Aside from being happy that I’ve gotten some more work published, I’m stoked to be a part of the conversation over at MFA/MFYou. The goal of the journal is to “figure out if there really is a difference between the writing coming out of MFA programs and the writing from the hardworking folks who chose a different route.”

It’s a pretty relevant debate and, in my opinion, all the work is pretty good.