Friday, November 22, 2013

Chicago Book Expo

The Chicago Book Expo is a pop-up bookstore and literary fair open to the public being held on Sunday, November 24, 2013, in the Uptown neighborhood from 11am-5pm at St. Augustine College, 1345 W. Argyle in Chicago.
The event features an expo with Chicago’s best independent publishers and authors selling books, plus free author readings, panel discussions, writing workshops, and bilingual/Spanish programs. Nonprofits and associations serving the writing and publishing communities will be represented. All events are free and open to the public.
I'll be reading from Brief Nudity at 1:00. This is likely to be my last official book appearance of 2013; I'll have copies on hand to sell and sign. Remember -- books make an excellent gift!
Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Seeds Workshop


All farmers, tillers of the soil, and agribusiness folks out there, stand down -- or by all means stop by if creative writing is part of your particular palette. I'll be leading a workshop next week under the auspices of Seeds, Northeastern Illinois University's literary magazine. See details, above, and thanks to the editorial staff for inviting me!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bindle Stick by Donna Pecore

I am honored to have been asked to write a few words for fellow Chicago poet Donna Pecore's debut collection, Bindle Stick. It's out now and for a limited time you can order a copy with free shipping!

Go here to read about its release, and congrats to Donna!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Recently -- and Coming Up

Earlier this month, I read from recent works and partook in a lively Q&A with students enrolled in Northeastern Illinois University's Summer Creative Writing Institute. Thanks to Olivia Cronk and Christine Simokaitis for graciously inviting me into their classroom. Shortly after that, I spoke in Brad Greenburg's English 405 class about teaching poetry through writing poetry. I may not be teaching any classes myself this summer, but it certainly doesn't feel that way -- which is not a bad thing: I get the emotional and intellectual rush(es) without any pesky lesson planning or grading.

Next week, the Brief Nudity express takes me to Berkeley, California for a reading at one of my favorite places, Moe's Books, sponsored by one of my favorite resources, Poetry Flash. I look forward to seeing comrades from the Bay Area and visiting familiar haunts from my occidental past.

Additional upcoming appearances include a return to the Ipsento Reading Series (9/14), the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books (9/22, where I'll be coordinating two hybrid events on the poetry and music of a singer-songwriter), and a reading/panel at the Midwest Modern Language Association (11/9).

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Brief Nudity Book Tour Update

Just returned from a swing through the southland for two readings supporting Brief Nudity. The first was at Murray State University, where I inaugurated the summer low-residency MFA reading series (and later, got to listen to and meet fellow visiting writer Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn). The following night, I was fortunate to read for one of the biggest audiences a poet can dream of at Poetry Sucks! at Third Man Records in Nashville. This multi-media event included co-poets Paige Taggart and Sampson Starkweather, musician and artist Tim Kerr (whose paintings were on display), as well as rock 'n' roll from Lee Baines III & The Glory Fires. What can I say? It was an incredible couple of days.

Photo by Mark Robbins
Right before my trip south, I had a blast returning to the Wit Rabbit Reading Series, joined by co-poets Jason Bredle, Tim Murray, and Lana Rakhman.

Tomorrow, I will give a talk and read from Brief Nudity as well as new works at the Summer Creative Writing Institute at Northeastern Illinois University. This is yet another return engagement, one which I am always thrilled to participate in.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

WKMS Interview

Click here to listen to my recent interview with Kate Lochte on WKMS, where I read from and discuss the inspiration behind some of Brief Nudity's poems.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Post-Solstice Recap

After two months of radio silence, here's some of what's been happening.

In May, the Brief Nudity reading tour kicked off with a special event in St. Louis.


No Lizard Kings was created to discourage, disparage and dispel the myth of the poet-rocker as some kind of hipster satyr. I was joined by fellow harmonic versifier Ken Kase, whose book, Seven Sonnets is available from Amazon. A month later, the event came to Chicago, again with Ken as well as local chanteuse and word warrior Snežana Žabić. This was the official book launch party for Brief Nudity, and a great time was had by everyone!


Also in May, I read from Brief Nudity at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a pleasure to see many familiar faces at this event.


There are additional upcoming readings for Brief Nudity in Chicago; Murray, KY; Nashville; Berkeley, CA; Waukesha and Milwaukee, WI, with other dates TBD. Go here for your best central source.

I also recently completed my twenty week Hands on Stanzas residency at Skinner West Elementary. You may read about the various lesson plans and ideas taught throughout the year, as well as peruse student poems through the Poetry Center's Skinner blog.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poems in Packingtown Review

I'm thrilled to have four of my napkin poems in the latest issue of the esteemed (and recently revived) Packingtown Review! Be sure to read my artist's statement for some insights into my 'process' and hope you enjoy!

First Review of Brief Nudity!

The good folks at Heavy Feather Review published a thoughtful and very flattering review of Brief Nudity today. Check it out here, and thanks to Jordan Sanderson for the thumbs up!

On a related note, the Spring Book Bling Reading Tour for Brief Nudity is more or less set, aside from a few potential gigs still in the works. You can always refer to the Appearances page at my official site or Brief Nudity's Facebook page for updates.

When all the tour dates for spring and summer have been finalized, I will post them here.

Hope to see you at an upcoming event!

Hands on Stanzas Update

Recent residencies at Skinner West revolved around work by Claude McKay, Elizabeth Bishop, and Kenneth Patchen. Examples of student picture poems (one from each classroom) in the style of Patchen are below.






Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Status Quo(tes) on the Vernal Equinox

Getting caught up on a few outstanding items on this chilly first day of spring.

For some insights into my last few Hands on Stanzas residencies at Skinner West, check out these Poetry Center blog posts, when classes focused on poems by Bernadette Mayer, Robert Frost, and Natasha Trethewey. I'm nearing the halfway point and having a terrific time!

Biggest recent news involves my trip to Boston earlier this month to attend the annual AWP Conference, for the launch of Brief Nudity. In addition to reading for my publisher, Salmon Poetry, and doing a book signing, I also participated in the Festival of Language's event, caught a few panels, wore out my shoes, and got snowed on, which is par for the AWP course. I'll be announcing further reading dates for Brief Nudity's official book tour soon.

Reading from Brief Nudity at Salmon Poetry's book launch
Before departing for the east coast I was also fortunate to be asked to read as part of Debra Bruce's shindig for her latest book, Survivors' Picnic; upon returning, I also once again partook in Northeastern Illinois University's faculty authors reception, honoring work published in 2012, which for me would be my e-chapbook, Basic Cable Couplets.

Whew!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Brooklyner Web Issues

The Brooklyner is a multimedia website and literary journal made available in a number of electronic and print formats. One of the poems from Brief Nudity, "You Are Untrustworthy" appeared there originally about a year ago. If you'd like to see the entire web issue #3, including my poem, go here for a PDF version. It's a great magazine, well worth your support, with a brand new edition due soon, so check 'em out!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Giving Poetry

Today at Skinner I read Bernadette Mayer's poem, "The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty" (a "collaboration" with Emma Lazarus). After discussing the concept of anaphora with the students, they wrote their own "give me" poems. The full report may be found here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Previously, at Hands on Stanzas...

Students in Ms. Ellis' room work on their haiku variations
Here's a quick recap of my prior two residencies at Skinner West.

Two weeks ago, I brought in some of Robert Hass' selected haiku by Issa. However, instead of having students write traditional haiku in response, I created three spinoff forms from which they could choose: my-ku (about themselves), you-ku (about someone else), and psy-ku (crazy or nonsense haiku). You can read all about the results here.

Last week, classes fell on Valentine's Day. I knew there would be no avoiding the inevitable, so I had students read E. E. Cummings' "[love is more thicker than forget]," and write poems about people or things they love. The full story is here.

Approaching my fifth week, it's been a terrific time so far. These second graders are extremely bright and eager, and the teachers have been nothing short of amazing. More to come!




Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors


“The Next Big Thing” asks writers to self-interview about recent or forthcoming books with 7-8 designated questions, post somewhere in the blog-o-sphere, and then “tag” five writers for the next week to do the same. I was tagged by the inimitable Debra Bruce.

What is the title of the book?

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My prior quartet of tomes (I Am Spam, About the Author, abbrev, and Basic Cable Couplets) were all thematically-driven, which is perfect for the chapbook format. It's a concept I used to eschew, but I had so much fun with I Am Spam (poems based on spam email subject lines) that it added fuel to that part of the creative bonfire, and I started thinking more actively about other short-form ideas. I Am Spam was published in 2004; in 2006, a number of things happened: I became an owner, not a renter, for the first time in my adult life; I enrolled in an MFA program twenty years after completing my undergrad education; and my mother died. This all impacted my life in general, but also my writing particularly. Thematic work I get into feverishly, winding up with a draft rather quickly, whereas full-length manuscripts are assembled after a specific period of time, in recognition of writing done within those parameters, and their cohesion is determined after the fact rather than as a part of the process. The poems in Brief Nudity cover about three years, and many are directly responsive to my mental state, though perhaps not obviously so. There are vestiges of another series that I toyed with comprising a separate entity – the Loma Prieta persona poems – but I began to feel that too many of them would be repetitive or even oppressive, so they wound up being folded into the scope of the longer book.

What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a
 movie rendition?
I'm a big proponent of the merits of popular culture, so part of this is easy to answer. Another persona subject in the book is “Dracula's Daughter,” so Gloria Holden, who assayed Contessa Zaleska in the 1936 movie of the same name, would be a no-brainer, though if I could cast a contemporary actress Julia Goldani Telles, one of the stars of Bunheads would be better suited to how I visualize her. Jeff Goldblum, Evel Knievel, and Tom DeLay appear in other poems; Goldblum and DeLay could play themselves – well, DeLay after he gets out of the pokey – but with Knievel kaput, unless CGI (which I dislike) is utilized to insert the old Evel into new scenes, that won't do. George Hamilton and Sam Elliott have channeled him in the past, but I'd opine they're too long in the tooth to lively up the Evel I have in mind; George Eads (who plays Nick Stokes on CSI) was cast in a 2004 TV movie, but I don't watch the show so I'll go out on a limb and say that I'd enjoy seeing Daniel Day-Lewis as Knievel, mainly because he would insist on remaining in character throughout the shoot and break a few bones at least. Using animation – which is so popular with the kids nowadays – Hercules, The Angry Whopper®, Tweety Bird and Winnie the Pooh could all be realized quite easily, though only after paying through the nose for the rights to fleetingly use these vigorously trademarked icons.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Brief Nudity's poems are concerned with the juxtaposition between elegy and irreverence.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
As mentioned above, most of the book was composed from 2006-2009. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” (Paul Valéry is attributed with switching out “art” for “a poem”), and while that sounds thoughtful in theory, in practice I disagree. Writers have always been historically, perhaps stubbornly isolationistic; that's endemic of being creative. Writing-by-committee is not something I've ever subscribed to, and I fear that having too many cooks in the kitchen creates even more dilemmas – there's a time to dither and a time to be done with it. However, I received some excellent feedback from my MFA co-poets (Chris Collins, Pamela Johnson Parker, Karissa Sorrell, Chet Weise, and Scott Woodham) and faculty mentors (Brian Barker and Ann Neelon) that proved invaluable to many poems individually, as well as with envisioning the book as a collection. Without all their input it would not be the same, and it may not have been published.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See above comments regarding pop culture. I love movies and music, and don't distinguish between 'high art' and what others may consider lowbrow; part one of Brief Nudity is introduced by a quote from John Prine, who I think is the ideal poster child for such tightrope-walking. My mother dying was also an influence, though ironically enough it resulted in two poems about my father, who died in 1980. The Loma Prieta earthquake prompted four poems; I was in San Francisco at the time, and maintain some vivid memories of that day (October 17, 1989). If you live in the Bay Area for awhile, you become inured to earthquakes, which are common, but this one was magnitude 7.1. Luckily no one I knew was injured, and because I lived in the Mission, which is built on bedrock, the worst that happened in my apartment is some books fell off my shelves; we did lose power, but it was restored relatively quickly. I do recall how everyone was outside, talking excitedly about the quake, venting as a form of auto-therapy; my neighborhood was abnormally dark, but it was oddly soothing, and I felt disappointed when the lights came back on. The windows of a pizza place up the street had shattered so they were making pies with their gas ovens, and passing free slices through the opening before boarding up. These memories instigated the Loma Prieta poems but it was only after reading a New York Times article about some of the victims of the I-880 collapse in Oakland that I was finally able to write them.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I'm originally from Flint, Michigan, and while I was still in high school I started working as a reporter for The Flint Voice, whose co-founder and editor was Michael Moore. Michael was one of the first people who gave me a forum as a writer, and the experience of working there was often chaotic, but enjoyable as well as educational; it also cemented many of the ideas I already had about my hometown. Since I worked for the Voice, I was frequently called “pinko,” “punk rocker” and “fag” by my less enlightened Flint brethren, epithets I wore as badges of iconoclasm. Roger and Me also accurately conveys Flint's very sad and strange, socially-suicidal tendencies. I came of age at a time when the city still had some diminishing vestiges of culture, which I craved, including a downtown with historical relevance and of course its importance as a union town, but it was on the decline with jobs being outsourced and people fleeing in droves. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I had grown up somewhere that was more culturally enriching and artistically endowed; living in Flint was a struggle at a critical time and that continues to influence everything I do.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Brief Nudity is being published by Salmon Poetry, Ltd., Ireland's most prolific poetry publisher, and is distributed in the US by Dufour Editions.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Friday, February 01, 2013

Second Week at Skinner West

Edip Cansever's poem "Table" was this week's Hands on Stanzas residency selection. Read all about the classes here, and check out some of the students from Mrs. Rupp's room in the photo below -- hard at work on their poems!


Friday, January 25, 2013

First Week at Skinner West

You may now read all about my first week as a poet-in-residence at Skinner West through the Poetry Center's blog. (We read and discussed Mark Strand's "Eating Poetry.") I'll be posting regularly throughout the remainder of the school year, so please check in!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Return of (and to) Hands on Stanzas

Working as an adjunct has its pros, the most obvious being that one is free from much of the departmental hoop-jumping that tries the patience of full-timers. But the tip of the con iceberg would be the never-ending running around to secure work from semester to semester, especially since said work can evaporate in an instant if full-time faculty members lose classes due to low enrollment; at that time, courses assigned to adjuncts are up for grabs, and no matter how well-liked a part-time instructor may be, if one of their contracted classes fills a full-timer's vacancy, there's not much that can be done -- aside from getting assigned a possible last-minute replacement, which has its own set of difficulties, such as scrambling to set-up a class bequeathed in the eleventh hour.

I've been fortunate to avoid this particular pitfall so far -- that is, until this semester. I've been teaching on two campuses the last few years. One is in Chicago, and the other a short commute away in Indiana. The longer drive only makes sense economically if I have at least two classes, so when I lost one of my composition sections to a tenured instructor, I had no choice but to surrender the second. I was disappointed, but also oddly relieved, since it meant a break from the 80+ mile roundtrip drive twice weekly for the semester. I'd save on gas, and have more time to devote to my three sections at Northeastern, as well as my other extracurricular activities.

But good karma intervened as I was soon after contacted by the Poetry Center of Chicago to see if I was interested in teaching as a poet-in-residence once again for their resuscitated Hands on Stanzas program. If the call had come any sooner, I would have felt obligated to stick with my prior commitment, and put off the residency option until the fall. Of course, I said yes.

I've written extensively about my Hands on Stanzas experiences in the past. The program is what steered me away from years of working what Philip Levine used to refer to as "stupid jobs" and toward something more attuned to my tastes (not to mention performer proclivities), so I was disappointed when it went on hiatus in 2011 due to financial difficulties. Also, much as I enjoy working in higher education, being able to balance my college classes with teaching poetry in the public schools creates the perfect academic equilibrium.

With 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Solomon Elementary

I'll be starting at Skinner West School shortly, and will be blogging about my ongoing 20 weeks of classroom experience (as well as sharing student writing) through the link at the PC site. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Poem in North Chicago Review

I have new work in the debut issue of North Chicago Review, now available! It is one of a series of persona poems written in the voices of victims of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (an event I witnessed firsthand).

All four poems also appear in my next book, Brief Nudity, out in March from Salmon Poetry Ltd.

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