Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December Poem of the Month by Diego Quiros: Horse Feather


Horse Feather

This is a horse feather,
white, the calm of clouds.
I saw it fall from the sky
a slow dart from antiquity
swirling its habitual pattern.

Its vane gentle across my lips
its sturdy rachis could pen
a poem or two about
the process of kissing or
stammering ecstasies.

I wondered if the mythical animal
would part the evening sky
with its pale steady silence
turn its crimson eyes in my direction
and rapture me on moon-hooves

over the matrix of skyscrapers
wearing nothing but its ribcage
between my legs.
Nothing is impossible.
I once loved like that.

-by Diego Quiros


In Horse Feather, a mythical horse, undoubtedly Pegasus, is conjured into awareness by a musing speaker who imagines seeing one of its feathers (white, the calm of clouds) fall from the sky. The anatomy of the feather is presented with respect to the speaker’s romantic love (could pen a poem or two about the process of kissing or stammering ecstasies). In S3, the speaker delineates the power and majesty and passion of such a mythical creature that could ‘part the evening sky with its pale steady eye’ (and rapture me on moon-hooves). In the final strophe, the speaker imagines riding the horse over skyscrapers with nothing but ‘its ribcage between my legs,” and suggests that such an adventure is within the realm of possibility. In the last line the speaker divulges his hidden sentiments, revealing he once loved in the same fashion.


Horse Feather, by Diego Quiros, is a striking poem about the possibilities and limitless boundaries of love. It is a poem that begs for several readings, as it presents insights in several diverging directions. On the one hand, the poem can be read as a fantasy narrative, where the speaker muses on the passionate image of riding Pegasus over skyscrapers. Another view of the poem reveals a more subtle, perhaps melancholy desire to rise above the limits of human love and experience an altogether unbound (unearthly) love as characterized by riding this mythical creature.

The poem consists of four strophes, each with five lines. The rhythm begins fairly uniform, nearly tetrameter in the first two strophes, then half-way through, defaults to a more drawn out beat, both in sound and length of line. This shift at S3 coincides with a tone shift where the speaker becomes more open, his feelings more vulnerable.

“This is a horse feather, white, the calm of clouds,” opens the poem with a striking visual picture. It is falling from the sky, this tranquil ‘slow dart from antiquity.” Up front, the speaker wants us to know that he is really talking about Pegasus, that winged horse, sired by Poseidon, an emblem of power and grace. The name, Pegasus derives from "spring or well." Whenever the horse strikes a hoof to earth, a beautiful spring bursts forth. The metaphor aptly sets up the reader for S2 which dissects the feather into its component parts and relates them to sensual aspects of love: the vane (soft, wispy) ‘gentle across my lips; and the rachis (the part used in ink pens) ‘sturdy,’ ‘could pen a poem or two about the process of kissing,” etc.

But it is in S3 where we begin to see the inner unction of the speaker with respect to love. As well, the poetics and imagery spring more freely from the idea of the mythical animal as having superhuman abilities, both in power and beauty (part the evening sky with its pale steady silence) and in its natural proclivity to rapture (on moon-hooves across skyscrapers).

In S5 we find the culmination of such an adventure, as the speaker alludes to the naked power (ribcage) churning between his legs, a very striking and erotic metaphor which is effortlessly merged into one image. Finally, and importantly, the speaker exhales and draws back from the vision declaring, ‘nothing is impossible.” If he has loved, and loved well in the bounds of his humanity (I once loved like that), why not in the boundless sky? Why not like Pegasus, riding unbound through the heavens?

The power of this poem lies in its central proposition that love is without limits. What makes it click is that the speaker doesn’t dwell on a litany of past experience. What adds to its cohesiveness and beauty is the speaker’s confidence. The poetic, yet blunt tone. It is sufficient to merely say, “I once loved like that,” and the honesty and forcefulness of such a declaration drives the poem home like a dagger.

Diego Quiros is a poet, artist, and Electrical Engineer living with his family in South Florida. He was born in 1962 in Havana, Cuba, lived in Spain for several years, and traveled to the United States by himself at age ten.

His poetry, has been published in several issues of Ocho, Mipoesias, and Verse Libre Quarterly. Diego also co-hosted the MipoRadio show “Deconstructions”. Diego’s first collection of poems “Alchetry” (click here); a study on the four elements of writing and their relation to the four basic elements; was recently published by Goss 183 (formerly Menendez Publishing) and it is available at Books and Books and Amazon.

He credits all his work to conversations with a Muse he describes as “a woman with long dark green hair, green eyes, and light green skin”. He claims she walks around his home in South Florida and drops subtle whispers here and there while he writes.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Poetry and Language: Ramblings on the Sweetness of Poetry


Poetry and Language: Ramblings on the Sweetness of Poetry

It was Auden who said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” I can only imagine what a sweet love affair it was for one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, a prolific poet who used language to shape about 400 of the greatest published poems in the Western poetry lexicon.

Still, even Auden must have anguished over his words. I’m sure he had his moments gnawing his knuckles over the bitter inconsistencies of grammar and syntax- the inexorable frustration of having only one set of rustic tools: the naked, two-dimensional cryptograms of an alphabet.

But is it accurate to think of language merely as a tool? Can it ever be more than that? Does it provide discrete limitations to our knowing, or can we supersede the perceived barriers of language by using it in special ways? Mysterious ways?

And what can poetry contribute to this equation? Some would argue that we can move into new rubrics of understanding as we move from prose to poetry, as one might move from a photograph to a painting. I’m not at all sympathetic to such a stretch, but I am open to the notion that poetry is distinctively different than prose; not at any one particular facet or quality: but as one takes the whole of prose and sets it along side what we have in poetry, patterns emerge. One of the most salient of all, it occurs to me, is that of the sweetness of language.

For me, poetry gives language a sweet-smelling savor. Like what I get when I slowly breathe in a Chateau Margaux (1961, please) that has had one hour to rise above the rim of a decanter. In poetry, we ask language to do special things. We ask it not only to convey, but to speak. Or better, we ask it to play music. To bounce, or slide, or glide, or stop nearly on a dime, then whisper inaudibly into our memory. Finally, we ask it to remain on the palate, or in the nose. For a lifetime. Great poetry will do this. And often with only 14 lines.

A crude thought experiment, if you will: what is the difference between the following two paragraphs:

Are you sad, Margaret, because Goldengrove’s trees are losing all their leaves? You are young and carefree, but as you age you’re liable to be much sadder than you are today, much more bewildered and perhaps find that life itself is corruptible; you may cry and still not understand that it is all the same: Spring or Fall- either way- it is still your nature to find sorrow, just like the rest of us. Only now, you are sorry for Margaret, alone.


Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

I know, the prose section could have been a bit stronger, but you get the idea. Hopkins loaded his poem, Spring and Fall, with the fiery darts of language. “Goldengrove unleaving,” is a masterpiece of innovation, as is “world of wanwood leafeal lie,” and the whole poem uses language, the cadence, the sound, the smell of leaves, short bursts of energy packed into images that can be seen by the eye, all culminating in a rush of identification whereby the reader at the end finally realizes that they have, all along, been where Margaret has been. May be going where Margaret is going.

Human beings have this amped-up gift of appreciating language in all its complexity and nuance. A single word, or small group of words, if properly placed, can strike a hidden neuron in the farthest reaches of the brain, retrieve a memory, a smell; or a fundamental crisis of being.

Poetry works to tweak these neurons. It uses language and the sound of words, and the intermingling meanings and connotations to create something out of nothing. It takes the black ink outline of letters on a page and turns it into a picture. Key to all of this process is the naiveté of the poet, who, like the tiny bee in a hive of a million bees, can have no idea or appreciation for the delicacy that she is making at its center. Yet she works away with ardor, compelled by instinct, or maybe even the prospect of something sweet tickling an antennae. Either way, the honey is sweet. And the bee continues to work. In most cases, without remuneration and without acclaim. And suddenly, one day, the poet looks up from the page and realizes there is something sweet here. And the honey remains sweet.

-EDN, 12/15/08


Friday, November 21, 2008

November's Poem of the Month, by Aaron Belz



If I’m in such good company, please
explain why I have to keep looking
over my shoulder to see who’s not there:

ghost of the staircase, living
room phantasm—whispered jokes,
unheard and ungotten—or maybe not.

I call them the comedians of chance,
and I have discovered that they’re
completely cornball. Canned.

They’ve written routines
in sharpie on their luminous
hands and keep looking down

to see what comes next. My father
used to laud people who know
“what goes where,” but I swear,

I don’t anymore—it’s all up in the air,
half-visible pins twirling end over
end, and I, their ghastly juggler.

Whispered Jokes gets your attention in the title and alerts the reader to look for what might be forthcoming: perhaps jokes whispered to self, some kind of cryptic messaging. The opening strophe gives what could pass for a joke: “If I’m in such good company, please/ explain why I have to keep looking/ over my shoulder to see who’s not there.” And who’s ‘not there’ is, namely, a “ghost”, or a “phantasm.” In short, “whispered ghosts,” perhaps unheard or whose punch lines are “ungotten.” The speaker calls the joke-tellers “comedians of chance,” and tells us that they’re “completely cornball.” Further attention is given to how and where they’re written, such as “in sharpie,” and “on their luminous hands.” The processes involved are alluded to as “routines.” There is a tone and content shift in S5 where the speaker speaks of his father who “used to laud people who know ‘what goes where,’” and uses the construct to insert an unsettling sense of ambivalence in personal experience: "I swear,/ I don’t anymore-it’s all up in the air.” The poem ends in a characterization of the problem and consequences of not knowing or understanding something key and fundamental in the evocative image of pins which are “half-visible,” and “twirling end over end,” with the speaker as the “ghastly juggler.

This poem, with its seemingly off-handed and light tone, has much to offer in speaking to the fundamental nature of how we learn, how we know, and how we accommodate to things we feel we can’t understand. The poem’s rolls out freely with easy words and syntax. Nothing complex here. And yet, there is a kind of deceptive foil here for an underlying deeper consideration of identity and self-appraisal. Additionally, the formal presentation, though not rhymed (except for 'swear/air' near the end) is nonetheless nicely put together in neat, free-flowing tercets, further directing the reader into the poetics of the speaker.

Some key questions are raised at the beginning of this poem. What is the nature of these “whispered jokes,” who are the people that are saying them… and to whom are they being said? As well, the poem seems to be addressing the issue of how we process what we’ve learned, what we make of past failures, for example. And how do we make order out of what often appears to be a disordered, random world.

We can see by the speaker’s opening interrogative, that there’s some degree of equivocation in his voice. This is not a prescriptive essay or a document on how to solve the world’s problems. It is the speaker sort of talking out loud, remembering his own ghosts and phantasms walking around his house (perhaps as a child), jokes uttered and not heard, or not understood. But the jokes aren't one-liners. These are innuendos, rationale, ways of thinking to ward off other ways of thinking.

The dissonance increases in S3 where the speaker, who has his own expression for these jokesters, “comedians of chance,” makes a decided tone-shift away from self-examination and toward mild invective. Here we find that the speaker has a distaste for the joke-tellers who tell 'corny' jokes; but worse, actually write them down (in indelible ink) and then refer to them as needed. This is perhaps the moment at which the poem turns from inward to outward commentary. The speaker seems to be making an ethical statement regarding meaning. Is it enough to rely on past performance, old jokes or riddles which cannot suffice, in unwrapping the serious issues of life? Indeed, they often return (as ghosts) to haunt, rather than providing any sort of apologetic for living. The speaker references his own father, and relates his (the speaker's) obvious disdain for that kind of philosophy which is blithely self-confident (“people who know what goes where.)” It leaves one wondering what the subtext is here. As with many poets, a father (or mother) theme will pop in and out of poems freely, and the poem gives room and desire to hear more on this subject. Still, it amps up the immediacy of feeling. There is a bewilderment in the voice here, that it should be so easy for these kind of people to be cavalier in their movement through life, that they would have nothing better to do than rehearse old jokes.

This is a direct poem. It tweaks the reader to ask their own questions and assumptions about what makes them sure. Not that we should be fettered with doubt. But the poem speaks to a kind of unguarded optimism that doesn’t examine deeply into meaning. And what is left? “Half-visible pins twirling end over end, and I, their ghastly juggler.” Here we find the result of such thinking: enervating, dangerous, a vacuous pursuit.


Aaron Belz writes poetry in Los Angeles. He has a Ph.D. in American Literature from Saint Louis University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from NYU. His first book of poetry,The Bird Hoverer, was published by Buffalo: BlazeVOX Books, in 2007. Aaron’s second book of poems, Direction, is forthcoming from Persea. Some of his poems, essays, biographical history and much more- may be found at these websites (just click):
belz blog
belz poetry on wordpress


Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Drive for Recognition in the Internet Age


The Drive for Recognition in the Internet Age

It’s not a Sunday morning drive, looking at fields and falling leaves. It’s more of a speedway demolition derby; and, at the end of the day, everyone surveys the landscape looking for the victorious and panning the vanquished. It’s more a primal battle for superiority where what’s at stake is self-esteem and legitimacy, a raison d'être for your ambivalent soul. It pervades every profession and avocation. Politician, artisan, student and writer. The prize, nothing short of eternity. A place in the history books. A seat on the throne.

Well, if you haven’t felt that way about it, you’re still invited to read on. I’d like to focus this short essay on what I perceive to be a universal need for recognition, especailly exemplified in writing. After all, that’s what most of us do when we post to the Internet. Whether it’s the story of your day, or your latest magnum opus (“this is one of my better works, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one!”) The Internet has come along to fan the flames of eternal recognition. The ante’s up, and the profit (in ‘recognition’ terms) can be so much greater. The blog hits so much higher. The reach so much wider. Here’s a chance, with a little networking and a lot of staying power, to get your word out. Here’s an opportunity, in the quiet of your study, to infiltrate millions of minds with what only you can say. And say it best. Don’t mind the dilution factor. We’ve always been up against numbers. Still, the loudest voice will be heard. The most strident call, the most urgent cautionary tale and doomsday prediction mandating the greatest attention. So get to work. You’ve got a few good years left, and there’s nothing better than instant gratification.

Or not. Do you buy into these premises? Probably not, but millions do ( I can't really say that with certitude, knowing that this little essay will reach only hundreds, mew hah hah). Freud, not one of my favorite founding fathers of psychology, did however say something, somewhere, that’s always stuck in my craw. He said, “Maturity is the ability to defer self-gratification.” If this is true, which I think it might be, then, on the Internet, we have a hundred million immature internet avatars looking for new and improved ways of fulfilling their lust for self-recognition. Is this putting it too harshly? I think not, having experienced, like you, the thirty-second delay (on a good day) it takes to receive feedback on a poem or a piece of writing, courtesy of my community website or social networking group. And I’ve been on the self-deluding train to Recognition City many, many times. That nonstop transcontinental line that stops for nobody, and all the paying customers are served fine meals, and sit around watching the beautiful landscape pass by while they discuss mutual successes.

But what is recognition and how does the internet influence and affect it? First of all, the desire to be recognized for what we consider ourselves to possess, be it the ability to write, the sensitivity to be compassionate, the natural gifts of athletics… whatever it may be- is, of course, a very legitimate pursuit. Indeed, it's hard to imagine writing without the potential to be recognized in the back of your mind. What you write may be qualitative. Or it may be quantitative. It may be helpful. It may only be artful. It may be base, or it may be aesthetic. Still, we view it as something of a 'special' entity, something we’d like to share (that word!); and, yes, something for which we wouldn’t mind being recognized. For even the most altruistic, self-effacing and zen of writers, the desire to be read cannot be shrugged away (there may be a few existentialists left out there who can write in a vacuum and feel self-fulfilled, but these cannot be quantified, as they remain in dark places with no internet connectivity).

New and expanding opportunities of reaching people through the internet, coupled in negative fashion with an increasingly competitive and exclusive marketplace for print publications, has led writers to saturate the world wide web with their wares. Self-publications, blogs, ezines and other personalized vehicles for getting the word out have exploded onto the scene. And what is the net effect? What might this look like in the year 2080? Or, if you have trouble with that short a prognostication, how about in the year 4080? How will the participants in this Internet Age be judged many years from now? Will there be reference manuals for the great writers of the internet age (GWIA), or a data base for the most read poets on the world wide web from 2000-2080 (MRP-WWW)?

I think not. And the reason will be (you can quote me on this), that all the great writers were too busy writing, and thus unable (and unwilling) to spend the hours necessary to get the proper recognition they might have (or might not have) earned on the Internet. All the great writers continued to read and think and work on their craft, while all of us networking sluts continued to get our names and work out there on WWW, filling in the unfillable Intenet trash heap with more and more garbage. Perhaps the one great legacy will be monumental hard drive capacity records, groups of ‘authors’ who have collectively pounded out the greatest mound of spent hard discs in the annals of human history. Google, to the google power, of text, neatly filed away in the New Writers of the Internet Age (NWIA), housed in a special annex to the Library of Congress. However, you won’t be able to visit the stacks. But you can just log on and search NWIA. You might even find me there!
EDN 11/1/08

Thursday, October 9, 2008

October Poem of the Month: Resurrection, by Amy George


Resurrection, by Amy George

I don’t remember
when you grew wings…
when they flared out
from your back
above the stab wounds
now only scars.
I just remember your eyes,
how they glowed with
Easter morning,
lightning striking
the same place twice,
though years had fallen
in between.
There was beauty
and trembling
past the bruises,
cynical voices
shattered by an empty tomb.
I remembered the basement,
his hands on your small body.
And I wept to see you
lift up the little girl
you held inside,
her tears now only a memory.

Not even the world,
with all its gravity,
could hold you.

Comments, by Edward Nudelman
This taut little narrative poem by Amy George, with its interesting second person point of view, is strongly personal and experiential; so much so, it nearly defaults into first person. That is to say, while the reader can identify with the ‘you’ in the poem as being a very close family member (or a close friend) of the speaker, the frame of reference can easily devolve into the "I/me", where the voice is seen as referring to self. As such, the poem lends itself to heightened immediacy and a certain tension that would not have otherwise materialized in the first person. Second person POV is difficult to pull off. Often the poem sounds didactic or even maudlin. This is not the case with Resurrection.

This is a poem that speaks to how we heal; how scars are removed. There is a transcendency in tone that is not specifically identified. Details are not given, or belabored, thus heightening the reader’s notion of what’s going on. It makes you want to rush on to the ending (a good thing!) We understand in the very first verses that wings ‘flared out’ where there were once stab wounds, a very elegant and visual framing, setting the tone of the poem which is reserved and restrained. As if to say, these things happened, and this is the way they affected you. And that’s that.

So what is happening in the poem? The allusions to sexual abuse ocurr near the end of the poem, “his hands on your small body,” and ties in the earlier reference of stab wounds. “There was beauty and trembling past the bruises,” adds focus to the central theme of the poem, which is overcoming calamity, moving through un-navigable waters. But not just surviving. Coming through with grace, beauty.

There is, alongside this profile of coping, a second theme of resurrection, made central by the title, and also bolstered in the placement of the event on Easter, or at least describing it in the context of Easter ('I just remember your eyes,how they glowed with Easter morning'). The poem heightens and perhaps shifts in tone in, “Lightning striking the same place twice, though years had fallen in between,” an interesting juxtaposition of the terror of the event, and perhaps the path to liberation as seen through the resurrection: of moving from death to life. Further, there is this reference to a tomb, another Christian metaphor, but not necessarily restricted to that meaning. Hence, we can see how the speaker sees her subject moving beyond the tomb, a darkness and repository for death, as the little girl that was “held inside,” somehow finds a way past her tears. This is finally brought home in a powerful way in the closing strophe:

Not even the world,
with all its gravity,
could hold you

Not scars, but wings. Not death, but resurrection. Not trapped in the world, but freedom for flight. What I like about the poem is its closeness. I couldn’t help reading it as a biographical catharsis. Or better, a biographical record. The speaker seems to be telling us that there is a path beyond the dead-end scars of sexual abuse. For her, that crystallization commands the strength and power of the poem. It is a poem for those who struggle. A poem that identifies extreme exposure and need, and offers hope.

Brief bio, in Amy’s own words:
Amy L. George holds an MFA in Creative Writing from National University. Her poetry has been published in various journals including Poesia, The Orange Room Review, The GNU and Word Catalyst Magazine and is forthcoming in Pennsylvania English. She is the general editor of Bird's Eye reView and also on the editorial staff for The GNU, the student literary journal of National University. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two psychotic cats.



Monday, September 22, 2008

Poem of the Month, by Didi Menendez


The poem of the month for Thirteen Blackbirds is entitled, His Left Eye, a visually evocative poem by Didi Menendez, poet, publisher, and painter.

His Left Eye

He keeps his wife
tucked inside his left eye.
I see her wearing red.

Birds fall on his lap
and he places them inside a box.
He shuts and locks them one by one.
Their fluttering wings are never silent.
They are chirps of locusts in a hot
August evening silenced only by a poem.

He keeps his wife
safe tucked inside his left eye
and not the right.

His wife cares enough about her hair
to part it with a comb.
Her eyes are brown.
She wears green most of the time.
Sometimes she wears plaid.

He says his mother wore peonies scarves.
So did mine. They may have met once at
Sears and Roebuck looking through the
same yards of material on sale
searching for another scarf, another
flower pattern for a blouse.
Stopped at the hosiery department
and fingered the lingerie before
taking my sister and me by the hand
back to her sewing machine
and the little house we rented
on Wilshire Boulevard.

My mother wore her hair long,
light brown wavy long.
When she’d bend down to give me a kiss,
I’d see my father reflected in her right eye.
I’d draw his profile with my school pencils.

I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye.
I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.

His silence neither denies
nor accepts her there.
His eyes are blue.
I painted them green
and the reflection
is a white box full of feathers.

His Left Eye, a poem by Didi Menendez, is a visually inward look into experience that extrapolates in many directions, but finds its most expressive definition in a moving frame of contemplation, as if the poet were describing extemporaneously her painting into life. In her own words:

“This poem was inspired by a painting I did of Bob Hicok. When you are painting a portrait you get really close to everything on the landscape of the face. In the reflection of his left eye I saw something reflected in red. I imagined it was someone he loved and possibly where he kept love.”

-from American Poet Portraits, by Didi Menendez

A fascinating quality of this poem lies in its fluidity, a shifting perspective which begins with a detailed description of an unnamed man who “keeps his wife tucked inside his left eye,” and moves into aspects of the individual’s wife and then mother. The poem seamlessly transitions into the speaker’s own impressions with a striking image, “He says his mother wore peonies scarves. So did mine,” along with the unlikely notion that their mothers may have met at Sears Roebuck. This all to drive home the abstraction of what lies in the left eye (as opposed to the right?), and the speaker’s ensuing commentary on her own experience, involving both her own mother and father. The poem culminates with the declaration, “I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye,” pulling the reader back into the framework of the speaker’s identification. What she paints is what she sees in the left eye, how it reflects, what it means.

This is a poem that reads well. You can read it out loud and just enjoy the flow and the tempo changes. The tone is upbeat. Though touching on significant personal reflections connoting regret, or at least a sense of loss, the poem doesn’t give a hint of sentimentality or self-absorption. The effectiveness of the poem is in its detached view. What does the artist see in the eye? She sees his wife, wearing red. She sees a box where he places birds that have fallen in his lap. This conveys sensitivity and affection, but also gives room to wonder. Why are the birds trapped in his eye? “He shuts and locks them one by one.” It’s as if the speaker is reading into her own perception; and, in fact, the unfolding of the poem bears this out, as we are directed away from the individual being painted and into the private thoughts of the painter.

The anaphora in the poem, “He keeps his wife safely tucked inside his left eye,” not only reinforces the notion of security, but also provides a convenient transition as the speaker draws a focus inside the eye. We see his wife who “cares enough about her hair to cut it with a comb.” And more, her eyes are brown, she wears green. This is a painter speaking through her poem, finding a commonality and impact in shared memory (their mothers wore peony scarves), walking through Sears and Roebuck together, stopping at the hosiery department, taking her and her sister back to their house on Wilshire Blvd.

These wonderful, surrealistic and meandering images are falling out of Bob Hicok’s eyes. The reader is pulled into the matrix, without questioning association or needing to have the dots connected. It all works so well within the central metaphor of the poem, which allows us to see anything that the painter paints or wishes to convey in her painting (how like writing poetry).

My Left Eye is a poem about a painter, processing her right brain in a non-linear fashion. Here are impressions, weaving thoughts, interconnected links from childhood. Is it a poem about a woman’s need for masculine love? One could make that argument if too much credence were given to the following couplet, placed delicately before the closing section:

I never saw myself reflected in any man’s eye.
I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.

There’s been an exploding revelation made here, but then the speaker reverts almost simultaneously back to the painting. “I confirm that I saw his wife in his left eye wearing red.” Are we being given the shake? Why does the speaker reinforce and reaffirm that she saw his wife in his left eye (wearing red) at the end of the poem, and further inform us that she painted the eyes green, even though they were blue? And the reflection was a white box full of feathers? Perhaps simply because that's the way she saw it. For the painter, as perhaps for the poet, seeing is one thing; understanding, quite another prospect, and putting the two together, the whole of art.


When asked to provide a short bio, Didi provided:

Bio: Didi Menendez is a Cuban-blooded American artist and poet. The best place to find her is on google.com.

So I googled Didi and here's a sneak preview:

Didi Menendez (b1960) is a Cuban-blooded American artist and author. She is the founding editor and publisher of MiPOesias, Oranges & Sardines, OCHO and several full-length books by Grace Cavalieri, Diego Quiros, Ron Androla, Emma Trelles, John Korn and others. You may find her at Facebook, Myspace, Goodreads, and other places on the Wide Wild World of the Internet. Her latest book of poems "When I Said Goodbye" was published in March 2008 by Geoffrey Gatza of BLAZEVOX.

EDN, 09/22/08

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Three Poems in Denver Syntax

I've got three poems in Denver Syntax, a pretty hot literary journal.

Click here and then click on poems: Syntax

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Heat in Poetry, An Essay


What is a poem? What makes a poem a good poem? Mark Flanagan, a contemporary poet and savvy free-lance writer, provides an excellent and concise definition: “Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define.” I like this because it makes two points that I have long held to be true of poetry. First, it defies formal description. A poem may have rhyme, and it may not. A poem cannot be simply defined by a set of parameters relating to its form. Thus, it becomes difficult to qualitatively assign value to different kinds of poems. The second point is even more important. Flanagan is careful to stress that poetry has a primary intent that reaches into the emotional perceptions of our consciousness. Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” This takes into consideration both the fundamental building blocks of poems (words) as well as the “fuel” (emotions) that one might say ignites and allows those words to burn. In writing a poem, we seek to find in the language a kind of expression that is filled with energy. We don’t look to language as a tool, necessarily, but rather work to uncover the beauty, awe, wit, paradox, understanding, beauty… (the list goes on), that already resides in the form and structure of our language.

I like to think of poetry as a collection of words, each with their own potential energy. We seek to group the words in such a way that will increase that energy, like rolling a huge ball up a hill. The higher it goes, the farther it will roll down. Poetry finds a language that is hidden in the vernacular of our imagination. It will have a certain sound (especially when read by the author, with the author’s full intent) that will sound like poetry. As prosaic as this appears, it becomes clearer if one listens to enough poetry recited out loud (podcasts of poets can be widely found on the web, not only by contemporary poets, but also past recordings of great 20th century poets like Auden, Frost, Plath, Bishop, and Dylan Thomas, to name just a few). It is in the hearing of poems read aloud that I have come to appreciate in a special way this dynamic force of building energy in great poetry.

In this connection, Robert Bly, one of our leading contemporary poets (as well as an acclaimed translator, essayist and editor), has much to say concerning what he calls the “heat” often found in great poetry. In his introduction to David Lehman’s, The Best American Poetry, 1999, Bly explains how easy it is to realize when you’re reading a truly wonderful poem full of heat. “We can tell when a poem has arrived by a certain feeling in the gut, as if a dismaying thought had slipped past our defenses. We feel that something has been taken seriously enough that it has hurt the poet.” A poem which he cites as one example, and one that I agree is packed with potential energy that gets unleashed at the end, is a little masterpiece by Ruth Stone entitled, “A Moment,”

Across the highway a heron stands
in the flooded field. It stands
as if lost in thought, on one leg, careless,
as if the field belongs to herons.
The air is clear and quiet.
Snowmelt on this second fair day.
Mother and daughter,
we sit in the parking lot
with doughnuts and coffee.
We are silent.
For a moment the wall between us
opens to the universe,
then closes.
And you go on saying
you do not want to repeat my life.

Notice the tremendous and almost simultaneous convergence at the end of the poem of both cognitive recognition and emotional energy. At once you understand that the gulf of separation between the mother and the daughter is paramount, and your emotional pump, if you will, has been well primed in the intense sensations of beauty and simplicity that are found in the scene described before the last leveling couplet. Before you even understand all there is to understand here, you get a jolt, one that gets locked into your brain and your emotions. A jolt you likely won’t forget for some time. That’s a great poem. Further, and importantly, one is not struck here with the details of form, line breaks, rhyme schemes (even though there are none). One doesn’t have time to consider if the poem resembled prose or had a classical “poetry skin.” And this is not say that rhyming or metered poetry cannot have just as much heat. Let’s be clear on this point! What makes this poem wonderful is what it has to say and how it was said. You feel it.

But don’t always go looking for a bolt of lightening or a knock over the head that dumps you off your chair. Heat can affect different people in different ways. It can be subtle. It can be funny. Take Billy Collins, one of America’s most acclaimed living poet’s (and poet laureate) who is known for his profound levity and an uncanny perception of the foibles of everyday life. One example of heat in Collins’ poetry from a lighter side, is seen his poem, “Consolation,” in which he goes to great pains to describe how relieved he is to NOT be taking a holiday in Italy, but left to meander around his own neighborhood. The poem begins,

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

The heat is building up here, but not nearly boiling yet. Collins is laying the groundwork for a powerful, if not lighthearted ending, that sticks in the brain and evokes a response. He uses four more brilliant stanzas to fully hammer home the personal benefits found domestically, as contrasted with the headaches of an overseas junket where he might be found, for example, “slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice.” Finally, the poem ends in a magnificent explosion of heat:

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

I don’t know about you, but I’m nodding my head, grinning and thinking of all the times I’ve felt exactly this way, thanking my lucky stars that my car is taking me home for a hot shower and not to the mall (or anywhere else on the planet).

Elizabeth Bishop’s monumental poem, “In the Waiting-room, takes place in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. What appears to be an orphaned child is leafing through a copy of National Geographic and finding all those graphic pictures of natives in the bush, etc. (who can’t identify with that?) as her “foolish aunt” is being worked on in the next room. The poem is a complex commentary on the discovery of self and early delineations of language and discovery. Remarkably, the act of waiting is nimbly converted into a rite-of-passage experience as well as a startling discovery of her identity. The poem packs this kind of heat like a six shooter:

Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.

What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I – we - were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I cannot end this short essay on what makes a poem a good poem, without giving you one of my own favorite poems that illustrates this idea of generating heat. It's Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” which, in my estimation, starts off hot and continues to build steam all the way through.

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man,
You, with your fresh thoughts
Care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name
Sorrow's springs are the same:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

That is potential energy mounting in each word, collecting heat with each new line- the heat of a grieving Margaret who mourns for the leaves falling off the trees in her beloved town of Goldengrove- heat building as she is warned that as she grows older, much more “sights colder” will befall… that she “will yet weep and know why.” All this amidst a beautifully strung series of white-hot words that draw you in to the final climax- reaching its atomic detonation in last fateful line, “It is Margaret you mourn for.” This is the kind of heat that I aim for in writing poetry, and only rarely achieve. I believe it is a hallmark of great poetry and a quality that we would all do well in trying to achieve, if only to catch a little of that kind of warmth in our words.

-EDN 08/08


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month for August: Rae Pater


I'm proud to present Thirteen Blackbird's Poem of the Month for August, a compact and highly charged poem by Rae Pater. Rae’s poetry is superb. She has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes , one of the highest awards for poems published in small press poetry journals. Following the poem I give a short explication; and don’t forget to read Rae's bio at the end which includes a link to her poetry.

Song of War

The final wedge is driven
up beneath my breastbone
by my father, from whom I never
thought to look for it.

I seek the red tiger now,
as he bounds through snow -
my arrow, my sword.

Like an ember he burns
my path forward from here
in the wake of the rising sun,
through the cycles of the moon.

I choose not the way of the warrior,
it chooses me.
I make my most perfect bow
and sing to my ancestors
for a good day to die.

Rae Pater’s poem, Song of War, in four tight and varied strophes, expresses in a confident, if not complex voice, the internal struggle to account for the speaker’s deep wounds from a father who has ‘driven up beneath my breastbone,’ a most evocative opening metaphor that arrests the reader up front. The poem is about the speaker’s reaction to this fundamental wound, about a response to an event or a series of events that, ‘like an ember,’ burns her path forward.

The opening strophe is wonderfully geared for sound. You can breathe it out in one short breath, and the three ‘b’s’ in ‘beneath’, ‘breastbone’ and ‘by’ help ease the sudden presentation of the central and most striking metaphor in the poem. The speaker alludes to a wedge which is driven, a forceful act, with intention. Further, it is driven up (the adverbial expression giving even more force) into her breastbone. Here is where we understand, early in the poem, that the injury incurred was great (the breastbone connoting a covering or protection over the heart). It was a good choice not to expand here; we are not given specifics, and thus not tempted to take sides or over-empathize. The tone appears to be softer than what one would imagine with a sexual violation, especially with the qualifier, “from whom I never thought to look for it.” Perhaps this is a divorce, or an unexplained leaving, or a serious falling out. In any event, the tone is set for the central portion of the poem which directs the reader to the speaker’s response.

In the second and third strophe, we’re introduced to the red tiger, a reference to the speaker’s way out of her struggles. Here we see a tone change, and the poem conforms to the central theme (and title) presenting an individual who is not willing to let her wounds accumulate, but rather must take the offensive. She seeks the red tiger, to use its cunning and strength as a means of overcoming ('my arrow, my sword'). And not to mutilate her father, but to cut away the darkness and the personal obstacles in the path of recovery (‘Like an ember he burns/my path forward from here/in the wake of the rising sun,/through the cycles of the moon). The speaker is drawing on some strength that lies outside of herself and marshalling its prowess to attack the demons in her own psyche. The struggle, thus, is focused inward, and keeps the integrity of the poem intact (versus refocusing on the father).

The final strophe adds a twist, and the poem turns, perhaps, on the building realization that the speaker's power to cope does not fully originate from within, but tied to other forces, namely, the innate teaching of ancestral origin. Here we might imagine a mother of native origin, and the speaker finally acknowledging her struggle to cope is inextricably aligned and connected through blood lines.

What’s striking about this poem is that there is so much opportunity for identification, with so little detail given. That’s where the poem shines. It’s not about the injuries, per se, but the struggle to find a battle ground, to find a 'warrior' that will take up the battle; or at least, to acknowledge and understand where that strength comes from.

From Rae:

Rae Pater has been published online and in print. She has three grown children and a cat named Gus. She spends far too much time in front of a computer, and her bio needs some serious work.

Rae edited Verse Libre Quarterly for a year or so, placed first in the NPAC online poetry competition in January 2004, got honourable mention in the IBPC August 2006, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Verse Libra Quarterly in 2003, by Erosha in 2004, and by Sun Rising Press in 2005. Rae has just completed the final year of a B.A in English literature and is currently training as an adult literacy tutor.

My blog link:


Thursday, August 28, 2008



Just to let you know, I'm alive and well... just doing a lot of traveling, writing and not really on the web this past month. Check out what's new below:

* I'm 94 and 44/100ths percent finished with my manuscript for my first book of poems which has about 125 poems on 70 pages. I'm going to start mailing to publishers this next week.

* My poem, "Room 230" was just accepted into fourW, a very cool Australian print poetry journal. I can't reproduce it here, but here's a small excerpt:

She recalled the regimen of pills, dim
amber lights and young-buck counselors
waxing omnipotent on their swiveling stools
to the weeping and gnashing of inmates.
Even remembered the frogs in her toilet,
Jewish men coming to take her valuables,
iron crosses, tattoos, dark black nights,
dark black thoughts and dark black days.

* I'm working on the monthly installment, "Poem of the Month," and should have it for you by weeks end.

* Please tell your friends about Thirteen Blackbirds. Send them the link: http://www.edwardnudelman.blogspot.com The blog is gaining momentum and I'd love to expand the readership even more

* Please don't forget, you can comment anonymously (or directly with a blogspot membership)

* Send me your ideas for what you'd like to see more of here:


Monday, July 21, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month: Pris Cambpell


I'm very happy to present a brilliant poem to you by Pris Campbell, an accomplished poet with a long list of published poems. Her poem, "Undertow," is a great example of controlled use of energy in the form of sadness and identification, which the reader takes in and tries to accomodate all through the poem. It leaves you with an easy feeling. It delivers!


I expected my father's death
to draw the sea to my feet,
the water threatening to bear me
away with it--not mother's.
Our voices were constant coils
of disagreement; my hair was too long.
I was too thin. My clothes were too tight.
My mish-mash of dishes would never do
if the relatives came down for Christmas.
I lived 'in sin' with a man, traveled with him,
tossed away my bra to her mortification.
After my knees buckled
and this illness pinned me to my bed of thorns,
the core of metal between us softened,
became a pillow to rest our heads upon, but
she slipped quietly into that undertow
and I was left alone on the beach, a girl again,


This powerful and compact poem builds on
layers of dysphoria which the narrator recalls
from early maternal influences up to the present.
Interestingly, the poem opens with a reference to
the speaker's father, whose death was anticipated
to take a much larger toll (at least when compared to
grief experienced through her mother). We find a
metaphor of the sea, which in this case, 'threatens
to bear me away with it." A sense of instability and
loosened underpinnings, early on, is evinced, that
appears to be superseded by her mother's constant
jabbing and attacks on self esteem ("my hair was
too long, I was too thin, my clothes were too tight").
But we're not looking at generation gap here, or the
dystopic imaginations of an adult making hyperbole
of what otherwise might be considered adolescent
bewilderment. What really hurts, and where the
poem turns on both tone and importance, is here:
"After my knees buckled and this illness pinned me
to my bed of thorns, the core of metal between us
softened:" a serious physical problem, as well as
obvious deep emotional injury (the two are
all too often inextricably related). Interestingly,
this malady somehow brought an apparent softening
in the Mother-daughter relationship, that was
tragically, short-lived. Thus, the force in the poem
is set up and springs as the narrator returns to the
sea metaphor and its ever-present pull, expressed
as 'that undertow." The language here puts the
effects in the dynamic range. This is not something
that just happened, but a process over many, many
years. And it hearkens back to earliest memories,
with her father, and now operating to pull her mother
back under. It's not hard to imagine, though never
stated, the tacit idea that the daughter has to deal
with these same negative forces. The striking
reversion, in the closing line, to a childhood day
at the beach conjures up images of a real drowning
and hammers home the heat of the poem in blazing,
enervating sadness. This poem brings one startingly
close to the edge of shared experience and allows
for just the proper amount of detachment (in tone)
to enter into the narrator's strife, but not be overcome
by its negative pull.


Pris Campbell, A Brief Bio

Among other journals and anthologies, Pris Campbell's poetry has appeared in Poems Niederngasse, Boxcar Poetry Review, MiPo (digital/print/radio/OCHO), Thunder Sandwich, The Dead Mule, Empowerment4Women, In The Fray, The Cliffs: Soundings, and The Wild Goose Review. She's been featured poet in a number of journals and appeared on PoetryVlog, a site for video poems run by George Wallace. She has two chapbooks: Abrasions and Interchangeable Goddesses (Rank Stranger Press and Rose of Sharon/3 Virgins Imprint). A third chapbook, Hesitant Commitments, will be part of Lummox Press' Little Red Book series. A former Clinical Psychologist, she's now sidelined by CFIDS. She lives in the greater West Palm Beach, FL , with her husband. More of her poetry can be found at her website poeticinspire and her MySpace blog


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month, by John F. Walter


Freezing In Phantasmal Light, by John F. Walter

Throw away mousepads, wolfman gone to snow! Blood moon glows
with a crispness not envisioned in virtual risings ever displayed.
Nocturnal light was shunned a century ago, yet the lunatic mood
persists in you. Resist that urge back onto neverland's screens.

When did you last to real window steal? Once upon a frozen fall?
Dim subjects swoop into the room: the mind maps a wife, a child--
their own ghost-boards held in hand, happiness' geiger counters.
La luna llena, te espera.... but a report zooms into upper left corner:

news coming in from an iceberg sighting--LIVE ICEBERG CAM--
as a frigid voice like a slur swings by, no longer language.
She's turned on an ambient strobe, the baby wails on the patio;
time to nosh a midnight nano snack cast rudely on the keys.

No "Tranquility Sea" frees your gaze from this fractal flicker. Choose.
Shall love return, the iceman thaw, or baby take chill in our winter?

This visual poem, with its sweeping horizontal lines, expressive tone and chilling admonitory language, serves up an icy warning to the present age of video voodoo, internet idolatry and the ever-pressing urge toward Virtual. Walter presents, in sonnet form, a one-act play where you are the central figure and the setting is under a blood red moon that glows ‘with a crispness not envisioned in virtual risings ever displayed.’ Up close and personal, the narrator cautions the reader to resist the lunatic mood that wants to replace real light in favor of a transmitted image, on ‘neverland’s screens.’ The poem begins to turn on the question posed in S2, “When did you last to real window steal?” and rhetorically answered, “Once upon a frozen fall?” The icy metaphor is adroitly carried throughout the poem (iceberg sighting, iceberg cam, frigid voice, iceman thaw). We are led into a mini-vision where ‘dim subjects swoop into a room,’ and we imagine a wife, a child, with their happiness toys (ghost-boards, Geiger counters), simulating a world in miniature, focusing and displacing attention away from the present and into a phantom zone of flickering larval images and thoughts... into phantasmal light. And yet, there is still a moon that awaits you, written in Spanish, to reinforce the symbol of pristine beauty. Is the moon, an essential icon of reality in the poem, real; and better, is it lovely? The vision is interrupted with news coming from a remote camera on an iceberg; a ‘frigid voice’ communicates something ‘no longer language.’ Here is the full immersion we’ve been waiting for, the slip past surreal into the non-real, with time pixilated by an ambient strobe… inopportunely and rudely interrupted by a glimpse of reality: the baby cries, get a snack, keep it moving. Inevitably, the poem ties its own knot, as do we. There is no exit from this virtual panacea, no beautiful moon photo of a real sea on a real moon. Not in the simulacra we forge. Interestingly, Walter slips in the nudge, ‘CHOOSE’, as a stand-alone entreaty, dangling, as it were, at the very end of the penultimate line. The message is clear: it’s not too late. But change demands decision. Personally, and outwardly, to a culture ramrodding through a virtual hole in the cosmos. In the stunning couplet to end, there is a fascinating tone shift in the question, “Shall love return?” It turns out what the poet is speaking about refers as much to real love and adulation for real things, as it does in perception or consciousness. A brave new notion for a modern world distracted by the ‘fractal flickers’ of the virtual world.

Here is a quintessential ‘pre-Simulationist’ poem that addresses key notions that engage artists and writers today. Even if we think we live in a Platonic Cave, or feel left for dead by Descartes and his little demon, our common sense experience of the natural world still tells us that this amazing cosmos we take in through the senses and map our way through is infinitely superior to any 'copy' or perfectly realized simulacra we can fabricate, invent or google our way towards. While our imagination has genuine intention (it is always about real people and real things in the world), and even when we choose to mediate with symbol, word, icon, or even a 3D virtually rendering between our consciousnesses and that cosmic awareness, we never match or even awkwardly approach the Real. On the other hand, the poem seems to indicate, we more easily fall into serious dysfunctional delusion. A clever semblance, perhaps, but still virtual and fabricated. Do we want an Absolute Fake of a moon that we can grasp with phantom tentacles, or a real moon that we can contemplate in the sky, land upon, and dream our way toward the stars from? Can we hold the moon and its double in our gaze at the same time, and if so, do we remember to love all the ones under the sublunar reflection it returns? And does the apprehension of real things affect our art, our understanding, and our appreciation for the world around us? -EDN

Brief Bio
John Walter is a U.S. citizen writing in beautiful Granada, Spain, where he splits his time with his theatre productions in LA and wandering the subterranean mazes below Granada finding fodder for his novel on Al Qaeda and Sufi mysticism (ANNIHILATION). He is an accomplished poet working on his first book of poems, a noted playwright with plays produced off-Broadway, SOHO, SF and often in LA. Walter co-founded the ‘pre-Simulationist Movement,’ (along with the author of this article and several other artists/writers), an artist’s movement that is finding new ways to surpass the exhausted postmodern epoch and its errant constructions of language and thought.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month for May


Flying, by Susan Budig
Tu ne seras pas oublié.

You were not ready when you flew from earth,
snatched, like a bird in a storm.

Now I sit at your desk writing the last words in your journal.
I pour out your shampoo, sudsing my hair twice a day
until there is nothing left.
I paint my nails mismatched colors while emptying your chic bottles
of Le Rouge Foncé and Rose Scintillant.

Birds feast on your half-eaten bag of Cheetos that I shake,
salting the wind.
I burn your cinnamon candle down to a nub,
leave on your night-light until the bulb burns out,
open to your bookmark, finishing Baudelaire’s final verses.

Then I lay my head on your pillow,
inhaling your lilac memory,
pull up the yellow cotton sheet,
and dream your last dream.

My aching heart hears you whisper
Allez à Paris.

When I land at Charles de Gaulle
every face I see is yours—
the blue-gray eyes
the chestnut hair
fair face dotted with freckles.

And then I see him:
the Frenchman in your dream.

He smiles at me, steps forward.
His cheeks press mine,
right and left.
I feel the rasp of his peppered beard.
But I know you want more.

Standing on tiptoe, my arms wrapped around his neck,
I look into his brown eyes, pleading
Une fois plus pour Jacqueline?
I hold my breath.
“Avec le plaisir,” he replies.

And we kiss like old lovers,
lingering on
until the taste of his lips cannot be forgotten.

Susan gives the following short bio and addendum to the poem:

I decided when I was eleven years old after winning a Scholastic Writing Contest that I wanted to be a writer. I can't remember when I didn't write poetry, but for the past five years I've written as a journalist and music journalist, freelancing for two newspapers (Mshale and Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder). A couple of years ago I was included as a finalist for Minneapolis' Loft Literary Center's poetry mentorship program, but haven't made much more headway into the world of poetry than that. This poem, Flying, began in my head in January, 2003, but wasn't finished, as if that's ever possible, until I actually went to France early in May, 2008. I stood in the airport for over an hour, people streaming by me, and simply envisioned the scene in the dream segment of my poem. I revised that section while flying over the Atlantic ocean.

Explication by Edward Nudelman

This free-verse narrative poem is very nearly two poems melded into one. Seamlessly. Flying is a poem of loss evincing a strong depth of love which the narrator emphasizes in the cataloguing of objects left behind from a very close and recently deceased female friend or relative, named Jacqueline. Using emblems that jog the memory, objects that were shared by both individuals, the narrator reminds herself (and us) what must be lost to lessen the anguish of loss. The narrator affirms her anguish in the untimely passing (‘you were not ready’) by over-stressing what must be jettisoned from sight and sense in order to assuage the grief: shampoo, chic bottles of nail enamel, a half-eaten bag of Cheetos, cinnamon candle, and even her night light. So much of working through grief is taking action; and conversely, so much of love is clinging to every last vestige of love- even when it is physically impossible.

There is a brilliant transition into the second section of the poem in the quartet,

Then I lay my head on your pillow,
inhaling your lilac memory,
pull up the yellow cotton sheet,
and dream your last dream.

which helps build energy and anticipation into the middle and ending sections of the poem. At this point of transition, the poem changes palpably in tone and we are introduced to an intimate and chance meeting as the dream of a dream unfolds: to visit Paris. It is true, the narrator cannot extricate herself from the memory of her loved-one, even after clearing the house of every reminder. ‘Going to Paris’ (perhaps an alternate suggestion for the title), is her dream, and one obviously never realized due to her early death. So the narrator must go there for her; and once there, the delineation between dream and reality become a little fogged. We find a reference to 'the Frenchman in your dream,' a clever construct to further magnify the illusory tone. The two phrases following consecutively, 'I feel the rasp of his peppered beard,' and, 'but I know you want more,' join the displaced lovers together in place and time with only imagination left as the final barrier. Cleverly, though we know the narrator is the stand-in, the scene is evocative of much more, a kind of transference of passion. We understand and see the meeting that could never occur, now fully realized. She melts into his arms, pleading, 'once more, for Jacqueline?' 'With pleasure,' he responds, and they 'kiss like old lovers.' Time has been erased from the equation. Finally, two lovers meet in the body of a poem, that were prevented from meeting by an early passing. The poem is an emotional release, but more than mere catharsis, it creatively describes an illusory representation of love that enacts a service of ultimate value, the resolution of a life-long dream.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

American Poet Portraits, by Didi Menendez


I am very proud to be included in a one-of-a-kind series of portraits of contemporary poets, an idea crafted and executed by Didi Menendez, poet, founder of MiPOesias Poetry Magazine, Oranges and Sardines, and many other ground-breaking forums for poetry both online and in printed form (Menendez Publishing).

You can find the complete set of paintings hosted by Didi on her blog here:

link to American Poet Portraits.

I hope you'll have a look; to my knowledge, this is the first series of such portraits for contemporary poets and one that will, in my humble estimation, find its way into the annals of art and poetry history.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month Competition


Intrinsic Differences, by Laura Tattoo

You are adamant, you want answers!
You rally reason from wreck, put out inchy
feelers, scrutinize pharmacologic text,
then proffer cures like colored seeds to birds.

I'm intransigent; I swear I've tried it, all of it!
I've spent thousands on gels, mincemeats and frills
and still I'm sexless; I peck among the rhetoric,
swallow limpid jewels, rise a shadow of myself.

Spilling over this thirsty landscape, we're all
dry as dinosaurs and old as hills;
we've got loser libidos and sinewy sloughs,
we've got what we paid for and we're thirsty still.

You are a maestro of bird song with all that hope,
singer of Ode to Joy in the cafe dawn, you thrill:
I'm torn down in the book of Psalms, I sin,
for I can't wait for a god to call me home

And end this senseless race for cure,
another muck-muck run of luck
that seeps into deep caverns of my skin,
absorbed in the big pores of my nihilism.

This poem dramatically contrasts, with an attitude, the salutary and optimistic outlook of an unnamed individual with that of the narrator’s bitter, if not hopeless sense of futility, apparently due to an incurable ailment. Near the middle of the poem, a single stanza serves to universalize (almost parenthetically) this perceived futility in human suffering. The poem then quickly reverts back to its sardonic rant against a person who is characterized as one with hope and joy, and possessing some measure of faith. This contrasting imagery forms the basis for a poem illustrating the depth of suffering, in part, by its contrast to its opposite.

Composed of five fairly uniform quatrains, the poem has an unusual rhyming structure with an emphasis on a repeating end-rhyme: 'frills', 'hills', 'still', 'thrill', in addition to the quirky paired rhyme, 'muck-muck run of luck'. As well, an additional end-rhyme occurs (sin/skin) separated by three unrhymed lines. These uneven rhythms provide an order and otherwise structured tone to a poem which, without them, might have become heavy with its hard tone. Interestingly, the poem ends on a fascinating near rhyme couplet of skin/nihilism.

These rhymes add a lyrical quality to a fairly heavy-handed and deliberate poem. The poem is also lifted out of an otherwise negative tone by some excellent alliteration: ‘rally reason from wreck,’ ‘dry as dinosaurs,’ ‘loser libidos,’ and ‘sinewy sloughs.’

The poem opens declaratively, addressing a person the speaker obviously knows well, in an accusatory tone, “You are adamant, you want answers!” This sets the tone for the poem and ushers in the notion of certainty and the speaker’s frustration with an individual who may not understand or have a basis for empathy in their experience. This person who rallies ‘reason from wreck,’ is obviously aware of the speaker’s problems, which appear to be rooted in some serious physical impairment or disease (reference to 'pharmacologic text', 'proffer cures'). However, the speaker has heard all of this and declares herself intransigent, unable to change (or be changed). It is clear, early on in the poem, that there is a history of suffering and striving, of failing to get better in the face of injurious therapeutic regimes (‘I've spent thousands on gels, mincemeats and frills,; ‘I’m still sexless,’ and, ‘swallow limpid jewels, rise a shadow of myself’).

The third stanza brings the reader into the fray. No more is this is solely an argument between the speaker and another party. “We're all dry as dinosaurs and old as hills/ We've got loser libidos and sinewy sloughs/ We've got what we paid for and we're thirsty still.” This appears to be a reference to possible side-effects of some drugs (i.e., drastically affecting libido). In addition, in declaring we get what we pay for and are still thirsty, the speaker implies there is little comfort in costly protocols whose side effects are worse than the curative benefits.

The fourth and fifth stanzas contrast the speaker's despair with the apparent opposite nature of the subject addressed, whose hope sings like a bird, a ‘singer of Ode to Joy,’ in a café: a reference that lets the reader know there is a history here, and brings attention to perhaps a specific encounter or discussion that may have formed a basis for the inspiration of the poem. Further, the biblical reference to the Psalms serves to illustrate the depth of the speaker’s suffering (‘I'm torn down in the book of Psalms, I sin') and the the phraseology continues the tone of sarcasm here, pointing out a perceived hypocrisy in a person who is a “maestro of bird song.”

The poem ends by drawing the reader back to the central issue at hand: the speaker’s hopelessness in the face of a disease or condition that apparently has no cure (‘end this senseless race for cure’). Although the speaker makes a reference here to a ‘run of bad luck,’ it is clear that there is a subtext here which remains unresolved. In the face of such devastating effects of physical (and no doubt emotional) exhaustion, the speaker finally withdraws away from a tirade and looks inward, avowing a kind of bleak resignation, if not complicity with her own suffering, which becomes ‘absorbed in the big pores of my nihilism.”

This poem dramatizes the speaker’s highly personal, candid and visceral response to an apparently incurable physical ailment showing profound frustration with an unnamed individual who obviously possesses quite divergent views on the subject. Intimate and ‘intrinsic differences’ in ways of thinking (and feeling) between the speaker and another individual are used to juxtapose the universal struggle against the physical realm, against forces which are resistant to change (i.e. for the better). Though sardonic and intentionally dark, the poem amplifies the speaker’s travail by vividly comparing her own plight with the seemingly joyous (though perhaps callous) temperament of an unnamed individual. It is a poem of despair in which the speaker unabashedly amplifies a kind of intractable anguish (and angst) and finally accepts blame, after a fashion, in the personal recognition of nihilistic hopelessness. While this may be a poem easily panned by those without a context for years of suffering, it will, conversely, find resonance for many who find identification in their experience for the bleak harsh realities of human suffering.

Laura Tattoo was inspired, early on, to write poetry by the likes of Dr. Seuss, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Shakespeare, but feels she discovered it much more by simply living it. In her twenties she studied English and French at Portland State University where she won the Nina Mae Kellogg award for best senior student in English. Between then and now, she has written several volumes of poetry in both English and French, and at 51 is seeking to publish and share her work. Originally from New York and Massachusetts, Laura now divides her time between her home in Astoria, Oregon, and long sojourns in Paris, France.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Art and Science and A Robin


All art presupposes some degree of scientific method. All science begins with the art of ideas. Looking out my kitchen window I see a robin. I am aware, as I watch it gently tamp the grass with both feet while at the same time making the most pleasant, airy chirps a bird can make- that I'm writing a poem of a painting.

I try to imagine this painting of a robin in its own poem, with its own premise. The robin's premise, in my poem, is sound. The breezy refrain in her song, the lack of sound in her gliding footfall across my lawn. I jot down a few lines. My words, together with their syntactic foundation, form a premise whenever I assemble them together to say something. They always aim at something, however grandiose or base, however monumental or trivial; and they always bear the subtle fruit of some kind of methodological approach, however unclear it may be to either me or the reader.

The robin must know, better than I, what she is about. But since she can't tell me in words, I have to rely on other senses to inform. And when I want to write of death, or global warming, or a disquieting conversation with a neighbor (in a poem, for example), I get to remember the sound the robin made through its tiny beak, or its silent, frustrating foray through my grass, finding no worms.

This word picture may reasonably find its way into my thinking at any moment, without ever using diagnostic words relating to the robin. Importantly, however, while pleasing to the psyche and sometimes to the heart, this approach can fall short in providing absolute information. I may speak much of a robin, but I may say less of Robin. I may describe her demeanor and talk about her successes and failures, and relate them to my own, and you may find something in the delineation of my robin that you hadn't seen in your robin. Still, we may widely disagree. This amounts to a kind of Wikipedia entry for a robin. If enough of us write robin poems and enough of us interact with each others work, we may come to understand more and more about the robin. This is beginning to sound like science.

In fact, this is about all that science purports to accomplish. It aims to observe, to write about those observations, and to make conclusions based on these observations. It aims to submit these findings to some sort of Wikipedia, some bulletin board of review, so that others can comment, agree, admire, disagree and, yes, denigrate (in a civil sort of academic way, of course!).

These methods, whether of art or science, have their own peculiar aspects of inquiry, observation, examination, discussion, conclusion and/or qualia of experience. Whether describing atmospheric pressure in a balloon, or the circular perambulations of a robin in a poem, it is necessary to make assumptions and reason your way through them toward a semblance of conclusion. Even in absurdist poetry, one is clearly making a statement based on random or nonsensical premises.

Science need not be rigorous and restricted to nomenclature to be scientific inquiry, just as art need not be diffuse and metaphorical to be artistic; we fool ourselves to think we live and operate in a world where we don't commonly think, project and/or imagine, using very distinct patterns of logic and mechanistic inquiry. These patterns of thought are subject to both our own scrutiny, as well as the scrutiny of others. To say that we can approach a definition in our art, is not to deny any kind of mystical or emotional basis to that art. Quite the converse, we give more credence to our art as it touches the senses and the supra-sense, when we acknowledge that it has a basis in reason, as opposed to being on the fringe of reason, or outside of experience altogether.

Scientific method does not (nor has it ever intended to) war against art, and vice versa. But rather, the two coexist, right beside each other, benefiting in a mutual and symbiotic process of declaration, understanding and enlightenment.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Poetry Competition


Announcing a poetry competition. Submit your poems to me personally at: enudelman@msn.com

I will review all poems and once a month I will select one to appear on this blog with an introduction about the author and a short explication (by me) of the poem. Hopefully, this will generate excitement and comments for each poem selected. I look forward to receiving your submissions.

Simply email the poem IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL (I would prefer to not receive attachments) with the subject simply saying "poetry submission," or something similar. Please don't expect an answer to the submission by email.

Warm regards,

Edward Nudelman


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Get Real: Vetting Your Work


Get Real: Vetting Your Work

Are you a human being?
If yes, continue. If no, go plug yourself into a socket.
Are you interested in writing?
If yes, continue. If no, go work on a crossword puzzle.
Are you interested in someday publishing, in any way shape or form?
If yes, continue. If no, go find a snack.
Okay, if you said no, I’ll give you one more chance.
If not interested in publishing, what about interest in having more than one person on the planet read your work (not counting you)?
If yes, you may continue. If no, bite me.
Are you interested in putting the ‘best’ product out there?
If yes, continue. If no, go write a poem about angels using 14 mixed metaphors.
Now the capper!
Have you vetted your work?
If no, read on.
If…not sure what vet means- you definitely should continue. If yes, go ahead and read it anyway; as my Yiddish grammy used to say, “it voodn’t hurt!”

Definition of vet.. to subject to thorough examination or evaluation: vet a manuscript.

Okay, that was a bit harsh. But you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t have a clue where I’m going, but the hook was so good, you’re willing to read at least one more paragraph.

I’m going to approach this a little sideways, and perhaps by the end you’ll get some idea of what I’m trying to say. I’m a scientist, by profession (I write poetry too). I think I can say that awful word (scientist) with some degree of certainty, partly because I’ve worked in a laboratory for over 25 years, but also because I’ve published over 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Before you get all ruffled and think this is yet another academic snob spewing forth self-righteous self-accolades, let me quickly tell you I have no multiple initials following my name. I’ve no masters, I’ve no PhD, but I do have over 60 papers published in peer-reviewed journals (obnoxious for effect). I personally think that means a lot more than a degree. I also think degrees mean something, but not always. I’ve seen an awful lot of pretty inept PhD’s float through our labs, some that can’t pipet squat, others that can’t think their way out of a test tube, still others quite incapable of holding a conversation with anything but a computer screen and/or a pencil.

One thing remains clear. When I want to know what’s up in the lab, how to plan an experiment, where to insert a gene, how long to incubate an enzyme reaction, I do one thing almost exclusively: I consult a published paper. So, what’s so terrible about that? What I’m doing is relying on past experience. On collective experience that has stood the test of time as well as multiple reviews and peer-vetting. That’s a good thing. And when I do that, I don’t just turn to any old journal. I consult the best indexes, choose the best journals, as universally accepted by my colleagues. Then I find the journal article that best relates to the problem at hand. I trust the findings (insofar as reason allows), because the research has been reviewed (vetted) beforehand by a team of experts. (There you go, cringing again!) I know experts is a dirty word. And it gets worse when you invoke: a team of experts. But what’s wrong with the idea? Is there a better alternative? Should we consult a team of beginners? I don’t think we’d do that with our medical problems.

In science, there's a huge spectrum of journals in which one can be published. Some are universally recognized as being top tier journals, others have more loose qualifications and prerequisites, and some lower end journals you just don’t want to be seen in. But, for the most part, to be published in a scientific journal, one’s work must be vetted by a board of reviewers chosen by the editorial board to be proficient in the area which the investigation is reporting. This makes for a highly competitive and rigorous acceptance protocol the net result of which is a high degree of veracity and reliability of the final product. I’ve participated in many, many rounds of the review process. It’s really quite fascinating, and there’s a good deal of plasticity built into the system. Reviewers interact with the submitters and edits are made along the road to publication. That’s a good thing, and there’s really no equivalent, that I’ve found, in other disciplines. Without benchmark standards, we don’t have criteria to judge what is good and what is bad.

I want to draw a comparison between vetting scientific work (by submitting to journals) and vetting your writing. The former is rigorous and pretty established. You have clear cut options. The latter, vetting your writing, is a much more nebulous proposition, and one needs to be careful in drawing similar conclusions about what is art, versus what is science, for example.

On should strive to have their writing viewed by a discriminating eye if one wishes to improve. To settle for anything less is to settle for deception, a path of least resistance accommodated by many a writer, including yours truly. But it’s worth it to go the extra mile and look for a friend or associate you trust who can give you candid and discerning feedback without a sugar coating. Further, one should always take casual praising with a huge shaker full of salt. It’s good to get it. But too much can be intoxicating. In online forums, especially, it can be an all-consuming opiate (see above flowchart if I’m losing you here… remember, if you don’t want to publish, feel free to get a Reader’s Digest and turn on the tube).

I think the problem is not that one can’t find suitable avenues to vet your work, but more that one is not, ultimately, really interested or prepared to take that kind of input and use it to a worthwhile end. It may seem like an obstacle, but it doesn’t take long to get used to critical remarks, especially from a friend or associate sharing your common interest to improve a craft.

Extrapolating from informed friends, internet groups and writing forums to- heaven forbid- journal editors or publishing houses may seem daunting, but take heart! You take the steps necessary to walk as far as you want to go. If you want to be good, and you want to be read, you’ll work hard to improve, vet your work, seek earnest and critical feedback, and finally, if you really have the stomach for it, you’ll vet your work to publishers, and work your way up the feeding chain. Some of you will go right to the top. Most, if you’re like me, will find you’re not as good as you had hoped or dreamed… but you'll land on your feet and have as much ink as you need. At least you’re walking in the real world. Planet earth, last time I checked.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Poem Just Published in Mipoesias

A new poem just published at Mipoesias, one of my favorite poetry journals:

Summer of 1969

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Interviewed in Mipoesias Magazine


Recently, the editor and founder of Miposesias magazine, Didi Menendez, interviewed poets on Cafe Cafe. You can find it here: Poet Interviews and then navigate around to find other interviews of poets querying poets. It all makes for some very interesting, if not snarky, reading.