Friday, September 30, 2005

My wife and I are signed up to go on a trip to Rome next year. My parents will be going as well. I’m trying to do what I always do when I know I’ll be traveling to a foreign country; I’m trying to learn some of the language. Italian is a beautiful language. It helps that it is a Romance language, so some of the words are similar to Spanish or have close approximations in English since English incorporated a bunch of different languages into its vocabulary, such as Latinate words. I’ve read that until Dante wrote The Divide Comedy in Italian that Italian was considered a vulgar language and far inferior to Latin. Dante proved that Italian is a beautiful, musical language.

I felt a little foolish sitting in traffic this morning mouthing the words in Italian. I’ve listened to the first few tracks of the CD enough now that the new words and phrases are starting to sink in. If I keep at it I should be in good shape for the trip in the spring.

Since I am watching Rome on HBO and enjoying it thoroughly, this adds to my excitement about going to Rome next year. I’m very interested in learning more about the Romans and seeing the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, the Coliseum, etc. I’m also looking forward to all the great food!

I have a poetry coach session on Sunday. I’ll be curious to see what she thinks of my three-section poem. I think it has its merits and a lot of potential, but it is kind of comic bookish and may have an air of the cliché in it. We will also be discussing another long poem. This time the poem is The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. It’s a clever book written in sonnets. Even the contents page and author notes are written as a sonnet. I haven’t finished it yet, so I need to get cracking on that.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I remember as an undergraduate student thinking that poets must be some of the nicest people on the planet. I had these romantic notions that since they are able to write so beautifully and think so deeply about subjects such as love, death, creativity, class, religion, etc. they must all be kind, gentle, and wise people. I also assumed that in order to be a poet (or maybe a creative writer in general), you have to be wounded in some manner. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with or meet many poets. My belief now is that poets are like any other group of people; there is great diversity among the group. Some poets are quite nice, and some are not. Many poets are somewhere in the middle. As for the wounded assumption, I’m not sure I believe that anymore. Maybe a better word than wounded is dissatisfaction. Maybe it could be said that all poets are dissatisfied with the world in some manner, and this is part of the reason why they write poetry.

I’ve observed that poets guard their time very carefully. This makes sense. Writing is solitary activity and requires lots of time for writing and the many drafts of revision. Also, it is necessary to read—a lot. You need to know the history of poetry and what previous masters accomplished. You need to know theory such as the major feet, metrics, traditional forms, alliteration, consonance, stanzas, free verse, etc. You also need to know about contemporary poetry and what the current issues are in contemporary poetry. I’ll add that you probably need some interests outside of poetry so that you can bring something to poetry other than your personal experiences like a knowledge of visual art, jazz, astronomy, Buddhism, history, and so on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I dreamed this morning about some of the characters from the TV show M.A.S.H. Hawkeye and Trapper were in a Korean bar preparing a practical joke for Frank Burns when Margaret caught them red-handed. Hawkeye and Trapper realized quickly that they needed to smooth things over with Margaret, or she would get them into trouble. At this point a Korean waitress who was also a known prostitute gave Margaret her drink. Margaret was seated at her table and eyed Hawkeye and Trapper severely, obviously waiting for them to appease her somehow. Trapper responded by reaching into his pocket and pulling out all the money he had on him. He gave it to the waitress by stuffing it into an opening in her silk robe that exposed the flesh over her right hip in the kidney area. Hawkeye responded by cutting a deck of cards on Margaret’s table and turning over the card that was in the middle of the deck. The card was the 5 of diamonds.

After my alarm clock went off this morning, I found myself in that twilight state wondering the meaning of the 5 of diamonds card. I used to be into Tarot cards, so I was wondering what the corresponding 5 of pentacles in the Tarot deck means. I mistakenly believed while I was waking up that it had the positive meaning of the 3 of pentacles: success in artistic endeavors, being paid for your labor, the master craftsman. When I got out of bed I consulted one of my Tarot card books (for the Rider-Waite-Smith deck) and was dismayed to read that the 5 of pentacles is a negative card: dark night of the soul, being destitute, lovers who cannot find a meeting place.

I’m not a very superstitious person. I believe more in reason, science, and logic, but in my experience I have found that there is something to Tarot cards. They are a great language of symbols and contain a lot of wisdom. I’ve also found when I used to do readings for myself or other people that the cards cut to the essence of what’s going on in a person’s life. I believe this works by the principle of Unus Mundus, which is perhaps misspelled Latin for “One World.” Synchronicity is another way to think about it or, put another way, “As above, so below.” I hope I won’t be experiencing any dark nights of the soul in the near future, but I’m just shrugging if that’s indeed what’s on the horizon. Not much I can do about the unknown future. I can’t worry about something that may or may not happen just because I dreamed it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I collect aphorisms and quotes and like to record them in my paper journal. Here are some that I’ve recently come across.

Farmer’s Advice (selections from an e-mail forwarded to me):

Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered….not yelled.

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

Every path has a few puddles.

“It is a tremendous act of violence to begin anything. I am not able to begin. I simply skip what should be the beginning.” --Rainer Maria Rilke

“If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” --Muriel Rukeyser

Monday, September 26, 2005


This month will be over very soon and still no news from all of those literary magazine submissions that I have floating around out there. Unless I receive some news between now and Saturday, I think I will have to stick to the plan that I’ve been turning over in my head and send out some more submissions on October 3rd. This will be the last window of opportunity to send something out and possibly hear back before 2006 begins.

I’ve been obsessed with the last line of my villanelle. I’ve probably spent three and a half hours over the course of five days trying to come up with the best last line. I think that I’ve just about got it, but I’m not 100% content with the scansion of the last line. I feel like it skips just a bit sound wise, but I do like the sense of the line. I’ll probably include the villanelle if I send out poems on October 3rd.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sunday: The day of the week when I do most of my writing. I have a ritual. I like to get up early in the morning, shave, shower, get dressed, and head out to Starbucks. On the way I typically stop at McDonald’s and buy a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel and either a cup of water or a bottled water. I eat in the parking lot and then continue on my way to Starbucks.

I like to get to Starbucks way before the University of Virginia students start trickling in because there are two optimal places to sit away from the stereo speakers and most of the conversation. After I get my grande, nonfat, Caramel Macchiato with whip, no foam (how’s that for being pretentious?), I usually write in my journal while the caffeine enters my bloodstream. Depending on my energy level, mood, and the complexity of what I’m working on, I then switch to poetry and write from two to four hours. Today I had one of the four-hour experiences. I am grateful for that because today I was able to finish the third section of a three-section poem. I now have a first draft to start revising.

I’ve remarked before to my wife and my poetry coach how appropriate it is that my writing day is Sunday. Writing for me, when it is going well, does have a profound spiritual aspect to it.

Friday, September 23, 2005


The movie This Girl’s Life is about a beautiful and classy adult film star who struggles to take care of her incapacitated father and struggles with the transition from working in adult films to another kind of life. The actress looks a lot like Angelina Jolie, a plus in my book! What I liked most about the movie is how it raises moral issues in an oblique way.

For example, at one point she goes on a blind date arranged by one of her female friends outside the porn industry. The poor guy has no idea that she is a porn star, and the date goes very well with him cooking her dinner and the two of them talking on the couch—obviously connecting and into each other. He then asks what she does for a living. There is a long pause, and then she tells him. He several times doesn’t take her seriously and keeps saying, “No, really.” Finally he gets that she is serious. Instantly, you can see how his whole attitude towards her changes, and how she is now disappointed and uncomfortable. It is then interesting to see how the guy struggles with what she does for a living and tries to see past it. Predictably, he wants her to quit the business, but I won’t say more than that about the plot.

At the beginning of the movie, our heroine is in a bar with a bunch of her girlfriends sitting around a table drinking, talking, and smoking cigars. There is a semi-clever movie technique regarding the cigars and the narration. What interested me during this part of the movies is how one of her girlfriends looks at a guy standing nearby and remarks, “He’s a 99 percenter” (or does she say 90% in the movie?). When the others ask her what she means, she explains that if an attractive woman comes up to an attached man and makes it clear that she wants to go home with him and have sex, most men will disregard their relationship and go home with the woman. However, if the reverse happens and a hot guy comes up to an attached woman and propositions her, 90% of women will tell the guy to get lost. In general, I would say this observation about men and women is correct. We can quibble about the percentages.

What does this say about men? What does it say about women? Are men morally weak when it comes to the offer of sex? Are men just built biologically predisposed to be promiscuous and unfaithful because sperm is plentiful and eggs are precious? In this scenario, it almost sounds like the woman tells the hot guy to get lost mainly because the proposition is an affront to her. He’s assuming she’s easy. He is too bold for his own good and needs to be knocked down a peg or two. There is also the safety issue: “I don’t know anything about guy. He could be a serial killer or rapist. He could beat me.” You could also talk about how a woman risks more than a man in a sexual encounter because she can get pregnant and has to bear the child for nine months. Or, you could point out how the penis is external to a man’s body, so perhaps metaphorically he can externalize or objectify sex easier than a woman whose vagina is inside her body and having sex is like inviting someone into her home. The woman may wonder how she will broach the subject of wearing a condom and safer sex practices with a relative stranger.

The rest of the movie in a way explores this difference between men and women, or maybe just about nature of temptation itself. Our heroine starts a service during the course of the movie where for a fee she will test how faithful your partner is. The movie skips through a parade of people who hire her. You get the sense that most people fail this temptation test miserably. Interestingly, she apparently is hired at one point by a gay man to see if his partner will cheat on him with a woman. I think she also tempts a lesbian as well. There are tiny cameras that record it all, and our heroine seems to let things go only so far before she ends the encounter.

The temptation piece of the movie fascinates me. Is it really fair to test someone like this? Is it morally right to tempt someone you love in this way? The logic to the people purchasing our heroine’s services is that they want to know how faithful their significant other is. Can I trust this person? Should I marry this person? I would rather know now rather than later if he will cheat on me, etc.

On the other side you have to wonder if those tempted would cheat on their own, or are they only cheating because a gorgeous woman is offering herself in a direct way, something that happens to most of us only in our fantasies. I have to wonder if some of those tempted people would normally go through their entire lives being faithful and not seek to actively cheat. There’s a what-if double-edged sword to all of this. How would this person have behaved during their life if he or she not been tested in this way?

Comments on the above are welcomed.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

T. S. Eliot: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

I think I know what Eliot means. At first read this quote doesn’t make sense because how can something heard or read communicate if it is not understood? In order to communicate, doesn’t the person on the receiving end have to understand what was heard or read?

I think Eliot is talking about the immediate impact of a poem’s tone, imagery, and music. They can communicate even if the words are not fully understood. It’s like classical music or jazz. There are no lyrics to help interpret the piece of music, yet a listener can hear a piece and describe it as happy, melancholic, erotic, etc. Eliot’s objective correlative is about how imagery or a situation or a sequence of events can evoke a particular emotion in a reader or an audience. So, it seems that a poem can communicate in stages or on levels. There is the sound and the sense. The emotional feel of the poem communicates first followed by the understanding of the words. I’d argue that unless a poem goes way over your head that the two happen almost simultaneously.

Eliot may just mean that really good poems communicate an emotion(s) before the accumulation of the denotations of the words are understood by us.

I seem to be circling around the central idea of emotion as the communication Eliot is taking about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Problems with Form

There’s a song that inspired a poem in me. In my head I know many of the images that I want to include in the poem. I am pretty sure that the poem wants to be in the lyrical mode—or at least wants to be lush and graceful. I tried writing the poem first in free verse, but I just couldn’t write a decent opening after several attempts. Last week I was thinking that the poem might want to be in formal verse, perhaps ballad stanzas or couplets, but my experience with rhyming poetry is that it forces you into a certain level of abstraction and compression. I don’t think this is what the poem wants. I need more room for the specificity of the images. I suppose that I could try blank verse or syllabics. I’m beginning to think now that this poem may in fact want to be a short story, or it could want to be one of those oxymoronic prose poems!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Literary Magazines

I’ve been thinking about why I subscribe to, buy, or simply like to read certain literary magazines. I like literary magazines that contain writing that I admire (which is usually of an aesthetic similar to mine), has an easily readable font, and has stimulating artwork on the cover or within. I also pay attention to the mission statement or editorial policies--if any. I also like to read the contributor notes, especially if a work really blows me away from a writer I’ve never heard of. I must also confess that the name of the literary magazine can win me over.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I’ve engaged the services of a poetry coach for a few months now. Every other week we talk on the phone for an hour. Typically I send her a poem in advance to comment on and we agree to talk about an aspect craft. I am strong technically, so our talks are more like conversations among equals rather than a teacher-to-student relationship.

She has been helpful by exposing me to some poetry that I would not otherwise read. She has helped me understand the possibilities of poetry beyond what I’ve been doing. One of the must useful questions she put to me was: “What are you not doing in your work?” For me, that would be formal verse, prose poems, the long poem, and writing more in the third person.

Last night we discussed the long poem. We both read D.W. Fenza’s The Interlude as a long poem example and talked about some notes and an essay on the nature of the long poem. We also discussed my revised villanelle, which she liked very much. I have some very minor tinkering to do on it, and then I think it is done.

I’m really enjoying the new HBO series Rome ( The show is getting very interesting now. After the episode last night and the preview for next Sunday, I’ll be curious to see if Atia tries to get her son Gaius Octavian into Julius’ bed like Atia tried to do with daughter Octavia and Pompey. How will Octavian handle this predicament since he has sworn not to reveal that Julius has epilepsy and his mother now will conclude that he is gay?

Friday, September 16, 2005


My last submissions to literary magazines have been out there for some time now. I am been very surprised that I haven't heard anything. I've given up the practice of following-up with literary magazines to check the status after six months. My experience has been they've either lost your submission or never bothered to let you know it was rejected. I don't see the point of sending a follow-up email or wasting the postage.

Last year three poems were accepted. This year nothing, and 2005 is almost over. I'll keep writing anyway, but it sure is nice to get a little external acknowledgement for your efforts.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I had in mind to make my first official post something different, but since Patry asked me a question, I’ll answer. Socrates said at some point between 469 B.C.E. and 399 B.C.E., “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think reading and writing poetry is one way to lead the examined life. Reading poetry helps you learn about the interior lives of other people (what they think, feel, imagine, hope, and dream) and learn about the world at large. I also think reading poetry helps you see the world in new and unfamiliar ways.

Writing poetry has many benefits, among them teaching you more about yourself, and it forces you to become more observant of world around you. After all, poets are not only thieves but also collectors (e.g., collectors of words, experiences, knowledge). The thievery part reminds me of a T.S. Eliot quote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

Going back to Socrates, Socrates also said, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.” This is one of the reasons to read in general, and reading poetry is a special kind of reading since the language is heightened by what one hopes are the best words in the best order with a musical score to them.