Thursday, December 29, 2005

I’ve been thinking a lot about genuine and earned emotions in poetry. I’ve noticed lately that my own poetry (my newer poems) has more intellectual content than perhaps I’d like. When I think about poems that I like the most, the poems usually have a good balance between emotional content and intellectual content. As I’m writing this, I’m also thinking about how many of my poems have peripheral spiritual concerns. I’m not sure I would lump spiritual content in with emotional content. Spiritual content seems separate.

I’m looking forward to the next few days because I will be off from work until Tuesday, so I should get a fair amount of writing and revision done. I also have some reading projects that I would like to launch. I also need to spend some time revising my artist colony application packet for the deadline in January.

I’ve contacted a couple of poets who have far more experience in the publishing world than I do. I want to get their take on this acceptance contract. I received an email back this morning from one of them saying that he found the contract to be odd and overdone. He said that they obviously received input from an attorney, but the terms are confusing. Overall the contract looks okay except for one section of it. He suggested that I might need to prepare myself to walk away from the acceptance contract depending on how things go once I hear back from the literary magazine. He also wondered if other contributors reacted to the acceptance contract the way I have. Perhaps they’ll revise their acceptance contracts across the board in response.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Poetry News and a Dream

Hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and has a great year in 2006!

I received a rejection over the holidays, but one of the editors took the time to write me a brief note saying that I had some great lines in “The Necessity of Color.” She suggested that the poem doesn’t connect the dots among the sections enough. I’m not sure if I agree with that. I told this literary magazine a couple of months ago that the South Dakota Review had accepted “The Necessity of Color, “ so I was hoping this literary magazine would like some of my other submitted work.

I received over the holidays my contributor copies of the South Dakota Review. I hope the other two copies I paid for are on their way. I read some of the poems last night in the SDR. I really liked one poem called “Night Lines,” and there were a couple of others I liked. I remarked to my wife last night that it is a strange sensation to read your own poem in a literary magazine. You get so used to seeing it on the screen of a computer or on 8 ½ by 11 paper. Reading your own poem in a different font on a different color of paper makes the poem seem almost not yours.

One of my parents’ friends that I saw over the holidays is an attorney. He doesn’t know a lot about the publishing world, but he does know about contracts. He gave me some suggestions about getting clarification on the rights SLAB wants for my poem “Drive.” I haven’t heard back from SLAB yet regarding my email requesting clarification. I suspect I won’t hear back from them until early January.

I saw the movie Memoirs of a Geisha yesterday. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it. I’ve always liked Japanese culture.

Early this morning I dreamed that I was adventuring with a group of people in a Chinese necropolis. We had to cross the necropolis to get where we needed to go. I was bringing up the rear in our small band, and the others got ahead of me. Suddenly the ground shook and a hand emerged through the ground. I had this large rake-like weapon attached to my right hand, and I began hacking into the undead person emerging from the ground. I dispatched him, and then the ground shook again. This time a huge corpse face with closed eyes was slowly coming towards the surface. I started hacking into the forehead of the face, but it had little effect. I began to panic. I cried out for help, and one of my companions ran back to where I was. He unsheathed two swords and plunged them simultaneously into the forehead of the face. This did the trick, and the face stopped rising.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Acceptance News, Thoughts on Women, & Unanswered Questions in Life

SLAB, a literary magazine affiliated with Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, wants to publish my three-page poem “Drive.” SLAB stands for Sound and Literary Art Book ( They sent the acceptance information in a Slippery Rock University envelope, so I thought it was information about applying for a MFA program or something. What a pleasant surprise. They misspelled my last name though as “Humi,” which I can kind of understand since a lower-case “L” could be mistaken for an “i” since I have such an unusual last name. My family thinks that at one point we probably spelled our Czech name Humel (which is how HUML is pronounced), but the “e” was dropped at some point. My wife and I have all kinds of stories about people misspelling our last name, usually on junk mail. I’ve seen Humel, Hummel, Hume, Home, and to my amusement even Homo--to name a few. SLAB has a rather detailed acceptance contract that I need clarification on before I officially accept. The legalese is difficult to untangle, so I e-mailed them a few questions today. The issue is to come out in the spring of 2006.

As a treat to myself in celebration of my acceptance letter, I decided to stop at Starbucks on the way to work and get myself an espresso drink. A pretty redheaded woman about my age entered the store right before me, and I stood in line behind her. She had shoulder-length red hair and was smartly dressed in a red overcoat, black slacks, and pointed black shoes. I noticed that she kept turning her head slightly in profile in my direction, and I felt that maybe she was checking me out. I felt that tension or energy, but a part of me doubted that she was actually appreciating me. Like poem acceptances, it seems these things always happen when I least expect them. My wife says that I am a little dense when it comes to sensing when women find me attractive. We both ended up ordering the same drink, and while we waited for our drinks I felt nervous standing near her. Luckily I had my sunglasses on, so I could glance at her a bit more than normal to test my hypothesis. She did seem to be stealing glances in my direction and seemed as nervous as me. I had a meeting this morning, so I was rather dressed up in my own black slacks, black shoes, with a blue dress shirt (no tie yet, I put that on right before the meeting), and a black leather jacket. I noticed through my sunglasses that she had a wedding band on, which I found very curious and made me think that perhaps what I was feeling as mutual attraction was really just my attraction towards her. Anyway, she got her drink and left, and I am left wondering what that was all about.

This will probably sound chauvinistic or like the objectification of women, but I’ve often wondered why I prefer brunettes and redheads over blonde women. Brunettes hold a special place in my heart, and my wife is a brunette. My first girlfriend when I was 15 was a brunette. Freud would note that my mother is a brunette. Here comes the objectification or over generalizations based upon my personal experiences and associations. To me, I associate the dark hair of brunettes with mystery, brains, and being interesting. Redheads are rare, so they seem exotic to me. I’ve met some attractive, sophisticated, and smart blonde women, but overall I associate blondes with being flashy, obvious, and shallow. Asian women and Hispanic women seem both mysterious and exotic to me.

The encounter with the pretty redhead this morning reminds me of a wish I have. If there is indeed some kind of an afterlife, it would be very nice if all or at least some of those little questions in life were answered. For example, if there is some kind of weighing or judgment about how you conducted your life, it would be nice if during or after that judgment process if you could ask some questions about your life and receive 100% certain answers. I would be curious to know what was going through the pretty redhead’s mind this morning and know if my perceptions were accurate. Wouldn’t it be nice if at some point all unanswered questions would be answered, even if our memory of the answers were just temporary? Maybe if there is reincarnation all our memories and knowledge get wiped before our next incarnation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Writing a poem is like traversing an obstacle course or negotiating a maze. Or downhill skiing. We tell ourselves, for the sake of excitement, to up the ante, that the choices we make could prove fatal. Anything to help us get where we must go…. When poets are actually working, theorizing is the last thing they have time for.

--James Tate

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Given the Slip, Twice & My Sarah Jessica Parker Dream

I checked the mail after work yesterday and got the one-two rejection punch. I could tell right away that one of the envelopes was a rejection. The other was deceptively heavy. It turns out it contained my cover letter along with a heavy card stock rejection slip. Oh well. I updated my submission records in Excel last night, and I counted up thirteen submissions still circulating out there.

This morning I dreamed that I was in a bedroom near a window with Venetian blinds. I was trying to rig up something in the corner of the room to catch any rain that was coming through the ceiling. I kept brushing the Venetian blinds with my elbow while I worked. At one point I had a Dell power cord and transformer that I was trying to rig up above my head. I remember thinking that I had to be careful, or I might be electrocuted. I then looked outside the window and saw Sarah Jessica Parker about thirty feet from my building. She was in the ocean surf with just her smiling head visible. When the surf receded I could see that she was in a form-fitting black wet suit with her legs flat on the sand. She was sitting up and still smiling at me. In the context of the dream she was my girlfriend. I don’t have a thing for Sarah Jessica Parker, so I am at a loss as to what this dream might be about.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Galway Kinnell and Artist Colony Application Packet

I’ve been reading an old favorite poet of mine: Galway Kinnell. I’ve loved some of his poems since I was an undergraduate student. Among my favorite poems by Kinnell are: “Another Night in the Ruins,” “Vapor Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond,” and “The Bear.” Kinnell is a poet who is keenly aware of the transience of life. His best poems are often elemental in a Deep Image sense and have incantatory rhythms. There was a time when Kinnell was very influential on me, but my work is quite different now. Reading Kinnell again is like listening to a favorite song that you associate with a particular period in your life. Intuitively, I think I am returning to Kinnell to relearn something from him or use his work to juxtapose it against my current work to clarify differences.

I need to make some decisions this week about which poems to include in my writing sample for the artist colony that I want to attend in 2006. I need six to ten poems in the writing sample. I want to include my six-page poem “The Necessity of Color” for sure, so I need to balance out the sample with a mix of shorter poems. My work tends to be dark, so it would behoove me to include some lighter work. At least two of the poems should be poems that I have published. Overall, I want to include my strongest, most finished work.

Friday, December 16, 2005

O Karma, Dharma

O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die:
grant me wisdom, will, & wit,
purity, probity, pluck, & grit.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice—
these little blessings would suffice
to beget an earthly paradise:
make the bad people good—
and the good people nice;
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.

--Philip Appleman

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Getting Started on Difficult Writing and the Concept of Perfection

Sometimes when I sit down to write I really dread it because I have a difficult problem in the poem that either requires a creative solution (i.e. a solution from the unconscious), or I know I will just have to work on a conscious level and be patient for a solution. Getting started in situations like this reminds me of working out on the elliptical cross trainer at the gym. The first 5 to 7 minutes are typically uncomfortable, but then my body hits a threshold and adjusts to the exertion. This is usually about the time I really start sweating. Around the time break a sweat my body starts relaxing into the exertion and the discomfort lessens. I imagine chemicals in my brain like endorphins start to kick in at this point. Similarly, when I am working on a difficult writing problem, if I can just hang in there while it’s uncomfortable I know that inevitably a solution will occur to me. This takes patience and a faith in myself based on past experience. Sometimes the solution is still not exactly right, but it is closer to the solution I am looking for and helps clarify the aspects of the solution I am after. Of course, sometimes you have to accept that your final solution is not perfect, just better than the solution you had before.

Speaking of the word “perfect,” this reminds me that I have a philosophical theory that there is no such thing in this world as perfection, nothing that is purely or perfectly anything. If something were indeed perfect, it would not be dynamic in any way, subject to change. It would be static. Perhaps you could describe it as sterile or dead. I view perfection like Plato’s Ideals. They are these ethereal concepts that probably exist only in our creative imaginations. If there were something perfect, it would have godlike qualities. If there is a God, perhaps he or she is perfect, but I have my doubts that God would be perfect because this world seems woefully imperfect (I can hear the angry thunder now), and I can imagine a better world that would be closer to perfection but not necessarily perfect. Doesn’t a creation reveal aspects of the creator? Doesn’t a poem reveal aspects about the poet? On the other hand, didn’t the philosopher Leibniz assert that this is the best of all possible worlds? I take this assertion to mean that perhaps for whatever reason there are limits on how perfect a functioning universe can be so that it is possible to exist. At any rate, I find it very useful in life to keep in mind that nothing is perfect. I’ve found that the belief seems to hold up, and it seems that it gives me a clearer and more reality-based view of the world. I always think about the Billy Idol song “White Wedding” regarding this line of thinking: “There is nothing safe in this world. There is nothing sure in this world. There is nothing pure in this world….” Perfection is like the concept of nothing, another concept not based in reality at all. What the hell really is nothing? Just try to describe what nothing would be like and you begin to feel inadequate and become confused very quickly. You will probably talk about nothing in terms of the absence of things that do exist. Sometimes people think of the concept of nothing as an infinite whiteness or blackness. White is a color. Black is a color. Colors are something. And what the hell does it really mean when something is infinite? Or eternal?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The mail yesterday contained a rejection, so I am not sure what to make of the fortune cookie message about credits.


I think poetry always lives its life, and people come to it and people go away from it…

--C. K. Williams

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

Monday, December 12, 2005

Really Odd Fortune Cookie Message from 12/11/2005

“With integrity and consistency—your credits are piling up.”

Credits? What a strange word to find in a fortune cookie message. Could this be publishing credits? Something to do with work? It would be really creepy if I get an acceptance letter today.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Formal Verse and Hard Aesthetic Choices in Revision

From the villanelle, sonnet, and sestina that I’ve been working on during the last couple of months, I’ve found that adhering too strictly to the form is detrimental to the poem. By this I mean that adhering strictly to the form just for the sake of the form is injurious. My allegiance is always to the poem, to create the best poem that I can. If you fulfill the requirements of the form too perfectly, you tend to get a lifeless, mechanical poem. This reminds me of what one of my teachers said years ago about working with iambic pentameter. He talked about how variation from the meter is welcomed and keeps the poem from being sing-songy or lulling you to sleep. As Ellen Bryant Voight pointed out in one of her essays, much of art is about pattern and variation.

I find it theoretically interesting to think about the hard choices you have to make as a poet when you revise. Often there is a conflict between sound and sense on say a word choice, or the line is too long or too short compared to other lines in the vicinity, or you’ve fudged the meter because it sounds better or says something you really need to say, or the stanza doesn’t look right on the page and makes the poem look ugly on the “canvas” of the page. It seems to me in times like this you have to have some idea of what is best overall for the poem when there no clear and perfect solution. It is also helpful if you have some idea of your hierarchy of preferences. For example, are you willing to use an inferior word in terms of denotation/connotation in favor of a word that makes the line sound better? Do you prefer sound over sense or sense over sound given a choice?


From a fortune cookie 12/7/2005:

You will conquer obstacles to achieve success.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Forgetfulness is like a song
That, freed from beat and measure, wanders.
Forgetfulness is like a bird whose wings are reconciled,
Outspread and motionless,—
A bird that coasts the wind unwearyingly.

Forgetfulness is rain at night,
Or an old house in a forest,—or a child.
Forgetfulness is white,—white as a blasted tree,
And it may stun the sybil into prophecy,
Or bury the Gods.

I can remember much forgetfulness.

—Hart Crane

Notice the interesting shift Crane makes from simile in stanza one to metaphor in stanza two.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Twenty Years Ago Today

I am a sophomore at Camp Lejeune High School in North Carolina. My best friend M.H. was a year behind me in school, but for reasons that are unclear now we took a Phase 5 English class together (i.e., advanced English class). Around this time our teacher Miss B. passed around pamphlets advertising the University of Virginia’s Young Writers Workshop. I expressed my interest to my parents and Miss B., and I ended up during the summer of 1986 studying short stories for one or two weeks in Charlottesville, Virginia. While attending the YWW, I met B.L. and feel in love for the first time. B.L. was studying poetry at the YWW, and she lived in Charlottesville. I had a chance to see B.L. twice afterwards because my grandmother lived nearby in Lynnhurst, Virginia. I attended the YWW the following summer to study fiction again, but B.L. had moved away. I would write a poem sixteen years later that was inspired by my memories of B.L. and dedicate the poem to her. This poem would become my first legitimate publishing credit (my wife was thrilled about this).

Ten Years Ago Today

I am living with my parents in Richmond, Virginia and wrapping up my third semester in my M.F.A. program at Virginia Commonwealth University where I am studying poetry. My future wife and I have been dating for close to nine months. I am preparing for exams, writing literature papers, and writing poems. I teach creative writing at The Governor’s School to gifted high school students and act as a teacher’s assistant in the main office. The year 1995 was one of the happiest years in my life.

Five Years Ago Today

I am living in a Charlottesville, Virginia apartment with my wife. We have been married for a little over two years. A few months earlier I was offered a promotion at work, and I’m now working as a Cost Accountant in the Finance department of the University of Virginia Medical Center. I have written very little since I finished graduate school due to feeling burned out creatively, but I am reading shelves of poetry, philosophy, and the great novels trying to fill in some gaps in my education.

One Year Ago Today

I am living in Orange County, Virginia with my wife. I am writing new poems and revising older poems. I am reading far less. I have been submitting my poems to many literary magazines, and about this time I receive the third literary magazine that published one of my poems during the year. I have been a Benchmarking Coordinator for the UVA Medical Center for a year and nine months, and I am recovering from last week’s benchmarking deadline and taking things slow at work. I am three months into a trial period of taking on some additional manager responsibilities. I have not started my Christmas shopping.


I am recovering from last week’s benchmarking deadline and reviewing my assigned departments for November month end. Tonight I will go to an employee appreciation sale at the University of Virginia Bookstore to look for some Christmas gifts. I also plan to go to Alderman Library to return two books and check out two new books. I am preparing an application package for a residency at an artist colony where I hope to stay in for a week next year. My goals is to come away from the residency with a finished or near finished collection of poems. I am wondering when the hell one of my wife’s Christmas gifts will show up in the mail. I am expecting my South Dakota Review contributor copies any day now.

Thoughts on Revision and Sending Out Poems

When I’m revising my poems sometimes it feels like I am working with a piece of rough-hewn marble that has the general shape of what will be the finished product, but it is my job to make those finer chips and smooth and polish. Another view of revision I have is that of a spiral. Each time I make a revision that improves the poem it feels like a turn closer to what I am getting at. After several tightening turns, I begin to see the dot in the center of the spiral. That is what I am after: the finished poem (or at least as finished as my current powers allow).

I’m getting better at judging when a poem is truly ready to send out for publication. A key requirement is that there should be no noticeable bumps in the poem. The poem should appear smooth and whatever flaws the poem does have should be minor or buried and not easily noticeable. It is sobering to look back at work you’ve been sending out and realize that some of it is not truly ready. It’s amazing what you miss when you are still too close to the poem. It helps to let enough time pass so that you can look at the poem with new eyes.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

More Quotes & Two Brief Poems

My feeling about meters and forms generally is that for a good poet—a poet who has the strength to take them over—they are undated and indeed timeless. For such a poet, they are simply instruments or contraptions which heighten and empower his words.
--Richard Wilbur

The poetry that fails the genius of its medium today is the poetry of mere self. It embarrasses all of us. The voice in it is not large but inflated. A voice that expands not to the size of a soul (capable of being both personal and communal, both private and historical) but to the size of an ego.
What I find most consistently moving about the act of a true poem is the way it puts the self at genuine risk. The kind of risk Robert Frost refers to when he describes the “ideals of form” as “where all our ingenuity is lavished on getting into danger legitimately so that we may be genuinely rescued.”
--Jorie Graham

To stay the same is to become a diminished thing.


Away With Funeral Music

Away with funeral music—set
The pipe to powerful lips—
The cup of life’s for him that drinks
And not for him that sips.

--Robert Louis Stevenson

For a Mouthy Woman

God and the devil still are wrangling
Which should have her, which repel;
God wants no discord in his heaven;
Satan has enough in hell.

--Countee Cullen

Monday, December 05, 2005

Poetry Quotes

An English poet, Philip Larkin, said that poetry doesn’t start with an idea; it starts with a poem…. You have to be open to the mystery. If you are open to it, mystery will come. If you’re not, why should it, actually?
—Lucille Clifton

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose—words in their best order; poetry—the best words in their best order.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.
—Robert Frost

Friday, December 02, 2005

Stray Thoughts and Last Night’s Odd Dream

Let’s see if I can get back in the habit of blogging regularly now that work has calmed down.

A few weeks ago I saw the movie Saw II. Like the first Saw movie, this movie had very graphic and disturbing violence among heaps of squalor and ugliness. The first movie was much more interesting; I would rent the second movie if you have any desire to see it. It is interesting to think about the premise question of the Saw movies: What are you willing to do to stay alive? The answers can be disturbing, which I think is the philosophical point of the movies.

A quote that I like:

“Your dreams are your dreams because they’re your destiny.”

Speaking of dreams (at least the kind you have when you are asleep):

I dreamed last night that I was an enlisted man in the Air Force and Maguiver (sp?) was my commanding officer (a colonel). I was in Cuba walking around an airport in my Air Force uniform. My orders were to indicate my interest in defecting to Cuba. I walked up to a ticket counter and told the group of women there something implying that I might be interesting in defecting. One of the women made a phone call, explained the situation very quickly in Spanish, then listened and nodded. After she hung up, she printed out and gave me a receipt showing that I owed 153 Cuban Pesos, which I knew in the dream exchanged into $53. Confused, I walked around the airport holding the receipt. I decided to sit down and people watch for a while. After a few seconds I suddenly had in my hands a partially thawed microwave dinner, still in the box. An old woman came up to me and started calling me a thief in Spanish. Apparently, I had stolen the microwave dinner, or she thought I had.

How’s that for an odd dream?!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

To Do List

  • Catch up with lower priority work after the December 1st deadline
  • Update work web site
  • Begin November month end review
  • Do some online Christmas shopping for parents and one of my sisters
  • Finish Christmas shopping for my wife
  • Buy a skateboarding T-shirt, hat, or sweat band for my nephew
  • Figure out what to get for my aunt and uncle and my parents’ visiting friends (haven’t a clue)
  • Resume learning conversational Italian for my trip to Rome
  • Start working on a CV as part of my application for an artist colony
  • Write a letter to my MFA thesis director asking if he would be willing to read some of my recent work and write a recommendation letter as part of my application package for the artist colony
  • Continue working on my sestina (it may turn out to be an exercise poem)
  • Continue revising in groups some of my older poems
  • Update my Excel submission records to record my two most recent rejections (received one yesterday saying they would have published “The Necessity of Color” if the South Dakota Review had not beaten them to it)
  • Pay bills that are due in the next seven days
  • Go to Alderman Library next week to return my probably overdue poetry books and get two more on my list
  • Add links to my blog