Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93 Movie

I saw United 93 at a matinee yesterday. My first thought on the movie is that this is definitely not a movie for everyone. This movie can upset you. I almost never get choked up or cry during a movie, but this movie was quit an experience. When the credits rolled at the end I felt like I had been on an amusement park ride for the hour and a half or however long the movie was. I think I had an increased heartbeat and probably some adrenaline circulating during the entire movie. Consequently, I felt pretty drained after I exited the movie. I was choked up when I talked to my wife on the cell phone about the movie and made plans to be picked up from the movie theater. I decided to go to a bookstore and read and get myself together before being picked up.

SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip this paragraph. You’ve been warned. There were no previews prior to the movie starting. When the movie started I wasn’t sure if I was watching United 93 or not until I saw the movie’s title. That was disorienting. The movie begins with the you watching the four terrorists who will hijack United 93 in their shared hotel room. They are each preparing for what they are about to do in their own way. There is quite a bit of praying. There is the concealing of knives under belts and final packing. They then leave the hotel room and head to the airport and remarkable pass through security without metal detection (the knives, two large batteries in a carry on used for a bomb – I don’t think the bomb was a real one that one of the terrorists constructed in the plane bathroom and used to keep the passengers at bay) and eventually board the plane. The movie then spends a lot of time switching back and forth between the FAA headquarters, the air traffic controllers in the Boston airport, New York airport, and Cleveland airport, and the military reactions at a military base (NORAD I think it was). The movie also cuts back to what is going on aboard United 93. There was also actual CNN footage incorporated into the movie showing the World Trade Center towers being hit and footage from the attack on the Pentagon. The movie’s portrayal of the events made it look like nothing was coordinated very well at all between the air traffic controllers, the FAA, and the military. Information was sketchy, confused, and often circulated late to other parties. I was scratching my head over why the military could only get four jet fighters in the air to cover the Eastern Seaboard, and later available fighters were unarmed and could only ram and have the pilot eject as a weapon. The military could not get a hold of either the President or Vice-President to make a call about rules of engagement (i.e., do they have permission to shoot down a commercial airliner). The FAA man in charge finally made a ballsy decision on his own to ground ALL incoming, outgoing, and flights currently in the air. He remarked that somebody is at war with us and until we figure out what is going on there will be no planes in the air. Approximately 4,200 planes were in the air the morning of September 11, 2001, according to the movie. One of the FAA managers remarked that such a decision would cost billions, but the FAA director stood firm, which I thought was very gutsy and made me proud. The last fourth of the movie stays with Flight 93 as the passengers learn about the other suicide planes from the air phones, say goodbye to their loved ones, and try desperately to retake the plane and get a small engine pilot into the cockpit to try and land the plane. We know how that ended…. The movie concluded with some facts/remarks in white letters on black screens and dedicated the movie to all of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. I was surprised and disappointed that there was not something that said part of the proceeds from the movie will go to a September 11th charity. I think it is a bit obscene to make a movie like this and not donate some of the profits towards a September 11th charity. I felt a little guilty and hypocritical for going to see the movie at this point. I heard people sniffing during the movie and saw people wiping their eyes. I found it very interesting that as people were exiting the theater they all seemed especially courteous, polite, and more patient with each other. That was very cool to experience. A very powerful movie. Worth seeing if you can stomach it.


I entered another poetry contest yesterday. That makes nine contests total this year. Two of them have already announced their winners. This morning I finished the last two stanzas and added a third to a new poem that has been stalled for over two months. I think I have a good first draft, and I’m looking forward to revising it. I left Starbucks on a creative high. I felt powerful and things around me all seemed more vivid and full of hidden meaning. I also think a couple of young women were eyeing me appreciatively while I was writing. That is always a nice feeling and makes me feel younger than I am.

Okay, this is kind of creepy. I just finished my takeout Chinese food as I write this and opened my fortune cookie. On the front side the fortune is:

Instead of worrying and agonizing move ahead constructively.

That’s not a fortune, but it could apply helpfully to my writing life. What was creepy though was the “Learn Chinese” word on the back: Jiu-yue - September. Cue the X Files theme music please.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A poem is a way of meaning more than one thing at a time.

--John Ciardi


Seamus Heaney (1939 - )

Seamus Heaney was born in County Derry, Northern Ireland, on April 13, 1939, the first of nine children. While teaching at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast in 1963, Heaney began to write (he was 24 years old), and his first volume of poetry, Eleven Poems, was published in 1965, but it was his Death of a Naturalist (1966), that won him international acclaim. His early work, which refers to his childhood on the family cattle farm, was influenced by Robert Frost and Ted Hughes. Influences on his later poetry include Hopkins, Wordsworth, and Hardy. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, and was considered at that time to be the best Irish poet since 1923, the year that the last Irish poet—William Butler Yeats—won the prize. (Coincidentally, Heaney was born the year that Yeats died.) Heaney moved with his family from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic in 1972. He continues writing, continues winning prizes, and teaches at Harvard for part of the year.

--From Poetry Speaks

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Recent Fortune Cookie Fortunes

You are a lover of words; someday you will write a book 4/24/2006

You have a secret admirer. 4/18/2006

Confidence of success is almost success.


Monday I tried writing after work and made almost zero progress on my revisions and new poems. I drove home Monday more frustrated than on Sunday. I tried writing again last night after work; my thought was that I’ll try again today, if I’m still making no progress than I probably need to take a short break from writing poetry. I’ll dive into reading a bunch of poetry instead to build up material. Luckily, after the first thirty minutes of struggling to write on one of my news poems last night, the words began to trickle, then came out in a thin stream.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I had a frustrating morning with my writing. I couldn’t make any real progress on my revisions or new poems. The words are just not coming today.

I received on Friday a rejection from The Marlboro Review.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Rejection News

I received a rejection from West Branch yesterday. I also received notification from The Southeast Review best poem contest that I was not among the 10 finalists and 29 semi-finalists. The letter said that they had over 500 entries. I was little surprised that West Branch didn’t take anything that I sent them. I thought I sent them some poems they would like based on what they have previously published. There was no ink on the rejection slip. Regarding the poetry contest, I felt like a failure for not being at least among the 29 semi-finalists. Logically, I know that I should not feel like a failure. If you divide 39 by 501 you get 7.78%. Those are not great odds, and there were probably well over 501 entries when they say “over 500 entries.” At least The Southeast Review sent a current copy of their journal along with the notification, and I will receive another copy with the winning 10 poems in the fall. I am getting something for my contest entry fee.

I found my rejection reaction curious. A part of me was surprised at why the rejections stung. After turning it over, my conclusion is this: Perhaps the rejections still sting because I am not fully convinced that my poetry is worth something. The rejections sting because I am looking for external validation to make up for my lack of conviction. It seems to me that if I was fully convinced that my poetry is good that I would be able to shrug the rejections off and just think things like maybe the winning poems were indeed better or are just a better aesthetic fit for what the editors and contest judge like. Or think about how I sent in my entry near the close of the contest, so perhaps the poems got a rushed reading.

Mostly I am thinking about the wisdom in just keeping at it regardless and waiting my turn. My understanding from poets who have been at this far longer than I have is that you may never receive the recognition that you feel you are due. And I have to keep reminding myself that the poetry scene is far different today than it was for older poets. With all the MFA programs turning out poets each year, there is competition upon competition upon competition. The sheer numbers out there make acceptances and winning contests a long shot at best. I think that I am laboring under the myth that just because I work hard on my poems that that will necessarily translate into success. That line of reasoning seems to work well at my regular job, but it does not work as well when it comes to poetry. Finally, there is coming to grips with the reality that there are no guarantees in life. Plenty of poets have received little recognition during their lives. Fewer poets receive recognition posthumously. So, if I keep at this, the poetry itself has to be the thing. It has to be about the pleasure in doing something that I have a talent for, find interesting, and about the pleasure in watching myself grow at it. It has to be about marveling at the power of the imagination and learning about myself. To borrow from Joseph Campbell, it has to be about “the soul’s high adventure.” Perhaps my lot in life will be to work for years in hospital finance and write poetry along the way with little recognition. That is not a life that I would choose, but perhaps it is the life that is my duty to endure. There is so much in life that we have no control over.


Life is only a movie. Don’t worry about it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Looks like I am set to go to my aunt’s condo in North Carolina in October for a week. The plan is to work from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM on my poetry manuscript each day and have the nights to do whatever I want.

The premier issue of SLAB should be coming out any day now. I’m looking forward to seeing my poem “Drive” in print.


There’s a certain anthology of Virginia poets that I was flipping through the other day at a bookstore. I think it is inappropriate for the editors of an anthology to include their work own in the anthology. I also found who they included as “Virginia poets” to be a bit of a stretch. One poet in particular was neither born nor had lived a significant part of his life in Virginia. He just taught for a year (maybe two) at a Virginia university teaching creative writing then moved on. I found myself wondering how objective the inclusion criteria were applied. The list of poets seemed like a list of friends who all teach creative writing and know each other. To be included, you had to have at least one book of poems published, have been born in Virginia or lived in Virginia for a significant portion of your life (seems vague and pretty open to interpretation), and be actively participating in the Virginia poetry community.


Random musing from my caffeine high on 4/16/06:

Did you know that wedding bands are magical Rings of Warding? They don’t always work, but I’d say they work 90% of the time. They ward off romantic interest from others.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Caffeine High!

I’m jacked up on caffeine right now. The Starbucks barista messed up and fixed me a Grande rather than the Venti that I paid for. So, I received two drinks for the price of one! I’ve finished the Grande, and I’m half way through the Venti. Zip bang!

I had a moderately good morning revising two poems (one of them is almost finished I think), and I started a new one. The new one will be a companion poem to another poem I finished revising recently. I think it will be very interesting to see how the two points of view on the same slice of time and subject matter will conflict and complement one another.

Somewhere I thought I read that the word “stanza” means “room” from the Italian. I’m seeing in my dictionaries that stanza’s root is “stance” and harkens back to Latin (of course because Italian is a Romance language). However, if I use an online English to Italian free translation service and type in “room” it comes out as “stanza” in Italian. I rather like thinking of stanzas as rooms. They are akin to paragraphs in prose. I’ve noticed in my work that unless I’m working in a two to four line stanza that I usually don’t run my sentences into the next stanza for flow. Instead, I tend to use my stanzas as paragraphs or rooms and any flow has to be within the stanza through stanza-contained enjambment. In my longer stanzas (say nine to twelve lines for a stanza), the stanzas feel like building blocks. I build my poem one block at a time. Stanzas are handy when it comes to wanting to make a transition in time or thought or modulate tone or change speakers or change the point of view.

I’ve also been thinking about how language is a type of shorthand when it comes to reading a poem or a piece of fiction. The author puts these symbols on paper that correspond (often vaguely) to things in “the real world,” and the reader responds to the stimuli of the symbols and their generally agreed upon meanings to fill in the rest or flesh out more concrete details than what the author has actually suggested on paper. I’m thinking here about what goes on subtly when we read and create images in our minds.

Does anyone else feel like this when it comes to creative writing and contemplating the pleasures of the imagination? Sometimes I feel like a god when I write. Not omniscient. Not omnipotent. Not omnipresent, but I do revel in the power and endless possibilities of a blank page. Anything can happen on the page. I can surprise myself (i.e., “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”) and what I put on the paper is made in my own image.

Give me the place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the Earth!

--Attributed to Archimedes

Archimedes is talking here about levers and fulcrums, and this quote is frequently referred to as Archimedes’ Point or an Archimedean Point.

I say:

Give me reams of paper, and a pen with enough ink, and I will create a world!

or (a 21st century version):

Give me a laptop with enough memory, a quiet place to work, and I will create a world!


Interesting blog entry copied from Kelli Russell Agodon blog:

Overheard Advice and a Couple of Extra Cents Tossed into the Fountain
I recently heard some advice one artist gave to another and I thought it applied to the poetry world as well. She said,

Regarding your work--just do what you do best and wait your turn.

In poetry there are many trends and it's easy to be pulled in. It's easy to line up behind another, more difficult to start the line, yet we each need to be at the beginning of our own line. I'm not saying don't experiment, copy, steal, explore a way of writing that is different than your own style, but make it your own. Follow, just stand next to the poet you're following and not behind.


My caffeine high is now wearing off. Time to sign off and hunt and forage for some lunch.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A poem always has elements of accident about it, which can be made the subject of inquest afterwards, but there is always a risk in conducting your own inquest: you might begin to believe the coroner in yourself rather than put your trust in the man in you who is capable of the accident.

--Seamus Heaney


Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966)

Frank O’Hara belonged to the New York School of modern poets, which included John Ashbery; he was as much involved with modern art as with poetry, and actually served as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His well-rounded artistic background included attendance at the New England Conservatory of Music, and a two-year stint at Art News magazine. O’Hara’s first collection of poetry, A City Winter—a slim pamphlet of twelve poems and five sonnets—was published in 1952 by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery rather than by a conventional publisher. He wrote a long (520 lines) poem called “Second Avenue” in 1953, and his first book of poems, Meditations in an Emergency, was published in 1957. He preoccupation with death continues in his later books of poetry. In 1967 the Museum of Modern Art published a memorial book of his work, illustrated by his artist friends. His poetry was not yet fully recognized when he was killed in a car accident in 1966, but the publication of Collected Poems in 1980 sealed his reputation as a writer of direct, accessible, inventive poetry.

--From Poetry Speaks


My parents and my aunt are trying to work out having me stay at one of their North Carolina houses in October while they are away. This would be a good alternative to a writer’s colony.

My promotion at work is official. I’ll have one employee reporting to me, and I’ll see the pay increase in my next earnings statement!

Friday, April 07, 2006

As a Plan C in case I am not able to go to any artist colonies this year, I’ve approached my parents about house sitting for them in the fall. My parents visit friends and relatives often or just travel to travel.


I’ve been thinking about what it is that keeps me writing and excited about poetry. My answer is that I feel myself growing as a poet the more I write. I understand aspects of craft better or notice a new aspect of craft. I also feel my poetic powers growing (i.e., I can tackle a greater variety subjects and have a greater range of poetic modes to select from), and I have more confidence and faith in what I am doing. I’ve learned from experience that when faced with a craft problem a solution will present itself; I just have to be patient and keep wrestling with it. Usually the solution is a creative solution and requires my subconscious to raise its hand.


Wisdom from song lyrics: “Tired of trying to be, what I’ll never be.”


Philosophical musing from a philosophy CD I’ve been listening to. Some people suffer from diseases such as paranoid schizophrenia and believe they are people like Jesus or Napoleon. If we are dreaming about flying in an airplane or being a solider in a war, during the dream we believe that we are indeed flying in an airplane or a solider in a war. Since these things happen it seems likely that some day scientists will be able to stimulate our brains in such a way that we can experience very vivid events (think of the movie Total Recall). What if these scientists could give you the life of your choosing versus your current life by hooking your brain up (“the brain in the vat” philosophers often call this scenario)? You can have any kind of life you choose. Say you want a life where you are an eminent poet who writes brilliant poems and has won a Pulitzer, a National Book Award, and a Nobel Prize. On what grounds would you accept or reject this offer from the scientists and why? You might say that you would only be interested in this experience as say a temporary one-week vacation experience. You might argue that you would reject this offer as a permanent thing because the experiences would not be real. The experiences would be from a manipulated, artificial reality, and you would not be responsible for writing the brilliant poems or earning the accolades. Hence, the experience would be empty. Taking it a step further, what if these scientists could also stimulate a part of your brain so that you forgot this was an artificial reality and could guarantee that you would think this was your real life and had always been your real life (think of the movie The Matrix). Would you be interested then or not? Would you take the blue pill or the red pill?

For me, I would not be interested. Sure, I might want to briefly experience the life of my choosing as a kind of vacation, but I would ultimately choose my life and reality—disappointing and frustrating as it sometimes is. I would not want to live permanently in a fantasyland. I have a strong allegiance to reality and want to earn on my own and be completely responsible for what I accomplish in life. This seems to be some sort of core value that I hold, a desire for a genuine reality or genuine life. I suspect most people would turn down the scientists for similar reasons.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses’ necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!

-- Dorothy Parker


Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Those who witnessed John F. Kennedy’s inauguration will never forget the aged Robert Frost at the windswept podium, the youthful new president holding down the fluttering pages as the old man fought the glare of the sun. Both men would be dead two years later. Robert Frost was America’s most popular poet when he died two months shy of age 89. Although we think of Frost as a New Englander, he was born in San Francisco. He lived in England with his family in 1912, and received the support of Ezra Pound, who helped him publish his first two books. Returning to the United States in 1915, Frost became a 40-year-old farmer/poet, and eventually his persona of self-serving tyrant softened to the folksy, white-haired grandfather figure with a New England twang. He won four Pulitzer Prizes and the Gold Medal by the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His poetry is appealing and accessible, but not always as simple as it seems—Frost was a master of using symbolism to underlay the more obvious forms or actions in the poems.

--From Poetry Speaks


I received a rejection yesterday from the strange fruit.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Plenty on My Mind Today

While driving home last night and listening to a favorite CD, I noticed something that I do from time to time. My mind will be thinking about work, my writing, or the future, and I suddenly realize that a favorite song is playing, and I’ve missed a portion of it. I will then scan to the beginning of the song. Often my mind is still wandering, and I realize I still haven’t fully entered the song. Hence, I will scan back to the beginning of the song again. With some songs, I like to be fully present when I listen to the music. I want to experience the song emotionally and create in my mind the images that I’ve created to go along with the story of the lyrics and music, kind of like my own music video. Ah, the power and joy of music!

From the poetry books I’ve been reading recently, I feel that there is a gap in my education. I want to learn more about the specific names of trees, flowers, birds, fish, insects, and the constellations. I tend not to write overly gorgeous poetry with lots of trees, flowers, and birds, but I would like the knowledge at my command if I want to use it in my writing or if I encounter it in other people’s writing. Last night I spent a lot of time hunting for a specific tree name that would fit a line of poetry I’m revising. Had I more knowledge about trees, I could have probably pulled a good tree name out of my head that would fit the line rather than thumbing endlessly through books.

Last week after I returned from Dallas my wife and I had dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s near the airport. I noticed a mismatched couple sitting behind my wife. The woman was a young, slim, well dressed, and a very attractive blonde. She was sitting opposite this guy that looked grungy in his long-sleeve skateboard T-shirt, knit cap, and jeans. Further, he was not nearly as attractive in body or face as the woman. I discreetly pointed all of this out to my wife. We had a brief conversation debating if they were a couple or maybe brother and sister. We never did arrive at a definite decision. I saw the same couple again last night while I was writing at Starbucks. This time I saw her put her arm around him and stand very close to him while they ordered their drinks. I concluded that they are indeed a couple. This got me thinking again about what my wife and I discussed as part of our conversation about the couple when we saw them at Ruby Tuesday’s. Generally, men and women will pair up in such a way that each of them are relatively equal as far as society’s definitions of attractiveness goes. However, occasionally you will see a very attractive woman on the arm of a relatively unattractive man. To be cynical, we could say that the man has money, which offsets his other perceived shortcomings, but I don’t think money is always involved in this kind of scenario. I don’t think the grunge guy was loaded for example. My wife pointed out that it is very rare that a highly attractive man would choose a relatively unattractive woman to be with. I think she is right. So, are women more willing to overlook looks in favor of say personality, intelligence, a sense of humor, etc. than men are? It would seem so.

Regarding submissions to literary magazines, it occurred to me last night that even if you send out your work and it is rejected at least more people are reading it than if you were not sending your work out. If having an audience for your work is important, at least a few extra people are reading what you do. I find this comforting. It assuages some of the sting of rejection. Of course, if your work is published the hope is that you will have a larger audience and more people will read your work. Having your work accepted by a literary magazine is about external validation that what you do is valuable and worth your time and other people’s time. When a literary magazines accepts someone’s work and publishes it the editors are in effect saying to the world, “Hey, look at this! You’ve got to read this!”

I’ve been listening to a philosophy CD in the car. Something the philosophy professor said about the Greek Stoics struck me. The quote goes something like this: “Never say you have lost something. Instead, say you have merely returned it.” The point here is about the nature of attachment and that all life is transitory. We never really own anything—not our CDs, not our cars, not our houses, not even our health, intelligence, and our lives. Everything is borrowed and on borrowed time. It all must be returned sooner or later. It can all be taken from us by another or merely by the ravages of time. The idea of “returning” these things is very interesting to me. I never thought of it that way.


Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toenails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.

--Dylan Thomas

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I’ve decided to try the waiting list for the VCCA artist colony. I sent in the request to be put on the waiting list this morning. In the meantime, there are some web sites I plan to search to see if there are any other artist colonies nearby that I might want to apply to. I also have the option of reapplying to the VCCA. My parents have retired to a house in North Carolina and frequently go out of town to visit friends or travel. I may inquire with them if I can house sit and use the time to work on my manuscript.

I received a letter yesterday informing me that I was not one of the four winners for the Discovery/The Nation poetry contest. The letter indicated that they had almost 1,000 submissions this year for the contest. I also received a rejection from The Jabberwocky Review.

I mailed this morning some poetry submissions.


The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

--Steve Biko

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Night of a Thousand Blossoms

I didn’t make any real progress on a new poem that I’ve been working on. I have four stanzas written and believe I need two more. I struggled and struggled this morning to find the words for starting the fifth stanza, but the words wouldn’t come. Hence, I switched over to revising an older poem and did some fairly major revisions to it to the poem’s benefit.

I received a rejection on Friday from The Spoon River Poetry Review. I still plan to mail out some poems tomorrow.

My poetry coach recommended that I read Frank X. Gaspar’s Night of a Thousand Blossoms. I like his poems. There’s a lot of spirituality and wisdom to them. I’ll need to re-read the book after I’ve finished it, but so far it seems like in sections one and two of the book he keeps writing the same kind of poem over and over. They strike me as meditations on the tangles and elusiveness of truth and spiritual matters. Each of the poems in sections one and two seem to assert/explore and then cancel themselves out by the conclusion of each poem, like a snake eating its tale, back to a neutral place where things started and none the wiser except perhaps for the journey. I’m half way through section three of the book right now, and these poems seem different than sections one and two.


Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! … To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.

--Herman Melville