Saturday, May 30, 2009

Poem of the week

Just finished reading Ali Liebegott's novel-in-verse The Beautifully Worthless. It gave me lots of ideas about how to structure the project, book, whatever it is that I'm working on currently -- one of my characters has started writing letters, which may or may not show up in the manuscript interspersed with actual poems. (They may also just be background information for me to use myself. Don't know yet. I'm leaning towards including them, though.)

Liebegott's book struck me as a bit uneven, but overall pretty interesting and handled the balance between lyric & narrative pretty well. Here's a bit from it:

Once, I found myself beneath a woman,
her legs straddled my lap, her face bent down
to my turned-up mouth, my turned-up mouth
that was turned like flames following the curve
of gasoline thrown by the arsonist.
I wanted exactly what happened that night
for this woman, to undo the buttons of my shirt
exactly as she did,
it was as if the shirt were my skin,

for months after, I was haunted by buttons
opening and falling like the light plunk of a penny
into a wishing well, there's no way I loved her,
and I know she's never thought about those buttons
and how they felt, like something sacred,
like she was God and I was the dying child coming home.

-Ali Liebegott, from The Beautifully Worthless

Friday, May 29, 2009

Just wondering...

So it's been almost a year since I started sending my first book ms. around, which means that some of the same deadlines are coming around again. The ms. has been tweaked here and there since I started submitting it, but hasn't been significantly restructured -- it's still essentially the same book, though hopefully the tweaks have made it a little stronger.

So... obviously nobody's accepted it yet. Do any of y'all ever send essentially the same ms. to a publisher/reading period/contest for a second time? I know most of them use different judges every year, but if you don't get past the initial readers to become a finalist it doesn't really matter who the judge is anyway. I'm inclined not to resend it to anyplace that rejected it without comment, but haven't decided about the places that at least gave me a nice word or two. My instinct is not to resend it even there until it's been significantly restructured, but... what do you guys think? Seriously looking for advice here.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Monkey see...

So this is my first attempt at making a video, using the bitty camera on my bitty new netbook. Not sure how crazy I am about it, and the video quality leaves something to be desired, but I'll put it up at least for now. This is a "rainy morning in Provincetown" poem -- I wrote the first draft sitting in the Adams Pharmacy looking out at cranky wet tourists walking by, then moved over to the Provincetown Public Library and worked on it for a while, then went back over to the Fine Arts Work Center and typed it up & printed it out & took it in to my workshop that afternoon. It was a good day.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The new issue of OCHO, featuring poets who Twitter, is up! Collin Kelley & Didi Menendez did a great (and fast!) job putting this together. There's a wide range of voices and you're sure to find something you like in this one, whatever your taste. (Maybe you'll even like mine, a kinda weird thing called "Verge" -- you tell me what it's about 'cause I'm still not sure.)

Also, in just over an hour, I will be forty-eight years old. That's a big number.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Drafty in here

Of course I am disappointed, though not exactly surprised, by today's California Supreme Court ruling. I do believe there is momentum in the right direction... baby steps, baby steps. Have faith and keep fighting.

Meanwhile, just to assert that my little join-the-circus road trips really do spawn something other than long rambling blog posts, here's a rough draft from today. I'll take it down in a day or so. It's definitely rough, but so much fun to recall a moment and turn around & put myself in the other person's shoes. Er, boots.

[gone again]

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Road notes from the E Street Nation: Part 2 - The Beat, The Beat, The Beat

No, I haven't run away and joined the circus (or a rock & roll band... same difference). Still here.

I have been restless and impatient ever since returning home from my oh-so-short road trip a couple weeks ago, feeling centered only when listening to music, bashing away at my guitar, or writing. I feel like something's come unplugged.

Rock concerts -- at least the ones I go to and love -- give the audience full permission to express and enjoy a couple of things that are, intentionally or not, less than abundant in my life: unbridled romanticism (from"the screen door slams, Mary's dress sways / Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays..." all the way to "big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams / meet me in a land of hope and dreams") and unfiltered sexuality (cue up any throbbing bass line, any drumbeat shuddering through the air and into each and every body in the room, any scorching guitar solo). Hell, just immersing yourself in -- giving yourself over to -- music that's being created by other human beings to the extent that your body moves, almost involuntarily, with what those other humans' hands are doing... that's almost frighteningly sexual in and of itself. Rock music isn't sexual because of its lyrics, but because of its pure, immersive physicality, and the expectation of surrender. So... yeah.

Strong stuff for a middle-aged hermit. No wonder I'm ready to run off and join the circus, huh?

You know, if I had my life to live over again, the one big thing I would do differently is: I would push myself harder with my own music, make myself learn to sing even if it's emotionally challenging (which it is, for me, for some reason -- more than physically or technically challenging -- singing in front of people feels like standing there naked), not put down the guitar just because I'm busy doing other things. Because as much as my fangirlcelebritystalking ways are exactly that -- at the heart of it, it is much more that I long to be a part of the larger thing that is the music itself. I would much, much rather be someone's lyricist or even background singer (yeah right) than their groupie. Much as I get all fangirly about the musicians I love, I don't give much of a shit about celebrity itself -- if you put me in a room with, say, Tom Hanks or some other megasuperstar and a minor-league musician I happen to love, it'd be the musician I'd get all tongue-tied talking to. Because they are the emissaries of the Music, corny as that sounds.

(Which is how it happens that a middle-aged doofy poet gets all swoony over being given a little plastic guitar pick by a middle-aged doofy rockstar. Trust me, I know how silly this all is, but it's truly in service to something larger. And knowing that, my friends, is part of what makes it different now -- and deeper -- than what it was like seeing this same band thirty years ago, when it was just wild and fun. All the deeper stuff was there then, but I didn't know it yet, at least not with the brain part of my brain.)

At my age (forty-eight in a few short days!) I'm obviously not about to run away and join the circus. I know it, you know it, my colleagues at work know it, my cats know it most of all. I'm too fond of having health insurance and of sleeping in my own bed at night. Certainly "Chasing Angels," the manuscript I'm working on these days, is in part my stab at living vicariously through my characters, imagining the good and the bad of being a full-time touring musician. If I can get the thing written and (cross fingers) published, it will certainly serve in part as a very public love letter to the music and the people who create it.

It's all my dad's fault, really. He was a musician and I grew up in a house full of music -- my dad's band occasionally practiced in our living room (when they couldn't use the drummer's basement for whatever reason) and music was just a part of the air I breathed. And then when I was 12 years old he got his doctorate, got a faculty position, packed us up and moved us to Indiana, and never made an effort to find himself a musicians' community or people to play with, and he pretty much gave up playing. Which is just tremendously heartbreaking to me, even now. He always loved music and listened to it, but he was never a part of it in the same way again.

What would it be like to reach middle age without having given up on your greatest, craziest dreams?

Getting a little taste of that, even from a distance, is another reason I love Springsteen/E Street Band concerts. In part it's what they're selling us -- the dream, the romantic sense of belief. I know that. It's a circus, it's a show; they're performers, playing their parts. But also, there's something there that's much too real to be just an act, just entertainment. You watch Bruce on that stage with every cell in his body committed to what he's doing (living the dream he's been working on since he was a kid, really) and as you sing along and raise your arms in the air and become a part of it, you can't help but believe the message on some level. "Dreams will not be thwarted / Faith will be rewarded."

Late in the show on a Saturday night (Milwaukee, 2008)...
Bruce: "Don't you [people in the audience] gotta be in church tomorrow?"
Steve [Van Zandt, guitarist]: "We're in church."
Bruce: "What?"
Steve: "We're in church now."

Religious experience? Sure, maybe. I really don't care what you call it. All I know is, when I go to these concerts, I become a part of something much, much larger than myself. Call it Music, call it God, call it twenty thousand people getting sweaty together in a very large room. Call it a little corner of joy and hope and letting your whole body be alive. Call it whatever you want... all I know is, I want more.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Interlude: Radio Nowhere

Still scratching my head trying to put some words together about some of what the recent Springsteen shows meant to me. Maybe it won't happen. Maybe it will.

Meanwhile, here's part of Radio Nowhere (from a couple of weeks before "my" shows) so you can see I wasn't kidding about Mister Holy Crap Jay Weinberg. Not that a little YouTube video can capture half of what it's like when you feel that bass drum in your chest and legs... but maybe you'll get a little of the idea. (I love how he's singing along, too! He's just SO into it, it's unreal.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Road Notes from the E Street Nation: Part 1 - The Thunder

So last week I spent a few days with my mom in northern Indiana, then drove to Chicago, flew to St. Paul, flew back to Chicago, and drove back home. All for the love of rock & roll. It wasn’t quite as epic as last summer’s road trip, but it sure did have its moments.

One thing I was looking forward to was the new kid on the drums. Max Weinberg, who’s been the E Street Band drummer since the mid-seventies, has a “day job” as bandleader for the Conan O’Brien show – and with Conan taking over Leno’s timeslot, Max won’t be able to miss the first few weeks. It was revealed a few months ago that Max’s 18 year old son, Jay Weinberg, would be sitting in for at least some of the European shows that Max won’t be able to make – and Jay’s been warming up by playing at least portions of most of the recent U.S. shows (though he didn’t make an appearance at the Denver show I went to). Now, Jay’s usual gig is with a metal band, and did I mention that he’s 18? Just… yeah. I have to admit that my first reaction was “An 18-year-old metalhead? Has Bruce Springsteen lost his freakin’ mind??” But I’d been hearing good reports from the shows Jay had played so far, and I was dying of curiosity to see for myself.

The St. Paul show opened with “Badlands” and Jay was on the riser – and holy crap, people! The kid’s impressive! “Radio Nowhere” is his real showpiece – long black hair flying, bringing the thunder like nobody’s business. I immediately became a convert. True, he doesn’t have the precision, the consistency, or the depth of repertoire that his father has. Nor can he read Bruce’s mind quite the way his father can after so many years. But let me tell you, the kid makes up for it with his passion, enthusiasm, power, and joy. He is SO much fun to watch. At about the halfway point of the show Max took over, and the changeover was just incredibly sweet – both Bruce and Max visibly busting with pride, giving Jay hugs and high-fives, the audience ROARING as Jay took a bow. (And for the rest of the show Max played, if anything, even harder & better than usual, & his "usual" is damned amazing -- a little challenge from the younger generation never hurts, I guess!)

   [photo from]
Understand: the E Street Nation is very, very protective of its little band. We’re incredibly lucky in that most of the guys in the band are the same ones many of us fell in love with thirty-plus years ago; and we don’t much care for change, or for new faces. So to see the audience embracing the “new kid” was sweet indeed. Does it help that he’s “family”? Sure. I wouldn’t deny that. There are lots of competent, even brilliant, drummers (my hometown guy Kenny Aronoff comes to mind) who could have stepped in to get the job done. But they would have just been hired hands. So the blood connection does make a difference. That said, Jay had to win us over on his own – it wasn’t a gimme. And he did so with gusto.

A little known fact about the younger Mr. Weinberg: “Jay” is actually his middle name. The whole show I found myself calling him by his full name, which is HOLY CRAP JAY WEINBERG. I heard more than a couple of other folks using his real first name as well. Seriously!

Anyway, so St. Paul was a pretty good show. But Chicago’s what I really want to talk about. See, I had general admission tickets both nights. The way they work GA is this: you show up at the venue between 2 and 5:00 on the day of the show with your ticket in hand, and you get a wristband. The wristband has a number on it. Around 5:00 they start getting people lined up in numerical order. Once people are sort of lined up they let you know how many wristbands have been given out (around 1200 in St. Paul and a little less than that in Chicago), and they let you know how many they will be allowing into the “pit,” which is the partitioned-off section right in front of the stage. (600 in St. Paul, 550 in Chicago – it varies by venue.) They draw a “random” number, and the person whose wristband matches that number gets to be first in line. It generally works more or less okay, and keeps people from sitting in line in front of the venue all night like in the bad old days.

ANYWAY. In St. Paul, I didn’t get into the pit, and in fact I had a good couple hundred people ahead of me going into the main GA area, so I had quite a few people in front of me – at 5 foot 1 this is an issue! – but honestly I still enjoyed it more than I would have from a seat. The energy is higher on the floor, and those of us who like to stand up and dance and shout and sing the whole show don’t have somebody behind them begging them to please sit down. But still… you want that magic number, you want to be close. In Chicago, my wristband was #782. I stood in line, surrounded by strangers, my heart pounding as they drew……… #747. I was in!! Not only that, but I was WAY in… I knew at that point that I’d either be in the very front or at most I’d have maybe one person between me and the stage. Oh, the glee! Oh, the anticipation! Oh, the people high-fiving and texting their friends! 20,000 people in the United Center and we’re going to be in front of all of ‘em!

We were ushered into the arena a good couple hours before the show, so most of us used the time to sit on the floor and relax while we could. Some people brought in food and enjoyed their dinner. Lots of chatting, reminiscing about shows past, getting to know your neighbors. I always meet really great folks at these shows, and St. Paul & Chicago were no exception. A few times I stood up to stretch and just gazed at the stage… right… THERE… within touching distance. The stage is like an altar to me, a sacred thing, set with the implements of magic: guitars, microphones, Soozie Tyrell’s violins, Roy Bittan’s white piano. There’s a comfort in seeing water and setlists set out for the band members a few minutes before showtime, in the ritual of the last-minute soundcheck. I’ve never been a performing musician, but looking at that stage just feels like home to me. It’s funny.

And then that magic, magic moment when the lights go down. The crowd erupts and under cover of darkness, one by one, the musicians slip onto the stage. And the lights blaze up and the band crashes into “Badlands” and I’m out of my mind with giddy delight. It’s funny, being six feet from the musicians – the show is BIG: grand gestures, full voices, everything devoted to pushing the songs’ energy all the way up into the rafters. Being so close to that is like chatting with someone who’s in full stage makeup – it’s TOO vivid, too big, too MUCH almost. It takes a little getting used to. (Oh, but I can get used to it… oh boy can I ever.)

It’s a different show, being close enough to actually interact with the band a little. Close enough to get hit with a flying drop of sweat (Bruce sweats like a horse and he plays that guitar pretty hard… it’s actually fairly unsanitary up front *grin*). I was, in an uncharacteristically brilliant move, wearing my favorite tie-dye “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” t-shirt, and as luck would have it, I was planted squarely in front of Little Steven himself. It was a fun moment when he noticed the shirt and gave me a big smile. (And then at the end of the show, he came over in my direction and handed me a guitar pick – someone else was reaching for it and he was very careful to make sure it got into MY grubby little hands. Swoon!)

I actually find, when I’m up close, that I only end up watching Bruce about half the time – even though he’s pretty much the greatest and most charismatic performer in the history of rock & roll. I just love watching all the other band members as they rally round to support his vision – the little interactions between them, the scrambling when Bruce changes up the setlist on the fly, the dedication and love that every one of them puts into the music. It’s a remarkable band, made up of (from everything I have heard from people who know or have met them) remarkable people. Yes, it is Bruce’s vision and commitment (and NOBODY, nowhere, conveys pure commitment in their performance like Bruce Springsteen does) that’s out front leading the way, but the E Street Band is a magnificent machine: the sheer virtuosity of Nils Lofgren and Roy Bittan; the mighty thunder of Max Weinberg; the heart and soul and rock&roll conviction of Little Steven; the reliable foundation of Garry Tallent’s criminally underrated bass playing; the "biggest man you've ever seen," mountain of love, Clarence Clemons… it’s like a bumblebee, this band: with that many strong-minded individuals on stage, it should be physically impossible for it to fly -- but fly it does. Oh baby… fly it does.

[photo taken with my crappy cellphone camera. that's Bruce up there standing on the piano.]

Next up: Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll (except not so much with the drugs part).

Monday, May 18, 2009

For the moment

Still working on my thoughts about the St. Paul and Chicago Springsteen concerts. I know, too much buildup, the post will never measure up! Ah well. To tide you over, here's a little drafty draft from today. This is from my "Chasing Angels" series and it's in the voice of the longtime, loyal fan who's just spent a little time following the band she loves from town to town. Gee... where would I have gotten THAT idea, hmmm? ;)


Friday, May 15, 2009


I'm working on a proper post about my two-night stand in the E Street Nation... and actually right now I am listening to an, er, audience-sourced recording of the Chicago show, reliving one of my favorite nights of my life. These concerts mean so much more to me than just the music. Still working on finding the words.

Meanwhile, if you want some words, you can go check out the new issue of diode! I am very pleased to have three poems in it. Haven't had the time yet to read the rest of the issue closely, but it looks like some hot stuff overall. It's a consistently interesting journal. Hope y'all enjoy it...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

spring vacation in the E Street Nation


I will definitely make a better post in the near future. But for now, I leave you with this picture that someone sitting in a section behind the stage snapped at the Chicago Springsteen show. (You probably have to click on the picture to see the whole thing. And yes, it's taken from behind the stage; Bruce and Steve were interacting with the drummer so that's why they have their backs turned to most of the audience.)

Look in the very front row, towards the left... short woman wearing a tie-dye t-shirt that's kinda blue at the top... c'est moi.

I'm not kidding. At the Chicago show, I was in the very, very, very front. To say that I was deliriously happy would be an understatement.

(The shirt I was wearing, incidentally, was my Little Steven's Underground Garage shirt. And Little Steven did indeed notice and appreciate that fact. He smiled at me a bunch of times and at the end he came over and put a guitar pick into my happy little hands. Niiiiiiice.) (Yes, he was also Silvio on the Sopranos, for those who follow tv more closely than they follow music. But he belonged to the E Street Band first, darnit!)

Anyway, it was a bit of a whirlwind trip, and I'm long overdue for sleep, so I will post more tomorrow or so. And I'm sure I owe some emails, Twitter/Facebook stuff, etc. and I haven't read any blogs in days. I'll catch up eventually, right?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Good intentions

I know, I've been a very poor blogger lately. I'd say it was just that I don't seem to have much of anything very interesting to say, but when has that ever stopped me (or anyone on the internet for that matter)?

I'm going to try to be better. Really. (Hi Eduardo.)

At the moment, I have a monster to-do list staring me in the face; I'm headed out of town on Friday and it's crazy how much I have to do before then. And a good part of this evening was a lost cause thanks to a combination of sheer slothfulness and a headache (my sinuses apparently do not approve of the weather tonight).

My crazy-productive writing spurt seems to have tapered off, which might be a good thing actually. After I finish running around the Midwest for a few days, I hope to take some time and sit down with a bunch of the poems I've drafted over the past few months and pound on them a bit and revise the things. And I want to see how close I am to having a draft of the full "Chasing Angels" manuscript. The other day I sat down and asked my three main characters (the singer, the guitarist, and the devoted fan) a question -- yes, I'm doing that fictiony thing of writing up character studies, just for my own benefit, to understand them better. I may end up mining these sketches for poem bits, or I may not, but I think I'm going to do more of them. The question I asked them this time was: What scares you? The funny thing is, I know good and well what scares all three of them, and as I wrote their answers, none of them were completely honest. Typical. ;) Next question I want to ask them is: What would you risk for someone or something that you love? Something tells me they won't give me the whole truth about that one, either.

The other writing project on my plate is, of course, the first book manuscript -- the one I banged together on my retreat in June of last year and have been sending around to various presses and contests. Twenty-nine presses and contests so far, to be exact. I've decided that it goes out to one more, just to make it an even thirty, in the next month or so -- and then I may pull back a bit on this one. If nobody names it as at least a finalist, out of thirty attempts, I think that's a sign that I should do a pretty extensive revision. I skimmed through it (and tweaked it here & there, of course) as I was getting it ready to go out to the last little handful of places, and funny enough, I still pretty much like it and believe in the thing. But I may well be able to make it better. Maybe I can manage to go away somewhere for a long weekend this summer and dive back into it then.

So, one more publisher or contest. I'm open to recommendations! :)