My life has been one big lurching from crisis to catastrophe over the past two years.  My mother has inoperable cancer in her lungs and brain, and on her spine.  “Inoperable” doesn’t necessarily mean “Terminal,” but every hospitalization is a cause for alarm.  Every phone call from my father that starts, “Um, your mother…” is a cause for worry; in the past two years, I have had to grieve multiple times, because I thought death had come to claim my mother.  Thankfully, she has pulled through every time, and that’s largely due to the treatment she receives at Sloan Kettering in New York City.  Still, it has been a constant emotional roller coaster.  Her illness will never go into remission, but there are bright spots where she is healthier than in other moments, and that breeds false hope.  And if one thing is certain, false hope is always shattered.

My mother’s health issues haven’t been the only thing distracting me.  The economy went into recession years ago, and because of a host of personal health problems of my own (Undiagnosed Adult ADHD and severe sleep apnea) my professional life suffered greatly.  I went from teaching freshman writing part time at Rutgers and a few community colleges to working at WalMart full time.  I will not begrudge (much!) WalMart.  They were there when I desperately needed a job with stability.  Even during my productive years of adjuncting in college, I always complained about the constant spells of unemployment.  WalMart employed me year round, and the company even taught me some much needed lessons in how to be assertive and organized.

However, Mr. Sam’s Empire was not the panacea I so dearly wanted.  I eventually stopped teaching altogether, but my financial problems countinued to mount.  Over the last year, I have had to fight Chase Home Finance and diferent lender on four separate occasions regarding “intent to foreclose” notices on my home.  Keep in mind that my wife and I, like so many other people in this country, tried to file for a loan modification under President Obama’s “Making Homes Affordable Plan.”  Nearly a year has passed, and I’m still getting threats in the mail, and my mortgage hasn’t been modified.  Hell, I had to pull my father out of retirement, give him a power-of-attorney, and unleash him on the banks.  Shakespeare once said “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  I agree with that.   However, I must add, “Hell hath no fury like a retired Federal employee who knows bureacracy all too well.”  Jenny and I are lucky I have my father as a reasource.  If he wasn’t there there, and if he didn’t offer his services as a pitbull, I would have lost my home many months ago, like so many other home owner who have been crushed in this recession.

The truth is, I have been barely scraping by the last two years.  It got to the point where, between 9 hours at a WalMart store and marathon days on the phone with my mortgage lender and/or HUD — not to mention constantly grieving over my mother’s illness — that I have largely stopped writing, and my ability to edit has trickled down to “barely.”  I thought I could manage, but you know, if you look at what I have done, the answer to that is a resounding “no.”

Recently, I received a slightly annoyed email from an writer and an editor I greatly admire.  Unfortunately, I do believe that I have a history of annoying the hell out of him.    His causes for concern were completely justified, and I would understand if he did not want to work with me ever again.  Hell, being a “professional” means you can separate the stink of your personal life with how you can interact with other professionals.  Apparently, I have yet to really learn this lesson.  By default, that makes me far less than “Professional.”  That just makes me one guy who feels overwhelmed by nearly everything and hasn’t yet found a proper way to cope.

There is light at the end of this tunnel.  As much as I feel constantly crushed by circumstance, there are new opportunities ahead of me.  I recently asked for a demotion at WalMart.  I am staying there to keep my discount card, and to have an escape route if the prospect of self employment implodes after a few months.  But, basically, I am now a freelance writer, and my chief client is Demand Studios.  Basically, I write “How To” articles for eHow.com.   There are people in freelance writing who will frown upon this, and they will vent spleen all over the place about how providing content to web content mills is not true freelancing.  These people like to use words like, “Word slut” and “prostitute” because it’s Demand Studios, and not thumbing through a Writer’s Market, crafting query letters, and writing for magazines.  To those people, I honestly have to say, “Go fuck yourselves.”  I honestly apologize if my making more than WalMart wages is an affront to your morality.  A man and his wife have to eat and pay their bills.   Also, it helps to pay my mortgage on time — it gives the banks less reason to take my home from me.  This is why I’m more than happy to to write a string of articles about how to change wiper blades on a car.

The other truth is this.  Writing for Demand Studios pays a lot better than anything I ever did from 2000 to 2009.  Yes, that means that eHow articles are far more profitable than trying to scrap together part time college work.  eHow is better than WalMart.  In short, eHow will allow me to stop being miserable about money all the time, and now I can persue, with renewed, stronger vigor, the editing and writing projects I have dreamed of in the last two year.s

 

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In about two to three weeks from KHP/Skullvines, a Merchant Keep exclusive e-book:

It’s a quartet, ranging 30ish pages, using other poets as starting points, and then radically diverging from them, including:

Men of Dirt and Dust:

Based off lines taken from Adelaide Crapsey.

City without a Hero:

Based off of a haiku by Masoaka Shiki.

To Be Bandersnatched

Plays around with the made up words from Jabberwocky.

In Contempt of Sleep

Based off of two lines from Anna Akhmatova.

Wherein I talk about things!

Specifically: Wood Life, Death in Common, Into the Cruel Sea, growing up overseas, and my problems with “horror poetry.”

A fragmented (but very readable) book about the messy psychology of a serial killer

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble.

Books-a-Million

Yeah, West and avant garde music icon Meredith Monk have nothing in common, or do they?  (Besides looking silly and pretentious at times)

West

Monk

There’s a wacky Jonah Winter poem I love dearly called “Sestina Bob.”  In terms of poetic form, it’s only really a sestina in name only, because instead of creating a system of repeating end words, Winter just puts “Bob” at the end of every line. For example:

According to her housemate, she is out with Bob
tonight, and when she’s out with Bob
you never know when she’ll get in. Bob
is an English professor. Bob
used to be in a motorcycle gang, or something, or maybe Bob
rides a motorcycle now. How radical of you, Bob—

I wish I could ride a motorcycle, Bob,
and also talk about Chaucer intelligently. Bob
is very tall, bearded, reserved. I saw Bob
at a poetry reading last week—he had such a Bob-
like poise—so quintessentially Bob!
The leather jacket, the granny glasses, the beard—Bob!

and you were with my ex-girlfriend, Bob!
And you’re a professor, and I’m nobody, Bob,

And on the poem goes, filling out the exact number of lines a sestina requires.  Even in the concluding envoi, “Bob” is repeated three times per line, where the traditional sestina repeating words would normally be located.  The effect is very manic.  Beyond the silliness, the reader is essentially engaging with an obsessive voice — clearly, the speaker of the poem is very preoccupied Bob and how he feels insufficient in comparison.    Sometimes, with comic poems, this sort of repitetion works like a charm.  As mentioned earlier, it speaks to an obssessive, crazy mind — because obssessive crazy types often repeat themselves over and over and over again.

But this brings up another issue.  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of old poetry predating the ascent of modernism and post-modernism to the contemporary norm — poets like Walter de la Mare, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Madison Cawein, and many others.    (As I side project, I’m putting some sort of book project together, but forget that I wrote that).  Still, in reading these poems from long dead writers, one thing struck me clearly.  Some older, traditional forms do not translate well into modern psychology.  Sure, some forms will never go away, like the good old trusty little box of song, the sonnet.   Some of the more repetitive forms, however, just don’t work well a century or more later.  Think of Jonah Winter’s “Sestina” while reading the following excerpts.  First up,  Algernon Charles Swinburne and “Faustine”:

Lean back, and get some minutes’ peace;
Let your head lean
Back to the shoulder with its fleece
Of locks, Faustine.

The shapely silver shoulder stoops,
Weighed over clean
With state of splendid hair that droops
Each side, Faustine.

Let me go over your good gifts
That crown you queen;
A queen whose kingdom ebbs and shifts
Each week, Faustine.

Bright heavy brows well gathered up:
White gloss and sheen;
Carved lips that make my lips a cup
To drink, Faustine,
And this poem goes on and on and on and on and on — 41 stanzas, and all of them end in “Faustine.”   I really cannot guess how Swinburne’s readership took the poem in his century, but I’d wager to guess about readers in the Twenty First.   The speaker really does sound a lot like Jonah Winter in “Sestina Bob” — obsessive.  Sure, there may be formal considerations that dictated how Swinburne had to write this, but those formal considerations didn’t age very well.
To that end, I’m reminded of one of the many times I attempted writing a love poem to my wife.  I was trying my hand at ghazals:
I will love you even under blue-gray skies,
and sometimes, I wonder if I knew gray skies.

I haven’t wings and I know nothing of flight
but together, we’ve been through gray skies…
I actually cringe retyping that CRAP here, but if one wants to be a writer, you have to intellectually own the tossed aside garbage just as much as the published material.   However, after I had written a draft of that poem, I had an “ooh! ooh!” moment and rushed to my wife, who dutifully put American Idol on mute to listen to my poem.  I could tell by her facial expression that she was trying hard to respect “the feeling” expressed, but had a hard time with the poem itself.  I quickly caught on, because reading it out loud, something didn’t seem right to me.   At the end, I said, “I don’t know — it was fun to write, but I guess it didn’t work.”  She agreed, and then said something very perceptive about poetry in general:

Sometimes, when you’re repeating yourself in a poem, it’s like you’re beating cerimonial gong; what you’re repeating has to live up to the solemn effect that was probably intended, originally.

I agreed and returned to the computer.  She went back to watching American Idol.  Years later, I still know for a fact that she’s 100% correct.   Swinburne’s “Faustine” doesn’t work for me, because of this.  “Faustine” as a repeated word, a motif, or a “struck gong” just doesn’t work.  It could be the bevity of the stanza, the fact that the “gonging” of “faustine” goes on for 41 stanzas, or a hundred of other reasons.  Swinburne was likely going for solemnity, but ends up sounding obsessively silly.  At least Winter intended to sound silly and crazy.

Right after my wife returned from the public library with a bag full of mystery thrillers (which normally would last her like a week).

And here is my cat with her butt attached to James Tate’s “Distance from Loved Ones.”  If you’ve read Tate, you’d find out rather quickly that this is quite apropos.

Recently, in talking to a friend and fellow writer about publishing photocopied, side stapled chapbooks, I remembered New Michigan Press from many, many years ago.  Back then, I was impressed by the amount of care they put into pamphlets that were cheaply produced, and yet, somehow looked elegant.  So, I decided to check in on them, and I’m happy to see that they’re still around.  Also, it looks like they’ve moved to POD publishing, too.  And, it looks like the care in artist direction has carried over.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any money blow, but I really do want to get the Paul Guest and Arielle Greenberg chaps some day soon.  At anyrate, here’s a short blurby review I wrote of Mistranslating Neruda by Matt Mason.  The review is like five years old and originally appeared in The Main Street Rag.

Mistranslating Neruda
By Matt Mason
New Michigan Press (2002) $5, 35 pgs.
http://www.thediagram.com/nmp/
Poetry Chapbook

Stephen Tapscott, in his translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Love Sonnets # 37,” writes O love, O crazy sunbeam and purple premonition, / you come to me and climb your cool stairway, / the castle that time has crowned with fog, / pale walls of a closed heart. Tapscott captures something – no matter who translates – inherent in Neruda’s poetry: a collection of strange images, weird word combinations, and a strong sense of emotion. Neruda’s work always has had a knack for clothing itself in off-kilter metaphors while still confronting vivid emotions. Yes, a lot of 100 Love Sonnets is inherently surreal, but surrealism isn’t usually a tool for romantic verse. Still, Neruda always succeeds, and that has inspired decades of imitation.

In that regard, Mistranslating Neruda is Matt Mason’s homage to Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Not only does Mason mimic the sequence in length, but he also tries duplicating the inventive use of language: Like angel hair pasta waving goodbye to the boiling water, / the sausages from the refrigerator fly into your hands. // Innumerable hearts of the sausage / fortify inside the rare silences of young love. Equally emblematic for the rest of the sequence, Mason writes, early on: Body of a woman, white as flour, as egg whites, / you break into the world with the immediacy of warm cookies.
Lines like these make Mason’s chapbook a hoot to read. While he actively tries to mimic Neruda, to “mistranslate” him, Mason’s own sense of absurdity takes off, pulling the reader along. These poems also display the depths of Mason’s imagination, but do they stand up to the master inspiring them?
No, but they weren’t intended to, either. In his preface, Mason claims everybody has read a horrible act of translation, be it in high school English texts or elsewhere, and this chapbook was to be a satire on “mistranslations.” That doesn’t change the joy of language Mason revels in, and to this collection, that’s a gift.

Short Poems (I don’t write many of them)

I don’t know the release dates, but here are some individual poems I have coming up.

in Dead Bells edited by Jodi Lee (and yes, accepted for publication long before going to Belfire was even an idea)

in Kevin Lucia’s The Terror at Miskatonic Falls from Shroud Publications

in Christopher Conlon’s A Sea of Alone: Poems about Alfred Hitchcock from Dark Scribe Press

Anthologies

Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims, forthcoming from Belfire.

These Apparitions: Haunted Reflections of Ezra Pound — guidelines will get a big reboot, and I’ll start reading for this project again.  I’ll post the current TOC later.  Alsi a Belfire Book.

Books

Wood Life:  A Poem Snuff Books.  Should have been out many months ago, but has been having formatting problems at the printer.  I’ve learned from experience doing other people’s books that yes, it happens, and yes, it’s a pain in the ass.  My guess is it goes on Amazon any week now.  Plot in a sentence: Can a serial killer learn redemption?  Poetic form in a sentence: What if Lawrence Ferlighetti’s Coney Island of the Mind was about serial killing?

Binge and Purge Skullvines press.  Its a double novelette of quiet psychological horror set in Bermuda.  One story is about a failed Canadian-Bermudian Folk singer, who’s also a serial killer.  The other is story about a woman chased by a blob of her own fat, told in such a way that it’s not as funny as this sentence makes it out to be.

Books I’m Currently Writing (All poetry):

Demon Acrostics.  Too crazy to describe at the moment.

The Miswanted.   A reboot and reimagining and revision of my 2004 MFA thesis.

Love Songs in the Valley of the Goat Heads and Floor Punchers.  This book is in my head, and it will come out, some day, dedicated to my late friend, Peppy Barbera.

Will I return to writing fiction someday? Perhaps.  I have a draft of a epistolary chapbook called “Johnny Comes Lately” which has to be the most insane thing I’ve ever written.  Don’t know if I’m ever going to send it out.  The Sorrow of Young Caliban has been shelved for the time being.  I’m thinking of adding to to it, but I’m also looking for a place to send it.

As has been noted elsewhere, I’m taking a job at Belfire Press as “Poetry Editor.” The details are still being worked out, but the terms were more than agreeable. So far, it entails heading up a poetry imprint called Needfire, which will publish a fixed amount of titles a year. Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims will follow me to Needfire and will be one of those titles. These Apparitions: Haunted Reflections of Ezra Pound is also following me to Needfire.

At Bandersnatch, the Pound book was planned as a chapbook; however, since every press has different circumstances, the current length of the anthology is too short, and it needs significant expansion. So, I’m going to tweak the guidelines, the contact info, and then repost them.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank Jodi Lee and Louise Bohmer not only for the opportunity to work with them on a steady basis, but for believing in my abilities.

EDIT TO ADD:  And I’m a dolt for forgetting Bob Freeman as somebody whom I’m always grateful to work with.