Real Courage by Michael Meyerhofer

Real Courage by Michael Meyerhofer is a chapbook that showcases a unique perspective and use of imagery and comparison.  Much like “BPM 37093” (Page 5), Meyerhofer takes often wildly different images and situations together in comparisons that generate an “aha” from the reader after a momentary question mark hovers over their heads.

A smoldering white dwarf
like our own pyrite-colored sun may be.
Proof that after a solar relationship
ends, like most relationships,
with a fiery, bloating rampage
followed by a crash diet
down to blistered, white-hot corestuff,
the leftover carbon crystallizes
into a two-septillion-ton rock

However, in “The Great Refrain” (Page 19), Meyerhofer plays with the notion of refrain in which lines are repeated in a song-like chorus. Rather, the refrain here is more of a repeated emotional response to how things have changed, seemingly more like a lament. “are the remnants of motor-skiffs/and sun-sails, bronze men hauling//titanium fishing lines, mothers/reading to their infants from books//filled with calculus and poetry./That ages before an ice-pole shifted//”  Readers also will appreciate how Meyerhofer explores ideas contrary to conventional wisdom, like comparisons of dogs to the uncivilized in “Ode to Dogs” (page 22).

Real Courage by Michael Meyerhofer is full of unconventional wisdom and unexpected images and comments that reaches beyond the typical rant or disillusionment with the modern world. There also are more personal poems here that strive to make sense of death and loss, but there are others that uncover the surprising reactions of those in society considered more reserved than the rest of us and those that shun technology. Meyerhofer explores the human condition from an unusual perspective and uses language that does not dare hide his meaning.

Poet Michael Meyerhofer

About the Poet:

Michael Meyerhofer‘s third book, Damnatio Memoriae, won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest. His previous books are Leaving Iowa (winner of the Liam Rector First Book Award) and Blue Collar Eulogies (Steel Toe Books, finalist for the Grub Street Book Prize).

He has also published five chapbooks: Pure Elysium (winner of the Palettes and Quills Chapbook Contest), The Clay-Shaper’s Husband (winner of the Codhill Press Chapbook Award), Real Courage (winner of the Terminus Magazine and Jeanne Duval Editions Poetry Chapbook Prize), The Right Madness of Beggars (winner of the Uccelli Press 3rd Annual Chapbook Competition), and Cardboard Urn (winner of the Copperdome Chapbook Contest).

He received his BA from the University of Iowa and his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He currently teaches poetry, creative writing, and composition at Ball State University in Muncie, IN.


This is my 23rd book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.


This is the 4th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop, hop over to Books, Thoughts, and a Few Adventures…***

144th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 144th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Click for Schedule

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April 2011 and beginning again in April 2012.

Today’s poems is from Jennifer C. Wolfe, author of Somewhere Over the Pachyderm Rainbow. She’s sharing a poem from one of her upcoming collections, Elegies of Vitriolic Harmony, and she is working on another collection, Reflections of Hostile Revelries, as well:

(Roving) Eye of Newt

Ah, Newt Gingrich—that alleged everyman, who cheated on
His first two wives, while they were hospitalized; sallying forth,
To marry his third voluptuous blonde bedroom conquest.

Yes, Newt Gingrich—that alleged “family values” supporter,
Who remarked that his first sick wife was not “young enough or
Pretty enough to be the (US) President’s wife.”

My, Newt Gingrich—that realistic pinnacle of chauvinism,
Self-righteously imagining a working scenario, where he would
Even be elected to the US Presidency, in the first place.

Watch out, current “Mrs.”  Calista Gingrich:
You’ve won yourself the equivalent of the garish stuffed animal
Nobody wants from the gambling midway at a State Fair.

What do you think?

***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop, check out Peeking Between the Pages.***

Guest Post: My Favorite Poet by Allison Winn Scotch

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch will be published on April 12, and she’s become a favorite author of some wonderful bloggers I know.  Don’t you just love this vibrant cover!

While I’d already dedicated the entire month of April on the blog to poetry, I had to decline reviewing her prose, which is raved about.

However, I was happy to hear that she would love to write a guest post about her favorite poet.  And we have a giveaway for my U.S. readers.

First let’s check out a little bit of The Song Remains the Same:

One of only two survivors of a plane crash, Nell Slattery wakes in the hospital with no memory of the horrific experience-or who she is, or was. Now she must piece together both body and mind, with the help of family and friends, who have their own agendas. She filters through photos, art, music, and stories, hoping something will jog her memory, and soon, in tiny bits and pieces, Nell starts remembering.

It isn’t long before she learns to question the stories presented by her mother, her sister and business partner, and her husband. In the end, she will discover that forgiving betrayals small and large will be the only true path to healing herself-and to finding happiness.

Without further ado, please give Allison a warm welcome.

When I’m asked to cite my favorite poet, I know that I should cite a heavyweight, a Whitman, a Frost, an E.E. Cummings. But here’s the truth, I can honestly say that I think that my favorite poet might actually be Shel Silverstein. Why? Because as a child, I fell in love with Silverstein’s words and books, and I’d like to think that he played a part in my love of writing and my love of reading.

I think I was first introduced to Silverstein at around the age of seven or eight. I was obsessed – obsessed! – with Where the Sidewalk Ends. From the very opening poem – “The Dreamer”, a poem which, I should note, was the inspiration for the arc of a screenplay that I recently completed – to “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too” – to “Lazy Jane”– to “The Gypsies are Coming”, I was hooked. I read, and reread, and reread again, such that now, when I recently purchased the book for my own seven year-old, I could still cite many of these poems by heart, like an old friend, like an old comfort.

Poet Shel Silverstein from Culture Vulture.net

Poetry can, at times, feel daunting to me. It can feel almost exclusive, but Silverstein’s writing was the opposite of exclusive – it was welcoming, warm, relatable, and for a child who is just getting her literary footing, it was everything to me. The kids (and the parents) in the poems were gawky and silly and flawed and normal . . . and often hilarious. And yet there was, obviously, a real art, a total genius to his writing: it is no easy feat to become a beloved literary hero among both children and adults, and Silverstein is, to this day, just that. When A Light In the Attic was published after Where The Sidewalk Ends, I gobbled that one up too, along the rest of his works. (The Giving Tree is still wonderful after all of these years.)

Honestly, there are few things that remind me of the total innocence of childhood more than Shel Silverstein. If you haven’t picked up one of his books recently, I highly recommend that you do so again. You can be eight or thirty-eight or fifty-eight, and I bet you’ll love them just as much as ever.

Thanks, Allison. Shel Silverstein is one of my favorites as well, and “Wiggles” is going to get to know the joys of his books as well.

Now, I wonder how she feels about Dr. Seuss.

Author Allison Winn Scotch

About Allison Winn Scotch:

She is the bestselling author of The One That I Want, Time of My Life, and The Department of Lost and Found. Her fourth novel, The Song Remains the Same, will be released in early 2012. Prior to delving into fiction, she was a frequent contributor to numerous magazines and websites including Cooking Light, Men’s Health, Fitness, Glamour, and Redbook, and now focuses on celebrity profiles for a variety of magazines. She lives in New York with her family. For more about her and her books, go to allisonwinn.com or follow her on Twitter at @aswinn.

***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour post, hop over to Trouble With Hammers and My Friend Amy.***

To enter for 1 copy of The Song Remains the Same (US Residents only):

1.  Leave a comment naming your favorite poet.

2.  Spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, and/or your blog and leave links for up to three more entries.

Deadline is April 15, 2012.

The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove

The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove (listen to her NPR interview, where she talks about the anthology and provides advice for young poets) collects a few poems from some of the great poets at the the height of their craft between 1900 and 2000, and while Dove notes that some of the poets who were starting to emerge in the latter portion of the century may not be included, it is merely because the anthology had to have a cutoff point and those poets may have reached the height of their craft after 2000.

Moreover, her introduction goes on to demonstrate the various turns in social movements throughout the United States and how poets and their poetry fit in with those historic changes, ranging — of course — from the backlash following the U.S. Civil War and the beginnings of WWI to the antiwar protests, the emergence of the feminist movement, and the struggle for civil rights.  Each poet’s bio is included alongside samples of their work.

“. . . and I should have written it right then, before rereading, discovering, misplacing note; before tracking down copyright dates, crunching numbers — in short, before the politics of selection could interfere with my judgment.”  (Page XXIX)

“If I could, I’d make this introduction a fold-out book.  Open to the first page, and up would pop a forest: a triangle of birches labeled Robert Frost, a solitary Great Oak for Wallace Stevens, a patch of quirky sycamores tagged William Carlos Williams, and a Dutch Elm for Hart Crane, with a double lane of poplars for Elizabeth Bishop and a brilliant autumnal maple tree marked Langston Hughes bearing leaves called Harper, Clifton, Soto.”  (Page XXX)

The selection of poems for this collection must have been a tough task, and Rita Dove employed the best tools at her disposal.  She’s spoken frankly in the introduction of the politics behind the selection of poems, particularly regarding a budget that was unable to meet the rights fees for certain poems (i.e. Plath and Ginsberg, who are notably absent from the collection, but not the introduction).  While some can not forgive this decision (i.e. Helen Vendler, whose criticisms have been widely used in college classrooms, including some I’ve attended; please also view Rita Dove’s reply to Vendler’s criticism), some readers can accept the oversight given how widely known and published some of these absent poets are and were.  Dove has even discussed the problem of “rights” in an interview with The Writer’s Chronicle, in which she said that one of the worst offenders was HarperCollins, which owns the rights to Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg (December 2011, pg. 22).  “What I hated most about this unsettling affair was seeing other, less iconic poets held hostage by the very company they had trusted to promote them,” Dove lamented in the interview after discussing how one publishing hose offered poets the option to have their poems included in the anthology if they gave up their share in royalties even though the publishing house would not.

As with any “collection of great works,” the anthology is bound to have its detractors who are dissatisfied with the selections and who lament the absence of their own favorite poets and poems.  Dove says in the introduction, “The impulse driving them all, however, stemmed from the same revelation:  that every person contains a story that, if told well, would resonate within us no matter how strange or unfamiliar the circumstances, bound as we are by the instincts and yearnings of human existence.”  (Page XXXIII)  Readers will find that some of the poems speak more to them than others, but that also is expected in a collection of multiple poets with multiple styles.

Insect by Annie Finch (Page 540):

That hour-glass-backed,
heavy-headed will,

savage--dense to kill--

pulls back on backward-moving,
high legs still,

lowered through a deep, knees-reaching,
feathered down
green will,

carpeted as if with skill,

a focus-changing,

tracing, killing will.

There are old favorites from classics like E.E. Cummings to contemporaries like Yusef Komunyakaa. Readers will want to dip in and revisit their old poet friends, but also find the undiscovered gems from the past, present, and future. Ruth Stone, for instance, is a prolific poet, who may not be known by may readers, but her verse is so present and relatable; From “Scars” (page 178): “Sometimes I am on a train/going to a strange city,/and you are outside the window/explaining your suicide,/” Then there are Edgar Lee Masters at the beginning of the century that may be overlooked in favor of Robert Frost and other more well-known poets, despite his prolific career. From “Fiddler Jones” (page 2), “The earth keeps some vibration going/There in your heart, and that is you./And if the people find you can fiddle,/Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.” As the anthology progresses there is a distinct inclusion of more minority and female poets, like Reetika Vazirani and Terrance Hayes.

The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove is one perspective on American poetry over the last century, while it touches upon each of the social and poetical movements in the nation, it does skew the reality of the poetic realm a little bit by being unable to include certain icons and including newer poets who may or may not have proved their historical impact on the world of poetry to the satisfaction of everyone.  However, the inclusion of new voices is always a blessing when so much of poetry is consider classic and iconic from Frost’s New Hampshire woods to Ginsburg’s outspoken Howl.  Dove’s anthology is a collection to be dipped into time and again to visit old favorites and delve into the images and verse of new voices who have emerged in the latter part of the 20th century.

Poet Rita Dove

About the Editor:

Rita Dove, born in Ohio, served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal.



This is the 3rd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour post, hop over to Unabridged Chick***

The Auroras by David St. John

The Auroras by David St. John is broken into three distinct sections:  Gypsy Davy, In the High Country, and The Auroras.  In this triptych of poems, “In the High Country” is flanked by the smaller sections “Gypsy Davy” and “The Auroras” but what ties the sections together is not a cohesive story as in Emma Eden Ramos’ Three Women, but a set of emotions ranging from unrest to pain and melancholy.  Both expressions of a poetic triptych are effective, but St. John’s is a little more subtle in its attempts at cohesiveness.

However, within these subtle lines and images, there are real gems, leaving conclusions and epiphanies with the reader, like in “The Aurora of the New Mind” (Page 4):

Still I look a lot like Scott Fitzgerald tonight with my tall
Tumbler of meander & bourbon & mint just clacking my ice
To the noise of the streetcar ratcheting up some surprise

I had been so looking forward to your silence
& what a pity it never arrived

Click for Tour Schedule

But even with these offhand remarks do not end the discourse of the poem; the narrator’s desire for silence is powerful and he has not qualms about uttering it aloud, but is he happy when he receives it or is he unsettled by the granting of that wish? Through subtle images and seemingly forthright comments, the narrator has brought to the surface questions of how when we receive our desires the result may be less adequate than expected. Following that train of thought, “Shopenhauer’s Dog Collar” (Page 14) speaks to the dissatisfying nature of desire fulfilled as Shopenhauer himself did in some of his philosophical works and the disillusionment of that realization in “Three Jade Dice” (Page 8-9):

I wish I could tell you that it's time for coffee
I wish I could tell you that the card table

Carved of onyx & ivory
Supports a life of orgasmic hope & certain prosperity

I wish I could tell you the legs of the piano reach
All the way to the ground as

I wish I could tell you the melody of the forgotten
Is as beautiful as the melody of the desired

“In the High Country” has poems that set the narrator apart from the action of each poem as events and moments — regretful and heartbreaking moments — are witnessed and observed in a helpless state, especially in “From a Bridge” (Page 23), “Waiting” (Page 24), “Human Fields” (Page 32), and “My Friend Says” (Page 34), but in “My Friend Says” the narrator begins to draw comparisons between himself and the subject of the poem or in some cases the “victim” of the events in the poem.

In the final section that mimics the name of the collection, the narrator becomes a mouthpiece of a higher power, speaking to the reader about the glories of the moment and how each is not perishable, but leaves a lasting imprint on the earth even if it is not explicitly seen. But there remains a questioning between the poems, a wondering about what will remain behind once one passes into the next world or simply ceases to exist. There is a reverberation of each person as we pass through the lives of one another, and those “auroras” will live on even after we have passed.

The Auroras by David St. John are at once deceptive in their simplicity and complex in their references to Fitzgerald, Shopenhaur and others, but the arc of the collection is that our beings impact one another and the world around us in even the most unapparent ways. And while we lament the passing of our family, friends, and those who have sought to move on without us to other places and times, their indelible marks remain as do our own.

About the Poet:

Prizewinning poet David St. John is the author of ten collections of poetry, including Study for the World’s Body: New and Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, as well as Where the Angels Come Toward Us, a volume of essays, interviews, and reviews. He is the co-editor, with Cole Swenson, of American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry. He teaches at the University of Southern California and lives in Venice Beach.

***For today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop head over to Diary of an Eccentric.***

Want to win a copy of The Auroras for yourself?  Go enter.

This is the 2nd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 22nd book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Guest Interview, Part 2: Edward Nudelman and Aaron Belz Talk Inspiration and Creative Process

Indie Lit Award Nominated and Runner-Up Poet Edward Nudelman, author of What Looks Like an Elephant, offered to help celebrate National Poetry Month with an interview of poet Aaron Belz.

What follows is part two of Nudelman’s discussion with Belz.  If you missed part one on April 2, 2012, please check it out.  Today’s discussion is about Aaron’s influences and his creative process.

Please give both poets a warm welcome.

Please tell us how you got into poetry and what were some of your early influences. What kind of poetry do you read nowadays, and how does your reading affect your writing?

I think I backed into poetry as a medium. In grade school I was interested mostly in visual art. I loved to draw, to make things, and listen to music. I loved to read, too, mostly fantasy and sci-fi, plus Agatha Christie and WWII comic books. I was the photographer for the school newspaper. I also drew comics. I had pencils of every lead, many kinds of erasers, non-photo blue graph paper, and for Christmas one year my parents gave me an expensive set of Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens. I built different pen-holding accessories on my dad’s tool bench in the basement. Poetry came later, perhaps as a result of laziness—it’s so much tidier and less expensive, requires work that is purely mental plus some finger movements. In eleventh grade my French teacher told me I was one of the most verbally adept students he’d ever taught, and I didn’t forget that. I think we move forward partly based on what people tell us we’re good at doing. So in college I wrote more, editorials for the student paper, little jokey poems, etc. Then I decided to go to grad school for poetry. Then I just kept going with it, because it was the only thing I was reasonably good at—otherwise I was a jack-of-all-trades, truly master of none. Shiftless and lazy and horribly selfish, I now come to see. Prone to fantasy and wild thoughts. I really don’t even recognize, now, the person I was back then. I’m glad to be beyond him. These days I do spend a lot of time with poetry, but not always for delight. I write reviews, teach people how to read poetry, evangelize for art and music frequently, and make very little money doing all that. Hard to call it a “career” in the way I think the baby boomers envisioned career. I’m not exactly a man of letters. Or a man of leisure. Not sure what I am. When in doubt, start working on a new writing assignment.

It would be interesting to hear a little about your creative process. You have spent a good deal of time on the comedy circuit, and am I not correct in assuming you could call yourself a ‘standup comic’ at least once or twice in your past. How different is writing a poem for you from writing comic material which has as its sole aim to make somebody laugh (correct me if I’m wrong here)?

Correction, for the sake of reality—not a “good deal of time.” I’ve been in a dozen or so comedy shows, and always as a poet, never as a stand-up comic or improv performer. I have a huge amount of respect for the real comedians and comic actors, the skills they’ve honed, the risks they take, the hard ground they till, and I can say without a doubt that although I sympathize with them I am not one of them. Comedy works from prepared material, generally, which is then performed live. My set—my “show,” if you want to call it that—is simply to stand up in front of a crowd who has paid to see comedy and read my poetry, straight up. It gets a good response not just because it’s good “material” (as one of Will Ferrell’s agents once told me!) but because it’s a change of pace for the audience. Part of my act is that I’m a poet, just a poet, reading aloud. I once asked advice from Orson Bean, legendary comic actor, on how to improve my set. His response was telling: “You’ve got to edit, select poems which make sense in following the previous one and tell some kind of a story overall. Then you’ve got to memorize them and practice performing them at first in front of a mirror and in front of audiences. Then you’ll see if you have something which could be called entertainment. A lot of work! Good luck.”

Poet Aaron Belz

You have said that writing a poem for you is a very pleasurable experience, and, unlike some poets, you don’t much anguish over the functional side of actually creating your poems. Why is this? A genetic proclivity, or have you discovered some tricks you’d care to share with us plodders and scrappers?

Maybe not tricks but a difference in philosophy, at least between the way I write and some others with whom I’ve discussed writing. I remember in grad school Galway Kinnell talking about his own revision process, which could span decades. He said (in 1995) that he’d recently revised a poem he’d published in the late 1960s. I didn’t like that idea at all, that he’d written and published a poem so long ago and yet it still felt unfinished to him. I began to think, and this was supported by another grad school class, with Allen Ginsberg, that there was some holiness to the process, that it was time-locked, for one time, not transcendent or part of some “great poem” reality that could continually be discovered. A poem is today’s exercise; instead of making one poem or certain poems great, I’d rather focus on making new poems. Another poet, Jason Sommer, in St. Louis, held more with Kinnell’s view. He wrote and labored and revised quite a bit, which I admired, because I felt like I was incapable of staying with one poem. I needed to keep moving. Finally I told him that writing poetry is, for me, analogous to playing baseball. You stand up to the plate, have that defined opportunity to get a hit, and if you do, you’re on base; if you don’t, you sit back down on the bench and wait for another at-bat. But no batter would continually revisit a particular at-bat. The goal is to become a more skilled batter, not to sweat one plate appearance. So that’s the philosophy I’ve settled on, largely. I do revise, but I don’t revise much past the week or two during which something is composed. Most of my most successful poems (“successful” meaning, I see them shared and reprinted or notice them being enjoyed more than others that I’ve written) were composed completely in a matter of minutes—five minutes, ten minutes. It’s more a matter of being the right frame of mind when writing. “Revise yourself,” Ginsberg said. That’s baseball.

Along these same lines, you have said that John Ashbery is your ‘main dawg.’ Is that because his work seems so rooted in the process itself, not self-absorbed, but the poem itself becomes the living entity, jam-packed with the culture of the day, hidden jabs and allusion. What do you like about Ashbery and how does your poetry aim to mirror these aspects?

The thing that initially appealed to me about Ashbery was that he moved so easily in and out of image and conventional expression, shifted tone suddenly and frequently, and yet his texts seemed to have an undeniable unity—a unity I don’t think I’d ever encountered in poetry. You read Hotel Lautréamont and come away thinking, a tank just ran over my head. A single, solitary, perfect machine of words. A monolith! What I love about Ashbery is that his work is so collage-like and yet so unified. I think he admires Braque and other modernists. I know he admires Wallace Stevens and William Wordsworth, high-philosophy poets for whom unity was everything. Maybe the antithesis to Ashbery is Charles Olson, whose poetry feels like tree bark crumbling in my hands. I can’t hold it. It almost feels like there’s nothing there, after reading it. But Ashbery feels sleek, perfect, smooth, funny, wrong in so many ways, yet completely accessible. That might be the first time Ashbery has been referred to as completely accessible. To me, he’s more accessible than any poet of his generation. I also love O’Hara. As to emulating what he does, I once sent a cover letter along with a submission in which I said that I was like Ashbery but better. This was probably fifteen years ago.

I never heard back.

I notice you have received your PhD in literature from St. Louis University, though you don’t seem to publicize this much (as per my request for your bio, you were as terse as a Haiku, omitting your letters in a most unprofessorial sort of way? Could you speak to this apparent panning of formal education? Currently there is a debate as per MFA programs churning automaton ‘poets,’ all speaking in the same voice, and all being published in the same journals? What can you tell us about what makes a good poet?

In his poem “What Is Poetry,” Ashbery says, “In school / All the thought got combed out.” This is consistent with an American Romantic way of thinking, and I believe Ashbery is basically a Romantic Transcendentalist, so it makes sense that he would write this. When I’ve asked him questions about his work he’s responded sometimes with lines like “Leave that to the critics to figure out” and “I don’t know, I don’t think about it that way.” He resists the academic side a lot, but you know he also loves the attention he gets from the academy in the form of Harold Bloom and being asked to give the Norton lectures at Harvard, which eventually became a book called Other Traditions. Personally, I don’t reject the academic life. I also don’t live and die by it. To me it’s the same thing as Wal Mart, overseas travel, eating dinner at your great-uncle’s house on Sunday afternoon. School is just school, and it’s important as what it is. It’s important to an extent. Poetry workshops can be helpful, no doubt. If you eat them like brownies they can kill your poetry, though. Just try to hold other people’s opinions at arm’s length a bit. Art is great because it represents some sense of total freedom. You do what you want. Make your vision real in your medium. But that doesn’t mean you’re not a human being, and as we say: All things in moderation.

What’s next on the list for Aaron Belz? Do you have a book in press? Could you give us a sneak preview?

I do have one, and it has a title, and I will not share the title. I’m afraid someone might steal it.

About Interviewer and Poet Edward Nudelman:

Edward Nudelman is a poet, scientist and literary critic from Seattle.  He has two poetry books and his latest collection was runner-up for book of the year.  Check out his Website.

About Poet Aaron Belz:

Aaron Belz has a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University (1995), a Ph.D. in English from Saint Louis University, and has taught English and Creative Writing at several Universities.  His books include: The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010). A third is due out from Persea very soon.  Check out his Website or follow him on Twitter.

***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour post, hop over to Rhapsody in Books***

***Also, I’ve been interviewed at Curiosity Quills***

Guest Interview: Indie Lit Award Nominated Poet Edward Nudelman Interviews Poet Aaron Belz

Indie Lit Award Nominated and Runner-Up Poet Edward Nudelman, author of What Looks Like an Elephant, offered to help celebrate National Poetry Month with an interview of poet Aaron Belz.

What follows is part one of Nudelman’s discussion with Belz about his two books of poetry, The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010).

Please give both poets a warm welcome and stay tuned for part two of the interview tomorrow, April 3, 2012.

Aaron Belz is a poet who has forged a considerable niche in the American poetry scene. Where similarities and knock-offs are the rule of the day, Belz’s poetry is a recognizable entity highlighted by layers of irony and contemporary idiom, always punctuated with some deeper purpose lurking below the upbeat flow. His poetry has been likened to Ashbery and Brautigan, but really stands alone in authenticity.

I first read an Aaron Belz poem while staying at my niece’s in Brooklyn, in their somewhat dank basement with low ceilings and low light. There, neatly placed by my bed stand, was a well-used copy of The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007), no doubt placed there to appease my celebrated tendencies toward insomnia. I read it straight through, quite taken in by its accessibility and metaphor, how he used humor as an instrument for relief and also a device to uncover a weightier mood.

From “Canaries:”

The jackknife you filched
with etchings of boxing gloves on it
reminded me of the metal fruit
in the center of the table at Canaries Street,

for both were perfectly round
and gave off an inaudible hum
like that of a remote dishwasher.
When Susan came bounding down the stairs

with her arms full of teen magazines
and hollered something to Rudy
about your new jackknife,
I came in from the field where

I had been sitting in a lather
about my cracked telescope case.
I said, Rudy’s not in earshot, sister,
he ran out for decorative pomegranates;

Aaron was kind enough to answer in detail several questions I posed which provide a little more background and understanding into this poet’s wonderful world of poetry.

After reading through your first book, The Bird Hoverer, then scanning and reading selected poems from Lovely, Raspberry, I’m struck by the similarity of tone in both books, but what appears to me a departure in the second book to broader themes and perhaps a more contemplative mood behind the counterpoint of humor. Can you walk us through your evolution of thought as your poetry develops through these two books? In Lovely, Raspberry, have you found a place you want to be, or are there new and wild transitions to come?

Thanks for reading the books. I’m not aware of a change in the humor, but I can tell you that much of Lovely, Raspberry was written earlier in time than most of The Bird Hoverer, which was my second manuscript. So to answer your question, maybe the humor is brightening up a bit, at least chronologically? My newer poems (of the past three years) are less intent on whipping the reader with wit. I’m finding myself enjoying the language more now, letting it roll beneath my boat and steady as she goes. The third book’s manuscript has been accepted by Persea and its title has been decided—it’s taken a lot of conversation to finalize—but I’m afraid I can’t share it for fear someone else will use it! It’s a great title! The next collection will feature some shorter poems, one and two liners. I always hate finding those in other poets’ collections, because I feel like I wasted energy turning the page. But they’re in mine, I guess.

What I like about your poetry is how naturally your humor flows from experience. However, with all the wild and wooly situations and outcomes we find ourselves led into, it begs the question how much of this stuff is honestly from your experience, and to what extent to allow yourself license to depart from what really has occurred?

All of my poetry comes from my own experience. I have a hard time imagining it coming from someone else’s and then ending up on my page. Whether it comes from my experience honestly is another question—perhaps it comes from it artfully. Psychologically and emotionally. Writing poetry, for me, feels like spitting back stuff I’ve been chewing on for a long time. Finally, it’s out, and it feels so good to have done with it. What sticks most in my craw is certain manners of speaking. “In a manner of speaking” is a common disclaimer. I’ve gotten to the point where each word seems like a wheel rut in a long road toward meaning. I feel like meaning will never be reached, but we keep driving whatever car God’s given us down the road toward meaning. There, a second transportation analogy. I hope you’re happy.

In the opening poem to Lovely, Raspberry entitled “direction,” you spend three stanzas (out of five) equivocating what the you in the poem should or should not do with respect to communicating feelings, ending with this superb mini-conclusion:

In this way perhaps we can accurately triangulate

brief but nearly photographic images of each other’s

Mothers when they were first married, in veils,

and of their driving down the street with tin-can trails. . .

and then a remarkable personal reference, deftly rendered:

You expect me to tell you about the spite in my loin
Which is the sad hail of commas in the professor’s paragraph

is followed by a very self-effacing remark which seems to further separate you from the central character in the poem. I want to ask you if this poem is about the speaker’s inadequacy to articulate, or more broadly, a commentary on the difficulties and pitfalls of dealing with extraneous baggage in a relationship. The sardonic tone only adds to the poem’s success in conveying a kind of futility in resolving conflict. Would you agree? Has this been your experience?

I don’t think of “Direction” as being about interpersonal conflict as much as it’s about the way readers expect a poem to be framed. Like, I’m supposed to architect something, and the reader is supposed to inhabit it. That’s what I learned in school, basically. But in my poems I like to unpack those assumptions and assemble them into something new, like Ikea furniture for the literary home in which we live. The goal of any text is to create a sympathetic connection between writer and reader, but the means by which that goal is achieved vary widely. Like my favorite recent poets (Ashbery, O’Hara, et al) I enjoy discussing the framing method somewhat lightheartedly, following the logic where it happens to go. I feel my way toward the end. In “Direction” I felt like I was really trying to explain the relationship between writer and reader. It seemed funny to me to attempt to reinvent the reader’s way of interpreting.

I love the poem, “my best wand”, because it does what so many of your poems do, yet so seamlessly, in one small burst. And that is convey a paradox or a twist in a culminating line. Whereas one often finds too big a buildup, (the reader is often numbed as a result), in so many of your poems, the setup is masterful and succinct:

my best wand

Of all the magic wands

I’ve bought over the years,

only the steel one with the sharp tip

really works- you point it

into someone and say


and the person magically

becomes wounded.

Humorists often come from anguished pasts, dropped when they were infants, had bamboo pressed into nails, etc. Do you have marks from your childhood or something dark and sinister tailing you? If so (or if not), how have you handled adversity? Does this poem speak to a method you’ve dabbled in? Can you tell us ways you’ve adapted, how you’ve learned to put down your magic wands?

That’s a good question. I think that’s exactly what I described near the middle of the first answer above: I’ve become less intent on whipping the reader with wit. Wit is fun, at first, but then can lead to bad places, such as resentment. It can be a show of power. Rather than my poems be barbed and have readers lose sympathy, I’d rather they be little verbal masseuses, working their readers’ backs and necks. There can be a kind of deliriousness or spectacle that achieves that effect. In future poems I want my phrases and lines, transitions and images, to be a little bit more swimmy, delicious, and ongoingly re-readable. Oh, and yes, I do have a lot of sinister stuff tailing me, from childhood till the present. And I’ve handled adversity poorly. I can’t imagine having written the things I’ve written without being so troubled. I do try to hide the fact that I’m troubled, but it doesn’t always work. There’s a powerful darkness at work in my poems that I think a lot of readers—maybe they think, I’ll just pop this poem in the microwave and eat it—miss on first reading. But not everybody misses it. But then again, I’m a Christian, which means I believe that there’s eternal hope in Christ’s love for me. I suppose poetry, like all of my other work, has to span competing senses of failure and hope.

Thanks, Ed and Aaron. Please come back tomorrow for part two of the interview.

About Interviewer and Poet Edward Nudelman:

Edward Nudelman is a poet, scientist and literary critic from Seattle.  He has two poetry books and his latest collection was runner-up for book of the year.  Check out his Website.

About Poet Aaron Belz:

Aaron Belz has a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University (1995), a Ph.D. in English from Saint Louis University, and has taught English and Creative Writing at several Universities.  His books include: The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVOX, 2007) and Lovely, Raspberry (Persea, 2010). A third is due out from Persea very soon.  Check out his Website or follow him on Twitter.

***For today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop head over to Wordy Evidence of the Fact.***

***Also, I’ve been interviewed at Curiosity Quills***

Welcome to the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour & Giveaway

Welcome to the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

This will be a sticky post through the end of the month of April, so please scroll further down for today’s post.

If you’ve decided to hop on the blog tour, please grab the button above and link back to the tour. Here’s the current schedule for the tour.

Please place your full post links in the Mr. Linky below so that others can celebrate poetry with you and Billy Collins.

Also, if you’re interested in trying a book of poetry, leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win one copy from a donated stash of poetry from poets and publishers.

1. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Emma Eden Ramos
2. Real Courage by Michael Meyerhofer (9 copies)
3. The Auroras (ARC) by David St. John

4. Trembling Pillow Press Journals

Don’t forget to add your permalink.

Tribute to Adrienne Rich

When an influential poet passes out of this world and into the next, all plans are set aside to pay tribute. In this case, Adrienne Rich — one of the most influential feminists and poets of her time — died on March 27 at the age of 82.

She has been compared to Betty Friedan, who wrote The Feminine Mystique, by the New York Times and others. Beth Kephart has even been touched by Rich’s poetry, including one of my favorites in her post honoring her. She has been decried and praised for her brash poetry against war and the political world, and she once famously said that she could not accept the National Medal of Arts from the Clinton Administration because “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. [Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve from Poets.org

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon's eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb    disgraced    goes on doing

now diagram the sentence
Poet Adrienne Rich

From her hometown in Baltimore, Md., Rich created an unconventional life for herself as a mother, wife, poet, and activist, who often focused her energy on “outing” the oppression of women and lesbians and who modified the traditional cadence of free verse poetry. Whether she was a lesbian or not is irrelevant to her contributions to the antiwar and feminist movements as well as her poetic contributions that often were confessional and shocking. She strove to change the world through poetry and the power of the written word, even if she acknowledged herself that poetry could not do it alone. Though what some would consider a well-decorated poet from awards and fellowships, etc., I would almost say that she never felt she deserved them alone, but wanted to share them with all women and those that strive to make deep-rooted change in our society.

I’ll leave you with a portion of one of her poems from The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove.

A Valediction Forbidding Morning (page 296)

My swirling wants.  Your frozen lips.
The grammar turned and attacked me.
Themes, written under duress.
Emptiness of the notations.

They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds.

Please take a moment to reflect on the power of poetry and seek out Adrienne Rich’s words to celebrate change and passion.