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Writing updates!!

My heartfelt thanks to the editors of the following journals for publishing my work this month:

Rat’s Ass Review, for taking the poem “Think of an eclipse.”

Indiana Voice Journal for taking three poems.

Five2One Magazine for taking the poem “A litany.”

Eunoia Review for taking five poems.

And thanks to New Verse News, for taking my poem “An Ode to Justice Antonin Scalia.”

The poem that will not die

This is my last attempt at setting the record straight on a topic that has come to seem like it is haunting me. Last June I wrote a poem. In August that poem was published. There was a lot of outrage and controversy, and still, people keep bringing it up (as recently as last week). Someone tweeted at me that they had read it, and they hoped all people would avoid touching me with a ten-foot pole. Because they didn’t like the poem. One site has published response poems to it, even going so far as to appropriate the first page of my work and do an erasure, without crediting me as the original author. Even after I asked them to credit me, they ignored that request, in a blatant and antagonistic show of disrespect. Another website used me as an example of a horrible literary citizen. All because they did’t like ONE of the hundreds of poems I have written in my short-lived literary escapades.

Publishing this poem cost me a lot of friendships with fellow writers. People I had known for several years severed ties with me, and have since refused to respond to any messages I have sent asking them why, or how I could repair the friendship. These are people I thought held a mutual artistic respect, a peer network that I worked hard to establish online and in real life. And now, because I wrote a poem, these people want nothing to do with me. One poem. Many of these people are editors. Many of the harshest critics of this poem stated that they hoped I would never be published again, and that I should be ignored until I disappeared.

I understand how criticism works. I understand the theory that artistic intent is meaningless once work is released to the public. However, I also understand the separation of art from artist, and art from reality. Because a woman is raped in a movie, that doesn’t mean the actor involved or the director of the film are rapists. When a character is a racist in a novel or a film, that doesn’t mean the author or the actor are actually racists. When acts of violence are committed in fiction, on canvas, on page, that violence does not transfer to the real world, despite certain people’s claims that it does, calls for R ratings, calls for Explicit Lyric warnings, calls for boycott or bans. But, I also understand the concept of confirmation bias, and how once something is suggested that a person already feels should be true, the suggestion is confirmed in their mind without evidence. This is why the Anti-Vaxxer movement gained such momentum early on. This is how nationalism works, and how racism refuses to die. This is even why religion continues to thrive in an age of technological advancement. People believe what they want to believe, with or without evidence. When unfounded beliefs are allowed to run rampant, they become dangerous.

When it comes to evidence, I already have a long list of publications and a life lived consisting of 38 years on planet Earth, full of events and stated opinions on events, that show I am not a person who hates other humans for reasons of gender, race, or religious preference. My best friend on this planet, whom I have known since the second grade, is an ordained Baptist minister, and he conducted my wedding ceremony, despite his knowledge of my atheism. I have long been a proponent for equal rights, including marriage equality, gender equality, and racial equality. I have voted for candidates who support those positions in elections and publicly stated over and over again my contempt for actions of injustice committed against oppressed people. The thing is, life is complex. Life is nuanced. A person should be capable of holding within them conflicting ideas about things, and be free to express these ideas without fear of being condemned. This is one reason to use art as a means of expression. It is perfectly within reason to be a supporter of feminism, and yet, see how certain aspects of feminism are used in a perverted fashion to do the very thing that feminism purports to fight against. It’s so easy to fall prey to the temptation to silence others to elevate your own voice. This is no different from being a member of a political party, and recognizing that certain factions of that party are out of bounds with their agenda.

People are more than free to think I am worthy of condemnation, that I should never publish another poem or story, that I should never be allowed to achieve success in something that I love, because I wrote a poem that they thought was disgusting, for the most part I could care less what anyone thinks of me or my work, but when those thoughts are based on misinformation that threatens to hurt my future in something I’ve worked hard to establish, I find myself needing to speak up, wanting people to know they are thinking that regardless of the evidence. A few people made a conclusion about a poem, and shared that conclusion with conviction that was believably passionate. This conclusion played into a preconceived notion, and was thus held up as truth, without evidence. And then that conclusion was shared and spread.

It isn’t true. At all. I did not steal another person’s abuse story. I did not purposefully single out someone as a means of attack. I do not hate anyone even remotely that much on this planet. I may have once hated my father that much, but that is a resentment I have dealt with my entire life, and truly, I have exorcised all those demons already. I especially do not hate women, and I think it is bordering on absurdity to suggest that a work of art counts as an act of violence. The poem in question, if approached with a mind ready to see sarcasm and hyperbole, can be seen as a list of allusions to actual events (in section 1), taken so far over the top that it should not be in any way seen as serious. Honestly, if you can read lines like “ballerinas dancing on the head of Charles Bukowski’s cock” with any illusion of seriousness, I wonder how you’ve managed to read or sit through any performances of artworks without going completely insane. And yet, there are those out there who contend that the entire poem exists WITHOUT IRONY and is the voice of an ANGRY MAN. To those people I have to ask, did we read the same thing? Taking such a work, and then turning it into something it isn’t, like a personal attack, seems to me more of an attempt to discredit the point of the work, and also to turn the attention to claimed victimhood, rather than allow the work to stand on its own merits. This is a trend in the arts that only continues to grow, and works to erode much of what we have taken for granted as freedoms of expression.

I don’t know why I’m putting this out there, yet again, but I have noticed so much in the wake of this poem’s release, and how many friendships seem to be damaged from a perpetuated falsehood, that I felt a desire to try one last time to see if anyone would actually listen to what I had to say about it. If it makes any difference whatsoever, I am deeply concerned that people took such personal offense to my work, and felt hurt by it, but I can never be sorry for expressing myself or putting out work that challenges notions of acceptability. It feels like an empty gesture for any artist to apologize for their work, as reactions are something beyond their control, because art is purely subjective. I have received many positive remarks on the offending work as well, some from women who stated they were too afraid of backlash to state their public support. Imagine what the creative environment must be like for such an atmosphere to be present, where people have to hide their opinions of other artists to protect their own reputations! It does pain me though, to think anyone I knew was actually upset and angered, or in some form anguished, over something I have written. Again, I did not intend to hurt anyone, I intended to prove a point, one that I think, despite all the fallout, was proven. One should accept that it is possible for a writer to write things they do not personally feel, even in poetry. I am open to more questions and conversation, if anyone cares to ask them.

Thank you for listening.

New work update!

A few poems have been published recently, and I owe my thanks to the editors of the publications.

Thanks to Firestone Feinberg for publishing my poem “A poet dies” in the January issue of Verse-Virtual. This poem was a tribute to the late James Tate.

Thanks to James Penha for publishing my response piece to the Tamir Rice grand jury decision on New Verse News. The poems is titled “I killed the child.”

Thanks to Brooks Lampe, runner of Uut Poetry, for publishing two of my social media poems recently. These are experimental poems, and Uut is a great venue for such work.

Also, for those who are not aware, I released my collection of short stories two weeks ago now. If you are interested in my fiction, please check it out. The book is called It’s Not All Bad. Some scary stories in there, along with some work that is intended to make you think.

Year End poem for 2015

An All-Too-Familiar Tune

When election season starts
demagogues steal the light,
the media plays its part
a fistfight with the night.
Whose lives matter more?
The black, brown, or the white,
the gays or the poor,
can’t they just unite! Ha ha ha.

Bungle hells, bungle hells
a shooting spree a day,
they’ll sell a gun to a terrorist,
high five from the NRA.
Prayer fails, prayer fails,
from sea to shining sea,
they want to have theocracy
but it’s idiocracy.

The dress is black and blue,
if Ahmed built a bomb,
stand with Charlie Hebdo,
the refugees belong.
Kim Davis broke the law,
Martin Shkreli is a dick,
the Wu-Tang Clan sold their soul
to milk the deathly sick.

Bungle hells, bungle hells
a shooting spree a day,
they’ll sell a gun to a terrorist,
high five from the NRA.
Prayer fails, prayer fails,
from sea to shining sea,
they want to have theocracy
but it’s idiocracy.

Climate Change still denied
where winter doesn’t come,
millennials ostracize
their thoughts for martyrdom.
Don’t say the wrong word
don’t spoil their safe space,
Han can’t save the world
so put a flag upon your face.

Bungle hells, bungle hells
a shooting spree a day,
they’ll sell a gun to a terrorist,
high five from the NRA.
Prayer fails, prayer fails,
from sea to shining sea,
they want to have theocracy
but it’s idiocracy.

New poem published with RHP!

Very pleased to report I have a poem included in the new issue of Right Hand Pointing. Issue 92 of RHP went live today. It is full of outstanding work, and my piece, titled “My metaphors,” is in there. My gratitude and appreciation to Dale Wisely and Laura Kaminski for including my work in their magazine. If you check it out, I hope you enjoy it. Thank you, as always, for taking time out of your life to read and appreciate independent publishing.

Jane Hirshfield Lecture Notes: Revision, Collections, Etc

This year I had the privilege of attending a lecture by poet Jane Hirshfield. In the span of about two hours, the poet shared with us some great insights, some stunning work, and a revision checklist that I think could help any writer with their poems. I thought I would share the notes I took from that lecture, and hopefully provide the insights I gained that might help any writer out there willing to read through them.

 

While artistic intent matters, it is important not to dwell too much on it, as it is up to the reader to find meaning in the work.

What else? This is the question that must drive poems that don’t abduct you. Poems are capable of carrying the poet away with inspiration.

Allow yourself to say things that aren’t 100% true 100% of the time.

Find the entrance point of an unreachable idea!

In writing collections/projects, you can approach this in different ways, either a cumulative project written in one time span, or grouping individual poems. The coherence doesn’t have to be obvious. When ordering, find the linear. Open strong and close strong. It is important to hook the reader in the first five poems.

 

FOR REVISION:

Revision takes place from the inside and the outside.

Important for the author to know WHY the poem was written, and ask if the poem fulfills its purpose.

Outside revision requires outside readings, get assistance from workshopping it.

Read the poem wholly and assess what is found on the page. Look for grammatical unintentional errors, typos, etc.

Ask the poem these questions:

1. What does the poem actually say, as in the literal words on the page?

2. Does the poem say what it wants, or is it confused?

3. Does the poem follow its own impulse more than its original intent?

4. Does the poem go deep enough, take a risk? Can more or less be said to strengthen it?

5. Does the poem know more than before? Did it make a discovery?

6. Does it contain joy, depth, is there muscle in the music?

7. Does the poem want more music?

8. Does its rhythm, structure, etc help the piece achieve its meaning?

9. Does its visual structure support its meaning?

10. Is it true? Is it ethical? Does it feel?

11. Are there things that don’t belong? Are digressions in the poem’s best interest? Are awkward or smooth sections its best interest? Do any moments confuse the reader?

12. ARE THERE CLICHES?

13. Is the poem self-satisfied or predictable?

14. Is it precise? Precise is better than vague?

15. Does the poem allow itself to be strange, but not overtly strange?

16. Is the grammar correct where it is not intentionally unnatural?

17. Does the diction fit?

18. Is the poem in its most effective order?

19. Is the poem in the right voice?

20. Walk through the poem tediously, examining every phrase, every word. Make sure everything matters. Does every movement, every word, usher the poem forward?

21. Does this poem want to be seen, or is it merely a seed to move you to the next poem?

22. IS IT FINISHED? Time is the best editor.

 

These are the notes that were taken from the lecture. I hope you find them helpful. Many thanks to Vanderbilt University and to Jane Hirshfield! Get her new book: THE BEAUTY. It is fantastic.

New poem published and happy surprise!

This week my poem “Nashville, TN” was published in the August issue of Calliope Magazine. Calliope is a great local magazine run by Robert Olson here in Nashville. It is given out freely to the public. Next month I am the featured poet and they will be showcasing 8 of my poems. I owe a lot of gratitude and appreciation to Robert, who not only nurtures local poets, but helps provide venues for their voices to be heard through open mic night events. Robert does all this despite health concerns of his own that have been a challenge for him financially and personally, so thanks for everything you do, sir. You are something special.

Calliope is in the running for best magazine by the National Poetry Awards. You can vote for them at the link provided.

 

In other news this week, I found out my poem “Disco Ver(ses) in the key of American Hustle” was nominated for Best of the Net by Change Seven Magazine. Thanks to Sheryl Monks and staff for this honor.