Sunday, May 31, 2009


So I've been a bit absent lately. New developments in the past two weeks, a rundown: I came to West Virginia to visit a friend from college. He works for North American River Runners, and now, so do I, at least for the summer. I'm here in West Virginia, residing in a tent under a series of tarps (pictures to come) and taking free rafting trips on my days off (I work in an office, doing office-type things). But I'm getting to read and write a lot of poetry, playing disc golf, running, making good use of my car, and meeting lots of amazing folks. Also, I've had some progress in the search for a teaching position. More to come on that front once it becomes more real. Only hint: if it works out, I'd get to stay in the mountains.


Killer opening line of the moment:

"This is the obligatory Southern poem."

from James Applewhite's Southland Drive -In

(I left my books in the tent before I wrote this, so I had to resort to searching online. The first poem I had in mind was Fred Chappell's "A Prayer for Slowness" which I'll post in full once I get my hands on it again.)


Needless to say, I'll be posting with less frequency. Hopefully with more substance than this particular post. But wishing everyone a happy June!


I really want a puppy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Church and Mate

“If we say our God is an all-loving god,” he said, “how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay? Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, you have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?”

from the New York Times


"Deirdre Finney and I were wed in 1988 at the National Cathedral in Washington. In 2000, I started the long and complex process of changing from male to female. Deedie stood by me, deciding that her life was better with me than without me. Maybe she was crazy for doing so; lots of people have generously offered her this unsolicited opinion over the years. But what she would tell you, were you to ask, is that the things that she loved in me have mostly remained the same, and that our marriage, in the end, is about a lot more than what genders we are, or were."

Jennifer Finney-Boylan's Op-Ed in the New York Times


I bring the above articles to light for a few reasons, none of them being that I have any grand political or ideological statement to make, but they both strike very personal chords for me. The first, because I'm the son of two ministers. My father was the chaplain at Cornell University for 20 years, and my mother was the chaplain at a nearby all-women's college. She left him for a woman around 1998, which the church largely turned a blind eye to, as my mother and this woman didn't live together. They kept their relationship clandestine (despite the fact that we all ate virtually every meal together, took trips as a family) and "respectable." Years later, my mother left this woman for another. They moved in together. At this point the church let her contract expire and forced us to leave the pastor's manse in which we were living. They said her relationship had nothing to do with it. My mother lost her home and her health insurance about 2 months after being diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. The church knew this. All of this as a long-winded way of saying that despite my reverence for what I believe to be the ideals of Christianity, for the beauty of so much of the Bible, I'm very familiar with the Church as an institution, with as much capacity for callousness and ignorance as any institution. A lot of this explains why I still love to read passages from the Bible, but rarely attend service.

The second article is a bit easier to explain. It was written by my Aunt Jenny. Well, I guess she's my aunt-in-law. Deedie is my mother's youngest sister. I just think everyone should read this one as it presents yet another tilt on marriage, how silly so much of this debate is.

Like I said, I have no grand statement to make. I grew up in a house in which sexuality was always an issue, but an easily resolved issue. It was never very complicated. It's actually simple, cheesy even. We love the people we love, not because they fit a certain template of human behavior, but because they make us happy. Because we would be lost without them.

And here I am, straight-as-an-arrow, white-bread eating, banjo-playing, American boy, raised by lesbians, ministers, and transgenders. Somehow I came out okay, despite all this corruption of the American ideal. But then again, I do write poems...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Always the Contributor, Never the Contribution

It's been a fun two days of checking the mail. I received my contributor copies of Beloit Poetry Journal, New York Quarterly, and Hollins Critic. For the Critic, I reviewed a first book by Mike Smith. It's titled "How to Make a Mummy" and I heartily recommend it (the book, not the review) to everyone. NYQ is a feast, featuring poems by Bob Hicock, Marge Piercy, and Dorianne Laux (among others), a craft interview with David Shapiro, and a memorial to W.D. Snodgrass. I've only just started browsing, but the range of aesthetics is remarkable. BPJ is, as always, amazing. With all three of these, I'm humbled by the company I'm in.


So Contributors' Notes are rough. They doom impermanent things. I had forgotten what I put in NYQ only to discover that the last line of my bio said "He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he spends his days thinking about a girl." Though this may still be true in some respects, the sentiment of this thinking has shifted drastically since I originally wrote the note. I did a similar thing with Best New Poets, in which my bio read "He lives in Roanoke, Virginia with a thirteen-year-old sheepdog that growls at sweet old ladies." Two months after the book is released, the dog has been put down and the sweet old ladies roam free. I've always been a fan of putting something other than just publication credits and other c.v. type info, but maybe those things persist simply because they're safer. Luke Johnson writes contributor notes that make him cringe. He does not learn his lesson.


So I've been struggling with how to tell casual acquaintances about this whole not getting married thing. I wish I could just hand them a slip of paper and tell them "everything you need to know is right there." I'm just done with having that same conversation over and over again. Doesn't anyone want to talk about hockey (Go Caps)? The possibility of LeBron vs. Kobe (Witness King James)? The possibility of LeBron vs. Carmelo (push)? Minor league baseball (Salem Red Sox)?


At the prodding of friend C.I. Shelton, I'm currently reading Tom Beller's story collection Seduction Theory. Here, two quotes from different stories that struck me as maybe pertinent, maybe true, certainly interesting and well-wrought.

"Women were like campfires to Walter: warm and comforting in the midst of the wilderness, but if you didn't keep an eye on them you might end up engulfed in flames. He generally played the role of cynic when his friends confided details of their own women-related problems. His own relationships tended to be groping and short-lived. He had had his fair share of sexual experiences, but he had come to think of sex as a form of roulette; once something was set in motion it was nearly impossible to control. Even these encounters had trailed off in the months since he graduated from college, and in their absence he was almost able to forget the completely nauseating terror of having a crush."

(from The Hot Dog War)

"Again and again as he prowled around the house now, he was struck by the evidence of lives lived. It lay on the shelves, along the walls, stacked in piles on the floor."

(from A Different Kind of Imperfection)


I'm learning a new song on the banjo, it makes me feel good about my calloused fingers.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On Unfetteredness

Handed in the thesis yesterday. Found out I passed my comprehensive exams. All that's left is grading the portfolios for my class, but regardless, I'm done with the MFA. It's a bit strange. I had no idea what to do with myself today. I read a book simply because I wanted to, went for a run, and played the banjo. Soon I'll probably start packing up this apartment, but in the meantime I'm still applying for teaching jobs, everything from private/independent high schools to community colleges to universities. I'm eager to have some sort of response and ready to go anywhere. I think I'd be infinitely less uncomfortable about moving some place new if I had a job lined up there, but that's probably just a symptom of this newfound practicality I've been experiencing.


Had a poem, a ghazal, taken by 42Opus today. One of the first places I ever submitted back when I started in September of '07. I'm excited as it's a great e-zine and I've been trying to get more of my work available online, so yeah. More info once I have it.


Killer opening line of the moment:

"Here I love you."

from Pablo Neruda's "Here I Love You" trans. W.S. Merwin
(Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Penguin, 1969)

A friend put me onto this video. Killer, I say. Download an album from Sam Holt's band for free, here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Home Stretch

Tomorrow is my last day of classes as an MFA person. This is a bit unbelievable. But also a relief, not that I don't love being at Hollins, I'm just ready for the next step, whatever that step may be. I have a thesis more or less put together. Right now, After the Ark checks in at 59 pages of poetry (including epigraph and section headings). I think I'm going to try and trim it before sending it out into the world. Currently scoping out First Book Contests. It looks like the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Contest will be my first opportunity. Pipe dreams abound. Any approaching contests I should know about?


Killer first line of the now:

"No balm in heaven. Bone light. Things tick as they desiccate."

from Rodney Jones' "A Whisper Fight at the Peck Funeral Home"
(Kingdom of the Instant, Mariner Books, 2002)


Headed to DC on Friday for a show, good friends Anonymous playing at the State Theater. Love seeing these guys. Love kicking my feet and pumping my fists.


I missed this last week, but a million congratulations to Christine Schutt as her latest book All Souls was named a finalist for this years Pulitzer Prize. I'm in the process of reading her story collection A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer and loving it. She was the writer-in-residence at Hollins last year, and her son Will is a good friend of mine and a fellow Hollins MFAer (soon to be MFA graduate, strange), so it's great to see her get the recognition she so rightly deserves. We once played with Great Pyrenees puppies together.


A student sent me an email today telling me she was writing a paper about my poem Laundromat, which appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2008 issue of Poet Lore. This made me incredibly happy. It's easy to forget that every once and awhile, someone will actually read these poetry journals. Sometimes the actual publication feels like an anticlimax, that is, until something like this happens, and then publication seems much more real. Now I have to formulate semi-intelligent thoughts about this poem to send to aforementioned student.


I bought fancy paper today. I've decided I want my own watermark.