Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge!

I’m happy to share that my poem “Her Vanity” was selected for the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge for March 2022! The poem was inspired by this painting by Natascha Graham, which made me think about my mother as a young woman and a story she told me umpteen times about the time she met Eddie Fisher, her dream boat. “He could have been your father!” she would say, raising a severe eyebrow at me. (Apparently, genetics wasn’t on her mind.) You can read more poems about my mother in my collection Unburial.

"Her Vanity"

My mother used to sit like this before
her vanity, her shoulders bathed
in blue and pink light, her powdered skin
dredged in a cloud of talc, breathing it in. 

[Read more at Rattle]

Making the Shortlist

Yesterday I got word that one of my sonnets has been shortlisted for the Better Than Starbucks Sonnet Contest 2021. I don’t enter many contests, and have only once received an honorable mention – back in 2000 – for another sonnet contest (I write a lot of sonnets). That contest was judged by Alfred Dorn, who created the ‘Dornian’ sonnet with the rhyme scheme ABCABC DD EFGEFG. I’ve written a number of Dornian sonnets, including my seven-sonnet sequence “Homage to the Italian Language” which will be in Still Life with City. The poem was published in Raintown Review last year, which is a print-only journal. As a teaser, here is one of the middle sonnets, in the Dornian style:


Romans adore the expletive ammazza.
It means so many things, like Oh my god
or harsh…Regina taught us to use it
in place of harsher-sounding words or as a
default four-letter word which, intoned loud,
would startle skeletons locked in the closet.
But what was I to do with Abigail—
bipolar, alcoholic—but derail
my train to smoother tracks? I found a place
across the bridge in Queens: Astoria.
The signs in Greek were comforting to me,
murmurs of Mediterranean solace
along the East River; la storia,
I told myself, fingering my new key.

Anyway, the shortlisted sonnet is not a Dornian sonnet! It's actually a (mostly) unrhymed sonnet, another pet form. In January they release the results. Fingers crossed!

Support Poetry on Patreon

I’ve done a bit of math for 2021, and here are some stats:

I’ve published twenty-three new poems and nine translations, and had eight of my poems translated into Italian. I have roughly ten new poems coming out in the next few months, plus another batch of around ten translations of poets Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, Crescenzo del Monte and Italian epigrammatists from the Enlightenment. I’m also very close to finalizing my second book, Still Life with City, which has been in the works for two years with Pski’s Porch (the pandemic slowed things down) and have a finished manuscript for the first English-language translation of the poems of Mario dell’Arco. Whew! I also have a full-time job, a family and lots of other things going on.

All that writing has brought in around $100, a few contributor’s copies and a whole lotta glory. Not that I’m complaining. That’s already a fair batting average for a poet.

If you are reading this and would like to support my poetry, I’ve started a Patreon page. For as little as €3 ($4) a month, you can make a difference and support the arts directly. I will write no matter what because I love to write and I love to read. Support from readers, however, is always welcome. In the meantime, have another poem with your latkes. Happy Hanukkah!


“Nana’s Last Hanukkah”

She blesses each long thin candle one by one
twisting their shy little necks into the hollow brass
fingers, thumb and index brittle as bone.
All evening, a pale light lingers—
our living room alive with shadow play
the curtain a stage, a Chinese theater.
Nana’s voice is the voice of the dead
gathering in her, swelling in her throat
like a column of smoke, her tiny prayer book
lit fire in her hands.

– from Minyan

Pushcart Prize 2021 Nomination

I’m pleased to write that my poem “Gouache: November” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the journal Italian Americana. I first published with them back in 2011, a poem called “Samuel Menashe Reads at the Harvard Club”. Many thanks to poetry editor Maria Terrone and the staff at IA for this bit of good news. You can read the poem here (print only):

“Arachne” in TELEPHONE


Take shelter in this dim gold of blown kisses,
near misses. You are the dancer, the gesture,
erasure eked out of delicately falling
atoms. Σῶμα, a body breathing. Lash
your limbs to this brief, transfigured landscape,
escape the sentence of sentience we’re all
co-doomed to: the finite infinitives,
subject-verb-object, antecedent, predicated
patterns life relaxes into like water
filling a bathtub. Needle and thread
can weave a robe, a flag, a web. Caution
duende not to troll you, control you.
The splendid motion of stars stirs in us
silent, terrible echoes of our birth.

* Σῶμα, /soma/ is Greek for “body”

*This poem was written as part of the TELEPHONE global arts project. It was inspired by this piece. Read my note on the poem and check out the full exhibit!

Three by Montale

Eugenio Montale, l'uomo che indagava con la poesia | XXI SECOLO
Eugenio Montale with friend

I have three new translations of Eugenio Montale’s poetry at On the Seawall*. Along with Dante, Montale was one of the first poets I read in lingua when I was studying Italian in New York City. I remember my first-ever class at Parliamo Italiano, on 65th St. My teacher was Regina, a brazen Florentine. She walked into class – it must have been early September – fanning herself with a hand. “Fa caldo!” she said, emphatically. One student asked, a mild expression of shock on his face, “Who’s Aldo?” (Fa caldo! means It’s hot! He had heard, with his American ears, Fuck Aldo!) Regina paused for a moment, then burst out laughing. It was the best introduction to a foreign-language course – and I’ve conducted many myself – I could ever have imagined.

My first attempts at translating Montale were made when I was an elementary-level student of Italian. I cribbed a lot from existing versions, which is part of the process. Then I gave up. Now, years later, I offer these versions of a great poet’s work to the world. May they encourage the reader to seek out more of his work. It’s worth it.

*thank you to editor Ron Slate.

“Still” at Rattle ‘Poets Respond’

After nearly three years of trying, I’ve finally managed to land another poem in Rattle’s ‘Poets Respond’ series. I love this series; the poems chosen are often excellent (and always interesting), poetic responses to the weekly news cycle. “Still” was my response to the deadlock of the 2020 election: exhausted, burned out and anxious for them to “call it”, the nine lines wrote themselves largely unconsciously – as so often happens with poetry – as I looked out the window and noticed birds still chirping away in the trees.

(I read the poem on Rattle’s Open Mic for Sunday November 8, 2020.)


There are still birds, still things coming to life
in unexpected ways. Still nights and days.
Nocturnal, diurnal. Circadian rhythms
scratching an itch at the back of the throat.
Still family, still friends. Still love
slapping you silly with its rubber tongue,
salt that makes your stomach sing a psalm,
palettes of rusted foliage, stray bees
in November, still buzzing in the lavender.

from Rattle

Unburial reviewed in Italian Americana

A year after publication, Unburial has its first book review! Stefano Maria Casella has reviewed it for Italian Americana, and has this to say:

It is a complex story, with highs and lows, dreams (the dream of the
young girl visiting Rome and finding her “love”) and tragedies (“Timonium”), pleasant episodes and gloomy moments. But no happy ending. It opens
with the meeting of a young American girl (“An American in Rome” or
“The innocent abroad”) with a kind of local Latin lover: a couple destined
to become the author’s parents. Under their sign, the whole sequence is
structured, from romance through crisis and divorce to the end of their
earthly existence.

Of course it sounds a bit like a novel, which I suppose it is as well. Casella goes on:

From a formal/stylistic point of view, worth recalling is the high
frequency of similes (“like/as”) followed by various metaphors; as regards
the form of the stanzas, several poems are structured in unrhyming (or
scarcely/imperfectly rhyming) tercets and/or couplets, one in quatrains, and
some (seven) in fourteen lines, arranged in various patterns and schemes,
formally—but only formally—recalling the number of lines of the sonnet.

There are actually a number of formal sonnets in the book (rhymed and metered)! But I do like the informal sonnet, the thirteener and fifteen-line sonnet, and pretty much anything else that resembles a sonnetlike poem.

He concludes beautifully:

And it is in the very sign of literary tradition that the poet concludes his book: after “Unburial,” his father’s “exit” and “Requiem for an Ocean Burial,” the ritual scattering of his mother’s ashes, the poet directs his gaze “To the Horned Moon”, in a XXI c. claire de lune which closes the circle of one of the most ancient poetic topoi begun some seven centuries B.C. by Alkman’s unforgettable nocturne.

Here is the poem, reaching back in time.

“To the Horned Moon”

How often I meet you here
above the trees and houses
nested in sleep, the edges

of you ringed, luminescent
as a dropped nickel in a pool
of crude oil. Copper-crowned

night, twilit and electric blue,
presiding above the world
unchallenged. What star

measures up to you? None
I know of. They are too far.
You, on the other hand,

so close I could
take you by the horns
wrestle you to Earth or

steer you forever
at ten million miles per hour
straight out of the universe.

-from Verse-Virtual, May 2018



With so much going on, I completely forgot to post this back in March. My image, “Indietro”, was chosen for the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge in February. Here it is accompanied by Stephanie Shlachtman’s poem “They Tried to Cover Her Up“, which was my pick as artist. The other winning poem, chosen by editor Tim Green, was Mary Ann Honecker’s “When Peeled Back“. Both poems are mind-bending responses to the image, which is a photograph of a billboard in Perugia I snapped outside my daughter’s school.

Of course, February seems like aeons ago. My daughter hasn’t been to her school since around the time the image was open for submissions. These poems come from what was perhaps the final phase of life before COVID-19 took control of us and altered the narrative. The billboard, like so much else from before the flood, is gone now. All that remains is the art it inspired. 

Rattlecast #45 is up!

It was a pleasure to have been a guest on last night’s Rattlecast with editor Tim Green. I tried not to think about the fact that my episode is bookended by poets such as Dorianne Laux (#44) and Sonia Greenfield (#46). But there it is. With Tim’s okay, I just wanted to let it rip with little or no premeditation. Maybe it’s kind of raw at points, though I hope I managed to say one or two things of general interest to listeners besides just reading my poems. I’ve only given three readings in my life before this, so cut me some slack!