Well, this is embarrassing. Under the influence of a highly tumultuous summer, I completely forgot to mention the reading I gave in Rome with Francesca Belland Alessandra Bava. It was my first reading ever, unless you count the time I murmured a few poems under my breath at a bar in NYC just after my very first publication in 1999 or so.
It was a miracle this reading even happened – on June 29, which is Roman holiday. Francesca was in town on vacation, and – after a little fancy footwork – we organized this reading at Otherwise Bookshop with Alessandra, a poet and translator who has rendered some of Francesca’s poems in Italian.
It was an amazing experience to walk from my family’s home near St. Peter’s up Via del Governo Vecchio, to read a poem that takes place in that very stretch and which is the gravitational center (and title) of my book. So many important events in my life have happened in that little tangle of streets along the Tiber, and I’ve tried to get some of it into my poems.
Below you can listen to me read four poems from Unburial: “Runaway“, “Unburial” “The Skaters” and “To the Horned Moon” from the June 29th reading. (Warning: I sound like Carnegie Hall-era Lenny Bruce at times.) Somewhere, there is video…
I’m excited to share the cover of Unburial, which is a monotype by Berlin-based artist and friend Beatriz Crespo. It was handpicked by me from hundreds of possibilities—this one struck me. I liked the colors—reminiscent of certain walls in Rome that I love—and the movement, as if some hidden force were pushing upwards to be released. It’s the same motion that drove the composition of the poems in the book, historical forces fighting to bob to the surface where they can finally be seen in clear light.
I’m also indebted to three of the finest poets and translators I know for the blurbs that grace the back cover. Please check out the work of Moira Egan, Aaron Poochigianand Michael Palma. You’ll be glad you did.
—Every so often, though,
he’d open one of those drawers in his desk
pull out a tray of vibrant minerals:
round geodes, spiky quartz and silky slate,
mica which turned to powder in my hands
flecked by a billion years of sediment,
weightless pumice, granite, obsidian,
the names alone enough to set me dreaming
of further atmospheres. These fragments he kept
kept secrets of their own, had fallen to Earth
from spacetime, or grew organically
in igneous niches of our planet’s skin.
I’ve got some deep archives, and they’re a mess. I’ve been writing and submitting poetry since the late 1990s, and this submissions sheet is a reminder of just how much has changed since then. Now almost everything has been updated to online submissions forms – Submittable foremost among them – and only dinosaur journals like the Paris Review still require you to send them a SASE. (I remember knocking on the door of their offices on E. 72nd St. in order to drop off a package for George Plimpton, on assignment for the Gotham Book Mart.) These, anyway, were my first attempts at publishing, and you can see the titles of my very first published poems on the right. It’s funny how the passage of time gives value to the most banal artifacts of our lives. Glad I saved this one.
My poem “Epiphanies” is up in the August issue of Verse-Virtual. It’s about walking through Rome during summer, the light catching my eye, taking it all in. A lot has happened this summer, much of it very sad, and I suppose under such circumstances one is always on the lookout for a kind of epiphany. So here it is.
So much beauty, so much misery
baked into these stones. I walk
and a sharp glint off travertine
gashes my eye, connects
solar lake to solar
plexus, my step as sure
as the silver crosses that shape
nuns’ breasts. How strange
to feel at home in this place –
a pigeon has fashioned its nest
on the brow of a saint!
If epiphany ever comes
it will look like this.
I have a new poem up at Palette Poetry. This is one of the most difficult poems I’ve ever written – actually, unburial is full of those – and one of the most personal. It’s about dementia, and the spiral that loved ones are thrown into when a parent is slowly torn asunder by the waters of Lethe.
Requiem for an Ocean Burial
You wanted a rocky shoreline off the coast of Maine with barbarous waves, a few small fishing boats, a lighthouse reaching out across the fog like a tired hand, waving farewell forever.
What you got was a cramped room in a nursing home which cost a fortune and drained your bank account…
I’ll be reading poetry with Francesca Bell and Alessandra Bava at the Otherwise Bookshop in Rome on June 29 (near Piazza Navona). If you are in Rome or thereabouts and would like to hear some poetry, come on by!
I’m excited that my poem “Runaway” has gone up at Baltimore Review! As an ex-Baltimorean, it means something to have a poem – which is an excavation of my own parents’ motives for choosing one another – in a high-quality hometown journal. I don’t want to give too much away, but [spoiler alert] it’s the opener in my forthcoming book unburial. So if you want to know what the book will be about, let’s just say this poem sets the tone. If you like it, you may want to read the rest of the poems, too. (Hint hint.)
I don’t know what it was like to publish a book of poems in the past, though I do know that these days self-promotion is the reigning business model. And this seems true – to a greater or lesser degree – whether your publisher is big or small. Poets – perhaps all writers – are expected to do their fair share of promotion (in addition to, well, creating the work in the first place.)
A lot of people I talk to on social media think this is unfair, or at least that the publisher should bear the brunt of it. And at first glance I’d agree. What poet wouldn’t want to have all their precious time to themselves to write more poetry, instead of writing emails to bookshops and elbowing for space among social media followers and friends? This last takes arguably as much time as the writing itself, so it’s like piling a part-time job on top of a part-time job. I, for one, also have a full-time job. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all!
But, as Rilke said, for the sake of a single poem… You might spend your life searching for the perfect publisher who will take care of everything – and then stiff you in some other way. Or roll with it. I’ve begun creating bite-size images with lines from my poems to share on social media. It’s actually a lot of fun! Anyway, I’ll be sharing these on the blog as well. I hope they pique your interest so that when the book comes out you’ll want to read it. It’s really good – I promise!
I’ve waited a few weeks before going public, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. But, as they say, this is happening. My first book of poems, unburial, will be released by Kelsay Books/Aldrich Press in 2020! To say this is a dream come true is an understatement, as anyone who has ever put together – and shopped around – a first manuscript can tell you.
You can read some of the published material from the book here,here and here. Others are forthcoming from Palette Poetry and Baltimore Review – quite appropriately, as some of the poems in the book take place in – you guessed it – Baltimore.
I’ll be posting updates as more information becomes available: cover art, release date, book party, etc…stappiamo lo champagne!!
Our terrible future has just arrived. The telephone now rings ominously as we falter, scanning briefly a sky of asphalt gray, frightened what we seek.
As I wrote in the note to the poem, “it was the first poem I ever wrote that felt like a real poem, where I wasn’t merely aping the poets I read but was building on their work and adding something of my own.” I’ve been told by a friend from that time that she has kept a piece of office stationery that planed down in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, sprinkled through with tiny shards of glass, since that day. She says it still smells like the air on 9/11, the air of death. The poem continues:
The air outside seems somehow to have died as claustrophobic clouds conceal the week.
Those lines were written in the days after the event, surrounded by the poisonous clouds above Manhattan. In contrast to “On Maujer St.“, which was written 16 years after, this was contemporaneous with the event.
The larger point is this: it was this poem that convinced me I, too, could write poetry – that I was cut out not only to imitate but also to create (I’ll leave judgement of its poetic merits to others more competent.) It was a breaking through, so to speak. My hope is that the reader is transported for a brief minute into the shoes of those who walked the torn and broken city on that awful day, forgetful of the past, fearful in the present, uncertain what future awaited them.