The Big Poetry Giveaway of 2015

It’s time for another poetry giveaway thanks to Kelli Agodon!

Wow, it’s been ages since I participated in this poetry giveaway. In case you are not familiar with the concept, poetry bloggers are invited to give away two books of poetry during National Poetry Month. One is our own if we have one. One is a book we love.

To enter your name into the “hat,” please leave your name in the comments. On May 1 2015, I’ll pick the two winners and mail you your books!

Book 1: Midnight Voices by me.
I’m giving away my first book. Here’s what one Amazon reviewer wrote about it:
“I am unabashedly Floridian, so this volume spoke to me– but as any fan of poetry knows, the transportation to another locale is a pastiche of our imagination and the skill of the poet.
Neither plush nor too sparse, the tone of this book strikes a balance between what we see, and what we ignore. Highly enjoyable, and worth revisiting.”

Book 2: Cold Pluto by Mary Ruefle
Love this book! The poems are razor sharp and rich. I admire how she writes about a wide variety of topics with great skill.

Learn more about the Poetry Giveaway.

Twitter Poet Party

Collin Kelley and I have been co-hosting the Twitter Poet Party for several years now. It takes place on the first Sundays of the month at 9 pm Eastern. We’re lining up featured guests and wanted to share with you who they are as the information becomes available!

April 2015: National Poetry Month. Swing on by to discuss how you are celebrating April and all of its poetry events.

May 2015: John Poch. John Poch’s fourth collection, Fix Quiet, was selected as the winner of the 2014 New Criterion Poetry Prize and will be published in spring 2015. He is also author of Poems, (Orchises Press, 2004); Two Men Fighting with a Knife (Story Line Press, 2008), which won the 2008 Donald Justice Prize; and Dolls (Orchises Press, 2009). He is the editor, with Chad Davidson, of Hockey Haiku: The Essential Collection (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006. A co-founder and longtime editor of 32 Poems Magazine, he collaborated with co-founder Debora Ager and Bill Beverly to edit the anthology Old Flame: From the First 10 Years of 32 Poems Magazine (WordFarm, 2013).

June 2015: Kim Roberts. An award-winning poet, literary historian, and editor residing in Washington, DC. Author of four books of poems. Washington, D.C., is the source of much inspiration for Roberts. She has developed numerous tours for schools and community groups highlighting the literary and cultural history of the city. Roberts frequently leads walking tours of the Harlem Renaissance-era writers in the greater U Street neighborhood. Roberts’s research on Walt Whitman’s decade in residence of Washington, DC was featured in The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, as well as being referenced in subsequent articles in The Washington Post and The Washington Times, features on radio essays on stations WAMU and WPFW, and on panels for Whitman conferences at Rutgers University, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and at the annual Washington Historical Studies Conference.

Split This Rock + Jewish Poetry

Thank you to Split This Rock for sharing “Fires on Highway 192” in their Poem of the Week feature.

Split This Rock is hosting contributors from The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry. If you live near DC, be sure to catch us reading at Sunday Kind of Love this Sunday July 20 from 5-7pm at Busboys & Poets 14th & V St. location. Kim Roberts, Yvette Neisser Moreno, and Rachel Malis will also be reading.

Fires on Highway 192
by Deborah Ager

After Neruda’s “Disasters”

In Florida, it was raining ash because the fire
demanded it. I had to point my car landward
and hope the smoke would part, but it was a grey sea
absorbing my body. Cabbage Palms were annihilated.
Even the Indian River steamed. Black stalks stank.
The condominiums spit smoke into twilight.
Still, a cattle egret landed, preening, in a pasture
filled with embers – the cattle dead or removed.
And I was hungry; there was nothing to eat.
And I was thirsty and raised the river to my mouth.
And I was alone, and there was only that one egret
searching for a cow. The wind was a whisper on my tongue.
Ash on ash. Slumber shallow. I was a frown
in an unfamiliar city after sundown. Vultures circled
like assassins. I made a bed out of the road. I made a pillow
of misery and slept and had no story I wanted to confess.

From The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry (Bloomsbury, 2013)

In Memoriam: Shann Palmer

Shann Palmer

Shann Palmer

Dear Friends and Family of Shann,

I first came to know Shann Palmer via Twitter. Over the years, I’ve heard people say Twitter is a dumb platform and claim it’s silly to “mention what you had for lunch” on the internet. Those of us who used Twitter realized there was more to it than sharing our daily meals.

If you used Twitter right, you could create or find a community.

Several years ago, in a chilly October, I started the Twitter Poet Party. We held it every Sunday. Shann often attended these online events, and she also missed a lot since “Dexter” came on TV at the same time. Those of us attending these online events never seemed to tire of the “who brought the wine?” or “I brought cookies” jokes when we knew it was likely we’d never meet in person.

At some point, Shann invited me down to Richmond, VA to read at the Museum of Fine Arts. Her reading series blew all of my expectations away. I entered a modern stone and glass structure and was to give a reading in the lobby. I was warmly welcomed into the community of artists and poets who attended the reading.

“Need wine?” Shann asked me.

Shann had brought wine with her, and we drank a glass with John Hoppenthaler (my fellow reader that night).

John had met her at a conference. I had met her via Twitter. I began to get the sense that Shann was a person who made friends everywhere and kept them with her funny jokes and warm smile.

Shann— We’ll miss you.

“If I Am Only for Myself, What Am I?”

olive-cameron-handsThis blog post originally appeared on The Best American Poetry blog.

Hillel wrote:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And, if not now, when?

The Hillel I reference is Hillel the Elder. He was the leader of the Jewish Supreme Court in the Land of Israel in the early part of the 1st Century CE.

Gathering material for an anthology and spending hours on the book requires attention to detail, the willingness to cheer for others, and a small dose of insanity.

When it came time to write these blog posts, Hillel’s quote kept popping into my head. What is he saying here, and why do I keep thinking about it in relation to the Jewish poetry anthology Matthew Silverman and I edited?

In case you are not familiar with the quote, he’s telling us that we need to be for ourselves. Be nice to yourself. Take care of yourself. Think through what you are doing and how you spend time and revisit whether the actions you are taking are still good choices. However, you can’t only be concerned with yourself. You have to help others, too.

As other writers and editors before me, I wasn’t content to be only for myself. Roughly ten years ago, I took on the challenge of founding a journal called 32 Poems Magazine. Becoming a publisher allowed me to find good work and bring it to a place where others could read it. I took particular joy and pride in finding work by writers (unknown and well known alike) and introducing it to the audience we nurtured. Editing an anthology is a similar process.

contemporary-jewish-american-poetry-smlThe same thought process drew me to work on The Bloomsbury Anthology to Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, which we called The New Promised Land back then, with Matthew Silverman.

The power of being for something greater than you is that others will be for the greater experience too…Read the rest at the Best American Poetry blog.

Poets Drinking Carrot Juice: An Interview with Joshua Weiner


Earlier this week, I mentioned that Jerry Seinfeld’s series called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” inspired my coffee interview series with poets. Each episode shows Jerry Seinfeld driving a notable car to pick up a comedian. He drives them to a coffee shop, and they drink their coffee and chat. Today’s post includes an interview with Josh Weiner, who is one of the poets we included in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemorary Jewish American Poetry

By the way, we have a full list of events related to the book. We’d love to see you!

Poets, of course, don’t just drink coffee.

Josh Weiner ordered carrot juice.

Let me be clear here. The carrot juice order gives the person craving chocolate some pause. Does one proceed with the hot chocolate order (yes to whipped cream) or select one of the organic herbal teas made by extremely happy people in another country?

If not for Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, I may well have fallen into ordering something similar to show solidarity. In his book, psychologist and behavioral economist Ariely explains one should be the first to order in a restaurant. Ordering first prevents one from the desire to express individuality by ordering something they do not like in order to be “different” or by expressing solidarity by ordering what someone else orders. The result is often ordering something you don’t like—and being “irrational.” Order first, and these challenges are avoided, my friend.

Despite Josh’s good example—and thanks to Dan Ariely—I kept my original order of hot chocolate with whipped cream. It came with a hair (at no additional charge). Josh said he would not blame me for not wanting to drink bacteria, so I sent it back and got coffee. I ended up with something slightly healthier after all, but the caffeine made me talk a lot.

Our Meeting Place: Busboys and Poets, Hyattsville, MD

Side note: Busboys and Poets is a restaurant named for Langston Hughes. Hughes, if you recall, was a busboy at the Wardman Park (now called the Marriott Wardman Park and a favorite of the AWP and MLA conferences for you English professor/writer types) in Washington, DC. When Vachel Lindsay dined there, Hughes placed his poems in front of the great poet. Lindsay was annoyed, but he picked up the papers and read them. He liked “The Weary Blues” and helped Hughes with his career.

Let’s get to the cars.

Cars Involved: Josh drove a Mini Cooper. I drove a Corolla.

About Josh:

Joshua Weiner is the author of three books of poetry—The World’s Room (2001), From the Book of Giants (2006), and The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish (2013)—published by the University of Chicago. He’s received a Whiting Writers Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. In 2014, he’ll be a fellow of the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park and is poetry editor at Tikkun. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, the novelist Sarah Blake, and their children.

We started off our conversation talking about topics I was writing about for this week of blogging—Jewish last names, identity, the definition of a Jewish poet or poem.

“I’m not not a Jewish writer,” Josh replied as we talked about Jewish identity. In this, he echoes a number of poets I’ve spoken to about identity. Writers may not use a Jewish label to define themselves, yet their background ends up seeping into their work.

Josh and his family lived in Berlin for a year after he won the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, which awards funds to poets to live outside of the United States for a year.

I mentioned knowing two families who moved to Germany… Read more at the Best American Poetry blog.

Poets in Coffee Shops Drinking Hot Tea

Today, on the Best American Poetry blog, I interview the poet Kim Roberts.

Months ago, I stumbled upon “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” In each episode, Jerry Seinfeld drives a notable car to pick up a comedian. He drives them to a coffee shop, and they drink their coffee and talk. In the episode with David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld drives a 1995 Volvo station wagon with a racing engine installed by Paul Newman. A Volvo with a racing engine? Even Paul Newman has a sense of humor.

Since this blog post is not sponsored by a luxury car maker, I was not able to procure a Lamborghini—or even a Vespa for that matter—for my coffee date with poet Kim Roberts. To meet her, I took Metro, which has provided me many free lessons regarding self-defense during rush hour.

I am not sure what car she drove.

Our meeting point: The Wydown Coffee Bar on 13th Street in Washington, DC.

Our plan: To have coffee and talk poetry.

Reason: I interviewed her for this week of blogging about Jewish poetry, because we published her work in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry…Read more at The Best American Poetry blog.

Best American Poetry Blog

contemporary-jewish-american-poetry-sml This week, I am blogging over at the Best American Poetry blog to talk about The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, which I edited with Matthew Silverman.

I wrote that I am “blogging this week,” but I wrote the first post while at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) in New Smyrna Beach, FL. Thank you, ACA! You helped.

I won’t be selling the book for $19.95, and I won’t make you watch an infomerical. What follows is the first part of the essay:

The question Matthew Silverman and I grappled with when putting together The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry was about what constituted a Jewish poem. The poets we solicited for poems wondered, too. A good number of poets wrote us to say they did not write on “Jewish themes.” We reassured them that this was fine.

In the essay “The Question of American Jewish Poetry,” John Hollander asks the same question:

The first hard question is: “Well, do these Jewish American poets write Jewish American poetry?” But that question is itself misleading. And matters are not made clearer by rephrasing it in the apparently sophisticated literary language . . . “Which poems reflect Jewish experience?” Such terms . . . mean little to poets, and perhaps even less to serious and inquiring literary critics. After all, can anything a Jew experiences—even apostasy—not be “Jewish experience”?

Matthew and I were at times no more certain than John Hollander….Read more at the Best American Poetry blog.

Notes on Beauty Pill’s Prison Song

Normally, I listen to the same song 10-40 times in a row or in a day. I like to deconstruct the song, think about the artist’s choice in words and chords, and how the song is structured overall. Sadly, this may drive the people around me a little crazy.

A few weeks ago, I could not stop listening to Beauty Pill’s Prison Song (link to video):

Will you still visit me when I’m in prison?
My outside sweetheart.
Will you bring birthday cakes with contraband inside?
Out with the guards.
Or will you mail me a tearsome letter…

I love how the lyrics go back and forth between thinking things are over and thinking there’s a chance. You can hear uncertainty in the voice of the singer. The second half of the song reverses some of the ideas of the first half, which astounded me when I figured it out. I got to ask the song writer about this, because he is a dear friend. The songwriter, Chad Clark, did indeed turn the words inside out (using opposites) on purpose, and I immediately wanted to use that idea for a poem.

The week I first wrote this blog post, I was listening to Amy Winehouse’s Rehab song. (This was before she passed away.) I keep shaking my head at how she borrowed from an obvious influence to discuss this rehab idea. The voice and the song’s structure reminds me of church gospel or a cousin of Motown. Winehouse puts a fresh twist on an old topic with her choice of style — we already have the angry “drug” songs from Hole and Nirvana in the 90s — and her voice’s range certainly helps this song become memorable.

I’m not sure yet what I’m doing with this observation of music. For now, I’m enjoying what I’m observing and content to leave it at that.


On the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series

What other poetry series shares its bug spray?

Every summer in June and July, poets come from the DC area and around the country to read in the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series. Past poets have included Kelly Cherry, Jennifer Militello, Stanley Plumly, Jericho Brown, Adam Vines, Brad Richard, Dan Albergotti, and Traci Brimhall. Readings have taken place in Miller’s Cabin, beside a stream, and inside a planetarium.

Washington, DC provides a home to many an important monument. Since 1883, Washington, DC has been home to Miller Cabin thanks to Joaquin Miller. And the city has been home to the Miller Cabin Poetry Series since 1978 thanks to founder Karren Alenier.

For this series, we have braved thunderstorms and bugs in order to listen to poetry. We have shared our food, our bug spray, and our disaster survival skills. When Luke Johnson read, a thunderstorm swept in fast. The audience ran for cover under a picnic shelter. With water swirling around our ankles—the rain was that heavy that fast—we moved to our backup location to finish the reading…Read more at the 32 Poems blog.