Elizabeth McLagan: Bellingham Review Award

In researching some more poetry contests to throw money away at I stumbled across Elizabeth McLagan’s poem All Alien Spirits Rest the Spirit, the winner of the 2009 49th Parallel Poetry Award. Listen to this:

“There are rocks that have forgotten the body:
orphaned, smoothed by their journey, tossed up

at random and left to dry in the sun.”

Wow. Liked it so much I searched for more and found Goodwill on Verse Daily.

”   … even now I am looking

for something among the sorrowful
dresses and empty sheets, all the stuff
pouring out its plain sadness
until I can’t want for anything more.   ”

Frostwriting: Swedish Haiku

I came across the Website Frostwriting the other day.  It’s an English-language online litzine from Sweden (which explains the frost). There’s lots to like here, such as Carolyn Scarbrough’s Monday Morning. I love the image of a stream of water braided with light.

One thing I notice about much on this site is the casual, sarcastic or indifferent attitude toward death. Read The Shirt for a good example of what I’m referring too. Is that a Swedish thing (but many of the contributors are American)? My mother’s side of the family is Swedish (the Tholans and Ostergrens). I visited their native land of Malmo several years ago. Good herring.

If you visit Frostwriting be sure to check out all the Swedish haiku on the site. Here’s my favorite by Daniel Gahnertz

digging up my cat
to bury her

Apparently there’s a Swedish Haiku Society. Cool.

Also I discovered that there’s a Swedish novelist named Klas Ostergren. Maybe we’re related.

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Allen Hoey, “wonderer steps softly within”

Last week I went to a memorial reading for poet, novelist and teacher Allen Hoey. Allen died of a heart attack the week before, and this reading, at a library in Newtown, was in fact supposed to be his reading to promote his new selected poems Stricter Means.

Allen was a teacher for many years at Bucks County Community College, which is where I met him in the early 90s when I was an adjunct there teaching composition and intro to lit. Between classes I’d sometimes sit with him in his office, talking about poems, looking over books, listening to recordings (I particularly remember getting excited at his recording of Richard Hugo—for some reason it’s hard to find fellow Hugo fans these days).

Later he contributed to a literary journal I was involved in and read with me at one of the journal’s launch readings. Long after I left teaching Allen and I stayed in touch, mostly via email and later, Facebook, to which we were both addicted.

The event, held in an old, small-town library filled as much with regional historical artifacts as books, was overflowing with celebrants (mourners is not the right word here). Christopher Bursk, Allen’s colleague from BCCC organized and ran the event in which friends and associates read selections of Allen’s poems to a somber but appreciative crowd. I read a poem Allen wrote about an experience with his son when he was a child, an undertaking made more difficult because his now-adult son was sitting 10 feet in front of me.

To say it was a sad event is hardly accurate. Poignant comes closer, but not quite right either. The gathered understood as one the tragedy of the loss, yet I think Allen would recognize that every loss is a tragedy. This one was made more significant by the intensity of his investment into other people and into his work and therefore, into some future.

In Allen’s poem What Persists, a poem about the death of a student, he suggests that what continues after we’ve passed is not our memory so much but what we’ve invested of ourselves in others, almost (though he doesn’t quite say that) as if we intentionally diminish ourselves by our contributions to others. I’m guessing that it’s both a voluntary and involuntary investment, though poets (and other artists) work a bit harder at it than most people.

Anyway, the memorial was the most perfect send off for a poet and teacher. The assembled included teachers, poets, students and friends. There were as many smiles as damp eyes in that library, both at the same time as if the two completed a yin and yang symbol. We read his poems to each other, shared his beautiful contributions, talked and then moved into our own separate evenings. All attendees signed a copy of his latest book as a gift to his family, something to help them remember the magnetism of this man and to ensure something persists.

Here’s a translation of a Georg Trakl poem Allen did in a small collection called Transfigured Autumn. The table is readied…

A Winter Evening

When snow falls against the window,

The evening bell tolls long,

For many the table is readied

And the house well-provided.

Many in their wanderings

Come to the door from dark paths.

The tree of graces blooms golden

With the earth’s cool sap.

Wanderer steps softly within;

Pain has petrified the threshold.

Then in pure brilliance gleams

On the table bread and wine.

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Forbidden Texts

At a recent gathering of local poets (thanks for the burgers Liz and Liz’s husband) the subject of gardening came up. About half of the small group in attendance were dirt diggers of some sort. Liz participates in a community plot. Cleveland (yes, her name, so cool) admitted to a veggie patch, Joanne recently started a butterfly garden (send pictures please), and I’m the proud curator of 150 square feed of tomatoes, squash, peppers and other leafy things.

Among the talk of zucchinis, someone mentioned a workshop teacher had forbidden any garden poems (poor Wendell Berry). I had an experience in which a workshop teacher threatened us if he found any references to herbs or spices (this teacher actually brought a 10-inch knife to class and once stabbed a student’s poem with it. The student left crying). I know several litzines automatically throw back any poem about poetry or about writing poetry. A friend once suggested that I write about fishing too much. He’s probably correct, but I think about fishing a lot, so I really can’t help it.

Anyway, that got me thinking about forbidden subjects—not taboo subjects, but subjects that readers, teachers, editors don’t want to see. I’m guessing, and this is just a guess, the reason for the prejudice is overuse or over exposure. Gardening poems are so abundant there’s almost a genre unto themselves, much like elegies or poems about ankles (I’m joking about the ankles). The suggestions or potentials in gardens make them so temping for writers. The digging, planting, hoping, harvesting… It’s a cliché bag before you even open it. You know the poet is investing something heavy in the planting of seeds, is hoping or looking for something, placing all his or her bets on its success. Digging in the soil, rich with potential … you see how it works. Same goes for spices and herbs I assume. The poet is adding flavor, spicing things up so to speak. Yes, too easy. And fishing, that’s so god awful clichéd I should be punished (especially the snooty fly fishing poems), but I do it anyway. I do it all. Why? Not because it’s easy (well, sometimes because it’s easy), but because it also works. If some of those themes verge on cliché it’s because there’s a shared understanding in the experience, I hope. And that shared understanding, if done in a new and surprising way, is what triggers that positive pressure point in a reader. If I read a garden poem that allows me to taste that commonality between myself and the reader, but in a unique way (like the first time I tasted mashed potatoes with wasabi sauce—rock and roll!) then that poem works for me. And there’s the challenge. It is sometimes easier for teachers, readers, editors to immediately dismiss those common themes, but there’s a big risk you’ll miss out on the wasabi.

However, I do have a personal grudge against villanelles, and I’m not willing to get over it. I don’t like popcorn much either.

Now I will go write another gardening or fishing poem.

Oh, and you’ll like this.


First, let me explain this blog. The name, PoetCore, is a bit of a twist on hardcore, obviously, referencing in my mind hardcore punk (hence the tagline, “It’s not punk. It’s poetry.”) There’s no good reason for that other than the fact that in my formative teens in the 80s I was heavily into the hardcore punk scene. I still listen to punk music, so punk and poetry are about the most consistent things in my life over the last, oh, 25 years. My tastes in poetry aren’t particularly punk, but that doesn’t matter. I think it’s a cool name.

Second, why I’m starting a blog—because Joanne Leva asked me to. Sort of. Joanne runs the Montgomery  County Poet Laureate competition, which I won this year (woohoo!), and she basically said, “You now have the floor. Do something with it.” OK, so I’m doing something.

Third, I spend a little time most days poking around the Internet reading litzine sites, poetry articles and other literature-related content. Frequently I want to react to, write or rant about what I’ve read. I’ve dozens of essays in my head on poetry subjects, but haven’t gotten around to pitching any journals on these ideas. This blog, hopefully, will be a place for me to do those things, and perhaps get others to join in on the fun.

The WordPress theme (the way the blog looks) I selected for this blog is called koi. I selected it because I like koi and goldfish, though I may tire of the theme and change it. The exact nature of what will populate this area is still evolving. If you have a suggestion, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll just start typing.