Archive for May, 2007

B-b-b-back in the UNCO, the post-tour bring down/debriefing

May 9, 2007

i am very very sleep deprived– just flew back from upstate NY. after 3 hrs sleep in a very dilapidated smelly Days Inn near Rochester. it was the kind of hotel room that exuded all the smells of everything else that everyone else had previously “exuded,” if you know what i mean. consequently, i woke up before the alarm. i swear it was the smells. then at ROC they said my flight was late, and i had to take a different airline later!

i am sitting right now in UNC (University of Northern Colorado, aka UNCO) here with my grad students in an optional creative writing final where they have to write a poem. it sounds weird, but about half the time i get the best thing they write all term this way. maybe it’s the pressure. maybe it’s the fact nobody else reads it. maybe it’s the autohypnotic suggestions i give them, telling them they can write the greatest thing they ever wrote if they just really push through to what they really know vs. what they think they know and what they are supposed to know. maybe it’s because i say you can’t fake anything in creative writing! maybe it’s the exercises that i hand out. maybe it’s the fact that half the time it raises their grade.

the best part of the little tour of upstate NY was seeing my friends there; the food was a big plus though ; ) patrick lawler at SUNY ESF took me to a middle eastern place that was just $%^#$^$% amazing. and dinner at patrick’s house with his wife janet was also wonderful.

the last reading itself went very well at the Syracuse Y, and i say the “itself” because the turnout was minuscule. on the other hand, the 4 teenagers in back (3 guys, 1 girl) actually tuned in, and 3 of them afterward wanted to talk to me and thank me for the show etc. one guy, jon, even bought a book and said he liked the poem “sex ed blues.” i count it as a “moral victory” when you can get a teenager to tune into your poetry and really want to hear more. another guy, collin, said he’d definitely be back when i read in feb. 2008. so they were a really great audience after all, and they seemed to be young poets & writers, i think. aside from the 4 teens, there was 1 guy who just moved into the Y and sort of stumbled into the reading by mistake, and my two friends there, patrick & linda. plus you could add the event organizer and her friend and the musician who HAD to be there, and then suddenly we’re into double digits. after it was over, the guy who came in by mistake also thanked me and shook my hand very sincerely for the identity papers reading.

as an aside, i have to say that patrick and linda had never heard me read before, and it was very important to me that they see and hear how the work would go over. so that also made it worth all the effort etc., and they were very moved & impressed. coming from them, that was a huge compliment because you know they have incredibly high standards.

the audience did laugh at the right spots, so i believe i must have been really on. for it is true that nothing is harder to perform than a joke. tragic lines, by contrast, are way too easy to deliver. you’d think they were a natural or something…

uhh, yeah.


Reading at River’s End, Oswego, NY

May 6, 2007

It was thanks to Ira Sukrungruang that I was able to get this reading; he suggested the place to me, and I wrote the Bookstore owner, Bill, and sent links to my work to Mark Mazzoli, the organizer of poetry events, and he really dug it. And they did great pre-event publicity, I think, with nice displays and posters etc.

So the reading in Oswego, NY, at River’s End Bookstore was something I was looking forward to, but I honestly had no idea what to expect. I also wasn’t feeling so great today although I’d had a nice workshop in Rochester with a couple of very talented women poets, one of whom had just finished her MFA and worked with Tim Liu, in fact. I’d been hoping to see one of my best old friends in Rochester, but it just didn’t work out. And there were a bunch of other nonliterary things I was worried about, and these were oppressive, to say the least.

But the drive up from Rochester was gorgeous— grass so luminously green with the late afternoon sun pouring through the mostly clear sky was so beautiful that, for me, it was painfully beautiful to see. The hills were lush, warm, rich with greenery at all levels— really thick grasses, trees coming out—limbs that really extended unlike the stunted trees of the high plains in north Colorado, where trees clench like fists trying desperately to cling to any drop of moisture, where roses in the summer sometimes look like they have been burnt with a torch they are so black, ashen, brittle—exactly like ashes.

When I saw the many thick rivers and many, many fat lakes, I was thrilled. Rivers in north Colorado are so shallow and shriveled they would not even be called creeks in upstate NY. Then when I saw the Great Lake in the distance I practically died—I can’t explain how seeing a big body of water could be so meaningful—you’d have to come from a high desert plain to feel this way.

I was also driving a rental car that I didn’t want—I’d asked for an economy car that would get 35 mpg but they gave them away before I got there, so I was driving a Pontiac Grand Prix, which was very luxurious and very overpowered. The stereo was great though. So I was feeling okay when I pulled into Oswego, which is right on Lake Ontario, and the bookstore really WAS close to the end of the river.

So after locating the bookstore and checking in and getting some food (which was just a café, but the food was incredibly fresh and wonderful). It made me feel great to see a few acquaintances from the poetry world show up. There was a brief open reading with some very good younger poets, including one guy who just had something picked up by Mississippi Review. And I was pretty well psyched by the time I was on, and it went very well. The audience was small (maybe 15 or so) but very warm and very with it. They laughed at all the right spots; I felt very much at home with them right away, and vice versa, apparently. Just one short funny poem from the first book and then highlights from identity papers. Read for just over half hour, took questions, which were very thoughtful, intelligent questions. Afterwards, lots of warm handshakes, enthused thanks, many more genuinely interested questions, and a much better number of book sales than I’d ever expected.

The really fun part, afterward, was hanging around for a little while with Ira Sukrungruang and his very nice wife Katie, and their protege/genius-giant-fellowship winner, Derrick. He also was very nice and funny. Apparently, there was 12′ of snow, which meant that Derrick had shoveled so much snow off rooftops that he didn’t need a ladder to get down anymore—he just stepped off the roofs onto the snowpiles next to the houses. This explained the new barn that I’d seen on the drive up that looked like a giant foot had stomped it flat on one side—it must have been the heavy snow and ice….

the essential things about style in art, from antonio salemme

May 2, 2007

i was talking to my student justin after class tonight (5/1/07), and showed him this statement (bottom) by the great painter/sculptor antonio salemme, and it is also posted online here:

 no single page of writing has ever had such a powerful and enduring impact on my ability to think critically about art, any art.

i first read this in 1984 when i was 21. i also met antonio once while he was alive; he was a contemporary of Picasso, and he was very famous for some time. He won the Prix de Rome in the 1930s. He did a life-size nude state of Paul Robeson that was on display in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia– imagine a nude African American statue in the most ritzy neighborhood of Philadelphia! I also saw his works myself in his studio and at the house of a friend, and i have never seen, before or since, any artist that i thought was even close to his genius. the wonder to me is that he isn’t as famous as a Van Gogh.

 i wrote about my experiences with his work as a painter in my first blog, and you can see that he inspired directly one poem of mine, if you go to:

then click the link “Regarding a poem inspired by the great painter Antonio Salemme”



by Antonio Salemme/Master Artist (1892-1995)

Style is most important, whether it be a book, a piece of music, a painting, or a piece of sculpture. But style is recognized only in retrospect. If one has style in mind while one is painting, one becomes stylistic. One produces a style after the Gothic, or Renaissance, or African. The style becomes superficial and becomes a manner, and we call that stylistic. My style comes out of my whole life. The style is the result of the state of mind of the artist, the subject matter one is handling, the state of one’s health, and the clarity of one’s mind: all that goes into the work. After it’s done, the style can be recognized. Whatever comes out is a spontaneous and mysterious thing. Style cannot be defined intellectually. It can be seen only in retrospect.

For example, the Gothic style came out of the condition of France and Germany in the 13th and 14th century. The 12th century was Romanesque: after the Romanesque came the Gothic. The Romanesque was a result of the Roman Empire, the Greek art and all of that. Then the Gothic came because the people began to express themselves more directly. It came out of The climate, the stones they had to work with, and their religious approach… their interpretation of Christianity. That whole thing produced what we call the Gothic style, and the word ‘gothic’ means ‘barbarian’, uncivilized’. It was original expression, getting away from the Greek and the Roman. But it all came about in retrospect. The people who built the Gothic cathedrals built them as well as they could under the condition and the state of mind they were in, and out came what we call the Gothic style.

So when someone does a painting, the same process takes place. Everything one is comes out in that painting. If one’s able to be spontaneous, then there is spontaneity in the style and there is vigor in the brush strokes. If one is not able to be spontaneous, because one is still immature and one is uncertain, and one’s technique is not complete, then style doesn’t come through, because one is still struggling with technique. If one has mastered the technique and lived, and is still vigorous, and paints with pleasure, then out comes what we call style. Style is never an intellectual and willful effort. It is like grace in the spiritual life. We try, we pray, we sit, we meditate. By the grace of God in a mysterious way we become enlightened. You don’t become enlightened by mere effort. You don’t achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment comes after great discipline and effort, but we don’t achieve. It is the same with style in Art.