Wednesday, May 28, 2008

If he can't do it - Ghengis can.

It’s seeming like warm weather will never come to the north coast. Temps have been hovering in that no man’s land of 50 some degrees. Not warm enough for shirt sleeves too hot for a real coat. It’s hard to believe that school is out in about a week. Speaking of schools - I gave a presentation yesterday for an education minister from Kirgizstan. It’s a wacky world indeed. The way this thing rolled out is a little bit convoluted but here’s the story.

I was doing a bit of volunteer work for a local chapter of America SCORES. This crew combines poetry and soccer in an afterschool program for 3rd thru 5th graders. I know the concept sounds like a rejected improve suggestion from the show Whose Line is it Anyways? “Okay you’re a soccer playing poet with an octopus stuck to your face, and ready go…” but it is a good program and the combo actually works well. My charge was to help this group of poet athletes to come up with a group piece that they could perform at an opening ceremony for an international soccer tournament to be held in beautiful Cleveland Ohio this July.

This tournament is being somehow sponsored or helped along by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs who sent representatives to see the kids working on this piece. Now I didn’t know a Cleveland Council on World Affairs even existed but obviously they do. I got to talking to their education director who was part of their contingent and she told me that they were sending some teachers on a cultural exchange to Istanbul and I told her that Sara and I had just got back from teaching there ourselves. Well we talked a bit more, she asking me where I’ve been around the globe and we both told each other we should keep in touch the way one does when they run into an old co-worker at Starbucks.

Well about a week ago I get this e-mail from Josefin – the Swedish, or was it Norwegian intern over at the CCWA asking if I’d be willing to speak to some teachers from Kirgizstan. Okay, this past December I was in Kazakhstan speaking at a teacher’s conference that was attended by some teachers from south of the border – Kirgizstan. Of course these were all English speaking schools and teachers. Even so, I am obviously an expert on communicating with educators from the former eastern bloc. So I say sure I wouldn’t mind.

Turns the folks I am going to “chat “with are not your average classroom teachers – but the highest of level ministers of education and to boot – Josefin informs me the next day that everything is set up and the two dignitaries (official guests of the US state department) will be looking forward to my ONE AND HALF HOUR presentation. When did an informal conversation turn into a full blown lecture?

You know – I highly recommend putting yourself into impossible situations – the exhilaration one gets when that phantom rush of adrenalin careens around your stomach cavity like a ball bearing in a stainless steel bowl has to be damn near the equivalent of a dose of electro shock therapy. One of those so good when it stops kind of moments not unlike the aftermath of an overzealous Thai massage administered in a Ho Chi Minh City alleyway.

So I meet with Dr. Gulzhigit Soronkulov (first name pronounced GLLLZZZGKKKKKT) and Ms. Samarkul Umralieva and their Russian interpreter – oh yeah, did I say they spoke no English? I give them my keynote that I would do at literacy conference – PowerPoint presentation the whole nine yards while the interpreter repeats my every word. (I do tell him he can paraphrase if he likes but he informs me that he must do his best to interpret what I’m saying exactly.) Well, they laughed in the right places, nodded in agreement and asked a bunch of questions.

Dr. Soronkulov, with his big round moon face, it turns out, is a published poet himself – and while he agreed with me that poets are treated with a lot more respect in the former eastern bloc than they are here in the good ole u-s of a, he was quick to let me know they are still traditionally indigent. He also told me he thought that bringing artists into the classroom was a really good idea and that he found my lecture invaluable. I sincerely hope that this last comment was not a misinterpretation by the translator of “worthless.”

In the end everything turned out great and I arranged for this duo to visit the middle school I was working in the following day and that went without a hitch too. Pretty crazy stuff for some boy from Cleveburgh.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Well Defined

Starting to get back to the daily swing of things.

Thanks to all for your support.

I've got a couple back burner projects bubbling over to the stove front so of course I spent this morning working on something that is still far off in the future as well as not really my responsibility.

A book of (hopefully) humorous poems defining SAT level vocabulary words penned by myself and illustrated by Sam Henderson is due out from Boyd's Mills Press this coming spring. It is almost a two year process from acceptance of the manuscript to the book hitting the shelves.

The publisher has been keeping me in the loop on the project and even took my suggestion for an illustrator - this is surprisingly very rare. I know a whole lot of writers who never see the artwork for their manuscript til the galleys show.

Here is a possible cover for the book. I took the liberty of coloring and adding text to Sam's drawing - so it is by no means the official artwork that will be used - just a shot in the dark on my part.
An here is one of the poems:


sneaks under the door
little by little by little
spreads across the floor like morning fog
he’ll stick to your shoes
and follow you like a little brother
that can’t be shook
he’s that tickle in the back of your throat
when you absolutely must be quiet
the smell of turpentine
cheesy song you can’t get out of your mind
he’s nothing but trouble
but he takes
his time

Sunday, May 11, 2008

All the MUSE that's fit to print.

Attended a reception for a couple of local journals last night, MUSE (yeah I know not the most original title) is the flagship publication of The Lit and the Barn Owl Review is a journal out of the Akron area. The reception was held at The Lit’s space on Superior Ave. – The Lit is the reincarnation of the monogram embroiderer’s nightmare of the Poets and Writer’s League of Greater Cleveland of which I am the vice president. 145 or so of Cleveland’s literati gathered in the space to celebrate the publications and the published.

Now any time you can crack the c-note attendance mark for an event with required reading attached congratulations are definitely in order. Nin Andrews was mentioned as an instigator a couple times throughout the event as were The Lit’s Executive director, Judith Mansour Thomas and Barn Owl’s Mary Biddinger. Accordingly, the majority of the evening’s readers were X chromosomally enhanced. Nin Andrews, Mary Biddinger, Emily Dressler, Shurice Gross, Shelly Rankins, Amy Sparks, Toni Thayer - on the testicular side of the equation were George Bilgere and R.A. Washington. Nin opened things up with greetings and a couple of her deftly crafted pieces. She seemed much more comfortable reading from her work than extemporaneously hosting, but as I have noted innumerable times – public speaking is the number one fear of mankind.

Highlights included a short story by Shurice Gross from Barn Owl. The piece was humorous at times employing some comfortable wordplay. Her reading style was relaxed as if she were telling us the story over a cup of coffee. Amy Sparks a self described recluse nonetheless has an easy air at the mic, she always seems as if she is sharing an inside joke with her listeners. None of the readers went on too long, a blessing when you have a slate of nine – but Amy’s set was too short. Bilgere was as ebullient as ever – wearing his risibly suffering middle aged white professorial persona as a badge of honor.

I heard a lot of great comments regarding the Sci-Fi short read by Toni Thayer so I defer to those who embrace that genre. Shelly Rankin scored with a piece comparing men to a quilter’s scraps – when in doubt insulting men is usually a safe bet with an audience of intelligentsia. Washington played bombastic with the mic and is continuing nicely to settle into a position of balding bellied bard statesmanship.

I'm pretty sure Emily Dressler is the the young woman who read a short fiction piece about, I believe, painting a barn and drinking. I'll bet the piece was excellent since it was in such good company. Unfortunately her delivery was so monotone no matter how hard I concentrated I couldn’t put more than a couple sentences together at a time.

All things considered though, the evening was a great success and The Lit’s space was a buzzing - here’s looking forward to future issues of both journals and hopefully more events centered on them.

more pics at my flicker site

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Dead poet walking

Got my desktop computer back from Micro-Center repairs. The old hard drive was fried – nothing salvageable. Luckily I had only had the new computer for about 8 months so all I’ve really lost was what was new since then. Mostly edited photos and some documents, including an updated resume - (*&%^&*())*&%#%. Now I am in the process of replacing software and looking for registration codes, begging Microsoft to let me install Office again…. But that’s not your problem.

We went to a dedication ceremony downtown for a plaque that is going to be placed in honor of local poet activist Daniel Thompson who died in 2004. Dan was a great influence on many writers here in town. I know he was a catalyst in my perusing the life of a poet. He was the first “real poet” who told me that he liked my work.

Here are some pics from today:

You want poets to show up - provide free food.

Smith and Holbrook talking politics.

Here are the bad kids outside drinking beer and smoking.

(Lang is always ducking from things I don't see.)

And here's Dan...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Can you hear me now?

Read at John Carroll University last night. It was a pretty good reading if I do say so myself. We had a full house – extra credit for English class right before finals is quite the incentive. Even so there was a good showing of folks from the “scene”.

Buddy Ray McNiece grabbed mic time when I asked him to read a piece of mine that had been translated for an Italian literary magazine. I read the original poem, he read it in Italian then I read the poem again – this time a translation I produced by dumping the Italian version into the online translator Babel Fish which rendered it back into English. It was an interesting and humorous exercise in interpretation. The piece still bore more than a passing resemblance to the original but there were quite a few differences – the filter of translation did not leave the piece or its meaning unscathed.

Ultimately all poetry, all writing, all communication passes through some sort of Babel Fish filter. What we hear or read is colored by our own experiences, our own definitions of the words we are interpreting - our brains do the rendering, giving meaning to the conglomeration of images offered up. This transmission model of communication recognizes the interpretation of the receiver to be just as important as the original message. One need also take “noise” into account – any extraneous input being received along with the primary message. Noise could literally be background noise, or it could be worrying about what your kid is up to at home by themselves, seeing someone walk past the window, or remembering that you are allergic to lemons anything that interferes with the transmission of a meaning.

It’s a wonder we communicate at all – and there are those who would posture that when all is said and done, we don’t. I believe that some level of miscommunication happens every single time we try to impart an idea into the world. How often have you used the phrase – “That’s not what I meant” or “You took what I said the wrong way?” Have you ever had to explain the same concept over and over to someone and how frustrating is it when that someone just never seems to understand you?

I like to tell my students to try and reproduce instances the best they can – to put all the clues there and then let it go – ‘cause once you’ve put it out there you no longer have control. Don’t come whining to me that your audience doesn’t “get you”. There is an easy explanation for this – once you’ve put your ideas into some public arena your audience is not YOU.

Know what I mean?