Wednesday, November 19, 2008



I'm kind of a science nut. I'm curious about everything. My mind is hungry for the "new." I'm enthralled by anything that peels away the layers of what's visible to reveal the workings of the invisible beneath. I'm equally fascinated by knowledge that expands my field of vision beyond the narrowcast of our daily lives. So, last week when the story broke that astronomers had taken the first pictures of planets outside of our solar system, I totally geeked out. Invest a couple of seconds in this NASA video and see what you think.

A little dry for you? This quote from the LA Times put the accomplishment in a perspective that fired my imagination. "Scientists compared the imaging of these so-called exoplanets to taking a picture from Los Angeles of a firefly buzzing around a searchlight in New York." Creates an image doesn't it. For the full article, click,0,435832.story

How does all this relate to poetry? Obviously it is source material and inspiration. Poetry uses heightened language to explore our relationships with both the intimate and vast. Poetry illuminates shared experiences and unexpected interconnections. When done well, poetry has a visceral emotional impact. Here's a link to "Astronomy Lesson" a poem by Alan Shapiro. I admire the accessibility, intimacy and relationships in the poem as it contemplates the ordinary and the infinite space between.

As for my own work inspired by this discovery, stay tuned.

Friday, November 14, 2008



I continue to work on my first book of poems called "The Skeleton Watch." My goal is to have fifty polished poems ready to go by December 31. I am well on my way to that goal. Central to the work are a few core poems that are gateways into the theme and act as connectors to bring everything together. Last night as I was working on one of these poems, when I realized how intensely personal and intimate these core pieces are and how very difficult they have been for me to write. Let me see if I can explain.

I used to be a professionally trained actor. One of the classic dilemmas my actor friends and I loved to talk about was nude scenes. Would you do a nude scene? What are the specific circumstances where you would be willing to be nude on stage or film? It is a fun gut check where you place your desire for fame, artistic integrity, and morals in a thought blender. The resulting goo was always predictable. The "serious" actors among us would end up with the predictable conclusion, "only, if it is in service of the story." That's a nice and noble answer. The play's the thing, after all. However, it is bullshit. Here what is really behind the nudity question; are you willing to make the most private part of yourself public? Should you? If you do that, what is left that truly belongs only to you? Perhaps most importantly how will people respond? There is nothing more terrifying than exposing yourself and facing rejection, derision or worse apathy.

On the other side of the equation, we have all experienced a moment where someone crosses this line and "over shares." This usually happens with a person who you don't know very well, in a drunken moment, in a public setting and for some reason you can't escape. You just have to sit there and squirm.

Back to poetry. Yes, poetry itself can be a very personal and intimate art form. Unfortunately, poetry can also be a squirm worthy over share. There is certainly a fine line. These core poems in my book are definitely a step beyond my comfort level. They are risky. They express things that I don't talk about at all, with anyone, ever. What I hope is that the construction, the art of the words, the unique expression, earns the intimacy of the reader. I am naked here. Exposing the inner workings. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poetry and the Battle Against Cognitive Decline


This is a risky thing to admit in a blog, but I am experiencing cognitive decline. Sounds melodramatic doesn't it? Unfortunately, this is one of the well-known side effects of chronic kidney disease and dialysis. I have to be honest. I am experiencing this daily. For example, I have found that my ability to concentrate has diminished. My memory is no longer as crisp as a cold Fuji apple. Sometimes specific words I am looking for vanish in a curl of vapor just before materializing on the tip of my tongue. The worst and most frustrating aspect is that my ability to make connections quickly is gone.

Think of it like this; imagine you are an excellent jazz pianist. You have internalized the music and instrument. When you play the music just flows from your fingertips. You easily touch ether without the burden of consciously calculating every note Now imagine you are forced to play with ski gloves. Not only would it blunt your speed and technique, but you would have to rethink nearly every single aspect of how you play.

That is how I feel. Often time for me poems would "appear," translate themselves from the invisible and appear on the page in just a few minutes. Now I find that a similar poem takes four or five hours to make its way to the page. In addition, when it arrives, it does not just need a little polish, everything is askew. It is not as if I missed a button on my shirt. It is more like the buttons are too large for the holes. It's damn defective. The meters all fucked up, god-awful cliches stare at me, and somehow the central threads of emotion are unraveled. This makes me unbelievably angry. Often times in the revisions poems take a much darker tone than I originally intended. I know this is not unique. I think back on other artists who have experience illness. It manifests itself in the work. How could it not?

What keeps me going? Pure stubbornness mixed with shot glass full of hope. I write poetry despite the frustrations because I simply must. What helps me play through the ski gloves is the fact that with a kidney transplant my cognitive ability could return. There is hope. Check it out.