Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, April 30, 2012

"Rain Over the River," by 'Așā l-A'mā

Baseball Poems by Tim Peeler

As I wait for students to visit my office hours to discuss final papers and a poetry-portfolio, as I listen to cloud-bursts come and go, and as early-baseball-season begins to ripen into mid-season (for S.F. Giants fans, this brings thoughts of the June Swoon), I'm ordering a raft of books from a variety of online sources: the bibliophile's spring fever, I reckon.

Two books I just ordered are Touching All Bases: Baseball Poems and Waiting for Godot's First Pitch: More Baseball Poems, both by the talented, accomplished North Carolina poet Tim Peeler.  I hope they arrive as quickly as a fastball for Satchel Paige in his prime.

One of my favorite baseball poems is "Analysis of Baseball," by May Swenson.  Some of Tom Clark's baseball poems from back in the 70s day are pretty good too--although Oakland-A's-centric. I have a feeling Peeler's poems have set a new standard.

I can't prove the following: That IF American poets are interested in a sport (and interested in writing about it), that sport will likely be baseball.  But that's my guess.  The ritual, the time for reflection, the quirkiness (and the uncanny quirkiness of names), and so on: these have a certain potential appeal for poets.

Anyway, I hope you'll look into Tim Peeler's baseball-poetry-books, not to mention his other poetry books: look into them after you buy them, I mean.

One must assume that Godot's first pitch will be, ahem, long-delayed because of rain and other factors, but should it ever arrive, I'm thinking it will be in the dirt. Don't swing!

Oh--one other note.  I've been an S.F. Giants fan since I was six, and in m pre-teen years, I actually wrote a few fan-letters. One was to Gaylord Perry, who became famous for his spit-ball, and for his elaborate, charming denials of throwing a spitball. "Sometimes the fog rolls in, you know, and your fingers get wet--what are you going to do?"  At any rate, I got back not just the standard black-and-white photo postcard, but a real letter--on hotel stationery--from Gaylord, who was staying in (wait for it) North Carolina. He also included his business card: he was selling insurance.  Gaylord ended his career in Seattle, where he was nicknamed, of course (and here we circle back to poetry) the Ancient Mariner.

And a coda: One of my favorite ball players from the Sixties who wasn't a Giant was Smoky Burgess, a native of North Carolina.  Smoky became one of the great pinch-hitters of his day.  He was portly, and not a great athlete, but he had a great eye and a quick bat.  And he looked just fine in the Pittsburgh Pirates jersey.  A tip of the cap to the late Smoky.

Friday, April 27, 2012

If the NFL Draft Were About Poets

There are poets, and there are fans of the National Football League, and there are poets who follow the NFL and thus the ridiculously over-analyzed NFL draft.

But what if there were a draft for poets?   The analysis might run something like . . .

Ezra Pound--out of Idaho--huge upside, great ear and has read a lot.  Has some strange views and there are some concerns about his personality . . . . Emily Dickinson--maybe the best pure athlete in this draft--has moves nobody has seen before.  Almost no film on her, however--played briefly at Amherst (not a D-I school) and then seemed to go off the radar, but if you're going to take a risk with a #1 pick, she's it. . . . Pablo Neruda--unbelievable original talent, but can he be coached? . . . . Charles Bukowski--scrappy, mean, nasty--great interior lineman--has had some off-the-field issues. . . . Matsuo Basho--maybe the quickest poet in the draft--has also trained by walking the length of Japan . .late middle-rounds . Langston Hughes--highly under-rated--went to Columbia but dropped out, finished at Lincoln after traveling the world--scouts tend to overlook how versatile he is--a steal in round two. . . .

"Half-Moon," by A.E. Housman

The Lost Desk-Chair

A corporate desk-chair, lost
off a load, rolls
on a West Coast slab of freeway
and the seat & back
pirouette absurdly.

Cars in commuted traffic
strike it, blast it, knock it around,
smash and crush it. Someone
used to sit in it,
giving and taking orders, selling,
building a career.


--hans ostrom

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Problems With Advice to Young/New Writers

We all know the generic problems with advice: we're not ready to listen to it even if it's good; it's bad; it comes in a package that guarantees we won't follow it; it's more about power than wisdom; we have to, apparently, make our mistakes; we just don't like the person giving the advice; and so on.

As to problems with advice given to younger or new writers (new to poetry, let's say, not writing in general), . . . .

1. Most of it is too broad.  I think I remember being a young poet (I believe it was in the late 19th century), and I recall hearing and/or reading "write what you know" and "show, don't tell."  The latter remains pretty good advice when accompanied immediately by examples; nonetheless, fiction especially depends on telling, often to speed things up.  And the triumph of imagery has been so widespread that one gets bore with it sometimes and years to hear a statement or an opinion.  "Tell me something, bro! Speak it, sister."  As to the former, "write what you know," it's hard to know what one knows. If we take into consideration the mental landscape, we know lots of things we haven't experienced directly.  Some young writers have been known to read a lot, so that's part of what they know, even if they work on a farm or program computers.  Plus, we imaginative writers are supposed to make stuff up, yes? And then--maybe this happened/happens to you--you hear these or other general bits of advice, and you don't disagree, but you think, hey, that's great, but what about this piece of writing I'm working on? I first read The Triggering Town (Richard Hugo) many, many moons ago, but I remember that the advice in there that stuck with me the longest and proved most useful was the very specific stuff: arbitrarily repeat a sound from the previous line of poetry in the next one; get rid of connectives (often, not always) like "but," "although," "however"; don't throw bad poems away because you can always strip them for parts; don't erase a word--line through it so you can still see it. One of the best pieces of advice I received from Karl Shapiro concerned writing/practicing blank verse (I paraphrase): "Just memorize a line from Shakespeare, keep the rhythm of that specific line in your head, and write."  I think I first used "But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" because I still had visions of Olivia Hussey in my head and because (nerd-alert) I kind of liked that big caesura early in the line.

2. The advice isn't tailored enough to the individual writer.  Classes in creative writing have their legions of critics, and Lord knows lots of the classes probably have it coming.  One advantage (for me the teacher and them the writers) of a semester-long class, however, is that I get to see how Ivana's (to invent a student) poetry takes shape in her particular case.  I have some sense of what she's going for in a new poem--in terms of phrasing, tone, attitude.  I have a sense of the strengths and weaknesses that show up in Ivana's first drafts, often, and I know that some of these alleged "weaknesses" are just point on the path as she moves toward the final draft, so I'm less likely to over-react to them, or to preach about them: "show don't tell!" And I get an opportunity, often late in the term, to suggest, "Why don't you try a different kind of poem?"  So Ivana may have written three fine poems of a certain kind in a row, and that's good, but I can say, in effect, I don't think the class ever looked in this room as Ivana and I and the class take the tour of the poetry-house. And usually Ivana will say, "Oh, yeah! --Yeah, I'd like to try that kind of poem."  And that spark--the zest with which a new or experienced poet goes after something new--is often more valuable than an effect provided by more generic words of "wisdom."

3.  It's not so much at all young/new writers have to make the same "mistakes" other writers have, and it's not so much that general advice is necessarily bad; it's that a lot of things a young/new writer has to work out, through much writing, is sui generis. The young/new writer has to work out this particular problem s/he has when writing about the one river she knows well.  And s/he probably has to do it the way a lot of left-handed batters in baseball have to work on not getting struck out on the inside-and-low pitch: lots of batting practice; many scribblings. It's not wrong or unhelpful for the coach to say some advice during batting practice, but without the batting practice, the advice is a pitch in the dirt, too.

At any rate, my advice to younger/new writers is, um, well--I don't think I have any at the moment, and the advice I've published is, having been published, easy enough to avoid or ignore.  You go!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Dawning," by Juan Rámon Jiménez

Advice for Aging Poets

Definition: An aging poet is any poet conscious of his or her aging. Note: It is often appropriate to insert "anxiously" before "conscious."  Within reason, there is no minimum or maximum age. For instance, a 20-year-old poet might be anxiously conscious of aging, and an 85-year-old poet may anxiously regret never having achieved ambition x.

1. Never worry about your place in [American, English, Turkish, West Coast, Pacific Islander, Southern, Russian, West Virginian, New York, Sydney, Canadian Plains, etc.] Poetry. If you have one, it's an illusion, or you're a fraud, or both. If you don't have one, you and your poetry are probably the better for it.

2. Write to surprise yourself.

3. If other poets are sucking up to you, for any reason, run away.  If you are a small-press publisher or a poetry editor or the director of an MFA program as well as a poet, you know the reason.

4. What have you always liked about writing poetry? Write from that pleasure.

5. If you or someone else considers you to be "the voice" of anything or any place--nature, used tires, Belgium, a generation, a movement, drunken sailors--resign the post immediately.  If you aspire to be "the voice" of anything or any place, stop.

6. If no one wants to publish your latest book, publish it yourself--or don't publish it. To hell with contests, publishers, critics, and editors*: the Poetry Biz isn't poetry.  If God had wanted  publishers, poetry clubs, regional cliques, academic cliques, magazine-cliques, conferences, and so on, to remain in power, God wouldn't have allowed the Internet, which is the revenge of William Blake and many more.  Also remember what Emily Dickinson wrote: "publication is the auction of the mind."  Look, almost all of us like publication. But keep it real.

7. Behave generously toward all other poets (and writers and readers) unless they misbehave, in which case simply ignore them. "Misbehave" simply means that a poet goes out of his or her way to disrespect you, for example.

8. Write every day, other worthy obligations permitting.

9. Stop giving poetry readings unless a) they pay and you need the money, b) you really seem to need the attention, c) you genuinely enjoy reading, and/or d) you can't get laid by any other means**.  P.S. Always read for fewer minutes than you are allotted.

10. Get in touch with your inner obscurity.

11. Write the very best poetry that [your name here] is going to write.

12. If you or anyone else speaks or writes about "the state of poetry," please know that right away, five minutes later, a year later, or a decade later (and so on) you or the other person will be proved wrong.  Just think of those clowns who ridiculed Keats or the ones who ignored Langston Hughes or the ones who never heard of Emily Dickinson as they surveyed the literary scene. But it's irresistible sometimes to opine about the state of poetry, and and it can be fun. 

12A. As you weren't born yesterday, evidently, you may have seen this coming: don't follow the advice of other aging poets, unless you already happen to agree with it, or unless the poet is one of two poetry sages known to live in North Carolina.***

* excepting the one or two people you really trust to tell you what's wrong with this or that poem, line, etc.

** this is a joke; mostly

*** this is not a joke; mostly

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dotted Man

He was sitting in the waiting room
of the dermatologist's office, there
for his annual scan.  Ten years
earlier, melanoma had appeared.
A surgeon had carved it out of his leg.

"I've brought my moles with me,"
he thought. "--The brown, the black-
brown, the raised, the flat, the cherry
red.  I am," he thought, "a dotted man."

A woman came into the office.
Her hair was yellowish orange.
She ordered a bottle of special
shampoo. To the receptionist,
she said, "And I'm not homeless
anymore!"  The man saw immediately

how rare and grand it was
to have an abode to return to.
To have an incoming stream
of the magical symbol, money.
to have a fed body dotted
with moles.  To be ten years
out from melanoma.

He wanted to share his good news,
as the woman had done.  He
admired her. He wanted to cry,
"My body is covered with a
wide variety of moles, and I
have a warm shelter to go to!"

But he remained silent. The
woman left. He picked up
a month-old magazine
about nature.


--Hans Ostrom

The Obscurity Zone

Okay, Mr. Tobbs. This is it.
This is your last chance before
you die to become famous.
Ready? Go!

Well, your score was better
than before, Mr. Tobbs,
but I'm afraid once again
you didn't pass.  See right
here? According to the chart,
your score is still well
within the Obscurity Zone.


Copyright 2012

"The Goddess In The Wood," by Rupert Brooke

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Breathless," by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi

Bank Statement

I opened up my bank-statement (I
like it still on paper).  It stated:
"This amount is some pitiful shit."

It went on to say, "Man, you got
to get a lot more, and you got
to keep what you get."

The statement ended with this:
"Meanwhile, we'll lend to others
this pitiful amount, make a
percentage, and charge you
fees.  See how it's done?
Love, the Bank."



Copyright 2012 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Titles of Poems I've Never Tried to Write

(but be my guest)


The Tahiti Concerto
Guitar Strings and Hunger
Coleman Hawkins and Edgar Allan Poe
Asphalt Catfish
American History Bombing
A Swedish Interrogative
I Can't Know What It's Like
Right On, Off, On, Off
Give Chance a Peace
Gambling With Frogs
The Home Shopping Network Visits Plato's Republic
What Should I Do?
Clues to Your Beauty
The Ruling Class Doesn't Like to Lose
Go Deconstruct Yourself
Christians and Guns
Always Afraid
The Rabbi Writes Poetry
May I Live Forever in One Summer, Please?

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Sonnet 145," by William Shakespeare

Sled Dog

Yeah, I'm lying down.
Feed me or don't.  In a pinch,
I can eat you. What I know is,
white man in another creature's
fur, if the sled's going to be pulled
across this idiotic white expanse,
you're going to have to pull it
yourself. I'm done. We're done.
You never thought dogs would
go on strike. To us, freezing or
starving to death look like a
vacation. What do they look like
to you, Boss, as you shiver
and yell and try to get a
signal for your phone?


Hans Ostrom
copyright 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mister Lincoln Rose

A wee fist comes out
of a Mister Lincoln rose,
taps your nose.

You hear a voice, which purrs,
slurs like a kind, formidable,
boozy perfumed aunt: "This,
kiddo, is what a rose
is supposed to smell like. Not
like the nothing-blooms in
the goddamned florist's deep-freeze."


Copyright 2012 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wendy Perriam: New Books Out

British novelist and short-story writer Wendy Perriam has two new books out.  One is actually the paperback edition of a fine novel published in 2010: BROKEN PLACES, which concerns--in part--libraries.  A witty, deft writer, Perriam has been compared to Martin Amis.

The other book, "I'm On the Train!", is a new collection of stories.

Here's a link to amazon, where you may also take a look at Wendy's other novels and collections:

http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Places-Wendy-Perriam/dp/0709090986/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333548606&sr=1-3

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crime Novel Set in the Sierra

My first published novel was also my first published crime, or detective, novel.  It is set in a small county in the Sierra Nevada of California.  It's called THREE TO GET READY.  Here's how little I knew about the inner workings of the mystery/crime/detective genre back then: When I got a copy of a favorable review of the book, I noticed that the reviewer called it a "procedural," which refers to a crime novel in which the detective/protagonist is a professional.  As my protagonist is a sheriff, my novel is a "procedural."  I said to my wife, "Honey, I wrote a 'procedural'!"

Anyway, the novel is now available at what I imagine to be a reasonable price--$3.95--on Kindle:

http://www.amazon.com/Three-To-Get-Ready-ebook/dp/B007QMHUSA/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1333329396&sr=1-1-catcorr

"Destiny," by Oktay Rifat