Friday, October 26, 2007

Steven Ratiner’s book a window into the soul of poets like Donald Hall

I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview with former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall for The Writer. In the preliminary stages of setting up my questions, I searched for books and articles about Hall, who happens to be one of my favorite writers. I came across the book ‘Giving Their Word, Conversations with Contemporary Poets,’ by Steven Ratiner. In addition to interviews with Hall, Ratiner includes interviews with Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Marge Piercy and a number of other poets. Ratiner’s methods of questioning enable the reader to feel as though you’re sitting on a sofa watching an incredible conversation take place.

I’ve added this book to a small list of works I recommend to aspiring writers. Although the focus is on poetry and poetics, the insight inherent in each article is applicable to good writing in general. One of my favorite responses came from poet Mary Oliver. Ratiner asked her about a person who may be a “pivotal figure” a writer remembers.
“No,” Oliver responded, “I truly feel that the pivotal moments for me were reading poems. I can remember the original excitement when I read poems and thought, my goodness, these are not chronological—these do not happen on Wednesday and finish on Thursday. These happen over and over…And I want to do this too.”

Oliver says she didn’t even publish until her late 20s.

I’d highly recommend this book for writers at all levels. It’s perfect for teaching creative writing in the classroom. Ratiner seems to know exactly what to ask these accomplished writers in order to elicit the best, most helpful responses. The answers aren’t just great; the questions are as well.

Note: Read my interview with Donald Hall in the December issue of The Writer.

Join me and other poets including Bonny Barry Sanders, Dr. Sharon Scholl, Michele Leavitt and others for "Meet the Poets" at the Jacksonville Public Library, Southeast Regional branch in Deerwood Park on Tuesday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FCCJ’s International Education Week in November to feature poetry readings from acclaimed writers

Florida Community College’s Downtown Campus will host two acclaimed writers during International Education Week this November.

In celebration of International Education Week, the Downtown Campus of Florida Community College at Jacksonville will host Celia Lisset Alvarez and Marisella Veiga on November 19, 2007. Both writers will read selections from their works. A reception and book signing will follow the readings. The event is free and open to the public.

Ms. Alvarez is an award-winning poet, the author of two poetry chapbooks (Shapeshifting, Spire Press, 2006 and The Stones, Finishing Line Press, 2006) and an educator. She resides in Miami where she is Interim Director of the St. Thomas University Writing Center in Miami. Ms. Alvarez has held teaching positions at several Florida institutions including St. Thomas University, the University of Miami, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been widely published and anthologized. Her reading will begin at 8PM.

Ms. Veiga’s writing includes news reporting, short fiction and poetry. She has written on a freelance basis for the past six years for clients such as the Washington Post, Hispanic Link News Service, Women’s Independent Press and Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. Ms. Veiga’s writing has been recognized with several honors including a Pushcart Prize Special Mention in Short Fiction (1996) and the Evelyn La Pierre Award for Journalism (2004). She has taught at Georgetown University and other colleges in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. She will read from her work beginning at 7PM.

Historically known as the “International” campus for its large multicultural student body, FCCJ’s Downtown Campus will celebrate International Education Week with a number of fun and educational events in concert with activities held at the College’s other campuses. The guest poets’ reading will climax the celebration of International Education Week.

FCCJ’s Downtown Campus is located at 101 West State Street in Downtown Jacksonville. The campus has been undergoing modernizations and the event will occur in the newly-renovated Auditorium on the First Floor.

The appearance of the two poets is made possible through an FCCJ Learning Communities Mini Grant.
(from FCCJ news release)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

FSU prof David Kirby's book nominated for National Book Award

It’s about time poet David Kirby receives the attention he’s due. The professor teaches at Florida State University, with specialties in poetry and 19th century U.S. literature. We were delighted to see his inclusion as a finalist in poetry for the 2007 National Book Awards for 'The House on Boulevard St.'

Months ago, I was link hopping poetry sites on the Web, and I came across the Florida page at the Academy of American Poets. Kirby happens to be one of my favorites. When I saw his name wasn’t listed, I emailed to ask how the poets are selected. I received an unmemorable response. I suppose it’s a system of shared aesthetics, maybe? And politics, maybe? Poetry is rife with that. To prove my point, on that same Florida page, no mention is made of FSU’s Creative Writing Program, viewed by any number of poets and writers as one of the best in the nation. Then again, AAP isn’t the end-all for American poetry; it’s one of many organizations dedicated to the genre. Since the awards announcement, it is my sincere hope the AAP page will receive a quick enlightened edit. Kirby is included in other pages at the organization site, just not on the Florida page where you’d think he’d be up front and center.

I’ve pitched a Kirby article to some of my freelance clients, and I still have hopes I’ll get to write about him. Maybe now I will.

So we’re sending this fellow, whom we’ve never met personally but did view personally at a poetry do in Tallahassee and whose poetry we have often enjoyed, our sincere congratulations. He deserves to win the award, but there again, this is poetry and the genre has never and will never be a meritocracy. I’d say American poetry at the moment comes closest to being an oligarchy.

Read one of Kirby's poems, "Ode to Myself as a Rough Draft" at the Southeast Review, an FSU publication.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Christopher Hitchens offers lively defense of his subtitle: ‘How Religion Poisons Everything’


The Authors@Google® series is one more in a long line of pleasures from the company that began by offering a better way to search. Christopher Hitchens spoke in August at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. He set out to defend the subtitle of his book, ‘God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.’ Hitchens employs his characteristic razor-sharp wit and intellect with statements like, “Religion is a distillation of the wish to be a slave.” He posits the theory of a deity watching over you from the moment of birth, and “when you’re dead,” he says, “the real fun begins.”

Hitchens is one of my favorite authors; he is never dull and always makes me think. I may disagree with him about a number of issues, but he always pleases my intellect. He brought up the idea of his ancestors traveling to a holy place, before they believed in God, or at least the God Christians, Jews and Muslims worship. There’s a small bump there because I think mankind has always looked to some deity, if for nothing else as a mean to explain creation or solicit a better harvest. For Hitchens, Science is God (the cap on S is deliberate) and I always find that a wee bit troublesome, because science, from century to century, often contradicts its own manifestos, just as religion has done. Unless we live under a large rock, we know about the Big Bang theory. Science has yet to explain where matter and explosions came from to begin with; some might say religion bears the same burden.

Nevertheless, Hitchens makes excellent points and will surely set the mind on a journey. He will amaze anyone interested in the craft of writing, for in that last regard, no one can top him in my opinion.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Another Anna Nicole Smith lawsuit, only this time an author’s going to court

Howard K. Stern wants $60 million, alleging journalist Rita Cosby and her publisher are guilty of false and defamatory accusations against Stern. Cosby’s book,Blond Ambition, says the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in a story on Tuesday, figures in the lawsuit because the book alleges Stern committed, “among other things, criminal lewd acts, homosexual acts, illegal possession and use of cocaine, conspiring to commit murder and kidnapping for ransom.” Furthermore, a John or Jane Doe also was named as a defendant. Stern has had a busy time since Smith’s death, what with trying to prove he fathered a baby he didn’t father.

There is supreme irony in this partial statement, “defendants” referring to the author and publisher: “Defendants have exploited Ms. Smith's life and death…”

Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit will continue the media circus that was Smith’s life before and after her death. I covered the aftermath of Smith’s death in The Sunshine State at my news site, Covering Florida.

I predict the legal battle will be drawn out—Rita Cosby isn’t a na├»ve journalist. Here’s a snapshot of her credentials, taken from her author bio at
...interview with Slobodan Milosevic while he was imprisoned at The Hague; an exclusive interview with Yasser Arafat when his compound was under siege; she was the first journalist to see the suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo and witness an actual interrogation; and a rare, private meeting with Pope John Paul II after receiving an exclusive letter from Timothy McVeigh explaining why he carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. Having interviewed more than a dozen world leaders and four US Presidents, she also made headlines for her interviews with Michael Jackson, David Berkowitz and Dr. Jack Kevorkian. She has been a featured guest on hundreds of television and radio shows worldwide and earned her two bachelors' degrees from the University of South Carolina.

If Cosby is as careful as most investigative journalists, she’s covered herself by documenting her claims.

Either way, this latest lawsuit in the publishing world will certainly be fodder for pundits, columnists and tea party-goers.

I purchased the book this morning; I’ll give you my opinion once I’ve read it.

Read my latest Web Savvy column at The Writer magazine--Writing for Web Sites that Pay. (premium content)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tampa Review Poetry Prize—get those poems shined up

In Monday’s mail, a contest announcement arrived. The Tampa Review invites poets to submit manuscripts for the annual Tampa Review Poetry Prize. I’ve researched the contest and feel comfortable sharing the news with my readers. The fee is reasonable--$20. The prize is worthwhile—hardcover book publication, $1,000 in prize monies and selected poems published in the Tampa Review. This is one of the few contests I haven’t seen criticized by poetry insiders, so shine up your poems.

Steve Kowit won the 2006 prize for his collection ‘The First Noble Truth.’ Kowit is a poet whose work engages the reader because (1)the work is accessible and (2)emotion is always evoked. His book ‘In the Palm of Your Hand’ is a handbook I frequently recommend to poets when I speak and read. Kowit is also the very best workshop presenter I have ever encountered.

Read guidelines and get full information by visiting the Web page about the Tampa Review Prize. Deadline is December 31.

I’m tempted to enter it myself; I can’t seem to shake the lead out when it comes to submitting poetry. Conversely, I can’t seem to stop writing it. I think we poets are completely muddle-headed.