Welcome to my blog!

July 2013

Hi everyone—hope you're having a nice summer.

I've been doing some writing about food and drink lately, which has been fun!

I circle back now and then to a poetry manuscript I've been working on, tentatively titled Dream of the Forgotten Room (after the classic home-related dream). Not sure yet whether it'll be a chapbook or a poem cycle, but the theme is towns, homes, moving, mortgages, and rooms . . . and the ways in which the physical geography works its way into the psychological landscape.

My online literary/art journal, New York Dreaming, has been a fun and interesting journey in its first several months. We've published a number of great poems and other material, all paired with graphics. We're always looking for more submissions—in all creative genres—of pieces either related to New York or not: as long as one has some personal connection with the greater New York area, one is welcome to submit. I had thought that the journal, being new, would probably attract mainly emerging writers—and they are totally welcome!—so I was surprised to be receiving submissions from many established authors. Check it out, if you have a chance.

March 2013

Call me crazy, but I've decided to start an online literary journal with a New York newspaper theme. In addition to poetry and short fiction, it will feature photography and artwork, as well as short interviews and other creative and informational content (recipes? essays? shopping picks?), updated on a rolling basis. The plan is also to hold readings in various locations (preferably with good food!). I'm looking forward to putting it together, seeing what comes in, and giving writers in the region another venue for publication. The website is under construction, and hopefully it'll be open for business sometime this spring.

December 2012

New poems will be coming to this website soon—some more links from the book, and probably a section of newer material as well. Maybe a few photos too, since this was the year I really learned how to use a digital camera and started getting into photography.

Happy holidays!

PS—I'm singing in some concerts this month; here's a video of us, for your listening pleasure.

July 2012

We're always on the lookout for life-changing quotes and inspiring words.

Desperately Seeking a Mantra

The ultimate life-changing quote, 
the unarguable affirmation, unstoppable chant, 
the final secret, the key, 
to hook me up with my soul, 
my sense. A perhaps unlikely word 
that works, resonates, custom made. 
A tap on the shoulder to bring me back, 
penetrate the subconscious, effecting change 
on the molecular level. One simple guide 
for all my life, reducing all situations 
to a few simple words remembered with no reminding,
that can be the remembering do the being be the doing— 
beyond gene targeting—soul guiding—to reverse imprinting, 
prevent wrong action kill free radicals. 
A personalized om 
to pray to, conjure, summon. 
Where will I find it? 
Will I see it online? 
Will it surface, murky, 
in the Magic 8 Ball, 
be revealed in a dream? 
And when I find it, 
will I recognize it?
And if I breathe it, 
will it bring fulfillment? 

April 2012

Somewhere in the City

Somewhere in the city, 
the news is unfolding, 
in apartments and lofts, beginnings 
are brewing—offices, basements, 
soon to be famous, possible atrocities, 
mingling celebrities, futures pursued 
in anonymity. Your résumé sleeps 
around town, your signature lies 
on papers, clothes you’ve donated 
are worn, torn, and someone you don’t 
suspect thinks of you, while gazing
out at passing faces . . . 

FOOD IS MY MUSE

February 2012

Most people who know me know that I'm a big foodie. When I have some time to kill online, hardly a food blog goes unread, and it's often tempting to jump in on the conversation—sometimes, in goofily poetic form.

My favorite food blog is Village Voice's Fork in the Road, headed by top-notch critic Robert Sietsema, who has a charming sense of the absurd. Sometimes, the more absurd the situation, the more tempting it is to comment. In the comments section of this post, I wax poetic on the Organ Meat Society's visit to the restaurant Hospoda; here, I attempt to explain a quirky post-Halloween photo; and here, I poke gentle fun at hunter/forager Hank Shaw's book signing at a Manhattan gun store. In another poem, I speculate on the possibilities for cocktails made with dish soap.

Then there's Eater, which is also great for up-to-the-minute news about restaurant openings and closings and further foodie fun. Under this post, I comment on the live frogs (slide 11) being sold at Chinatown supermarket New York Mart. I also penned a contest-losing Valentine's Day poem on Eater—poem #1 here.

Obviously, I've got to stop doing this! But maybe someday I'll be inspired to write the great culinary poetic opus. (Or at least become the next Larry Eisenberg.) It's hard to predict when you'll come down with a poem, though. Maybe I just need to sit down at a restaurant, pen and paper napkin in hand . . . best restaurants for writing, anyone? And I don't mean Starbucks. But a bit of drink might need to be involved.

THE MENORAH THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

December 2011

"There are three stages of a man's life: He believes in Santa Claus, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus."

—Author unknown

I grew up in a Jewish family that celebrated Christmas. Like some of our Scarsdale neighbors in the '70s, we were mostly secular, celebrating a few major holidays (such as Passover) but not belonging to a synagogue. We didn't have a Christmas tree, but on Christmas morning we'd rush downstairs to find an artfully arranged array of presents by the fireplace, our 3 red stockings filled to the brim. Then it was off to the city, where our great aunts and uncles had their own presents waiting for us under a tabletop tree. Those were the days!

One year, a mini menorah fell into our hands. It was a teeny thing, 2 or 3 inches across, with room for birthday candles, if any. It came with its own teeny music book with notes and words for "Rock of Ages," and a tiny dreidel. One of my sisters learned the tune on the piano; and if we didn't light the little menorah that (or any) year, at least it had a place on the living room window sill. Then we got good and confused trying to remember what the Hebrew letters on the dreidel meant, taking turns spinning it and passing the candy from person to person until we finally just declared a winner (or gave up) and ate the candy. Ah, Hanukkah.

I don't blame my parents for not raising us as strictly practicing Jews. I can see the benefits of organized religion, but I would rather choose parts of whatever traditions appeal to me and be free to create my own traditions—or to take a pass on the whole thing.

Fast forward a few decades. I'm a single 30-something living in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon. My immediate family had long ago stopped celebrating Christmas, and I didn't even know about the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas Day (with that, my parents were remiss!). My celebration consisted of the occasional office holiday party and exchanging small presents with my closest friends. Some years found me singing in Handel's Messiah or in a church Christmas concert singing religious lyrics; other years I was in China or attending Midnight Mass in Jerusalem; sometimes I'd be at home moping about some guy while listening to holiday music. My theme song was "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! But I think I'll miss this one this year."

As a sometimes struggling, mostly freelance editor/writer living on my own without roommates for the first time and continually saving up for travel, I was always looking for frugal ways to decorate my apartment, a large and sunny rent-stabilized 1 bedroom that started at $675/month. I didn't own a car; I liked to go on long walks anyway, so I did most of my shopping on foot. Living in middle-of-the-road Fleetwood, if I walked one direction I ended up in posh Bronxville (near Sarah Lawrence College), where I shopped at the health food store; if I walked the other way I'd get to the Bronx-like heart of downtown Mount Vernon, which had its own charms by way of well-curated secondhand stores, odd lot shops, ethnic foods, and quaint stores with history. I also liked to scout out garage sales. I'd lug home bags of stuff—"She always has a load under her," I once heard a woman mutter—and the apartment began to take shape.

One of the most intriguing secondhand stores in Mount Vernon was packed with vintage couches, chaises, mirrors, and curios. Some of it was over the top, but they were the types of pieces I could imagine a Jazz Age star having owned, ones that might fit in if one lived in one of the sprawling, fabulous old homes that line some of the residential streets there. The store had closed, and I was happy to discover one late summer day that they had taken up new quarters. Their circumstances were much reduced, however. What had once looked like a showroom for divas was now more of a warehouse for whatever was left. There was a higher proportion of bric-a-brac, and as I scanned it, a menorah caught my eye.

I'd never seen one there, nor had I ever considered getting one. But it was tall, graceful, and sturdy, with a multi-colored stained-glass effect going on above its metal base. I had a thing for candles—they made my apartment feel warm and peaceful—and looking at this menorah, I could envision it as something that would fit into my life. So I unexpectedly walked away with a menorah that summer day, which is how I began lighting a menorah every year. (That is, after I realized that menorahs need special-size candles.)

Fast forward again, another decade plus. Thanks to the menorah I found in the secondhand store, I have a child who gets to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. Some people think that might be confusing, but I don't; it's just a bit more . . . labor intensive. I can see why my parents might have bailed on Hanukkah: it's easier to do all the gift giving in one shot, in what a friend of mine used to call "Christmakah," rather than over the course of 8 nights.

Last week, my 7-year-old daughter brought home lyrics to practice for her school's holiday concert, and I was surprised to see that the words to my favorite Hanukkah ditty (OK, out of the 3 I know) had been changed—from

Dreidels to play with, and latkes to eat

to

Shiny tops to play with, and pancakes to eat.

Tops? PANCAKES? Easier to understand, yes. But the foodie in me was aggrieved at the omission of "potato" (an inaccurate description of the pancakes! What was this, pancake supper at the church?); the Jew in me was a tiny bit annoyed about the denatured lyrics; and the (former) teacher in me wondered whether this would give kids a clearer picture of how the holiday goes down. I wasn't about to get my undies in a bunch about it—I'm sure some people would consider the lyric change a travesty—but it did strike me that the first few lines of the song already include the words "menorah" and "horah"—after that, one can pretty much handle "dreidel" and "latkes," no?

Then, as we went through the songs, we stumbled over the Swahili words in the Kwanzaa song:

Umoja: unity
Kujichagulia: self-determination [we had to practice this one many times]
Ujima: responsibility

I didn't know that the song was listing the individual principles celebrated on the 7 days of Kwanzaa, but as I was investigating Kwanzaa foods a few days later, I came across "Kujichagulia," which prompted me to learn more about the holiday. The song hadn't given me a description of how Kwanzaa works, but it's a fairly safe bet that "Kujichagulia" wouldn't be part of my vocabulary right now but for that song. And it's sort of cool to know about it.

Speaking of self-determination, serendipity, and tradition: While we in Scarsdale were celebrating or not, our neighbor Christopher a few houses away accidentally knocked over his family's Christmas tree, destroying hundreds of heirloom mouth-blown European glass ornaments. Determined to replace them, he searched unsuccessfully throughout the United States and Europe, finally starting his own company to design these ornaments and other holiday accoutrements. Christopher Radko, whom the New York Times dubbed the "Czar of Christmas," has since sold his wildly successful ornament company and writes about about bringing meaning and beauty to holidays, seasons, and other parts of our lives—which, after all, is what the ornaments were all about. One could almost have a holiday-celebrating lifestyle all year long—or, every day can be a celebration of life and the season.

Whatever you do or don't celebrate, best wishes for the holidays and a happy New Year.

Menorah

[UPDATE: The kids are going to be singing the traditional Hanukkah lyrics, after all.]

HOW TO DESTROY A LANDMARK

October 2011

On my way home from work, I stuck my head into the Grand Hyatt hotel (next to Grand Central), which is undergoing a renovation due to be completed soon. All I can say is: bleh! What are they doing to the place? (Sorry, to whomever's working on it, but really.) The once delightfully and timelessly tacky Trump elegance of the lobby, which I wax nostalgic about in my poem "Grand Hotel Manhattan," is being replaced with a depressing explosion of gray and some uninspired architectural elements, rendering what was once soaring soulless. I'll stop in again when it's done, trying to cut them some slack.

New York Dreaming contains some poems about landmarks being destroyed—Yankee Stadium being torn down, the demise of a beloved old theater, and so forth—but when I wrote about the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, I'd had no idea that it was about to become another casualty. In fact, until I started writing poetry again last year, I'd hadn't realized I was especially interested in this kind of thing. (Writers: have any previously unknown interests been revealed to you in the process of writing?) I'm not sure why I was drawn to the subject. Maybe processing the changes in our surroundings helps us process our own transitions? Or maybe I'm just having a midlife crisis :)

This Old Haunted House

"Nature is a haunted house—but Art—is a house that tries to be haunted."

—Emily Dickinson (letter to T.W. Higginson, L459)

Here in Westchester, I finally visited a place I'd driven by countless times: the Peter Augustus Jay mansion in Rye, site of the boyhood home of John Jay. I'm a geek who enjoys historic house tours (with a requisite stop at the gift shop), but my memory for history kind of sucks. I vaguely remembered that Jay was a judicial figure associated with New York, but what exactly did he do again?

It's more like, what didn't he do. The only Founding Father to serve in every branch of government, he was President of the Continental Congress, negotiator of the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution, US Secretary for Foreign Affairs, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, two-term governor of New York, and a noted abolitionist. I think I'll always remember him now—as the quintessential multitasking Founding Father, a real New Yorker.

Speaking of destroying landmarks, Jay's son Peter tore down his father's boyhood home, which had been badly damaged during the Revolutionary War (plus, he probably wanted a new kitchen), to build this newer mansion. He built the new home on the old footprint, incorporating some of the original wood and nails, in what I imagine was a mark of respect and preservation. The current mansion is considered a prime example of Greek Revival architecture.

Given this illustrious history, I was surprised at the slightly unfinished state of things: exposed layers of wall coverings, things under construction, and roped-off areas that I longed to go into. There with my daughter for a family festival, I glanced at the artifacts, which included a huge family scrapbook containing a slave purchase receipt, and a stunning painting propped on a mantle, showing Indians looking down at tall ships on the Hudson. While kids did crafts out back and musicians played banjo and clicked spoons, I stood on the back porch and gazed across the meadow to the Long Island Sound, imagining what it must have felt like to live there. What surprises would we find if we went back in time?

Not 20 years ago, this house—home of a Founding Father—was crumbling to ruins in the hands of a neglectful developer. It even served as the backdrop for the 1988 rotten-tomatoes horror movie Spookies. The Jay Heritage Center began restoring it in 1993, but even now, it feels slightly under the radar.

A building on the premises is devoted to Ashwood Restoration, where Bruce MacDonald has worked lovingly on the project for nearly 2 decades. After showing me, my daughter, and one other person around the woodworking area, he opened the door to a large back room, where hundreds of pieces of the mansion are stored—balusters, mirror frames, and so forth—that he is duplicating or restoring. (There was my roped-off area.) And so we continue to put the pieces back together, building on the old footprints.

About 10 years ago, Hudson Valley Network declared this one of the "Must See" places, "one of the greatest surprises and secrets," in the area, "once your eyes adjust to the gloom." Do they still consider it as interesting, now that it's a little less spooky? Have we discovered and rehabilitated all the worthwhile "haunted houses" out there, or do more historical treasures lie in wait? What will our own homes look like in 200 years?

"A WALK THROUGH HARLEM," 20 YEARS LATER

August 2011

"Artists stand back and look at their 'Ooh Wa Dee.' We look at it constantly, not to critique; but to admire. It makes us smile on the inside . . . . Ooh wa dee: that immediate reaction you have upon seeing your work. You just know it. It is an emotional, visceral response that takes place after your intellect recognizes the content of the work and starts to develop meanings and messages."

—flyer for current show at the Heath Gallery, 24 W. 120th St., NYC


Almost 20 years ago, I went walking around Harlem with my camera one day to see what I could see. I write about this in my poem "A Walk Through Harlem." One thing I saw that day was an artist selling his paintings on the stoop of a run-down brownstone. I was struck by his demeanor and the quality of the art. I would have bought a few paintings if I could have—they were about $10 or $15, as I recall—but I was on foot. I spoke briefly to the artist, Thomas Heath, who said they were paintings of his ancestors; I took several photos (one of which is in my book).

In the process of writing that poem last year, I dug out my old pictures and looked up the artist on the Internet. I was thrilled to see that he now has a gallery in the brownstone, which has been restored to its 1886 glory. I'd been meaning to get there, and a few nights ago, I went to their latest opening.

It was exciting to see that same place, beautifully fixed up, and to see Heath's current art—so rich with color, texture, and stories, plus the occasional "Ooh Wa Dee"—along with some great pieces by other artists, including Patrick-Earl Barnes. Looking at art is so inspiring to me, and I ought to do more of it. (On the other hand, it often inspires me to spend a little more than I can afford. I almost never regret it, though.) I also enjoyed the vibe of the place, and talking to the various artists and art lovers I met there. I got to hang around for quite a while, too, while a sudden thunderstorm raged outside.

It had been years since I'd walked around in that neighborhood. I felt that same feeling of being a little bit out of my element, but fascinated, and it was great to see the improvements in the area. I didn't intend for there to be a food component to this adventure, but of course, with me there usually is—that same day, pizza blog Slice's Adam Kuban had written up Patsy's slice counter, a few doors down from the famous Patsy's restaurant I'd been hearing about for years. If I'd had any takers for this expedition, I would've been happy to sit down at the restaurant, but as it was, it was great to be able to try a slice . . . which became two slices . . . which became my almost buying an entire pizza to carry on foot to the west side of Harlem, stash during an art show, and carry back to Mamaroneck on Metro-North, in the pouring rain. I think I need to bring a shopping cart with me when I go to this neighborhood.

SOMEWHERE, IT IS DATE NIGHT

August 2011

A purple flip-flop
with silver-studded strap
leans against a fence—
perhaps was propped? Through what wild
chance did it come alone to stand, or travel through the
air to thusly land?

—(Me, on the way home from the train just now. This may be gone tomorrow.)

—(Yeah, I split the infinitive—whatcha gonna do. The split infinitive symbolizes the flip-flop's profound sense of disconnection from its partner.)

When the Freelancers Union asked its members to donate items for its fundraising auction and networking party, I offered to donate a copy of my book, and they took me up on it. When they sent out their auction catalog last night, I was amused and delighted to see that the book is included as part of the "Date Night #1 Package" (p. 7)—along with dinner and a movie, flowers, and two bottles of wine. Maybe I should bid on it myself! But I guess it wouldn't be too romantic to be read my own poetry. Hope the lucky winner enjoys it . . . may I suggest the "Love" section?

SUMMER UPDATES

August 2011

I'm very happy to be a finalist in the poetry category of the Readers Favorite book contest!

— My book is in the Mamaroneck library in Westchester—check it out (heh heh). Also, at some point I'll be making New York Dreaming available on Amazon; stay tuned.

— I finally broke down and joined Facebook. If I've met you, and you don't run a cult or something, I'd probably be happy to friend you back.

— I find I enjoy Twitter much more, though. I also think it's more conducive to poetry.

— Ever hear this quote, from French poet Paul Valéry?

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned."

I start and abandon poems with abandon . . . only to come back to them . . . or not. But that's beside the point. I wanted to point out this hilarious answer to Valéry, by Billy Collins (courtesy of Larry John McNally).

NOW, YOU CAN BUY THE BOOK IN MANHATTAN . . .

July 2011

. . . at the one, the only, St. Mark's Bookshop in the East Village, where coolness seems to ooze from between the floorboards. I feel like you can't walk past that place without some of the creativity leaping out through a crack in the door and seeping into your brain. Hooray for independent bookstores!

After my trip there today, man, was I beat. It was hot and sunny, and I had walked a bit too far, in shoes that were a bit too new, carrying a tote bag of books and magazines. I could have taken a shorter route to my next destination, but I didn't want to walk back past the bookstore, lest they call out to me on the street that they had changed their mind. So I walked up to Second Avenue, hoping I'd magically find my way to Bleecker Street. I paused at a corner to rub my foot, and there I saw a sign:

"NY's BEST EGG CREAM."

Did someone say "egg cream"?? Hello! To this all-time egg cream lover, this looked like a mirage in the desert. I had accidentally stumbled upon the legendary Gem Spa, which I'd read about and which is like a newsstand—with an almost hidden little soda fountain behind the counter. OK, works for me. Come to think of it, why don't more newsstands have soda fountains? Chocolate, please. Awesome, classic, at once smooth and fizzy.

NEW YORK DREAMING IN NEW YORK SPIRIT

June 2011

I haven't blogged this month, but it's been more for lack of time than for lack of things happening. I'll catch up with you soon. (Yeah, yeah, I know you're not supposed to apologize for not writing in your blog. Whatever.) Meanwhile, I want to mention that there's a very nice piece on my book in the summer issue of New York Spirit magazine, in the "A Few of Our Favorite Things" column! I've picked up this holistically oriented magazine at stores and kiosks in the city since back when it was Free Spirit, so I'm especially happy to be in it.

BOOK NOW AVAILABLE AT WHIMSIES INCOGNITO IN TARRYTOWN

May 2011

New York Dreaming is now being sold at another terrific store—Whimsies Incognito, in Tarrytown, NY. I'm especially glad about that because not only do I enjoy the store, but the book contains a poem about Tarrytown, so it's great to have it in a store there. Swing by if you have a chance—it's a fun town to visit, with all sorts of beautiful sights and great restaurants, galleries, and stores.

QUEENS DREAMING

May 2011

I'm guessing that Queens is one of the last places many people would expect to find the state's oldest working farm. But we were there today, at the Queens County Farm Museum, which dates back to the 17th century. While Steve led a wild-food foraging tour, Violet and I went on a hayride, visited animals, negotiated at the gift shop, and enjoyed a tour of the 1700s farmhouse, led by a very thorough and entertaining Mr. Marty, who demonstrated the precise functioning of every period cooking utensil in two different kitchens.

I think Queens is in some ways one of the most underappreciated areas of New York City, with over 7,000 acres of beautiful parks; it also has the distinction of being the birthplace of yours truly. I didn't see much of it after my family moved to Westchester (although I did see Coming to America—twice). When I met Steve, he had been living in Queens all his life (except for college in DC), so when we started dating, I got a wonderful reintroduction to the borough. We collected wild currants in Cunningham Park; shook abandoned apple trees and made apple pie; waded barefoot into a spring in Alley Pond Park to pick watercress and get jugs of water to take home (he'd had the water tested); and walked the path in Forest Park where he'd narrowly escaped being beaten up by hoodlums. We shopped at flea markets, and explored the Asian grocery stores in Flushing. We rode his tandem bike down steep hills created by glaciers. I marveled at how some people's yards had snails in them, which I found exotic, coming from mostly landlocked mid-Westchester. Even though I didn't want to move back to Queens, I still enjoy the neighborhoods, especially the ethnic restaurants.

Today I thought we might try what the Village Voice yesterday dubbed their favorite West African restaurant—Maima's, in Jamaica—the city's only (and therefore, certainly best) Liberian restaurant. "We're the only white people here," my daughter commented. We enjoyed fried plantains; a very hot and spicy fish soup (bones-still-in tilapia with tail fin sticking out one end of the bowl); a puffy, sticky loaf called fufu, the West African version of mashed potatoes, made out of plantain; spicy ginger "beer"; and delicious sweets—a "rice cake" a bit like banana bread, and a peanut-based dessert called kanyah, which tasted vaguely similar to halvah. That was my favorite thing, I think. The food was startlingly unfamiliar, even to our fairly well-traveled palates. All in all, not enough vegetarian food there for us, and not enough less spicy foods for our daughter, but a pleasant, authentic place where the food is well seasoned and fresh (the fish was delicious) and we were treated very kindly by the gracious Bintu, who gets to charge admission to her birthday bash ($10, May 21; now, that would be an adventure).

As we drove home to Mamaroneck, we passed the site of the 1964/65 World's Fair, in Flushing, and its landmark Unisphere, a 12-story steel model of the Earth that was built to herald the space age. To me, as a toddler, it had been a "giant meatball." Steve, as a film-camera–obsessed adolescent, took wonderful footage of the fair, which you can see here. (He recently had his old films converted into digital, so we've only begun to be able to watch these old movies. Thus, I discovered just last week that not only did he attend the famous march on Washington as a young college student during the Vietnam War—had he never told me that??—but he had filmed it—and there it was, with him in it.)

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

April 2011

The Morgan Library & Museum has always been a magical place to me—that midtown Manhattan bastion of historical manuscripts, fine art, and ancient treasures. I hadn't been there in umpteen years, so I thought I'd check in, post 2010 renovation (theirs, not mine). I quickly ran over there after work—they're open late on Friday nights—partly to check out their current "Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives" exhibit.

What do you do with your old diaries? If you're me, they molder away in a cardboard storage box. I've never known what do with them. On the one hand, I wouldn't want anyone reading them (hence, the hand-drawn skull and crossbones and "KEEP OUT" on the box—yeah, that'll scare them away). On the other, I might someday want to know what I was doing or thinking when I was 12, 22, or 32 (that's about as far as it went). Should I put them in a time capsule?

skull and crossbones

The Morgan's diary exhibit offers a wonderful selection of diaries out of the time warp, from Tennessee Williams to Rousseau. A page from an interview with E.B. White was gratifying to read: his journals, stored in "two-thirds of a whisky carton," are "full of rubbish" but sometimes "manage to report something in exquisite honesty and accuracy. This is why I have refrained from burning them." Also: "I do not hope to publish them, but I would like to get a little mileage out of them." I hear you, E.B. Elsewhere in the exhibit, you see how his childhood diary helps inspire his book The Trumpet of the Swan. Beautiful, simple.

Callout quotes are stenciled on the wall:

"There are two things in the world—life and death. 'Art' is life. 'Not art' is death."

—Stuart Davis (modernist painter)

We see Steinbeck mapping out his thoughts about The Grapes of Wrath; Einstein ("I keep coming back to this theory . . ."); Charlotte Brontë ("There is only one person in this house worthy of being liked"). Diaries shared between two people (eg, mother/daughter); diaries meant to be shared with anyone; and diaries guarded via various forms of encryption (including one with a passage written out in "mirror image"—cool). With some of their handwriting, who needs encryption?

(Interesting poetry note: I had forgotten that Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese were so titled to disguise them as a translation, to guard her and her husband's privacy. She wrote the sonnets during their courtship, but she didn't show hubby the book until after they were married. Incidentally, she self-published her first book of poetry.)

Rousseau's Confessions—more autobiography than diary. Hm. Is a diary the same thing as autobiography? The line is blurred, which is the type of thing this exhibit explores. The signage points out that current mobile devices are about the same size as the little notebook diaries people used to carry around. Now our streams of consciousness make it onto Twitter and texting. What's next—telepathic instant messaging? Are we doing that already? Is there any place for secrets anymore?

This exhibit made me feel better about my own diaries, which I hadn't thought about in a long time. I guess it's OK that they cover just a part of my life, represent an earlier part of myself (some of which I would just as soon forget), and that they're mostly rubbish. But I'm still not sure what to do with them.

NOW AVAILABLE AT FINE STORES NEAR YOU

April 2011

. . . if you happen to live in Larchmont or Mamaroneck, that is. New York Dreaming can be found at Anderson's Book Shop in Larchmont and Brigit boutique and gallery in Mamaroneck—both wonderful stores. Check 'em out.

WOO HOO!

April 2011

New York Dreaming gets its first press coverage.

LINKS OF NOTE

March 2011

The New York Times asks 4 renowned poets to write poems small enough to be Twittered; the results.

Oprah has poets model fashion; David Orr comments.

Writing and publishing advice from Amanda Hocking, best-selling self-published author who just signed a book deal.

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville.

"my father moved through dooms of love" by the amazing E. E. Cummings.

WILD GEESE 

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

BirdsandMoon

EAT, PRAY, WRITE

". . . all writers think they suck. When I was writing "Eat, Pray, Love", I had just as a strong a mantra of THIS SUCKS ringing through my head as anyone does when they write anything. But I had a clarion moment of truth during the process of that book."

Elizabeth Gilbert

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT . . .

March 2011

(Don't know French? Tant pis. Read here and here for translations and an analysis of this poem, which depicts a glance exchanged between a man and a woman on the streets of 19th-century Paris. "The delight of the urban poet is love—not at first sight, but at last sight.")

À UNE PASSANTE

by Charles Baudelaire [from Les Fleurs du Mal (1857)]

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d'une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l'ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l'ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair... puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m'a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l'éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d'ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!
Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j'eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!

WAITING FOR ICARUS

by Muriel Rukeyser

He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don't cry

I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying: Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added: Women who love such are the worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.

DO NOT GIVE A GUY A POEM. EVER.

March 2011

All right, ladies, let's get down to business. What is it about poetry that alienates men?

Do not give a guy a poem. It can engender strange and powerful reactions. Possible exceptions might be: your grandfather's 100th birthday; your husband (or future husband—not always easy to determine); or a sympathetic friend. If you're dating and think things are going pretty well, don't even think about it. I'm not even talking love poems here, women. The poem could be about war atrocities in Afghanistan. It is just as likely to send them running for the hills.

If a guy gives you a poem, different story.

A few men have given me poems in the past. Many years ago, I was going out with New York Times columnist David Pogue. He'd written me a poem for my birthday titled "29 on the 29th," which is now deep in a box somewhere in the bowels of a storage room. It was beautiful, and I'm happy to have it (wherever it is). In college, a boyfriend who was a biology major and classical guitarist wrote me a poem describing himself as a "lonely cell" who had now found happiness. After our brief relationship ended (with my throwing him, backpack first, into the dorm hallway—I forget why!), he pounded on my door: "I want my poem back!!"

His poem? (This was pre-Internet/PC. Guess he forgot to make a copy, huh?) What about my lost dignity? It was so long ago that I don't even remember whether I relented and gave it back to him. I think I did—I recall searching for it, unsuccessfully, once—but for all I know, it's buried in that same storage room. (I really need to go through my papers.)

Several years later, I was on a second or third date with a poet I'd met on one of those websites, and he presented me with a poem, which I later reread at home. It was very good. But was it for me? Or something he'd written a while ago, for someone else, and now employed whenever it came in handy? (This was all the fault of computers.) I hadn't asked, and I think it was deliberately left vague. Perhaps full disclosure is required in these situations. Or maybe if you have to ask, it's not specifically for you. C'mon, guys: at least have a customizable template or something (and don't forget to "Save").

"In California, if you have a fear of intimacy, you can get a disabled parking permit. Ask your therapist about it today!"

—Shepherd Hoodwin, Enlightenment for Nitwits

"When I first selected myself to write the forward for my book, I was flattered, and deeply moved."

—Sarah Silverman, The Bedwetter

SEE SPOT WRITE

March 2011

Rubáiyát of Rover Khayyám
(iUniverse, 2005, Edward FitzHound)

Dogs so seldom put paw to paper that when they do, it ought to be big news. Case in point:

A Dalmation has taken it upon himself to dictate his own, canine version of the famous ancient Persian poem, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám ("A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou"). This Rubáiyát of Rover Khayyám is every bit as poignant and philosophical as the original:

Arise, Purebreds and Mutts alike: embrace
The Shame of our domesticated Race.
    "Lie down with Dogs," our Masters like to say,
And "Rise with Fleas"—thus "Dog" implies Disgrace.

We learn from the Introduction that the original Rubáiyát had been translated from the Persian and self-published by Edward FitzGerald in 1859—only to end up in the remainder bin. It was luckily fished out by a young writer and went on to become one of the world's most famous poems. Now it has been translated from the canine by Edward FitzHound (aka Malcolm Hall):

For one Moment on balanced Terms we ran,
The next, we were behind, he in the Van.
    Some little Talk awhile of Man and Dog
Was there, then less of Dog—now only Man.

The copious footnotes unleash many humorous and scholarly remarks, and the Introduction chronicles the story of this brief and somewhat stormy human-hound collaboration. I read it over dinner with a glass of wine and chuckled, recalling the old copy of the Rubáiyát I had fished out of a secondhand store's bin years ago.

Ah, the Pack I ran with once—could we roll
Time back to the Moment that Man first stole
    Our canine Souls—would we refuse the Leash?
Or succumb once more to the well-filled Bowl?

This book would be a wonderful complement to any course studying the Rubáiyát. Ideally, it could usher in an era of greater recognition for the literary talents of our four-footed friends; more competition for us.

SPIDER-MAN IS ALLOWED TO USE SILLY STRING

March 2011

I saw the Spider-Man musical the other day. After the reviews I'd read, I was expecting it to be the worst show of all time, but surprise! it was very entertaining. If you can set aside, for a few hours, the sad history of injury on the set, and the huge expectations of Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge of U2, and the record-breaking budget, you might actually enjoy the show, if you like Spider-Man. It mostly "hangs" together (although I could see where a few of the criticisms were coming from).

One thing Julie Taymor & company have been criticized for is using cheap gimmicks such as cardboard cutouts and Silly String—like, what are those doing in a show that cost 65 million dollars? But they help weave the rich tapestry of mixed media that makes this show interesting, providing a bit of retro contrast to all the high tech. Besides, sometimes Silly String is just the easiest means to an end.

The numerous in-air acrobatics, while they had you holding your breath, were spectacularly executed. You can appreciate how much work and creativity went into this show—and hope everyone in it remains safe from here on in.

WHAT IS ART?

"Art is what we call...

the thing an artist does.

It's not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human.

Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It's in the soul of the artist."

Seth Godin

Meanwhile, back in drug advertising land, I'm sitting in a room with two people who are trying to come up with ideas for a campaign. "How about this?" one of them suggests.

"No, not quite. Actually, that sucks," says the other.

"Does not."

"Does so. But how about this?"

"I don't think so. No, I absolutely hate that."

This goes on for about 2 hours, with a lot of creative and brilliant thinking involved, until they finally arrive at something they mutually hate—which is what the client will probably like.

Then their concepts go through the crucible of review by all outside parties and regulatory authorities. Any loose ideas hanging outside the box are shaken off, and the whole thing is boiled down to its essence:

"First, Do No Harm. Then, Try STUFF®.*#"

*We don't know how STUFF works—hope that's OK.

#In a head-to-head comparison, the heads of patients taking STUFF appeared to be slightly larger. This doesn't seem to be drug related. Just sayin.'

WHO SAYS POETRY CAN'T PAY THE BILLS?

February 2011

Or at least pick up the tab once in a while?

The lucky winner of a poetry contest on the blog Eater enjoyed a free Valentine's dinner at Maialino ("little pig") in Manhattan, in their new private dining room in the wine cellar. To that contest, I submitted the following poem: Hog

Miles from Maialino

"Let's talk pig," Sam Sifton said—
they reap the beast from hoof to head.
I speak, of course, of Maialino,
where "little pigs" can sample vino,
and paesani stuff some serious face,
at Chef Meyer's new private tasting space—
for one hundred fifty bucks a head.
I long to bring my Valentine
to this Roman hot spot, to quaff and dine
and honor this temple gastronomical—
but for us, the price is astronomical.
Not for us, the getting horny
over secondi and contorni;
instead of bianchi, rosati, and rossi,
the seasonal menu at our local Cosi.
(Or perhaps, pulled noodles at the Flushing Mall;
it's the rabbit's year now, after all.)
I'd gladly trade my Sbarro ziti
for a taste of Carciofini Fritti,
and set aside my Frappucino
for some kick-ass dolci and cappuccino.
My low-carb diet would be put to the test,
but "When in Rome"—you know the rest.

I thought I had that contest won, for sure. (Although in retrospect, I might change "set aside" to "sacrifice," and maybe lowercase the W in the last line. Still, not bad for an evening's work, no?). So I eagerly awaited announcement of the winner—never mind that I would be going to this pig-and-wine restaurant with my husband, a teetotaling, card-carrying vegan. We'd find great things on the menu—we always do.

But there are many people in New York City, and many mighty pens. Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, Eater announced that they'd narrowed the contenders down to 3 and were putting it to a vote. There I was—Poem Number 1—followed by Number 2, and Number 3—each of which had its own special appeal (although I still liked mine the best). I felt like Julia Child unwittingly thrust into an Iron Chef competition. 

Poem Number 2 was a touching appeal from the gay community:

"We won't be upset if you choose Plain Jane and Joe
We've already recorded sappy films on TiVo

But give us a chance to prove how one gay and gal can inspire—
The kind of vibrant charm expected of dinner at Danny Meyer's."

And Number 3 was a powerful tug at the heartstrings by a guy wanting to

"recreate—
the magic and romance of that kiss on our first Danny Meyer date"

with Kate, a woman who had later spurned him:

"Her sarcastic wit, her lips, her tender touch,
I had never missed or loved any girl so much."

The "sensitive guy" card—oy veh! Even I felt sorry for him! No matter how many annoying e-mails I sent out asking people to vote, the best I could do was get his vote count below 50% (of over 600) for a while. I hovered at a fairly close second, and the gay poem remained a bright little triangle on the fluctuating pie chart, driving a wedge between me and dinner. You can view the contest results here.

So the other guy won. But I do hope the dinner at least helped advance his romance. Did he and Kate get back together? Only the little pig knows for sure. Nice work, Sensitive Guy! 

Now, would you consider moving to Iowa? A girl's gotta eat!

The Poems of Others

by Billy Collins [former US Poet Laureate]
(from Ballistics. Random House, 2008)

Is there no end to it
the way they keep popping up in magazines
then congregate in the drafty orphanage of a book?

You would think the elm would speak up,
but like the dawn it only inspires—then more of them
     appear.
Not even the government can put a stop to it.

Just this morning, one approached me like a possum,
snout twitching, impossible to ignore.
Another looked out of the water at me like an otter.

How can anyone dismiss them
when they dangle from the eaves of houses
and throw themselves in our paths?

Perhaps I am being harsh, even ridiculous.
It could have been the day at the zoo
that put me this way—all the children by the cages—

as if only my poems had the right to exist
and people would come down from the hills
in the evening to view them in rooms of white marble.

So I will take the advice of the mentors
and put this in a drawer for a week
maybe even a year or two and then have a calmer
     look at it—

but for now I am going to take a walk
through this nearly silent neighborhood
that is my winter resting place, my hibernaculum,

and get my mind off the poems of others
even as they peer down from the trees
or bark at my passing in the guise of local dogs.

POETRY AND THE CITY

February 2011

i speak cover
I Speak of the City: Poems of New York
(Columbia University Press, 2007, edited by Stephen Wolf)

Anyone with an interest in New York and poetry will probably enjoy this wonderful anthology, currently occupying a spot on my cluttered bedside table. The poems date to when the city was New Amsterdam, and go up through the very recent past. (As with any poetry collection, you may end up reading nonlinearly, or picking and choosing—we are the small plates menu of the reading world.)

The short bio of each poet adds a lot, because these lives are fascinating. For example, did you know that Emma Lazarus, whose poem "The New Colossus" ("Give me your tired, your poor . . . ") helped raise funds for the Statue of Liberty, died at 38 without ever having seen the statue, or knowing that her poem would be carved into its pedestal?

"Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta! stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!"

—Walt Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," 1856

"you have changed,
have always been
changing.
                   but
damn! you look good,
                                   new york
you court me,
                    again.
                              (again?, new york)"

—Kevin Coval, "Lured Beneath Your Golden, Calling Lights," 2000s

PUBLISHING, SELF-WISE

February 2011

Disclaimer: my book is self-published.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that it published itself.

It took a bit of work. I enlisted the help of friends, colleagues, and my husband, and worked directly with a printer. Instead of seeking a publisher, I became one (albeit in a limited fashion). Did I know what I was getting into?

Yes, sort of. I'd taken a course on publishing—the Radcliffe Publishing Course—many years ago, back when self-publishing was looked down upon much more than it sometimes is now. I'd worked in publishing, also many years ago; I became familiar with the depth of the slush pile, and the many steps it takes to make a book. I have a network of people in my life who have successfully self-published books—meaning, to me, that they have a viable, professional-quality product that they are able to sell—and the benefit of their advice, contacts, and bravery. I've also been privy to their difficulties with things such as distributors, promotion, and finding the right people to help them with tasks such as cover design and proofreading.

So I basically knew what I was getting into. But I chose self-publishing mainly because of what I was getting out of: the prospect of endless submissions to small publishers who publish only a few poetry books a year; the years of waiting and rejection (an average of close to 4 years, judging by Poets & Writers magazine's 2011 Annual Debut Poets Roundup); and the tiresomeness of having to fit into someone else's vision. I don't feel cut out for it; life is short; I work well independently.

We all come to self-publishing for our own reasons. Some people have shopped their books around unsuccessfully and still believe they have a quality product, so decide to go it on their own. Some authors already have traditional publishers but for various reasons are able to make more money and have more creative control doing the next one themselves. Some others, very established professionals (published or not), just want to produce a book they can sell at lectures, stores, and events and are content to let the book rest on their name alone.

While one can't pretend that self-publishing is the same as having the blessing and assistance of the publishing industry, I think it's increasingly seen as just another product source, whose products one is free to pick up and enjoy or not. Although people may still be somewhat skeptical about the legitimacy and quality of self-published books—and the quality is bound to vary wildly without much vetting—we've become so much more open to alternative ways of obtaining products and information, thanks to the Internet (blogs, ebay, etsy . . .), that there's no going back. Could it be that we're becoming more accustomed to considering things on their own merits?

For both the author and the reader, self-published books simply work or don't work, as the individual case may be. In any case, those of us who choose this still somewhat bastard route do join the ranks of authors such as Herman Melville, Edgar Allen Poe, and William Strunk (The Elements of Style)
, whether we know it or not.

I'll let you know how it goes.