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I am a writer but on my desk-top computer I have about 20,000 photos. You do the math on what they say about every picture being worth a thousand words, or as Rod Stewart says, every picture tells a story. Most of my photographs were taken while traveling. Most aren't very good in the way photographers measure quality, but most serve my purpose: reminding me of where I have been and what the place looked like and what I experienced. More than a few have prompted their requisite word count. Sometimes the images even announce how I felt or what... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
First Day By mid-morning we had left the harbor and motored into the narrows between the highway and low, hog-back hills pinching in from the starboard side. The shore was lined with black floating barrels anchoring "shells," commercial mussel operations. On each side of the bay the sloping hills beyond were the broken outlines of the ubiquitous stone walls defining the ancient fields where olives and grapes once grew. There were no trees now and the geometry of the fields formed a quilt of antiquity. The ancient city of Trogir was tucked into the next cove south but we couldn't... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
When we headed from the coast into the Croatian hinterlands we had only a sandwich the hotel in Trogir had made us for lunch. We expected the trip to take about two hours to get to the Raftrek Adventure Travel outpost, but we'd also expected more road signs, and pavement all the way. We drove west through several larger villages with orange-tiled roofs and simple traffic round-abouts as the highway forked into a network of smaller routes. Soon the interior was as starkly beautiful as any I've ever seen. The rolling country opened up and dried out, covered with brush... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
For writers travel happens often in both a real and literary space. I always try to track down poetry from wherever I'm going, and sometimes I read novels, essays, blogs. Of course there is always the sketchy narrative presented by Rough Guides which define so many trips from town to town, organized by region-- where to stay, how to order a beer, what history is most important, what to avoid, where to be sure to eat. Sometimes I enjoy the travel guides, and other times I avoid them because I want to form my own opinions about new landscapes and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
We are rolling through the Slovinian alps and I'm listening to Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark on my iPod-- "I'm always running behind the times, just like this train..." and the 1970s lyrics are lining up perfectly with the way I'm feeling in the summer of 2014, writing in my old-time travel journal, reading poetry, talking on and off with my wife as the hours click past ("settle into the clickity-clack..."). I'm feeling quite old school, two weeks without email, looking out the wide window and occasionally taking pictures: Sometimes of houses Other times of churches near the tracks: And... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
I have a 29-year-relationship with AWP. In three decades I've probably attended ten or twelve meetings in various regions of the country. Several meetings I've forgotten but I know for sure there was one in Savannah, two in Atlanta, one in Phoenix, three in Chicago, one in Albany, one in Washington, and now, this one in Boston. When I told my wife what I wanted to write about this morning she said, "Great, the cranky senior citizen poet's long-term perspective of the largest gathering of writers in the history of the planet." She's right about the size of this conference... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
At the Robinson Jeffers Conference the keynote started her talk by saying she'd never heard of Robinson Jeffers until she got the invitation to speak. I told them I'd been reading Jeffers since I was a sophomore in college, about 35 years before I got the invite. I talked about how I have a tower where I write in summers in North Carolina but my tower is sheetrock and two-by-fours, so maybe mine isn't quite as sturdy as Jeffers, but it's still a tower. I thanked my other panalists, both poets, and then I quoted Jim Harrison as cover, "I... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Last week I took a side-step or maybe even a step back in my technological rumba with the literary future. I bought a desktop computer again, a brand new 20" iMac, and when it arrives I'm installing it in what I've always called "my writing work room," the personal sacred space written into our dream house ten years ago. In all the places I've lived since graduating from college 35 years ago I've always had one, a room with a desk in it, a workspace for literature, a dedicated nook or cranny for making art, a place to sit down... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
A friend wrote the other day to say that for her a particular place exists mostly in her head. I thought about this and realized that place for me often begins with where I am physically and my relationship to that spot. I mean this literally. I've written in a journal for over thirty years and I often start with where I am. I'll write "I'm sitting in a cafe," or "I'm at home sitting on the couch," or "It's early morning and I'm camping by the river." But right now I'm not writing in my journal. I'm tapping on... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I want to buy a mountain place. I’m looking for the purest form of retreat. I want to put as many one lane bridges between me and the nearest Wal-Mart as possible. But I also know it’s the Southern mountains, and there will always be neighbors, echoing sounds from across the ridge, presences offering howdy waves as I pass on the driveway lined with rhododendron. I don’t even care if I have indoor plumbing or well water. I’m not trying to make visits comfortable for my city friends used to vacation cottages. I not looking for the rural life. I’m... Continue reading
Posted Oct 7, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Mike comes into my tiny office and holds up a new anthology of contemporary poetry. "We'll never be in a book like this," he says with a resolved sadness. We are both in our 30s and have published two chapbooks each and many poems in literary magazines. Mike has even won a few small prizes in poetry contests. But as he himself says, in spite of our small successes, we are very faint lights in the galaxy of poets. "You couldn't find us with a radio telescope.” I'm not thinking much about the galaxy of poets. I’m teaching high school... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
In Charlottesville I stumbled into a short career as a chef. I was a Hoyns Fellow, a poet, a young intellectual in love with the world inside my head, a world of words, ideas and things. Though I had good friends and teachers at UVA, I preferred town to the university district. There was still a working class feel to downtown Charlottesville back then; the rock stars and movie stars were just beginning to arrive, and the downtown was still rough, especially on the side streets around the old railway depot. It was chance collision that landed me a job... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Outside beside the door at Copper Canyon press there was a pile of Douglas fir chord wood for the stove. Before I came in to work in the mornings I'd split the wood into smaller pieces, striking at the wood's heart, thinking as I dropped the maul on the top of the round, “This is how separation feels, this cleaving.” I missed something of the South. I missed something of home. But what did I miss? I missed small things, like snakes, the weather, the humidity. Sweet tea at all the restaurants. Hardwood trees turning color. Country music. I did... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Three weeks ago I was in New York City to visit family and do a couple of “salon” poetry readings, one uptown at a friend’s apartment to a group of thirty or so of her literary friends, the other a 9/11 anniversary reading of eight poets in a loft in Brooklyn. Both readings were pleasant literary punctuation to visits with our two sons, now New Yorkers. These recent readings were very different from my first trip to the city in 1978 when I was just a year out of college, a Southern boy from the suburbs of Spartanburg, South Carolina.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Had a really great time! Sent from my iphone
Has anyone done research on the differences between poets (or anyone else) who get up early and those who stay up late? A friend of mine once gave me advice that’s worked for me: “Let not one day tread upon the next.” Yesterday did not tread upon today. It’s 6:03 a.m. and I’ve been up an hour. I’m one of those people who goes into a dizzy netherland about 8 p.m. I have trouble focusing. I can’t carry on a conversation. If I’m at a club listening to music as the night goes on the sounds begin to pool in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
When I was a young poet I used to work at poems sequentially and with great patience. I would write in the morning soon after waking. I don’t remember how the poems came to me. What I remember is working at them. Back then when I started a poem I would put the first handwritten draft in a manila folder, conjure a title and note the date on the top tab, and place the folder at the bottom of the pile on my desk. All morning as I worked I’d pick up older folders one-by-one and open them and work... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
In January I traveled to China for a little over two weeks. I stayed mostly in Shanghai, studying “Tradition & Modernity” with 18 of my Wofford College colleagues. Our lodging was comfortable, a modern hotel on the edge of Fudan University, one the educational institutions fueling China’s mad economic sprint. I’d never been to Asia so everything was startling at first—the sharp, rhythmic speech so far from my own English, the magic sweeping strokes of calligraphy adorning walls and signs, tai chi in the parks, a large smiling Mao statue at the university’s front gate, and sweet potatoes roasting on... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Chuck the Biologist had placed fifteen aluminum Sherman traps all over the old Glendale cotton mill site, Wofford College's outdoor classroom, a post-industrial landscape of granite rubble, twisted rebar, scorched bricks, and rusted bolts. There are two standing mill towers that survived the great Glendale fire of 2004, so when I come out to the field station I always think the site looks downright Gothic, like something out of Lord of the Rings. Chuck divided his Biology 480 students into four teams and dispatched them to roam the property like natural history pilgrims. One group stayed with us checking the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Today at the South Carolina Book Festival I decided to descend the antiquarian alley where poetry books live extended lives alongside their more popular cousins in prose. As I walked under the antiquarian banner I thought about the fate of poetry books, how a few end up in libraries, more in private collections, and how some end their bookish lives thrown in a dumpster, or sold by the pound at estate sales. Sometimes the books are very lucky, or the poet is well-known, and they’re acquired by a dealer and peddled like stamps or coins at these antiquarian gatherings. I... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
This is my first post for my week as BAP guest blogger and it will be short. Tonight for dinner I ate something called a Liberty Tavern Club. It had an egg on it. It didn’t go very well with my nut brown ale. Actually, my two nut brown ales. I'm out of town for the weekend, attending the South Carolina Book Festival. I’m feeling a little out of context, although I'm only 90 miles from home. I’m out on the road, "barnstorming for poetry," as James Dickey once called these sorts of visits to literary events. I'll admit this... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Feb 27, 2010