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In Memoriam

The world is slightly less bright today, having lost one of its lights. My fun-loving friend, Kevin Slattery (you may know him as "Slatts", if you've been around LiveJournal for a long while) has moved on to other (and I hope, more peaceful) shores. I am glad we got to keep him so long, and sorry it couldn't be longer, but I'm glad he did things on his own terms. May his memory be a blessing.

Here's a poem I wrote for Kevin a while back, after his cancer diagnosis. It's the penultimate poem in my chapbook, The Universe Comes Knocking.

Let's Make It a Long Goodbye
for Kevin

The kind they have at some wakes,
where everyone has to share just
one more story about the deceased
or family members past or present.

The kind where you say the words,
but the parting never comes,
like my Jewish relations do,
standing, coats on, purses ready,

for a good half an hour after
the first "it's time to go,"
passage of time and coming
of darkness be damned.

The kind where you stand
in the front hall for so long
that you have to start the departure
over again from the start.

The kind with smudged lipstick
kisses on cheeks. The kind kids hate,
since it almost always involves
pinched cheeks or ruffled hair.

I know a Jewish goodbye isn't
true to your background. Your ancestors
came from the greenest land on earth,
gifting you with stories and songs.

And I know that eventually,
the actual leave-taking will come.
And when it does, my friend,
then I hope, in fact, that you

follow the heart of your heritage:
Leave everyone standing around
talking and drinking together, while
you split quietly out the side door.

My pantoum from two weeks ago was written with Kevin in mind, too. He will be missed.

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Today, an interview with South Jersey poet Kendall A. Bell, whose work has been most recently published in Melancholy Hyperbole and First Literary Review-East. He was nominated for Sundress Publications' Best of the Net collection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He is the author of sixteen chapbooks. His current chapbook is "Siberia". He is the founder and co-editor of the online journal Chantarelle's Notebook, publisher/editor of Maverick Duck Press (MDP) and president of the Quick And Dirty Poets. His website is

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into poetry.

Hmm...let's see. I'm a music and football fanatic. (I also enjoy hockey, baseball and tennis.) I have a huge music collection that won't stop growing until I buy the farm. I read a lot, but poetry is usually my genre of preference. I do read young adult fiction...because I refuse to grow up, I guess. I'm from North Jersey and still identify as such (Bergen County), even though I've lived in South Jersey for about 14 years now. I was a child in, I acted in plays in school. I'm also a trained singer, but not many people know this.

How I got into poetry...well, from about age nine to sixteen, I wrote short stories. Many were as awful as you could imagine. At some point, the stories weren't really coming anymore. I ended up writing more stories in my early twenties. In fact, I still have some old ones that I never finished in text files. Anyway, poetry started in my late teens and it was even worse than the stories. I still have the proof, but they will never see the light of day. A few people in my old poetry group who are sworn to silence did read one of them on what we called "Juvenilia night", when we shared our old and horrid poems. Mine was among the worst. Truly.

I started taking poetry more seriously by my mid-twenties when I discovered Nicole Blackman and ended up having an online friendship with her that sort of culminated in our first face to face meeting at a reading she was hosting in NYC. (The featured poet was Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing fame, later solo.) My earliest influences were Poe (naturally), Plath and Sexton. Among my favorite modern poets now are Keetje Kuipers, Sierra DeMulder, Megan Falley, Sarah Kay, Taylor Mali, Clementine Von Radics, Teresa Leo and the lesser known, but fantastic, Amber Decker.

2. Your latest collection is Siberia, which I am wild about. I guess you could call it an ekphrastic collection, of sorts, since it's based on prior art. Can you tell me how you got the idea for it? And how did you decide which lines to use?

Ah, good questions. For a while, I was writing some poems based around Gemma Hayes lyrics. Gemma is among a handful of artists who can truly resonate with me. I had been a fan of Lights [née Valerie Anne Poxleitner, married to Beau Bokan] since her first EP, which came before her first full length, The Listening. Lights is in that handful of artists who really, really matter to me. I picked up her acoustic album, which is stripped down versions of all the songs on her Siberia album, and after hearing the songs in a different light, the lyrics are what really stood out to me. I had never really appreciated the depth of her lyrics until that moment, which is really odd, because I'm a lyrics guy.

Certain lines started to stand out to me in the songs on that album and so I'd write them down and work poems around them. I then went back to The Listening and listened more, then I put her latest, Little Machines on repeat. More and more lines started to jump out at me. I would say that most of the lines came from Siberia, then Little Machines and then The Listening. Siberia had a lot of lyrical depth. It mined a lot of personal stuff and hit a nerve with me. The album was shocking to me when I first heard it. It was radically different from her first album and I wasn't even sure that I liked it. As it turns out now, it's my favorite of all of her work.

3. Did you find yourself going in the same general direction, either tonally or thematically, as the songs the lines came from, or did you depart from them?

I would say yes, I did, in a sense, go in a similar direction as Lights did for a good chunk of the poems. However, I think the poems are radically different in the sense that these lines had separate stories to tell, but the isolation and longing are still there. I really liked the idea of isolation and separation from the rest of the world, which is why I decided to call the collection Siberia, as well.

I think it follows the vein of the collection while also being a tip of the hat to Mrs. Bokan. For example, the poem "Come bail me out of this godforsaken precipice" which comes from the song "Heavy Rope", is actually quite similar in the sense that she's looking for something to lift her from the depths of what holds her down. The subject in [my] poem feels helpless to what he's feeling for this person that he didn't expect to fall so hard for. The longing for her is so strong, but he knows that ultimately, he can't have her and he needs something to keep him from total freefall...but it's too late. He's in love with her.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there's "We were kind of feral wicked little machines" from "Running With The Boys". That (Lights) song is about reminiscing about the past and celebrating youth. [My] poem goes towards the high of two people crazy for each other in the beginning, but they crash and burn, losing everything they thought they were and could be. [My poem,] "Toss me a heavy rope, it's a slippery slope" (also from "Heavy Rope") is about Robin Williams. "The loneliest thing in the shape of a fist", which is from [the album] "Portal", also goes in a different direction. It's about Rob Bironas, the former Tennessee Titans kicker who died in a car crash last year. It looks at possible reasons why he ended up on that road late at night. So yeah...longing, isolation, loneliness. That's mostly what "Siberia" is about.

4. What's next?

Next? There always seems to be something next. I'm currently working on a total re-write of a very limited chapbook I did about twelve years ago called "Destroyed". The titles of the poems in it are the titles of each of the songs on [sludge metal band] Jucifer's album I Name You Destroyer, which is one of my all time favorite albums. I was re-reading my chapbook last year and decided that I hated most of the poems with the exception of one. I hope to finish that [rewrite] up soon.

I'm also slowly working on compiling poems for a full length manuscript that I hope to get some poor sucker of a press to publish. MDP is a chapbook micro-press, so I don't want to do it through MDP. I'm also entertaining the possibility of a Blair's Echo prequel where you learn about Blair's life when she was among the living. [You can read Kelly's review of Blair's Echo here.] I also wrote 73 poems during NaPoWriMo this April, so I need to edit/workshop the hell out of those poems. I need to keep my poetic feet moving at all times. I want to be challenged and try new things...even if I fail.

Massive thanks to Kendall for this interview. He can be found at the various links above, and his works can be purchased at Maverick Duck Press.

Additional Poetry Friday posts can be found by clicking the link below:

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Untitled pantoum by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

This month, my poetry sisters and I were up to pantoums, a Malaysian form which I explained here. If you've been able to read blogs this week (and really, if you haven't, I totally understand), you may have seen one I wrote that draws attention to the horrifyingly high suicide rate among U.S. veterans.

Today's is not about that, but is about time. In addition to writing a pantoum, the goal was to use either the word "certainties" or "flight", or both. (I only used the first.)

There are no certainties in life,
though death and taxes come to all.
Do not go gently into that good night--
Is that the best advice we can hope for?

Though death and taxes come to all,
it is important to enjoy the time we have.
Is that the best advice we can hope for,
that “carpe diem” philosophy?

It is important: to enjoy the time we have,
we have to lose ourselves in the flow of time.
That carpe diem philosophy
has it backwards. We must let go.

We have to lose ourselves. In time
we’ll find something better, a place we can
take back words, or let them go
floating in rivers of starlight.

We’ll find something better. A place we can
go gently into that good night,
floating in rivers of starlight.
There are some certainties in life.

Here are the links to the pantoums written by my lovely poetry sisters:

Sara Lewis Holmes at Read Write Believe.

Tanita Davis at Fiction, Instead of Lies.

Andi Jazmon at A Wrung Sponge.

Laura Purdie Salas at her website, who wrote hers while in Ireland.

Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz in Ink.

Tricia Stor-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect, who got us started with this form.

I hope you'll check out all six of the other poems.

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National Coin Week news

Last week was National Coin Week in the United States (and yes, it's a real thing!). And my poem, "Pocket Change", was featured over at Sylvia Vardell's blog, Poetry for Children, complete with recitation of my poem in English by four kids, and in Spanish by another two.

My thanks to Amelia, Ahouefa, Charoudin, and Emily for their awesome job reciting the poem in English, and to Gilvanice and Shiomara for their excellent job reciting it in Spanish, and to their teacher, Cynthia H., who made the film in the first place!

I hope you'll check out Sylvia's post, but here's the full video:

And in case you missed it, I hope you'll check out yesterday's post here, which includes an original pantoum I wrote, which I'm calling "Twenty-Two a Day".

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Twenty-two a day

That's the average number of suicides by U.S. veterans, according to a 2013 report. Twenty-two men and women who served the United States as members of the military take their own lives daily, unable to cope with things after returning home.

I didn't know that, and even if I knew the numbers were high, I didn't have a context until April 18th, when I was at Stockton University for a poetry writing workshop with Peter Murphy and his writing organization. That's where I noticed the small American flags planted in front of the students' center. You can read a bit about their project and objective in the local paper or on the campus organization's Facebook page.

Photo from the Veteran Suicide Awareness Project Facebook page

The number of flags made an impact, and I can only imagine that by the 30th, when all 660 flags are in place, it will be that much stronger. It's probably not a surprise, then, that in addition to the poem topics I was assigned, I wrote a pantoum about those flags and what they represent, since I was in the pantoum zone after working on another one that I'll be posting this Friday along with all my poetry sisters.

Twenty-two a Day
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

A gardener has planted
hundreds of American flags,
representing thousands
of American dead.

Hundreds of American flags,
a silent tribute
to American veterans, dead
by their own hands.

A silent tribute,
a powerful message
from their own. Hands
reach toward -- what?

A powerful message,
representing thousands,
reaching toward what
a gardener has planted.

Here's a link to the Veterans Crisis Line, if you or someone you know needs help.

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Happy birthday, Billy!

Today is the anniversary of Shakespeare's baptism, so it's usually celebrated as his birthday (not that baptism and birth were necessarily done the same day, but I digress). Here's his take on daffodils, which goes in a completely different, one might say "more earthy" direction than Wordsworth's poem that I posted yesterday. It's from The Winter's Tale, Act IV, scene 2.

When daffodils begin to peer,
  With heigh! The doxy over the dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year;
  For the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.

The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
  With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!
Doth set my pugging tooth on edge;
  For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.

The lark, that tirra-lyra chants,
  With heigh! with heigh! the thrush and the jay,
Are summer songs for me and for my aunts,
  While we lie tumbling in the hay.

Discussion: It's written in cross-rhymed quatrains using four stressed syllables per line. It's meant to be a bawdy song, and would have been sung by the character Autolycus, a (somewhat charming) thief and pickpocket.

Understanding why this song is bawdy requires knowing the meanings of words like doxy (a mistress or lover or, quite likely, a prostitute). There's also a reference to the ancient spring ritual of Beltane, where in some communities a virgin would be designated as the May Queen, who would lose her virginity to the Green Man or Jack-o'-the-Green as a means of symbolizing fertility and the rebirth of the world.

Autolycus's song talks about the red blood reigning over winter's pale, a reference to the blood from loss of virginity, and to the white sheet bleaching in the sun after the act. The reference to a "pugging tooth" has been variously construed to mean "thieving" (a deduction based on Autolycus being a thief, and on saying, later in the same monologue, that he traffics in sheets) or "grinding" (pugging being a word used to describe grinding mortar). I have to say, I come down on the side of "grinding", complete with sexual connotation to the term, and that his later reference to "trafficking in sheets" is him getting busy between the sheets. This seems to be supported by the next lines, which refer to him and his "aunts . . . tumbling in the hay," where "aunts" is an word meaning prostitutes, and to the overall dual nature of the poem, bawdy puns being a favorite of Shakespeare (and his audiences).

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Of late, while walking about the neighborhood with my sweetheart, I've been spying daffodils in bloom here and there. The rest of my post is a reprise from April of 2010, with a bit of tweaking.

Some of you may know this poem as "Daffodils", though that's not its actual name; its real name is "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud", and it's an extremely popular, much-anthologized poem.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
  That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
  A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
  And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
  Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
  Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
  In such a jocund company:
I gazed— and gazed— but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
  In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
  Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Form: Each stanza has 6 lines, is written in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and has a rhyme scheme of ABABCC; this form, essentially an open form in "sixain" (six lines to a stanza), was first developed by Shakespeare in "Venus and Adonis", and was later used by Wordsworth in this poem, which he wrote in 1804.

Discussion: If you read this one aloud, it is easy to fall into a "pause-at-the-end-of-each-line" mentality, as a means of emphasizing the rhyme scheme, but this is something you SHOULD NOT DO, because you will be lulled into a false sense of complacency by the rhythm and sing-song rhyme effect you achieve, and you will not truly hear the poem. Don't believe me?Here's the first stanza written out with pauses only where they naturally occur:

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host,
of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake,
beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

My point is, if you go back and read the poem aloud, following the punctuation, you will be able to better hear what Wordsworth is saying. And while references to nature and use of metaphor are common devices in modern poetry, they are used in part because Wordsworth came along and wrote in the way that he did, with a reverence for and appreciation of nature, and with a focus on emotional response to nature and other stimuli. As a result, Wordsworth is widely credited as being one of the first poets in the Romantic era, along with his friend Coleridge, whose poems were included in the 1798 publication Lyrical Ballads, which I referenced in a now-old quoteskimming post.

Today's poem is one of the best-loved and most well-known in the English language, and that is with good reason: its imagery is lovely, its rhyme and metre make it easy to memorize, and the story it tells (of seeing something beautiful and unexpected in nature and reliving it in memory) is one that resonates with a lot of people.

Wordsworth also looks at psychological aspects of memory here - he relates the actual story of his walk with his sister, Dorothy, and their happenining upon a large swath of daffodils by a lake. But the point isn't that he took a walk and saw daffodils; it's the emotional journey he took (from loneliness to happiness), and the effect of the memory of the daffodils on his present mood. At the time he wrote the poem, he was breaking new ground, although it may seem tame to some now. But I rather think that those who take the time to read the poem aloud will not think it tame, but will instead take the journey along with Wordsworth from lonely wandering to a happy view of blinding yellow daffodils to an appreciation of the joy the memory must hold.

Speaking of Dorothy Wordsworth, she accompanied her brother most everywhere he went, and she was a poet as well as a diligent diarist. Wordsworth is believed to have relied on her diaries when calling up details to write some of his poems. Here, for instance, is Dorothy's journal entry from the excursion with her brother when they saw daffodils by the lake:

Read Dorothy Wordsworth"s full journal entry hereCollapse )

It's pretty obvious that Wordsworth and his sister observed the same field of flowers, not just because we know that they were together when they came upon the lake and its flowers, but also because their writings share some other commonalities, such as the description of the daffodils dancing in the wind. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but I rather think not. I also think that it's possible that Mr. Wordsworth relied on his sister's diaries when writing his poems. Which he wrote and then gave to her for transcription, where it's possible and even likely that she made some revisions of her own. Just saying.

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Happy Angela De Groot Day!

Lots of you know my friend Angela already (some in person, some on Live Journal - here's the link to her blog, and some by reference), and today I'm celebrating her. Not just because it's her birthday, though it is, but also because she's had lots of good publishing news of late.

First, there was her high placement in the Writer's Digest Poetry Contest last fall. She was up in the top ten, though I don't recall her exact number at present, which makes the second Writer's Digest poetry award for her.

And then there's her latest news, which is hinted at in these two portraits of her:



That's right, Angela has an original folk tale in the current issue of Skipping Stones magazine (Vol. 27, No. 2). It's called "How the Cheetah Lost His Roar", and I can vouch for its excellence and humor, as Cheetah and Lion get into a roaring contest, resulting in cheetah's eventual loss of his roar entirely.

Not only does Angela have her first children's publishing credit with this (she publishes all the time with South Jersey Mom magazine, but those are articles for grown-ups), but she also has her first-ever photographic credits. Her folk tale is accompanied by two of her photos in black and white (one of a cheetah and one of a lion). And check out the inside of the back cover (which this photo doesn't do justice to), which includes eight photos she took while on safari in Africa:

IMG_1796 copy.jpg

Hoping my writing partner and friend has an awesome birthday!

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An update on my chapbook

Just last month my first-ever chapbook came out. It's called The Universe Comes Knocking, and it's available from Maverick Duck Press. And it's already into its second printing (not that they put print-run numbers into their books), but still...). And I can say it's transcontinental, since my good friend Angela De Groot sent copies to England as well as Australia. So cool, yes?

Know what else? It's garnered some lovely reviews online. Here's one at Finding Wonderland.

Here's a favorite poem from it:

Socratic Method
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Heeding the warnings of his daimonium
did not prevent Socrates' death.
An old man of 70, he drank the hemlock
provided to him, laid himself down,
reminded his friend to pay a debt,
then quietly gave up the ghost.

Along a mountain trail in New Hampshire,
a hemlock tree has followed Socrates' example.
If it could talk, Socratic method might determine
whether it was felled by its own hubris or assailed
by hangers-on. No matter.
Like Socrates, it returns to the earth.

Feeding on its rot, lichen has claimed its trunk,
an apple-green rash spreading across its surface,
bramble-like clusters of pale green fairy hair
erupting improbably at junctures and joints.
Beauty is a short-lived tyranny.

Happy Poetry Friday to you. For more posts, click on the box below:

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Autoimmune-related stuff

Yesterday, I felt pretty energetic in the morning. Mid-afternoon, I got a call from my sweetheart, and nearly jumped out of my skin when my cellphone vibrated and rang. My response clued Morris in that I wasn't quite okay, but I didn't realize just then what was what.

You see, I was working on yesterday's blog post about poetry-related stuff, and was being very focused at the moment. I thought it was just me being startled.

But no. A bit later I got up and figured out I had hit the wall. Dropped all my spoons. Whatever metaphor you prefer, it applied, and I was fatigued.

Rather than fight it, I opted to rest for the remainder of the afternoon and evening, even taking a short nap, which enabled me to heat up dinner for the two of us, at least.

It was one of the first times I can recall being at peace with the fact that I was fatigued, even though it (once again) sneaked up on me and I didn't immediately realize or recognize it.

Today, I deliberately did creative writing stuff in the morning. Took a walk with my sweetheart after lunch, then a nap. And now, I've been using my time to do some more stuff that requires focus and energy, since it's likely I'll lose both again sometime soon.

I am, again, at peace with it. Because I can't lick it, and fighting it is senseless.

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