life, poetry, publishing, teaching, Uncategorized, writers, writing

Calling All Writers: HELP

 

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Buy a book, save a life: Between now and Christmas, 100 percent of every sale of each of my books will go toward getting one of my poet-students and her mother out of the homeless shelter. You get good poems, and a family that desperately deserves a Merry Christmas is given a hand up. There are no losers here — If you don’t want to buy one of the books below, you may donate directly to the Save my Student from Homelessness fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/save-my-student-from-homelessness

If you would like to go the literary route and receive some poetry in exchange for your generosity, please consider purchasing any one of the books below (click the title):

Hard Inheritance

Middle Class American Proverb

The Boys of Men

Your purchase or donation is deeply appreciated. I can’t say enough good things about this student, and she and her mother are grateful for any help you can offer. Please join this effort to save a budding writer from the horrible conditions at the homeless shelter. THANK YOU!

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life, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

How 5 became my life’s official number

handfiveAllow me to begin by saying I’m no numerologist. I do believe, however, that one day, we will all understand why the numbers in our lives intermingle and coordinate the way they do. I also believe that this overlap of figures is more than just mathematical. There is a purpose to the numbers, and it’s not just coincidental.

Here’s a good example: I was born on July 5. As a kid, I lived on Fifth Street. My stepdad was born March 5. My oldest son was born January 5. My best friend growing up had a birthday 25 days later than mine. Many of my other family members have birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates that are influenced by the number five — maybe they’re multiples or maybe the dates add up to something five-related. Perhaps that last bit is stretching the significance a little, but you get the picture.

So I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me when, the other day, my publisher emailed to tell me that my latest book, Hard Inheritance, had been published on the date of my grandfather’s death 12 years prior — December 5th.

To really grasp the importance of this chronological lineup, you have to know the kind of influence my grandfather had in my life. As a young child, I grew up on his citrus farm in Hardee County, a very rural community in southern central Florida. My grandfather loved me more deeply than almost any other person in my life, save my mother. He invested his time, his resources, and his wisdom in preparing me to become a hard working, honest, and thinking man.

He had flown 51 missions in World War II, and his American devotion carried well beyond his military service. He served his church as a deacon (a model I would later follow myself). He faithfully worked for the Coca-Cola Foods Division as a groves manager for decades before retiring to volunteer with my scout troop. I became an Eagle Scout because he taught me the value of persistence and perseverance; seeing a thing through to its successful end.

It only made sense to me when Hard Inheritance came out on the fifth. Of course it would, I thought, following the five-laden trail of bread crumbs throughout my life. It’s both fitting and bittersweet that this book, my best and most earnest to date, would become available to the public on a day with such meaning.

My hope now is that this volume would please him, were he still here. It celebrates the beautiful and the natural, but it also shows the events in life that leave our scars and calluses, both of which he was intensely familiar with. It celebrates Our Florida — that place that he, six generations of our ancestors, and now my children call home.

I think he’d like the history, the honesty, and the geography of this book. He’d probably laugh at the pieces he’s featured in, having forgotten an episode that seemed relatively unimportant to him, but one in which I find deeper relevance. He, too, was a “five” man, after all — born in the month of May, living to the age of 83 (subtract the two digits), and being great-grandfather to five children (3 girls by my sister, 2 boys that are mine).

Being connected to one particular number in such a vital way can sometimes be a Hard Inheritance  of its own. Rarely a day goes by when some important connection to the number 5 doesn’t crop up in my day-to-day life. Were I one to play the lottery, I sometimes think I’d buy one of those “Pick 5” tickets and just play all fives to see what happens. My statistician friends would discourage this, of course, knowing the wild improbability of winning from such a choice.

But if it’s one thing that my life has taught me, it’s that all the cold, sterile math in the world can’t explain the way that numbers work. There is no algebra, no geometry, no trigonometry or physics formula to rationalize how the figures align. And in that same logically inexplicable space, poetry lives.

Tomorrow will mark five days since my book was published. I will celebrate by watching my oldest son, number 35 on his basketball team, play his final game of the season. I will think of how proud my grandfather would be — both of my writing and my boys’ achievements. I will hope for more fives in the future. And I know that I will surely receive them.

 

poetry, Uncategorized

A Quick Thank-you and A Longer Thought

notebook2red To those of you who have eagerly taken advantage of my free book weekend offer, I offer my deep gratitude. Your acceptance of my work shows that you believe it has potential. For this vote of faith, I thank you. Other followers who have not yet seized the opportunity to get your free Kindle copy of Growing Moon, Growing Soil: please do so! I’d hate to tell my writer friends that I couldn’t even GIVE AWAY my poems…how embarrassing.

On a separate note, I’ve been reading a lot of advice lately from writers who encourage others  to “write about those things that you would never want to write about.” This near-cliche is usually followed by an admonition to confess fears, secrets, undisclosed parts of one’s past, etc. in the name of soul-cleansing and “honest art.”

Here’s where I disagree with these well-meaning pseudo-sages: Writing poetry is supposed to make the world a little better, a little more beautiful, or a little more meaningful. Some things simply don’t need exploration in poetry, however. Remember how, in junior high writing classes, they taught us to “consider our purpose and our audience?” That rule hasn’t changed. What audience is going to want to read about how you wouldn’t wear sandals to the beach because of toenail fungus? More broadly, why write about the baser matters of life when there’s so much beauty, so much history, so much grander inspiration to seize?

Maybe my gripe here comes from a biblical background: Philippians 4:8 comes regularly to my mind while writing. I use it as a test to see if my poetry bears relevance and worth. That verse reads,  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” I feel an obligation as a poet to produce work that causes people to contemplate life using these criteria. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that my poetry always is autobiographical or just about the “warm fuzzies.” But, if I can get people to think in a way that this verse speaks of, even if it’s using something made up (like Christ’s parables), I’ve done my job.

Often, contemporary poetry elicits thoughts that meet some of these qualifications, but certainly not all. Keats’s Grecian Urn aside, truth is not always beauty. I know that’s unpopular talk in our culture today, with Facebook and other social media serving as conduits of over-sharing and gross uber-transparency. Where, however, is the beauty in rape? In murder? In cannibalism? This series of questions beckons back to undergraduate courses in ethics and philosophy, but no matter what school of thought you follow, you must confess: Some factual things do not pass the test for beauty, even if “beauty” is subjective (or, to quote an old aphorism, “in the eye of the beholder.”) If beauty is a matter of perspective, then certainly some twisted minds will find reasons to admire all forms of ugliness. Still, “Truth is beauty, beauty, truth” might make good verse, but too many great minds, both in and out of the humanities, have discredited it over the centuries.

Likewise (on the reverse side of this same coin), something can be lovely without necessarily being pure — think about those intricate bacteria you viewed beneath a microscope during high school science labs. Beautiful? You bet. Pure? Not in the least. My theological friends will tear apart this argument, no doubt, noting that human or scientific truth, beauty, nobility, etc. are not the issues about which Paul was writing. His aims were higher than enlightening our temporary mortal existence. I get that, but his words make a pretty great checklist for poets to strive toward also. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for artists of every genre to contemplate the audience effect achieved in Paul’s terms. Imagine the renaissance we could ignite if painters, sculptors, dancers, writers, photographers, and other creatives used Philippians 4:8 as their common assessment rubric. What bright, radiant, vibrant works could result!

I’ll step down off my soapbox now. Some things just need airing, and tonight, this little rant happened to be one of them. I hope, once again, I haven’t distanced too many of my fans or followers with this post. I would love to hear opposing or coinciding viewpoints in comments below, and PLEASE remember to take advantage of FREE BOOK WEEKEND (details below). Good night, dear readers.

poetry, Uncategorized

Integrity: When did it stop mattering?

 Recently, I’ve had more than one run-in with editors and publishers who say they’ll do one thing, and then they don’t. It’s disappointing, not only because my work hangs in the balance, but also because their behavior is indicative of a much larger cultural problem: the loss of character.

At one time, those who broke promises and failed to meet their obligations were castigated by the larger whole of society. People operated with the expectation that when someone said they would do something, it would indeed be done. Accountability was high, and our products and businesses reflected the ideals of quality and honesty. Contracts were a mere formality. But this post is no rant in favor of regression or even reminiscence. It’s a call to activation and engagement.

Today, integrity has become a buzzword for political campaigns and other self-enhancing promotions. We have handed over the mantle of consumer advocacy to organizations and  toothless watchdogs who, in turn, also serve themselves more than the concerned individual. Those who speak up and voice their frustrations are seen as rude or strange, and all the while competitors abroad are seizing on our loss of commercial moral fibre.

Here is my promise to you, readers: I  am awaiting word from at least three different literary magazines that have failed to make good on their publication promises. They have repeatedly missed deadlines, and their response to these infractions has been a sort of beligerent indifference laced with adolescent-sounding excuses. If these editors and publishers continue to fail in the fulfillment of their duties, I will happily publicize their lack of integrity, not only here in this little blog, but also through Duotrope, Submittable,  and other writing-submission-related sites. I do this not out of mean-spirited blackmail, but out of respect for other writers and creators who deserve to have their work treated with professionalism.

Again, I am disappointed that my encounters with these magazines has had to take such an ugly turn. A little bit of character and communication could have gone a long way, but instead, I’m left now with the job of staging a one-man rebellion. I would ask you to join me in this fight. No more laziness, no more dishonesty, no more apathy. It’s time to regain the sense of right that we once demanded. Today is the day to begin.