Outward Arrangements Poetry Book

I am in the final stage of preparing my latest poetry collection for publication. I am going the self-publishing route via Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and IngramSpark for wider print distribution. Suffice to say, there’s a lot to learn and I’m nervous the whole thing will be a mess when I confirm my title and hit “publish.”

Outward Arrangements Cover

Here’s a description of the book:

Outward Arrangements is a full-length collection of narrative, observational and meditative poems written in free-verse style and covering such topics as identity, self-esteem, health, family, parenting, advancing age, nature and the evanescence of existence. The work is a journey of discovery, as the author looks both within himself and in the outside world to seek meaning in everyday life.

One section of the book originated as the text in Instagram posts, with the poet sharing his delight in making odd revelations—like finding an empty baby stroller parked on the sidewalk, a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers left underneath a city park bench and an old pay phone toppled and splayed on the ground. Here the poet pays close attention to his surroundings, observing things that could be easily overlooked, and using those objects of chance as the starting point for stories. The photos that sparked the poems are included in the collection.

Using raw and honest language, the philosophical poems in Outward Arrangements pose universal questions, reflecting on what it means to be alive today and addressing issues and emotions that people wrestle with in their daily lives. In this way, the collection is accessible to a wide range of readers.

Back Cover

If anyone is interested in reading an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads or Amazon (after publication), please email me. I can send you a PDF of the book. Thank you!

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Man Inside Nighthawks: A Flash Fiction Story

Here’s a flash fiction story inspired by the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks.

I assume I was nothing before I found myself sitting here, staring straight ahead. But I don’t know for sure.

This is what I do know: I can’t move my head. I can’t smoke the cigarette pressed between the fingers of my right hand or drink the cup of coffee resting on top of the counter. I can’t touch the woman seated next to me or talk to the other two men.

This is my life. Suspended in warm, yellow light. Unable to move, locked in a soundless existence—no water running, fan whirring or grill sizzling. No sirens or street sounds beyond the glass.

Time drags on with no discernible shift—no transition to morning. Here night never ends.

Yet my mind still works. In fact, it never stops; I’m cursed with thoughts that run continuously.

I wonder: Why am I here? And where exactly is here? What purpose do I serve? Why put me next to these people and not give me an opportunity to interact with them?

Do I have a past? Did I exist before I became frozen in this moment—captured and imprisoned for eternity?

As you can see, I have nothing but questions that yield no answers. If only I could talk to the other people. If only I could pry open my lips and make a sound. Then maybe we could communicate. Maybe we could figure out our reason for being here. Then I could scream for help. But who would hear my voice and who would come to our aid?

If only I could stand up and walk around, stretch my legs and peek outside the window.

But then I would upset the balance of the composition. And so I will stay in place. Funny, right? I don’t have a choice. I can’t move even if I wanted to. So I’ll be here any time you feel like looking at me.

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Waiting with Vincent

Instagram Poem #7.  This one seems fitting for today, since I have an MRI scheduled later this morning.

Irises (1889) by Vincent van Gogh.

Waiting with Vincent

A scheduled MRI
of the brain shifts
my thoughts toward
all of the
“what if, worst-case scenarios.”
While waiting for my name
to be called,
I see a print of Irises (1889)
hanging on a wall.

From far across the room,
without my glasses,
the slanted vertical
green leaves
look like snakes
writhing in the dirt.
But the longer
I stare at the image,
the calmer I feel.
Placid is the word
that comes to mind.

And I’m thankful Vincent
spends a few
moments with me
prior to my appointment
with the tube machine.

Because when sitting
in a hospital
waiting room,
artwork by Vincent
never fails to lift the spirits.
A van Gogh painting beats
People magazine
or an iPhone screen
every time.

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Pay Phone on the Ground

Instagram Poem #6

Pay Phone on the Ground. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Pay Phone on the Ground

A metal pay phone
splayed on the ground
near my apartment
building dumpster,
a relic from the
pre-digital age—
anthropological
evidence of
20th-century
American life.
Model discontinued
and no iOS update
to install.

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Church Park

Instagram Poem #5

Church Park

While walking to work,
I pass a little park
located next to
Grace Episcopal Church.
It reminds me of the scenery
from the movie The Quiet Man.

And in the early morning stillness,
I half expect
John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara
to come striding toward me
along the path.

It’s yet another example
of how I have to live vicariously
through cinema,
since I am confident
my feet will never touch
Irish soil.

The Quiet Man movie image.

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Sunday Morning Poem

Instagram Poem #4

Slippers found near a park bench in downtown Syracuse. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Mystery Slippers

Sunday morning:
a pair of white slippers
left near a park bench
in downtown Syracuse.

Questions abound:
Who owns the shoes
and where did the person
sleep last night?

No answers to be found,
so instead cue Johnny Cash’s
big, beautiful voice singing
“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

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Lonely Tricycle

Another example of an Instagram poem.

Discarded tricycle. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Lonely Tricycle

A tricycle
left near
a dumpster,
discarded.
Now in need
of little feet
to power
the machine,
spurring movement
on the sidewalk
and evoking
hollers of joy,
while parents
follow close behind.
Or at least
that’s what I see
in my mind.

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Instagram Poems

I am doing a final edit on my next poetry manuscript, entitled Outward Arrangements, as I prepare for self-publishing. It’s a full-length collection of narrative, philosophical and observational poems written in free-verse style.

Several poems in one section of the book originated as the text in Instagram posts. All of them are short, and the images, scenes and words came to me as I walked in my city of Syracuse prior to the pandemic.

During the month of December, I thought it would be fun to share some of the poems and the photographs that inspired them. The first image points to a mystery I encountered while jogging one day.

Baby Stroller on Sidewalk. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Baby Stroller on the Sidewalk

A stroller parked
on the sidewalk.

No parent present.
No wailing heard.

Just a question
Without an answer:
Where did the baby go?

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Kathleen Kramer: Everything Matters

I’d like to offer a book suggestion that would be a good read anytime but seems ideal for a pandemic—during an unprecedented time in human history when we are all contemplating our existence on this planet.

The book is a collection of poems inspired by a series of photographs captured by the author, Kathleen Kramer. I must state at the outset that I am biased; Kathleen is a friend and we have supported each other over the years through many writing projects.

The author with her husband, Jack.

I also wrote one of the blurbs on the back of the book, which is entitled Everything Matters (Yesteryear Publishing, 2020). But that’s not why I’m recommending this collection. I’m recommending it because of the quality of the writing, its universal message and the transcendent feeling the book delivers to the reader.

Everything Matters by Kathleen Kramer.

To better explain the book, I turn it over to Kathleen, who has agreed to answer some questions about the work. I highlighted some phrases that caught my attention.

Can you give a brief description of the book? What do you hope people will take away from it?

The book, Everything Matters, is a collection of poems and the photographs which inspired them. (So, I guess if I could be bold enough to call my simple photos art, this is a collection of ekphrastic poetry.) I’ve found that if I pay attention, there is often something about an object or a scene I may see that “catches” me. I’m guessing many others have found this, as well. Maybe as we mail a letter and are struck by the pattern of shadows on the steps of the Post Office. Or, at the bookstore, we catch sight of a book we used to read to our children 50 years ago. Or we see a little boy contemplating his first big snowfall. There’s something that has connected on a level deeper than the simply visual. So these photos and these poems were not planned nor conceived together, but arose later, paired, and out of a place within and, perhaps, a place “beyond” myself.

“Small Things” by Kathleen Kramer.

It’s my belief that creativity, whatever form it may take, is a gift from something greater than ourselves. We are enlarged by creating something beautiful, authentic, honest. And I think our hope is that those who read or see or hear our work will be enlarged, too, and feel a personal connection that is important to them.

My observation: I love Kathleen’s statement that “we are enlarged by creating something beautiful, authentic, honest.” It’s the sense that art is a shared connection between the creator and the reader or audience, and both sides are required for a satisfying experience.

Can you describe how your work celebrates or gives heightened meaning to the ordinary moments of existence?

 Almost 30 years ago, when I first began writing seriously—both plays and poetry—it was the “ordinary” life or the “ordinary” event that called to me. There always seemed, to me, to be something bigger that lived in that life or event. For lack of a better way to explain it, I believe there is a holiness at the heart of most ordinary things. Or, quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Lines by Kathleen Kramer.

So I guess what I wish for is that by calling attention to the seemingly-simple—a moth on the window or a chocolate sprinkle fallen from an ice cream cone—the reader or listener to these poems will be led to see a holiness in their own lives and the lives of those around them.

What was the most challenging part of the process for you—writing the poems, taking the photographs or piecing the words and images together?

 Truthfully, in most cases, the process seemed organic. Something in me responded to something I saw. I didn’t stop to think about it, I just took the photo. Then I waited for whatever “spoke” to me in that image to come to the surface. Sometimes it came within minutes, but usually it was hours, or even days or weeks, or months. Again, it seemed organic in that it happened in its own time, maybe like a baby robin hatching or a peony opening from its tight bud. So to answer your question, neither part—taking the photos or writing the poems—was particularly difficult—except for getting myself out of the way enough for the authentic to come forth.

Not So Long Ago by Kathleen Kramer.

Then, of course, there’s the re-writing, when it’s not always easy to let go of a phrase or a line that takes away from the integrity of the poem, regardless of how much I loved that particular phrase or line.

My observation: Her responses, “I didn’t stop to think about it” and “getting myself out of the way,” inspire me. The goal is simple—just create and don’t worry about the result. Trust the process and have faith that it will yield results.

How can reading poetry help people during a pandemic?

Perhaps the greatest benefits to reading poetry at this very challenging time is that poetry can take us out of ourselves into a larger consciousness while, at the same time, leading us deeper into that part of ourselves that is tender and receptive, hopefully affirming a wholeness that exists, regardless of the conditions around us.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, no matter what genre they are writing?

 I think writers come to write for many reasons. Some have to. By that, I mean that they don’t feel complete unless they write to explore life and to articulate, first for themselves, and then, hopefully, to share what they’ve written as a way to affirm their lives and to connect with the lives of others.

I guess there are some who write in the hope of recognition or fame. This isn’t an easy motive for me to relate to. Mostly because we all know how unlikely it is that many writers will achieve it. But also because to write with “the market” in mind, feels shallow, contrived, and unrewarding to the writer. But that’s me speaking from a place where this motivation never held much importance.

What I’m getting to, I think, is that an aspiring writer needs to be fearless, in a way, and bold in reaching for the heart of what he or she is moved to write. Be authentic. Strive to write what is true for you. At the same time, be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to write bad sentences, bad poems. You can delete them! Or rewrite them! And, as a beloved writing teacher used to say, “Get the censor off your shoulder.” I would add, “trust yourself, trust the process, and trust that something larger than yourself is at work.”

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