My full-length poetry collection Outward Arrangements: Poems is now available in both paperback and ebook versions on Amazon.
The book includes 26 color photos that were originally posted to my Instagram account, inspiring the companion poems. I had previously posted a few examples here. Now I thought I would share a few other excerpts from the collection.
The Last Leaf
The last maple leaf
did not want to leave the tree,
even though his mother
told him it was time to go,
time to break free from the limb
and fall to the ground.
The little leaf said,
“Why, why must I leave
when I can still cling to this tree?”
“Because,” his mother replied,
“it’s part of life, the cycle of nature—
we drop to the ground during fall
and return in the spring.
So come on, let go.”
“I will not. I will not,” the little leaf said.
But a stiff wind stirred and the leaf
lost his grip and twirled to the earth,
falling into his mother’s grasp.
“See, that’s not so bad, is it?” his mother said.
“No Mom,” the little leaf said.
But then he asked, “Mom, am I still a leaf
if I’m no longer connected to the tree?”
In Need of Houdini
You are wrapped in chains
and stuffed in a metal chest.
The key has been discarded
and the box dumped
into the ocean.
You can’t stretch your legs
or flap your arms,
and you’re stuck in the box—
unable to lift the latch
and swim free.
How long can you
hold your breath?
The Great Equalizer
The democratic nature of parenthood.
It doesn’t matter who you are—
man, woman or trans, gay or straight,
Black, white or any other shade,
tall or short, skinny or fat, rich or poor—
when your toddler is wailing
in a grocery store or shopping mall,
when the feet are stomping, the arms swinging,
the cheeks reddened and the tears rolling—
all you want to do is pick up the child
and make the crying stop.
Wealth, social standing and comely looks
mean nothing to kids; they’re not impressed
by your credentials and you can’t negotiate
with these little angels and tyrants who rule the world.
Two clichés apply here:
parenting wipes the slate clean
and levels the playing field.
All mothers and fathers desire the same thing—
the health, safety and
development of their offspring.
The goals are simple amid the frenzy
of a life marked by stress and lack of sleep.
They are: eat the chicken nuggets, drink the apple juice,
recite the alphabet, put away the toys, finish the milk,
wave bye-bye and go down easy at nap time.
the key to happiness—
the realization that
there isn’t one.
You can’t coax
make plans for it.
You can only
attain it by accident
through the act
of living itself.
Point of View
flee the space
inside your head,
and seek the magic
of the world instead.
Instagram Poem #7. This one seems fitting for today, since I have an MRI scheduled later this morning.
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
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
artwork by Vincent
never fails to lift the spirits.
A van Gogh painting beats
or an iPhone screen
Fellow poet Louis Cecile has posted a review of Dreaming of Lemon Trees: Selected Poems on his blog. Louis is the author of multiple collections of poetry, and his blog offers poetry and fiction book reviews.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
I’ve been tied up with post-production on a work-in-progress documentary project (more about this at another time), but I wanted to share the joy I received today when I found this literary inventory amid the pile of Amazon packages strewn in the lobby of my apartment building. Dreaming of Lemon Trees: Selected Poems is available from Finishing Line Press.
This full-length collection of poems is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013). The work covers many years of my life and is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical poems, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death.
And I must admit it was fun to rip open the box, pull out a copy and thumb through the pages. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment to see all those poems bound in book form.