The lady of the house is taking a sick day off from work. She’s been running a fever since yesterday morning, scratchy throat and a cough, so I’ve strayed from my usual schedule to care for her and get some much needed rest myself. The temperature in New Jersey has dropped into the teens again, plus a biting wind chill factor, and there’s more snow predicted for tomorrow. It’s a good day to focus on rest and relaxation, something I’ve dangerously neglected for the better part of my adult life. More about that, my day-to-day adventures, and the chaos of climate change and American politics when we reconvene tomorrow. Class dismissed early today. Stay warm if you’re living in a cold place.
I usually read the newspapers all morning, scratch notes until around Noon, then spend an hour or so pulling together a blog post. Today, I decided to take requests. Creative fun. So, I posted a Facebook status that read:
“What should I blog about today?”
Within minutes, a handful of friends and I were talking about poetics, about English not being a very rhyme rich language. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say, I pointed out, that we ran out of rhymes in English, as in the same rhymes were used over and over until they became dusty and cliché. That’s one of the things the free verse poets were rebelling against in the early 20th century. They also thought, the early free verse poets did, that a lot of poets forced rhymes, used words for the sake of rhyme that sabotaged the poem as a whole.
I thought that was a good suggestion, clearly, but blog posts about poetics don’t do well at all.
“Ok then, how about radical feminists and their hidden agendas?” suggested Taylor Copeland, a poet I’ve known and worked with for a decades, in a private message.
“Or maybe,” she added, “examples of why poetry is relevant today. Talk about exciting poets writing now. Talk about how we’re blinded by the worthlessness of 50 Shades of Stupid and the like, that we’ve forgotten how to mine emotion and how to connect.”
I told her clearly these were things that she should blog about. She agreed.
Back on my Facebook wall, the suggestions kept coming.
“Write about loyalty and betrayal.”
“About finding your voice in the loneliness.”
“The anniversary of the challenger disaster?”
“Agnostics, atheist agnostics, theists & so on?”
All of those are great suggestions for essays and articles, stories and books, never mind blog posts—all of them have been duly noted.
But one follower did throw down what I consider a serious challenge in January 2015.
“Write about something positive and motivating,” Mr. Gerry Mac suggested.
So here’s my attempt. We live in a world where a poet on a shoestring budget can gather tens of thousands of people in support of a single idea: the world needs poets and poetry and poetic writing of all kinds, now more than ever before. Over the past six years, the support for me and my poetic website, for my poetic rants on Facebook and Twitter, has been overwhelming and unspeakably touching. I can’t think of anything more positive and motivating, for someone like me, than that. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Though we did not die in the snowy apocalypse predicted by the mainstream media, our neighborhood was still covered by about nine inches of snow. The plows have been cleaning our road since early this morning, and thankfully it took me only ten minutes to brush the light snow off my car and shovel out of the parking spot. Crisis averted. The New Jersey and New York City travel bans have officially been lifted.
Still, I have no plans to drive anywhere until at least tomorrow. The coffee is brewing, the cat is snuggling on my lap, and just outside my window the neighborhood children are laughing, free from school and sledding down the small hill across the street.
It feels like a good day to abandon the newspapers early, read some poetry, listen to some music, and chat with my neighbors while I fill my notebook with images.
Maybe I’ll watch some television too. I’ve been watching the show Fringe on Netflix this past week, because a little Science Fiction never hurt anyone.
I’ve been talking to strangers my whole life. Anyone who makes eye contact, smiles a little bit with the eyes, I try to talk to that person. Conversation, I’ve always thought, is the greatest of literary art forms—poetry a close second. That’s why I’ve always strived for the feel of poetic conversation in these blog posts, in just about everything I write these days.
I want my reader to feel compelled to talk back to the page, as if I’m leaning over at a train station or a coffeeshop, a newspaper folded under my arm, saying something like, “Did you ever notice that we’re going extinct?”
Or some other soundbite-sized conversational message designed to spark a radical shift in thought—I want to snap people out of their self-absorbed trances. I want to rattle people, to inspire gut level responses—even if only non-verbal—and maybe maybe maybe some original thought. Imagine that. That’s the kind of poet and writer, the kind of person and partner I’ve been working overtime to become.
Trying to write ten pages every day, but usually only managing five or six, and then I’m crafting blog posts from all those sentences. I post at 3PM, Monday through Friday.
The pages I have left are then passed around a small group of readers and editors I’ve come to trust. With their notes and feedback, I’ll craft whatever the words want to become: poems, stories, essays, novels.
When I have twenty or so solid pieces, I’ll start working my submission schedule alongside my writing schedule. Until then, I’ve been using my knack for social media to start building relationships with some literary publishers. So far, so good.
Thank you for the #FollowFriday Twitter love @BasilicaPress, @HeavyFeatherRev, @PoetryMagazine, @NewCriterion, @CopperCanyonPrs, @ParisReview, @WavePoetry, @EpiphanyMag, @KenyonReview, @NERweb, @, @,
@ and @GristJournal.
Much more on Monday for sure. Happy weekend to all.
I complain a lot. It’s true. I complain about the state of human politics, U.S. education, Western culture, and television. But I also think it’s important to take a moment, a brief aside, to express the depth of my gratitude for everyone who has helped me live and thrive as a writer since 2009.
Since I created this blog, readers from all over the planet have showered me with praise, encouragement, gifts, and financial support. Every few weeks some small token shows up in my P.O. Box. I’ve received gift cards for groceries, donated clothing and household supplies, bottles of imported beer, and once—and I don’t suggest anyone else do this—a Hallmark card full of cash. The brief note read:
“You have many more friends than you imagine, Charles. Keep writing.”
In the midst of all this warmth and generosity came the fan mail, the emails, and the private chats. People said I put into words sentiments that had been stuck in their throats for years. More than one veteran and/or spouse of a veteran said reading my work made them feel that someone understood what war had done to their family.
I shared all this with friends, and many of them were not thrilled by my success. I couldn’t believe any of it was happening, but some friends became annoyed, accused me of being boastful, and faded from my social life.
Friends who stayed wanted to distribute fliers, to wear our t-shirts, to share my website with everyone they knew. In fact, so many friends have contributed time and creativity to this project so far that listing them all would make for an unruly blog post.
That being said, my writing career would be nowhere without the constant support, encouragement, and inspiration from Luz Costa, Cedric Hill, Chiara DeLucia, Mariana Dussen, Luke Mulks, Erica Manni, Amanda Lezra, Larry Tallman, Fran Held, Debbie Hark, Tasha England, Sarah Martin, Laura Ferrario, Rhonda Ragsdale, and my oldest nephew/creative consultant, Nick Bivona.
And of course, and as always, thank you to the artist known only as Chewstroke for the #njpoet logo. We love our little boy so.
All my love and gratitude forever and ever.
She’d only been on Facebook a month when someone from her past found her.
“It’s so good to see you again!” the old friend messaged. She responded.
They discussed each other’s children and grandchildren. They reminisced about high school, laughed over old stories, expressed how much their friendship had once meant to both of them.
This went on for about a month, for several long messages, until she suggested going out to dinner one night, or maybe seeing a movie. Whatever. And the old friend never messaged her again.
“Isn’t that weird?” she asked on the phone this morning. “She just never responded.”
She was trying to sound more curious than disappointed.
“I’m sorry, mom. That sucks.” I replied. “People can be so shitty sometimes.”
Jena Kingsley is just funny. When we first met, many years ago, she was a comedy writer for HuffPo. One of her articles made me laugh at a time when I didn’t much feel like laughing, so I thanked her on Twitter.
She thanked me for thanking her, a Twitter standard, and I began reading and sharing her work more and more: hilarious articles like, “I Wore A Blanket Around NYC. Oh Yes I Did,” and “I’ll Try Anything Once: The Stiletto Workout.” She even followed up her essay in praise of the in-flight magazine SkyMall with “An Interview With Christine Aguilera, Rock Star President of SkyMall,” for HuffPo Business.
By then, Jena and I were Facebook friends. There I saw a more personal side. Jena the Knicks fan. Jena the native New Yorker. Jena the single mom trying to jump start a stand up comedy career.
When she thanked me in private messages for all my support, I found I was still thanking her for all the laughter. When we finally met face to face in a comedy club last year, she introduced me to everyone in the room:
“This is my friend Charles. He’s a social media genius.”
Then came the YouTube prank videos.
What would happen, Jena asked, if there were pole dancers performing on the NYC subway? Or, what if, just like some New York City clubs, people had to be on a list just to get into Starbucks? And what if Jena was the bouncer checking the list?
The Starbucks prank went viral, and a few days after its release I received ecstatic texts from Jena. The video was being picked up by USA TODAY, Good Morning America, dozens of big name media outlets. By the end of the first week, I was watching my old friend being interviewed on the TV.
After that, Jena’s Facebook feed was flooded with comedy club performance dates, regular appearances on Jackie Martling’s SiriusXM Radio show, more interviews, more VIP shoutouts, all while she was filming her third prank video.
What would people do, the new video wondered, if Jena dressed up like a Park Ranger, declared a “No Selfie Zone” in Central Park, and started handing out tickets to people who kept snapping pictures of their own faces despite the clearly posted signage. Hilarious.
All the aforementioned big media outlets loved it. Everyone re-posted it, and everyone—myself included—has been waiting for the next video to drop, the link to which Jena tweet me this morning.
“I thought the experts would appreciate this,” she added in the tweet. She was right. I laughed out loud more than once at this one.
So, without further fanfare and poetic ado, I give you the latest prank video from my good friend, Jena Kinglsey—writer, comedian, New Yorker. The funniest person I know.
It’s worth mentioning that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not just a metaphorical dreamer. He was a person of action who worked seriously to create the world of peace he imagined in his oft-remembered speech. In that spirit, toward the end of his life, Dr. King was broadening his focus to address two evils contributing to and fueled by the historical evil of racism: economic inequality and war.
In a much forgotten speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” King shared the story of his epiphany, of the day he realized the inter-connectedness of the human demons he fought to conquer. He spent the rest of his life pointing out systemic contradictions and the urgent need to restructure our economy for the benefit of the poor.
This morning, as I read the newspapers and watched the talking heads on the television, I decided this bit of MLK was the most worth sharing on Martin Luther King Day, 2015. Solidarity.
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.
This morning CNN reported that “overall wealth of the richest 1%
will outpace that of the other 99% by next year.”
William Wordsworth once wrote a book-length poem about the development of his poetic mind. This blog, I’ve come to realize, has always been about the survival of my poetic mind in a culture that doesn’t value poetry much.
Regular readers say I’m the hero of my own story, and how I’ve managed to live the life I’ve lived is the story they want to read most. Like Wordsworth, my story begins in childhood. Like Wordsworth, I’ve depended on a few important relationships in the course of my development. Like Wordsworth, I find myself reflecting on the years behind me while I continue to do the most serious writing of my life—several hours a day, digging deeper.
I’m also compiling a list of Internet savvy literary journals and magazines, so I can submit whatever this writing turns into: poetry, essays, stories. This blog will continue to be the regular log of my life, of my progress as a professional poet and writer in the U.S. of America. We’re only halfway through that story, hopefully.