Do you ever write fiction?: notes on reading #njpoet

A lot of the people I write about, ex-girlfriends, or random lovers, or former employers are often, are usually fictional mash-ups of several real-life people. Indeed, some situations, even relationships, are also amalgamations—fictional literary representations of several experiences that share a common, unifying theme.

This is how I’ve learned to avoid angry phone calls and emails from old friends, especially ex-girlfriends and random lovers, who insist—usually while screaming—that I delete a story about our shared memories, right now! Or how I’ve learned to avoid being called in for meetings with University Provosts, Deans of Students, or Directors of Writing Departments.

“The students are reading your writing. This is not good.”

“Tell all the truth,” advised Emily Dickinson, “but tell it slant.” Word.

So, often I write about a character, or as a character, named Sammy—a more compassionate, relaxed, often heart-achingly perplexed version of my real-life self. He is my Buddha-Nature, if you will, adrift in a rising ocean of American Samsara. I make Sammy do what I wish I’d done in the past, what I hope I’ll do in the future.

I also write about, or as a character named Tom, or Tommy. He doesn’t come around often, but he’s still there, channeling the worst of me, amplified and influenced by Vonnegut, Bukowski, and meditations about what my father would do.

Please do remember that this is a literary website, and not a strict diary. My aim as a poet is to polish and present the important themes, the relevant social and political issues that have shaped my past, and therefore my life. And my ultimate goal, following what I learned from Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, is always to produce a narrative that is interesting, easily digested, emotionally memorable, and worthy of sharing with others.

So, as you read, analyze, and obsessively pick through my writing, keep the astute literary analysis of my working-class mother in mind. After she read my poem about her miscarriage, about my childhood memories of the still birth of my first sister, my mom remarked:

“That was beautiful, Charlie, but that’s not exactly how it happened.”


3 Ways You Can Help #njpoet

On the Phone w/ #njpoet

At a lecture, presentation, orientation, whatever, quietly speed tapping notes into a word-processing app on my phone. The speaker, or doctor, or professor mentions a book, an author, a seminal work, that heavily influenced whatever. Google search the title and bookmark for review, just as the powerpoint changes to a quote, some long dead genius gushing over the value of education, or art, or poetry, or whatever—not a bad quote. So, tweet, and back to notes, to the next slide, to bullet-points, but a text interrupts—a Twitter DM:

“Hi! I want to make a donation to your blog. I love it! Is there a donation link you can send me?”

Copy link. Paste. Reply:

 “Thank you so much! And thank you for reading along!”


Bullet-points copied, another book mentioned, another author even more groundbreaking in the study of whatever.

Google search, book found, and, what’s this?—a lecture series given by the author, recorded at Yale, uploaded to YouTube, and bookmarked for after dinner. Word.

Three more slides. One more quote. Not as good. Not worth a tweet.

“And we’re done.” Exhale. “Thank you for coming. Enjoy your lunch. Thank you. Thank  you.”

On the way to the buffet table, a text from gmail—Paypal donation received. Notes synched, bookmarks synched—saved to my computer at home. Thank you, cloud.

And when I finally sit down with my colleagues, ready to relax, ready to eat my complimentary lunch, someone almost always blurts out something like this:

“I know this is none of my business,” they start off so strong, “but I think it was very rude of you to spend that entire presentation playing on your phone.”


The Feel of Poetic Conversation

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.


Write on Schedule

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@PoetryBusMag@BLReview,
@AliceJamesBooks and @GristJournal.

Much more on Monday for sure. Happy weekend to all.


Charmed Writer

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.


Social Limitations

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.”


The Gleeful Rise of @JenaKingsley

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.


On Martin Luther King Day, 2015

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.”


The Hero of My Own Story

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.


Origin Story

Before social media and blogging, before the Internet, I spent most of my time freewriting into an assortment of cheap notebooks and bound journals.

I typed up my final poems on a noisy electric typewriter, snail-mailed them off to a long list of literary journals—a self-addressed stamped envelope included—and patiently collected hundreds, probably thousands of rejections letters.

We regret to inform you, etc.

I started a rejection letter scrapbook, kept writing, kept submitting, and re-writing, and re-submitting. Eventually I gathered a nice stack, about two dozen literary journals of varying stature, all containing my original poems.

Just like that, at the tenderized age of twenty-two, I was a published poet.


North American Prophecy

There’s no stopping this fossil-fueled world, I tell my friends who wax poetic about green energy, about a solar-powered planet.

I hope I’m wrong, but I sincerely doubt human culture’s capacity for radical change. Denial and grandiosity are more our speed. And greed.

Don’t forget greed. Which means, in my estimation, that we’ll make desperate leaps for other planets before we let billions of dollars worth of dirty fuel go unexploited. Someone will sell that fuel, and someone will burn it. That’s a scary fact of life.

Consider that my first North American prophecy.



Living Space

My apartment has become a small bookstore, a home office, and a creative meeting space. Movie producers and directors, writers and actors stop by in the early afternoons and stay until late in the evenings.

Together we’ve brainstormed creative projects, read and revised multiple scripts, discussed the latest news cycles.

Lately, we’ve been screening classic movies, dissecting the narratives from multiple perspectives, then discussing the films in relation to our lives and our work for several hours afterwards.

Everyone involved encourages me to write more, to publish more widely. Everyone thinks my work is important. I finally have a circle of friends who see me as a talented artist. It’s a nice change.