Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pitching a Publisher

Today I spent seven hours preparing a new poetry manuscript for a publisher I was to meet at a talk tonight. To cherry-pick your work for a California theme (he's a regional publisher), re-format each poem, revise a little as you go (I can never resist), format a manuscript, research acknowledgments, put in a full bio, and be happy with it--

Normally this takes me weeks, even months.

They say luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I worked hard to prepare for the opportunity, and got to pitch both my "49 from California" book of poems and my book-length collection of stories about growing up in the 60s in suburban LA to a real publisher who would read them.

Malcom seemed surprised and pleased.

I do not expect him to publish me, and I'm not saying this to defend myself against disappointment--I really don't expect him to be the one, but I reorganized my art around his publishing interests, which I think is smart and fair to art. Besides, the poems are good! I'll paste one in below.

I've been given a new nickname by a Mendo brother, "Ravensbear" because I'm of the Raven Clan, as in the Tlingit Indians, and I'm also a large and slightly immovable omniverous object like a bear. In my travel I've also been initiated into the Crow Nation. Black birds and yo, I don't know why. Wherever I go I see Ravens. They are my spirit guides. Sometimes it seems as if I can talk to them; I'm a fair mimic.

I just appeared on the cover and back cover of The Sigurd Journal, a print journal you have to order, as well as in another print journal, Hawk and Whipporwill, whose website mentions my poem but doesn't provide a copy online, you have to order.

I've been accepted as featured poet for Quill and Parchment in September, will be in an anthology with some famous dead poets in "Crazed by the Sun," due out in July, and I've had poems accepted by A Capella Zoo, Shakespeare's Monkeys, Blue Fifth Review, and Autumn Sky. I'll post what links I have later when everything is up.

It is nice to be published. It makes me feel good, like I'm wanted. Everybody wants to be wanted, but many writers are social retards who have to have their work wanted to feel wanted themselves. I know I have people in my life that love me for myself and that's enough, more than enough, a luxury on earth. To get some recognition for your work as well is frosting on the cake, truly.

My life's work is to be a good man.

I saw my first river otter today in a small pond outside the restaurant where Malcom Margolin spoke to us about his Heyday press--great guy and raconteur, writer, publisher, editor, having survived Berkeley in the 70s and sustained a publishing business through it. I thought that impressive. He was also, obviously, a happy man. "You can create your own universe around you as a life; for me it happend in publishing"

His press has some fascinating books, as in the history of the black utopia village, Allenstown, founded in central California in 1908, or a Japanese artist's drawing of the mountains from an internment camp. Classy stuff.

He talked about beauty a lot, and how the superfluity of beauty made him happy, how he, as a publisher, got to dip his cup in the beauty of literature laid at his doorstep. Thin and bald with glasses and a great beard, very Ginsbergian in appearance, he still seemed a New York transplant.

I did wonder about his mustache; I'm always suspicious that men with mustaches hanging way over their teeth must have bad teeth else good-tasting hair..

Here I am, talking bad teeth. Kathleen recently went through an abscess formation in her gum after a root canal. No, I don't want to go there.

All in a day's work.

Poem below.

1 Kilobunny,


(This poem is set in LA in "49 Poems for California"):


My head is beaten like a sunflower,
bowed and haggard, brown petals hanging
like loose, carnivorous teeth, my face
a pale mosaic of shell-ends.

It wasn't the sun that did this, I tell myself,
whose radiation feeds each mouth, root, and field,
whose random electromagnetic signals
form a proper background noise
as in a waterfall.

It must be satellites and cell phones
leaving these trails in my cloud chamber.
Does anything stop neutrinos?
At some basal level like the sodium-
potassium pump, isn't my brain affected?

Schizophrenics believe monolithic transmitters
speak to receivers in their heads,
but I never gave their stories credence before.
I feel bombarded, beaten down
by the sun like a sagging sunflower
awaiting the arrival of birds
to pick my cortex clean.

The brain floats in water like the great turtle
on which the world was built,
but bone is not casing enough
to shield me from the swarm of signals.
Who can prove to me that I am not
controlled by secret hieroglyphics carved
on the tiniest neuron like a microchip?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Not Dead Yet!

I realize that my last post could have been dispiriting to readers, so I just wanted to say that this blog ain't dead yet. I will be inspired, I will return.

It's that I don't have the need to blog the way I did when I was depressed. I needed it for survival then; now it's more of an option. Then I needed to give a sense of definition to myself through the construct of words when I was losing all definition.

Funny how when you're healthy you don't need to attempt to assure yourself that you might exist through an engagement of words.

It's the disconnection from everything that makes the depressed writer seek objectification through words, though the hope of feeling myself could never be realized, just a verbal record of the stranger inhabiting it.

I don't know where this blog is going but I haven't abandoned it.

Here's a revision of my poem, "Reflection:"


Someday when you were only
meaning to look out the window,
your face will appear suspended in glass.

See mine, beard quilled in white?
Above, a vast forehead like a desert
as if the skull were pushing through?
Right, a scar from cop's batons
extends my eyebrow and my mustache
is split by a brass knuckle's kiss.
The right eye's green, the left is blue
with crow's feet spread out
like shatter-proof glass shattered.
then all the luggage below, harvest
of late nights drinking.

Nose? Flat and aboriginal,
strong even teeth but yellowed
by smoke and coffee,
wide smile, full equal lips
upcurling at the corners.
Laugh lines outnumber other furrows
though puzzlement grooves much
(I don't surprise that easily now).
Not a rich man's face, it lacks
a certain earthly satisfaction
though I pray it's free of envy.


The poor you have with you always,
the rich man can't help but rub it in,
his mere existence fathers envy
which powers ambition
which feeds achievement
which seeks comparisons
which breed dissatisfaction
giving birth to envy.

It's not the thorn against the rose
but both against the deer;
the deer make them equals
and the sun, confederates.


On and on the human engine runs
toward the swimming pool
purchased on credit
from a second mortgage
to the notion
that having all
might cure not having all.
On we fly like wasps
disturbed by a lawnmower,
no furies needed
but our lust.

The ouroboros of desire
is sadly predictable.

How much is that
Buddha in the window?

2 Kilobunnies,


Year of the Rat

Feeling cowardly? This from a recent 13 million dollar study of chicken DNA, funded by the federal government;

"About 60 percent of chicken genes correspond to a similar human gene."

And surprise, surprise! They have genes that code for claws and feathers, we for hair. They lack genes for milk production but have them for shell construction.

Why was I not consulted? I could have used the money.

We are thought to have diverged from birds some 310 million years ago. And look who's flying higher! Or haven't you heard about the Mars probe discovering ice? I'll be so glad to know that when I hit the bars there.

Chickens and other birds occupy a space between fish and mammals, presumably shared with dinosaurs and reptiles. A rat shares 88% of our DNA. Let me guess: they can code for greater smell and larger litters, for a greater omnivorous spread of foodstuffs, and for fast-twitch muscles and fur.

My, that was hard. 2008 is the Year of the Rat. My best advice on relationships is not to marry a weasel if you were born in 1996, 1984, 1972 or 1960. Me, I'm a horse, and we don't like rats. Why not believe in the arbitrary astrology of a foreign culture? People will believe anything.

Other tidbits? I recently saw a deer shit for the first time, and it didn't stand like a horse, it squatted like a dog. It could have been one constipated deer that I observed, but it didn't seem to be straining, and the other deer made no movement to show they thought its behavior unusual.

Bet you didn't know that.

Bet you didn't know that most birds are considered to have very little sense of smell or taste, though chickens have oodles of olfactory genes. The turkey vulture and albatross are reputed to have the most acute sense of smell; condors and black vultures follow turkey vultures to a kill. Birds won't replace bloodhounds any time soon, it appears. "Use it or lose it"--

Which means, given modern conveniences, humankind should continue to lose muscle mass and gain fat. Styles have already changed; Hip-Hop wear can shelter an epidemic of black and Hispanic obesity. Whites ain't far behind. I just discovered the joy of suspenders and no underwear. Free as a bird and let my belly be!

Been reading Shakespeare again, always a sign of health. "The Two Gentleman of Verona" I recommend to all dog lovers, since the fool/servant Launce has a love/hate relationship with his cur throughout the play, complete with Will's signature canine puns.

I was sorry that "The Love Guru," Mike Meyer's new movie, was panned in the regional paper. I always thought he was funny. The reviewer's contention is that his humor is so self-referential that he has become an institution unto his own ego. Can someone who's seen the movie disabuse me of this bad impression?

This blog began on July 27, 2005, when we were living in National City, just south of San Diego, waiting on the courts. In the time since I have authored over 400 posts, more than one every three days. But alas, since my life has become good again, I have had less interest in blogging. Just as I shut down my journal, Melic, when it seemed time, perhaps I should put the furniture covers on this chapter as well.

I am happy, busy and hopeful though realistic. I am closer to kilobunnies than kilorats but strangely, in my present state of euthymia, I don't trouble myself much about ratings. I'm beginning to expect things to be good, always a dangerous position, but more supportive of life than not. I can't say what the future of my blogging will be. I'm too busy writing other stuff now. In my depression of two years (along with watching basketball), blogging was one discipline I used to escape myself--and confront myself--an action that took more than melancholy self-involvement to complete.

Now I don't look to my blog for a task to objectify myself. The more I am involved with other human beings, the more I don't think about blogging.

Should my mood return to its former nadir, I will no doubt take blogging up in earnest again as a safety valve. For now it is of no pressing interest, and in infrequent checking of stats, my readership has fallen accordingly.

Until the next post,


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What the Gypsies Told my Grandmother while She was Still a Young Girl

It seems that my desire to blog is inversely proportional to my psychological health. Again, I thank all who walked through the darkness with me, and as it were, held me up. Just the contact of comments could sometimes momentarily convince me I was human at my worst. It meant much.

I shall have to return to a different subject to keep writing, and the other main subject of my blog has been poetry. Yet in numerous published essays I have expressed myself to my own satisfaction on this subject, though even now I am involved in discussions/debates at various boards, most notably The Gazebo: Theory and Practice. In short, I am not inspired to write about poetry so much as to resume writing it.

I have been reading Charles Simic and e. e. cummings of late. Simic is a poet of substance, unable to attain the lyrical, as he did not emigrate to the U.S. until the age of 16 from Yugoslavia, in 1954 (under Tito's rule, I believe). Though a little choppy, his substance can be terrific.

Cummings is an amazing technician, a perfectionist. He wants an epiphany more than he wants to be understood, which I think admirable in its way. Some forget he was quite a master of the sonnet and think him indelibly Post-Modern. He was actually, by history and inclination, a Modern and compares favorably with Marianne Moore.

Here is the best poem, IMHO, from Poet Laureate Simic's selected volume of “Sixty Poems”:

What the Gypsies Told my Grandmother while She was Still a Young Girl

War, illness and famine will make you their favorite
You'll be like a blind person watching a silent movie.
You'll chop onions and pieces of your heart
     into the same hot skillet.
Your children will sleep in a suitcase tied with a rope.
Your husband will kiss your breasts every night
       as if they were two gravestones.

Already the crows are grooming themselves
     for you and your people.
Your oldest son will lie with flies on his hips
      without smiling or lifting his hand.
You'll envy every ant you meet in your life
     and every roadside weed.
Your body and soul will sit on separate stoops
      chewing the same piece of gum.

Little cutie, are you for sale? the devil will say.
The undertaker will buy a toy for your grandson.
Your mind will be a hornet's nest even on your
You will pray to God but God will hang a sign
      that He's not to be disturbed.
Question no further, that's all I know.

Charles Simic, "Walking the Black Cat," copyright 1996 by Charles Simic. Harcourt Brace & Company. Used with permission.

I would be happy to write a poem this good once every two years. Or maybe once.

Simic's pre- and post-war childhood should be remembered as a historical context for this work, but it speaks for itself even without such knowledge.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Boring than Shit!

I wrote my last post mainly about my diminutive Okinawan-American friend, Ralph, because otherwise he said he wouldn't read my blog. Readership immediately plummeted and he has yet to acknowledge the great honor I have done him.

However, all is not lost. I want to prove to Ralph that a poem about bowel care is more interesting than he. Below, a first draft on helping regularity.

Knowing that he is less than shit will likely not discourage Ralph in the least from his monumental narcissism, but if readers cooperate it might give him pause—just enough pause to consider pausing for that special moment.



Loosening Up (or "How to Prevent Hemorrhoids")

Lugubriousness, despite its sound,
can lead to constipation.
Douse it with Hoison sauce
and Louisiana assonance,
sublime your glossary
with fresh oysters and okra,
habaneros, jalapenos
and dragon claws.

Add roughage of indigestible
poems replete with fillers
culled from second-rate sonnets,
needless modifiers and articles,
superfluous conjunctions.
Swallow hackneyed emotion
as you would an oil puddle
with rainbow slime
(don't swallow the sun, it burns).

Absorption, irritation, bulk:
these are the trinity of flow.
Grind up a broom handle
and make a sawdust patty,
fry in bacon grease, coat with Tabasco,
follow with heaps of water.

Hail irritants and bulk as friends--
senna to flex your colon,
psyllium to mulch your stomach,
grasshoppers dipped in chocolate
for the chitin, try not to vomit
(use bisacodyl in a pinch).

The more you eat what can't be used
(absorbent without being absorbed)
the happier you'll be.
Done right, you'll hardly need to push
(Your anus thanks you heartily!).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ralph and the Lakers' Loss; A New Poem

The Lakers lost the first game to Boston in the finals tonight, which was not unexpected, though I still predict the Lakers in six. Kobe had a lousy game, 9/26 from the floor with only 24 points and missed defensive assignments on Paul Pierce which really was the difference.

To deal with my sorrow I called my two daughters; the first had her mailbox full, the second didn't answer, so I decided to call my good friend, Ralph, who hadn't even watched the game. He was more interested in discussing crawdads from his recent visit to Louisiana.

I put him in the position of comforter and he adapted. He told me it was a long series and made me repeat “The Lakers suck, the Lakers suck,” to free me from the bondage of grief. But when he told me to repeat “Root for the Celtics” my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth and I could not pronounce his shibboleth.

Ralph, perhaps the most dependable of all my friends, weighs about 105 lbs and is five feet tall. I'm 6'6” and weigh 270. When we go out together he likes to order me around, as if I were Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.” I don't mind it; it's nice to take a vacation from alpha maleness so long as you have another to boss you around.

Although third-generation Japanese-American, Ralph has retained little of the old country. Indeed, he announced to me tonight that he “had no shame,” and Japan is a shame culture. So I replied, “I'm Protestant and have no guilt”--which is a lie, of course, for which I beg forgiveness.

Ralph has amazing hands. He fixes musical instruments and builds stereos that will blow you out of the room with just five watts of power. Lately he's taken to photography and fixing old cameras he buys off the Net. What ever he puts his hand to is gold. He is a very fine craftsman with the soul of an artist. He's also an excellent fisherman; one of my nicknames for him is “Fishmeister.” The other is “Le Pig.” The latter nickname I created because it's the complete opposite of Ralph; he is moderate, temperate, cautious, neat and careful; still, when it comes to hogging the spotlight, he is indeed a pig!

Unfortunately he is not an artist, as one listen to his attempts on the saxophone will prove. But because of his big cajones, he's not afraid to jump on stage, because despite his lack of skill he expects everyone to worship him if he has the feeling.

He's more American than I am in this. I think he should be appointed to the famous self-esteem council that our wacky state actually funded as he has no lack of it, and perhaps this is what makes him still Japanese, his sense of superiority.

The Japanese traditionally look upon “round eyes” and others as useless barbarians; Ralph, in his pygmy narcissism, has gone a step further: he considers everyone but himself a useless barbarian. I am not so much his friend as his Samurai bodyguard, and he lets me know that I am expendable.

On the downside, he is a little bit anal, a turd hoarder, sometimes miserly with his wallet. He keeps track of everything to make sure it's fair, though he likes to spend my money.

In any case he comforted me after the Lakers' loss by calling me a tit-sucking weasel and letting me know my real place in the cosmos. I was grateful for his time, much better than dial-a-prayer. He's also a great cook and a knowledgeable bartender, though he always complains that when I visit I drink too much of his booze. He can't wrap his brain around my great size and alcohol tolerance; he drinks like a pygmy because he is a pygmy.

I wrote a poem yesterday, here it is:

Sunset on the Mendocino Coast

A single bat flew
in and out of the pine grove
like a confused swift,
diving and jerking
against the pastel horizon's
merging of violet to red.
It returned, a dark
dab against orange
like a defect in a movie
passing over the screen.

I made a small fire
of newspaper and twigs.
Smoke swirled as randomly
as a bat's flight. Sticks glowed
orange and disintegrated
into white ash. The bat
flew out, dipped
down to the high grass
and disappeared again.

Above the sussuration of the ocean,
thin and white against the high violet,
a sickle of moon shone,
too weak to be reflected--
and I feared shrinking
into something less than bat,
lint on a projector maybe,
maybe as random.

All for tonight. We'll win on Sunday. Go Lakers! Lakers in six!

2 kilobunnies,


Sunday, June 01, 2008


"Net Poets," "Happy Alcoholic" in Bumbershoot.

"Good Fridays" in Astropoetica:

"After Reading the Latter Half of the Fourth Edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry" in Barefoot Muse.


In print I'll have a poem on the front cover and an interview on the back cover of the new Sigurd Journal. Their website doesn't yet feature content but it does accept submissions:

Two of the journals paid! Hoo hoo!

Enough for two big bottles of cheap vodka--it's the principal that counts. I'll invest it in my brain, like the happy alcoholic above.

Lazy Sunday. Golden fields of early summer-sudden-spent grass, exploding darts of dandelions, the wild radishes in patches, lavender and white, the bark of sea lions and the ocean's engine running in the background. And I have nothing to say.

Which is also the title of a poem of mine (published I forget where) but written in Long Beach, CA:

Nothing to Say

I have nothing needful to say,
no comment on the glittering bay
or the dark, snow-topped wall
of the San Gabriels.

Things used to be pulled from me,
uprooted like weeds from a garden.
I let the weeds bloom now.

The red-throated bird
that lives in my chipped balcony light
sings for a mate I have never seen.

I let my words run like watercolors.
Time runs only forward.
Why should art be different?
Here is the last line.

I may have posted this before but I could think of nothing else to do except, perhaps, to look up “abulia” again, no sure thing.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,

2 Kilobunnies,

Craig Erick

Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!