Friday, February 27, 2009

First Reading from "Unexpected Light"

Last night at Colored Horse Studios in Ukiah I gave my first featured reading from the new book. Out of a crowd of 14 (not counting Kathleen, me and the dog) I sold three books. I also received an honorarium of $75. I could get used to this! So if any of you west coast readers have connections to venues, "just call on me and I'll send it along / with love from me to you."

In paging through the book while reading, I concentrated on lighter pieces. For some reason I didn't want to get into depression or anything else too flypapery. I got a lot of laughs with "Fat" and "The Obesion," for instance.

One woman bought a book for her manic-depressive son, who happens to be my size; another bought the book because of "At the Vietnam Memorial;" and another bought the book for the power of the reading. Afterwards was an open mic where--well, let's just say it was an open mic. A good time was had by all, with red wine and chocolate for refreshments.

Here's "Fat":


Two days ago I woke up fat.
I'm not gonna hate myself for that.
I did indulge my appetite

like a starving rat.
So I avoid mirrors and dress in black.
I’m not gonna hate myself for that.

I may be fat but I'm not blind.
I did indulge my appetite
because depression savaged my mind.

You see, it's not easy to be easy on me.
I'm all spiky inside like a cactus.
Two days ago I woke up fat.

I may be fat but I'm not blind.
If I did indulge my appetite,
it was only to distract

my stomach’s acid pit
from the black hole of my mind,
too ravaged to react.

On second thought it's not entirely light. But that's the thing about the book, as one reviewer put it: it's "slanted" light. Dark humor. Unexpected twists of light. It's hard for me to be all this or that in a poem. Modulation requires shifts to retain the reader's attention and entertain him. Without such contrasts it would be greeting card verse. Ah Helen Steiner Rice and Susan Polis Schulz!

Not much to report otherwise except the fact that I intend to assay my garden today and try to uncover some of the bloomables from beneath the encroachment of weeds.

Oh, J. Alfred ditched me the other night on our walk, I suppose because it was getting too dark. I crated him when I got home out of anger. I think he understood. If not, it let me do something with my pissed-offness.

Another light poem from the volume? Why the hell not? (Though if you get it free here, why buy the book? Because many of the poems have been published through journals since defunct, therefore you can't find them on the net. Still, if you google me, as we recently discussed, you will have more than enough to read. But ah hell, get out of the cyberworld and get your hands on a real book. The hardback is the best value.) Here's the poem:

God and Cheetos

Don’t we all want to meet God,
engage omnipotence in conversation warm and natural
as in why Pete Rose is banned from Cooperstown
and whether Augustine’s "Confessions" are more an exercise
in literary narcissism than true devotion?
I prefer Pascal, but what would God think?

Picture us on a park bench, dispensing crusts
to avian communicants while sharing
Cheetos from an inexhaustible bag.
Perhaps we’d join the shoeless fellowship
of mumbling schizophrenics
or join in cursing citations on windshields.
And could he take his own name in vain?
There are some things even God can’t do,
like changing history--that would be dishonest.

Lord, thank you for the consciousness
that allows me to scribble this.
How about an autograph? In blood, of course.
So rudely forced into human form— how divine
it must have been when you rejoined yourself!

OK, so there are a few dark threads dangling, but overall a happy poem? How would I know? I can't rightly judge my own work.

Oprah, I'm calling you, I need a sales boost! You can have me on your couch to discuss romantic love in the new millennium and manic-depression as well.

In fun at 1 Kilobunny,



  1. That means over 20% of your audience bought the book on the spot. Not too shabby for someone who isn't (yet) a household name.

    Good luck!

  2. (Yet) Thanks for that! How's your own reading going, and have you been inspired to write poetry yourself? I feel that if I can just get the book into people's hands it will sell itself, though the readings help. To go to the top of a poetry bestseller list would not be hard; so little is sold!

  3. Tonight was "To the Author" and "Prayer to La Virgen". (I'm reading two a night.) La Virgen has a wonderful rhythm to it. You could put it to music quite easily.

    On the Bus I, II, and III remind me of a Greyhound bus trip I took nonstop from Pittsburgh to Tulsa, Oklahoma when I was seventeen. I remember the periodic hiss of the air brakes, and how "... my trapezius ha[d] sprouted a burl--" ;)

  4. Richard, a number of the poems from the volume were written during a bus trip east in '99, when I met with many poets and gave a few readings. These include the "On the Bus" poems, the "Memorial" poems, and others. I had a creative outbreak that year, and traveling always excites my mood. "To La Virgen" was written in Mexico, and "To the Author" is an odd poem written to the author from the perspective of the poem. "You, image of God, speak."

    What writers are supposed to do, especially remembering the image of God within that persists despite all our evil doings. Thanks for keeping me informed of your progress through the book, it means a lot.



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Unexpected Light

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