Empowerment through Language...

Monday, October 16, 2017

And I Have Circled the Sun Once Again...

            Will you still need me, will you still feed me
            when I’m sixty-four…

In 1967, the Beatles released When I’m Sixty-Four. I was about to be 14, my mother was pregnant and due in the late fall. I was the oldest of then four, I had just entered 9th grade at Levy Junior High School. Turmoil was rampant in the world but my personal world was wonderful. I had my radio full of music, some good girlfriends, I had become serious about this poetry thing, and the whole of my life lay before me like a dream. Someday I would fall in love and sing the McCartney/Lennon song to the man who would be by my side until I was old.

That was 50 years ago.

Three weeks after my birthday, my sister Erica was born. Three days later, my mother died. I blurred into 1968, when the outer turmoil clashed with my inner ache. The world was angry and I was adrift in a world I was not emotionally ready for; however, concerning the daily things, I was prepared. My mother had taught me a great deal and I was already comfortable in the kitchen, eager to create. The best lesson Betty Ann taught me was how to make a meal out of a perceived lack of food in the house. It has served me well ever since.

I have reflected on this time a great deal in the past 2 years, often sharing with friends that I feel like I have political PTSD. This is not glib. I am a duck-n-cover kid who cowered at night when I heard planes overhead. I ate dinner like the rest of the nation, with the newsreels from Viet Nam, the daily death counts for both sides. There were riots in American neighborhoods, returning troops who were no more responsible for the war than anyone else were shunned and shamed. There was clash and simmering hatred among all sectors of the nation. And there were people standing, marching, dying in opposition to a damaged system.

The brand of that time period has not lost its definition and here we are again. For me, I have been trying to set my life straight once again, still reeling from the impact that the economic crash had on my career path. But I remind myself daily that I am blessed that all my work is directly related to my identity and my purpose. Now to maximize my profit margin.

My riches are in the moments with those who choose me. The riches are in my work, the ways I strive to provide opportunity for others. And I am rich in language. In June, the fifth book on which I have placed my name was released. That is sort of remarkable to me, all of a sudden. The first book was life-changing. The second was an indicator that I really was a poet. The third was an intentional success and satisfaction in the craft I was developing. The fourth was collaborative and gave information and inspiration to others who engage with poetry and education. The fifth was an editing collaboration that honored an icon, Gwendolyn Brooks, and permitted me to honor the voices of many noted writers as they paid tribute. In reviewing my publishing history, to date these works have been finalists in several competitions, two for the Central New York Book Awards, one for the national NAACP Image Award, and a nod from the Chicago Review of Books. This was sobering to recognize in myself. I have accomplished this. And I have so much more to do.

There have been countless lessons and this past year is no different. I am not going to rehash any of it. But I am going to share that, in the lessons, I have come to a confidence in my own capacity and strengths that feels honest, well-founded, stable. I am ever a work in progress but I have looked deeply at my intentions. I have discovered what I had hoped; I operate from pure intention. I stumble at times but I am in earnest in my efforts in being a human being.

I also see that I have learned a great deal about the realm of poetry and language. I crave fuller and fuller immersion. I am 75 pages into the next collection of poetry and, having met another goal of a book project, I have only my creative work to concern myself with right now. I am tingly with what this next book is going to be, what it is already promising. And the book after that is already unfolding. And I am working on my personal memoir, a food memoir, a collaborative collection of essays with another poet I admire. I am stashing essays on the craft of writing for that eventual book.

There is so much I want to explore and share. Yet it all feels urgent, being in my mid-60s now. There used to be decades ahead of me to make up for error or missed opportunities. There is a deadline ahead that is not clearly defined but is insistent. I have work to do. But, as I tell my students when they proclaim, “Writing is hard work,”

Yes, it is work, but it is joyous work.

It is my work and I love it. Now I want to continue to develop a practice of editing and book coaching. I want portable work and work that supports others meeting their own dreams and objectives with their writing.

I want to see my work interpreted by others so I am embarking on bringing poems to the stage in the near future. I want to discover how the work imprints on others, how they hear it and see it.

I plan to learn more about what I am capable of discovering and achieving in the construction and manipulation of language, how it communicates with others and how it depicts my unique concept of this world.

I hope to travel and be more of a global citizen. I want to continue my work in community and I want to further strengthen my empathy and cultural dexterity in the hopes of being a part of the world in lighted ways. I want to project this as my truth always and I pray others are able to see me through that lens. Sometimes this is not the case and I have come to recognize that one person’s mis-view of me and my intention is not my responsibility. But I will continue to check myself always. I hope to always grow. Complacency is the path to an unsatisfying death.

To each who receives this, my annual birthday missive, I thank you for the ways you contribute to my life. To my publishers, thank you for investing in me. To those who choose to sit in classrooms where I facilitate, thank you for your open and willing hearts and the ways you are choosing to give to yourselves in writing. To my beloveds, you continue to choose me for your circle. It is an honor. I will always try to do my best in the moment.

This year, I will close by saying I’m okay. No need to worry. I feel that a shift to the more stable is in process. I am pleased with my work, my home, and especially my dear Enza, who came to live with me 4 years ago yesterday. She is the light I so needed and we make each other laugh. Who knew I would be a dog person?! But this being has taught me much and keeps me light. We have fun. And I know I am not alone when I close my eyes at night, hear her snoring from her bed on the floor at the end of my own.

Thank you all! My life has its value because of each of you and I have made it through another year on the strength of your trust and support. I hope to never fail you and your confidence in me. Keep thriving in your own lives and being inspiration to me. I am so blessed with abundance and love due to you all. Please let me know when you need me. Let me feed you. Let’s dance. Please remember always: you are cherished, admired, and adored.

Peace, power, & poetry…

Friday, May 12, 2017

Post-Massachusetts Poetry Festival - Action Items!

For the fifth year, I have attended the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and returned home filled with inspiration and joy. This is my favorite poetry event, year after year, and I encourage friends and colleagues to attend! I am never disappointed, always enriched.

This year, I presented a round table discussion with my dear sisters Antoinette Brim and Demetrice A. Worley titled "Story Retold: Women Retelling History." As we talked with the participants of how the literary and academic patriarchy cast heavy shadows on women writers that manifest in countless ways, we chose to create an action item list that would help us all in creating work, breaking our own silences, and generating space and opportunity for our extensive community of women writers. Thanks to those who offered suggestions: Judy, Donna, Sherry, Meg, Caroline, Gail, Susan, Christine, Alisha, and Lois. Here is the list and feel free to help yourself or another move forward and be fully present in our work:
  • Subscribe to listserves and social media pages/sites that support women writers, where you can find readings, workshops, and calls for publication/submission, announce achievements, and generally network with the vast community of women who write. Two of the countless examples are the Binders Facebook group (this is a closed group and you must query to be included) and the daily CRWROPPS listserve curated by Allison Joseph (although this is for all writers, it is a priceless resource and a labor of love for the national writing community).
  • Host home salons, master classes, readings: much like the house concerts of the folk music community that have been integral in many careers, most of us have a community of writers who would benefit from a poet who may have a new book out, may be touring, etc. The format can be very simple or can be a full retreat day but charging a fee to offer to the guest and selling books may not only share that writer's work but help her pay a bill. I will write on this more soon.
  • Add women writers into our teaching practice. Many writers are also teachers. Rely on the work of poets you admire as examples of great poetry.
  • Be sure to be inclusive in the circles we create for ourselves; gather like-minded people of all ages and backgrounds in circles to create and be artists together.
  • Make time to write as a personal priority or commitment. We readily give our time away and our writing may be the last priority.
  • Additionally, if you teach, particularly at the college level, work active writing time into the class schedule and write with them.
  • In active writing exercises, encourage students to take turns in supplying the prompt for the day, which frees the teacher to write spontaneously as well, possibly discovering new viable work that would not otherwise be written.
  • When teaching, be conscious of how we respond to women students and encourage their voices and for them to recognize themselves. Do not defer to male students;  make it an open classroom in which women may often speak first.
  • Be vocal in our gratitude for those who support and instruct us and be supportive of each other in any way we can.
  • Make safe, productive space for regular, consistent gatherings, such as monthly workshops or generative meetings to create and critique new work. These spaces can be in homes or public places.
  • Plan opportunities to generate new work with colleagues and friends to refocus, motivate, encourage and empower each other.
  • Focus on the work and do not make food the focus. Allow people to bring snacks if they like but it is not necessary to provide food if you host a gathering. The power of not sharing food can enhance the focus as participants share without diversion to the menu and conversation that takes away from the work.
  • Search for outlets for work that addresses current issues, such as Rattle's weekly Poets Respond.
  • Consider local public libraries as spaces to not only gather for workshopping but for readings and other poetry events.
  • Study with colleagues and sister writers, sharing insights and the results that manifest as new work.
  • Encourage local radio stations to feature poetry. Use opportunities such as National Poetry Month as a likely reason why it will be of value to the listeners.
  • Track your progress. One suggestion was simple: for every 15+ minutes that you sit to write, put a sticker on the calendar to tag the effort. It worked when we were kids and it works now as affirmation and encouragement.
  • Know yourself and your own motivations and cycles. Be aware of your patterns, habits, and ways that you do or do not prioritize yourself and your need to create. Also, be gentle with yourself but know when it is time to push.
  • Dismiss the notion of writer's block. The myth is that we are not writers if we are not actively creating new work, which then gives us plenty of opportunity to judge and denigrate ourselves. Our identity as writer/poet is much  more than the action of writing. When we are in a quiet time, we are still processing and relating to the world in metaphoric, imagistic ways. We are reading, we are meeting deadlines, caring for family and friends, working, vacationing, we are living life. We will come out of the quiet time to produce and we must trust it.
  • Own your identity as a poet/writer. There is power in claiming the title first before all other titles and responsibilities. Give yourself the gift.
  • Trust yourself and that there is value in your work, no matter what level of "achievement" you may have at the current moment.
On behalf of my dear sisters and colleagues, Demetrice and Antoinette, thank you to all those who chose to attend our session. In our vibrant conversation, which was limited by the hour time frame, we chose to focus on positive actions we can take rather than a session to rant of the injustices and slights that we all encounter. We know the stories that history has provided all too well, and we know the obstacles of being a woman in the literary world, the realm of academia and public education, and of society in general. Proceed and be bold. And remember: the matriarchy is on the rise and we are taking our planet back... 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Head and the Dulcet Tone of Howard Cosell

--> It was a cold evening, ABC’s Monday Night Football on the screen in my lover’s living room. I don’t like football so I was curled up with a book, my head nestled between the padded cocoons of the headphones plugged into the receiver, big as those huge ear protectors the guys on the tarmac at the airport wear. Syracuse University’s WAER FM 88, December 8, 1980. All of a sudden, my jaw dropped:

Head till U're burnin' up
Head till U get enough
Head till U're love is red
Head - love U till U're dead

I hadn’t really heard anything so blatant on the radio since I blushed listening to Zeppelin wail The Lemon Song for the first time, in mixed company to boot.

U know U're good, girl
I think U like 2 go down
U wouldn't have stopped but ah...
I came on your wedding gown

I pulled the headphones off. I shifted from college radio to Howard Cosell and the tinny roar of a stadium full of fans far away. I tried to explain the song I had just heard but my man was consumed by the Miami/Patriots contest. So I retreated to my music cave again. It was enough to share the room with him for me to be happy.

I heard the death knoll when one of the kids in the studio broke in with a shaky voice. The wire service had just reported that John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota. At the same time, my love turned to me quickly to get my attention. I dropped the headphones again as Cosell interrupted his own color coverage to announce the same unbelievable report. This was another of the iconic losses of my life, certainly one of the most significant.

And still I had Head swirling through my brain. This was a lot to process. The next morning my dad called me to express his condolences. He said, “I know how much he meant to you.” I was empty.

Prince released his third album, Dirty Minds, just 2 months previous on October 8th, one day before Lennon’s 40th birthday. Somehow that feels intentional hindsight this evening, April 22, 2016, one day after the news that Prince is dead at 57. This is a great deal to process once again.

It was only a decade after the triumvirate of tragic losses: Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison. That was a tough run year, losing those three and all in their mid 20s. It did not instill a lot of hope for a long life in my generation. We had not recovered from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, his brother Bobby, Medgar Evers, or Fred Hampton. The imprint of both Kent and the lesser remembered Jackson State is another red stamp on my generation. We don’t even need to go into the riots that branded the nation in the past few years to be aware that the youth of Amerika were shell shocked. Or the nightly body counts or waiting out the first draft lottery. And now we have a subtle PTSD that is also rooted in duck & cover air raid drills and wishing for bomb shelters, or dreading them if our dads were that proactively paranoid. The pressing fear of nuclear war was a subtle echo in our soundtrack. This is what raises the hair on the back of my hand when candidates so cavalierly pose the threat of nuclear weapons. Like it is a water balloon fight. It is terrifying. It always has been.

Yet Lennon’s death was different, even deeper and so violent. He was a part of my DNA. I absorbed him through the brown transistor radio under my pillow every night. I melded my heart to his as I sat with my grandmother watching the Ed Sullivan Show the first time the Beatles appeared. We fell in love with these guys, my squat wonderful grandmother and 10-year old me while the camera panned rows and rows of girls screaming and tearing at their hair. And we had survived in spite of the losses, John and I, two Libra spirits. There was still room for hope.

It’s been just 4 ½ months since Bowie died. His newest CD dropped 2 days before, on his 69th birthday. There is a beauty in this. There is a beauty in the fact that the last shows that Prince delivered last week were solo…just him and a piano and all that love, all that music, and history in a small, mighty man. Bowie and Prince were both so pretty. They were both so compelling as well as artists who understood the power of music and theater. Both geniuses and really smart about their business. They each learned through experience, much of which took its toll. But they lived in charge of their own lives and died knowing they changed things. They were two beautiful hearts of revolution.

This past Tuesday, I needed postage. Scanning my choices, there were still limited edition Joplin and Hendrix stamps available, but which one to make a statement of my nature to send my taxes due to NY state and the IRS? Well, I had to choose Janis. I will go back for Jimi next go round. Maya Angelou is just going to have to wait.

It all comes back now on this first anniversary of the death of Baltimore’s own son, Freddie Gray. A rhetoric of hate assaults our ears daily in this ridiculous presidential primary campaign. And Prince has died. Rumor mongers all want to impose speculation and besmirch his essence. I am not ready to employ the word memory. Twitter is a flurry of comments and retweets to eulogies in print, photos, videos.

There are estimations of a vast music catalogue captured in the vault. I think of Zappa, whose loss still brings me to tears. Some ask if we will ever hear it. Of course we will. We are still getting Hendrix releases every so often and he didn’t have nearly the time in his incarnation that Prince has had to channel all that music. Frankly, I cannot imagine that there is no plan for all that music. Prince is the epitome of control. Look at the risks he took to own his own art. Notice how he changed the face of the music business, both when he emblazoned his face with SLAVE as well as when he re-empowered his own name.

Today is the 44th Earth Day. The leaves are coming out in little puffs on branches. The hyacinth breathes purple and the evening rain takes the hint. Good night, sweet Prince. If you were my girlfriend, of course I would have let you dress me...

Monday, December 14, 2015


It was a Friday night. I was at the Downtown Writers Center preparing for our weekly poetry reading. A flash on my screen announced that Paris was under siege. But the reading must go on...

Photo from L.A. Times article, Mon. 11/14/15
Later I watched the news, once again bereft, waiting for the faces of those who were slain. It was quickly determined that one American citizen was among the victims. Her name is Nohemi Gonzalez

Much was made of theories and perpetrators. Paris was under an oppressive, dreadful weight compared to that of the Nazi invasion. The world was slack-jawed once again. The pundits and politicians were in wait like buzzards.

The diatribe against immigration took a radical twist in direction but does not erase the vicious tone we have endured for the past few years. Let me restate the obvious: the only U.S. citizen to die in Paris is Nohemi Gonzalez, a first-generation American citizen of Mexican heritage, a first-generation college student who attended Cal State Long Beach with a major in industrial design. A young woman working her way through college and brightening the lives of others. She is one of those humans whose value is at the core of the intention of our national identity, generation after generation. Nohemi is  one of those who thrived in the opportunity her mother worked so hard to provide to her only daughter. Nohemi was having coffee with friends in a small cafe on a street in Paris where she was doing a foreign exchange program. Nohemi had every reason to believe that life is grand and she had a brilliant future ahead when she graduated next spring.

The politicos have bullied those who have fled from political and financial oppression of Central and South America, stirring the flames among paranoid citizens who believe the myth that "immigrants are destroying our economy...taking our jobs..." all the rest of the lies that get attention, air time, and often ill-advised votes at the polls.

The media gave small nods to Ms. Gonzalez but nothing was really made of her as a symbol, as a martyr. I bet those who perpetrated the massacre and subsequently were killed by law enforcement are lauded as martyrs by the radical Islamic networks. The spin must be something! But did our media counter the mean-spirited insults of several of the political candidates who are narcissistic enough to believe they are capable of being president of the United States? Why was there so little in the media after the first 48 hours about this young woman, who has worked against all odds to fulfill the mythic American dream? 

I have been asking people if they know that Nohemi is the only American who died that horrible Friday night. Almost none has even heard her name, much less her accomplishments and heritage. Nohemi is the face of so many college students on campuses throughout our nation, the next generation of dreamers, achievers, brilliance. She is not a moment between other news items; she is the daughter of Ms. Beatrez Gonzalez, who will mourn her through these holidays and for the remainder of her life. Nohemi died at 23, in Paris, trusting her future. She was a teaching assistant, a girlfriend, an employee, a neighbor, an American.

This will not stop the blowhards vying for a very important job. But please, let us remember: #HerNameIsNohemi. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

62 and still a 2015 birthday missive...

62, I wake to a zit…

At about 4:30 this morning, I woke the first time to the rain. I considered that there was a cleansing of the past year around the sun, preparing me for the solar-year journey ahead. 62 years I have made this move into another year of my life. I have life because my mother and father created me. Though our relationships were complicated, truncated, I am so grateful that they made me. I am grateful that my mother focused so hard on not believing the doctors’ predictions that her toxemia would mean I would not survive. In the words of the cherished Lucille Clifton:

             …so grateful

             to be alive. i am alive and furious.

             Blessed be even this.

2015 started horridly and I felt an internal shame for being so close to the edge financially, still. Somehow I had considered the precariousness of my income was the only gauge of my being and value. The previous year I had pneumonia, which pointed to other vulnerabilities. Aging and preparing to be elderly have been at the forefront of my consciousness. I have looked at the crepe-like quality of my skin, the ache when I stand up from a chair, the ways my eyes are goofing on me. I have felt lonely and curiously resigned to the fact that life is moving closer and closer to its own deadline. Yet every day I just put one foot in front of the other because I have work to do and I was gifted with the privilege of life, and human consciousness.

With the support of loving and generous friends, as usual, who believe in me and my capacity, my value, I got through the immediate need and I now am rebuilding. But I realized that I am not a failure or a screw-up, the little lie that lurks in the background of my psyche so often. I am highly successful when I take stock of my work, my efforts, my accomplishments. I am simply undercapitalized, and that is rectifiable. And I remembered that I will start claiming Social Security in 4 years. That will help, just as paying off the car this spring did. A step at a time. And now to draw on my true career as poet and pursue more opportunity to share my joy.

As for my body, I have been body-shaming since I was a child and the other day, as I stepped out of the shower and looked at the image in the mirror, all wet and no barrier. I claimed this body as it is as God’s work, as the work of my parents to present me to the world. Now to care so I get another 40 years out of it in wellness and ability.

Everything I do in my life and for my income is anchored in my truth of being a poet. I am so blessed. My start in publishing was with Mary Russo Demetrick’s Hale Mary Press with Coaxing Nectar from Longing and I have been grateful every day. I now have four books in the world and a contract for another as coeditor. I had the honor and joy of a third collection of poems published by Tiger Bark Press this June, Psalter: The Agnostic’s Book of Common Curiosities. This has been my greatest achievement thus far in my work as a writer. For those of you who do not know, Tiger Bark was founded by Steve Huff, former publisher at BOA Editions, Ltd., and he is a marvel and a friend. Steve has published the best of American poetry in his esteemed career and he does it because he loves poetry, language, writing, and writers. I still shiver with the knowledge that he has published so many poets who I admire and learn from with each poem I read, and that Steve chose me to be among that community. I was determined to live up to his confidence in me and give him the best book of poetry I was capable of offering, to give my readers the same. Every word was deliberated, every placement, all of it was a lesson I will carry forward in all the work to come. I will never accept complacency from myself in my art. I also view Psalter as the validation of the choice I make in living the way I do, even if it is on the margin. I need this flexibility to create and be my art.

The other pleasure of this book was that Psalter owes its visual grace to my dear friend Phil Memmer, who is Tiger Bark’s Associate Editor and designer of most of the books in the catalog. Phil knows me well and we work together to give our Central New York community a vibrant and supportive place for writers of all ages to convene, learn, create, the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center. He captu­­­­­red the elegance I was envisioning perfectly, the simple beauty of a vintage prayer book. He has much talent, a great eye, a skill in administration, and a keen sense of making a great poem, as evidenced in his four books. And he has been my friend for 15 years. What more could I ask?

Psalter taught me much over the 8 years it took to bring to the world and I am so grateful. Recently, I sat with the folders and piles of drafts I have stashed while I put my primary focus on Psalter and I have 58 pages of my next collection, Psychometry, and a clear sense of what I need to finish that in the year ahead. The conjoined twin series is a third complete and they are whispering to me that they would like me to visit. A memoir that has been languishing is starting to tickle my attention as well. And my second book, The Doom Weaver, is still alive and available from Main Street Rag Publishers, led by the relentless and wonderful Scott Douglas.

And my teaching is still a complete delight. In fact, even that is yielding new work, as I now write to the prompts that my Young Authors Academy poets bring to our circle on Saturdays. At the beginning of the year, I pointed out that they have agency in the process of our workshops and they take turns bringing inspiration that I also can glean new work from and we are all creating wonderful poems together, me and the next generation.

In late June I had the honor of facilitating a very intimate workshop at the No√ępe Center for Literary Arts in Edgartown, MA, on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard. I would love to return to teach and write in that wonderful, nurturing space. I am hoping to book readings and workshops, I am hoping to be more visible with my work beyond my immediate (and cherished) community. I am loving the conversations with Bob Herz, Steve Kuusisto, Phil Memmer, and often Jasmine Bailey that have yielded the podcast series, Talk about Poetry. I have posted videos of me reading poems from Psalter on You Tube. I worked another summer for the Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences, I got to write for Hendricks Chapel, and teach in the Honors Program once again. And my dear Keith Flynn included both a review and reprint of a poem in the 20th anniversary issue of the Asheville Poetry Review. I continued my work with the Comstock Review and presided over a great panel of Massachusetts poets we have published at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I continue to be a part of the 90-year legacy of the Central New York Branch of the American Pen Women and share with my friends and colleagues in that circle. If nothing else, I get a lot of things done in the midst of my flurry.

I have many projects in the pipeline too. Working with my friends of Syracuse Stories, we are expanding our mission and opportunities to capture stories that contribute to Know Your Neighbour, Know Your World. I am sculpting a plan for an excursion to Cuba for collaborative art-making. I teach in numerous locations, each class giving me ways to support other writers and further my own growth as I teach what I want to learn. And I started a new part-time job at the Syracuse University Bookstore, which I am loving. I get to play with books, talk with people about their interests and passions, and enjoy my colleagues…and it is just 20-minute walk from home.

My coauthor and cherished friend, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and I are collaborating again as coeditors of The Whiskey of Our Discontent, an anthology of essays to honor Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, due out in spring 2017 from Haymarket Books as the nation plans to celebrate her centennial year. This will also give me much opportunity to be in communication with many poets and scholars as well as immerse in Ms. Brooks’ work and example.

I am ready for it all. I have so much to do. And I need to remember that I have this moment in time to make the most of and to relish. I have watched my night-blooming cereus finally give its spectacular performance and the blood moon eclipse. I have grown a vegetable garden with my neighbor. I have lost several dear ones, most poignant and recent was the transition of my friend, my big brother of 50 years, Joe Leonard, who cares for me even from beyond his body in this life. And yesterday, I celebrated the third anniversary of the deepest love who is my dear puppywhuppy, Enza. Nuff said…

I have a huge Venn Diagram of beloveds. I cannot name you all but I know that the success and value of my life is measured in each of your faces and hearts. You know who you are and why I love you. Thank you for choosing me. And let me tell you, there is something timeless in the moment, the 19-year old in me, the 5-year old, the 30-year old, the 50-year old, and now today, when I woke with a zit and a bounce to my step, a flutter in my heart, and the showers stopped, the sun poured its honey everywhere, the clouds drifted through in wispy laughter, and the drops fell from the thick fall leaves in the backyard like gold rain. Know that you are cherished. I am profoundly grateful to you all…and perhaps I will take up the action of Ms. Clifton, and from now on sign each of my books, JOY…after all, she said to me, “I choose joy because I am capable of it, and there are those who are not…”


Friday, June 19, 2015

Launch Day for Psalter Is Here!

Today is the day that I officially launch my newest book, Psalter: The Agnostic's Book of Common Curiosities," published by Tiger Bark Press ( at the Downtown Writers Center of the Syracuse YMCA, 340 Montgomery Street, at 7 p.m. After the reading and signing, we will join at Flame, 713 E. Fayette Street, to continue the celebration. 

I am delighted for the honor of Steve Huff's choice of this book and for the elegant ways Phil Memmer captured my intention in his design. Also, I am so grateful for all the peer review and the wonderful consideration I have received from colleagues and friends. Kindnesses such as this: 

“Psalter” is an intimate and generous invitation into a poet’s heart.  With consummate artistry, Popoff creates haunting images that convey with aching tenderness and ruefully humorous insights what it is to be human, with all the attendant turbulence of desire, despair, and the wrenching epiphanies of seeing clearly.  Using the moniker “Joy,” the poet refuses the self-help bromides, the doctrines and dogmas of any institution, whether religious, academic, or societal. Her keen awareness of impermanence finds an ironical solace in nature, with its relentless cycles of birth and death, as in the poem “Anonymous”: “An insect crusade/ conquers a sturdy coffin/Winter petrifies tree roots/and stills the water table….” 
—Sherry Chayat, Abbot, Zen Studies Society and Zen Center of Syracuse

And thank you to all who supported the book in advance. I am so very grateful.

Now to party...


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Loosing Letterman

Dave at the desk is what I wait for, Monday - Friday nights. Not the monologue so much, or the interviews. It is the 5 minutes of desk time when Dave addresses concerns. This is the essence of the most outrageous, sublime, sardonic, ridiculous, touching, agitating.

For most of the past 35 years, I have fallen asleep with Dave being the last human influence of the day. Dave is more than a funny guy, although he is certainly that, and I believe there is almost no one with more influence on comedy, much less the entire entertainment business than David Letterman. And in at least the past 2-3 years, he has been the best in his own game, a master of his craft. 

In 1982, Dave and I were both young. If I had an older brother, he probably would have been like Dave. He was brash and bold. He was confrontational and often completely absurd. One night my friend John asked me if I had caught any of the new Letterman show. We watched together and belly laughed. There was nothing like him. Guys popped up in the stairs. One night Dave rode a horse through some town in New Jersey. Another, Paul did his first Cher imitation. Dave was cutting edge and edgy. Dave could insult and impress.

In 1982, I was still mourning the lost of my father and a relationship, trying to figure out what to do next with my life. One thing I knew, I could get a laugh for the end of my day watching Dave and falling asleep to the music that ends his show every night. I was soon to give up my dream of being a poet and enter into a decade-long quiet time.

Dave and I have both morphed and evolved. We have both had challenges and had to admit to foibles. Dave has done this in public, I have done it with a much smaller audience. Dave had the power to order a parade of Easter bunnies into a H&R Block or shower steamy New Yorkers with a water cannon and get away with it. I don't know that I need to be quite that bold but I live that boldness vicariously in the late-night time slot.

Eventually I came out of the quiet and stepped deliberately back onto the path of poet. My third collection of poems is just weeks away from showing up on my doorstep. I am 61 and wondering what this all will be, still wondering how to make ends meet as well, but eager for the next steps in life. For years, I wanted to tell Dave of every achievement and how he is such an inspiration and relief.  

Some of the most touching moments of my friend Dave include his return after his heart attack (and the many acknowledgments of his healthcare team thereafter), the first night of broadcast after the fall of the Towers, announcing the birth of his son, Harry (and every birthday greeting since), his apology for indiscretions, and so many friends he has eulogized. The night he spoke of the death of Paul Newman, he was eloquent and heart-rending. Dave announces weddings and births among his staff. Dave notes big acts and small achievements of countless people we would never know otherwise. Dave has become a generous and clever spirit.

There is no younger man behind the desk of a late-night talk show who has not learned something from Dave. Some of their schtick is directly from Dave. But Dave is the master. The way he has grown gentle and generous, as well as more and more subtle in the brilliance of his humor, is the maturity of an artist in action. Sometimes Dave gives me a flattop for a minute; I say, "Wait a minute..." And then I laugh so hard my belly hurts. And Dave certainly has a fascination with gravity.

Dave understands two things that I would really appreciate his younger colleagues pay attention to; they could benefit from internalizing these very simple lessons: 

1) It is not about them, it is about us (the viewers) and their guests. The hosts are there to bring out the best in the guests and entertain the audience, as well as keep things going. The hosts are not the center of attention but central to the success of every 60 minutes on air. There is a really important difference here that Dave has mastered. 

2) It really is not necessary to shout all the time.

Dave has also been an elemental commentator in the national political/social dialogue. There was the night he called John McCain out for a bad decision in grandstanding, the times he challenged both sides of any argument, the clarity of his vision of the world around us and the state of our politics must also be recognized, and the periodic visits from Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, Rachel Maddow, even O'Reilly, to run it down for us all. 

About a year ago, after Dave was readying us for the fact that his time to step down was not too far in the future, the Monday after the Emmys and the self congratulatory presence of the his younger colleagues, Dave quietly expressed his disappointment that not one word was offered to honor him for being the pillar of this business. There was a fist around my own heart at that time. He was right to be disappointed. That was a serious slight and I stopped ever watching the others, particularly the newest on the block, whose schtick is most beholding to the legacy of Dave (if you leave off the shouting and the self-conscious need to be the center of attention).

What will Pat Farmer do? Are there rooftops just yearning to have televisions and watermelons dropped from them? What will the newest bands do to get to the forefront? How many rimshots will Anton Fig be spared? Will Paul start the Schaffer Severson Museum of Sartorial Splendor? Will Felicia finally tour and let us hear her do a whole marvelous set?! I can stop thinking that I have to train my 10-year old Lab to do something silly and let her resume nap time. But Darlene Love's holiday serenade, Jay Thomas and the Lone Ranger story, visits to Rupert G.'s counter are all over. And what about Biff? Can he exist without headphones? And Dave's mom can relax now. The camera crew won't show up again but weren't the Olympics just great?! And Regis, now you really do have to retire, right?! 

I have become a mature artist myself and am ready to understand the sublime elements of both my art form, poetry, and life itself. Dave has been my buddy all this time and I am struggling. Who will keep me grounded? Who will show me the musicians I should pay attention to now? Who will synthesize the news in tangible ways? And how will I fall asleep now?

Take note, Stephen Colbert: don't try to top Dave. Just do your best to honor Dave and take us forward. We trust you will know what to do.

Dave, have a great time and thanks for it all. I never got to the studio and I never wrote you any of the letters I wanted to over the years, but you are a foundational element of my adult life and daily trod of getting through all of this. I love you, Dave, and you have taught me a lot. You are a great friend.

Thank you. It will be canned ham for dinner tonight...