Publications
Autobiographies of the Present Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

frederick_douglass2(Boulevard Spring 1993)

If ever there was an autobiography whose focus is almost entirely given to the author’s past, it is Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of An American Slave. So irrevocable is the physical and psychological abuse he received as a slave that Douglass, writing as a free man, must continually describe that abuse as if his past were a nightmare from which he can never completely awaken. For example, in Chapter V, he writes of being kept, in summer and winter, "almost naked—no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees." On the coldest nights, he used a corn sack, stolen from the mill, to cover himself while he slept. He would crawl inside the sack and sleep, "with my head in and my feet out." But then, unexpectedly, his description seems to rouse another level of awareness: "My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes."

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The Sacred Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

sacredheart(Chicago Reader December 15, 1992)

I was ten years old the first time I protected my father from what had happened to him when he was a boy in his father’s house. Of course I know I wasn’t there to protect him during his boyhood as he was there to protect me during mine. But there was a time, and a place, when our separate, bitter lessons about growing up came together, when the pain he endured as a boy awakened a desire in me to save him from his past.

What happened takes me back, strangely, to the times my family was closest—the holidays. We were usually away from home on holidays, driving to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Easter, Thanksgiving, or Labor Day weekend. But those dates hardly compared to the biggest prize—one precious week when parents, grandparents, and children indulged each other and themselves at Christmas. Christmas for me was a long window onto a table of love dressed with gifts, darkness, surprises, ease; when the men stopped working and the women labored with few complaints.

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The Hollow Boy Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

boy(Cream City Review Volume 16, Number 2, Fall 1992)

My mother is cracking an egg on the rim of a bowl. The egg falls in, and its yolk breaks, streaming a curl of yellow. A cup of milk, a stick of butter, and Betty Crocker cake mix follow.

The bowl is made of clear, thick glass. On its bottom there is a metal base in which the big bowl can be set, turned, and locked in place. Once locked, the elliptical steel prongs, attached to the arm of the mixer, descend into the batter. On its top is a dial with settings—slow (bread dough), medium (cake batter), fast (frosting or whipping cream).

The mixer whirls, and my mother says, “There. Now.” Her hands stroke down on her apron. The appliance is called a Mix­master, and it runs while she pulls open the silver-handled door of the refrigerator and puts the milk and butter back in.

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Review: truth and lies that press for life: Sixty Los Angeles Poets Print E-mail
Criticism

0604_Art_Melancholy(Poetry Flash Number 223 July 1992)

Uneasy Confessions

Today, the prevailing trend in publishing poetry, besides presenting individual authors, is to publish the work of poets in community. Scan the anthology section of your bookstore's poetry corner and you'll see the packaging: the poetry of ethnicity (African-American, Jewish-American, Native-American); the poetry of gender and relationship (men's issues, mothers to daughters, incest survivors); and the poetry of place (Key West, Ohio valley, Oregon coast). But such grouping is not new to poets; they have already come together as working writers, developing themselves through communities that often fuse elements of the University writer's workshop, the coffee klatch, and (at times) the 12-step program. Poets organize in communities not only because of their identity, but also because they wish to create community, to commune, where a personal and shared poetry becomes their bread and wine.

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The Lure and the Deep Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_1891(San Diego Writers' Monthly April 1992)

Eight floors up in a college dormitory conference room that overlooks the University of California campus and the dark blond beaches of the blue Pacific, I am finishing a long discussion with a writing student. Max. The one who waits. The one who ponders everything I say. Who wants me to tell him more about what’s really wrong with his work, the pained yielding behind those round glasses I can’t help but conjure in a young John Lennon. Behind him, through the sliding glass doors and beyond the railed ledge, is the water.

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Review: Three 1991 Poetry Collections: Roger Weingarten, Maurya Simon, Lowell Jaeger Print E-mail
Criticism

kjugv(High Plains Literary Review. Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall 1991)

Poetry With and Without Feeling

After reading three poets of highly dissimilar focus I am again amazed at the truthfulness of a simple rule, one that may seem obvious to any reader. Poetry which forges with its subject a depth of feeling that is honest and personal and grave cannot be ignored.

But woe to that poetry which forges without feeling.

Of the three before us, Roger Weingarten's verse (Infant Bonds of Joy) has little in it to recommend. His emphasis on mercurial objects stirred with ponderous discourse succeeds too often in trivializing emotion. The result as Leonard Kriegel wrote of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is "something missing . . . something essential, an absence not merely of the deeper self but of the very possibility of a deeper self."

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On the Poetry of James Wright Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

3305598771_2112eb333e(Poetry Flash Number 220, July 1991; revised March 2011)

1.

My regard for James Wright’s poetry is something I have always found difficult to describe. It is made that much harder when before me I have his Above the River: The Complete Poems, holding potentially a new and unassimilated view of his work. To read and write about his entire opus will unloosen the spell, comfortable and known, which a few of his poems have had over me for decades. That spell was cast first in 1967 when I read his brilliant poem, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”

Some ache lingers from that poem’s ending irony to the pastoral landscape Wright created: “a chicken hawk floats over, looking for home./ I have wasted my life.”

I have not wasted my life because I feel more sensitive to the world and the unconscious because of his poetry. I wonder, though, if this posthumous volume will not change my sense of the kind of poet Wright was.

The rest of this critical essay is available in eBook form from Amazon.com: "On the Poetry of James Wright" $2.99.

 
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