My Book Finds Precious Real Estate

So your book is listed on amazon. Ho-hum. The same is true for 4,609,398,623,211 other books. Where the rubber really hits the road is when your book sits on a bookstore shelf. We’re talking prime real estate, many dots beyond com, between Barnes and his distinguished brother, Noble, say, or between some Mom and some Pop in an independent bookstore, maybe.

Such was my treat Wednesday night when I ran into the University of Connecticut’s Barnes & Noble bookstore before taking in the basketball game at Gampel Pavilion. There it was, into the blue and on the poetry section shelves, standing between Billy Collins (nice to meet you, William) and Rita Dove (peace out, sister)–The Indifferent World, looking anything but indifferent with its gaudy red “Local Author” sticker.

I had one-quarter a mind to autograph it on the spot, but no. Probably out of line without management’s blessing. So I just said hello, because you know what? This particular copy of the now-familiar book looked different. A prince among the paupers waiting to be adopted at amazon. An august leader among the plebes sitting in my to-be-signed-at-readings bag at home.

Despite the watery cover, it had definite airs. And why not? I say. Seize the moment, kid. Carpe your diem while the sun shines, because the sun also sets, as Hemingway almost told us.

In parting, I whispered these words to it: “I hope you find a good home–but maybe not just yet. Maybe after a few weeks, enjoying the view.”

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What? I Can’t Write About This?

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of publishing a first book of poetry is–what else?–readers, but less obviously, it’s readers’ reactions to poems.

Here’s irony. Reading a lot about poetry, I often come across comments from experts, critics, and even other poets, spreading rumors like, “When writing poetry, you should never write about nature because it’s hackneyed. And certainly not love. Too Hallmark. And dogs? You must be crazy. Death? Only if you want to send your readers running while waving their arms over how depressing a poet you are.”

Yeah. Something to that effect. And then, just when I begin to second guess my work, readers of my book will tell me some of their favorite poems from are ones about nature, love, death, and DOGS.

The moral of this story is clear. As a poet, you write what you want to write. If it moves you or warms up your Muse’s harp strings, play it loud and proud! The naysayers apparently haven’t read Ecclesiastes about nothing being new under the sun. The secret is taking what’s always been there and finding personal magic in it. If it’s how the sun rays hit the boulders and cast their shadows, so be it.

Here’s a poem with strange inspiration, a combination of quotidian and quirky. It notes the way my dog always leaves a single nugget of dog food in his bowl each morning. It’s from my book, The Indifferent World, and it breaks the experts’ rules. So don’t tell the poetry police, will you?

“Dog Religion”
by Ken Craft

Each morning he rises and bows
before me–parable of humility,
maw yawning, paws splaying.

The hollow rattle of dry meal
raining on his aluminum bowl
pops his ears. Every day,
novelty in the ritual of repetition;
every day, the Pavlovian ear perk.
Like heartbeats and bad breath,
autonomous tail and tongue.
Just so.

Waiting for me
to move, he approaches the orb
demurely, noses in, crunches the bland
and the brown. That lovable greed.
Those stained, pacifist teeth.

He feeds, license and rabies tag
keeping time at bowl’s edge. And always,
in the end, one dry kibble
is left in a bowl cirrus-streaked
with spit: his offering
to the food gods, his prayer
answered each miraculous day.

— from The Indifferent World by Ken Craft, copyright 2016, Future Cycle Press

Garrison Keillor Reads One of My Poems

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In the “Things I Never Thought I’d Write” Department, we have this: Today Garrison Keillor read one of my poems on his nationally-syndicated program, The Writer’s Almanac. Yep. The very same Writer’s Almanac I’ve listened to on the radio and read on-line countless times.

The poem, “Snapper,” tells the simple story of a snapping turtle that labored up a sandy hill on our property to lay her eggs. My son and I witnessed the event, and it came to a bad end.

For the eggs.

Luckily, I can’t say the same for the creative process. Watching the turtle inspired the poem, which in turn was selected for reading on TWA. And no one reads poems like Garrison reads poems. It was an honor listening to him wrap his voice around my words!

And the thought of him reading with a copy of my first book of poems, The Indifferent World, in his hands? Let’s put it this way. It didn’t leave me indifferent.

As Andy Warhol never said, “Two minutes and ten seconds of fame is better than none at all!”

 

Indifference–a Most Unexpected Angle

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In my last post, I shared a Czeslaw Milosz poem that seems to have echoes in many other works by many other poets. Anyone who has studied or simply read deeply of literature and mythology knows that writers’ fascination with life and death leads to thoughts of the world’s curious indifference to us.

Yes, we are subjective animals, especially when it comes to our favorite topic–ourselves. The world, however, is an objective entity. It rolls on. Whether we are sick or healthy, sad or happy, dead or alive, means nothing to it.

How, the subjective and reflective human asks, can something so beautiful (the world) remain so indifferent (uncaring), especially to someone as sensitive and thoughtful as me, myself, and I?

The theme of indifference not only preoccupied a set of poems I wrote, it also led me to unexpected places, one being a man I knew little (OK, nothing) about–a 16th-century Spanish soldier fascinated with courtly love and tales of brave knights (Don Quixote, anyone?). This Don became famous for other reasons. He became a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, a man called St. Ignatius of Loyola, now famous for founding the Jesuits.

The quixotic Ignatius turned the word “indifference” on its uncaring head. He saw it as a noble trait, one we all should seek.

What, you ask? Why be uncaring sorts when we’ve been taught otherwise since childhood? Because Ignatius meant that we should be “indifferent to all created things.” Good and bad, lovely and horrid, admirable and reprehensible.” Steel yourself and accept, in other words. This is your objective world in all its horror and glory.

This new interpretation of the word fascinates because it goes to our human weak point. Our subjectivity. Our love of self. Its precept is simple: We shouldn’t care if we are healthy or sick, enjoying ourselves or suffering, because whatever occurs is God’s will.

If you distrust matters religious, you can simply see it as fate or a case of Doris Day-like que sera sera. In which case, indifference looks almost like the Stoic’s shield. You are admired because you are indifferent to what life brings to you. You do not for a minute consider yourself special or deserving or the exception to everyone else’s rules.

In that case, being labeled “indifferent” becomes a red badge of courage. It is the defeat of selfishness and ego. And you thought word denotations were simple and well-behaved!

Have an indifferent day. If you dare.

 

 

Czeslaw Milosz on the Indifferent World

indexMany words–even simple ones–hold multiple meanings. Add connotative undertones to their pedigree and they grow even more fascinating. The word “indifferent” is such a word. Seemingly simple, there’s more to it than meets the eye as I’ll show in this post and the next. That’s one reason why I chose to name my book The Indifferent World and placed the word itself in many of the collection’s poems.

First, a more conventional look at the word’s meaning, as seen through a beautiful poem written and translated (with the help of Robert Haas) by Czeslaw Milosz. This poem appeared in my copy of All of Us: The Collected Poems by Raymond Carver. It gains momentum and strength as you read it–a trait I admire in poems.

 

Return to Kraków in 1880
Czeslaw Milosz

So I returned here from the big capitals,
To a town in a narrow valley under the cathedral hill
With royal tombs. To a square under the tower
And the shrill trumpet sounding noon, breaking
Its note in half because of the Tartar arrow
Has once again struck the trumpeter.
And pigeons. And the garish kerchiefs of women selling flowers.
And groups chattering under the Gothic portico of the church.
My trunk of books arrived, this time for good.
What I know of my laborious life: it was lived.
Faces are paler in memory than on daguerreotypes.
I don’t need to write memos and letters every morning.
Others will take over, always with the same hope,
The one we know is senseless and devote our lives to.
My country will remain what it is, the backyard of empires,
Nursing its humiliation with provincial daydreams.
I leave for a morning walk tapping with my cane:
The places of old people are taken by new old people
And where the girls once strolled in their rustling skirts,
New ones are strolling, proud of their beauty.
And children trundle hoops for more than half a century.
In a basement a cobbler looks up from his bench,
A hunchback passes by with his inner lament,
Then a fashionable lady, a fat image of the deadly sins.
So the Earth endures, in every petty matter
And in the lives of men, irreversible.
And it seems a relief. To win? To lose?
What for, if the world will forget us anyway.

You Won’t Find This Quiz on Goodreads*

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*But if you did and took it, you’d probably be in first place thanks to this sneak preview.

 

Nota bene: This quiz is for experts–that is, anyone who has ever read a poem (ANY poem, even “Roses Are Red–Still”). Having read The Indifferent World itself is not a requirement. It only helps a little, I promise. So go ahead. Impress yourself!

 

What is this poetry collection about, anyway?
___ Non-GMO Corn Flakes
___ John Calvin, predestination, and midnight Skip-Bo games in Plymouth
___ our world
___ nobody knows

What does “indifferent” mean, anyway?
___ quiet, shy
___ perspicacious
___ shrinking
___ Who cares?

How many rhyming poems will I find in this book, anyway?
___ one
___ eleven
___ twenty-one
___ none, which makes it more fun

In an earlier Goodreads life, the author went by what pseudonym, anyway?
___ Bwana
___ Newengland
___ Talleyrand
___ Alfred E. Newman

What lake is pictured on the cover of The Indifferent World, anyway?
___ Lago Maggiore (Frederick Henry’s favorite in A FAREWELL TO ARMS)
___ Lake Tahoe (Mark Twain’s favorite in ROUGHING IT)
___ Lake Victoria (Queen Victoria’s favorite in Africa)
___ Lake Anon (Anon Ymous’s favorite in Goodreads quizzes)

What is the author’s favorite infinitive, anyway?
___ to eat
___ to sleep
___ perchance to dream
___ to craft

After writing a novel (unpublished), a collection of vignettes (unpublished), and numerous short stories (unpublished), why did this author choose to write poems at such a very late age, anyway?
___ It was free (verse).
___ He was out of options.
___ He met a Muse on Facebook.
___ It was the only genre to take the “un-” out of “published.”

The first poem in this collection is about what pressing social issue, anyway?
___ A hunter choosing to shoot a deer.
___ A hunter choosing NOT to shoot a deer.
___ A hunter choosing to watch “Bambi” or “Old Yeller” on Wednesday night.
___ We’re going to build a wall.

According to GR reviewer Alex, poetry is WHAT, anyway?
___ “…sublime” (as opposed to sub-lemon)
___ “…supreme among the arts.”
___ “…like an onion left in the root cellar too long.”
___ “…dumb.”

How difficult was it to create ten questions about a 98-page poetry collection containing 80 poems, one that POETRY magazine said nothing about and THE NEW YORKER chimed in with “We’ll second that!” anyway?
___ very
___ very
___ very
___ all of the above

 

Answer key: 
Do you really need one?

 WHAT IT MEANS:

None Correct: Now that’s indifferent (then again, who cares?)
1-2 Correct: You know, infinitive! A verb with to in front of it….
3-4 Correct: Poetry. You’ve heard of it, right?
5-6 Correct: It was the sub-lemon that threw you, right?
7-8 Correct: Very, very, very (all of the above) good!
9 Correct: Call Mr. T! You’re on the A-Team!
10 Correct: You know me better than I know me. Drop me a line, why don’t you. I’m still trying to find myself and California’s a long way aways.

Ekphrastic Poetry (of a Sort)

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“Ekphrasis” is a Greek word meaning “description.” In poetry, it conjures a poem describing a painting or sculpture. Using the adjective form, we get “ekphrastic poetry,” and although I have not written about a painting or a sculpture, I have written about a photograph.

Is this “ekphrastic poetry”? Durned if I know. I suppose strict interpretation sorts will say, “Sorry, but no,” but strict interpretation sorts aren’t allowed on my lawn, so I’ll take credit for one ekphrastic poem even though it’s shy about announcing itself as such.

It is “Provide, Provide” (thank you, Robert Frost), and what I love about the photograph (besides its inspirational value) is its symbolism. It shows an old Maine farmhouse in November. The perimeter of the concrete foundations are skirted with rectangular bales of hay. Nearby is a wood shed filled neatly with cut wood. Photograph or no, you can almost smell the scent of the wood, the shavings, the cold November air.

And the old man who has authored it? Been doing it all his life. Taught by his father, no doubt. All business. Old New England. Taciturn, but seemingly saying, “Bring it on, Old Man Winter!” (And Old Man Winter never disappoints.)

Here’s what became of the photograph when it took on an alter ego in words:

Provide, Provide

Clem buttresses that old house
with bales of hay against the foundation,
rivets metal roofing over buckled
tar paper, and feeds his splitter, revealing
the striated blond bellies of halved maple
logs and spewing the fine dust of sweet
wood into his khaki-confettied hair.
As if he sat at Job’s knee as a child,
that old man stacks his wood into a cord,
builds a square meal for his winter stove,
and doesn’t glance up once at the leaden
bottoms of November’s indifferent clouds.

— Ken Craft, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016)

Like Frost, I’m a fan of the fall. Summer heat and humidity are OK in small doses, but the cool-to-damned-cold autumn? I never tire of it. Stark realism, thank you. The world without pretensions or make-up (I’m talking after the leaf show, folks). A season custom designed for the Protestant work ethic if ever there was one. No room for old slackers.

And then there is Clem and his splitter. The wonderful look and texture of cut wood. The stacking into a new design (order as beauty). The concomitant feeling of satisfaction and fatigue.

Oh, yes. And the ant ascendant. Grasshoppers and their cellphones are long vanquished from the scene.

Providence (sans Rhode Island) at its best!