Sunday, January 30, 2022

2 Poems: Experiments in Creativity for Fun, Not Profit

Ghosts playing chess in New York City
Poetry is a monetarily thankless pursuit.

This past weekend in 1845 the New York Evening Mirror published "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. "It was a huge sensation," writes The Writer's Almanac. "Abraham Lincoln memorized it, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a fan letter to Poe. He was paid $9 for 'The Raven,' and it was extensively reprinted without his permission."

Yet as monetarily thankless pursuits go, I find poetry more rewarding than, say, sports betting (where seemingly all Internet advertising directed at me insists my interest should lie).

I must be the wrong demographic for poetry. I admire Emily-in-Paris Peyton Manning, and question the Caesars-Sportsbook Peyton Manning who shills for a business based on customers losing money.

Lately, I've stumbled upon poetry in unlikely places. Listening to music this past week, I'm been enchanted by Lin-Manuel Miranda's outstanding lyrics from Disney's "Encanto" and Taylor Swift and, an old favorite, Paul Simon.

"Miracle and Wonder," an audio book of recent Malcolm Gladwell interviews with Simon, examines the intriguing premise that there's a type of creativity that improves with age. Not to diminish the conceptual breakthroughs of young artists, another type of creativity requires experimentation over time based on an accumulation of knowledge. Writing earlier on this topic, Gladwell examines a study of how Picasso produced his greatest works at the beginning of his career, and Cezanne at the end.

I write poems simply to try to contribute something. Steve Jobs once said that people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity by creating something of worth and putting it out there.

Below are two latest efforts I've submitted to poetry contests. Which I never win. I'm like Charlie Brown running to kick off with Lucy holding the football. I always wind up flat on my face, but then I'll try again next year, against my better judgement. Perhaps, with more experimentation, someday I will create something of value.

I revised the following poem based on a prompt from Paterson, NJ's poet laureate Talena Lachelle Queen. During a virtual poetry workshop earlier this month, she read the poem "On the Other Side of the Door" by the late Jeff Moss, best known as a composer and lyricist on "Sesame Street." It's largely a young adults' poem, beloved by educators -- and, hey, Taylor Swift even wrote a song with the same name.

It inspired me to write a few lines that improved a poem I had written last year, based on a photo I took at the height of the pandemic lockdown (the image posted at the top of this page). Here's my submission to the 2022 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, sponsored by The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College:

100 Words (Exactly) About Writing 


On a blank page, 

I can do I anything. 


I am bold. 

The way you always wanted me to be. 

And I can make you love me. 

And you would never leave. 


You would never leave, 

And I would never wonder. 

Because I create new worlds, 

And conjure you at will. 


Here we are at dusk in New York: 


We are ghosts, 

Playing chess in a vest-pocket park. 

Phantom dogs roam at our feet. 

Occasional cars form shooting stars 

Along the FDR. 


On a blank page, 

I wait forever for your next move. 

On a blank page, 

I never lose.


Arno River, 50 years ago

Below is another experiment, based on something I wrote years ago. I submitted it to the "100 Days of Dante" poetry contest, sponsored by the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing with the Society of Classical Poets.

My original sonnet had stanzas loosely suggesting Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. I was inspired to revise several lines last week when I discovered the first photos I ever took (now fading 35mm slides), from 50 years ago.

Dad had let me borrow his camera, and my little sister and I were with my grandmother and uncle in Italy.

One day we visited Florence, and I (unknowingly) took blurry photos of the Ponte Vecchio, where Dante, who began his own epic journey in middle age, saw young Beatrice in the late 1200s. He fell in love with her at first sight. She died soon afterward of The Plague, but she inspired his writing forever:

Dante in Reverse


Adam was a madman; and paradise,

a fraud. In only this do I believe:

the rhythm of your heart. Oh Beatrice,

your eyes alone could prove infinity.

It is our love that has unraveled all.

It haunts my sleep. At first, a stolen glance,

with stars beneath my feet. And then, I fall

from you toward earth -- my dream, a graceless dance.

Before I land, my senses gain control.

Alone in bed, I fear the rustling sound

of insubstantial leaves, like wind-swept souls.

My heart (alive or dead?) seems strangely bound.

This is the slow, uneven beat of Hell:

I have loved you always, but never well.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Using 6 Words (and an Image) to Tell a Story

Sunset, facing East, reflecting off Queens.

I'm fascinated by six-word stories. (I consider hyphenated modifiers two words.) 

Entire website ecosystems promote the practice.

There's a masterclass for hopeful practitioners.

Then there's me and my photos. Following are twelve six-word captions. There's more at #6wordcaption on Instagram.

Reflecting on First Avenue's infinite possibilities.

Returning home in March 2020, forever.

I stood alone, surrounded by history.

Gazing at Bethlehem's Star over Teaneck.


Suspended between NYC and New Jersey.

We all used to be puppies.


Mom, waiting for me to return.

I will never understand my cat.


Morning drama at the East Balcony.

Found a waterfall on 51st Street.


Pedal swans waiting for tonight's storm.

My grandfather's workshop, which never ages.


Saturday, January 8, 2022

I Can Be a Hero...

On exhibit at Fotografiska NY in 2020:
Ellen von Unwerth's photo of David Bowie and Kate Moss.

... Just for one day.

Have you ever had a social media post go viral?

I experienced that on a small scale earlier today, with this Twitter post of a throwback photo of the epic Jersey City mural by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra:

Bowie's artistry deserves universal praise, so tributes on what would have been his 75th birthday meant something to many.

What I particularly admire is how Bowie remained productive, provocative and relevant as he grew older. I only wish I could be as creative.

His song "Life on Mars" gives me chills. I parroted it (without reference to Hermione Farthingale's hair) as part of a writing exercise this past April (read more here and here). New Jersey poet Alicia Cook had provided a prompt to write a poem with the line "life only exists where there's water."

I naturally thought of Mars. It was also days after the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Minnesota. So for my exercise, I wrote this "Eight Line Poem," named after the song that immediately proceeds "Life on Mars" on Bowie's "Hunky Dory" album.

Is there life on Mars?
Life only exists where there's water,
in lakes hidden below the icy surface.

Here on earth,
it's a God-awful small affair.
Life only exists where we let it:

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy.

As I grow older, I've grown to appreciate the limits of my creativity... and relevancy. But every once in a while, I write something or post an image that means something to someone else.

I love the magic of that.

Social media—as dangerous as it's proven to be—is also empowering.

One of the most extraordinary things in my life is that I'm able to publish without permission.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Enzo the Sloth Is the Artist We Need in 2022

A sloth painted this.

Upside down, on his back, holding a brush between two toes.

One grown daughter had ordered this painting by Enzo the Sloth via Etsy as a Christmas gift for my other grown daughter. She loves sloths (and dogs and black cats and T-Rexes) in the same whimsical way her dad loves penguins.

This proved to be the perfect gift for her.

Enzo, naturally, took his time with the project, and there was a bit of a scare he wouldn’t finish by Christmas.

The artist came through, though, to the delight of our entire family.

I’m no expert on sloth art, but I believe this might be Enzo’s masterpiece: a wonderfully expressive self-portrait of the “Enzo” the artist dreams of becoming.

It looks like he’s skateboarding, bringing to mind a BuzzFeed story about what Emma Watson said made her fall in love with Tom Felton while making the “Harry Potter” movies:

“I walked into a room where we were having tutoring,” Emma explained. “The assignment that had been given was to draw what you thought God looked like, and Tom had drawn a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard.”

In Enzo’s self-portrait you can see his two curved toes with arms spread as he speeds through mid-air toward a magnificent, graceful landing. He’s blithe and unencumbered by physical limitations.

There’s no looking back for this sloth.

Enzo is my inspiration for 2022.

A photo of Enzo, masterpiece in progress.