William Stafford Weekend

2013-10-21 17.48.56Okay, so he was born in January. That actually might explain a lot about the icy, cold beauty in some of his poems, like his famous “Traveling through the Dark,” and “Ask Me,” which begins with those delicious words, “Sometime when the river is ice . . . ”

But I was born in September, and the changes that come about in my corner of the world, cool winds, migration, the softening of colors, these things make me think of William Stafford. I’m not sure I can say why. Something about his ability to dwell in the beauty of the moment puts me in an early autumn frame of mind.

And since we are within a week of my birthday, it feels like a good time to share a bit more of this favorite wise, old sage of a poet. I discovered him a mere handful of years before this world lost him in 1993. Luckily, so many of his many and beautiful words have been saved. A wealth of them can be found via the link in his name in the above paragraph. You can find even more, including audio and video in Continue reading “William Stafford Weekend”

Bio Updates

Ricketts Glen, a place I visited alone on Christmas day this year. The photo was taken in the summer, the last time I had been there, over a decade ago.

And by that title, I mean biography, not biology, of course. I’ve been trying to update my biology, but age and a bad knee are making for slow progress.

As you have possibly seen in recent posts, this year I became the adopted father of a bouncing baby literary magazine. Actually, it’s no longer a baby, having been born in 2009. But I had the honor, along with my team, of leading her out of hiatus and back into the world. Holy lit mags, Batman! I had no idea what I was getting into, but gee wiz (as the young Boy Wonder might say), I’m so happy about it. You can learn all the details on Word Fountain’s page.

Along the way, the submission tracking service that I already use for my own writing, Duotrope.com, somehow found us online, and contacted me to let me know they had added us to their database, and would I please double check our listing there to make sure the information was correct? In the call for submissions at WF I had already asked for writers to let us know how they had heard about us. I started noticing many emails stating that they found our listing on Duotrope.

Our founding editor told me that it had been her hope to eventually have us listed with Poets & Writers. Now I’m going to be honest here, because that is what I hope you have come to expect from me. I hate the name. I’ve always hated the name. Poets & Writers. What marketing genius came up with that? Poets AND Writers? Are poets not writers? Isn’t the name “Poets and Writers” a bit like saying “Dachshunds and Dogs?” To be fair, maybe prose was an afterthought. Maybe they were first into poets, and later it just sounded too clumsy to say “Poets & Other Writers,” and admittedly “Poetry and Prose Writers” sounds clumsy, and “Poets and Prosers” just can’t be done. Or maybe P&W was founded by the former student of Billy Collins who said, “Poetry is harder than writing.”

But I must confess, much as I wish they had named themselves more eloquently, P&W is indeed an excellent organization, dedicated to promoting literary magazines, and to helping poets and fiction writers find the best homes for their work. The lot of us are better for their existence. So yes, I submitted our site there too. Then after they rejected us for admittedly reasonable reasons that were easily cleared up on the About page, they happily accepted us the next day and even tweeted about us. I’ve already been contacted by writers who saw our link there, more than two weeks ahead of the official opening of our submissions window for the winter issue.

And now I’ve submitted our listing to New Pages. I’ll let you know how that goes.

So what’s all of this got to do with my bio, or as I said, bios? Well, I thought it was important as the Editor-in-chief, to be completely transparent, and make my name in the Masthead clickable, leading people here, or more specifically, to the part of my three-pronged bio under the heading of Poet. That’s when I realized there was a lot of updating to do. So I adapted the bio written for me by a dear friend who has a green pen, and I spiffed things up a bit. (Thank you, Joel).

That’s when I remembered the other two pages. Father and Birder needed serious updating as well. With the Father page, it was mostly photos I added. Heck, I’ve been writing about those three guys all along the way, especially in poems. But I had neglected the Birder page. A lot. Mostly because I had been neglecting my own mental health. That probably started with the physical–the blow-out of my knee three years back, while I was still working two jobs, and waiting tables. It hurt to walk, but walking is what made it better. I didn’t realize that I was sinking into depression, or that my health, my career, or lack thereof, were just some of the reasons for that.

So this year, as I said in the recent post, “Spring Birding,” I have been making more time for peace of mind. It started in the fall, on a warm day after a meeting with an old friend, the therapist who first helped me deal with the aftermath of coming out. It was an “official” meeting. I was worried about my son’s health, and I was not taking good care of my own. I sought him out and found he was still in practice these 19 years later. I knew that I couldn’t be a help to my son without taking good care of myself. Doctor Craig said a lot of helpful things that meeting, and he went over our time by about a half an hour, such was his earnestness for me to “get it.”

English: Picnic Area in Haugh Woods Such a lov...
Picnic Area in Haugh Woods. Not where I stopped, but it looks much like this. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the way home, I stopped and parked the car at a picnic area by the road, got out, notebook and pen in hand. But something about the pine trees . . . I walked right past the picnic table, dropping the notebook and pen as I went. I didn’t even lock the car. I marched right into the woods.

Stunning, if a person can be soothingly stunned; the scent of pine, the aroma of the moist ground beneath my shoes; the gentle crackling, how had I forgotten that? The sound the dead and dying needles breaking, releasing more of their gentle perfume.

It was an hour or more away from the pine trees of the Black Forest Trail of North Central Pennsylvania, yet immediately I was back there, and 17-years-old, watching my first Red-tailed Hawk make circles over our watering hole near Slate Run. Later, in the Spring, my son and I, each well on the way to recovery, getting lost, but enjoying it, found the dirt road leading through a forest carpeted with ferns. And I was 9-years-old, marching along the path of Ferny Run, north of Farandsville, the ancient, broken stone wall on my left, the occasional rise of grown-over logging grades to my right. Again, recently near the waterfall at Hickory Run, Vincent, Amy and I among the Rhododendrons, like the ones that made that magical jungle of my childhood, up the old grassy road behind the cabin.

Why, I asked myself, when these are the sights and smells that remind me most of myself, this the air, the quality of light through branches overhead, the coolness beneath the trees on the hottest of days, why had I stopped coming to these places, to myself?

I remember now, when I started this blog, at the end of a dying relationship in 2008. I needed to write, to keep up the practice of writing, and I needed to write about the three things that “brought me the most joy:” being a dad, reading and writing poems, and walking in the forest, birds in the trees, or overhead, heard and sought. And so there you have it. Things updated, and things that had gone askew now set a bit more right. And me, home in my skin again.

Thank you, friend, for being kind today, and reading about it.


Spring Birding, 2016

Micah and I at Seven Tubs
Micah and I at Seven Tubs

We moved here to North Eastern Pennsylvania in October, and got to do a bit of hiking about, local fields, tracks of woods along railroad tracks and we took visiting friends to Francis Slocum State Park in November and I even spent a little time alone on Christmas Day at Rickett’s Glen since the weather was mild.

I think it was late October that Micah and I saw one of the largest Bald Eagles I think I’ve ever encountered, a juvenile soaring steady near the levee walk over the other side of the river in Kingston.  That same day we saw what appeared to be a fallout of Dark-eyed Juncos, and a possible Fox Sparrow. After that I think we just hibernated for the winter, getting our new home in order.

So this spring I vowed I would take some time to explore more of the local woodlands. Almost every weekend I’ve been out, sometimes with my youngest son, Micah, when he’s here, and other times alone. We were surprised to find the number of birds that can be seen in the woods near Kirby Park, including a Scarlet Tananger, Indigo Bunting, and another Fox Sparrow.

I just updated my Birder bio, and included more information about our adventures.

Since October of 2016 I’ve been living a bit further up the north branch of the river near Wilkes-Barre. I still see plenty of Bald Eagles nearby, and this neighborhood has its share of bird feeders, and therefore Accipiters. My youngest son and I have seen both adult and juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawks here. In late May, well after Broad-wing migration, we saw a local Broadie on three different days, right here in the suburban hills.

Down near the river there are plenty of Catbirds, Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, and Song Sparrows, among others. And we’ve spent a fair amount of time in the woods looking for spring warblers this year, and practicing the art of pishing. I am hopeful of learning more songs. I saw a Black and White Warbler (my first in years!) and a Pine Warbler at Eals Preserver on Moosic Mountain, where I also experienced more Eastern Towhees than I have ever seen or heard in my life. We heard plenty of Ovenbirds around Seven Tubs, and have seen both Wood Thrush and Hermit Thrush from Bear Creek Preserve to the old over-grown park of Moon Lake. We pished out into the open a Northern Parula Warbler at the Council Cup lookout, and I know I’m missing some of this spring’s highlights.

I should also mention that I saw my first ever Brown Creeper as I was pointing out a White Breasted Nuthatch. My dear brother Vincent was visiting from Northern Ireland, and days after we experienced Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park, we decided to check out the very back woods of the Bear Creek Preserve, a managed area recently acquired by the National Trust.

I was watching the Nuthatch when the something moved on the bark of a tree, and I focused right in. The camouflage was perfect, with a wide-spread tail for balance. Suddenly it dropped from its place about 15 feet up, and fluttered like a fallen leaf, only to land a nearby tree, lower down near the trunk. From there it began its jerky creeping back up. Amazing!

I found a video of the behavior, but it doesn’t quite capture the grace of the fall, which to me seemed like behavioral camouflage.

Like I said in the Birder bio update, I don’t take cameras, just my Nikon binoculars, and sometimes my scope, especially if I’m watching waterfowl, or something more likely to sit still for periods of time. So the photos I do get are either from a friend whom I’ve coerced into tagging along, or else they are phone captures. So forgive the lack of actual birds in these photos, but I thought, despite the mediocre quality of the shots, you might enjoy some proof of our adventures.


Poetry Month Then and Now

English: Signature of Shel Silverstein.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night Rebecca, George, Magda and a small group of library patrons celebrated National Poetry Month by gathering in the reading room at the Osterhout Free Library for Wilkes-Barre’s first Third Friday Art Walk of the season.  Patrons stopped in, some to watch and listen between checking out the historic photographs and paintings on the wall, and some to spend a little time reading with us. The majority of the poems were from books of children’s poetry. We had everything from A. A. Milne and Shel Silverstein to Robert Lois Stevenson and Sherman Alexi.

Next month we’ll be celebrating the release of the new Word Fountain literary magazine, which has been on hiatus for the last two years. Recently some other new library employees agreed to join me in editing a relaunch. The submission deadline was April 1st, and we had no idea how many submissions we would get. Thanks to Duotrope adding us to their database, and promotion through the library and sites like NEPA Scene and Poets of NEPA, we were overwhelmed by the response! So if you submitted and haven’t heard from us yet, we’re down to making the difficult, last-minute decisions, so you’ll hear from us soon.

line art drawing of catbird.
The Catbird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before going back to finish up Word Fountain though, I’ll be taking this week off to spend time with one of my best friends in the world, as fellow poet and member of the original triumvirate who led the old GayFatherhood.com website, Vincent Creelan comes to visit from Northern Ireland. We’ll be trekking through the woods, looking for birds and geologic rock formations, drinking wine and reading poems together. So, I know I’ll return back to you refreshed for next week.

And while gathering things like binoculars and field guides today, as I do a bit of house-cleaning in preparation for Vince’s arrival, I thought of a poem about birds that I wish I had shared with the group at the library last night. By this point in my life I could probably recite this poem by memory, but here is a video of me reading the poem in King Street Park, Northumberland as my family was celebrating National Poetry Month about this time four years ago. We don’t always gather in local parks with sidewalk chalk, poetry books and a guitar, but when we do, we certainly get the neighborhood’s attention. Then again, they probably just think, ‘Oh, it’s that weird Bauman family again. They’re always doing stuff like that. Bunch of hippies.’

The Kitty-Cat Bird

The Kitty-Cat Bird, he sat on a Fence.
Said the Wren, your Song isn’t worth 10 cents.
You’re a Fake, you’re a Fraud, you’re a Hor-rid Pretense!
–Said the Wren to the Kitty-Cat Bird.

You’ve too many Tunes, and none of them Good:
I wish you would act like a bird really should,
Or stay by yourself down deep in the wood,
–Said the Wren to the Kitty-Kat Bird.

You Mew like a Cat, you grate like a Jay:
You squeak like a Mouse that’s lost in the Hay,
I wouldn’t be You for even a day,
–Said the Wren to the Kitty-Cat Bird.

The Kitty-Cat Bird, he moped and he cried.
Then a real cat came with a Mouth so Wide,
That the Kitty-Cat Bird just hopped inside;
–Did the Kitty –the Kitty-Cat Bird.

You’d better not laugh; and don’t say “Pooh!”
Until you have thought this Sad Tale through;
Be sure that whatever you are is you
–Or you’ll end like the Kitty-Cat Bird.

Theodore Roethke

Keeping the Sabbath with Emily Dickinson, 236

Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Emily Dickinson’s “Chorister,” the Bobolink (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good Sunday to you. And if I haven’t said it already, happy National Poetry Month from the Northeast of these United (sort of) States.

At last the April snows appear to be over here. It’s sunny, but with that brisk chill that somehow returns me to childhood, not for any particular memory or event, but the emotion associated with tactile memory. The taste on the breeze, of cool moisture on a spring morning, the warmth of sun contrasting with cold air on my skin.

I sat on my back steps in my bathrobe, waiting for my coffee to be ready. Through my pantry window I had seen Mamma Robin again, and it made me think of a new poem by my friend Joel. So I had to go out and see her in person, her rufus breast puffed out, the feathers on her head peaking up just a bit; she was not going to be intimidated by my presence, and soon seemed to accept my company as another fact of the morning. This was the first time this year I had noticed actual dew drops sparkling in the grass, dew drops, not frost.

A american robin bird
American Robin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It always comes back around, doesn’t it? If you wait out the winter, keep going, sometimes pushing through snow, hibernating when you can. It always comes back around. There were other birds in nearby yards, the House Sparrow landing on the eves of the house next door, the coo of a Mourning Dove, but sadly no Bobolink. Ah, Miss Emily. We do what we can with what we have. I nodded good morning to Mamma Robin and returned inside for my coffee.

I found this video this morning, and the date for its creation is the last day of February of this year. From the stark beauty of the bare trees, and the patches of remaining snow in the shade, as well as those winding roads, it feels like home in the hills of Central Pennsylvania. I even remember being a crazy youngster, walking in my bare feet in the cold woods like this.

The memory of what YouTube used to be to some of us. Yeah, that’s probably part of the nostalgia I feel in watching this simple video. Back when it was a group of creative upstarts with microphones and cheap cameras, back before it became corporate-tube. Yeah, some of you might remember. It’s lovely to find something like this is still being done.

I was once a believer in deity, but I have come to be a believer in people instead. I think it makes more sense, and is certainly no more dangerous. But I confess, I’ve always loved this poem by Emily Dickinson, number 236 as it is cataloged. Though she did not entitle her pieces, we generally find them easier to sort through by their first lines. If a touch of glossary helps: *Sexton  *Surplice.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)

By Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

From The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by R.W. Franklin (Harvard University press, 1999)

Music Monday with EELS, Part 1

English: Eels at Birmingham Town Hall 26 Febru...
Eels at Birmingham, 2/22/2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Twenty one days ago I made some enigmatic statements here about certain aspects of life being “up in the air,” and other aspects of life just being down, dirty, and difficult.

A person gets tired. I think I’m handling myself well, for the most part, as well as I can, but I apologize, dear reader that I haven’t yet been at liberty to be more specific, despite this needling need to share my angst. I don’t mean to make you suffer with me. I promise I can say more about some of these things very soon.

In the meantime I am going to launch into a very music-heavy Music Monday, because often songs can say more than prose, especially about emotions. There are all those helpers: the melody, the harmonies, the key changes, the crescendos, held notes and fade-outs, that speak to us in physical ways. When a song is done well, the music and the lyrics conspire to do something to the heart.

And some things you just can’t say out loud, or online, because you love the people in your life, and even if writing in your blog is cathartic, those loved people just happen to read the internet, and your cathartic blog just happens to be on the internet, for family, friends, and present and potential employers to read–and misunderstand.

‘Nuff said.

Speaking of things being up in the air, despite how busy I have been these 21 days, I’ve been trying to take time for important things like sleep, and a little birding. Yes, birding, it’s always good for my soul. This last week was basically Broad-wing Hawk season here in Pennsylvania, and while I squeezed in the bulk of Sunday, and a good chunk of last Monday for hawk watching, I swear I am going to take the whole week off next year if possible! Life is too short not to see kettles like this each year (not my video, but visuals to come; I promise):

And in the after-glow of my spending a gorgeous five hours on a mountain lookout on Sunday, seeing Broad-wings, Sharpies, Bald Eagles, and even a Merlin! I bring you, a song from the birding comedy (yes, there is at least one movie that fits the genre), The Big Year. Actually the song has been around a few years before that, but I first heard it during that movie. It’s by the Eels–no, that’s not right–I think they just call themselves Eels, and it’s called “I Like Birds.” [UPDATE]: The original video I had posted here was a live version by Eels that was pretty cool, but it has disappeared due to copyright claims, so I have substituted one from the guys at the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Birds and Blooms, that really gives me the giggles, and reminds me of exactly what we look like out there in the field.

And since it’s such a short song, I am also sharing, in keeping with the “I Like” theme, one of their tunes that makes me think about my beloved Brian. Birding puts me in a good mood, sure, but I assure you, I adore Brian every day. Okay, some parts of a day might not count, like when I’m cleaning up a coffee spill he missed, but at least a good part of each day. I try not to gush about it online. I don’t want to gloat, and I know I am damn lucky to have someone in my life who lights up nearly each time I walk in the room. Damn lucky. And after six years I can still say, “I Like the Way This Is Going.”

Part two of Music Monday with Eels, coming up later today.