I started this blog “Paul’s Poetry Playground” almost three years ago and have been posting my black and white photography on my WordPress blog “Gargoyles and Grotesques” since 2013. As the new year of 2022 begins, I have decided to create a brand new site to start sharing my color photos with you as well (my usual approach to color photography has been heavily influenced by the super-saturated hues of Kodachrome, which I sorely miss, but occasionally I also use color in a more subtle way)…
Hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and will have an equally fantastic New Year!!
I want to thank my fellow blogger Diane Puterbaugh for graciously accepting my invitation to participate in the following which I hope you will accept as my belated holiday gift to you all…
PAUL: Good evening, everybody! Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas?
Welcome to our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium! I really appreciate all you kind folks taking time away from your hectic holiday schedules to be here tonight, as well as all those who supported and participated in the Virtual Poetorium throughout the past year. Like last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium, tonight will be a bit different than our usual show since there is no featured poet or interview, but instead, we will have two virtual open mics featuring Holiday-themed poetry and stories (one before and one after our break) and of course, the good old group poem. We will also be suspending the usual one work limit per person for each open mic.
This year, Joan Erickson, a long-time fixture in the Worcester County poetry community, and a wonderful friend to the Poetorium passed away on May 20th.
Regular attendees of the Poetorium may recall that Joan generously donated the beautifully-crafted wooden podium that her late husband Bob originally built for the Poet’s Parlor (a poetry venue that I once ran and Joan was a dedicated participant) to the Poetorium which we used for our live shows at the Starlite in Southbridge. Although she was never able to attend in person, she frequently participated in our virtual open mic including our first Ho-Ho-etorium. As a tribute to her memory as well as to her incredibly gentle slice-of-life poetry, I’d like to start tonight’s show with her three poems that she presented here last December…
I Shovel a Path
I shovel a path for oil-man to fill tank, use wide shovel – deep snow – two or three feet.
Maybe the man could walk on top – I try it – sink – so know he’ll sink as he drags the hose.
I start shoveling. Dig – lift – throw to one side – dig – lift – throw to one side. Stop and rest – lean on shovel.
Gaze at snow covering yard – field – stone walls. Blue shadows slant across white surface.
I listen – listen some more – silence – pure as the snow – and peaceful – so peaceful.
I dig – lift – throw – too deep to shovel to the ground – remove layers – maybe two layers.
Can see the oil tank lid – keep digging – stop and rest – study the sky – deep blue with wisps of clouds moving slowly.
I dig – lift – throw – move toward target. I know the man will be happy.
Start back – shoveling as I go over my own footprints. Maybe tomorrow I will come out and do some more.
But, if the wind is blowing – if the temperature drops, if the sun hides, I will be in the house playing with these words.
—Joan Erickson (02/23/15)
Red, White, and Blue Day
I hear the snowblower as it does its job clearing away snow and ice from our first big storm.
Sun shines on the snow on cars parked in view from my windows. Their rear red lights glow in the morning sun.
My neighbor’s car is bright blue. My dark blue jeep is parked at the end of this building and waits with others to be shoveled off.
When I go to the windows I can look out at the bright blue sky.
When I finish this poem I will stand up and say good morning to this red, white, and blue day.
—Joan Erickson (11/26/20)
My oldest Granddaughter, Jennifer, gave me a cat for Christmas – a wooden cat – almost the size of a real cat. It now sits on my harvest table.
It has orange and gray tiger stripes and has white on its nose and paws and on the end of its tail. It is a wooden puzzle made of large pieces – easy to take apart and put together.
I have named this cat ‘Puzzles.’ She is very good – doesn’t scratch the furniture and doesn’t need a litter box and if I get bored during tomorrow’s big snow storm, I can take her apart and put her back together again and not one scratch will I get.
I love my new cat. Thank you, Jennifer.
—Joan Erickson (01/03/2018)
PAUL: Now first up in our first open mic of the night is our good friend of the Poetorium, and the host of the monthly open poetry share at the Booklover’s Gourmet in Webster, Massachusetts, Bob Perry…
BOB: Hello Poetorium!
Here are two Christmas poems I recently read at Tidepool Bookshop for my Solstice feature. Both can be found in my most recent collection of poetry, Surrendering to the Path.
What is it that we await to be born in us each Christmas day?
We hold our breath in advent’s hope this year will bring the savior home.
Two thousand years of stories told how can the message not seem old?
What new meaning finds its worth in retelling the Messiah’s birth?
A new star risen in the east to give hope to the lost and least,
the Word has come to impregnate every fertile heart by faith
and Mary shows us in due time we must each give birth to the divine.
—Robert Eugene Perry (originally published in Surrendering to the Path)
Reflecting on Christmas
Before recovery Christmas was painful.
The coming of the giver of Life only highlighted my own self-centeredness.
I hid my face in a barrel of Whiskey hoping I would drown,
till one day He came down, gently lifted my head and said: I can raise you from the dead.
Do you wish to be made well?
Those words broke the sodden spell – shattered
the gates of hell and I whispered yes.
––Robert Eugene Perry (originally published in Surrendering to the Path)
PAUL: Thank you, Bob! And now please welcome to the stage, a long-time regular of the Virtual Poetorium, Meg Smith…
MEG: It’s amazing how quickly the holidays seem to come as an adult, while as a kid they can’t come fast enough! I think during the winter festivities, people can feel a sense of drawing close together — but there can also be moments of solitude. A person can even be surrounded by family and friends and still feel alone. The following three poems, “Nativity on Boston Common,” “Forest Land,” and “A Man Watches Snow and Disappears”, are inspired by different scenarios of the solitary moments that can make themselves known, even as the holidays draw near…
Nativity on Boston Common
The gilded pillars of the theater have drawn me up to heaven. I remain within it, even when crossing Beacon Street to the T stop. My city is peopled with the angels and ghosts of my father and grandfather, and my grandmother, on a line at Schrafft’s Candy. The Holy Family, in blue and pink and silver, draws my homage. Their shepherds are men in bivouacs of shopping bags. One such is sitting in a wheelchair at the entrance to the Green Line. I give him my scarf. My prayer is for us all to see the other side of winter, in the coming of new light.
This place holds gravity in skylights and spiraling conifers in green, blue, red, streamlets of white. A frame conjures Rod Serling and his string theory — binding an unquiet heart. This is the place of children and adults not yet whole, but in light, at least, in the drop crystals of heaven’s outer clouds.
A Man Watches Snow and Disappears
It’s this, each night, when white strands unravel, but never reach the earth; something catches them and draws them out again. Such as that dance at a window strewn with red ribbons, approximating joy. There is nothing left to frame the winter, no fading shadow in the frost. There is only falling in silence.
PAUL: Thank you, Meg! Believe it or not. Meg was the last poet in our first open mic tonight. I will wrap it up with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…
After so long an absence At last we meet again: Does the meeting give us pleasure, Or does it give us pain?
The tree of life has been shaken, And but few of us linger now, Like the Prophet’s two or three berries In the top of the uttermost bough.
We cordially greet each other In the old, familiar tone; And we think, though we do not say it, How old and gray he is grown!
We speak of a Merry Christmas And many a Happy New Year But each in his heart is thinking Of those that are not here.
We speak of friends and their fortunes, And of what they did and said, Till the dead alone seem living, And the living alone seem dead.
And at last we hardly distinguish Between the ghosts and the guests; And a mist and shadow of sadness Steals over our merriest jests.
—-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Well, folks, I guess that is the end of our first open mic of the evening. We’ll be taking a really short intermission before we come back and I present tonight’s group Christmas poem (I’ll be skipping the presentation of the previously announced Secret Surrealist Santa Lists because no one submitted any this year). After that, we’ll begin the second virtual open mic.
Now, I, being very fond of past holiday poetry gatherings (like the wonderful Jingle Mingle that our local Worcester area poet Anne Marie Lucci hosted each year at her Streetbeat poetry venue which the Ho-Ho-etorium is meant as a tribute to) and since some of my favorite memories of these gatherings involved food (who in the Worcester poetry community could forget Anne Marie’s blonde brownies at the Jingle Mingle or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies at the Poet’s Parlor?), I was planning to replace the usual virtual vendor’s table with a virtual poet’s banquet table like we did for last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium. and asked people to contribute some imaginary food for a virtual poet’s potluck tonight. Unfortunately, since no one besides myself brought any goodies, I am afraid our poet’s banquet table is rather bare, but please feel free to grab a mug of my special hot beverage I concocted to warm us up on this chilly December night during the break before returning to your seats!
The Ho-Ho-etorium Imaginary Poet’s Potluck Banquet Table
Dollar Store Hot Mulled Mock Cranberry Cider Brought by Paul Szlosek
Perhaps not as tasty as actual spiced cider made from pure apple cider, but a lot cheaper and certainly better than a concoction fashioned from a “just add hot water” powdered mix which you would probably get if you ordered it at a coffeshop (the drops of apple cider vinegar is what gives it the “cider taste”). It will hit the spot and warm your insides on a chilly and can be thrown together in mere minutes from ingredients purchased at the Dollar Tree. An extra bonus is that it is sugar-free and perfect for diabetics and folks on the diet (if you do wish it to be sweeter, just add brown sugar to your desired level of sweetness).
Ingredients: 64-oz. jug of Old Orchard Healthy® Balance (or equivalent brand) Cranberry Apple Juice Cocktail One or two of apple cider vinegar (per each mug served) Two or three lids full of Cafe’ al Fresco (or equivalent brand) Pumpkin Spice Low Carb Syrup (per each mug served) Several shakes of powdered cloves and cinnamon or Chinese 5 spice powder
Directions: Pour as many mugs-full of Cranberry Apple juice cocktail as you wish to serve into a cooking pot, add drops of apple cider vinegar, lid-fulls of pumpkin spice syrup, and powdered cloves and cinnamon or Chinese 5 spice powder to taste. Heat on stovetop (stirring until the spices are no longer floating on the surface of the liquid) to the desired temperature, then pour into mugs and serve.
PAUL: Welcome back, everyone! I hope you are enjoying your hot spiced mock cranberry cider! Please find a seat and I’ll kick off the second half of the evening with the Christmas group poem.
As you may recall, I requested that people send in one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Christmas… ” to be compiled into tonight’s group poem. Since only Bob Perry and Dwayne Szlosek responded, our Christmas group poem tonight will be rather brief…
This Christmas, after weeks of painstaking preparation, like all the Christmases that came before, will be over before we know it, Will all the trouble and stress be worth it? Yes, perhaps not for the actual presents exchanged, but for fond, precious memories of friends and family that we will store forever in our minds like all those useless unwanted holiday gifts up in our attics.
This Christmas comes with caution Like last year, masked and distanced Yet Love takes many forms Sometimes it is the thing we do not give That makes the difference.
This Christmas… it is just me and my dad on Christmas Day. I will fix a ten-pound turkey with mashed potatoes, carrots, and gravy. Stuffing too with broccoli. We will eat and eat on this day, then we will eat apple pie. But most of all I will want my father on Christmas Day. I do not want presents, I just want my 87-year-old father on this day. Merry Christmas to me and to my 87-year-old dad! Oh happy day for me! I am not sad…
Thank you Bob and Dwayne for contributing!
Okay, we can now start the second open mic. I will start it off with the poem probably most associated with New Years, “Auld Lang Syne” by the 18th-century Scottish poet, Robert Burns:
Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp! and surely I’ll be mine! And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes, and pu’d the gowans fine. But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit, sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn, frae morning sun till dine; But seas between us braid hae roar’d sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere ! and gie’s a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught, for auld lang syne.
PAUL: Since the Ho-Ho-etorium is a celebration of Christmas and Christmas truly is family, please welcome as our first poet in our second open mic of the evening, a dear friend of the Poetorium and my actual cousin, Dwayne Szlosek…
DWAYNE: Hi everyone, I hope you all had a great Christmas! I know I had a fantastic Christmas…
Instead of the latest installment of NINE GUN BILLY saga, I want to give you two Christmas poems tonight:
Santa For a Day
Christmas is the cool time of the year. A tree in the middle of the living room,
with lights and tinsel with glass ornaments, that twinkle in the eyes of children.
Presents under the tree for you and family. Can’t wait to open them on Christmas Day.
Oh, what fun it is going to be on that calendar day. There will be lots of smiles throughout,
and around the Christmas tree. Giggles and laughter, jumping for joy.
Right then, you’ll know you done your job being Santa for a day…
—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 12\12\2021)
My Cat at Christmas
Christmas time of the year is a joyful time when I put up a Christmas tree. My cat climbs up to the very top of it. He becomes the star of my tree. Yes, he is no angel, but he keeps me stress-free. by watching him do his dance under the Christmas tree. As the light blink on and off, my cat changes colors, to blue, to green, to red, to orange and yellow. How cute is that? A camouflage cat at Christmas. Wait until Santa sees that. Santa may give me and my cat extra presents because of that. All I got to say about that is to all of you in the audience: “A Merry Christmas to all! Ho, Ho, Ho…”
—Dwayne Szlosek (Copyright 12\10\2021)
PAUL: Thank you, Dwayne! Our next poet will be our good friend from Tennessee, Diane Puterbaugh…
DIANE: Here is a prose piece I wrote a few years ago…
Keurig and Santa
Wednesday night I dreamt that when I pushed the handle down on the Keurig coffee machine, a podcast would start.
This may be a divine message to stop drinking so much coffee or to start lis- tening to more podcasts.
In 1988 I was a bank teller. One of my customers was Santa. Really. When he walked up to my window, he gave me his business card and was proud to be Santa at Thalhimer’s Department Store in Richmond, VA.
Santa ate breakfast at Perkins this morning. Really. I would have taken a pic of his red Jeep in the parking lot, but was too busy telling my husband to “be good,” because Santa would be watching.
From our booth I observed everyone who walked by Santa (he was wearing Levi’s and a blue shirt, by the way), said “good morning” and shook his hand. “See,” I earnestly said to Ron, “everyone wants to stay on the nice list.”
I believe in Santa.
I believe in magic cards, too, even though my husband and the guy selling them firmly told me, “no, it’s not real magic.” I still believe.
I believe in puppies and love and happily ever after.
I believe in rainbows and dreams (maybe not the Keurig podcast one) and in that electricity when you hold hands.
I believe in tenderness, hope and “when you wish upon a star.”
I believe in the patient, tolerant smile my husband gives me when I tell him I believe in all this stuff. Puppies and rainbows and electricity and the Keurig- Ron is the reason I believe, so he better be good. Santa is watching.
Thanks. I wish you all a healthy and happy Christmas season!
PAUL: Thank you, Diane! Our final poet of the evening is the host of the brand new monthly Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading series at the Root & Press Bookstore and Cafe in Worcester, Joe Fusco Jr….
JOE: The following are two traditional Holiday pieces in the Fusco household:
The King and Christmas Eve
“Elvis died on the toilet!” My seven-year-old son announces at the dinner table Christmas Eve. We’re feasting on shrimp cocktail, stuffed lobster tails, and steaks with my mother and brother, A Fusco holiday tradition we haven’t shared in Twenty-three years.
“He was taking a dump and a man in black shot him in the head!” My mom’s visit is quite a blessing, She’s been hospitalized five times in ‘98. My brother and I talk every Monday night on the phone, But are rarely seen in the same building, For security reasons.
“I’m not kidding everyone, that’s how Elvis really died!” After strawberry shortcake, we relax in the living room and open presents. My brother and I exchange novels containing explicit sex and graphic violence. The family watches a traditional holiday video “Seven.”
“Took a dump and got shot. That’s how it happened!” Mom stays the night. My brother returns home to Webster. My wife and I clean up fast and prepare for Christmas morning. My son’s fast asleep with visions of sugar plums and a sweaty fat guy with long sideburns in a sequined jump suit dancing in his head.
Merry Christmas Long live the King!
—Joe Fusco Jr.
2nd Night Worcester
We took the family to 2nd Night Worcester, the eve of New Year’s Day. We arrived downtown around 9:00 p.m., Parking on Main St. was ample. We walked over to the new improved Union Station but it was locked, Ditto for Mechanics Hall. We lit a candle for the six fallen firefighters in the United Congregational Church. We bought sausage grinders from the vendor in front of Sh-Booms while waiting for the shuttle. The night was cold but serene, a few bright stars twinkling in the dark sky. Our children played hackie-sack on the Aud’s steps. “What happened to the fireworks Daddy,” my nine-year-old son asked a little after midnight. “There are no fireworks, my son,” I mused, “Life is a series of minor disappointments. Expect nothing more.” “We came the wrong night,” my 14-year-old daughter wisecracked, “Daddy’s a moron.” A little after 1:00 a.m., we walked back to our car, discovering the passenger-door jimmied. Nothing was missing except our “Best of the Moody Blues”cassette, my wife’s favorite. Driving down Route 9, I reflected on my forty-five odd years, Looked forward to the new Millennium, then rear-ended a Shrewsbury police cruiser near Spag’s. “Happy New Year, officer,” I offered after rolling down my window. “License & registration, moron,” he replied.
—Joe Fusco Jr.
PAUL: Thank you so much, Joe! By the way, I will be the featured poet at Joe’s Poetry Extravaganza poetry reading at the Root & Press on Thursday, December 30th. Hope to see you there!
WOW! Thank you, everyone! You were just all amazing tonight. Your kindness, support, and poetry have been the best Christmas present I could ever wish for!
I am going to close out the show this evening with the same poem of mine that I ended last year’s Ho-ho-etoriim (I hope you like it). By the way, the poem is an hodgenelle, a poetry form I created inspired by one of my poetry idols, John Hodgen:
I’m Not Santa
It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard. It seems I can’t even walk down the street without being jeered With Ho Ho Ho’s by nasty little brats, their faces smeared With jam. Adults even worse, drunk, voices slurred, all-teared Up, whining I never brought them a certain doll or multi-geared Erector set. What would they do if I turned to them and sneered “It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,
And don’t try to climb upon my lap – that would just be weird!”? My facial hair is real, I’m no mall Santa with fake whiskers adhered To my cheeks with spirit gum. It might be easier if I sheared The whole thing off, but I won’t. I have persevered, Endured stupid jokes about reindeer and elves, silently steered Past taunting teens. St. Nick’s a figure, not to be mocked, but feared. It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard,
Yet all my tormentors, one day, might find themselves speared With sprigs of holly through their hearts, or basted and seared Over an open flame like a Christmas goose, or simply disappeared Down a chimney. So now that we have this matter all cleared, Please don’t Santa me anymore! I’d much rather be King Leared, (Or from all you poets) Walt Whitmanned or John Greenleaf Whittiered. It doesn’t mean I’m Santa just because I wear a white beard.
––Paul (“I’m Not Santa“) Szlosek
2021, like 2020, was a difficult year for most of us, but you, my dear Poetorium friends, made it bearable for me with all your kindness, support, and poetry! So thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Hopefully, we will be seeing you all next year (perhaps not in January because I am contemplating putting the Poetorium on hiatus for that month, so I can recover from 2021, but sometime soon in 2022). As you probably know, my co-host and cohort Ron Whittle is still recovering from his recent cancer surgery, so please keep him in your hearts and prayers. Please take care, stay safe and healthy, and have the most fantastic, fabulous, and amazing New Year humanly possible!
“All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’”
“The poem is the dance of the page. When you give it out to an audience, it has got to be there, pulling up, getting ready to soar, dance, spread itself, do the magic that needs to be done, to capture them, to make them enter your arena, and they don’t get released until you are at the end of that poem, then you release them. That’s the power that you and that poem will have over an audience. You’ve got to understand that there’s music in those lines and in those words. There’s magic in them. But there’s also authority in there. There’s also a responsibility—that is a part of what I teach, the responsibility that you have when you give these words out in an auditorium, in the classroom, to the universe.”
“I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people.”
“The joy of poetry is that it will wait for you. Novels don’t wait for you. Characters change. But poetry will wait. I think it’s the greatest art.”
“Poetry is subconscious conversation, it is as much the work of those who understand it and those who make it.”
“To me, poetry is many things. Poetry is life, it is water, it is earth, it is sound, it is music, it is language that allows us to stay alive. Poetry is ancient, it is new, it is old, it is current. Poetry is a baby’s smile when he or she is smiling at you. Poetry is a burp from a child who is well fed. Poetry is a kiss from your lover. Poetry is a handshake from comrades. Poetry is a hug. But most of all, poetry is a language that says, ‘stay alive, do not die on me, do not move away from life.’ Because poetry is life, and it keeps people alive.”
“Art… reacts to or reflects the culture it springs from.”
“What I’m trying to do is to tell young people that I teach them how to breathe before I teach the haiku. That one breath, that one breath, because the haiku keeps you alive. It keeps you going. If you learn how to breath the haiku, you learn how to breathe. If you learn how to breathe, you’re much healthier.”
“I probably have not killed anyone in America because I write, I’ve maintained good controls over myself by writing.”
“What is the beauty of the haiku is that it is not simplistic. The beauty of the haiku I just said is very complex. It reaches all the complexities of our life on this Earth. Peace – that’s a very complex idea, peace, so we can’t get it as human beings.”
I am very pleased to announce that this month, we will be once again producing a special Christmas-themed edition of the Virtual Poetorium which this year we are dubbing our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium. And like last year, we would like to once again open it up for anyone who would to like participate and invite all my fellow bloggers and faithful readers (or just anyone just happening to read this) to be a part of this special yuletide online poetry gathering in print. Unlike a regular edition of the Virtual Poetorium, there will be no featured poet, but instead, we will have two open mics — one regular and another for Christmas and New Year-themed work. Because of this, we are lifting our usual one piece per person limit and requesting that you send us up to three of your own original poems or stories (ones that have a Holiday or Winter theme are preferred though not required) either in a Word document file or pasted in the body of an email along with your name, any opening remarks you care to make, and where your poem has appeared if it was previously published to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, December 24th. Also if you like, you can send us a photo of yourself (extra brownie points rewarded if you are dressed in a festive holiday costume) to be posted above your poems, but that is totally optional.
Our Second Annual Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium will be posted on the Poetorium website (and on this blog as well) on the last Tuesday of this month which will be December 28th, 2021. However, as always, like a normal Poetorium (but in this case even more because you, our dear friends and readers, are the whole show) for it to be successful, we really need folks to participate. So please, please send us your poems and stories!
We also need contributions to the Ho-Ho-etorium Christmas-themed group poem. If you would like to participate, please send us one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Christmas… “. All contributions (please let us know if you wish to have your name listed as a contributor or if you wish to remain anonymous) will be compiled into the group poem and included in the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium. Once again, the deadline for submissions is Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24th.
Although we have jettisoned most of the segments associated with the Poetorium, like last year we will once again be including two special ones we created just for the Ho-Ho-etorium. Since some of my favorite memories of actual past holiday poetry gatherings involved food, those exquisite tasty treats which we would all bring in to share with each other (who could forget Anne Marie’s blonde brownies at the Jingle Mingle or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies at the Poet’s Parlor?), we will once again have a Virtual Poet’s Banquet table. Since this is an imaginary poetry reading in the form of a transcript, I think it would be fitting for all of us to contribute some imaginary food for a virtual poet’s potluck. Just mention what delicious imaginary dish you are bringing. It could be something you might have actually brought, or something totally fanciful (like caviar from the flying carp of the planet Neptune). For extra (blonde) brownie points, include a photo of your delicious dish and/or a recipe so everyone can sample it in their own kitchen.
Also what Christmas gathering would be complete without the tradition of gift-giving? I remember us staging Yankee Gift Swaps at the Poet’s Parlor as well as making everyone salt dough Santa ornaments (I was so much more ambitious and energetic back then). So to add the traditional present-giving element to our imaginary holiday gathering, we are utilizing a variation on the old surrealist game Time Travelers’ Potlatch. In case you are not familiar with it (by the way, a potlatch is a gift-giving competition practiced in certain cultures), the game is played by having each person describe the gift that they would present to various historical, mythical, or fictional figures of their choice on the occasion of meeting them. Our variation will be called the Surreal Secret Santa List in which we all list up to six historical, mythical, or fictional figures and the Xmas presents we would give them if we were their surreal Secret Santas. To help inspire you, here is the list I created for last year’s Ho-Ho-etorium:
Paul Szlosek’s Secret SurrealistSanta List
For Alexander Hamilton, a kevlar vest and frockcoat. For Lois Lane, lead-lined lingerie. For Sherlock Holmes, an Occam’s safety razor and shaving brush set. For Danny Pudi, good coffee and warm socks. For Robert Johnson, a textbook on contract law. For Mankind, a digital doomsday clock with snooze alarm.
Remember you can choose any historical, mythical, or fictional figure you wish, and the gifts can be as practical or wacky as you want. Of course, you don’t have to submit a list if you don’t want to, but it would be so much fun if everyone did.
If you do have any questions about submitting to the two virtual open mics, the group poem, or anything else about the Virtual Ho-Ho-etorium itself, please leave them in the comments of this post, and I will try to answer them right away.
Thank you so very much for reading! I really appreciate everyone’s continued support of this blog, and hope to hear from you soon with your yuletide contributions!
The Virtual Poetorium interview with James R. Scrimgeour, which I reblogged here on this blog in August, was so well-received that I decided to follow it up today with the interview Ron Whittle and I did with the poet Jonathan Andersen that originally appeared in the very first Virtual Poetorium published on March 31, 2020 (I hope you will enjoy reading it)…
Jonathan Andersen is the author of Augur (Red Dragonfly Press, 2018), which was the recipient of the 2017 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2019 Connecticut Book Award in Poetry. Other books include The Burden Note, (Meridian Prize, 2014), an English/Serbo-Croatian chapbook, and Stomp and Sing (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2005). He is the editor of the anthology Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U.S.A. (Smokestack Books, 2008). He has been a featured reader throughout the eastern United States, the United Kingdom, and Serbia, including at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, the 49th International Festival of Literature in Belgrade, and the 42nd Smederevo Poetry Autumn. His poems have appeared in print and online publications, including Blue Collar Review, The Café Review, Chiron Review, Connecticut Review, Counterpunch, Exposition Review, Freshwater, HeART, Here, North American Review, The Progressive, Rattle, The Worcester Review, and others. For 12 years he was a high school English and special education teacher, and since 2008 has been a professor of English at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson and Willimantic, Connecticut. He and his wife, fellow writer and educator Denise Abercrombie, live in Storrs, Connecticut with their two sons. Jonathan’s books Augur, Stomp and Sing, and Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U.S.A. can be purchased online at his website Jonathan Andersen — Teacher/Poet by clicking here.
A Virtual Poetorium Interview With Poet Jonathan Andersen
RON: Thank you once again, Jonathan, for agreeing to do this! My first question is what or who got you involved in poetry?
JONATHAN: Before poetry, or necessarily bound up in poetry, is a love of language and its possibilities, so I’d have to say my parents were the people first responsible for my involvement in poetry, even if a little indirectly, because they read to me and my twin brother every night, or almost every night, when we were very young. I can remember, vividly, lying in my bed, listening to the summer night sounds from the open bedroom window, thinking about Stuart Little out there in the dark somewhere, searching, motivated by love. I always tell my students at the college, with all the urgency I can muster, to read to their children.
Public education also got me into poetry. In sixth grade, Mr. Novinski did a poetry unit which culminated in every kid in the class publishing her or his own collection of poems. And when I was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, I was fortunate enough to meet a few professors — especially James Scully and Joan Joffe Hall — who saw something in my writing to encourage. Even more importantly they kept sending me to the library stacks to read. They introduced me to poets such as Jim Daniels, a Detroit poet who was writing powerfully spare poems that had forklifts and time clocks and economic struggle. That poetry could so fully admit my reality was absolutely a revelation.
RON: Who is your favorite poet and why?
JONATHAN: I can never really answer this question because there are so many. Here’s a sampling:
William Blake is a major influence, for his energy, and profoundly human vision (even in his supernatural excesses).
Langston Hughes should be important to everybody for his combination of tenderness and fearlessness, qualities which are gathered together in “A Dream Deferred,” but run throughout his work.
I always come back to the Polish poet Tadeus Różewicz’s book The Survivor and Other Poems for its spare, defiant humanity.
I am an enormous admirer of June Jordan. Her work had such wide emotional range and she kept putting poetry into community, into life, seamlessly blending her art with her teaching.
I admire poets who are ambitious. I don’t mean ambitious in a careerist or entrepreneurial sense; I mean that they are always trying to get at something deeper, bigger, more true, in terms of craft and content. You can’t always swing for the fences, but I gravitate to those poets who try to take on in some way the big questions about what it means to be human, and try to develop or expand the ways poems can be up to the task.
RON: Does your poetry hold any secrets that you would care to share with us?
JONATHAN: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Kidding, obviously. I think actually that some of the secrets I haven’t found out yet, and some of the secrets won’t be mine, but will belong to the reader or listener. I don’t mean to mystify — I don’t admire mystification — it’s just that there’s more to find out, and often there’s more to what we’re writing than we realize at the time. We find out what that is if we’re lucky.
RON: If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?
JONATHAN: “Sublime.” No — kidding again. “Genuine” is my real answer.
RON: So, Paul, do you have any questions you’d like to ask Jonathan?
PAUL: Thanks, Ron! Yes, I do! Jonathan, do you have a writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
JONATHAN: I try to catch time when I can. I’d like to say I have a more disciplined routine, but I don’t.
There’s still hope, though — I’m only fifty. I want to be better at following the advice I and all writing teachers give to our students: regardless of your exact writing strategy, your first process should always be to just let go of the inner censors, the ghostly voices of past English teachers or critics or whatever and just write.
Two other aspects of my process that are really essential for me: I meet with a writers’ group. I am fortunate to have been able to be in long-running groups with writers I admire and trust.
Finally, my wife is a poet and writer, and we read each other’s work, we admire each other’s work, and we critique each other’s work. Even more importantly, we navigate this life together, and the writing comes out of life.
PAUL: There are so many things I’d like to ask you, but to keep this interview relatively short, I just have one more question. What advice would you have for someone who is just starting to write poetry?
JONATHAN: Be curious. Read widely. Be open to critique. I also like the advice at the end of Gary Snyder’s poem “For the Children”: Stay together. / Learn the flowers. / Go light.
I believe it’s been several months since I last mentioned the Virtual Poetorium on this blog, but be assured we haven’t discontinued it. In fact, I am very pleased to announce that this month we will be producing a special Halloween-themed edition which we are dubbing The Virtual Scaretorium, and would like to open it for anyone who would like to participate, inviting all my fellow bloggers and faithful readers (or just anyone just happening to read this) to be a part of it. Unlike a regular edition, there will be no featured poet, but instead will have an extra-long open mic to be divided into two sections. Because of this, we are lifting our usual one piece per person limit and requesting that you send us up to three of your own original poems or stories (ones that are scary or have a Halloween theme are preferred though not required) either in a Word document file or pasted in the body of an email along with your name, any opening remarks you care to make, and where your poem has appeared if it was previously published to email@example.com by Saturday, October 23rd. Also if you like, you can send us a photo of yourself (extra brownie points rewarded if you are in costume) to be posted above your poem, but that is totally optional.
We also need contributions to this month’s Poetorium Group poem. To participate, please send us one to eight lines starting with the phrase “This Halloween… “. All contributions (which will remain anonymous unless otherwise requested) will be compiled and included in what we are calling this month the Virtual Scaretorium Group Poem. Once again, the deadline for submissions is the night of Saturday, October 23rd.
We will also be continuing (at least for this month) our monthly writing challenge in which we invite you to write in a different flash fiction or poetic form (it is very likely that this will be the very last one due to apparent dwindling interest). This month’s writing challenge is to write a six sentence story (your story can include a title or not, the choice is up you), and once again, a Halloween theme is suggested. The only rule is that your story (or poem if you wish) must be written in exactly six sentences. The sentences can be extremely short or long. Also remember, in case of a poem, we are talking about sentences, not lines (sentences and lines are not the same since a sentence can run on for more than one line). I am afraid I don’t have any examples at this time for you to use as models, but I’m confident you probably don’t need any in order to write one. Please send us your best efforts to firstname.lastname@example.org by Saturday, October 23rd to be included in the Virtual Scaretorium.
Also if you wish, please feel free to send us any of your own original scary or Halloween-themed artwork or photos to be displayed and shared during our virtual intermission!
If you have any questions about submitting to the virtual open mic, the group Scaretorium poem or anything else about the Virtual Scaretorium itself, please leave them in the comments, and I will try to answer them right away.
Thank you so very much, my dear friends! We would really appreciate your help to make the Scaretorium a success, and look forward to your participation. Please take care, stay safe, and try to have a very scary but fun rest of October!
People who read this blog regularly may be familiar with the Virtual Poetorium, a unique monthly online poetry journal in transcript form that is actually the pandemic version of the Poetorium at Starlite, a live pre-Covid poetry reading series in Southbridge, Massachusetts that was founded and co-hosted by myself and Ron Whittle. One of my favorite aspects of both the Virtual Poetorium and the Poetorium at Starlite are the interviews Ron and I conducted with our featured poets. Today I thought it would be fun and informative to repost in its entirety one of these interviews taken from the Virtual Poetorium for July 28th, 2020 when we questioned—via email—the poet James R. (Jim) Scrimgeour…
James R. Scrimgeour received his BA from Clark University, his MA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is Professor Emeritus at Western Connecticut State University. He has served as Editor of Connecticut Review, published ten books of poetry, been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and given over 250 public readings of his work, including one at an International Conference on Poetry and History, Stirling, Scotland. He has, in addition, participated in NEH Seminars on Modern Poetry at NYU and Princeton and has recently served on panels at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. He currently conducts poetry programs in libraries, both in New Milford CT and in Rockport MA, where he and his wife spend much of their time. His most recent book, Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising Out of a Ghost Town Landscape (Loom Press, 2019), was listed as a “must read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and can be purchased at the Loom Press online bookstore by clicking here.
A Virtual Poetorium Interview With Poet James R. Scrimgeour
RON: Paul and I really appreciate you agreeing to do this. You know, Jim, I too, spend as much time on the beaches and shoreline as I can. Our attachment to the ocean is probably much the same. I have a great deal of respect and fear of its capabilities, but I also love it. My question is “Was there any single reason that made you fall in love with the ocean?”
JIM: No single reason — don’t think there is a single reason you fall in love with anything (or anyone). Love is more complex than that. But I’ve always been attracted to the ocean (since I first saw it as a kid — love at first sight?) My wife and I have been living at the ocean in Rockport MA for five months of the year for the past nine years, and so it is not surprising that the ocean has seeped into so many of my poems or that my son, who, as you know, also writes poems, said one day: “Dad, haven’t you used up your quota of ocean poems?” And, of course, I had to write another ocean poem to answer his question.
RON: After reading some of your poetry, I couldn’t help but notice how you seamlessly blend history into much of your poetry. What do you call your style of poetry?
JIM: History is a part of life, and I believe that it is an important task of the poet to keep the past (including the child within us) alive, to provide some continuity between past and present (and our past and current selves). This is a task that I have always taken seriously. As far as style goes, I am who I am. My poetry is what it is. It is, I believe, my job to write my poems; it’s the critic’s job to try to define my style. I wish him/her all the best.
RON: You also write as though you were from a different era in time, such as in the Sunset 1904. That must require a considerable amount of research to depict the scene you write about accurately. Is that a fair question to ask?
JIM: I think that any author (poet or prose) has to do the research necessary to create a world that is distinctive, original, and his/her own, a world that the reader may wander around in for a while and maybe even learn something before returning to life in early 21st century America. I hope that I have created such a distinctive original world in all of my books, but especially in the Dogtown one.
RON: Who are your favorite poet or poets and why?
JIM: In alphabetical order: Emily Dickinson (explosive imagery and word choice) John Keats (musical language — sound and content seamlessly merged) Robert Frost (for being his cantankerous self) Mary Oliver, William Wordsworth and so many others (for experiencing and sharing the divinity in the natural world) William Carlos Williams (for showing that poetry can be found everywhere and in everything) William Butler Yeats (for his musical language, vision and willingness to tackle political issues). There are, of course, many others but I have to stop somewhere.
RON: Being a professor you must have seen a great deal of talent from authors and poets in your classes. Did you ever teach anyone who went on to be famous? If so who?
JIM: No — I have taught many who went on to prestigious MFA programs (including Iowa, Emerson, and UMass) and who published books of poetry and poems in well known journals, and are currently teaching at universities, but no one I would call “famous.”
RON: If you had to chose a book of poetry to tell someone to read, who would be the author and what would be the title of the book?
JIM: It depends on who the someone is. I would recommend different books for different people. A person should, I believe, begin with poetry that connects with his/her life in some significant way. If I didn’t know a person well enough to make this kind of connection for him/her, I would say “See my answer to the question about my favorite poets and throw a dart!”
RON: Who was the biggest influence in your becoming a poet?
JIM: My wife has always been my muse, and all of the above mentioned “favorite” poets have been significant influences, but there also have been others, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, e.g., come immediately to mind. I don’t think there was a “biggest” — they were/are all big; they were all there when I needed them.
RON: What could you tell us about your own poetry, I guess what I’m asking you to do is define your work?
JIM: I’m not comfortable with defining my poetry, but I’ll be glad to tell you a little bit about my writing process and my work. Like Monet, I like to work “in plain air.” I like to take my camera, my notebook, my five senses and go out into the natural world “fishing” for poems. Whenever I come across something odd, unusual or beautiful (or all of the above) I snap a photo or two and then sit down in front of it and write a first draft of a poem in my notebook. Then later, as I revise, tighten, and type it into my computer, I will, if I am lucky, come to a realization as to WHY this experience was significant and then I will have the focus necessary to finish the poem.
RON: Okay…Paul, do you have any questions you’d like to ask Jim?
PAUL: Yes, I do. Thanks, Ron! Congratulations, Jim, on having your book Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape selected as a “must read” by Massachusetts Center for the Book! Could you talk a bit about the history of Dogtown itself and what about it that inspired you to write this book?
JIM: Dogtown is a ghost town located in the highland of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. I became bitten by the Dogtown bug shortly after I first began visiting Cape Ann over 20 years ago; I was especially interested in the lives of the last inhabitants who lived there from the end of the Revolutionary War until 1830 when the last inhabitant was taken, shivering and cold, to the poorhouse. The more I read about them, the more interested I became, and I started to take contemporary walks over this semi-mythical terrain with my notebook and camera in hand. I’m not sure exactly when it was that I began to hear the voices of some of these old settlers speaking to me.
PAUL: What was your process for writing this particular book like, and did it differ in any way from writing your previous volumes of poetry?
JIM: Many of my previous projects (like my long poem “The Route” in which I retrace the route in modern day Salem that the authorities took my great great great great great great grandmother on when they hanged her as a witch in 1692) involved significant historical research, but, as I see it, the main difference between this book and my previous ones is one of degree, is the amount of historical research involved. I still took my camera, notebook and five senses with me as I strolled the boulder strewn Dogtown terrain, but this book contains a couple of new dimensions — one of ordinary historical research, of course, but another dimension was made possible by my feeling of kinship with all the other poets and writers who had become fascinated with Dogtown over the years. Also, this is the first time that I “channelled” people who had died many years ago and made them an important part of my work. And, one final difference, another important dimension of the Dogtown book is that it contains a perceptive, well-written introduction by Carl Carlsen.
PAUL: How would you personally define “Poetry” and what do you feel are its most important aspects (imagery, rhythm, word choice, etc.)?
JIM: As noted previously, I usually resist attempting to define my poetry, but here is a working definition: “Poetry is the sharing of significant, valuable, intense human experience.” I believe the most important thing is for a poet to have the courage to share his deepest and most intense feelings openly and honestly with others. Imagery, rhythm (the sound of the language) and precise word choice are all important tools (but only tools) that help the poet say what he/she has to say, that help the poet write his/her stanza in the great poem of the world.
PAUL: In your many years of writing, have you developed a regular writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
JIM: See my answer to Ron’s question about defining my work for a routine that I have found useful, but some of my strongest poems have arisen suddenly and unexpectedly from many different situations. For example: being assigned to do a lecture on Kafka, talking with my father-in-law over his kitchen table, picking up an old photo of my grandfather, sitting in the waiting room of an urologist’s office, or trying to find a can of chicken soup in a cupboard are a few of the situations that triggered some of my best poems.
PAUL: My final question for you is what advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to write poetry?
JIM: I would advise a beginning poet: 1) to be very careful with your diction, your selection of words. Keep in mind the words of Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” 2) to ground your poems in actual lived human experience and avoid philosophical abstractions — remember “nesses are messes,” i.e., don’t write about “lonliness,” write about human beings who are lonely, 3) to pay some dues, to spend some time thinking seriously about the ultimate questions of human existence. As Socrates said long ago, the unexamined life is not worth living; as I say today, the unexamined life is not worth writing about, and 4) to keep your senses and your notebook open — wherever you are, wherever you go.
Although I decided not to post an invitation to participate in the Virtual Poetorium last month on this blog (like I usually do), I thought readers still might be interested in reading the latest edition: https://poetorium.home.blog/virtual-poetorium-june-29-2021/. Warning, it’s a bit weirder and different than our others since instead of having a featured poet who is currently alive, our feature is a long dead one courtesy of an imaginary time machine. I also want to thank my fellow blogger Brad Osborne for once again contributing. I hope you enjoy it!
The Virtual Poetorium Father’s Day Poetry Project Anthology, which I mentioned in my last post, is finally finished and up on the Poetorium website, and available for you to read here. I am so happy about the way it turned out, and hope you will be too. Please enjoy!
I am so pleased to report that our Virtual Poetorium Father’s Day Poetry Project, that I announced earlier on this blog, turned out perhaps even better than I thought it would. In spite of a few glitches with the Zoom invitations and links, our Father’s Day Poetry Zoom Event, with fourteen poets presenting their original poems (or in one case, a song) about their fathers, was held on June 20th, and quite a success. Although it may be a bit rough and unedited, here is the link to the video recording of that very special evening: https://youtu.be/BJgYhmocm00. Unfortunately the part near the end where I read our special group ode to Fathers, “Remembering Our Fathers: A Group Ode in Two Parts” (compiled from contributions from eleven poets) turned out a bit garbled, so I’m also including another separate video of myself reading the ode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INgQj9JQ64M. I hope you will enjoy them both, and please feel free to share them with your friends.
I am still working on the Poetorium Father’s Day Poetry Anthology to be posted on the Poetorium website that will include all fourteen poems read at our Zoom event as well as our group ode, but here is a sneak preview for my readers of this blog. This is the finished version of “Remembering Our Fathers: A Group Ode in Two Parts” (you may notice this version is a bit different from the one you hear me read in the videos—I revised the poem after receiving feedback from some of the contributors):
Remembering Our Fathers: A Group Ode in Two Parts
1. In Hushed Rememberance
I remember my father as a silent presence, a volcano smoking in the dark, erupting not often, but memorably— a presence to keep your eyes on.
I remember my father now mainly in dreams (though more and more less frequently), ones in which he’s behind the wheel of our second-hand Ford Granada, his own eyes on the road ahead, while demanding irrevocable quiet from all the other occupants, as we drive into deepening darkness down lonesome one-lane byways.
I remember my father on his 80th birthday (to grow old is to be drowned out by the cacaphony of change, as your entire world is dismantled all around you). The next day my mother called, she was crying. He passed away in the hospital without saying a word. Now cremated, he rests in sulking stillness on my mother’s bureau in her room…
2. The Braid
I remember my father when I was a child of eight or nine, trailing him through the cornfield with my instamatic camera, clicking and clicking the shutter, the visor of his soiled gray cap turned up, as I captured what I beieved was the eternal twinkle in his eyes and a joyous grin animating his face, but now with hindsight, more likely just his natural reaction to the harsh rays of the glaring afternoon sun.
I remember my father’s blue-eyed smile, his laughing approval, his circling arms how he walked me up hills holding my hand, took my picture in the wind. He still has the moustache, the jawline, the straight shoulders of a movie star, and the kindest, gentlest heart. Wine should be sipped he taught us, a knife respected, the truth told. And the first kiss after shaving was a gift only our daddy could bestow.
I remember how our father didn’t have time to stop to close the driver’s side truck door as he dashed around loading mowers, filling tanks, changing blades before hustling out for the next job but did have time to stop to steal our basketball, show off footwork in work boots: fake one way, spin, drop to the other, a beautiful hook shot arcing, falling, kissing the net, my brother and I cheering in the sun.
I remember my father taking me to Pathmark, reading all the labels, and teaching me how to shop. I remember my father teaching me jazz— asking me to tape five variations of Monk’s Misterioso. Listening to that tape over and over with Dad, we were both smiling.
I remember my father—there could be no other— black-and-white-suited on the train that he commuted. I remember him on bended knees at his bedside at night, his familiar plea to the divine above “Please help us raise the seven children in our family”.
I remember my father for his worthless words, but also watchful eyes and softest touch, that he always remembered all my favorites… Everything. Every time. My father’s love seldom spoken, always certain. I remember my father telling me I didn’t owe him anything. I didn’t believe him until I had a child of my own, long after he had passed.
All these combined memories, the stories of our families (our interactions intertwined) becomes the braid we make down through time (father to son or daughter), the rope we lower or climb that keeps us together.
—Compiled byPaul Szlosek with contributions fromTom Ewart, Mishelle Goodwin, Howard J Kogan, Jonathan Andersen, Carla Schwartz, Rob Jaret, Patricia O’Connor, Dee O’Connor, Susan O. Nedd, andNatasha S. Garnett
I hope you enjoyed reading the Poetorium Group Ode to Fathers, and thank you so much for your continued support of this blog!