How does a poet select poems to read at a poetry marathon? I have been asking myself and my wife that question all week. Tomorrow is the annual poetry marathon at Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee. Something like 150 poets will be at the all-day event.
As I peruse a collection of publications I am a little startled to realize that there is a decade or more of work published in various journals and reviews. Some of the publications are regional to North Carolina while others are national.
My work does not have a lot of Milwaukee-area credentials and I am not well-known to this region (forthcoming work is to be published by a Milwaukee publisher). Even so, I feel like an outsider at the Woodland Pattern poetry community. This is familiar territory.
During a conversation with my wife this week an idea formed. Selecting poems based on the wedding adage was the plan: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. This developed into an engaging exercise of finding poems to fit that motif. Looking forward to sharing the results tomorrow night — between 9 and 10 p.m. — at Woodland Pattern Book Center.
 A SHORT LIST OF SEVEN PUBLISHED POEMS:”Saturday Night, Coffee House,” Rapid River, 2004; “Reading ‘My American Body’ by W. K. Buckley,” Rapid River, 2005; “Narrative Kernel,” Rapid River, 2005; “Last Bus,” H_NGM_N, 2005; “The Last American Chestnut Tree,” The Blotter, 2006; “Loneliness Visits,” .ISM Quarterly, 2006; “Last Night at the New French Bar,” Crab Creek Review, 2010
 A good friend and poet, BarbieAngell, once told me that I am on the cusp as far as a poet and writer is concerned. Meaning, that I am on the border or threshold of the academic (published) poetry scene and the street (unpublished) poetry scene. So, being a stranger to the Milwaukee poetry scene is familiar place for me.
This is the second time I will be reading poetry at the Woodland Pattern Book Center. If you are so inclined, you may sponsor me as I read poetry during the 9 -10 PM portion of the marathon. Details on sponsorship is here.
Or join the event and hear some of the poets in the area and beyond. Last year, if I recall correctly, some of the poets drove from as far as Madison to read at the marathon. Hope to see you there.
Several expressions are used in open mic circles when a poet or a singer songwriter is introduced to the audience. One of those expressions is, “Welcome, So-and-so to the stage. She going to bless the mic with her poetry.” Another expression often heard is, “Ya’ll give it up for What’s-his-name who is here to spit some poetry at you tonight.”
Last night I had the opportunity to read some recent, unpublished poems at the Grassroots open mic in Racine. That was the first time I have read at the Racine Arts Council ArtSpace Gallery (last summer I read some old poems at a Grassroots open mic at George’s Tavern). The poems seemed well received by at least a few people who talked to me at the end of the evening.
There was a time in my life when I used to read my work at open mics and other gigs at least once or twice a week. But those were different times and in a place far from here. Yet, the exercise of public speaking/reading returned quickly. There was fear in my mind that those skills had atrophied.
I will be reading at Woodland Pattern Book Center’s 22nd Annual Poetry Marathon & Benefit. It is a fundraising event. Your support is appreciated. It will be my second time reading at Woodland Pattern. For those interested attending and supporting the event, I will be reading on January 30th at 9 p.m. with a group of other poets — more details on that coming soon. If you would like to sponsor my reading, feel free to leave a note in the comments section or email me.
Yesterday’s afternoon walk was a bit chilly. Air temperature was around 10°F with wind chill of -7°F. Especially at the corner of Broadway and East Wisconsin. It was practically a wind tunnel. Crossing Water Street was not much better. But I finally made it across the bridge and to the River Walk.
The river was not quite frozen. And for the most part, very few people are out for a wintery stroll. One woman pulled her faux fur lined hood over her head and quickly shuffled out of the Wells Fargo building to a waiting SUV. A couple guys, both dressed in thick dark coats, waited for a bus. There was a man waiting at the street corner smoking a cigarette. He wore a red flannel jacket and no gloves.
Funny how cigarette smoke is so distinct in the frigid air. The subtle distinctions between Camel Turkish Gold 100’s, Marlboro Red, Newport Menthol Blue and Chesterfield Bronze is almost as unmistakable as the scent of a fajita or a falafel. Wondered why he had no gloves.
There was a Tranströmer poem I tried to recall as I walked along the River Walk. My breath, thick clouds, attempted to signal a line of the poem. What was it about? A train? A couple in a hotel? Something about night? Or was it a horizon? The frozen river surface does not help. And forty minutes in the cold temperature sent me back to the warm harbor of the office building.
So, the highways and roads were a bit slippery with tonight’s snowfall. Traffic was slow due to multiple auto accidents and road conditions.
But it is Wisconsin. And it is January. And it warmed up to 13°F — which is better than this morning at -8°F.
Glad to be off the roads. Time to warm up with a hot toddy. Awhile back I read this article from The Guardian on how to make the best hot toddy. My tonic is pretty simple: 2 ounces of boiled water, 1 ounce Knob Creek, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, a pinch of nutmeg and 3 cloves.
But what if I am out of cloves?
Here is the big question for tonight, do I substitute nutmeg and cloves with a stick of cinnamon? What is your recipe for the perfect winter night hot toddy?
It is difficult to believe that it is winter in Wisconsin. The weather reports offer that snowfall is in the forecast for this weekend and sub zero temperatures. But for now, a lunch time walk along Milwaukee’s River Walk is a damp pleasure.
Often, lunch time is in opportunity for a walk. It breaks the day up and offers a time to disengage from work-related tasks and refresh the mind. Walking also allows some exercise for the body. Or at least that is what I try to tell myself as I walk down Mason to Prospect in below freezing—but sunny—weather.
I brought my camera along to see if I could capture some construction site photos for an ad I am designing. Once I get to The Calling sculpture by the art museum, I start thinking about composing shots of the subject. It is a high-rise building under construction.
I remove the lens cover, select camera filters, and compose a shot; the sound of heavy machinery fill the lakefront. It is a sound of one clattering, moaning creature that rises into the sky. The sound from the building site can be heard blocks away—as far as Cathedral Square. Some days I get to the office early—before the construction site roars to life—and I hear the call of lake gulls echo off the crowded buildings of East Town.
I take a dozen shots before walking a block to get a different angle of the subject—new perspective, change of lighting, and so on. That’s when I notice her.
I had been scanning through the photos on the camera’s display screen and dodging patches of ice on the bridge walkway to the War Memorial Center before I noticed her. She stands to the south of the bridge in a space outside the War Memorial Center that overlooks Lincoln Memorial Drive.
She looks at me as she switches cameras. There is a vintage quality to the camera in her gloved hands. Looks like a Hasselblad 500C/M. The other camera looks like a Yashica-Mat. And a third camera looks more like mine—a DSRL. I slow my pace. Do I want to photograph the high-rise building from the same spot has her? Based on her gear, she knows what she is doing. I hate to disturb her shot.
But she packs her camera gear. We pass on the bridge. I take a dozen photos where she once stood. I cross the bridge, pass by the Cudahy Tower, take a few more shots on Mason Street and return to the office.
A thought follows me like a shadow. In anonymity we captured the same subject matter. On the same spot. The same day. During the same hour. We will both have a record of that moment. But we will never meet.