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Posts published in “Ruekwriting”

Thoughts on poetry: writing it, reading it, tearing it apart, putting it back together.

Little Theatre Poetry Series: An Evening of Poetry and Music

David Ruekberg 0
Join me for an evening of poetry and music at the Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. I will be reading from my second book, Hour of the Green Light, as well as new work from my Little Coffins manuscript. The evening begins at 5 pm with Eastman School of Music jazz trumpeter Mike Kaupa. At 5:30 WXXI classical music director and host Mona Seghatoleslami will introduce the featured poet. The featured reader for the evening is Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose. I will be reading with seven other guest poets, including Albert Abonado, Melissa Balmain, Larry Berger, Jessica Cuello, Jonathan Everitt, Jennifer Maloney, and Almeta Whitis. Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2014). She teaches courses in Women in Literature, Women in Popular Culture, Female Iconicity, and Girls Studies. Her chapbook Imago, Dei won the 2021 Rattle Chapbook Poetry Prize. Guest poets will read for about five minutes each. Notable guest poets include: Many thanks to Bart White for curating The "Little" Poetry Series!

Three poems in Sixfold and What That Is

David Ruekberg 0
Yippee, three of my “little coffin” poems are up at Sixfold, an online journal that has a unique publication model. Founded by former Crazyhorse editor Garrett Doherty, Sixfold doesn’t select work for publication the way any other publisher that I know of does. Those of you who are writers know how arduous it is to get published these days. The field is crowded. Thanks to the Internet there are more places publishing fiction and poetry than ever, but it seems that there are also more writers seeking to get published, probably due to the ease of submitting, and to the so-called “proliferation” of MFA programs.[1] I’ve written a bit about my process for sending out poems in “Five Poems Up at Bloom,” so I won’t repeat all that here. But one mysterious part of the other end of the process is how work gets chosen for publication. Somewhere behind the emerald curtain of the coveted journal is a staff of readers who select from the slush pile what will see the light of day and what dies in the recycling bin. One hopes that the readers’ standards are high, that their choices are objective, and that only the best work gets published. But what constitutes “best” and how realistic is it for every human being to be completely “objective”? I’m pretty sure even the most scrupulous editors are susceptible to taste, and to some extent that’s okay. That’s why we writers are expected to become familiar with the publications we’re submitting to, in order to gauge their “aesthetic.” But you know the old saw, de gustibus non est disputandum (“there’s no accounting for taste”). Many of us writers know that the front line of readers who encounter our work are often undergraduates. Not that young folks aren’t capable of refined judgments of good writing. In fact, I’m often in awe/jealous of many contemporary college students for how well-read and perspicacious they are. Then again, I remember myself in college, and how far I’ve traveled since then in terms of my perspective on what makes good writing, both in terms of craft and content. And the milieu in which they read is different as well. They’re not looking for the next William Stafford or Sylvia Plath. They’re post-Postmodern, focused on identity, more skeptical of the canon than ever. Doherty has attempted with Sixfold to create an ultimately democratic selection process. He has sidestepped the problem of a staff of volunteer or minimally compensated readers and their slightly better compensated editors who know better than their readers. Work is chosen for Sixfold by its readers; more precisely, work is chosen by the writers submitting fiction and poetry. Here’s how it works. You go to the website, upload six of your best poems or one short story, and pay a five dollar entry fee. The fee goes towards prizes for the “best” short story and poem, and presumably towards publication costs and compensation for the editor.[2] Then you are randomly grouped with five other writers, and you rate their work by rank by a given deadline. Six poems, six writers: hence the name “Sixfold.” But your manuscript is read by many more than six people. Doherty’s explains it all: In round 1, 6 writer-voters compare your manuscript (and everyone else’s) to 5 other manuscripts, rank-voting them as Best, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th. (Each manuscript is compared to 30 others by 6 different readers.) Each manuscript’s voting score average is averaged and compared to all others, and then the highest-voted one-third of manuscripts advances to the next round. Round 2 manuscripts go on to receive 18 readers and 90 comparisons, and the highest-voted one-third advances to round 3. Round 3 manuscripts receive 54 readers and 270 comparisons. Each manuscript completing round 3 is read and rank-voted by 78 different writer-voters, with a grand total of 390 comparisons to other manuscripts. ( It sounds flawless, but I’ll offer three caveats to excited potential submitters. First, your readers are other writers, some of whom may be desperate to become published and burst from anonymity into full-fledged acclaim as the next Hemingway or Robert Frost. But desire is not a prerequisite to talent. It’s probable that the readers ranking your work are even more susceptible to taste than journal readers who have been vetted by editors with a proven track record. It’s possible that their idea of a good poem is a step above a Hallmark greeting card. It’s possible that they don’t even read your poems, or don’t read them carefully, although they’re expected to leave comments justifying their ranking. (I doubt that all of these comments are assessed by an editor for integrity, but maybe they are.) Second, you are at the mercy of your readers understanding the process. In my case, I don’t think they all did. When I read some of the comments on my work, it appeared that some of the readers got the ranking system backwards. A “1” is supposed to be the highest, and “6” the lowest. But when I compared positive or negative comments to the scores, it was clear that a few readers got them backwards, which affected my total score. Fortunately, I was saved by another anomaly: if fewer than four people vote on your manuscript, you automatically advance to the next round, rather than being punished by lazy readers. In my case, in the first round only one person voted on my work, and she gave me a 4. (Really, 29 people did not bother to rate me?) After the final round I ended up placing 15th, the cut-off for publication.  In fact, in the final round my average was the best among the other contenders for the $1,000 prize: 2.65 out of 6. But because my scores in the first two rounds were 4 or above, I placed last. Let me not crow about my excellence too soon: several of the readers were confused about the scoring system, scoring me high when they meant to score low, and vice versa. More about that in a bit. Finally, speaking of lazy readers, don’t submit here if you’re one of those. It’s a good deal of work. I tend to be a little obsessive with feedback and left extensive comments, generally about 300-500 words per submission. I guess it’s the English teacher in me. Several readers gave me similar comments, but most offered about 150 words or fewer, sometimes just a couple of sentences, occasionally nothing. Another benefit of this approach is that you can get some helpful feedback from these comments. Even if it stings, I appreciate thoughtful and sincere feedback. It helps make me a better writer. For example, one reader wrote, “A part of me wants to suggest there is too much here, tighten it up, but then again, I do like what is there, even though they run a little long.” That’s always a valid criticism when assessing poetry, and others have made the same comments on my “little coffins” in workshop. A legitimate concern is whether or not I’m padding lines to make them adhere to the constraints of the form. Reviewers have worried that, as difficult as it is to compose in this form, it would be harder for me make revisions, but I assured them that, as I had worked hard to get my ideas into the right number of characters once, I could do it again. This is the same problem one faces when writing a conventional sonnet or syllabic verse, so it’s not that unique. Sometimes the feedback is not so helpful. For instance, “You touch on some poignant themes and truths here, and you use strong imagery. I feel you're not quite letting go, perhaps a bit self-conscious. Could you explore your inner world deeper, without thinking about the reader too much?" The last point is worth considering, although it is important to think about the reader. That’s where craft comes in. But what does the reader mean by “letting go”? I’ve worked hard to move away from my poetry being a form of vomiting my personal issues onto paper, trying to craft my concerns into a form that is both specific and has a universal application. Another commented, “I really tried to be open-minded about your experiment, but these poems are impossible to read. My eyes kept crossing, trying to follow a line without slipping into the one just above or below. It’s like a cruel optometry test!” It makes me wonder how this reader handles reading fiction or the news. As I mentioned earlier, then there’s the issue of understanding how the ranking works, which really just requires reading the directions. One reader wrote a very long positive comment, beginning, “Wow. This is amazing, first of all, your format and your overall concept of little coffins, which fascinates me…” and ending “Incredible thought process you have going on there! I wish you the very best of luck in the contest. You deserve recognition.” And then she gave me a 6, the bottom of the heap. Another meant to rank me lowest because he said I hadn’t adhered to the page limit of six pages of poems. In fact, the guidelines state a maximum of five poems of up to ten pages.[3] Although I thought Doherty’s instructions were clear enough, perhaps some people just aren’t good at reading them. Does the same problem exist with submission readers for other publications? One hopes not. But maybe. I’ve heard several writers (and even editors) say they’ve submitted the same pieces to the same publications in different years, and a piece that was rejected during one submission cycle was accepted during another, simply because it was read by a different reader it in the first round of cuts. Well, there you have it. If you’re a writer seeking to be published, and you’re willing to suffer possible misinterpretation and misunderstanding of guidelines by amateur readers, it might be worth your time to check out this venue for your work. If you do make the cut, Doherty publishes your work in several formats: on the Sixfold website, in print, and in various electronic formats (PDF, e-pub, Kindle). You might even have a shot at the $1,000 prize. In fact, I had read and rated the work of the winner in my round, Winter 2022. I had ranked it rather low, and my top vote had been on the poems of the thirteenth place writer. As Rosanne Rosanadana used to say, “It just goes to show you, it's always something. If it ain't one thing, it's another.” Which is just another way of saying de gustibus non est disputandum. [1] The term “proliferation” is a popular descriptor for the increasing number of MFA programs in the US, but I appreciate Sonja Livingston’s defense in the Guardian article: “’I love the idea that so many people want to make art,” she said. “I don’t worry about too many artists in the world.’” [2] I have no qualms paying five dollars to support this venture, especially considering all the work Doherty does to organize this process, get the finished product into a handsome printed and electronic form, and fund the website. Not to mention the bi-annual prizes in two categories. There’s no advertising on the website or in the journal. [3] Fortunately, it worked out, because the reader also mistook the ranking system and gave me a 1 instead of a 6. She later realized her error and made the effort to apologize by contacting me through my website. The damage was done, but in my favor. In this instance.

Kelsay Books Poetry Reading: Where Is the River Called Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
On December 17, 2022 I enjoyed reading with a crew of other Kelsay Books poets, including Daniel Lusk, Jennifer Freed, Rita Maria Martinez, and Paul Bone, among others. I’m reading three poems from my first book, Where Is the River Called Pishon? - the title poem, “Winter Solstice,” and “The Poplars of August.”   [youtube] I had a whole blog post written telling you the story of my publication journey with Kelsay Books, but I realized it would be of no interest to anyone, so I’m sparing you. If you really want to know all about it, let me know and I’ll send you an email. Otherwise, enjoy the poetry!

Little Coffins

David Ruekberg 0

A few years ago I started a writing project called Weather Report, about internal and external weather: the changing landscape of my spiritual evolution/dissolution, and global warming. It seems like a lot to roll into one ball, but you understand that one can't really separate the environment from what one is.

However, this post is not about that collection, which languishes in various slush piles. The lack of attention did cause me a brief period of despair and self-doubt, but against or despite or irrelevantly to my will, I found myself working in a form I call "Little Coffins." In about a year's time I found I had written about 45 poems mostly on purpose which I collected into a new manuscript I'm calling Marble and Rasp.

The name I gave the form doesn't so much have to do with my despair and self-doubt as with the shape of the poems: They appear in a rectilinear layout created by using a monospaced font and the same number of characters per line to create a poem that is right-justified without tracking or kerning. That's one reason I call them little coffins. They're boxy (most of them; see below). In terms of craft, the form puts pressure on the ideas, a little like a sonnet, but without a rhyme scheme, meter, or length constraints.

The first time I heard of this form was thirty years ago in a poetry workshop at Writers & Books, our literary writing and reading center in Rochester, NY. The instructor told us he had spent a week with another poet holed up in a house in the desert just writing. One day they challenged each other to only write poems that were completely justified on both margins. They were doing this on typewriters. I think he presented it to us in the same way Stephen Dunn once explained his tendency towards tercets--as a “compositional strategy.” At the time I thought it was a dumb idea.

In January, 2021 I went out for a winter day’s walk. I sometimes compose out loud while I’m walking, recording on my smartphone. I was looking at the clouds and the crust of snow outlining the suburban landscape and the dendritic trees against the atypically blue Rochester skies and the poem “Emendation” sprang out of my mouth. The next morning I typed it up, and wholly by accident the way I broke the lines they were almost perfectly right-justified. So I tinkered with the poem to make them align. Then I remembered the dumb exercise and laughed.

That June, attempting to protect my garden from marauding woodchucks, I accidentally caught a rabbit in my Havahart, and the next day her kitten. “Object Lesson” sprang out all of a piece, aligning on both margins with only minor tinkering. After sending it off to my writing group, I dismissed it as a lark. In September I wrote, “Object Constancy,” and something in the poem seemed to beg to be crammed into this form. I think it was the way they had a recognizable structure: introduction, development, conclusion, but without obvious logical hooks. Then “Slot Canyon” emerged, kind of on purpose, and I was off.

Fortunately, I have the advantage of a word-processor rather than a typewriter, which makes it a lot easier to edit. I realized after sending out “Emendation” that it might drive editors crazy to make my fonts accord with theirs. I realized this form would require composing in a monospaced font (like what you had on old typewriters, and which “Courier New” imitates) so that everyone (author, editor, typesetter) agreed about line length. I had typed up “Emendation” in Garamond, my preferred font, so it took some editing to make it conform. In fact, it was one of the hardest poems in this collection to align, since I had really liked it the way it was. But writers get used to merciless revision.

When I get stuck for the right line length I refer to the Thesaurus, and the site, which has a filter to let me search synonyms by word length, but most of the time I have to fall back on my own ingenuity to get not only the right number of characters in a line but also the right words.

I call these poems “little coffins” partly because of their shape, and partly for the reason suggested in the line from “Object Constancy”: “Words are shadows that mime shadows on a wall,” a twisted allusion to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. There’s the ideal reality, then there’s our perception of reality, then there’s our expression of our perception, three degrees removed from the ideal.

Towards the end of the manuscript some of them have a ragged last line. I'm not going to say why here. If it ever gets published maybe you will come up with a theory if you read it.

I tried to find out who that instructor was. For some reason I thought it was Campbell McGrath, but he responded to my email very politely and firmly that he had no idea what I was talking about. After discovering The Meadow in the Vermont home where I was sitting Fitzie, Anni MacKay and Doon Hinderyckx's Tibetan Terrier, it seemed sure that it was James Galvin who told the story of the typewriter exercise. I wrote to what I thought might be his email address, but either I was mistaken, or he ignored me, or something came up. At any rate, I still don’t know who it was for sure.

So far I've gotten one of these published. It's currently the second poem in the collection, "Weaver" (below), which I initially wrote in Ross White's September, 2021 Grind which was published in The Orchards Poetry Review. They weren't able to use a monospaced font as I had hoped, due to layout constraints, but were able to approximate the effect by manually adding spaces.

The Orchards happens to be published by Karen Kelsay, who also runs Kelsay Books, which published my first book, Where Is the River Called Pishon? A coincidence, I'm sure. Thanks to Karen Kelsay and the rest of the staff at Kelsay Books and The Orchards!

More about my video poetry reading at DMQ Review’s Salon

David Ruekberg 0

Video poetry reading at DMQ Review's Salon

A little background

DMQ Review is a high-quality online poetry journal that was started in 1998 by JP Dancing Bear. What guts, to think that the Internet might be a good place to start a poetry publication. For a long time, I avoided submitting poems to online sites, thinking they were no better than the equivalent of self-publishing one's books -- the "vanity press" as it was known then. Now the publishing world has changed drastically, not just for books and literary journals, but newspapers, magazines, and -- you know -- everything.  As part of this sea-change in the publishing world, literary sites now include video. What would Keats think? DMQ, which stands for "Disquieting Muses Quarterly," has not only hung in there, but has evolved as one of the best online-only poetry journals around. It has published well-known poets such as Ellen Bass (2008), Marge Piercy (2015), Jim Daniels (2018), and many others. According to Bookfox's calculations, it ranks among the  "Best Literary Magazines for Poetry," based on a count in The Best American Poetry's anthology, tying for #15 with two selections (a rather informal metric, and some pretty good presses are not on the list, but still...).

The Salon

Now that the COVID pandemic has pretty much shut down literary readings and other gatherings, DMQ Review is again at the forefront of poetry innovation. Sally Ashton and the other editors have created what they call on online Salon where they feature poets they've published. The Salon hosts short video readings by three DMQ poets each month, beginning in July, 2020 (where you'll find a video of my friend, Annie Kim reading from her beautiful new book, Eros, Unbroken). So, some evening this winter when you're tired of the onslaught of the news and the wasteland of addictive streaming TV, head over to the DMQ Salon and enjoy some well-wrought poetry, read to you by the authors from their study, kitchen, or back yard.

My Stuff

I'm honored that DMQ published my poem, "Work," in the Summer/Fall 2018 issue. This poem appears near the end of my second collection, Hour of the Green Light. And hey, I'm up at the Salon in the February slot (by coincidence, along with Carolyn Mar, another graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program), reading four poems from Hour of the Green Light, in various settings. I hope you enjoy.

Five poems up on Bloom

David Ruekberg 0
Five poems up on Bloom Usually when I send out a batch of poems they get rejected. I’m used to that. Par for the course. According to Duotrope, a site that helps writers find place to submit and to track their submissions, since 2010 I’ve made 1,256 submissions. (I’ve actually made more since I started in earnest in 1996, but this is when I started using this site.) My acceptance rate is 3.1%. When a journal received thousands of poems a year, and they can only publish 100, the odds are not so good. We don’t write for money or fame. Plus, I’m kind of picky. I tend to set my sights too high, and work my way down, trying to find my level. What I’m not used to is the whole batch being accepted at once, which is what happened recently when the online poetry journal, Bloom, took all five poems. (For you stats nerds, that translates to 13% of my total acceptances.) As I’ve written elsewhere, I group poems into batches based on how I want to present myself to a journal. I try to collect them in terms of themes that resonate, or a particular voice or form (stanzas, line length, punctuation—-some or none). A friend thinks I’m overthinking it. “Just send them out,” she says. But I’m trying to be scrupulous. I don't want to waste editors' time (or mine) sending work to a press whose taste is obviously for something else. I also have a vague sense that by organizing them into more or less coherent groupings, I’ll increase my chances of the editors thinking there’s a coherent mind behind them. So I hope. I get the sense that most poets have a consistent style, or voice, or subject. I have a problem with that. It's not that I object, it's just that I tend to wander a little into different styles or voices or...whaddya call them...modes. The class I taught at the end of my final semester at Warren Wilson (a requirement for graduation) was on varying modes of voice in poetry. I neatly divided up what I called "modes of conscious address" into distinct categories. I was inspired by Heather McHugh’s comment that “rhetoric enacts shapes of mind.” That was my working definition of “modes.” As I said, I wander into different modes. Meditative, narrative, observational, didactic. It depends on the day, what’s happening on each side of the pen, and what I’ve been reading or listening to. That ranges from the static of my own thoughts, to the conversation my stubbed toe is having with the rest of my body, to my wife’s voice on the phone, to the news, to the cry of jays in the chinquapin trees, and so forth. This can look messy when I go to collect a batch of poems for submission to a journal. It’s even worse when I try to collect them into a book, which is supposed to have a common thread. Another friend who read a draft of my first collection said, “But I thought a book of poems was supposed to have an arc.” She didn’t hear my disheartened sigh. I thought it had one. Because of my tendency to visit various modes as I seek to do whatever it is we poets do when we poetize, my mentor for my final semester at Warren Wilson, Tony Hoagland, dubbed me forever after “Intermodal Dave.” (Exhibit A, below.) If I were cool enough to pull it off, and played online fantasy games, that would be the name of my online fantasy avatar. My point is, I think these poems I submitted to Bloom are enough alike that they might appear to have been written by the same person. I think I was in the same mood (as opposed to mode) when I wrote them, though they were written days or even months apart. This is not so long, considering that the poems included in my first book were written years apart. The time between my writing of poems and getting them into an actual book is shrinking. My first book, Where Is the River Called Pishon? includes poems written between 1998 and 2013. It wasn’t published until 2018. Tony once told me that, as a poet, he was a slow learner. He’s got nothing on me for slow. I’m not bragging, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s the truth, and maybe it will inspire some poet living in a garret somewhere not to throw himself off a bridge into the Thames waiting to get published. My second book, Hour of the Green Light, came faster. I think I wrote the earliest poem in that collection in 2009. It was published this month, January 2021 (though it was finished two years ago). The poems published on Bloom today were all written in the last two years. Progress! I am currently planning to include them in my third collection, which revolves around the problems of climate change and marriage. Maybe that sounds like a screwy conjunction of topics, but I believe both can have happy endings if everyone takes responsibility for their actions and works consciously to create the conditions for mutual kindness. Thank you to the kind editors and staff at Bloom, especially Evelyn Somers and Alice Stephens.

WAYO Interview with Al Abonado about Where Is the River…?

David Ruekberg 0
Thanks and I owe a big hug to Al Abonado for talking with me about my collection, Where Is the River Called Pishon, on his weekly radio show, Flour City Yawp, on WAYO 104.3 FM (Rochester, NY) and, of course, online. After some introductory music,* the interview starts around 4:00. (Click here, yo.) Two amazing things about this show. One: Rochester actually has a low-power live FM radio broadcast, playing all kinds of crazy stuff, from out-there modern music to, well, a one-hour show about poetry. Stream it and let it roll in the background while you are organizing your books or working up your resume at Linked Everywhere or whatever. The other, of course, is the host, Al Abonado. Not only is he a fine poet, slogging his way towards recognition in the publishing world -- a place which has become as attention deficient as the Internet itself -- but doing great work in his adopted back yard of Rochester, New York, to help poetry thrive. Poetry, of course, exists independent of promotion, as a level of consciousness triangulating somewhere among meditation, orgasm, and raising squash, but Al does what he can to keep it real in the City of Rochester and environs. The eight arms of Al Abonado.
  1. Flour City Yawp (see above)
  2. Poetry prof at SUNY Geneseo
  3. City Newspaper CityVersePoetry Column
  4. New Ground Poetry Night, first Tuesdays, Equal Grounds Cafe (with Jonathan Everitt)
  5. Bloom Poetry: Prompting poetry to pop up and bloom in beds, cracks, and crannies in the Rochester area
Arms 6-8 are currently in the darkroom. And thanks to Al for reading the helical poem, "Valentine," with me superbly well. As for the interview, I was nervous as heck before the show, even though I'd spoken on his show once before. This time, it was all about me. Am I real news? Am I fake news? had no data. So you must decide. As I did in my first years of teaching, I over-prepared. Fortunately, Al was gentle, and time passed quickly. I have a few things to learn about interviewing. Say "um" less. Breathe more. Keep the focus. Life-long goals.      

Review of “Looking Askance” by Laura Klinkon

David Ruekberg 0
Review of Looking Askance, by Laura Klinkon Stesichorus Publications, Rochester, NY. 2017 Available at

Pungent, not biting

Laura Klinkon’s chapbook, Looking Askance, suggests its tone in the title itself. The work glimpses into the narrator’s relationships to mother, neighbors, self, and others with an ironic but usually gentle attitude. The cover art, a Byzantine portrait bust, goes a long way to suggest this tone. As described by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “this sensitively carved portrait bust presents a mature woman with a thoughtful expression and piercing gaze; the scroll held in her right hand signals an appreciation for classical learning and marks her as a member of the elite.” Perhaps not a member of the elite, but Klinkon reveals herself as definitely schooled in classical learning. The front matter of her little book is a little intimidating at first, beginning with an epigraph from Juvenal, followed by an introduction in which she ponders to what extent the satires she intends “fall under the classical Horatian, Juvenalian, or Menippean categories.” I prepared to feel quite stupid as I read her poems, but I needn’t have feared. The first poem reveals itself to be quite approachable in its diction and subject matter, as its easygoing title, “I went to the city today,” suggests. Though the poem employs a few top-shelf words and concepts (“contingency realms,” and a brief philosophical debate on will versus desire), it poignantly evokes a situation of modern loneliness. Although we don’t learn the specific circumstances of the event—Klinkon often explores the philosophical underpinnings of events more than the physical details—the poem peruses the “bones” of the event, an image used in the poem itself to suggest the lack of substance in the conversations she was a party to. “‘What is your weight in bone?’” is the “one thing / I hadn’t dared say,” she writes. The loneliness engendered by feeling somewhat estranged from the company of others even while in their company is a theme that runs throughout the work. The four-line “People may look” finds the speaker being looked at “askance” by others, while “Some tides rise” explores “various projects / incomplete,” which appear to include the project of identity as well. “Scattered clouds” suggests that this feeling of incompleteness is the loneliness of the introverted and introspective artist who, given the complications of relationship with anyone, might finally resolve to stay in bed and “not even / pick up the phone.” This is echoed in a later poem, “Today you liked my shirt,” in which a hole in the front represents “solitude” and “a shroud hung / on the bones of a mazurka-stepping / apparition.” In fact, I don’t find these pieces that satirical, though there is certainly irony in them; and though they suggest criticism of both society and self, I find the tone more sympathetic than mocking. “After the concert” certainly conveys a criticism of social manners, as the speaker “correctly used no fingers / for my food, my weaving / through the klatsches ruffled / no one.” But this is about as critical towards others as Klinkon gets. And certainly she is self-deprecating a little later in the poem when she admits an awkward moment leaving the party, “my head nearly thumping the banister” in her haste or distraction to get the hell out of there. Yet, rather than the ire or caricature of satire, the poem ends with a poignant admission: “I saw / all I was, done, knew…could be entwined / in a bundle and trundled as a bien vivante, / bon voyagée courante.”  

Diction and Form

I must admit, there were many times I had to run to the online dictionary for some of the terms Klinkon chooses, sometimes perhaps unnecessarily taxing the reader’s resources (making me research “annelid,” when she had already used the word “worm,” which sufficed). In the above case, Google did not give a precise translation of the two French terms. But I got the idea (I hope). The loneliness I sense in these poems gets more specific than grand existential pathos. As the chapbook develops, Klinkon introduces a relationship with a neighbor who is useful as a plowman in winter, but whom “I liked better before you had your / colonoscopy.” True, there’s a sting to that statement, though it seems pretty direct; ironic, rather than sarcastic, only in the social expectation that we should love our neighbor, even if sometimes he expects too much. Klinkon doesn’t employ traditional forms, though she uses plenty of internal rhyme, as in the first poem discussed. I went to the city today where others awaited not me, but it was okay, I had little to say, so they made some space for me. The last line of the poem highlights the conjunction between form and content: “Today, I was keenly all ears.” The last time I chatted with Laura, she mentioned that she had published The Silent Lyre, a collection of translations of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets from English into Italian, so it’s clear she’s well-acquainted with formal poetry. These poems mix form and a conversational tone to make them sad but sharp little songs. Maybe next time we chat Laura can clear up my misconceptions about satire, but it may be a hard sell. There’s a little too much sweetness in these poems, though mixed with bitters, as in the beautiful images of the final poem, My heart is a pip poison as an apple seed slippery as a lemon’s crimped in a leather rind As she admits in her Introduction, “the result is pathetic.” I understand that not in the modern sense of “miserably inadequate,” but in its original sense: “evoking pity, sympathetic sadness.” As the description of the Byzantine bust suggested, the speaker in Klinkon’s work is thoughtful, piercing, and sensitive.  

What is the River Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided to make four streams. The first is named the Pishon, and this winds all through the land of Havilah where there is gold....The second river is named the Gihon, and this winds all through the land of Cush. The third is named the Tigris, and this flows to the east of Ashur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Genesis 2:10-14 New Jerusalem Bible

The title of my book refers to the Pishon, the only river mentioned in the second creation story of Genesis whose location has not been identified. Various theories include the Nile; a now-dry channel running from Medina to Kuwait; and even the Danube, associated with this mosaic in Qatr, Libya, perhaps depicting a thirsty pilgrim, or Adam (©


David Ruekberg 1
Submitting poems to journals is an arduous process, and apparently my way of implementing it makes it more so. I have a personality defect which makes me sometimes take things too seriously, and sometimes not seriously enough, (but that will be the subject of another post). So everything takes a little longer as I consider, evaluate, reflect, reassess, grumble, consider again, and eventually come to a resolution. Or not.
The advent of the paperless world has made submitting poems easier, though electronic vehicles come with their own challenges, as you know. Mostly, though, it's easier. In the old days I had to stuff envelopes and mail them out, a more arduous task than it might sound to those whippersnappers who have only been on the receiving end of an envelope. The first step in submitting work was to research journals that might be a fit for my work. In the 1990s, when I began to seriously engage the mechanics of publication, I consulted a three-inch thick directory of little magazines and small presses called The Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. When I found some I thought sounded interesting, either because of their titles or subject matter (various indices indicated each), if I were responsible I visited the local Borders or independent bookstores (neither of which exist in the Rochester area any more, except Greenwood Books in  Rochester and Lift Bridge books in Brockport), or tried to find them in a library (sometimes I was able to locate a few in the Rochester downtown branch or, rarely, at the University of Rochester). If I were less responsible, I just shot in the dark (against my nature, at least the greater part of it). Having narrowed the field one way or the other, I compiled 3-5 poems in Word document batches according to style or content. Then, usually during school vacations, I filled our large dining room table with the printed-out batches, placed cover letters atop them, folded SASEs for responses and return of manuscripts, and then stuffed stamped envelopes with the lot, and hauled the bundle to the post office. A few months later the rejections rolled in, and I would repeat the process over the next school break. My wife told me she had heard of a poet who kept his batches in a cubby he had inherited from a local post office, and as soon as a rejection came in sent out a new batch, but I never got that organized. In those days, few journals accepted simultaneous submissions, so the cycle was slow. As those of you know, now the process is much easier. Go to the website of the journal you hope will be interested in your work, read a few sample poems to see if it is a good fit, click the "Submit" link, and upload your work. Most sites have some kind of submission manager, such as Submittable, to help you keep track of your submissions. Some use the Ur-submission manager, Devin Emke's "Submission Manager," that all presses accepting work online used to use, and that now only a few, such as Cider Press Review, still do. Maybe they've invested too many of their few dollars and precious time to move over to Submittable, which most journals use, or maybe they're just very nostalgic. Some, such as Diode, still accept work only through email. And some very respectable journals, such as The Southern Review, still rely on the post office, which probably narrows the field to those who are really serious -- or who can't deal with the computer. Though the process is easier, it doesn't necessarily mean one's chances of getting a poem or story published is much greater. There's a proliferation of online poetry journals, and more people seeking publication for poetry than fifty years ago. Presumably the same problem exists now as did then: more people writing poetry than reading it, but at least online publishing makes it easier for people to access creative work, as noted in Stephanie Burt's 2015 article in the New Yorker, "The Persistence of Lit Mags." Regardless of success, I don't write to get published. Several times in my life I've given up on trying to get in print, but after a few depressed weeks of not writing, picked up my fountain pen again and started. Not to get published, but just because I couldn't help it. Of course, being back in the saddle riding towards publication does put a happy pressure on what I write -- or at least what I choose to revise -- to be clearer, wiser, funnier, and altogether more effective as a writer than if I were just fiddling with my navel in a journal. Wish me luck.    

Praise for Where Is the River Called Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
Where Is the River Called Pishon? is published by Kelsay Books. You can purchase it from Kelsay, Amazon, or from the author directly.
David Ruekberg's poems engage the domestic and natural spheres to encounter the elemental forces that drive us: love, grief, despair and hope. “Dirt and instructions” coalesce and point to answers not given but suggested, offer “somewhere to overnight/before rain, and winter,” promise love as surrender, “and no one asking questions.” Where Is the River Called Pishon? is an irresistible book that asks to be read and read again.Pablo Medina, author of The Floating Island (poems) and Cubop City Blues (a novel), and thirteen other works, including an acclaimed translation of Lorca’s Poet in New York.

David Ruekberg's probing debut collection renders the world for readers, in many senses of the word. His poems distill experience to concrete moments of "magnolia blossom. . .Dutch Catholic schoolgirls. . .traffic's wreathed whine." They also present a world in flux. Past and present, creation and destruction coexist: a "half-world below heaven," where "the species will follow all species…it will die out"; where "The law commands the cells' bloom/in the body, light's intercourse with matter, the ions' banquet/of rust." Ruekberg marvels at it all, even at questions about the meaning of existence: "History is the ultimate act of faith. Plant an atom in darkness/and you sow a cosmos." By turns playful and solemn, the poems are generous invitations to consider the origins of life and its inevitable ends, to remember the fact that, at least sometimes, "everything murmurs and winks, as if holy."

Tracy Youngblom, author of Growing Big and One Bird a Day  

Teaching Poetry in High School

David Ruekberg 0
One day my friend and small god, Albert Abanado, invited me and a few other teachers who also write poetry to his radio show, Flour City Yawp, on Rochester's independent radio station, WAYO 104.3 FM. Al writes, "Poet-teachers Marcy Gamzon, Reenah Golden, David Ruekberg, and George Steele swing by to talk about the difficult task of teaching poetry in high schools. We cover practices, the pressures of bureaucracy, and the economic disparities that complicate it all." Al's write-up and the interview speak for themselves, so I'll let you discover them by clicking this little link (scroll all the way down to listen; the interview starts at 3:30). [caption id="attachment_442" align="alignleft" width="150"]Al Abonado Al Abonado, poetry DJ at WAYO-FM[/caption]