premature talk of greatness

I’m with Reb and Amy on this one. 

And, every other consideration aside, history decides the answer to who is ‘great’ in any field. Not us, writing now, however smart and well-informed we may be (or not). What we think now is not necessarily what history will think 50 or 100 years from now.

She’s funny that way, history.

a shape like to the angels

CAIN (solus) – And this is
Life? Toil! and wherefore should I toil?- because
My father could not keep his place in Eden?
What had I done in this? – I was unborn:
I sought not to be born; nor love the state
To which that birth has brought me. Why did he
Yield to the Serpent and the woman? or
Yielding – why suffer? What was there in this?
The tree planted, and why not for him?
If not, why place him near it, where it grew
The fairest in the center? They have but
One answer to all questions, “‘Twas his will,
And he is good.” How know I that? Because
He is all-powerful, must all-good, too, follow?
I judge but by the fruits- and they are bitter-
Which I must feed on for a fault not mine.
Whom have we here?- A shape like to the angels
Yet of a sterner and a sadder aspect
Of spiritual essence: why do I quake?
Why should I fear him more than other spirits,
Whom I see daily wave their fiery swords
Before the gates round which I linger oft,
In Twilight’s hour, to catch a glimpse of those
Gardens which are my just inheritance,
Ere the night closes o’er the inhibited walls
And the immortal trees which overtop
The cherubim-defended battlements?
If I shrink not from these, the fire-armed angels,
Why should I quail from him who now approaches?
Yet – he seems mightier far than them, nor less
Beauteous, and yet not all as beautiful
As he hath been, and might be: sorrow seems
Half of his immortality. And is it
So? and can aught grieve save, humanity?
He cometh.

[Enter LUCIFER.]

– George Byron, Cain

Being Eight

Songs on Whale Child’s ‘Faves’ list on the 1gb hand-me-down i-Pod Nano he inherited from his big brother:

    Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting, Carl Douglas
    The Click Song, Miriam Makeba
    The Lion Sleeps Tonight, The Tokens
    Lady of the Sea, Seth Lakeman
    We Are The Champions, Queen
    Another One Bites the Dust, Queen
    Iko Iko, Aaron Carter
    Build Me Up Buttercup, The Foundations
    Runaround Sue, Dion
    Panis Angelicus, Sting & Pavarotti
    Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Nickelback
    Waterloo, Abba
    Thriller, Michael Jackson
    500 Miles, The Proclaimers

Is this a representative 8-year-old i-Pod faves list in 2009? I fear we are either in the process of seriously warping him or have already successfully done so, without even trying.

dead Brits – Coleridge

Moving right along with revisiting the English Big Six.  Been stuck on Coleridge for a while, it seems.  I had a late-adolescent trauma related to Kubla Khan and a damsel with a dulcimer that seared him into my psychic memory — not unpleasantly, but rather ambiguously, perhaps.  That whole thing about him being zapped on opiates while he wrote it (and most other things, it seems) was an enduring point of adolescent focus, as was The Person From Porlock and the Wedding Guest’s apparent hypnosis in the Rhime of the Ancient Mariner.  This time around – dutifully expanding my horizons – I enjoyed Frost At Midnight but did find it somewhat hard not to glaze over during This Lime Tree Bower My Prison.

New and exciting this time: Christabel!

I mean: Vampire Girl!

A Gothic cross between Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes and Rossetti’s Goblin Market and something else I can’t think of at this minute.  Too bad there’s only a fragment of it.

(Oh wait – another Coleridge fragment..?).

According to the Cambridge History of English and American Literature:

“It has been said that “the thing attempted in Christabel is the most difficult in the whole field of romance: witchery by daylight.” And nothing could come nearer the mark. The miraculous element, which lies on the face of The Ancient Mariner, is here driven beneath the surface. The incidents themselves are hardly outside the natural order. It is only by a running fire of hints and suggestions—which the unimaginative reader has been known to overlook—that we are made aware of the supernatural forces which lie in wait on every side. The lifting of the lady across the threshold, the moan of the mastiff bitch, the darting of the flame as the enchantress passes—to the heedful, all these things are full of meaning; but, to the unwary, they say nothing; they say nothing to Christabel. Yet, the whole significance of the poem is bound up with these subtle suggestions; though it is equally true that, if they were more than suggestions, its whole significance would be altered or destroyed. It would no longer be “witchery by daylight,” but by moonlight; which is a very different thing.”

Check it out.

the striped fawn of my dream

Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet-president of Senegal, whom we’ve mentioned briefly before. From Song of the Initiate

She flees, she flees through the white flat land, while I take
Careful aim, giddy with desire. Is she in the bush of games,
Passions of thorns and thickets? Then shall I force her
To the chains of time, inhaling the sweet breath of her flanks
Of speckled shadows, and at stupefying High Noon shall I
Twist her fragile arms. The antelope’s rattle will intoxicate me
Life fresh palm wine and I shall drink for a long time
The wild blood that rises from her heart, the bloody milk
That flows to her mouth, the scent of the wet earth.


I have to hold back my blood at the end of its long cinnabar leash,
The son of Man, son of Lion, who roars in the hollow hills
Setting fire to a hundred villages with his male harmattan voice.

I will go leaping above the hills, defying the fear of wind
And steppes, defying the river-seas where virgin bodies drown
In the depth of their anguish. Then I will climb back up the sweet belly
Of dunes and the gleaming thighs of the day, up to the dark throat
Where a quick blow kills the striped fawn of my dream.

I like those big and distant but compelling Song of Songs-type comparisons that we don’t seem to use today (as in: “thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from Mount Gilead.Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.” More examples here.)

(I just got J.D. McClatchy’s “Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry” in the mail.)

nanopress update

I’m up to my eyebrows in my own poems, picking them apart and putting them back together under Jill’s no-quarter laser editing pen. Some of them aren’t surviving the process, poor things, but others are emerging stronger. My brain is having to morph (creaking) in new directions over many questions, including that of poem order. This is quite an emotional process.

Beginning to think about cover art. Saw something today I would really like to use and have sent off a query. Fingers crossed. (And if you happen to have any cover art options lying around looking for a poetry collection to grace, let me know!)

For new readers: The full nanopress story.


After goodness knows how long of not sending anything out anywhere, and with nearly nothing out there at the moment, I decide it’s time to get my ducks in a row and start submitting again. What do I find? Everyone seems to have called February 15 as their current deadline.

It’s a plot…

aaaall riiiighty then

This cracked me up when Whale Child (who is eight and, what can I say, a devoted fan of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (whom his father and I loathe with the deadliest of loathings, much good that has done us)) brought it to our attention.

So now, whenever anything threatens to explode — within or without, on whatever plane — what else can we do but look at each other and do that circled-thumb-and-index-finger Zen thing and intone aall riighty then….?

The Boy with Nails in His Eyes

Katy Evans-Bush is running a competition over at Baroque in Hackney, referencing Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb tinies.

They remind me of Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy collection, which I always found disturbing and compelling in a similar way. I think much of the power in both cases comes from the illustrations.

Here’s The Boy with Nails in His Eyes, for example:


The Boy with Nails in his Eyes
put up his aluminium tree.
It looked pretty strange
because he couldn’t really see.

– Tim Burton

Anyhow, go write a rhyme for Katy!

publishing as a team

The publishing model Jill and I are developing – under which the final book will be published referencing both our names as author and editor respectively – generates a new and different framework for receiving critique, I find. The normal critiquing process (informal one-on-one, workshops, etc) requires you of course to carefully consider suggestions received from those critiquers you respect. At the end of the day, however, you decide what to accept and what to reject on the basis of a single optic: this work has your name on it, and therefore you alone speak for the contents.

In the case of the Essbaum-Sebastian Nanopress, however, there can’t be a single optic. There will be two names cited, so there has to be a double optic. In Jill’s comments on my manuscript, she refers to the importance of “your Nic-ness”, and I love that. While recognizing that the relative roles of poet and editor are very different (and of course always deeply vested in ensuring the integrity of my “Nic-ness”) I still must be aware of and careful of her “Jill-ness” in this project. She has to be as comfortable with her name cited as editor as I will be mine as author.

(Click here for the full nanopress story.)

The Essbaum-Sebastian Nanopress (cont’d)

This is a one-off poetry publishing project undertaken jointly by Jill Alexander Essbaum (editor) and me (poet).  Our idea is to pioneer a new publishing model that incorporates an outside editor’s judgment and gravitas while by-passing both the poetry contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by heroic but limited-capacity no-fee/no-contest small presses.  We are working on my first poetry collection, Forever Will End on Thursday, which will eventually be DIY-published under both our names. Click here for an account of the project’s history and present status. It’s going well!

fugitive causes

“Poetry, even that of the loftiest, and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, [has] a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge