Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30: Good News

I got some good news this afternoon.  All morning long, I graded exams, registered patients, answered phones, and tallied students' final semester point totals.  It was a long, long a.m.  I finally took a break around one o'clock to check my university e-mail.  There were several messages with subject lines like "Congrats" and "Hip hip hooray."  There was also a message from the English Department with the subject line "Contingent/Adjunct of the Year."

Yes, loyal disciples, I was chosen by the English Department as contingent faculty member of the year.  I know I've written about this topic in the past.  I've made fun of not winning before.  I've been sarcastic and angry.  However, this award wasn't even on my radar this time.  I was too wrapped up in doing my end-of-semester duties.  I was taken totally by surprise.

I'm sort of floating right now.  I'm happy and will probably remain happy for a few days.  I might even carry this happiness into the weekend.

I don't need a National Book Award.  Or a Pulitzer Prize.  Or the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Saint Marty is the friggin' contingent faculty member of the year.

I don't need no stinkin' Nobel

April 30: Her Own Horse, Working Hands, Saint Joseph the Worker

She ran and bought her ticket and got back on the goddam carrousel just in time.  Then she walked all the way around it till she got her own horse back.  Then she got on it.  She waved to me and I waved back.

I love these happy moments in Catcher when Holden is with Phoebe.  The innocence and love present in these passages is more than heartbreaking.  It's wrenching.  Holden is clinging on to life by his fingernails, his bloody and bitten fingernails.  Holden actually slows down when he's with Phoebe, takes time to let himself be happy.

I often think of Joseph, how much joy he must have gotten out of watching Christ grow from infant to toddler to boy.  I sort of picture him like Holden in the passage above, sitting on the ground outside his home, watching his Son climb a palm tree or throw stones into pools of rainwater.  I imagine Christ waving at Joseph, and Joseph waving back, the way my son waves at me from his school bus window as the bus pulls away.  I always fight the impulse to chase the bus, to keep waving like a lunatic, to let him know I'll always be there for him.  It breaks my heart when the bus turns the corner and disappears from my sight.  Every time.  I wonder how often Joseph's heart broke.

On May 1, 1955, Pope Pius XII declared that May 1 the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker.  It is a day that celebrates Joseph, who was a carpenter, a man who supported his family with his calloused and splintered hands.  He probably taught his Son the craft of woodworking, and, in the evening, rested his weary arms and back after a long day's labor.

My father was a licensed master plumber.  I remember him climbing into his work truck every morning, his handwritten list of service calls in his hands.  He was hard as cast iron (still is).  He could tear the Detroit phone book in half with his hands.  He taught each of his kids the value of hard work, the way, I'm sure, Joseph taught Jesus.  Whether washing dishes for a living or teaching Intro to Film to a group of college students, I've always kept my father's fingers in my mind.  They were thick and cracked, ridged with dirt all the time, no matter how often he washed them.  They were a working man's hands.  Joseph's hands.  Hands that struggled to provide.

That's what I try to do every day.  Provide happiness, security, and comfort for my wife and children.  I think I work hard, but my hands aren't full of splinters or caked with dirt or grease.  But they're hands that struggle to provide, as well.  And, on the eve of the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, I admire all fathers' hands.  All working hands.

Saint Marty is going to say a little thank-you prayer for his father tonight.

Thanks, Dad

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29: Energizer Timex Bunny

Yes, I'm mixing a couple pop cultural references in the title of this post, but my mind is the consistency of a Jell-O pudding (pop culture reference #3).

I have been going at full-speed since about 6:30 this morning.  I have my poetry chapbook ready to send to the contest (just need a check for the entry fee and then a whole lot of luck).  I've managed to almost stay ahead of the surgery schedulers and phone calls.  Almost.  And now I'm on to grading final exams, which will drain away the rest of my energy.  By about ten o'clock tonight, I will look and feel like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  I am the Energizer Timex Bunny.  I take a licking a keep on going and going and going.

That being said, I will make a disclaimer ahead of time about tomorrow's blog posts:  they will probably suck.  In fact, this whole week of posts will be substandard to mediocre to lousy as the days progress.  By Friday, when I get in my car to head downstate for my daughter's dance competition, I expect to have no functioning grey matter left.  Consider yourself duly warned, loyal disciple.

Now, I will return to my stack of finals, which are currently sitting on my desk, mocking me.

Saint Marty is in for a very long, tedious night.

This is pretty much how I feel

April 29: Lots to Do, Sisyphean Task, "Rye" Dip Monday

Where's the chocolate room?

 I feel like Gene Wilder at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I find myself walking around this morning, muttering, "So much time, and so little to do!  Strike that, reverse it."

I have to finish the final edits on my chapbook and get that in the mail.  I know I don't stand a chance, but it's nice to have the hope of publication for a little while.  I have two poems that need a little more tweaking.  Aside from that, I just need to format it, slip it in an envelope, and send it on its way.  I've been living with some of the poems in this little collection for over ten years.  It's time to let them go.

Then I have final exams to grade.  Lots of them.  That is the Sisyphean task preoccupying me today.  That and how sore I am from yesterday afternoon's run.  It's a good sore, though.  It's my body saying, "Oh, yeah, that's what that muscle does!"

Then there's my normal, daily work.  Phones.  Charts. Surgical schedules.  More phones.  Yes, I will be busy today.  Busier than I really want to be.  However, it's on days like this that I'm able to accomplish the most.  To paraphrase from another famous movie character (Dory from Finding Nemo), I "just keep working, just keep working, just keep working."

Today is a Rye dip day.  I haven't really given much thought to any question plaguing my mind at the moment.  I mean, there's the standard questions that are always present:
  • Will I win the chapbook contest I'm entering?
  • Will I get a full-time job at the university?
  • Will we have enough money to make it through the summer?
  • Will Hannah end up with Adam on Girls?
Maybe I'll just go totally off-the-wall this morning and ask a new question that has nothing to do with publishing or money or teaching or any of my normal obsessions.  Here goes:

Will I win the chapbook contest I'm entering?

OK, I have a one-track mind.  I admit it.  Let's see if Holden is going to actually answer me today.  Flipping through pages.  Flipping.  Flipping.  And the answer is:

Anyway, we danced about four numbers, and then I turned off the radio.  Old Phoebe jumped back in bed and got under the covers.  "I'm improving, aren't I?" she asked me.

So there you have it.  I'm improving.  That means I've improved enough as a poet to win this contest.  (If it seems like I'm pulling that answer out of my ass, I am.  I was determined to get a positive response this morning.)  That contest is in the bank.  Every other entrant might as well send me congratulatory wishes right now.

Saint Marty would like to thank the members of the Academy...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 28: Running, Crocus, New Cartoon

One of my favorite things in the whole world is running, especially on days when the temperatures are in the 80s and 90s.  I am not a cold weather runner.  When the thermometer dips below freezing, and snow and ice are in the air and on the ground, my running shoes go into hibernation.

Today, for the first time since about December, I laced up my running shoes and went for a run.  It was a gorgeous 55 degrees, and the roads were clear.  For the first half mile, it was great.  My breathing was easy, and my legs felt strong and ready.  It was all downhill from there, however (in a bad way).  I ran through a puddle that was deeper than I expected, soaking my shoes and socks.  I ran up my first hill (about a quarter mile incline), and, by the time I hit the summit, I was almost dead.  The rest of the run is a blur of God-help-me-get-through-this-what-was-I-thinking pain.  As I sit here typing this post, I'm still coughing and sweating.

Now, you're probably thinking, why does he like running so much?  I can't answer that question in any rational way.  Ever since I was in high school, on the cross country team, I've liked the push and stress of distance running.  I like setting an impossible distance for myself to run, and then making it possible.  I even like the exhaustion I feel after a really good, hard, hot run.

Running is absolutely one of my favorite things.  I love the sun.  I love the warmth.  I feel like a crocus pushing through the snow today.

Saint Marty is ready to burst into song:  "May is bustin' out all over!"  You get the idea.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 27: Old Grendel, Edward Hirsch, "On Love," New Cartoon

"Well, most of the time we were on the Anglo-Saxons.  Beowulf, and old Grendel, and Lord Randal My Son, and all those things.  But we had to read outside books for extra credit once in a while.  I read The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, and Romeo and Juliet and Julius--"

Holden is really well-read.  At the beginning of The Catcher in the Rye, he's reading Isak Dinesen, but, as he tells a young nun he meets at a diner, he's read Shakespeare and Beowulf, as well.  Holden doesn't shy away from poetry the way most teenage boys would.  Poetry seems to give Holden solace, even pleasure, especially when he's thinking about his brother, Allie.

Holden would appreciate poet Edward Hirsch.  Hirsch doesn't shy away from the forms and traditions of poetry.  Harold Bloom described him as "fresh, canonical, and necessary," a poet who embraces both lyricism and form.  His book, On Love, includes villanelle and pantoum, meditations on love in the voices of diverse writers (Gertrude Stein and and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name a couple).  Hirsch approaches the subject of love like a linguistic anatomist--dissecting art and music and mythology and religion--to find the bone and muscle of this emotion.

The book opens with a meditation on the origin of love in a child, the need to escape ancestral grief in order to experience a future of hope and choice:

The Poet at Seven

He could be any seven-year old on the lawn,
holding a baseball in his hand, ready to throw.
He has the middle-class innocence of an American,

except for his blunt features and dark skin
that mark him as a Palestinian or a Jew,
his forehead furrowed like a question,

his concentration camp eyes, nervous, grim,
and too intense.  He has the typical
blood of the exile, the refugee, the victim.

Look at him, looking at the catcher for a sign--
so violent and competitive, so unexceptional,
except for an ancestral lamentation,

a shadowy, grief-stricken need for freedom
laboring to express itself through him.

This is a poem about the love of ancestor, or origin, expressed in the features, the collective unconscious, of a small boy.  He is a part of something larger that he can't define, yet feels in his body like oxygen or sugar.  It's nurturing and necessary.

The first section of the book is filled with personal reflections of love like this.  Lessons learned from childhood to adulthood, love of mother to love of wife.  The second section of On Love contains poems of dramatic monologue, Hirsch taking on the persona of many famous poets and writers, all of them examining some facet of love.  The "Prologue" to this section explains,

I woke up to voices speaking of love,
always leading me forward, leading me on,
taking me from the bedroom to the study
in the early morning or late at night,
emanations that seemed to come from night
itself, from leaves opening in the study
where many lives flow together as one
life, my own, these ventures in love.

What follows is a patchwork of love, each poem titled for the speaker/poet.  Taking on the voice of D. H. Lawrence, Hirsch provides this brief history of love:

After the sweet red wine and the dry lecture,
"The History of Love in Western Imagination"
(history is loveless without imagination)
we could not abide another listless lecture

and so we slipped into the castle library
and pushed highbacked chairs against a door
that refused to lock (so jam the door!)
and knelt to each other in the library.

I confess my fear of patrolling watchmen;
you seemed courageous and sure, as always:
I have learned to adore you myriad ways
of taking us back into man and woman...

And when we lay naked among the books,
the book shelves enclosed a sacred garden
for Adam and Eve safely restored to Eden,
ourselves immersed in a paradise of books.

Edward Hirsch gives readers a Eden of poems in On Love, each one a fractal, infinitely reflective of the patterns of love between man, woman, child, parent, descendant, ancestor, reader, writer, supplicant, and God.

Saint Marty loves On Love.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 26, 2013

April 26: A Good Poem at the End of a Long Day

Yes, I survived the P.O.E.T.S. Day meetings this morning intact.  They were long, contentious, angry, aggravating, and disappointing.  I don't want to go into details.  I still respect the university and English Department at which I teach.  I will not cast aspersions on any of my colleagues, no matter how wrong-headed and elitist I think they are.  I'm tired and need a good poem to end my day.

The one I have chosen is by U. A. Fanthorpe, and it's about Romulus and Remus, Blodeuwedd, Athena and Helen of Troy, Aprhodite, and Jesus Christ.  It's a poem I wish I had written.

And it makes Saint Marty very happy.


 Godlings are born racily.

They are excavated
Into life by the strong licks
Of the world-cow, suckled
By goats, mares, wolves.

Blossom of oak, blossom of broom,
Blossom of meadowsweet
Go to their making.

They erupt through the paternal
Skull fully armed, hatch from an egg,
Or appear, foam-born,

In Cyprus, in a shell,
Wearing a great deal of hair
And nothing else.

This one arrived
At the time of the early lambs
By means of he usual channels.

The usual channel

April 26: Patterns of Your Mind, Friendly Bastard, P.O.E.T.S. Day Meetings

"The patterns of your mind.  Your mind runs in--Listen.  I'm nor giving an elementary course is psychoanalysis.  If you're interested, call him up and made an appointment.  If you're not, don't.  I couldn't care less, frankly."

I put my hand on his shoulder.  Boy, he amused me.  "You're a real friendly bastard," I told him.  "You know that?"

Old Luce doesn't have much patience for Holden.  In fact, I'm surprised Luce puts up with Holden's questions about his sex life and his Chinese girlfriend and psychoanalysis as long as he does.  There's a certain air of entitlement about Luce that gets under my skin, however.  I enjoy Holden's small digs at Luce's ego ("You're a real friendly bastard").  Holden has a way of cutting through bullshit, especially when he's dealing with privileged phonies like Luce.

Most of my P.O.E.T.S. Day is going to be spent attending meetings at the university.  I am attending an English Department meeting and a meeting of the contingent faculty committee.  I expect both forums to contain a lot of bullshit, as most meetings do.  That's par for the course.  Today, however, there will be a larger quotient of it.  It's political and nasty.  Imagine a room-full of Old Luces sitting around and holding court about the way things should be run.  That's going to be my day.

I know these kinds of situations can't be avoided.  As much as I would like to think that all my coworkers/colleagues want to be fair and kind in their professional dealings, the events of the last week or so have proven this thought wrong.  Unfortunately.  I have a feeling what I'm going to learn at these two meetings today is simply the degree to which some people will stoop to obtain/regain/or usurp power.  Because power is what it's all about.

That's the way the world is.  History bears this out.  Ask Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi.

Saint Marty really hopes he's proven wrong.
Will we overcome?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25: Academic Chasm

The last couple days have been difficult.  I can point to no specific cause for this impression.  Nothing particularly stressful has happened.  In fact, my stress is sort of winding down.  The semester is drawing to a close.  My students are taking their finals this week.  All I have left is grading.  However, there is much internal brouhaha between the faculty of the English Department at the university, and it sort of depresses me.

It all stems from what happened at the beginning of the fall semester.  In late August, contingent faculty members, for the first time in the history of the school, were included in collective bargaining with university administration for the new contract with the professors.  Since the contract was ratified, some members of the full-time tenured faculty have taken issue with the inclusion of contingent professors in departmental committees and meetings.  There has developed a definite "us" versus "them" mentality.

In some ways, it's based on class.  Some tenured professors see contingents as hired teaching hands, so to speak.  In their opinions, we don't really care about the English Department.  We simply care about ourselves and our needs.  Tenured faculty have nobler intentions.  They sacrifice their time and talent for the good of the department and university.  They do community service.  They write books and attend conferences.  They are full-timers.

Yes, it's a ridiculous argument.  I have been teaching for the university longer than a good portion of the tenured faculty.  Heck, I can remember when a good portion of them were hired by the English Department.  For close to 17 years, I have worked proudly alongside these people.  I consider them my colleagues and friends.  I also write and publish.  Every year, I teach poetry to elementary school students as a representative of the English Department.  I participate in food drives and benefit concerts.  I conduct community-based writing workshops.

The kind of disrespect being voiced now by some tenured faculty members is, to say the least, greatly disappointing.  It smacks of the kind of elitism I never thought I'd see at my institution.  Yet, it exists.  And it's ugly.

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to attend a department meeting that will focus on this academic chasm between full-time and contingent faculty.  It promises to be fairly heated.  I'm going because I care about contingents and full-time professors.  I care about the English Department and the university.  And I care about the students.  Am I angry?  Am I offended?  Am I sad?  Guilty on all counts.

It all boils down to the fact that every person (full-time or contingent) is worried.  Change is on the way, and change scares people.  It scares the hell out of me.  But the answer to this fear is not to cannibalize each other.  It's to accept each other.  Respect each other.  And help each other.

That's how Saint Marty sees it.

It's not my fault that people are threatened by me, is it?

April 25: Your Prayers, My Daughter, Last Night

"Well.  Go to sleep.  Give Mother a kiss.  Did you say your prayers?"

Holden's mother appears for a very short time at the end of The Catcher in the Rye.  She's tucking Holden's little sister, Phoebe, in for the night.  Even though, earlier in the novel, Holden says his parents aren't religious at all, Holden's mother asks Phoebe, "Did you say your prayers?"  It's a casual question, like "Did you do your homework?" or "Did you brush your teeth?"  Yet, it highlights a spirituality in the Caulfield home that Holden denies earlier.

Last night, I was pretty tired.  Alright, I was friggin' exhausted.  I was trying to make it through American Idol, and I simply couldn't do it.  I surrendered to sleep at around 9:30 p.m.  Some time later, my twelve-year-old daughter came bouncing into my bedroom and jumped into bed beside me, snuggling into my armpit.

"Daddy?" she said.

I jumped and, without opening my eyes, said, "What, sweetie?"

"Are you going to say prayers with me?"

I sort of grunted.  I sleep with a mask on to blot out light.  I could smell her hair, which was still wet from her shower.  She uses a cherry blossom shampoo.

"Please, Daddy," she said.  "You can say short prayers."

I've prayed with my daughter or for my daughter or over my daughter every day since her birth.  We have developed a fairly complicated prayer routine, praying for family and friends, sick people, cousins, and teachers.  We even pray for her pediatrician.  Then we sing "Hush, Little Baby" three times to her.  We finish it off with the "be-attitudes," starting "Be a good girl for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, you guardian angel, the king and queen angels, the duke and duchess angels, knight angels and worker angels..."  The angel list goes on, developed in detail since my daughter was a toddler.  It takes a good five to seven minutes if the prayer routine is performed in full.

I didn't have the energy for all the prayers last night, so I said short prayers, which is a truncated version of the standard prayers.  General blessings for everybody.  "Hush, Little Baby" once.  And then the be-attitudes, skipping some of the lesser angels.

This morning, I read that little snippet of dialogue from Holden's mother, and I realized how blessed I am to have a daughter who wants to pray with me.  My daughter can't go to sleep until we've gone through some ritual of blessing for the people in her life.  She reminds me how important daily prayer is.  It's not like brushing teeth for her.  It's a completion thing.  Her day isn't over until she has a few words with God.

This post may seem sentimental.  I don't care.  I'm proud of the fact that I have a prayerful, caring daughter.

It's one of Saint Marty's greatest blessings.

I didn't say my daughter was perfect...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24: Final Exam and Chocolate

Today is the last day of one of my Intro to Film classes.  My students will be taking the in-class portion of their final exam in about an hour.  I've prepared them for it.  Nothing should come as a surprise.  I'm not one of these instructors who purposely puts difficult questions on an exam in order to trick students.  I prefer my students to succeed rather than fail (although, every semester, there are one of two students who, despite my best efforts, succeed in failing).

Usually, I hand out chocolate to my students on the last day.  I forgot to get chocolate, and it's too late to hit the store.  Therefore, I'm relying simply on my students' good will for positive course evaluations.  I haven't done that for a long time.  Chocolate has given me good scores for many a year.  Perhaps I can sneak out to Shopko on my way to class.  Pick up a few bags of Snickers or Milky Ways.  I know, I know.  I'm pathetic.

While my students are taking the final exams, I will be editing my poetry manuscript.  I have quite a bit of time to kill, and I have a few serious revisions to work on.  I only get one shot at this chapbook competition.  I really want to put forth my best efforts.

Saint Marty needs some luck.  And a bag of candy bars.

This kid has had some chocolate

April 24: Lose a Minute, Bob Ross, Chapbook

You could tell he wasn't tired at all, though.  He was pretty oiled up, for one thing.  "I think that one of these days," he said, "you're going to have to find out where you want to go.  And then you've got to start going there.  But immediately.  You can't afford to lose a minute.  Not you."

Mr. Antolini is the speaker; Holden is the listener.  Well, actually, Holden is too tired to listen, and Mr. Antolini is too drunk to notice this fact.  But Antolini's advice is very sound.  If you know where you want to go, don't waste any time.  Get on the road.

I have been worrying, complaining, rhapsodizing about the chapbook of poems I recently compiled.  I gave it to a poet friend of mine last week to get his opinion and advice.  I have until May 1 to get the book in the mail to the chapbook contest I'm entering.  Last night, I received my friend's feedback, and it was really positive.  Surprisingly positive, because I didn't think the manuscript held together that well.  Now I have to do a little rewriting, which is happy work for me.  I love this part of the writing process.  I picture myself as Bob Ross taking my brush and adding a few trees to my painting.

I haven't been really good about submitting my work for publication.  That has to change if I ever hope to get a full-time job at the university.  I have to make myself so attractive as a writer and instructor that they simply won't want to lose me.  I need to publish a new book of poems.  Better yet, I need to publish a couple new books of poems.  If I don't, I'm consigning myself to permanent part-timehood.

I know where I want to go.  Now I have to pick up a pen and start writing my way there.  I want to publish a new book.  I want to win this chapbook contest.  (The $1000 prize would come in handy, as well.)  I want to be a full-time professor.  With the changes coming in the not-too-distant future with my hospital job, I don't have much time to get these things accomplished.  The clock is ticking.

Saint Marty has some revising to do.  He has to make some happy little clouds in his sky.

or some happy little waves...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23: Just Another Day in the Life...

Once upon a time there was a poet named Marty Saint.  He called himself a poet, even though he spent most of his days out in the Enchanted Forest, cutting down trees for a huge, multinational forestry conglomerate.  That was his job, how he paid for the gruel in his children's bowls and the sackcloth on their backs.  Most evenings, when he got home from the Enchanted Forest, he had only enough energy to slurp down his portion of the gruel, kiss his wife and children, and stumble off to bed.

Marty Saint was tired.

Then, one day, as he was readying his ax to fell the first tree of the morning, an ugly squirrel appeared in the branches above him.  "If you spare my home," the squirrel chittered down at Marty Saint, "I will make you the greatest poet in the land."

Marty Saint lowered his ax.  "Will being the greatest poet in the land put gruel in my children's bowls and sackcloth on their backs?" he asked.

"Are you kidding?" said the squirrel.  "I'm magic, but I can't work miracles."

Marty Saint raised his ax again.  "Then your home must go," he said.

"Wait, wait, wait!"  screamed the squirrel.  "How about if I make you the greatest poet in the land and an adjunct professor of Olde English at Enchanted U?"

Marty Saint lowered his ax again.  "Will that put gruel in my children's bowls and sackcloth on their backs?"

"Well..." the ugly squirrel looked away from him.

Marty Saint raised his ax again.  "I'm sorry," he said.

"One more thing, one more thing!" the squirrel shouted.

Marty Saint lowered his ax to the ground again.

"How about I make you the greatest poet in the land, an adjunct professor of Olde English, and, and, and," the squirrel sputtered.

"Yes?" Marty Saint said.

"And," the squirrel said, "as well-endowed as a horse?"

Marty Saint thought about it for a few moments.  Finally, he reached up and shook the ugly squirrel's paw.  "You have a deal, my hideous little rodent friend," he said.

Marty Saint spared the squirrel's tree.  When the head lumberjack saw that Marty Saint had left a tree standing, he fired Marty Saint.  Despondent, Marty Saint stumbled into town to Ye Olde Tap and got drunk on watermelon ale.  The next day, he marched to Enchanted U and demanded a job as an adjunct professor of Olde English.  The head of the Olde English department gave him a part-time job, which lasted for one week.  Marty Saint knew nothing about Olde English, and his students started throwing mushrooms at him.

Marty Saint decided to write and ode about his lamentable life.  In the middle of composing the ode, he contracted a horrible disease at the local stable that caused his penis to shrink to the size of a seahorse.  Heartbroken, Marty Saint staggered back to the squirrel's tree in the Enchanted Forest, but before he reached the forest's edge, a run-away oxcart struck and killed him.

Marty Saint's wife claimed his body and belongings at Ye Olde City Morgue.  In his backpack, she found his unfinished ode.  Recognizing its greatness, she sent it to the town's publisher, Sir W. W. Norton.  Sir Norton immediately accepted the ode for publication and gave Marty Saint's widow 25 complimentary scrolls in payment.  His widow packed up her children, left the kingdom, and was never heard from again.

The moral of the story:  kill all squirrels.

This is just another episode of a day in the life of Saint Marty.

What were you expecting?  Disney?

April 23: Your Caring, Saint George, Dragons

Your caring may be the answer to someone's prayer.

Aficionados  of The Catcher in the Rye are probably scratching their heads right now and thinking, "Where the hell did he get that quote from?"  Well, I can tell you I found it in my copy of the book.  It doesn't come from Holden or Phoebe or Ackley.  It isn't a memory of Jane or Holden's brother, Allie.  That phrase came from a little slip of paper I've been using as a bookmark.

Sometimes, I get too wrapped up in myself to care about other people.  I get wrapped up in my little problems.  Money.  Teaching.  Job.  All the things that preoccupy the normal working person.  Of course, it seems like I never make enough money.  Of course, I look at my friends who are full-time professors and get jealous of their teaching loads.  Of course, when I drag my butt out of bed at 4 a.m., I hate my job.  Those are my daily concerns.  Sometimes hourly and minutely and secondly concerns.

Then I run into someone who's living with terminal pancreatic cancer.  Or I see a person rummaging through the garbage at the university, looking for pop cans to return.  Or I see a special news report on the TV about a bombing at the Boston Marathon that kills three people and injures hundreds of others.  That stuff unwraps me, opens my eyes to caring.

It doesn't take much to care.  A smile.  A nod.  A few minutes of time, listening to someone else's worries.  It's that simple.  You don't have to be Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama.  You don't have to be a saint.

Today is the feast of Saint George, patron of England.  Not much is known about George.  My Lives of the Saints says, "...certain Acts forged by ancient heretics have cast no little obscurity over his life."  We know he was a martyr.  We know people pray to him in battle, most likely because he was a soldier.  And we know that he's usually depicted in combat with a dragon.

Dragons come in all shapes and sizes.  Dragons can be great evils, like Hitler or Stalin.  Dragons can be small pebbles in a shoe, like not having enough change to buy a Diet Coke on an early morning.  We battle dragons all day long.  Saint George probably knew this.  His dragons may have been tiny (a splinter in his thumb) or huge (execution at the hands of Diocletian at Nicomedia).  The difference between being a saint or a son of a bitch is simple.  Caring.

I care for my wife and kids.  I care for my friends and family.  My coworkers.  My students.  Despite all the dragons in my life, I can make a difference.

Saint Marty can be answered prayer.  He can start by smiling.

What does your dragon look like?

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22: Winter Storm KissMyAss

Yes, I've been hearing people talking about an approaching winter storm all day long.  I've heard we're getting three inches.  I've heard six to ten inches.  I've heard 12 to 14 inches, as well.  I can't find the official weather statement from the National Weather Service, so I have no idea what to expect tonight.

It has been one weird winter.  Storm following storm.  I think we're up to Winter Storm Zeus, now.  Before Zeus, it was Yogi and Xerxes.  I can't tell you how stupid I think naming winters storms is.  There's been a Winter Storm Gandolf this season.  Gandolf.  I'm not kidding.

From here on out, I'm going to start naming all the winter storms myself.  If we do, indeed, get a winter storm tonight, I'm going to call it Winter Storm KissMyAss.  If we get a storm after KissMyAss, I'll name it PainIntheAss.  After that will come winter storms KickintheAss, BiteMyAss, and MyAssIsDragging.  I'm hoping we don't have to go much past MyAssIsDragging, or I may need to start taking antidepressants.

Saint Marty should work for the National Weather Service.

KissMyAss is on the way

April 22: Busier than I Want, Poem, "Rye" Dip Monday

I have been insanely busy today.  I've also been insanely productive.  I sat down this morning and made a list of tasks I needed to accomplish.  It was a huge, daunting list.  Thus far, I've been able to put a check mark by quite a few of my to-dos.

I needed to put together the in-class portion of the final exam for my Intro to Film classes.  Check.

I needed to make a hand-out for the short answer essay portion of the final exam.  Check.

I needed to construct an e-mail list for both of my Intro to Film classes to send them the link to the online course evaluation.  Check.

I needed to grade some extra-credit assignments.  Check.

In between all of these things, I've said my prayers, read my devotions, answered phones, put together medical charts, and processed patient payments.  Check, check, check on all those things.

Now, I have to write my first and second blog posts for the day.  I feel like I've gotten a lot done, but I don't have a lot to show for it.  I'd rather have a new poem than a completed list.  Ah, well.  Summer is coming, with tons more time to write (and tons more time to worry about finances).

My question for the Gospel according to Holden today is simple:

Will my the poetry manuscript I just put together win the chapbook contest I'm going to enter?

And the answer from the holy book is:

Old Phoebe didn't say anything.  When she can't think of anything to say, she doesn't say a goddam word.

Well, that sucks.  I've learned that I don't get too many positive responses from The Catcher in the Rye.  It probably has to do with the fact that it's about a teenager having a nervous breakdown.  However, I usually get some kind of answer, positive or negative.  Anything.  The passage above is the Magic 8 Ball equivalent of "Cannot predict now" or "Ask again later."

Maybe Saint Marty will give his copy of Catcher a shake and ask again.  Or maybe he'll just live with the uncertainty for a while.  It's better than Holden calling him a pain in the ass or a goddam phony.

You can count on it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 21: Playing Organ, Birthday Party, New Cartoon

I like playing the pipe organ.  I like the instrument--its sounds and mechanics.  I've been playing the organ for close to 30 years at two different churches.  Recently, I have been filling in for the senior organist at the United Methodist Church.  The senior organist had a heart attack and a stroke last week; she's was sick the week before, and, the week before that, she was on a trip to Maryland or something.  That's three weeks thus far.

I never aspired to be a church organist.  It just sort of happened.  I learned on the job.  I remember the first Mass I played at Saint John's in my home tome over 27 years ago.  It was simple.  Four standard hymns, no liturgical music.  Quick and easy.  I got sick to my stomach before I sat down to play.

I don't get physically ill any more when I play the organ.  I get nervous.  I make mistakes.  But I don't vomit.  Haven't in years.  I've played for bishops and at cathedrals.  I've played funerals and weddings, first communions and Easter Vigils.  I've never played for a cardinal yet.  If I was asked to play for the pope, I'd probably blow some chunks.  Aside from that, nothing rattles me too much.

I'm going to be filling in for the senior organist for a while.  She's in physical and speech therapy now.  About the only thing that causes me stress is playing anthems for the chancel choir.  That music is complicated and requires hours of practice.  At the moment, I don't have hours to practice.  I'm going to have to find them, somehow.

Yes, playing the pipe organ is one of my favorite things, even if it causes me some anxiety. 

No more anxiety for me today, however.  It's my sister's birthday, so my wife is cooking dinner for her.  It will be a good time.  My kids will eat cake and ice cream.  They'll probably fight with each other, and my son or daughter will end up crying.  Good times will be had by all.

Saint Marty is ready for some good times.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20: Daddy's Going to Kill You, Sharon Olds, "The Father," New Cartoon

"Daddy's going to kill you.  He's going to kill you," she said.

Holden doesn't have a great relationship with his father.  His dad is a highly successful corporate lawyer who produces Broadway shows.  Holden is his middle son who can't seem to get his crap together.  Holden's sister, Phoebe, knows that Holden and their father have issues.  When she finds out Holden has been kicked out of school again, her immediate response is simple:  "Daddy's going to kill you."

As I informed you earlier this week, Sharon Olds just won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Stag's Leap.  I don't own a copy of Stag's Leap yet, but I do own a copy of her book The Father, a collection of poems about her relationship with, you guessed it, her father.  The poems are full of beauty and pain, detailing a father/daughter bond that is fraught with complications.  The father in the poems is dying of cancer, and the speaker is caring for him during his final days.  As can be expected, the situation stirs up all the emotions, deep and raw, harbored throughout a lifetime.

One of the deepest poems of The Father is about words, the final shared exchange between daughter and father:

Last Words

Three days ago, my suitcases
were hunched there, in his hospital room,
in the corner, I had to pick them up
by the scruff of their necks, and leave him.  I kept
putting them down, and going back
to kiss him again although he was exhausted,
shining like tarnished silver, and yet
I could not seem to pick up those bags
and walk out the door the last time.  I kept
going back to the mouth he would lift, his
forehead glittering with effort, his eyes
slewing back, shying, until
finally he cried out Last kiss!
and I kissed him and left.  This morning, his wife
called to tell me he has ceased to speak,
so those are his last words to me,
the ones he is leaving me with--and it is ending with a kiss--
a command for mercy, the offer of his cracked
creator lips.  To plead that I leave,
my father asked me for a kiss!  I would not
leave till he had done so, I will not let thee go except thou beg for it.

It's a holy moment, a sacred thing, the last words exchanged between child and father.  The very last line of the poem is filled with ancient yearnings, the inability to surrender, to let go, of father love.  Not all of the poems are this tender.  The love expressed in Sharon Olds' poems is tough, hard as permafrost.  It doesn't melt easily.  It distills, warms over time into something alive and nurturing at the end of the book, where the father has the last word.  The poem, titled "My Father Speaks to Me from the Dead," concludes,

I have been in a body without breath,
I have been in the morgue, in fire, in the slagged
chimney, in the air over the earth,
and buried in the earth, and pulled down
into the ocean--where I have been
I understand this life, I am matter,
your father, I made you, when I say now that I love you
I mean look down at your hand, move it,
that action is matter's love, for human
love go elsewhere.

It's a comforting moment, an extension of father love into something beyond matter and time, into eternity.

The Father fills Saint Marty with hope for love never dies.  It transforms into something deeper, like snow into melt into earth into lilacs, like words into kiss into memory into poetry.

Confessions of Saint Marty

April 19: In Keeping, Robert Frost, "Spring Pools"

In keeping with my earlier post, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a Robert Frost poem to read.  It is a wishful poem, for me, because, at the moment, a spring snowstorm is ripping through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan yet again, bringing some seven more inches of the white stuff.  So I need thoughts of spring and thaw and blossoms and lilacs.

Saint Marty needs a little rebirth today.

Spring Pools

by:  Robert Frost

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

I can hope, can't I?

Friday, April 19, 2013

April 19: Ruining Things, Depressive, Robert Frost and P.O.E.T.S. Day

After I'd told her I had to meet somebody, I didn't have any goddam choice except to leave.  I couldn't even stick around to hear old Ernie play something halfway decent.  But I certainly wasn't going to sit down at a table with old Lillian Simmons and that Navy guy and be bored to death.  So I left.  It made me mad, though, when I was getting my coat.  People are always ruining things for you.

Holden could be labeled a depressive.  Through most of The Catcher in the Rye, he's saying things like "People are always ruining things for you."  As I've pointed out before, his tale is not a happy one.  Brother dead from leukemia.  Kicked out of school.  Afraid to go home.  Running out of money.  Holden has all the makings of a good Bob Dylan song, or Willie Nelson (minus the pickup truck, hound dog, and pot).  Holden simply isn't having a good time.

I'm reading a biography of Robert Frost at the moment.  Jay Parini, the author, uses one word more than any other to describe him:  "depressive."  Frost came to his dark nature naturally.  His father was an unstable figure, most likely suffering from at least depression, if not bipolar disorder.  Frost himself comes off as violently moody in the book, prone to bouts of severe depression.  He was not an easy person to be around.

This past week, I have not been an easy person to be around, either.  My recent blog posts are a testament to that.  I don't even want to be around myself right now.  I wonder if that's a writer's normal nature.  So many biographies I've read of famous authors involve some form of mental illness--depression or bipolar disorder at the very least.  That doesn't provide me much comfort.  Especially because so many of these writers ended up committing suicide.  Anne Sexton.  John Berryman.  Sylvia Plath.  Virginia Woolf.  Ernest Hemingway.  Emily Dickinson didn't commit suicide, but she certainly suffered from mental illness.  Robert Frost didn't commit suicide, either, but most of his best poems are grounded in very dark soil.

I have been treading the same Frostian ground for the last few days.  Bob felt trapped at points in his life, going down roads he didn't want to travel.  That's where I find myself right now.  I know where I want to go.  I can see the village in the distance.  But, on this P.O.E.T. Day, I have miles to go before I sleep, if you get my meaning.  Miles to go before I sleep. 

That line has always haunted Saint Marty.

I should tattoo it on my ass...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18: That Hope Stuff

Now that I've written about all that hope stuff in my previous post, I can tell you that my morning really didn't start out happy and hopeful.  It started out with a conversation about the impending changes with my medical office job that will eventually entail me having to decide between working for the hospital or teaching for the university.  It was a pretty bleak conversation.

I've tried to stave off those dark thoughts all day.  I haven't been too successful.  Because, if I'm being completely practical, the choice between being full-time with the hospital versus part-time at the university is a no-brainer.  I get medical insurance through the hospital.  I get a retirement account through the hospital.  However, I don't make enough money with just my hospital paychecks to meet all my monthly expenses.  And I certainly couldn't do it with just my adjunct salary from the university.  Plus, I'd be absolutely miserable working for the hospital full-time for the rest of my life.

Thus, I'm stuck between a rock and an outhouse, and I don't see any way out of it.

Saint Marty needs a little divine intervention in the next year or so.

This is where my life is heading...today...

April 18: Kid's Notebook, Poetry Binder, Feeling Accomplished

I sat there on D.B.'s desk and read the whole notebook.  It didn't take me long, and I can read that kind of stuff, some kid's notebook, Phoebe's or anybody's, all day and all night long.  Kid's notebooks kill me.  Then I lit another cigarette--it was my last one.  I must've smoked about three cartons that day.  Then, finally, I woke her up.  I mean I couldn't sit there on that desk for the rest of my life, and besides, I was afraid my parents might barge in on me all of a sudden and I wanted to at least say hello to her before they did.  So I woke her up.

This passage is one of the happier moments for Holden in the book, sitting at his brother's desk, reading Phoebe's school notebook.  He's in his element.  There is the threat of adults barging in and ruining the moment, but, for the most part, Holden simply enjoys Phoebe's innocent world for a little while.

Ever since I assembled my new chapbook of poems on Monday, I've been carrying it around in a three-ring binder.  Having it close by gives me pleasure for some reason.  I even take it to class when I teach.  Every once in a while, I take it out and read a poem.  As I read the poem, I can remember why I wrote it, how I wrote it, when I wrote it, where I wrote it.  I can picture the pen in my hand, scribbling down the words.  I can feel that hum in my head that tells me I'm in deep, writing something of meaning.  I can see my living room at midnight, my school office on an October afternoon, the place where the poem first came to me.  I recently read an interview with Sharon Olds in which she described her writing process, how, when a poem takes hold of her, she has to write immediately, to capture its similes and metaphors down on paper.  That's what I'm able to regain when I read my manuscript--the initial fever that drove me to write.

That's my blessing today.  It may sound conceited, self-centered, and egotistical, but I don't care.  Having that poetry binder gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose.  I know, in a week or so, that I'm going to send it to a chapbook contest.  For a few months after that, it will fill me with hope until the letter finally comes, telling me that some other person has won instead of me.

For now, though, that binder is full of promise for Saint Marty, like a bird singing in the dark on a cold April morning.

I am filled with hope....

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April 17: Embracing Change

Okay, the title of this post is "Embracing Change."  This post will have nothing to do with embracing change.  I simply wanted to see what typing those two words together felt like.  Now I know.  It felt like brushing my teeth with a used toilet plunger.

In the medical office where I work, all the talk has been about change.  There's construction going on in the waiting room.  Pounding and cutting and measuring.  The hospital just released its master plan for the next five years, entailing the construction of a new medical center, outpatient surgery center, and outpatient services area.  Basically, in about two years' time, my whole job and workplace will be nonexistent in their present incarnations.  And people are excited about it.  Well, let me rephrase that statement.  People who have life sentences at the hospital are excited about it.  I, on the other hand, keep looking down at my watch, wondering when the head of the English Department at the university is going to call and offer me a full-time contract.

I'm not embracing these changes.  In fact, I need to take some Motrin in order to combat the physical effects of all this change talk.  I love the people I work with.  However, I don't want to embark on the maiden voyage of the H. M. S. Change.  I saw the movie Titanic.  I know what happened to a good majority of the passengers in steerage.  It wasn't pretty.  Even if I get to see Kate Winslet topless, I prefer to just rent the DVD and stay where I am.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I hear all of you saying, "You can't avoid change.  Change happens.  It's a part of life."

So are hair loss, organ failure, and death, and Saint Marty isn't too keen on those things, either.

Even this doesn't tempt me

April 17: Athletic Bastards, Hate in General, Love in General

Ed Banky was the basketball coach at Pencey.  Old Stradlater was one of his pets, because he was the center on the team, and Ed Banky always let him borrow his car when he wanted it.  It wasn't allowed for students to borrow faculty guys' cars, but all the athletic bastards stuck together.  In every school I've gone to, all the athletic bastards stuck together.

Holden is an alienated young man.  He has a problem with "athletic bastards" like his roommate Stradlater.  He has a problem with phonies like his father, who's a corporate lawyer.  He has a problem with Ackley, his suite mate at Pencey Prep, because of his bad hygiene.  Pretty much Holden has a problem with practically the whole world.

Perhaps that's why so many troubled teens identify with Holden.  Holden speaks for a group of people who usually have no voice.  I think that's why The Catcher in the Rye is considered to be such a subversive book, because it's main character is on the fringe, not fitting in with any of his peers.  It's no wonder that Holden's story has been linked to so many messed-up kids involved in violent acts in schools and on the streets.  Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, had a copy of the novel with him when he was arrested.  He inscribed the book, "This is my statement" and signed it as "Holden Caulfield."

Yesterday afternoon, a colleague saw my copy of  The Catcher in the Rye sitting on my desk.  He looked at it and half-jokingly said, "Are you allowed to keep that here?  Has the FBI talked to you about Boston yet?"

At first, I was a little taken aback.  I quickly regained myself and said, "Yeah, I told them the book belonged to you."

My colleague laughed and then went on a diatribe about terrorists and Islamic extremists and the suspension of the Geneva Conventions and torture.  I listened politely.  I understood his anger.  I was angry Monday night as I watched the news reports about the Boston Marathon bombing.  It wasn't unfocused, general anger.  It was anger that wanted justice and retribution and revenge for all the lives that were injured and lost.

We still don't know who's responsible for what happened in Boston.  Domestic or foreign, it was an act of terror.  Certainly, the person or people who did it felt justified (maybe even righteously inspired) to plant those explosive devices.  For me, it's a Mark David Chapman moment, the guilty party using the Bible or Koran or Declaration of Independence or Second Amendment or The Catcher in the Rye or whatever to perpetrate and act of senseless hatred and violence.

People just don't get it.  Mark David Chapman didn't get it.  Osama bin Laden didn't get it.  Skinheads don't get it.  J. D. Salinger wasn't promoting hatred.  In fact, at the end of the novel, Holden says he misses Stradlater and Ackley.  Mohammed and Jesus Christ didn't promote hatred.  They were all about love and peace.  Anybody who thinks otherwise has got it wrong.  Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and thieves.  He loved these people, even if He disagreed with their life choices.

I call myself a follower of Christ.  That means I'm supposed to love people.  Forgive people who do me harm.  Anyone.  Black, white, straight, gay, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindi, short, tall, fat, skinny.  I have to forgive the party responsible for the Boston bombing, show love and compassion.  That's a tall order.  But being a Christian is not easy.  Just ask Jesus.  He has the scars to prove it.

Hate in general is bad.  Hatred of anyone (gay or African American or Muslim or Christian) or anything (unless it's bad poetry).  Love in general is good.  It's what we should all aspire to.  Jesus said, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  Mohammed said, "Do you love your creator?  Love your fellow-beings first."  John Lennon sang, "All you need is love."

Saint Marty thinks those are words to live by.

Sing it with me...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 16: Sharon Olds Pulitzer, No Snark Here

Usually, when the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry is announced every year, I get very snarky and make nasty and disparaging comments.  It has nothing to do with the quality of the poet being lauded and everything to do with my inherent jealousy.  Here is a list of some of my favorite snarks:

"Well, of course he won.  He's practically dead."

"I think she slept with all the Pulitzer judges."

"Does he really need a Pulitzer?  He already teaches for Harvard."

"Her?  Are you kidding me?  Why don't they rename it the I-can't-write-shit Prize?"

"Oh, him.  He deserves it.  He needs to complete the Triple Crown--Pulitzer, National Book Award, and Nobel Prize.  Go, Seabiscuit."

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Well, this year, you will find no snark here.  The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for 2013 is Sharon Olds, for her collection Stag's Leap.  Sharon Olds has been my muse since I started writing poetry.  I took a workshop taught by Sharon Olds.  I've got four books autographed my Sharon Olds.  Sharon Olds is long overdue for a Pulitzer Prize, and that injustice was corrected yesterday.

The only snarky thing Saint Marty will say is that it's about time the Pulitzer Prize judges got their heads out of their asses.

For she's a jolly good poet....

April 16: Concern for Your Future, Boston, Saint Apollonius

"Do you feel absolutely no concern for your future, boy?"

"Oh, I feel some concern for my future, all right.  Sure.  Sure, I do."  I thought about it for a minute.  "But not too much, I guess.  Not too much, I guess."

Old Spencer tries to get Holden to think about his future at the beginning of the book.  Holden, however, has very little interest in what his teacher has to say.  Like most teenagers, Holden regards the future as some kind of foreign land he will never have to visit.  He doesn't think of himself as a grown man.  He thinks of himself as the catcher in the rye, saving children who are about to fall off the cliff into adulthood.

I've been thinking about the future a lot since yesterday afternoon, when I first heard the news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Last night, my twelve-year-old daughter looked at me and said, "Why would anyone do that, daddy?"  And I had no good answer for her.  I sort of feel like Holden right now.  I want to catch my daughter before she falls off the cliff into a world where bombs kill people on street corners.  Residents of the Middle East deal with this reality every day of their lives.  The world is full of terrible, frightening people.

I tried to make my daughter feel safe.  I tried to calm her worry.  I tried to make her not fear the future.  I'm not sure I succeeded.  I think I said something like, "There's a lot of crazy people out there, sweetie, who want to hurt others.  But there are a lot more good people in the world, who want to keep you safe and happy."  It was the best I could do last night, when hope was in short supply in my heart.

Saint Apollonius, whose feast day is April 21, was condemned to death for being a Christian.  Before being martyred, he had a few words to say to the Roman Senate about the future and hope:  "We have hastened to honor [Jesus] because we have learned lofty commandments from Him. . . . Yet if it were a delusion (as you assert) which tells us that there is a judgment after death and a reward of virtue at the resurrection, and that God is the Judge, we would gladly be carried away by such a lie as that, which has taught us to lead good lives awaiting the hope of the future even while suffering adversities."

To face a present filled with bombs and senseless death, there has to be a future filled with hope for forgiveness, salvation, and love.

That's what Saint Marty should have said to his daughter last night.

There has to be hope...

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15: The Pulitzer Prize for Blogging

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, just as I'm beginning to teach my Intro to Film class, the winners of the 2013 Pulitzer Prizes are going to be announced.  That means, at 3:10 p.m., someone is going to burst into the lecture hall and shout, "You've just won the first Pulitzer Prize for Blogging!"  That someone will be followed by a throng of reporters, snapping pictures and shouting questions.

"How does it feel, being a writing pioneer?" 

"What are you going to do with the prize money?"

"Can you pose for People Magazine's Sexiest People Alive issue?"

"Do all your friends know how lucky they are?"

"How do you keep your girlish figure?"

Yes, it's going to be a hectic afternoon.  I'll need a bodyguard to get to my car.  When I get home, Oprah Winfrey will be sitting in my living room to interview me.  Then I'll get a call from President Obama and Pope Francis.

Saint Marty will eventually get to bed after midnight, listening to his furnace hum ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.

It's a cross I'm willing to bear

April 15: Finishing a Chapbook, Building a Wall, "Rye" Dip Monday

I spent most of the morning cobbling together a poetry chapbook.  And when I say cobbling, I mean it.  Some of the poems I included are over seven years old.  The newest ones were written within the last year. 

The process of putting together a cohesive chapbook of poetry is a little puzzling to me.  It's like fitting stones together to create a wall, to borrow an image from Robert Frost.  I've never really understood how to do it.  I've read magazine articles about it.  I've asked friends who have won chapbook contests.  One friend told me that, for her first chapbook (she's won two chapbook contests), she simply threw her poems together in some kind of order that made sense to her and submitted it.  Another friend told me he wrote a collection of poems specifically for the chapbook contest he won.  Both of these approaches were successful.

Thus, I have come to a conclusion:  there is no winning formula for constructing a chapbook.  It's all about talent and chance and good luck.  It depends on the judge(s).  It depends on the publisher.  I suppose it could depend on the font and paper quality and time of day, as well.  Who knows?  However, I have a book, and I will submit it to a contest.

My question for Rye Dip Monday should be pretty obvious by now:

Will I win the chapbook contest with my manuscript?

And the answer from J. D. Salinger is:

...I went around the room, very quiet and all, looking at stuff for a while.  I felt swell, for a change.  I didn't even feel like I was getting pneumonia or anything any more.  I just felt good, for a change...

Well, I guess I couldn't ask for a more positive answer than that.  My finger landed on one of the few pages in The Catcher in the Rye where Holden is actually feeling happy.  That's enough for me.

Like Holden, Saint Marty is feeling swell.

Yes, it really is a subjective process....

Sunday, April 14, 2013

April 14: Start of Summer, Plans, New Cartoon

Summer is approaching.  I know it's coming.  My summer really begins in about three weeks, when I submit the final grades for my two Intro to Film classes and the checks from the university stop coming for about four months.  That's when things get really interesting.  By the end of August, I'm looking at the totals in my savings and checking accounts and thinking, "Please, God, just help me get through the next three weeks."  And that's without factoring in surprise car repairs and other bills.

The start of summer is one of my favorite things.  I love the promise of it.  The possibility of it.  I always have big plans.  I'm going to write a new chapbook of poems.  I'm going to finish my memoir.  I'm going to start my resume-writing business.  I'm going to start running every day.  Yeah, I love the start of summer.

Of course, I rarely accomplish half the things I set out to do.  I have more time.  No teaching.  No grading.  However, the worries start piling up.  Bills to pay--dance lessons, gas, water, cable, phone.  The normal stuff.  And I have $1200 less a month to do it with.  That's the part of summer I hate.

I always hope I'll get summer classes to teach.  I never do.  I always hope I won't be faced with some big car repair.  I always do.

Saint Marty loves summer.  He just wishes it was about four paychecks shorter.

The Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 13, 2013

April 13: Disappearing, Matthew Gavin Frank, "The Morrow Plots," New Cartoon

Anyway, as soon as I got my breath back I ran across Route 204.  It was icy as hell and I damn near fell down.  I don't even know what I was running for--I guess I just felt like it.  After I got across the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing.  It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.

It's snowing again in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It's an end-of-winter snowstorm that makes me think the sun is never going to appear again, that it's been swallowed up by cloud and cold forever.  I know how Holden feels in the above passage.  I look outside, and the world has disappeared again into white.  In the fall, snow seems cleansing and clean.  Now, snow seems like a cruel joke, as if someone is throwing a blanket over my head as I'm trying to get out of bed.

Matthew Gavin Frank tells a story about the genesis of his new collection of poems, The Morrow Plots.  He was living in a summer community in upstate New York, teaching at a nearby college.  During the warm months, the town was a thriving tourist attraction, with amusement park rides and boaters and a hedge maze.  When the cold and snow descended on the hamlet, it was deserted, frozen in isolation.  It was during this time when he became homesick for the Midwest where he grew up.  He started Googling famous landmarks in Illinois and eventually discovered the Morrow Plots, which he describes as "a now-revered series of soil plots upon which agricultural experiments could be conducted" on the grounds of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The Plots were established in 1876 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1968.  Frank began tilling this sacred ground and found this book.

The poems in The Morrow Plots are unstable, moving back in forth in time and character.  Each line is a sprouting seed, an experiment in astronomy and agriculture and identity.  The poems aren't easy.  They're intelligent and confounding, tests of sound and emotion, syntax and line.  Much like its namesake, the book creates fields of scientific beauty and mystery in the reader's heart and mind.  To pick one poem to highlight here is like choosing one ear of corn from a silken Greek chorus crop.  Each poem, shucked and exposed, is both frightening and tender.  One of my favorites is titled "Breadbasket":


I have not eaten for days.
It is common--this notion of what happens
under each tooth.
A coven of molecules burning
with the wet hay of the harvest.
As I chew on the air, I feel, under my
shirt, the metal cold
of a dying girl's hands.

When the diner reopens, I will eat,
visit my friends in the hospital,
a sick doctor losing himself
in the fluorescent light
while shaving the chest
of a broken farmer.

On an empty stomach,
there is a fullness to sitting on the roof
of a building dedicated to the study of life,
the wet-eyed edges of things
that could be the falling of a student chorus,
could be the corn
gently blown, the statue
of a Huguenot lost in Illinois.
Up here, strangely un-hungry,
height and food have fused.  My body,
this thick bag for transience.

Matt Gavin Frank stuns me, over and over, with his poems in The Morrow Plots.  It is not a comfortable stun.  More like the stun of an icy wind on a November night or the slap of a cornstalk on a sunburned shoulder.  The pain is transient.  The payoff is dark and bracing truth, as lasting as the Morrow Plots themselves.

Like Holden Caulfield running across Route 204, Saint Marty can feel himself disappearing into The Morrow Plots, becoming a part of a larger story, both individual and universal.

The Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12: Proof, "Autoerotic Asphyxiation," Matt Gavin Frank

Just to prove to you how crappy my poems are, I'm going to prove how good my friend Matt's poems are.

This poem is from Matt Gavin Frank's newest collection of poems, The Morrow Plots.  It's titled "Autoerotic Asphyxiation."

Now, please excuse Saint Marty.  He's going to slip into the nearest bottle of Prozac.

Autoerotic Asphyxiation

The world goes pink with buffoonery,
billions of squirrels

running away.  In their cheeks
acorns arrange themselves

like dog stars, wait
for the constellation

that looks like a camel.
A mesquite jealousy

in humplessness, the stockings
we save for just such an occasion.

We haven't spent
this much time here

since we were seventeen,
when mortality was a barking sky,

an animal a continent away,
this documentary

about Morocco.  Like the squirrels
we move without headlights.

You speak equations
into my ear that would take

the stocking to solve.
Canicula.  Ligature.  In the next

room, we hear my father's
one sharp cough, wonder

if we're not breathing

Let's just prove how crappy my blog is, too

April 12: Exam Paper, a Turd, P.O.E.T.S. Day Funk

He started handling my exam paper like it was a turd or something.  "We studied the Egyptians from November 4th to December 2nd," he said.  "You chose to write about them for the optional essay question.  Would you care to hear what you had to say?"

"No, sir, not very much," I said.

Old Spencer is making Holden feel pretty lousy about himself at the beginning of The Catcher in the Rye.  Holden knows he's flunked Spencer's class, and now Spencer, in a misguided attempt to help his failing student, starts reading Holden's essay exam out loud, making Holden feel even worse.

Yesterday evening, I attended a poetry reading given by one of my good friends.  Matt's new collection has just been released, and Matt was typically charming, funny, and brilliant last night.  The room was packed, mostly because everyone knows he's charming, funny, and brilliant.  By the end of the reading, I was feeling great for him and lousy about myself.

As Ricky Ricardo says, "Now, Lucy, if you just give me a chance to 'splain."

I left the library last night really excited.  When I got home, I started going through my binder of stuff, trying to assemble a little packet of chapbookable poems.  After about an hour, I came to the conclusion that, in comparison to what I'd heard Matt read earlier, my poems were, to paraphrase Holden, pieces of turd.  I proceeded to descend into one of the foulest moods I've experienced in a long time.

That mood has extended into this morning.  I am in a P.O.E.T.S. Day Funk.  I'm afraid to start looking through my poems again.  Afraid that I'll simply confirm last night's impression of my work.  My plans for this evening aren't going to lift my spirits, either.  My wife and I are having dinner with Matt, and then we're going to the university's MFA celebration.  That means listening to MFA graduate students reading excerpts from their theses for a couple hours.  I'm hoping some of the poets will suck so that I can feel a little better about myself.

Saint Marty ain't havin' a good day, folks.

This pretty much says it all

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 11: Snow and Poetry

Tonight is a night for snow and poetry.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is bracing for a huge snowstorm overnight.  Up to 14 inches where I live in the highlands of Marquette County.  It's supposed to start falling later this evening and last until Saturday morning.  It's the same storm that has pretty much paralyzed Minnesota.  In the U.P., it will simply add five to ten minutes onto the morning commute.  However, I am tired of snow.

The other thing going on tonight is a poetry reading by a good friend of mine at the local library.  He's reading from his newly published book of poems, and I'm planning to attend.  I've even offered my students extra credit for showing up and writing a paper about it.  I'm just hoping that, by the time the reading is over, I'm not going to be driving home in a blizzard.  I've done that quite a few times.  It isn't fun.

That is what's on Saint Marty's agenda.  To quote Wallace Stevens, Saint Marty has "a mind of winter" tonight.

This is what my drive home is going to be like this evening

April 11: Wilhelm Stekel, Live Humbly, a Cause

Mr. Antolini (yes, I'm talking about him again) quotes psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel to Holden near the end of The Catcher in the Rye:

"Here's what he said:  'The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.'"

For some reason, this quote has been stuck in my head all day long.  I am not humble about certain things in my life.  Anybody who knows me well will back me up on this.  I'm not humble about poetry.  If I think a poem or poet is crap, I have no problem voicing this opinion.  I have similar feelings about literature and books and movies and music.  Also, I like attention.  If I write a good poem, I want people to tell me how good it is.  Actually, if I write a bad poem, I want people to tell me how good it is.  I like being validated.  Everybody does.

A year-and-a-half ago, I entered a poetry chapbook competition.  Now, I try not to get my hopes too high when I do stuff like this.  I know there are a lot of good poets out there, and I also know that there's a large degree of subjectivity in the selection of the winners.  It all depends on who's judging.  Well, needless to say, I didn't win the competition.  About four months after the winner was announced, I received a copy of his chapbook.  I will try to say this as politely as possible.  Ummm, let's see.  It sucked.

I've spent a good deal of time licking my wounded pride since then.  Now I'm about to enter another chapbook competition.  I've done my research.  I looked up the names of previous winners and read some of their poems.  I have a good idea about the poetic taste of the sponsor of the contest.  I'm prepared.

Getting published is my cause right now.  If I ever hope to get a full-time position at the university, I need to publish.  A lot.  I would be able to decrease the number of jobs I currently have, and my kids would be able to go to college for free.  All those things are causes for me.  But I have to prove myself as a poet/writer.

I know my cause isn't exactly selfless.  In fact, it's pretty selfish.  But human beings are basically selfish creatures, unless you're talking about Nobel Peace Prize winners, conservationists, most pastors and priests and nuns, and, of course, saints.  I tell myself that the reason I want to win a poetry contest is for my family.  They will have a better life if I win a chapbook contest.  Not only will I get a publication, but I'll get $1000 as well.  That's a lot of groceries and dance lessons.  I will be humbly blessed.  Of course, I'm lying.

Saint Marty wants to win a chapbook contest simply because he wants to be a winner.  And he wants to make other people feel inferior.

This would get me a job at the university