Don’t choose on me

Apparently the criteria for selecting a poet laureate in North Carolina have changed.

The North Carolina Arts Council’s traditional criteria, which are no longer on their website, are below.

  • A North Carolinian with deep connections to the cultural life of this state
  • Literary excellence of the writer’s work
  • Influence on other writers
  • An appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state.
  • Statewide, national or international reputation
  • Ability and willingness to conduct the public engagement duties of the office

But Pat McCrory, Governor of NC, recently appointed someone who arguably does not meet these criteria, and he did so without consulting any of the literary or arts institutions of the state. A North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources spokesperson explained to the News and Observer that the criteria above “are not a requirement. (Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz)’s position is that the poet laureate is appointed by the Governor and it is his prerogative on whom to choose.”

Ed Southern, Executive Director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, explains why it matters that the Governor ignored input from the people of the state, ignored the traditional criteria for the office, and ignored the general principle that appointments of this nature should be made in a transparent and open way. Since McCrory has offered no reason why he appointed Valerie Macon, then he may just as well have had no criteria at all. By selecting a poet laureate in this opaque way, the Governor diminishes the respectability of the office and hinders the new office holder from accomplishing the work with which she is charged.

Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch likens the Governor’s actions to

those of a distracted, partially-engaged college boy rather than a committed politician with any kind of coherent ideology or agenda. Seen in this light, the fact that McCrory opted to select an anonymous state employee who has self-published some poetry as a kind of hobby as North Carolina’s poet laureate makes more sense. By selecting such a person the Guv has opted for someone like himself — a person who doesn’t fully comprehend his job or the fact that he doesn’t comprehend it.

Even for North Carolina, BBQ pork capital of the world, this is an awfully hamfisted way of generating a public discussion of poetry.

Fourteen Hills, 20.2 – new poetry published

2014-05-27 14.41.31

A few years ago, I began to feel like the more contemporary poetry I read, the more I saw a pattern of predictability in poets of my generation. The poems each had very different things to say, but they said their bit in oddly similar ways. Best I could articulate, I felt like each poet’s goal was to one-up other poets with the most surprising metaphors or the most personal revelations.

And then I read Marjorie Perloff’s “Poetry on the Brink.” I’m not the only one who feels this way. Perloff describes a trend toward “a certain kind of prize-winning, “well-crafted” poem—a poem that the New Yorker would see fit to print and that would help its author get one of the “good jobs” advertised by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs—has produced an extraordinary uniformity.” She goes on to articulate what I couldn’t – the formula that so many of these poems follow:

1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”;
2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”);
3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.

I know that I am guilty of thinking about late capitalism in relation to my poems, but that’s just another way of saying that my poems are contemporary. Continuing the theme of poems from industrial landscapes, my latest publication, “Woodland Grain Terminal,” fits in with other outward looking poems in the latest issue of Fourteen Hills. Fourteen Hills has a reputation for publishing experimental poetry and other work that is difficult to categorize. It’s no surprise, then, that this issue has plenty of poems that defy the popular present-stimulus/memory/epiphany formula that Perloff thinks is deadening the lyric.

After a night of powerful readings at the release party in a converted historic fire station, I have enjoyed reading through the issue.  Particularly good are Dan Alter’s labor poems and GC Waldrep’s “Testament.” The short story “Second Coming,” by Bryan Furuness, looks at future humanity in a storytelling style reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

As soon as the current issue page says 20.2 and you see the cover art from Joshua Dudley Greer’s Point Pleasant collection, then you can order a copy online. Or, there are several local bookstores that carry Fourteen Hills.

Durham friends, you can find Fourteen Hills at The Regulator on Ninth Street. In Atlanta, A Cappella Books (208 Haralson Ave. NE) carries copies. In DC, Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Ave NW) will have issue 20.2 very soon. Too many NYC locations to list; email if you want help finding a copy.

Issue 20.2

Lyrical materialist poems, Common-Place Issue 21

Over at Common-Place, four of my poems have been published along with a statement of poetics and research in their latest issue (Vol. 14, No. 3.5). Common-Place is an online journal of the American Antiquarian Society. As the magazine describes itself: “a bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks–and listens–to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history.”

You can find the poems here.

I’m no historian, and even I find their articles interesting. In a recent issue, my friend Ari Kelman has a piece on the curious story of the Sand Creek massacre’s contested memory. You can read the article for a preview of his superb book on the same topic, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, which just won a fucking Bancroft, that’s how good it is.

They also have a cool issue on Early Cities of the Americas. Standouts are Carl Smith’s profile of end-of-the-19th-century Chicago and Inga Clendinnen’s portrait of 16th century Tenochtitlan, the imperial city of the Aztecs. Smith focuses on trains and the way the railroad helped the young, recently reborn, city of Chicago come to engender American progress. Clendinnen brings to life the shock that Spanish explorers must have felt when their eyes first fell upon a city larger and more advanced than any European city they had known.

But besides all those articles on historical topics, Common-Place has room for poetry. Their Poetic Research section is a space for poems based on historical research along with statements of poetics. Previous editions of Poetic Research include poems by Cole Swensen, Brian Teare, and many others.

I am grateful to Robert Strong, editor of the Poetic Research collection, and Trudy Powers, Administrative Editor at Common-Place, for their months of work to prepare this issue.


Adluh Flour

Time-lapse of Northern California train route

Time-lapse video of part of Amtrak California’s Capitol Corridor route, from Davis to Richmond, CA. The train makes stops in Suisun/Fairfield and Martinez. The camera is facing northwest for most of the trip, with farm fields of the great Central Valley, the coastal range, rice fields of the Sacramento River delta, the Carquinez Strait, and San Pablo Bay. Along the way are tomato processing plants, oil and gas refineries, the C&H Sugar plant, and hundreds of oil tankers on parallel tracks. Shrouded in clouds, Mt. Tamalpais and Marin County are visible across the water near the end of the video.

San Francisco readings

I want to thank the organizers of two great literary readings this weekend.

Thanks to the staff of Fourteen Hills for putting on Gird your ‘Loin at Celtic Coffee on Saturday. See photos from the event here.

And thanks to Gray Tolhurst for the invitation to read at The Convent on Friday night.

Squaw Valley Community of Writers, 2014 Poetry Workshop

The Community of Writers is now accepting applications for its 2014 workshop.  From their website…

The Community of Writers Poetry Workshop is founded on the belief that when poets gather in a community to write new poems, each poet may well break through old habits and write something stronger and truer than before. The idea is to try to expand the boundaries of what one can write. In the mornings we meet to read to each other the work of the previous twenty-four hours, and in the late afternoons we gather for a conversation about some aspect of craft.


Financial Aid available.
Submissions Deadline: April 2, 2014.


Robert Hass · Cathy Park Hong · Harryette Mullen · C.D. Wright · Matthew Zapruder 

Visit the Poetry Workshop Website:

NCAI Super Bowl Ad*

Among the professional ranks, the effort by the NFL and the Washington football team to retain the violent and racially derived term “Redsk*ns” has been a focus of national and international media. The legacy of racism… is an important component to the story of the Washington football team name, in addition to its violent origins in American popular culture.

The term originates from a time when Native people were actively hunted and killed for bounties, and their skins were used as proof of Indian kill. Bounties were issued by European companies, colonies, and some states, most notably California. By the turn of the 20th century it had evolved to become a term meant to disparage and denote inferiority and savagery in American culture. By 1932, the word had been a term of commodification and a commentary on the color of a body part. It was not then and is not now an honorific.

From Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots, a report issued by the National Congress of American Indians in October 2013.

*At least, this should be a Super Bowl ad.


My friend Gary Kueber shared this photo. It made us both smile. The photo was taken, to the best of our knowledge, during the year of the bicentennial, which may explain why, like Christopher Walken and cowbell, this man just can’t get enough of the US flag. Don’t know who he is, but between the headlights, the mirrors, the handbells, the horns (squeeze-bulb, circular French-type, and even the compressed-air-in-a-can variety), the construction helmet, and the pre-xtracycle-like use of a tandem for hauling groceries, he’s got flair.

Bike Patriot, ca. 1976. Durham, NC.

Bike Patriot, ca. 1976. Durham, NC.

Photo by George Pyne, courtesy of Milo Pyne.