Why Contemporary American Poetry is Diminished by the Poems About Donald Trump Already Appearing in Various Literary Journals

I’m probably in the minority on this among my poet friends but it’s really bugging me: I think contemporary American poetry is diminished by the number of poems about Donald Trump I’m seeing in the latest issues of various literary journals. I’m not interested in calling out any particular poet or journal; I’ll leave that to Trump’s next undisciplined and embarrassing tweet. But here’s the problem . . .

Trump has been president for four weeks; he hasn’t even been on the national political scene for more than 18 months, and he didn’t emerge as a formidable contender for the White House until maybe a year ago. That means in most cases these poems couldn’t have been conceived more than 12 months ago, give or take, no less gone through many drafts or revisions. I don’t know who exactly it was that advised leaving a new poem in a drawer for a year without looking at it, then taking it out to see what you may have on your hands. But it’s good advice. Only then can you objectively evaluate your own work, and in almost every case, the objectivity one only achieves with the passage of time makes the new poem’s flaws glaringly obvious, and revision begins. How can a poem about Trump conceived before he even became president possibly have gone through such a process?

I felt exactly this way when Galway Kinnell’s poem “When the Towers Fell” appeared in The New Yorker a year after the 9-11 attacks. There was no way to have achieved an objective distance from that atrocity within 12 months of its occurrence, and therefore no way to process it meaningfully into art. Not yet. Kinnell’s poem, and indeed these Trump poems popping up now in a variety of journals, could have benefited from the patient scrutiny that yields great literature.

The urgency of this moment in our politics demands that poets–and editors, for that matter–practice that patience and discipline more rigorously than ever before. I know we all are in a hasty and emotional rush to have something to say about the strange and unruly moment we’re living through, but that is exactly why we, and perhaps most of all our poets, should guard against becoming unruly ourselves. Literary journals are not blogs.

My Poetry Chapbook, ‘The Panic inside the Stars,’ Wins Second Honorable Mention from Comstock Review

Well, the agony and the ecstasy, I guess.

I’ll be honest: I really, really wish I had won this one. Last October, I submitted my poetry chapbook, The Panic inside the Stars, to The Comstock Review’s “Writers Group 2016 Chapbook Contest.” A poet whose work I adored when I was a graduate student, and one who has won the Pulitzer Prize and served as Poet Laureate of the United States, won the competition. His name is Ted Kooser, and his winning chapbook is called At Home.

As someone who is very familiar with Kooser’s work–its voice, its pervading preoccupations, the unassuming tone and precision of its language–I think the title suits perfectly the kind of note Kooser has been striking for many years now. His work always takes you home and keeps you there; often, his poems obsess beautifully on the most mundane, and, yes, domestic, scenes and objects. This is a guy who does what Rilke sought rather deliberately to do in some of his work; he makes the ordinary things of your daily experience more vivid to you than ever before by “defamiliarizing” them. You’ve never seen the things Kooser captures as vividly as you will inside a Ted Kooser poem, and you’ll never see them the same again.

I’m thrilled to be able to say I won “Second Honorable Mention” in this contest:

TedIIAs I said to Betsy Anderson, the Comstock Review co-managing editor who notified me of this, I think I can live with losing a chapbook contest to a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less a Pulitzer Prize winner whose work I know well and respect. Kooser’s chapbook has just been released, and it’s available to order here: https://comstockreview.submittable.com/submit/77278/ted-kooser-new-chapbook-at-home.

The reason I say I really wish I had won this one is–well, there are several, really. Most obviously, it’s pretty damned thrilling to win a chapbook contest. What will be just as obvious to those who take a gander at the winning chapbook’s design is this: It’s breathtakingly gorgeous. See? . . .

TedObviously, Comstock Review has served these poems with tremendous affection and attentiveness to detail, and I eagerly look forward to getting my copy of this chapbook. Thirdly, I’ve been laboring over the poems in my chapbook for more than a decade; some of the poems therein are pushing 15 years old. Some poets talk about their poems as their “babies.” At this point, I’ve got teenagers. A gaggle of restless ones, pining for a home. I do hope they find one soon. Here’s hoping the next chapbook contest I send them off to will be–pardon the pun, Ted–home.

PIN ACTION Now Available in Paperback!

Found a nice little surprise on my doorstep yesterday–a box-load of paperback editions of my book, PIN ACTION! Sweetness. The paperback edition is gorgeous, as I would expect of my publisher, Pegasus, which always has treated this project with care and class. Check out the blurbs that fill in the top of the bowling pin on the cover. Come on. That’s awesome.

PinActionPaperback

Well, it is late. I am exhausted. My lovely two-year-old Ellianna, the greatest gift life ever has or will afford me, is sleeping with her “baby dolla” as she calls it, as well as, of course, with her special froggie puppet and her papa bear puppet as well. Because it’s just not sleep until your are watched over in the night by the mindful eyes of the fake but furry animals of this strange world. Which is all to say I am experiencing the crippling exhaustion a dad endures at the end of a day packed by work, caring for a toddler, doing the dishes, keeping this house clean and the kitties fed and my daughter bathed and tucked into “jammies” and whastever the hell else I somehow have accomplished in a single day. Which is to say I am too tired to say much else. Except I guess these couple of things: I did a bunch of podcasts from the 51st PBA Tournament of Champions last month, which you can find on Bowlers Journal’s website here and listen:

http://www.bowlersjournal.com/?page_id=10742

Also, I got to be a featured reader at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading last fall. That was an amazing experience. The room for my reading was packed. And people actually stuck around to ask questions! And get books signed! It was like I was an author or something. Big thanks to the TB Times folks for having me aboard for that amazing event.

Also, guess who got to have a pizza date with the sunshine of his life the other day? Yep. This guy. One of my Facebook friends said to me one day that Ellianna is the finest poem I’ve ever produced. Well, look at those electric blue eyes and that flaming bush of blonde hair. How can I disagree?

And, as you can see, she may be tiny but girl can pound down some pizza. OK.

Elli

PIN ACTION Optioned for Film and Booklist Names it a Top 10 Sports Book of 2015!

As usual, there is a lot to get to since my last post. It is very exciting to see so many things coming together for my book, PIN ACTION: Small-Time Gangsters, High-Stakes Gambling, and the Teenage Hustler Who became a Bowling Champion, which was released by Pegasus Books in November and is available everywhere books are sold.

I was thrilled when Booklist named PIN ACTION one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2015 on Sept. 1. You can check out the whole story and learn not only about my book but also those of my fellow authors who made the list here: http://www.booklistonline.com/Top-10-Sports-Books-2015-Bill-Ott/pid=7691264

I also am thrilled to report that Gold Circle Films has optioned PIN ACTION for film. Gold Circle is the enterprise behind the hysterical and wildly entertaining Pitch Perfect films. When I was younger, they also were the brains behind the surprise, runaway success, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in 2001. These are guys who have the vision to discover humor and unforgettable characters where others fail to, and I would love to see what vision they have for the rough and risible characters I write about in PIN ACTION.

Lastly, PIN ACTION got a major-league endorsement, literally, from Major League Baseball All-Star, John Burkett. Burkett is a great guy I vividly remember watching defeat the New York Yankees in the 1996 playoffs. Pro bowling always was his first love, however, and he now is embarking very successfully on a second pro career on the lanes. I’ve gotten to know him a bit and written a couple stories about him for Bowlers Journal, the magazine where I work as Editor. He is a pro bowling history buff, too, and he loved PIN ACTION. Check out this great, and very funny, video in which Burkett and his fellow pro bowlers are asked to discuss their favorite books. You don’t want to miss this: