National Poetry Month; April 20

Hi friends!

Families: can’t live with them, can’t live without them!

Okay, that’s a cliche, and the truth lies someplace in between those two. Notice how I say “truth lies?” Quite an oxymoron indeed. One thing I notice with family, is how specific memories are, how one sibling’s perspective on a singular childhood event might be completely different than another. Also, how certain phases of one’s life might bridge you closer to a family member, or further apart. And then, how we handle family “obligations.” Is there guilt? Remorse? Births, graduations, ceremonies, divorces, retirements, deaths. How do we handle these often delicate transitions among family members?

One poem of mine that has garnered a lot of attention since the publication of Microtones, is “Legacy,” which is not biographical in any direct sense, but its theme is family. You can read it here:

The Lost Bookshelf Homepage

The poet I share today is Sharon Olds. She’s a veteran poet, stunning at the self-reveal, and focus on personal relationships, family matters. Her poem “I Go Back to May 1937” is a heart-wrenching visit back to her parent’s roots:

Robert Vaughan reads “I Go Back to May 1937” from Sharon Olds – YouTube

How did your parents meet? How did you meet your partner/spouse/lover? Can you experience or see it from the other person’s point-of-view?

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National Poetry Month: April 19

Hi friends!

I am so fortunate to be a part of this writing community in Milwaukee, and get to lead two amazing writing roundtables. Sometimes, in rare months, my once a month Thursday evening group (6:30- 9:00 pm) is followed by my Friday morning group (9:30- 12 noon). When this happens, I often joke about how it feels as if I’ve slept in the school room.

And, perhaps, in some form or manner, I have? Certain poems take us back in time, to places in our youth, in our previous lives that we’ve perhaps blocked, or not thought about for years. Hunting? Cycling? Skateboarding? Maybe you tried something once and didn’t like it. Maybe your parents picked up a sport, say downhill skiing, and you’d have rather been on a beach in San Diego.

Today I read Aaron Smith’s “What’s Required.” On the surface, this poem is narrative, straight forward, and melancholy. Men are animals, so complex, and multi-layered. And this poem then, too, has depth and rare brave exposure. A refreshing, stark glimpse into what drives that rare species known as Man:

Robert Vaughan reads “What’s Required” by Aaron Smith – YouTube

Did you ever kill an animal? What was that like? Is there some childhood activity you forgot about until experiencing a poem or story?

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National Poetry Month: April 18

Hi friends!

The sky has color, no color- pinkish gray, tinged with a smoky shriek, like pay attention here! The windows are dotted with raindrops, and smeared with April debris.

Some poets and writers have an innate knack for writing about experiences, human and inhuman, most of us would rather view through a box in our living rooms, or read in Sunday papers. From a safe remove. If at all. Abuse, war, genocide, neglect. Sure, they exist, but are we ready to experience them close up?

Then, balanced with our greatest goods, our highest intentions as a species, or a person.

The poet I share today is a master at this and so much more.

Today I read Jeanann Verlee’s “Mama’s Girl:”

Robert Vaughan reads “Mama’s Girl” by Jeanann Verlee – YouTube

Her entire book, Racing Hummingbirds, is a must have:

On my buddy Len Kuntz’s blog, People You Know By Heart, you can read two more examples of her poems, on his April 15th entry:

People You Know By Heart

Have you ever been abused? Known someone close to you who has? Kept secrets for a period of time that you later shared or still keep?

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National Poetry Month: April 17

Hi friends!

Writing contests are strange. You enter them never expecting to hear back, or perhaps with the list of those who placed, your name excluded. Which is why I was so thrilled to hear that my unusual piece, “A Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim,” took 2nd place in the recent Flash Fiction Chronicles String-of-Ten contest. Here is my piece, and also an exchange about the piece with Karen Nelson:

String-of-10 Second Place Winner – Robert Vaughan « Flash Fiction Chronicles

Often I write about the world in which we live; impressions of the natural occurrences like changes in light, or falling leaves. I look to make abstract associations, and I noticed this tendency as I read through the brilliant collection Debacle, Debacle by Matt Hart. His work, like mine, is undefinable: poetry? fiction? genre defying? internal? external? abstract? And yet, his skill at conveying, even piercing emotions, and dazzling word combinations is unfathomable. So, today I read “Fang Face” from Matt Hart:

Robert Vaughan reads “Fang Face” by Matt Hart – YouTube

Debacle, Debacle is available at h_ngm_n Books: H_NGM_N: an online journal & small press

What do you notice in nature that surprises you? How are you deadly? Do you hate conclusions of stories?

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National Poetry Month: April 16

Hi friends!

The sun is out, life takes a most promising turn! Last night, fellow poet Paul Scot August and I schemed up a plan to host a reading to honor National Poetry Month right here in Milwaukee:

(1) Middle Coast Poets – A National Poetry Month Reading

And if you are not a Facebook member, then the reading is on Monday, April 29th, from 7-9 p.m. Some poets who’ve confirmed are Paul Scot August, David Tomaloff, Andrea Potos, Ed Makowski, Dawn Tefft, Matt Specht,  Brittany Cavallaro and me. More might be added.

The venue is Riverwest Public House, 815 Locust Street, and this event sure looks like it will be a blast! We hope to see you there.

Events, planning, spontaneity. Today I read about all these things and more. “Shore Leave” is a poem I first heard Mark Doty read at the Omega Institute, when I took a five day workshop in 2011 with Mark, Marie Howe, Patricia Smith, and Billy Collins (can you say heaven? Yes… and there were over 90 other registered poets who all thought so as well!). Mark drew a hush over the room when we read “Shore Leave,” drawing us in with his quick intro of a personal relationship with this masterful poet, Lynda Hull. Barely in print at the time of her unfortunate early death, Mark helped to champion her Collected Poems as the series editor at Graywolf Press, which I bought from the Ram Dass library on the Omega Institute campus that very day.

Today I read “Shore Leave,” by Lynda Hull. Thanks Mark, for this, and for so much more:

Robert Vaughan reads “Shore Leave” by Lynda Hull – YouTube

Do you recall a time in which you took a trip with one parent or the other, alone, just you and him or her? What are your memories? Did anything unusual happen?

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National Poetry Month: April 15

Hi friends!

One of my favorite childhood stories was “Henny Penny” because the idea that ‘the sky is falling,’ and the absurdity of something so concrete (air= concrete? Ha!) really compelled me. The other part of the story, of course, was telling, then re-telling a tale. Like the childhood game, Telephone, where you whisper a phrase into your neighbor’s ear, then s/he repeats the same phrase into the adjacent person, and so on. Until you get to the 1ooth (last) person who gets to say aloud the random repeated and now deformed phrase, e.g.: “Dad dressed in water that looked finally so defeated we wept.” And everyone has a great guffaw.

Well, today I read Lucas Farrell’s “Stitches.” And this talented poet always slays me with the emotional content in his visceral word choices. His poetry I read over and over, listening to the subtle nuances and marveling at his deep, and unusual reverence to nature. So close he is, it seems like he lives outdoors! His poetry sings of that which we might never know. Much like our brother, poet Gary Snyder.

Robert Vaughan reads “Stitches” by Lucas Farrell – YouTube

What are your favorite childhood books? Can you remember any unsolvable questions you had as a child? Some you still marvel at?

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National Poetry Month: April 14

Hi friends.

In 1987, around this time of year, Spring, I was working my first job in Los Angeles, a recent transplant from New York City. My pal, Gregory and I had travelled in my mighty Mustang across this vast country, full of mixed emotions, and the anxieties of moving to a place thousands of miles away from what’s familiar, what you’re accustomed to.

That same spring, I came home from slinging burgers at Hampton’s to find out that my childhood buddy, James, was murdered. He’d been studying at the University of Tokyo, and left to sightsee in Bangkok, before he planned to meet me in Los Angeles. I was anticipating his arrival any day. I still do.

The first time I heard the extra-ordinary poet Dorianne Laux read “Trying to Raise the Dead” was at Truth & Beauty Conference in Carter Hall, Virginia. There wasn’t a dry eye after she’d finished her last line, this poem is that raw, phenomenal. (I thought of you, James, like the endless times I do. And I thought about loss).

Robert Vaughan reads “Trying to Raise the Dead” by Dorianne Laux – YouTube

Did you lose someone you love? How do you keep in contact? Can you feel his or her presence like as I do James?

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National Poetry Month: April 13

Hi friends!

Overcast, gray, glassy skies. Preternatural spring weather: snow? So, Bukowski comes to mind.

I was living in temporary digs in San Francisco, 1988. My first play, “Boink,” was being produced in a One Act Festival for new playwrights at Merry The Dog Theater. As director, I’d asked non-actors to play the lead roles: Danika, a strip club dancer in North Beach took the role of the catatonic wife, who delivered nearly all her lines from the bed. Ted, the painter, was the husband, frenetic and rather like a clown caricature. Steve was the “narrator,” delivering lines from the edges of darkness. The play was a big hit, as was the entire festival. Through that experience I met many more strange characters and one fellow, Jake, who’s favorite poet was Bukowski. He was legendary at that time, especially among fringe and workingman poets. Bukowski’s legacy almost proceeded him. I was fortunate to see Bukowski read at City Lights and also later, in Los Angeles, and was blown away by his simplicity and honest, raw words. His straightforward-no-bullshit approach. Those yellow notebooks. Hunched over, propped up against those pillows.

Today I read “Are You Drinking?” by Charles Bukowski:

Robert Vaughan reads “Are you Drinking?” by Charles Bukowski – YouTube

Are you ill with life? Have you ever been to a horseracing track? How do you find the sun when there is no sign of it for days?

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National Poetry Month: April 12

Hi friends!

It’s that time of the month. No, not that one, silly! The one where you wake up and think, time for a haircut! I’m that way, spontaneous. I can’t decide when I leave the salon when to pre-book my next one. A friend of mine told me recently that she’s lobbed her own locks for the past several years. Bravo, I thought. I did that once, in my twenties, and ended up having to shave my head. When my buddy Gregory and I slipped into Mexico for a quick weekend getaway, the locals took me for a skinhead. Um, no.

Haircuts are us: quirky, relaxing. The favorite part of the service (they’ve done studies) from a consumer’s standpoint: the shampoo. Some haircuts make for better headstands. Some are snazzy sidling up to a roaring fire. All in all, haircuts fascinate me. And that’s why today I chose to read Evelyn Hampton’s “some haircuts” from her prose/poetry collection We Were Eternal and Gigantic at Magic Helicopter Press:

Robert Vaughan reads “some haircuts” by Evelyn Hampton – YouTube

cover art by Chelsea Martin

When  is the last time you had a remarkable haircut? How did it cling to bulwarks? Where was your gel when you most needed some? Are you still a mousse user and are afraid your friends will see you buying it at Rite-Aid?

Love your hair- hope it wins.



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National Poetry Month: April 11

Hi friends!

Today is Jeffrey Senkir’s birthday! He was one of my first friends to share our secret desires about becoming writers. We turned each other on to Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Djuna Barnes. We’d hike to the top of Mount Diablo and read aloud on a spread blanket, the spinning world would stop for those moments.

The story of Jeffrey’s mother, a truly sad one, made me think today of all mothers, and of how we come into this world. How we are birthed, and given life. Then I recalled one of the first books I read as a child: “Are You My Mother?”

And so, today I read “Naming” by James L. White from his lovely book, The Salt Ecstasies. Thanks to Mark Doty for turning me, and so many others, on to this wise, prophetic legacy of White.

Robert Vaughan reads “Naming” by James L. White – YouTube

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