Monday, November 30, 2015

'Tis the Season

I meant to post Donal Mahoney's essay during midterms, the craziest time of the year, but I've been falling further and further behind. (The picture above is a typical scene as I grade papers and Thelma guards them.)   So here is Donal's essay during the headlong rush to the end of the semester.  Enjoy!  

He’d Rather Be Carrion than a Vulture

Perhaps young writers today who hope to write poetry or fiction while teaching at the college level might profit from my experience years ago when I had the same dreams. I was finishing a master’s degree in English, hoping to go on for the doctorate, and then teach as a professor of English at a college or university, and write poems for the rest of my life. Maybe a little fiction as well, I thought, after reading J.D. Salinger.

Then I attended my first English Department holiday party for faculty and staff at my university. I was invited because I had an assistantship that required I teach two courses of rhetoric a semester in return for remission of tuition and a small stipend. The professors and their wives were all there and this was the first time I had seen my teachers outside the classroom environment. 

The profs were a gracious bunch, all from good stock, and I was not particularly gracious nor from stock similar to theirs. I was the son of immigrants from Chicago where everyone was rough and tough and hard to bluff, or so they thought, and spoke a language riddled with balderdash and buncombe. All I had in common with most of my professors is that I, too, could write and spell.

As the party progressed, I mingled as best I could and talked with several professors who had guided me through Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Old and Middle English, all the usual courses required for the master’s degree. All I had to do was finish my thesis. It was a barn-burner in gestation, tentatively entitled “Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Concept of Skepticism and His Doctrine of the Infinitude of the Private Man.” 

It was a hybrid piece, the spawn of two papers I had written for a class in Emerson. I needed to write an introduction, middle and conclusion, provided I could find some way to marry the two papers that had no discernible connection. Apparently I succeeded because months later the prof who oversaw my thesis told me in all seriousness that although he disagreed with my conclusion, my thesis was accepted. 

At the party, however, the profs did not yet know I wanted to go on for the doctorate, teach and write poems. I had had by then perhaps 12 poems appear under a pen name in the university literary magazine, typical juvenilia for a poet starting out. For some reason, I knew using my own name would not have been a good thing. But I did not yet understand why in light of my goals I should be more interested in writing and publishing literary criticism in scholarly journals rather than poetry. I knew, however, that was the way to get ahead in any English department. “Publish or perish” was the motto of the time and probably still is today for anyone who wants to move up over time from assistant professor to full professor. 

As the evening wore on, I finally sought out the chairman of the department. I had never had him for class but knew that his specialty was Victorian literature. He was a nice man who would have a big voice in whether I might get financial help to go on for the doctorate. To the best of my memory, student loans were not available at the time. My father’s hard work had made my first two degrees possible and I would never have asked him to pay for another one, although the assistantship I had for the master’s degree had lessened the load on him. 

The chairman asked about my plans and I told him about my desire to get the doctorate, teach and write poetry. He was obviously taken aback and asked if I had given any thought to writing scholarly papers. I said I was more interested in writing my own stuff. This obviously failed to reassure him that I might be a good candidate for the doctorate and he tried to help me understand why. 

He began by explaining that while writing poetry was a noble pursuit it was not a good way to earn a living teaching English at a university. Writing and publishing literary criticism in scholarly journals was the way to get ahead. I would be wasting my time if my intent were to write poetry or fiction. He was kind and honest and did his best to set me straight. To this day, I am thankful to him for doing that.

But even if I had thought of it at the time, I doubt that I would have said what would later come to mind as to why I was not a good fit. But I knew I would never want to write about what someone else had written if it weren't a course requirement. I wanted to write my own stuff or, quite frankly, write nothing at all. 

I don’t think it was a matter of ego or pride although that element had to be a factor. I had written enough long papers to take two degrees and I had had my fill of that kind of thing. To be sure, I thought certain types of writers were called to write serious literary criticism and their efforts could be helpful to scholars. But I was not a scholar in the traditional sense and not cut out for that kind of writing beyond the classroom. 

Years later, when asked by someone else why I didn’t want to write criticism, I said I would rather have poems of mine be carrion in the grass rather than be the vulture who drops down to eat them. I no doubt found those words deep in my satchel of balderdash and buncombe. 

I never did go on for the doctorate and I think that was truly for the best. I worked mostly as an editor and writer for years with a late foray into raising money for charity. That also tapped my love for words. Nothing quite like trying to convince the wealthy to dig deep to help the poor. Some give willingly when the case is presented. With others, metaphorically speaking, a toilet plunger helps unless you point out the tax advantages. 

On my own time, I have done fairly well writing poetry, fiction and essays. It’s been an interesting life in that regard and continues to this day. Hundreds of students have also benefited from never having to hear me lecture on Dryden and Pope, had I taken the doctorate. I never did like couplets and probably would have said so at the wrong time. That probably would have been as politically incorrect as writing poetry rather than criticism while a member of the English Department at a good university.

Donal Mahoney

Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has had fiction and poetry published in print and online publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. Among them are The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), The Osprey Journal (Wales), Public Republic (Bulgaria), and The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey).

Photo of Donal Mahoney by Carol Bales

I also want to include Will Mayo's Thanksgiving poem since this is also the holiday season.

My Stomach Is Full


Will Mayo

And yet I am hungry.

I have eaten of the whole grain fields,
the rice in some lonely lotus pond,
the trees in evergreen verdure.

And still I am hungry.

I have eaten,too, of small ones by the lake,
of lovers holding hands in a yellowing sunset,
of dawn upon an Eastern horizon.

Still I am hungry.
And my stomach growls for more.

I wish to eat of canyons in the West,
of Tokyo upon an early rising,
Moscow and Kiev upon a dusty kiosk.

I wish to eat of you by my side,
holding hands upon a lover's lake,
never wanting to let go.

I am still hungry.
And my stomach makes room for more.

When I am grading papers, I like to listen to Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon":

His "Stormy Monday" is also appropriate:

Here he plays "Watermelon Man":

I'll finish up with his "Midnight Special":

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Allison Grayhurst

From the Corner of My Eye

Torn from the spirit proclaiming,
and now revenge has abducted the anchor of
my feeble wisdom, has cut my coffin in half,
punishing with the anguish of duty and survival first.
Again I sing, disciplining myself
out of the clutches of madness, and
the dialogue of infants I hear in a terrible
dream that blames my rage on all the living.
I am yielding to the charms of my enemy's poison,
to the aftertaste that promises an antidote
but gives only a look in the mirror or a bath towel in the morning.
I am grieving my imprisonment, welcoming
the nightmare because resistance is but
a shadow struggling against a real thing. I am
taking the canopy off my bed. I am gleaming with
guilt and the sheen of ingratitude.
Forward is the highest goal, to keep moving
in spite of words like 'freedom' and 'happiness',
in spite of our nature and our greed to
accumulate, to be outward looking for distinction,
or to obey what is in place because it is all
our private thoughts can explore. I made a sea creature
with clay and two hands. I kissed a cloud
with both eyes open. Let the world be crowned with 
its two-week-vacation glory. Let my hourly wages
get the better of me. I am fixing to fail. I am reaching
for something strong like belief. And over my shoulder,
I see a gift of a thousand roses.


I will hold you one more time,
I will not be afraid of your passing.
We will bond on the eclipse of your life,
our eyes locked in gratitude and unspoken
Thank you for sharing my home, for being
a part of my family. For so long, I missed you.
For so long, we have loved one another with
unsurpassed equality and depth. Your gentle intelligence
has carried me through many storms. Just
to be with you, sometimes, was all I needed. This one,
I will have to walk without you. I will have to say goodbye,
my sweet and perfect soul, goodbye my pet panther,
goodbye my many-lifetime friend.
We are lucky to have loved one another.
We will join again where there is no bleeding,
no dulling of the skin. Bless you, go easily into God’s arms,
go freely: You have loved. You have been loved.
You are eternal.

My Love is Waiting

In the bald winter
where only the cold grows,
my love is waiting.
Strands of sorrow like
straw stream from his fingertips,
and his clothes are the shade of indigo,
resurrected by his constant desire.
Clouds clear at his feet and coffee is poured
on his behalf whenever his hands need warming.
He is sheltered in the alleyway garages, takes his cue
from the pigeons. His legs are long,
like candlesticks they stretch across January streets.
My love is waiting for the blanket of my flesh, waiting
to salt his emptiness with my touch.
He watches from the balconies.
He is mad, ruled by the erratic radiance of music.
He is waiting on the branches of the elm,
waiting for the night to clear,
waiting for my heart to open and claim him
like a birthmark.

Entrance Door

You stand at the entrance, robbed and dazed,
alone with the rain.
Your school is poor, much like water on a grave,
it cannot restore the yellowing clover. But I believe in you,
in the parting of your eyelids and the outpouring
of your creativity.
I saw your eyes, written with the depth of the wind.
Your sorrow is not easy,
but the power of it within you
will play out into an unimagined liberty.
A longed-for communion
will possess you and bring you barefoot out of exile.
I don’t know why this disappointment must claim victory
or why joy and intimacy
were not open mouths, parting, to match your ageless purity.
I don’t understand the burning, the collapse, and why
the Earth is so hard. But I understand you,
and what a blossom of magic you are.
You are meant to know this sorrow before
you can be happy. You are meant to dance out your grief,
your rage, the incapability
of others. Balance yourself here. I will help you.
I will kiss your hand. This is not random. Disaster is yours.
But the animals know, and I know, you are close
(so very close)
to the last release before

Interval of Parting

I will keep quiet
when my sea is sucked into the sky,
keep quiet about my hundred
strokes that take me nowhere, quiet
about my anguish and requiems.
We will be different - for now, we will
not know one another so completely.
For now, I must go it alone, my struggle hidden
except in prayer and solitude. I will build my own nursery,
bandage my wounds until they are no longer visible.
I will sleep close to the angels, feel my only safety
in their ethereal arms.
I will turn even further to God, depend
on only God to love me fully
and see me through - through this wilderness
of leghold traps, of paper promises
and cowardly predators, through this funnel
that tightens and seems to have no end, through, without
showing the damage of this fishnet, without you,
you who are going on your own journey and cannot help me here
any longer.

Bio: Allison Grayhurst is a member of the League of Canadian Poets. She has over 675 poems published in more than 315 international journals and anthologies. Her book Somewhere Falling was published by Beach Holme Publishers in 1995. Since then she has published eleven other books of poetry and six collections with Edge Unlimited Publishing. Prior to the publication of Somewhere Falling she had a poetry book published, Common Dream, and four chapbooks published by The Plowman. Her poetry chapbook The River is Blind was published by Ottawa publisher above/ground press in December 2012. In 2014 her chapbook Surrogate Dharma was published by Kind of a Hurricane Press, Barometric Pressures Author Series in October 2014. More recently, she has a chapbook Currents pending publication this Fall with Pink.Girl.Ink. Press. She lives in Toronto with her family. She also sculpts, working with clay;

            Some of places my work has appeared in include Parabola (Alone & Together print issue summer 2012); Literary Orphans; Blue Fifth Review; The American Aesthetic; Agave Magazine; JuxtaProse Literary MagazineSouth Florida Arts Journal; Gris-Gris; The Muse – An International Journal of Poetry, Storm Cellar, New Binary Press Anthology; The Brooklyn Voice; Straylight Literary Magazine (print); The Milo Review; Foliate Oak Literary Magazine; The Antigonish Review; Dalhousie Review; The New Quarterly; Wascana Review; Poetry Nottingham International; The Cape Rock; Ayris; Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry; The Toronto Quarterly; Fogged Clarity, Boston Poetry Magazine; Decanto; White Wall Review. 

I'll close with some music.   The first song is John Coltrane's "Equinox":

 I'll finish with Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain":

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Haibun by Angelee Deodhar

To celebrate the recent publication of Journeys 2015 (an Anthology of International Haibun that Angelee Deodhar has edited), I thought that I would include two pieces that she sent me.  Her images of the picnic in "Grandparents' Day" remind me how we are moving away from the fall and into winter.

Grandparents’ Day

                                        through a knothole   the other half of the garden

Sunday afternoon, near a grove of gardenia we spread out our picnic lunch of spicy saffron  pilaf, plain yogurt, tomato pickle, corn chips, potato wafers bananas and orange juice. While the toddler chases squirrels and tries to catch squabbling jungle babblers and mynahs, I wrap myself in his sweet smelling baby blanket and palming a set of smooth blue stones , listen to music from the sixties.

Now the song is “If you don’t know me now “ – it makes me wonder whether we ever know anybody?
The sun pales as the autumn breeze ruffles everything below, while overhead a kites ride thermals. Couples oblivious of everyone snuggle close together. In the distance I can see the Shivaliks in the haze of autumn.

homeward bound-
a crow’s feather drifts
    into lengthening shadows
Total Number of words 143
Shivalik literally means 'tresses of Shiva’ , and is a mountain range of the outer Himalayas

To listen to "If You Don't Know Me By Now," click on this link below:

Haibun: Xeriscape

Sunflowers wilt    water is scarce    only the portulaca flourishes. I come inside, open my treasure trunk and remember my mother’s hands swift with needle and threads of yellow, hot pink, orange ,red and soft green as she embroiders phulkaris  for us, my sister and me. I trace the flowers and birds of the bawan bagh  ,fifty two different stitches, and the chope my grandmother started making for my wedding trousseau when I was born. The cloth below the embroidery is a dull rust which allows the silk florals to glow. In this secret garden I hear the laughter and the distant songs of the women who sat together to stitch these pieces of cloth…and their gorgeous colors as they wore them on special occasions…grandmother, being a widow, only wore a thirma, simple geometrical designs on a white background…

and I am back in the residential convent at age six ,where we are taught to embroider by the black and white clad brides of Christ, who intone  long thread   lazy thread  while they rap our knuckles red with a wooden ruler…thy will be done on earth…the rust cloth under my hands crumples…I am the six year old heathen and must be punished into believing that the being hanging on a cross is our father…my father never hurt me…I love to seek my mother’s face in the gentle blue robed lady who stands in a moss lined grotto with flowers at her feet…
                                          braiding stars
                                     into the bride’s long hair-
                                       the scent of jasmine

*Phulkari means ‘flower craft’. Phulkari, the rural embroidery tradition of Punjab, is like an embroidered shawl but very vibrant and attractive. Bagh – The Garden Punjabi, bawan means 52. This means that 52 different patterns were made to complete this phulkari .The distinguishing feature of thirma is its white khaddar that is a symbol of purity. Because of  its white color, it was often worn by elderly women and widows.

"Haibun: Xeriscape" was originally published in Contemporary Haibun Online.

Angelee just sent me this haibun that responds to the recent horror in Paris...and to memories of that city.


Paris unlocked’ :officials are removing the ‘love locks ‘on the sides of the Pont des Arts bridge.

I wonder what happened to the key we tossed into the Seine ,after locking our love to the iron work, so long ago, five decades was it? I still have the other one…

Sixties music
once again in candlelight
cheek to cheek

And today in Paris, lovers’ dreams lie shattered in a senseless attack, unleashing fear, confusion suspicion and sadness in its wake.

pre-dawn lightening
the muezzin’s call softer
autumn chill

walking meditation
      on the I-pod La Marseillaise
diminished birdsong

Total number of words 99
Response to this news item

"Chequered" also fits in well here.

To purchase Journeys 2015, you may go to this link:

Tonight my husband and I went to Chucho Valdes' concert, so I will post some of his videos.  First is "Tres Palabras," a duet with his father, Bebo Valdes:

Next is another duet, "La Comparasa Calle 54":

"Afro-Comanche" was one of the songs Chucho Valdes played tonight:

"New Orleans" was one of our favorites:

To finish, I am going to include a video of Valdes with Paquito D'Rivera:


Monday, November 9, 2015

The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Charles Clifford Brooks III

Copyright 2015 -- JD Cagle
 Copyright 2015 -- Holly Holt

This evening Charles Clifford Brooks III would like to preview his epic, The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford, a work scheduled to appear in print in 2017 (yikes! time is flying).   The picture below, as Clifford observes, "shows a dash of Blue's heresy."  Holly Holt has also illustrated a number of passages from the epic.

Copyright 2015 -- JD Cagle

Image Credit -- Holly Holt

The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford is an autobiographical epic that progressively beat, kicked, and slammed itself against my mind for two years after the release of The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics.  At the end of my first book, there was an epic I drew inspiration from due to what I saw working with the juvenile justice system.  That epic was called The Gateman’s Hymn of Ignoracium, and it was the cathartic creation of a Fourth Afterlife worse than the Inferno, of course, in homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy.  It contained no autobiographical elements.
 I had no intentions of writing another one, or making it a gimmick at the conclusion of Athena Departs.  Cowboy Blue’s personality, the landscape he traverses, the woman he’s convinced is his salvation, and finally the addition of two other male characters—as well as a volatile third  female to the family—culminated into a full literary Western in the last two months. 
I’ve been writing pieces of it for over a year.  Like Poe with his short stories, I often don’t know where each chapter is going, or even if these chapters will stay in the sequence in which they are written.  Putting all melodrama aside, a whole portion of my life, and its angel/demon tug of war, has begun oozing into my pages whether I like it or not.  After Athena wrapped up, the tsunami of inspiration now free to engulf me has put Blue into clear focus.
All of my writing is either to enlighten on some level, entertain, never preach, or help me understand who and why I am.  The two men, or wolves, to ramble with Blue are Sword and Shadow and Father Hammer.  Both of these have distinct purposes and an amalgamation of several heroes who have helped me stay away from the abyss.  The fourth of these hoodlums is Lily.  She is sister to the Angel of War, and more ferocious than all other three, combined.  Blue and Lily have a volatile love/hate exchange for kisses and bar fights.
Blue searches for Miss Dixie, which is a journey that is not easy by any means.  I do not dramatize or hide or apologize for any of the details in this story.  It’s far too long to add to the end of Athena Departs, and I think that’s what is best.  As I have entered “the midpoint of my life,” I, too, find myself in a dark wood, but I am not alone.  Blue is not alone.  He and his crew will burn that wood down to find Miss Dixie safe.
Yet, is Miss Dixie even real?  What war are these four fighting?  Is salvation possibly found in anyone but ourselves?  All Blue, Sword and Shadow, Father Hammer, and Lily know is that they are the only loyalty on this earth. There is always a good fight to be had, and putting down the bad man is more than likely “morally ambiguous.” 
My editor, close friend, and Sister of The Southern Collective Experience, Holly Holt, has been creating artwork for The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford I’ve had no influence to craft, and her results have taken me aback.  I say that without pandering to anyone or exaggerating for effect.  I have found that when you work with the right people for the right reasons to the best end – miracles happen every day.  This can be no truer than now.
Below are three excerpts from Blue Crawford that show  some of the American South’s song, its mountains, cities, glory, and decadent setting of this havoc, but also the Old Faith mysticism found below the Mason-Dixon I wish to breathe new life.  I have found peace in the bullets Blue throws at accidents made in the past.  All lost loves, contracts with the devil, promises to God, and hopes of a love that can make Blue simmer are here. 
The only thing Blue fears is Miss Dixie’s ghost giving up too soon, that his sins will make him suffer too soon, and that Lily will gut him before his madness takes them all the way of Ahab and his white whale.  This is a Western with a taste of the Far East, placed into today’s wild South where angels think twice before stopping by.
When a writer tells the absolute truth, to the right music, it is read as metaphor, though it is not.  The epic is slated to be published in 2017 on its own.  At this moment, there is talk of a companion book being released as well where the story is taken in new directions by poets who know me, personally, and see themselves as one of these heretical four horsemen.

Copyright 2015 -- Holly Holt
Image credit -- Holly Holt

Chapter 1

He is calm when it’s called for,
and reckless
at the right times.
Like a decent son,
when Sunday comes
back around,
Blue edges
in beside his momma
before she worries.
Every thief, harlot, and bandit
is cognizant of where God
looks for the saved:
sittin’ penitent beside
the prettiest boss.

Image credit -- Holly Holt

Image Credit -- Holly Holt

Chapter 11

Dear Oracle,
You are the Holy Designer of New Hope.
Hear him.  Blue is trying to thrive
even with the threat of being forgotten
is more destructive
than his more sociable drugs.

Image credit -- Holly Holt
Image credit -- Holly Holt

Chapter 12
It amounts to the cannon fodder
from Cowboy Blue's
Colt .45.
Miss Dixie is his done-in.
The last 365
have been an Averno
to swallow.
But for her,
Blue would engrave grief
into Mother Russia.
The heart is
what the heart makes.

Image credit: Holly Holt

Image credit: Holly Holt

Copyright 2015 -- JD Cagle

Bio: Clifford Brooks is a poet, teacher, and rebel working out his dreams in North Georgia. He and Joe Milford sat ten years ago mulling over how to pull a family, and business, out of art. Over that decade Clifford’s book, The Draw of Broken Eyes& Whirling Metaphysics, earned a Pulitzer and Georgia Author of the Year nomination. Yet, more importantly, his passion born sitting beside his best friend has come to fruition – The Southern Collective Experience is on the map. This collection of artists of all genres is still in its infancy, but can be found by the same name on Facebook and at He is nearing the completion of Athena Departs, a collection of verse that continues where his last book left off; and The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford, an epic with autobiographical intent.

If you would like to purchase The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics, see these links:

Copyright 2015 -- Mechelle Ballew

Image Credit -- Holly Holt

Athena Departs is also forthcoming.  The cover above is a joint effort between Ezra Letra and Holly Holt. The book's editor is JD Isip out of Texas A&M.