Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ode to Others

In two days my poetry collection, Written Life, will be released. Like much of my writing ride these past three years I find it hard to believe it is happening. I have been having so much fun writing, submitting, and waiting on the acceptances and rejections, that the big dates like this are almost surreal.

While people may think that poetry is easy and that this collection must have been easy to compile, I beg to differ. It's a little like Yoga or Golf, anyone who thinks they are easy sports has obviously never done them. These poems go back as far as five years, and to assemble over 60 of them takes work. Maybe not as much work as Dirty Shirt, but certainly work. Furthermore, working with poetry takes a different set of skills - those of brevity and word choice - than nonfiction does.

In the back of Written Life is a section called "Special Thanks" where I acknowledge those that have helped me in my appreciation of poetry and who have helped me make my work better. I wanted to call these people out in a bit more detail than is in the book.

Richard Brautigan (deceased). - This guy, one of the original Beats was the single largest contributor to my love of the craft. His quirkiness and genius run too deep to get ones arms around. Poems like Your Catfish Friend and Kafka's Hat, and the Galilee Hitch-Hiker are just a few of the wild poems that pulled me into his work. Crazy, poignant fun.

Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman. - These two edited VerseWisconsin up until a year ago. In 2010 I submitted a short little poem to them and I got an email reply from Sarah that she was "sitting here reading Anyone Seen Sally?" and laughing out loud and would I mind if they published it? It was my first real publishing and one that spurred my interest in getting more of my work out there. I still maintain contact with Sarah today and she was generous enough to give me a testimonial blurb for the back of Written Life. Good people and wicked-good poets.

Jeff Poniewaz (deceased) - When I first moved into Milwaukee his work Dolphin Leaping in the Milky Way was just released. I really related to his environmental advocacy and saw that poetry could be used as a platform. Jeff loved the natural environment and used words to shake things up. Sarah Busse does the same thing up in Madison. Putting poetry to work to change peoples' perceptions or at least cause them to pause and mull.

Mario, Kathrine, Karen and all the other AllWriters students who've crossed my path.
When I first met Mario he was writing poetry just for himself. He didn't realize it was nudging me into thinking I wanted to try my hand at it. When I did, I found support from others like Kathrine Y., Karen B., Kathy B., Johanna S, Alita B. and all the rest. They pushed me, laughed when I hoped they would and kept me honest.

Kathie Giorgio, - My first encounter with her class was in audit-mode, "to see if I liked it". I was intimidated and terrified. Her command of the classroom was impeccable. She kept critiques civil and supportive, yet honest. She told me to stretch myself as a writer through my poetic dabblings. She and her husband Michael are much of the reason I am where I am as an author.

eLectio Publishing - These guys made it happen. I cannot thank them enough for believing in my work, giving me a chance and making Written Life happen. They squeezed it in to an already busy year and were able to place it right before National Poetry Month. They have been nothing but helpful along the way. I am eternally grateful.

So, that's it. Some of the folks that brought me to this place. To these folks and to all of you who have ever told me you love my writing I want to say a whole hearted THANK YOU.

I can't wait to hear what people think about this somewhat unknown side of my life - my Written Life.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Home of the Brave

My wife reminded me that this weekend is the twenty seventh anniversary of our first meeting. The full story has been blogged about before in my Mail Order Bride post. She mentioned that the decision to be brave and come and visit me from NY to Milwaukee changed the trajectory of her life forever.

It changed mine too.

Her brother, who now lives in Milwaukee mentioned it changed his life too. (He went to Carroll College, lived with us for a couple years and stayed in the area after graduating.)

When you think of it, it's kind of stunning how one decision can change the lives of three people. I happens every day I suppose, but sometimes it gets lost in the big picture.

I think back to the biggest, bravest step I took. It was during the summer of 1986. I had been  unemployed for nearly six months. My unemployment checks were starting to count down to zero. Strangely enough, after a softball game one night, I ran into one of my co-workers who was laid off at the same time. He said he'd gotten a job in the Milwaukee area and thought he'd be able to get me one too. The allure of a job in mapping with the chance at "computer mapping" or CAD training, was too good to pass up.

When I told Mom, she was both skeptical and hopeful. I think she thought I was jumping the gun and hadn't thought things through, but again, when you're unemployed and there's the possibility of a job and some experience, you tend to jump.

And jump I did,

Within a month I was bumping down the road with a U-Haul packed and towed behind my Ford Escort.

I was scared out of my mind. So many unknowns. I was driving to a new life.

Well, obviously it all turned out alright. There was a time about a year or two into my life here where I was looking to get back to the Twin Cities. I actually had the St. Paul Sunday paper delivered to where I was living so I could look through the want ads. It was an exercise in futility.

Ultimately, I feel I was meant to be here all along anyways. To go back, as much as it would be nice to be closer to family, would be admitting defeat in a way. Besides, after I met Donna and we put our roots down here, we developed friendships, careers and, in every way, made Wisconsin our home. At the same time, we've both encouraged our kids to do the same; flee the nest and start a new life somewhere else when that time comes. Sarah's already taken the first step by attending school in Minnesota -- sort of a complete reversal of my path in life.

Since the move here, I've lived in six different places in Milwaukee and Waukesha. I've become a Packers/Brewers/Bucks/Badgers fan. I've met the nicest people on the planet. I've been fortunate to hold jobs I love for over 27 years. I raised a family of two great kids.

Most importantly though, my brave step led to the brave step of the woman I would fall in love with. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Be brave.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekly Swings

It's been one of the stranger weeks in a while for a number of reasons. It was a week full of brokenness and beauty, all rolled up into one. Just when I got to thinking that life couldn't get any better I'd get steamrolled by some sadness or unexpected surprise that would take me back to reality.

Because our realities include both the highs and the lows. It's how we deal with each that determines the trajectory of our future in many respects. We were just talking today in church about how someone who was "wounded" in their church experience can continue to point back to it as the cause for this or that, or they can choose to say it was part of what got them to "here." 

Which is really a great summary of tomorrow and yesterday. We take what we've been through, or what we will be going through and use it to either make us better, more mature, or wear it as a badge that defines us forever. 

The choice is ours.

As I said, my week had lots of ups and downs. Here's a sampling.

  • UP: My daughter came back from a trip to Atlanta visiting a friend. It was so good to see her and get our house back to "full" again. As the week went on we got back into our "ships passing in the night" mode. Routines kicked in and there were friends to visit and sleep to be caught up on. Still, when we were together at meal times, it was really good. We're like a three wheeled car when she's not around. It felt good to get back to cruising speed again for a bit.
  • DOWN: I talked with a friend who got news that her mom might have cancer. She asked for prayers because she knows my faith is deep and that I've been through this kind of thing before. News like this stops me in my tracks. It's sobering and yet, I realize the only thing I can do is pray. And so it goes.
  • UP: My friend turned 50 last weekend. His wife threw a big party for him with about 100 of
    his friends and family. At the event, I couldn't help but look around at all the friends and family mingling and eating together and thinking THIS IS IT! This is what life is about. Celebration in the big collective. It was an diverse group of all ages and races. It was brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, parents and children. Beneath the surface though, there were also "brothers by other mothers," and "soul sisters." These are the people each of us have in our lives that feel close enough to us that it's almost like another sibling.
  • DOWN: We got a call from our son on Friday telling us his friend had backed into our Santa Fe and knocked out a taillight. This is coming off a recent accident where Ben was at fault, so it kind of took our breath away. Luckily for us, their insurance will cover it. I was surprised at how well Ben handled it. We were actually able to laugh at the situation over dinner. This family is bigger than what we own. 
  • UP: Saturday was a spectacular day and night spent with my wife and friends at the Steaming Cup and Bernies Tap Room chatting, watching NCAA basketball, and best of all, listening to our friend Nick Konkle (aka SnowCap Weber) play an acoustic set in front of a full house at the Steaming Cup. Good friends, conversation, drinks, and music is all good for the soul. People and connections are what it's all about.
So it goes. Up and down, this tire swing called life. We gain breath in our lungs at the highest point in the arc of the swing so we're ready when it gets knocked out of us when we hit the tree. 

The whole week could be summed up in what I saw while walking back from writing class last week. I walk at night and so it was about 9:30. Class always energizes me so I was feeling great during the walk in the cool March air.  Then, a few blocks from home I saw a rat the size of a small cat walking down the sidewalk across the street. There was a guy walking toward it that quickly took a detour around the vermin. I thought that kind of sums up life. 

Just when you think its all yellow brick road, there's a rat to bring you back around.

Here's hoping your week has more ups than downs. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Written Life - Sneak Peek #3

With the release of Written Life less than two weeks away, I wanted to finish up my sneak peek at what's inside as well as give you a background on who and what inspired me to start writing poetry in the first place.

When I first enrolled in AllWriters Workplace and Workshop, my group included writers of all genres. It was kind of eye-opening being around such a diverse group of talented writers. A couple of them were writing exclusively poetry which intrigued me for some reason. I thought back to grade school when we were asked to pick a poem, dissect it and report on it. When I finished my report I remember my teacher Mr. Gallett came up and complemented me on my analysis. Somehow that stuck with me, as did my interest in the construction and deconstruction of a poem.

Anyways, after listening to these poets for a few months, I decided to give it a try. It was difficult at first, but after I had my first poem accepted for publishing, things just kind of took off. So after writing them for 6 years, I've finally gotten around to compiling the best into a collection. The collection is Written Life and it will be released on 3/31/2015. Here's more about what's in it.

As I mentioned in past posts, the poems are organized by themes, ten in total. This week I'll cover the last four themes.

On Death

As morbid as this theme sounds, it's a necessary one. Part of poetry is the healing it sometimes provides to both reader and writer. We've had our share of tragedy and death in our family that when I stepped back and looked at the entirety of my work, it appeared to be a theme that needed to be addressed. It's not all gloom and doom. There is a hint of humor in a couple of them as well.

On Youth

This theme looks at my own youth, growing up as a latchkey kid in Minnesota, but also looks at youth through my eyes as a father. It's my hope that the subjects I cover in these resonates with the kid in everyone. From pre-teen to eighteen, I climb into the mind of a kid growing up in the Midwest, in the 70's and today.

On Religion

Religion means different things to different people. To some it brings back bad memories, to others, it's the foundation of their lives. This theme addresses who God is, how he is among us, and in us. It looks at Heaven and Angels and even Nuns - at least from my parochial school perspective. It asks God the hard questions as a way of working them out.

On Writing

Because it has become such a big part of my life in recent times, I put together some of my works that serve a couple of functions. They pay homage to some of the great beat poets that have influenced me. And also they address the process and the people that have helped pave the way for me on my journey.

And so, that is some of what the collection is about. I think there's something for everyone in this book. I can't wait to talk more about the book at my Written Life Release Party on April 11th at Cafe De Arts in Waukesha at 2:30 PM.

Don't miss it!

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fishing for Spring

Spring seems to be approaching fast and furious this year. We've had a decent stretch of weather ranging in temperature from 40's to the 60's. The warm weather has me thinking thoughts of open water and fishing. Whether it is from my kayak, my buddy's boat, or from a dock somewhere, it is one of my favorite warm weather activities. Because I've been doing it for decades, I have a number of great fishing memories. Here are a few that include a broad range of friends and family.

For a short time in the late 60's my mom dated a guy who had a cabin in Hibbing, Minnesota. One weekend he took her and all of us kids up to it for a weekend of fishing and swimming. In the early morning hours on Saturday, my brother Tom took Rob and I out fishing. All three of us caught northern pike. It was both Rob and my first northerns, a sizeable upgrade from the many panfish we had caught over the years.

More importantly, it put the three of us brothers in the boat at the same time. I'm sure it was stressful for Tom to have to watch over us. I'm also sure there were crossed lines and hook sticks. But ultimately we had fun and caught fish. It showed Rob and I that Tom knew what he was doing and was out to see that all of us have a good time.

Mille Lacs 
Fast forward to 2004 and once again got all four brothers got together on a guided fishing trip on Lake Mille Lacs. We had two boats, but a full day of fishing and some great laughs on the water.


This was our kids' first real exposure to fishing. They've been hooked ever since.
South Dakota
We fished for trout in a reservoir near Hill City and had the best time. Everyone caught something and it helped make a good vacation into a great vacation.

Uchi Lake, Ontario
This was a memorable trip for many reasons. Fly-in, fantastic fishing, Canadian sunsets and a ton of laughs. It also changed the relationship between me and my friend Steve. We are kindred fishing spirits now. 

Unnamed Lake in Northern WI
There is a lake in Vilas County that has consistently produced muskies for me. It is where I got my first and also where my daughter got her first Tiger. I'm not saying where. But two very special moments for sure. 


Clean air and water, lots of fish and countless good memories with my brothers, nieces and nephews. 

So, you can see why I live for ice-out on the lakes. It brings me together with family and friends (and sometimes very necessary alone-time) to catch fish, goof around in the boat, and connect on a whole different level. It is something I hope to do a lot more of in the coming years. It's my happy place.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Written Life - Sneak Peek #2

My poetry collection, Written Life,  comes out on March 31st, which is a little less than three weeks away. Note that my Release Party is scheduled for April 11th. It will be held at Cafe De Arts in downtown Waukesha from 2:30 - 4:00 PM. It should be a lot of fun. I've grown to kind of like these public appearances because it gives me a chance to talk and laugh with my readers.

About the book's cover. This week I submitted cover ideas to the publisher. This cover was a bit more difficult to pin down what I really wanted. Because my subjects are so broad ranging, I didn't really have one central theme to build a cover around. For this reason, my emphasis was on a simplistic cover with a cool font. I ran some ideas past a few friends and think I have a good start. (I even had a little fun with theoretical sasquatch, narwahl and unicorn covers.) Hopefully by next week at this time I'll have cover art to show.

So, last week I covered the first three themes in the collection, namely, Home, Place and Pets. This week I'd like to focus on the next three, so here goes.

  • On Life
These pieces focus on a variety of questions a person struggles with in their mid-life years. Many of the poems jump between the past, present and future tense as I try and figure out what it all means. They take a look at the big picture and remind the reader that none of this thing we call life is a guarantee, so take it, grab it and make it beautiful.

  • On Family
Growing up in a big family, it seemed I was never lacking for a good poem based on my experience growing up. These poems cover the broad spectrum of family, both immediate, and extended. It's brothers, sisters, fathers, sons, mothers and daughters. The joy and fun is mixed in with the tragedy and sorrow. It even includes a couple of cars that were part of the family.

  • On Love
We've all felt it, fell into it, fell out of it, loved it, hated it, dreaded it, and looked forward to it. This short collection of poems covers everything from the love of a mother to the love of a long marriage. It talks about galactic love and love as big as a Great Lake. 

So that's the next installment of a sneak peek. Next week I'll finish up with the last four themes and talk a bit more about the whole poetry compilation process.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hopes and Dreams

It seems for the moment that spring has set foot in Southeastern Wisconsin. We hit 45 degrees yesterday, all of that and then some today and the next few days should be as good or better.

You don't have to look back too many posts to see the sorry state I was in just a little over a week ago with regards to winter. (See: Parting Thoughts). I and the rest of my family were at wits end with winter. We'd reached that end-of-February "give up" stage. You know the one. Where you give up caring about shoveling, you give up trying to keep the cold out by just cranking the heat higher, and you give up to a certain degree with your personal appearance. My wife and I each have a favorite sweatshirt/fleece that keeps us toasty. The problem is, it becomes the be-all/end-all of our post-work attire. Luckily we can laugh about our hopeless condition, both of us swearing that we'll burn the items when it warms up.

Well, most of the winter blues started to drift away a couple of days ago. Ben and I and a couple of friends went to the Journal Sentinel Sports Show on Friday. It has become a tradition with Ben that I have grown to really enjoy. The best part of it every year is that it give me HOPE. Hope that this dreadful winter will one day end. Hope that the lakes will thaw - and stay thawed. Hope that I can one day wear a coat that doesn't weigh 10 pounds.

Yes, just being around the boats and tents and deer stands and motorcycles gets Ben and I jazzed for spring and summer. We started talking about our coming trip to the BWCA in June. Ben bought a pocket knife for the occasion as well as for a trip to the Porcupine Mountains that he's taking with a friend and his father this summer. As a tradition, we both tried our hands at the Daniel Boone BB Gun marksmanship range. I managed to do okay this year, scoring a 46 (with 50 being the high score.) Keeping my day job though.

We dream about that $30,000 pontoon or that Stingray speedboat. We salivate over the $24,000 fishing boats. We watch the dogs as they respond to their trainers and dream about Toby doing that.  (yeah, right). We even joke about the Sham-Wow display. Like Ben says, they take your money and when you get home you realize it's all a sham and you say, Wow!

It is total escape from the dirty snow and road salt of early March.

And right now, it is all the hope I can ask for.

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Written Life - Sneak Peek #1

My poetry collection, Written Life,  comes out on March 31st. In order to give a sneak peek at what it's all about, once a week for the next few weeks I'll be blogging about some of the content. It will give you a flavor for what's inside and hopefully pique your interest.

The Written Life collection is comprised of about sixty poems.  They are broken up by theme, with each theme having between five and nine poems. Like other genres, poetry kind of hangs the author out there on the scarecrow post for all the world to see. It also may expose more of him/her than other genres do at times.It is my hope that my poems will make the reader laugh, cry, think, reflect and occasionally make them go hmmm...

The first three themes are:

  • On Home
This theme focuses on the obvious. Houses and homes almost become characters in some of these poems. So much of our adult life is shaped by the home we remember. Then, when we become owners ourselves we forge our new identities around our living spaces. In these poems I write about houses old and new and all of the joy and sorrow that goes into home ownership.

  • On Place
Places both near and far are addressed in these works. Places that evoke a feeling or emotion or memory. These could include a building, a park, or even a whole state. These poems will take you to wide open spaces and small cramped places, cold dry places and places of warmth and love.

  • On Pets
Growing up, our house seemed to have a revolving pet door. We were forever picking up strays, castaways, rescues and irresistible "freebies." Everyone with a soul has had a pet they loved at some time and these poems get at the heart of human/animal relationships. Most are lighthearted romps with dogs and cats of yesterday and today.

So, that is the first peek at the coming collection. When I've done readings, I have had a number of people tell me "I don't normally like poetry, but I like your poetry, which is about the best compliment a poet could get, I figure. I think you'll agree. 

Sunday's post will be back to regular programming, but next Thursday I''ll take another look at then next three themes of Written Life

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Icing, Slashing, Hooking and Bonding

I went to the Admirals semi-pro hockey game on Friday night with my son Ben and his friend. My wife managed to notice the advertisement for at the bottom of her grocery receipt there was mention of three free tickets to a game. Thinking there would be a catch, I was fully prepared to have to buy one or more out of pocket when I got there. Turns out they were all free. Throw in a lucky free parking spot on the street and you have a great, affordable night out with the boys.

Now, I haven't been to an Admirals game in at least twenty years. I don't know why, I just haven't. I've been meaning to get Ben to a game for three years, so this was our chance.

Ben had been to a game about two weeks prior. A friend got him into a luxury box seat for free through the friend's father. I told Ben he'd been spoiled, and that any other seat would be a disappointment after that.

When I asked him how the game was, he said it was awesome. He said he really enjoyed it, "and there were three fights, dad." Of course, we all know fighting is part of hockey. I'm not saying I condone it or that it's a good thing, but like crashes at Nascar, it's part of the train wreck that the sport becomes at times. -And I say 'sport' loosely when I refer to Nascar, but I digress.-

During the course of the game, I was reunited a game that I love to watch. It is certainly my favorite spectator sport, surpassing even football. It's fast paced, physical and chaotic. I told Ben, part of the allure is taking grown men, putting them on a blade that requires balance on a slippery surface and telling them to skate really fast and bash into each other. Oh, and give them a hooked stick and make them slap a hard piece of rubber at each others shins, groins and sometimes faces.

What's not to like about that? 

Oh yeah, and then throw a couple of referees out there without any sticks and a lot less padding and make them get in the way once in a while.

Yeah, yeah, do that.

And make the walls of the place out of clear plexiglass that shudders like death when one of them is checked into it. 

Yeah, yeah, and make checking legal. Make slamming into a guy in a corner at high speed legal in order to:
  1. take the puck from him
  2. keep him from getting the puck
  3. get even with him for slamming you the same way earlier
  4. make the crowd go wild
  5. make him remember your number next time he's looking over his shoulder
It's mad fun.

Yes it's violent, but so is football. I told Ben that as long as it wasn't my son out there getting his teeth knocked out, I was okay with it. Hazards of the job I guess you'd call it.

It also takes great skill and finesse at times. Watching these guys hit pin-point passes was impressive. And one of the goals I saw scored was nothing short of stupefying. 

It's part circus, part ballet, part rugby, part boxing match, part Ice Capades, with a dash of the Three Stooges for good measure.

And the crowd gets into it too. When the Grand Rapids Griffins scored in the first period, a guy a few rows behind us shouted at the top of his lungs, "You guys still suck!"

It's a thinking fan's game.

He went on to repeat it a little louder three more times, as the Admirals lost 4-0. It got a little funnier each time, at least to my sixteen year old and his friend and I. Probably says something about my maturity. 

But hey, when your team's down 4-0, you gotta laugh at something.

The other highlight was the human hockey puck bowling event at the end of the second period. Who says you have to be sophisticated to be a hockey fan? 

It was rich. >>>

Midway through the third period a fight eventually broke out and sent an Admirals player to the penalty box. 

I think he's still serving his sentence. 

He got 10 to 20 for assault.

The key to the evening is I seem to have interested Ben as a hockey fan. He really likes it. We had some great laughs and unlike baseball, he kept focused on the game the whole time. 

So I hope to see a lot more Admirals hockey in the future. Hopefully next time we'll even score a goal.

Blogging off...