some poems online
scheduled readings

case sensitive: get it here

July 2006
3 5 7
9 11 13 15
17 21
23 25 27 29

eod archives
kickingwind home

first-book & other interviews:


$650 apartment for $650
aaron mccollough
ada limon
al filreis
almost i rushed from home
adam clay
amanda earl
amy king's blog
annandale dream gazette
a peek of reach
a sad day for sad birds
asthma chronicles
attention without a me
a tonalist notes
a view from the potholes
a walk around the lake
bemsha swing
bewilderment inc.
big window
black and white
the blind chatelaine's keys
bob marcacci
both both
brandon brown
bread and jam for frances
the brother swimming beneath me
the burning chair
cahiers de corey
can of corn
catherine daly's blog
chicago postmodern poetry
chicana poetics
chicks dig poetry
clay matthews

collin kelley
critical fiction
culture industry
dbqp: visualizing poetics
delirious hem
the desert city
the dishwasher's tears
DIY poetics
DIY publishing
do gummi bears dream
effing blog
elective annoyance
elephant seals negate
esther press
eyeball hatred 
fait accompli
fewer & further
frank sherlock
fringe matters
geneva convention
goodness gracious
harlequin knights
here comes everybody
hg poetics
home-schooled by a cackling jackal
human's animal
hyacinth losers
i am yer grammer
i'll show you mine
in place of chairs
intagliod up in blue
iron caisson
ironstone whirlygig
isola di rifiuti
ivy is here
jake adam york
jane dark's sugarhigh!
jeannine blogs
kaya oakes
lance phillips
leftover flying
lemon hound
lime tree
little red's recovery room
love and coffee
the lovely arc
lovers' last go around
lutheran surrealism
maryrose larkin
mindful ramblings
minimalist concrete poetry
minor american
modern americans
mr. tong bliss' journal
the neglectorino project
nervous unto thirst
never mind the beasts

nice guy syndrome
nothing to say and saying it
now then
omnidawn blog
paul hoover's poetry blog
the pangrammaticon
peek thru the pines
philly sound
poetry hut
poesy galore
poets' corner
poet with a day job
pshares blog
pudgy pigeon enterprises
pugnacious pinoy
qbdp: the mailartworks
radish king
reader of depressing books
reli[e]able signs
reginald shepherd's blog
rob mclennan's blog
rocket kids
rue hazard
samizdat blog
sandra alland's blog-like entity
sandra simonds swims and swims
say something wonderful
serif of nottingham
shanna compton's blog
silliman's blog
slicker chumway's
slim windows
spoke to the world on the phone
spooks by me
stamped & metered flying fish
the steinach operation
stephen vincent
texfiles in bahrain
they shoot poets don't they
third factory
this is all your fault
this morning in poetry
tom raworth's notes
twenty thousand thousand
the unquiet grave
unreliable narrator
virgin formica
voices in utter dark
voix off
the well-nourished moon
what an errand knave
wild horses of fire
wind meals
wood s lot
the word cage
yes, starlings! yes!

you are here
ysleta poeta
zach barocas

journals/small press/reviews:

6 X 6
abraham lincoln
above/ground press
absent magazine
action yes
ahsahta press
alice blue
big game
bird dog
black lodge press
black ocean press
the brooklyn rail
calamari press
chax press
coldfront magazine
the constant critic
the cultural society
cy gist press
cy press
effing press
faux press e chapbooks
fewer & further press
flim forum press
free verse
galatea resurrects
g o n g press
half empty/half full
the hat
hot whiskey press
hooke press
horse less press
house press
how2/barbara guest memory bank
katalanche press
kitchen press
konundrum engine literary review
la petite zine
lame house press
little red leaves
new pages
no tell motel

omg press
the page
phylum press

poetry 365
the poker
portable press at yo-yo labs
rain taxi
rhubarb is susan
rose metal press
rust buckle
skanky possum
sona books
tool a magazine
three candles
transmission press
ugly duckling presse
wintered press
wire sandwich
word for/word

selby's list


The Continental Review
Kelly Writers House webcasts

miPOradio POdcast
Naropa archives
Rabbit Light Movies
to the sound
a voice box




every other day

9 JULY 06

Even the lawn is a catastrophe of spirits.


7 JULY 06

How has your first book changed your life?

16.  Raymond McDaniel

Murder (a violet)

Had you sent out your manuscript often before it was chosen for the National Poetry Series?

Interesting story. I sent Murder out to a few contests the year I finished it and received some nice comments--I still think those little notes, often comprised of nothing more than "Hey, neat!", are the greatest and most meaningful expressions of appreciation I could ever hope for--but no one picked it up. I took the following summer to revisit the manuscript and modified the table of contents, so that each poem came with a sort of précis as to its relationship to the larger narrative. Every contest I entered after that put me somewhere closer to the innermost ring: semi-finalist, quarter-finalist, finalist, and then the National Poetry Series. Didn't change a single word in a single poem; just offered a little how-to guide. I'm still not sure if this contains a lesson I'd be happy to broadcast to others, but there it is.

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

I was visiting my mom in Florida, where I was born, and where I had begun the book three years prior--a pleasing echo. And of course there's nothing like having a parent there to proudly misestimate the importance of your book. Other than encouraging my mom to rein in her inappropriate excitement, I recall how odd it was just to see the thing lying around--to open the book, to read it, that was inevitably a disappointment, both because I was so bored and frustrated with the words after having edited them to within an inch of their lives, and because I naturally still wanted to re-write the poems even as I read them. But then I'd catch sight of it, and it would take me a moment to recognize what it was. There was a lot of "Hey, that person has my last name" and "Looks good. What is it?" and similarly confused delight. I had to keep sneaking up on the manifest reality of My Book from a childlike perspective, recalling that the little kid who said he'd write books was now getting a glimpse into some alternate future, in which he actually had.

Were you involved at all in the cover design?

Coffee House, of which I cannot speak highly enough, has a good veto policy in terms of book design. You cannot design the book yourself, but you can establish a fairly intensive list of what you don't want. In my case, I didn't want a "representative" image--I had nightmares of some artfully-composed photograph of a discreetly naked woman hefting a pole-ax. Fortunately, the designer, Linda Koutsky, found this marbled paper, the abstract vigor of which speaks to the mood of the book quite well. Unfortunately, I didn't exercise my veto power over the cover font quickly enough, and I still think it looks a little too Medieval Times for my taste. The page fonts and layout, however, I find utterly gorgeous.

Even more proof of Coffee House's devotion and passion: as you know, the book is meant to be read non-sequentially, unbound. Allan Kornblum and the redoubtable Chris Fischbach actually looked into doing this--to printing each poem on card stock and shipping it in a box. Alas, it costs more to print a book unbound than it is to bind it, but that they would even consider such a thing earns the stalwarts at the press my undying loyalty.

Did you actually arrive at the sequence in Murder by just tossing the pages in the air and picking them up off the floor at random?
I did. When I started Murder I didn't think at all about how or when it would be published, and in fact I entered the project as a preservation of privacy. I hadn't written poetry in a long time, and I thought maybe I could get back into it if I wrote something that I knew would never see the light of day. But when I was done, or done enough, I no longer felt that the poems required such severe isolation. I wanted to see what strangers thought--and in order to do that, I had to adhere to the rules of submission, which necessitate a "manuscript" format. With no idea of how to generate one without violating the logic of the work, I retreated to random action.
Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change somehow with its arrival?

Maybe some small, stupid part of me held out hope that The Other Kids would collapse, stunned, at the force of my mighty, mighty work. Of course, this is that same part of my mind that's still waiting to develop super-powers and that insists a resurgence in progressive politics is possible after all. We try to kill these things, but they are hardy weeds indeed.

Other than the tinny din of my shamelessly deluded reptile brain, I didn't expect much. I've been at this for a while, and I've also worked as a bookseller and advocate for others' work for very many years, so I know the fate of most books, certainly of most books of poetry.

Creatively speaking, I was just happy to get that character out of my head. Three years is a long time to spend with a soldier-girl suffering from dissociative lyric disorder lurking about your every thought.

Has your life been different since? Were there things you thought would happen that didn't?

It hasn't much changed. I'm happy to have written the book and have it ushered into the world, but like I said, I wasn't expecting a revolution, and I didn't get one.

To the degree that anyone knows who I am at all, they know me (I think) via my work at The Constant Critic. I thought maybe that the publication of the book would shift me over from the Critic column to the Poet column, but I'm still far more likely to be identified as the guy who didn't like Dancing in Odessa than anything else. I also thought that I might be subject to some revenge-reviews, but I was thankfully spared that fate, though the one negative review I did receive referred to me as "Ray"--the name I publish criticism under--and not "Raymond," the name under which I publish my poetry. Hm. I've also got a theory about what really happened on the grassy knoll, and don't even get me started on Area 51.

What did you do to promote the book?

I don't think I did as much as I could have. I was limited in some ways by geography and finances: I teach full-time and run a reading series, and it doesn't leave me much time to go jaunting off on my own behalf, which you have to do when you live in Michigan. No Brooklyn Mafia for me, alas, though I bless them and their collective works. I'm also just not very good at getting my name out there, frankly. I prefer to think of poetry as a gift economy, and in that regard I very much like helping and promoting others. I'm good at it, I enjoy it. Now, you would think that with years of hosting readings and selling books, I would have done a better job of developing a tactical mind and cultivating useful "alliances," but no.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? (or) What was the best advice you got?

The best advice I ever received, and it's common enough but worth repeating, is that one cannot get anywhere by half-measures. In poetry, to do something neatly and safely is fatal; what is worth doing is worth overdoing. It was only when I committed fully to the specificity of Murder with no thought as to its seemliness or appropriateness that I was able to write a book that someone wanted to publish. Do what you have to do, the way you have to do it--simple to say, wicked to execute.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

The book's publication earned me a publisher. Coffee House accepted the second manuscript before the first even hit the shelves, God preserve them, and thus I have time and room to maneuver without wondering if anyone will ever look askance at me again. Publication also reinforced the legitimacy of the advice detailed above.

How great that Coffee House picked up your second manuscript before the first book even was out. At what point did you pitch it to them? (or did they ask?)
Coffee House has a minor first-look clause in their standard contract, which means that they'll take a peek at whatever's next on their author's slate before it gets sent out into the wilds. It's quite gracious, really, and even more proof that the press commits to its writers. In my case, I had a manuscript ready for reading (though not publishing) right as Murder was coming out, and Chris was gentleman enough to consider it and take it on.
When will the second book be published?
Early winter, 2008. I'm actually glad now that there will have been a significant gap between titles [the first came out in 2004], because this second book--Saltwater Empire--occurs largely in the coastal Deep South, and I wanted a chance to incorporate Katrina and Rita into the narrative, which the interlude has given me a chance to do.

Are you planning to do anything differently when it's published (based on your experiences with your first book)?
I'll certainly do more to get it out in the world, so that there aren't multiple copies left lying around the Coffee House offices, serving as coasters or propping up imbalanced desks. And I'll try to get back down south for a few more readings, since the book depends so heavily on those places, and my sense of them.
Here's one thing I won't do: if invited to sign at a regional trade show, I'm going to feign a seizure and opt out. When Murder came out I read at the GLBA conference and then sat at a signing booth for an hour--now, while the GLBA is a vital and necessary organization, I know perfectly well that most of the folks who lined up to get a signed copy of a book of poetry were not poetry readers, and would not be rushing home to wallow in the delights of my peculiar verse. How do I know? Well, for one thing, no one in the signing line wanted a book inscribed, but everyone wanted a signature, and soon thereafter very many copies of Murder appeared for sale on Amazon: Signed by Author! Brand New! So sad. On the other hand, now that I can buy it by the dozens at a buck-oh-five a pop, I can send Murder to all sorts of people who would never otherwise hear of it. Make a movie I like, get Murder in the mail. It's a potlatch of the damned.
How do you feel about the critical response? Has it had any effect on your writing?

Has there been a critical response? Where?

Actually, there were a few nice pieces here and there, and I'm very grateful for them, because they each put the lie to the assertion that the book was too weird or willful or cussedly unfashionable to understand. People got it. And best of all, some of the people who got it weren't even my beloved smart-arsed colleagues and allies--the most surprising set of responses came from arts weeklies and pop culture zines. An endorsement from within the tribe can mean a lot, but it doesn't approach the value of getting a letter from a comic book shop owner, or an ex-soldier, or a surly hyper-bright senior at a Catholic girl's school, each of whom locked into the very heart of the insoluble moral dilemma I was trying to express.
Do you want your life to change? Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek? Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

I want the world in which I live to change first, please. I cannot stop thinking about the power and resources at our disposal, and how we could have--can--contrive things so, I don't know, other than this. Poetry is never going to directly induce that level of change (nor should it, lest it become indistinguishable from those authorities it ought to upset), but it can remind people, and teach them to realize in practice, that things can be made--literally made--different, and differently. If anything I write starts that cascade in someone else's mind, then I will have paid some small measure of the debt I owe. And then I can go fight for water rights and gay marriage and the renewal of Battlestar Galactica and the countless things the age demands.


Three poems at random from Murder (a violet)
by Raymond McDaniel:


gardens and walls

this emabassy of the bamboo

although brief

the affections

by which our home is made



returned to the academy and the water yard

the sound

discussion of colossi migrating into sand

erosion words whispering beneath the door

It does not matter if I do not know so long as someone does


pax dei

the peace of god does not desire excuses

does not want to occupy her sentiments;

the first moment through the door from snow to mid-axis

collision of birdcall all florid
and elsewhere

carnal transfer of snow to salt

(walk down to that city and kill all who speak ill of me)

do you wish back the peace of god?

the first dead body is just weight

awful mass
without the idiot spirit

lower your head the hood for blessing

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .


5 JULY 06

Week 19, 14 sentences:

They have no art. All they have are their ideas--about how life should be. You must prepare yourself. To continue as you have been, press one.

Everything was becoming darker. Oh, it's raining now. These things happen when you travel. "Outside" is... outside of me. I don't want to think about it.

"The herd at rest." He predicts a long summer of diplomacy. Something involving the trombone player? I don't know. Pass the butter, please?


3 JULY 06

The poets are excited, extensively
current, over functional my real point
is likes poetry consistent
but of livid are the case, are the centerpiece forgetful
like I'm all by so cram regional
the few of us to once I could begin to
fattens mix (lyric bricks).

"I wonder what it's like out. Will there be any of those petals they sometimes have for me?"


1 JULY 06

How has your first book changed your life?

15.  Simmons B. Buntin


What do you remember about the day when you first saw your finished book?

Not as much as I'm now thinking I should... I remember receiving a package of 20 copies of Riverfall via air mail from Ireland. My two initial reactions: 1) the cover design and colors are beautiful (it was designed by a local artist, a former co-worker), and 2) the cover is shinyRiverfall has a glossy cover, reflective of the watery design, the collection's title, and I think the nautical nature of many of the poems themselves. 

I had reviewed the galleys of the interior pages three separate times during production, so my initial focus was on the cover itself, the quality of the stock, the feel of the book in my welcoming hands.

That evening, I read through the entire book--my book--the culmination not only of years of writing poems, but nearly as many years waiting for the book to be published. All of the waiting now was worth it, as I knew it would be.

How did you happen to be publishing with Salmon? I thought they only published Irish authors.

Salmon Publishing is based in County Clare, Ireland, and is one of Ireland's foremost publishers of poetry, especially poetry by Irish women. But it also has a rich history of publishing American poets like R.T. Smith and Adrienne Rich. Jessie Lendennie, the publisher, is herself American, hailing from Arkansas before moving to Ireland in the early 1980s.

Jessie contacted me after she saw some of my work in Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. She learned about Terrain.org, which I edit and publish, because we had requested a Salmon book to review for a forthcoming issue.

I was surprised and obviously delighted when she requested that I send her a manuscript, as I didn't have a manuscript together and was not considering book publication at all. In fact, when she contacted me in 1999 I had not been seriously writing poetry for four years, as I was in graduate school studying urban and regional planning. Revising and periodically sending out poems, yes, but not writing new poetry.

Initially I sent a joint collection of poetry and prose, which Salmon accepted about a month later. Yet after three years, after Salmon lost funding post-9/11, and after a series of missed publication dates, we mutually agreed that it would be best for me to withdraw the manuscript and try to find another publisher.

I was devastated. But I took the opportunity to tighten up the collection, starting with removing the prose pieces. By this time, I had been writing just a bit more poetry, so reworked the manuscript before sending it out to a handful of stateside book competitions.

About a year later, with no momentum in the contests, I had nearly given up altogether when Jessie sent an email asking if I had any luck finding another publisher. When I replied no, she said, "Then we better take it back." I was cautiously optimistic, letting her know I'd still be delighted for Salmon to publish the book, but that beyond the contract there had to be a real commitment and real publication date from the get-go. Jessie agreed, we set a publication date for spring/summer 2005, and Riverfall officially published in May 2005.

Before your book came out, did you imagine your life would change because of it?

Not overwhelmingly. I was originally going to respond, "not significantly," but that's not true. I think it is significant to publish a book, and therefore I did expect my life to change in small but significant ways.

How has your life been different since?

Since publishing--since ramping up for the publishing, really--I've been much more involved in the literary scene, both locally here in Tucson (such as with the University of Arizona's Poetry Center), online through the vast world of poet bloggers, and in other ways, like attending the AWP conference in Austin this year, which I otherwise would not have done. I've always been involved in literary pursuits because of Terrain.org, but never to this extent, and for poetry not with this kind of passion since I wrote most of the poems in the early 1990s.

In a more general--let's say neighborhood--context, being the "author of a book," and apparently any book by a respectable publisher, whatever that may be, has certainly piqued the interest of my neighbors, friends, and co-workers. It's another topic for conversation, certainly. A lot of that has to do with how I've marketed the book (see below), since I'm blatant but not obnoxious about promoting Riverfall

And I think--though I hesitate to say this for fear of sounding egotistical--that publishing a book has given me membership in the "book club." Not Oprah's, of course, but in the circle of folks who for better or worse are given more validity and perhaps greater venue because they have a book. That is noticeable, and while it could amount to classism in a way, I think of it more as a reward of publishing.

I'm not sure that Billy Collins, for example, would give a hoot (even though as a poetry whore I did slip him a copy of my book at a reading some months ago), but I did receive a friendly email from Brendan Galvin, following a favorable review in Shenandoah recently. Galvin is mentioned in a poem in the book, and has always been a poet whose work I've both admired and aspired to.

Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?

I thought it would be easier to set up readings and book signings at local, non-chain bookshops. For example, while I was able to hold a reading and signing at the exceptional bookstore The Tattered Cover in Denver, I was not able to set up anything at Boulder Bookstore, which I thought would be a lock. The Boulder Bookstore is where I spent many weekends perusing its poetry collection--where in fact I first was introduced to Mary Oliver's outstanding American Primitive.

I thought it might be easier to place the book for reviews. I was naïve in that capacity, which I admit is surprising because I'm an editor and realize that Terrain.org can only review perhaps 10 percent of the books we receive. And yet, I've been pleasantly surprised by the venues that have reviewed or at least mentioned the book, like Shenandoah and Books Ireland. Still, I'd like to see more reviews (favorable or not, frankly), so keep pushing it out there when I can.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the positive and I hope earnest response to Riverfall from other poets. Alison Hawthorne Deming, for example, forwarded some very kind words. Bloggers like Suzanne Frischkorn and Scott Edward Anderson have also been generous in their online (and offline) words. It's difficult if not impossible to be objective when it comes to your own work, so feedback from peers--even and perhaps especially if not positive--helps keep my balance.

What have you been doing to promote the book, and what have those experiences been like for you?

While every poet has to do a lot of his or her own legwork in promoting a book published by a small press, given my publisher is in Ireland and uses Dufour Editions for its North American distribution, I had no promotion assistance or funding provided by the publisher.

Fortunately for me, I'm not shy about promoting Riverfall. I've worked in marketing for many years, and as a web program manager (my paying gig), have plenty of experience promoting products both on- and offline. Well before publication, I built the book's website at www.riverfall.com, which contains everything from a PDF-based flyer to an events calendar to sample poems.  Once Salmon's online bookshop appeared, I linked to that so visitors could purchase the book.

Prior to publication I also set up as many readings as I could, with a two-pronged approach: 1) Local readings, since I live in Tucson, and 2) Colorado-based readings, since I wrote most of the poems when living in Colorado, received a Colorado Artists Fellowship for Poetry in 2000, and had more name recognition there than here in Tucson. 

I set up a fall "book tour" across Colorado, taking the family along and making a vacation out of the trip. I had to return three months later for The Tattered Cover reading, since the bookstore couldn't fit me in when I was up there, but that extra trip was well worth it for the exposure and the honor of reading at such a great venue with Lois Beebe Hayna. During the first road trip, I took advantage of fellow poet and Auburn University undergrad Jake Adam York to help set up a reading at the University of Colorado at Denver. Other readings included cafes, a new age bookstore in the mountains where the owner forgot I was coming until the day I arrived, a Kindergarten class, and a potluck at the Meeker town library. In some locations I sold books, and in some I didn't. Overall, I didn't sell as many books on that trip as I hoped, but I still had a really fabulous time.

Back at home, I hosted a book launch party at my house. Eighty friends and neighbors turned up and I sold far more books than I expected. I also set up readings at our neighborhood center as part of the community's speaker series (which not coincidentally I facilitate) and at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. I have yet to read at a local bookstore in Tucson--the one instance where I was set up to read, sadly the local independent bookstore closed its doors for good three weeks prior--but I have read at other venues like cafes. I admit I need to be more proactive about reading locally and across the state, but haven't had much luck with bookstores, much to my chagrin.

One of the challenges has been getting books to bookstores. Dufour Editions provides a six-month delay between European and North American publication. So while Riverfall originally published in May 2005 (and I began personally selling books then), Amazon.com, for example, did not officially list the book for sale until November. I've stocked local bookshops with my own copies on consignment.

In addition to readings and other public "appearances," the publisher, Dufour, and I have sent numerous review copies to the publications poems in Riverfall first appeared in, as well as other review publications, both print and online. While a poem from the collection has yet to appear in Poetry Daily or Verse Daily, I periodically remind them that one should! I have also sent the obligatory copies to relatives and friends, and unsolicited copies to poets I know and don't know. For example, I sent a copy to Brian Swann, OnEarth editor who has commented extensively on but never accepted any of my poetry submissions.

Once the book was available for purchase from the Salmon Publishing website, I sent an email to all of the fellow poets I know, such as those who have published in Terrain.org. It wasn't a sales pitch, but rather an announcement. I didn't want to abuse our relationship; but just as I appreciate hearing their good news, I hoped they would appreciate hearing mine, all the while spreading the news of the book.

Finally, I started a blog, with the goal not of overtly promoting Riverfall, but rather of discussing poetry and the environment, posting photographs, and sharing the other myriad things we all use our blogs for. Appropriately, the blog is riverfall.blogspot.com, and of course provides links to the Riverfall website.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?

Whether I got it or not, the best advice is: Be patient. Be persistent. Promoting a book of poetry is, alas, like any other art business, and requires the requisite networking, marketing, hand-shaking, public appearances, insider trading. That can and should all be done without arrogance, but like submitting poems to journals, it does require a bit of a thick skin. I believe it was fellow poet blogger Eduardo C. Corral who said to me--of my book signing at AWP but it applies everywhere--that no one will stand in line to see you, not until you're a famous poet. And maybe not even then.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

Just the energy around the forthcoming book was enough to fully launch me back into serious writing. For the first time in years, I carried a pocket-sized notebook and pen with me everywhere I went, filling it with notes, lines of poetry as they came to me, and, to my delight, scribbled drawings from my young daughters. I was also reading a lot more which, as any poet understands, made me want to write more. So from early 2005 through the summer I wrote a number of what I consider finished poems, and have submitted and had some accepted in journals like The Manhattan Review and the environmental magazine Orion. But since last fall, I haven't had as much opportunity to write--mostly because I took on a number of side jobs that left little time and, I hate to say, even less creativity. Still, as I've always known, the river is there: waiting to be waded again.

And I'd like to mention, too, that my book's publication--and my renewed vigor to write new poetry--have inspired my 8-year-old daughter to write poetry, as well.  And I'm amazed at its quality, unconstrained as it is by the rules we all learn in poetry classes at college and elsewhere.  She has read with me at a few readings now, and is always a tough act to follow!

How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?

I feel pretty good about the critical response. I think the reviews have been pretty spot-on with the book's strengths and weaknesses. But those public responses have had little if any impact on my writing overall.

What would have an impact, rather, would be a person or group that I'd share my draft poems with, who could provide critical feedback to help make the poems stronger. Unfortunately, I don't have that community--either local or online.

So, in part to get that kind of group and simply to force myself to write more, I will be attending graduate school once again beginning this fall. This time, however, I'll be pursuing the MFA in creative writing. Instead of poetry, though, I'm focusing on creative non-fiction. And when I say I'm pursuing the MFA, that's actually not what I'm doing at all. Yes, I'm a part of the MFA program here at the University of Arizona, but I'm not concerned about the degree per se. What I'm interested in is the courses themselves, the community of writers and faculty, the energy of the place and its people, the culmination of what should be a full manuscript, ready for publication when I'm done.

Do you want your life to change?

I suppose I do want my life to change: I want to write more, I want my writing to reach more people, and I want my writing to have an impact--a significant impact--on people's lives, and on the policies of the world.  So I not only want my life to change, but I want to change the lives of others.  That's not asking too much, eh?

The reason I chose to focus on creative non-fiction rather than poetry is not so much because I already have published a book of poetry and therefore feel I've learned as much in that genre as possible--because I certainly haven't--but rather because I think I can make a bigger impact through non-fiction than through poetry.

Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?

I hope that just about everything I'm doing now will bring about that change: entering the MFA program, writing, submitting, continuing to edit Terrain.org, reading widely, blogging, thinking holistically, thinking liberally, maintaining compassion, raising my daughters to explore the world, that they too will strive to make a difference.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

Yes, it already has and to some degree it will continue to create change in the world. Yet while I contend that poetry is the most noble of literary forms, it also has the smallest readership. Even though I think there is a Renaissance of sorts in poetry today--due in no small part to the Internet--the world of poetry writers and readers is nearly one and the same, and it's not very big at that.

That is one of the main reasons I am now pursuing creative non-fiction over poetry. In today's world, non-fiction has a significantly larger impact on the way people think and act than poetry, largely because it has a much wider readership. If my goal, as I've said, is to change the world, and non-fiction reaches more people, then using non-fiction as the tool to change the world makes sense. 

Logic aside, however, I think that non-fiction--the creative essay--works best when it is poetic; that in fact the essay as a tool is not so effective without its embedded poetry, even if the line breaks and to some degree the rhythm of poetry themselves are lost. I think of Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, Linda Hogan, Barry Lopez, David Quammen, and even Ed Abbey--the environmental essayists who have elevated the nature and/or natural history essay to a moving and essential literary art form by infusing it with poetry.

So while poetry can create change in the world, it cannot achieve the scale of change that the world needs. On the other hand, creative non-fiction--and the environmental essay particularly, in my case--can. And it must.


A poem from Riverfall by Simmons B. Buntin:


From the wire grass   resilience
From the white perch   balance
From the short-leaf pine   longevity
From the scrub oak   emigration
From the scrub jay   endeavor
From the ocelot   nurturing
From the deerfly   persistence
From the hyacinth   cleansing
From the dragonfly   agility
From the drosophila   translucence
From the black bear   strength
From the egret   nobility
From the aphid   appetite
From the striped bass   reflection
From the cowbird   cunning
From the gopher toroise   domicile
From the vole   faith
From the mole   vigilance
From the mullet   voice
From the whip-o-will   song
From the mosquito   passion
From the deer   caution
From the tick   endurance
From the leopard frog   camouflage
From the pea   fertility
From the blackbird   shadow
From the osprey   vision
From the nine-lined skink   speed
From the crawfish   escape
From the owl   silence
From the glasswort   repetition
From the gar   boundary
From the fire ant   community
From the lichen   prosperity
From the limpet   inheritance
From the manatee   humor
From the bumblebee humility
From the human   theft

. . .

read more first-book interviews

. . .

eod archives
kickingwind home