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  • Essay: In Defense of Incarnadine

    I am a literate person (dear reader, grant me that!), but I did not receive a literary education in the proper sense. In a small step towards rectifying this perceived deficiency—or, to put it more precisely, this deficiency which I perceive many of my competitors in the conquests of publishing to lack—I have begun reading Louise Glück’s essay collection, Proofs and Theories. The first essay, “Education of a Poet,” is taken from a 1989 lecture Glück gave at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It contains early on the following comment: The axiom is that the mark of poetic intelligence or vocation is passion for language, which is thought to mean delirious response to language’s smallest communicative unit: to the word. The poet is supposed to be the person who can’t get enough of words like “incarnadine.” This was not my experience… from the beginning I preferred the simplest vocabulary… such language, in being generic, is likely to contain the greatest and most dramatic variety of meaning within individual words (4). I imagine Glück paused following the utterance of incarnadine, leaving room for a chuckle from the crowd. Let it be known: I love the word incarnadine. I loved it even before I knew what it meant. Perhaps the fact I had to look up the meaning speaks to Glück’s point, but I found that moment of discovery to redouble my enjoyment of its formerly nonsensical phonemes. Incarnadine, I learned, is a color, a pinkish red—flesh red, as in carnal or carnation. Of course it should be a color—what else could it be? I felt a beautiful harmony between sound and meaning unfold before me upon reading the definition, perhaps not delirium, but something energizing all the same. Furthermore, and adding a third note to the harmony, I found it is a Shakespearean word, describing the red-handed Macbeths. I attest that no small share of this enjoyment would be withheld by red, the most generic and universal synonym. On learning it, I decided I simply had to use incarnadine in a poem forthwith, which I suppose is the exact inverse of what Glück’s comment would imply I should do—luckily, I had yet to read her essay. I admit there is an artificiality inherent to writing this way, but when writer’s prompts are available for purchase in the form of fridge magnets, tarot cards, and sets of dice, why not? My efforts resulted in the following lines: These hues bestowed by evening sky— violet, gold, incarnadine— which grant the day a warm goodbye and make the evening hour fine… I will concede: my reader may never have seen an incarnadine sky; my reader will have, however, very likely seen a sky that could reasonably be described as red. Behold the universality of the generic in action! Yet all the same—and maybe it is no more than a young writer’s narcissism that leads me to do so—I maintain the superiority of incarnadine in this context. In particular, the above lines are from a poem about losing one’s self, or illusion of self, in a vista of the natural world—here, the sky; it is pleasing that a word connoting flesh can be, first of all, so easy on the ears and, secondly, can be employed to color in that sky, into which the flesh of the self is to be spread and dissolved. This connotation is communicated by red as well, but only etymologically so by way of red first connoting incarnadine. Furthermore, although one immediately recognizes the phrase “flesh red,” it is not this connotation one usually thinks of when they hear “the red of the sunset.” This observation, mind you, is not out of step with Glück’s—it is the household nature of red that gives it access to the widest range of connotations, which is powerful indeed, but this universality dilutes any one shade of meaning. There are times when the specific conjoining of sound and meaning found in a word like incarnadine is called for. There are other words Glück might have used as her example which I would have been similarly inspired to defend. Laburnum is a personal favorite— a kind of flowering tree. The flowers, yellow, grow in drooping clusters, looking something like bunches of grapes, only lighter and more delicate; it carries the common name Golden Rain. Again, I say: what else could it be? What else could so beautiful a word denote if not a flower? Effulgence charms me with the teeter-totter action it requires of the palette in flipping from the teeth-on-lip position of “eff” to the tongue-on-roof position of “ul.” I like also its closeness to effluence, although the etymologies appear to be only tangentially related. Mellifluous sends the teeter-totter back in reverse, and is another lovely example of sound harmonizing with meaning, as one must be mellifluous of voice to mellifluously pronounce mellifluous—particularly three-times-fast. While Glück’s nudge towards simple vocabulary is a gentle one, this is not always the case. I once came across a poetry journal’s call for submissions which admonished against “flowery language” (my paraphrase—I don’t recall the exact wording), noting that use of the word azure, while not strictly outlawed, was something of a red flag. I was a little put out by this and at once thought of the “azure steeps” which appear in Hart Crane’s “At Melville’s Tomb,” hoping that Crane—whose ear for sound, whose “silver snowy sentences,” strike me as singularly gleaming, as shining forth with brilliant radiance (dare I say effulgence?)—that Crane would be my vanguard; hoping that I, in time, could join him atop those azure steeps whereupon we could share a scoff at the anti-pretentious pretensions of whichever azure-deriding magazine that was. But alas, Crane too struggled against the editors of his time, remains under-appreciated today, and is not coming to my rescue now. This same anecdote came to mind when I began reading Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which I recently finished. The novel is written in the form of a poem with commentary, the poem by one character, Shade, and the commentary by another, Kinbote; Shade’s poem notably begins: I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane (31)… Well, I’m no expert (yet!), but this strikes me as a hell of a lot better than, “the false blueness in the windowpane,” or any other swap (to at least try and give the substitution a fair shake, I came up with “by unreal blueness in the windowpane,” but the repeated “buh” sounds, followed by the “puh” in windowpane, conjure up three crashing waxwings rather than one, loading an undo heaviness onto the line). Indeed, there is something about “false azure” which stands out—which extends to the whole couplet an intriguing mystique. I believe that some of this mystique is owed to the comparative rarity of azure itself—to its very status as a so-called literary (flowery?) word. There is a danger in dismissing such words as literary, pretentious, flowery, or archaic—who gets to draw the line? A word like laconic, for example, which Glück herself uses later on in her essay, may seem a trifle to a couple of freakishly engorged brains such as you and me, but to high school Juniors preparing for their SATs it is likely to be no laughing matter, embattled as they are by the need to cram rapidly several dozen words similarly situated on the hierarchy of the recondite into their heads. I felt myself similarly embattled while reading Pale Fire, although I was more than happy to be so; that novel has the distinction of sending my brain—no longer feeling itself to be all that freakishly engorged, yet brimming with eager anticipation—abustle to the refuge of the dictionary more frequently than any I can remember. It obliterates any and all demands for an austere vocabulary, replete as it is with words like otiose (which I had actually already picked up from Atwood’s The Blind Assassin), fatidic (the meaning of which I really ought to have guessed), and goetic (which my word processor insists is not a word at all). Of course, Nabokov’s goals were different than Glück’s. The amount of characterization the former is able to wring out of Kinbote’s diction alone is astounding. In poetry, on the other hand, the speaker is generally taken to be the author, a smudgy reflection of the author, or some kind of universal “I,” and in any of these cases the poet rarely seeks to erect a facade akin to Nabokov’s Kinbote. I as well do not seek to erect a facade through my poetry—certainly not a facade as difficult to scale as Kinbote’s, as much I, personally, enjoyed scaling it— and acknowledge that for otiose, goetic, and fatidic to appear together in a single line or single stanza or even a single poem would be a little much (although the slant rhyme of goetic and fatidic is tempting). However, I maintain that these words, alongside azure, mellifluous, effulgence, laburnum, and—of course—incarnadine, have their place in contemporary poetry, as do all words found in the dictionary and even some that are not, or not yet. I will endeavor to write with the words I enjoy reading and, especially, the words I enjoy speaking, even if they are not the words I would use when speaking to a stranger on the street. I will endeavor to celebrate both the sound and the meaning of these words and, in so doing, I seek not only to defend but to rejuvenate them; for words, to be spoken is to be alive. Having written this little defense, I find my initial reaction to Glück’s comment on incarnadine to be rooted in a nagging awareness of my poetic verdure—(only kidding!)—that is, of my greenness as a poet, which leads me to hunger for the advice of the seasoned masters with their enviable patinas. I have wrestled with this particular piece of advice, implicit as it may be, and have elected to take it more as theory than as proof. I have come out the better for doing so. As for you, reader, I hope you will join me high in the azure steeps, the incarnadine sky, or—when the occasion does call for a pure, Glückian simplicity—plain-old literary heaven.

  • Two Poems in Jerry Jazz Musician

    I am pleased to announce that Jerry Jazz Musician's Winter 2024 collection, in which two of my poems are included, is now online. The poems are "Black Saint," and "For Eddie Palmieri," which you can find by searching the page, but feel free to read the rest of the collection as well! The collection can be found here. For Eddie Palmieri Eddie saved my life last night, with his bandmates on the bandstand; what a bastard was I to turn my back on loving rhythms...

  • New Year's Updates

    Welcome 2024! I'd like to kick off the new year with some updates regarding my writing and plans for the website in the coming year. For starters, I have a handful of publications to look forward to in the near term. As I mentioned here I will have two pieces coming out in the Jerry Jazz Musician Fall/Winter collection later this month. The expected publication date is January 19th. "When Lovely Words Will Not Appear" will be coming out in Uppagus in May. Additionally, my poem, "Triptych: Squashed Bird on Driveway" has been accepted for publication in Ripple, the inaugural volume of the Quibble Quarterly! The poem should be posted on Quibble online sometime this month, while the quarterly will be available for purchase in print starting March 22nd. This poem is something of a spiritual successor to "There Are Thin Green Shoots," which appeared in Untenured last month. Finally, I'd like to begin posting here regarding my novel-in-progress, Pastícheo Incógnito. What is Pastícheo Incógnito? Who is Pastícheo Incógnito? How do I pronounce Pastícheo Incógnito? These are all great questions! Stick around to learn more, I plan on posting updates on my progress here as well as some small excerpts of the writing. Best wishes to all in the new year!

  • Upcoming Poetry Publication: Two Poems in Jerry Jazz Musician

    As I mentioned in my post regarding my poem, "For Sides Live," Jerry Jazz Musician will be releasing its Fall/Winter Jazz Poetry Collection in January of this coming year. I am happy to say that two of my poems, "For Eddie Palmieri," and "Black Saint" will be featured in the collection! In the meantime, you can check out the Summer 2023 collection here.

  • Poem: "There Are Thin Green Shoots"

    My poem, "There Are Thin Green Shoots" is now online with the publication of Untenured Issue 2.3. The poem appears on page 44 of the issue but as always I hope you will spend some time with all of the included pieces, as well as the excellent art. Many thanks to the editors of Untenured for including me and curating such a great collection. You can read the issue here. This poem was inspired by an experience I had this past summer living in Pittsburgh's east end which, as any of its residents can tell you, is chock-full of deer. Here is a taste of the first few lines: There Are Thin Green Shoots emerging where the deer reposed, poking past the grasses she had matted, her four limbs tucked between her torso and the earth...

  • Poem: "Imagining Synge"

    Today's poem is "Imagining Synge," a brief lyric piece inspired by John Millington Synge's (1871-1909) travel memoir The Aran Islands as well as my own travels in Ireland, including a visit to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. Best known as a playwright, Synge was also a prolific collector of folklore, a popular vocation among members of the Irish Literary Revival, including Lady Augusta Gregory, whom Synge partnered with, alongside W.B. Yeats, in founding the Abbey Theatre. In Synge's day, the Aran Islands were a bastion of the oral story telling traditions of Ireland, and his travels allowed him to document many tales of the Seanchaithe (oral storytellers) living there. Synge's best known play, The Playboy of the Western World, was inspired by one such tale. If anyone is interested in Synge's The Aran Islands, I would highly recommend the audiobook read by Donal Donnelly, as hearing Synge's lovely prose and especially his accounts of the stories he encountered read aloud brings one closer to the oral tradition the book documents and celebrates. During my freshman year of college, I took part in a year long "Focus Seminar" on Irish Literature and Culture, which included a trip to Ireland over the summer. This class, perhaps more than anything else, has left its mark on my literary tastes and ambitions, and I hope "Imagining Synge" can capture some of the wonder the Irish literary tradition has inspired in me. "Imaging Synge" was first published in the Fall, 2023 (volume 17, issue 3) edition of The Road Not Taken, a Journal of Formal Poetry, "formal" meaning poetry that follows a set metrical or rhyme scheme, not that one must put on a suit and tie to read it. My poem appears on page nineteen, but I would invite you to read through the whole of the issue (or at least the subsection my poem appears in, "Evoking the Past") as much care been taken by the editors in thematically organizing the collection. You can read "Imaging Synge" along with the rest of the Fall, 2023 edition here. A few notes on phrases I use in the poem: "Inis Mór" - the largest of the Aran Islands. "Curragh" - a wooden boat with hide or tar-coated canvas bottom used on the Aran Islands. "Dún" - an ancient or medieval hill-fort.

  • Poem: "Four Sides Live"

    With this post, I am getting closer to being caught up on collecting my currently published pieces here. Today's poem is "Four Sides Live," a kind of ode to jazz I wrote a couple months ago. Anyone who knows me knows how important music, and jazz in particular, is to me. I began listening to jazz purposefully in the latter half of my highschool years, beginning, as many do, with albums like Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme. This poem references two giants of the piano, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, as well as the drummer Jack DeJohnette, who joined Evans' trio in 1968. I hoped to capture the timelessness of their music, timelessness being a remarkable achievement given the particularity and inimitability of these musicians' signature sounds. "Four Sides Live" originally appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, a one of a kind outlet for lovers of jazz and literature. Jerry Jazz Musican will be featuring its fall/winter poetry collection sometime in January and its jazz haiku collection in February or March of the coming year, so be on the lookout for those as well. "Four Sides Live" can be read here. Here is a sample of the first few lines: It tickles my fancy the way francophone announcers ornately say the names of jazzmen in those live recordings put to reel in Montreux...

  • Upcoming Poetry Publication: "There Are Thin Green Shoots"

    I am happy to announce that my poem, "There Are Thin Green Shoots" will be appearing in the next issue of Untenured. This is a poem for which I'd been searching for a suitable outlet for quite some time and I consider it among the best of my current output, so I am particularly proud to have it published. Untenured describes itself as a home of "public scholarship for the 21st century," and seeks to "provide access to information while imagining a future without barriers to intellectual growth, opportunity, and freedom." The issue should be out soon, so check back in a week or so to see the poem. In the meantime, you can read the current issue of Untenured here.

  • Three Poems at the Ulu Review

    Next up in my series of posts documenting previously published writing, I am featuring a set of shorter poems originally published in the 2nd Edition of the Ulu Review. The Ulu Review is a relatively new publication based in Hawaii which features writing with "a mythological flair, or the type of everyday magic found in coincidences and happenstance." As a lover of mythology as well as the subtler manifestations of the magical in literature, I think this is a great focus for a literary journal to take up. I have three poems featured in the 2nd Edition, namely: "Magical Realism," "Synecdoche," and "On Chaos Theory, 'Canon Events,' and the Contingency of Being." You can read them here.

  • Upcoming Poetry Publication: "When Lovely Words Will Not Appear"

    I am pleased to announce that my poem "When Lovely Words Will Not Appear," has been selected for publication in the upcoming May 2024 issue of Uppagus. As the title implies, this is a piece I wrote while dealing with a bout of writer's block. Uppagus is home to some stellar poetry, and holds a sentimental status for me as it is the first publication to accept my work. I am thrilled to be appearing there once more in the upcoming May issue. In the meantime, check out their latest, Issue 59.

  • Titles to Unwritten Works

    For the past year or so I've been recording in my notes app any potential title that comes to mind. Now, the common wisdom dictates that titling a work should be the final step in its production, but I think working backwards from a title and imagining what such a work would be like makes for an interesting exercise. Here are a few that you may find intriguing: "My Sadness Speaks a Tongue I Never Learned" A touch of melodrama here, no doubt - fitting perhaps for a song by The Smiths. Regardless, I like the idea of self-alienation this title captures. I recently finished watching Scenes from a Marriage (both the HBO version and the cinematic cut of Bergman's original) and was struck by the episode title, "The Illiterates." The idea is that however the couple tries to "unpack" what went wrong for them, their analysis is ultimately nothing but empty noise; they have no language by which to decipher what has happened in their shared life. Although poetry generally seeks to find words for the inexpressible aspects of our inner worlds, I think it is important to recognize that it can also give voice to that very inexpressibility, as ironic as that may seem. "The Basking Rock" This puts me in mind of a coming of age tale set somewhere in the American south. Two friends share a secret hideaway, a large flat rock by a stream or creak where they can be away from their families and communities, alone together in the sun as the water burbles by. "Housekeeping in the Bardo" Full disclosure, I was thinking of George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo when I came up with this one. I have yet to read it, but hope to soon as it looks to be solidly up my alley. The "Bardo" is the liminal space between death and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism. The so called Tibetan Book of the Dead is originally titled Bardo Thödol, which translates to "liberation in the intermediate state through hearing." It is essentially a travelers' guide to this intermediate state. By throwing in "housekeeping" I hope to imply a more lighthearted "slice of life" tone, as strange a place for a "slice of life" the Bardo may appear.

  • Poem: "Urban Renewal"

    This will be the first in a series of posts highlighting my published poems. First up is "Urban Renewal," which I began composing while walking through Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood on the way to the bouldering gym. It is a part of the city in which I enjoy spending time, and I relish that my gym's location gives me such frequent occasion to do so. There are good restaurants and coffee shops to be found, along with several boutiques which are generally out of my price range but nevertheless make for good window shopping. On the day "Urban Renewal" began to take shape, I was struck by the ways in which Lawrenceville is emblematic of the history of the city, from the smog-laden steel town where Fifth Avenue's finest sourced their wealth to the marginally trendy tech and healthcare center it is today. "Urban Renewal" was first published in Issue 57 of Uppagus. Follow the link to read it. Below is a sample of the first few lines. Here you see billboards bolted onto new construction, trendy townhomes, tall and narrow; dormant smokestacks taller still: new money's retribution on the methods of the old...

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