Walt Whitman 150 Call for Submissions

The Guttery is proud to announce that two of its members David Cooke and A. Molotkov are editors, judges, and coordinators of the Walt Whitman 150 Award and Celebration. Joining them is good friend and collaborator John Sibley Williams and returning as the founder of the Walt Whitman 150 Celebration,  David Oates. The last Walt Whitman Celebration gathered poets from around the state to read all 52 sections of Song of Myself aloud at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

This time we will be featuring the great poets inspired by Whitman’s words and work. One of these great poets could be you. The Walt Whitman 150 Celebration is taking submissions for inclusion in the celebratory chapbook and a chance to win up to $1500. Visit www.waltwhitman150.org for contest guidelines and submission forms. There is also a call for visual art inspired by Whitman. Be sure to enter your poems so that when you echo Whitman’s words “I celebrate myself and sing myself” we can celebrate with you and sing your body electric!

Poetry as Dialogue at The Northwest Poets’ Concord

At 9:12 am when the rainbow attired A. Molotkov has usually been soundly sleeping for 3 or 4 hours, he shuffled and dealt out the handouts to a conference room filled with poets. John Sibley Williams moving his Lincolnesk height about the room seemed at ease and I was guessing we should start especially since the “Bad Grrrlz” of Poetry were up at 10 am. If you attended the Northwest Poets’Concord you may have caught the presentation on Poetry as Dialogue. I have to say things went well with only one complaint. Some did not want the conversation to end. Well, it hasn’t. Look to this site for further postings on the topic and feel free to chime in. It can’t be a conversation without you.

For my part we were a bit short on handouts so I wanted to make sure if you wanted to look it over, you could. This also gives me a chance to correct some typos that made it through the rush to prepare the pamphlet. If you find more feel free to alert me. Start here with the link to Meat Puppet which was never meant to be Meet Puppet.

After the conference and all the jawing on about poetics I want you to think about the conversations you found memorable. The inspiring and the insipid, the boasting and the boring, the gut busting guffaws and the disheartening gaffs. If you remember it, it is important. After all remembering is repetition and repeated things are important and important things are repeated.

Poetry As Dialogue handout

I’m not Crazy I’m just Reading

I have been thinking about voice. The voice that a piece of writing creates. But when you read, voice is your creation. A creation using the building blocks a writer drops at the worksite. Building materials neatly stacked on pallet paragraphs, in sacks of stanzas, page after page piled at the curb. You with your shovel and wheelbarrow at the ready. Your ability to hear the written voices is the major reason that film often fails. Often the cameras and microphones can’t capture what you bring to a text. How do you do it? How do you get writing to speak? What are we doing as readers when we create these voices in our heads?

As a special education teacher I think of teaching as non-invasive brain surgery. I hear voices of teachers in my own noggin and I wonder what quotes of mine students will hear reverberate in theirs. My skull is crowded. My mother’s words, my father’s silence, sibling lectures and jokes, friends laughing, teasing, insulting. Advice, ridicule, warnings, each with a decidedly distinctive voice. This is not schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is the malfunctioning of this ability. When this ability functions it is more like cognitive behavior therapy, it is what results from the Socratic Method.

In the Janssen’s Mindstorm schizophrenic simulation the voices frustrate, undermine, constrict and isolate. Voice in literature has a different effect. Actually, people with schizophrenia often report that reading quiets the voices. What if the brain uses the same regions to create a character’s drawl as it does to bombard someone with paranoid ranting? The key difference between the auditory hallucinations of reading and schizophrenia would be in the ability to differentiate the source and reality of the voices. Schizophrenic hallucinations with their paranoia, fear, and derision may be coming from another part of the brain and passing through the synaptic voice box. Malfunctioning parts of the brain may be pumping the unfiltered chemicals and electricity like a fire hose through the same region or regions used to create voice from writing. So when someone with schizophrenia reads are they occupying the part of the brain that gives voice to the paranoia and using it to create the written voice?

Writers in their attempt to marshal that same brain space, that synaptic voice box, succeed at various levels. The ability to inspire the creation of an articulate voice in the reader is a challenge. To supply material for multiple voices complicates things. To have those voices converse and to converse in an entertaining and enthralling manner is still more difficult. To enable the conversation to include the reader, for a writer to supply material and elicit a conversation that allows space for the reader’s input to actually listen to the reader, well, that is the sort of mastery writers aspire. Think of it in terms of dimensions. One dimensional would be one voice, two dimensional dialog, and three dimensional, conversation. Removing, as the thespians say, the “fourth wall” and listening to and getting input from the reader would qualify as the fourth dimension. Just as the visual arts trick us into seeing depth and space, writing sets readers up to hear auditory hallucinations that are deep, rich, and ultimately immersive.

This is a new way of thinking about reading for me. Will it help me write more immersive poetry? Do you think it will help you write better? Will it help one to read more insightfully? How does this change our way of looking at dramatic monologues, play dialog, abstract poetry? Or is it like explaining a joke or diagramming ballet? I am deeply curious to know. Especially, from those with more knowledge, first or second hand, about auditory hallucinations.

Polish your work.


Got this email from Writer’s Digest selling critique services with the heading “Polish Your Writing with a Professional Critique from Writer’s Digest!” I thought they had mispelled “Publish” or that it was making fun of the Poles. I sent them an email asking if the Polish joke was intentional.  This was while I still thought it was a mistake.  Laura from customer service wrote back, “Are you kidding?” Here is Laura’s phone message on my voicemail.  The greeting for my phone says “Hello you’ve reached David Cooke The Lawn Guy…”

Impossible Objects: using ambiguity to create depth, breadth & variety in poetry


    Last Monday Reading Series
    April 25th 7pm
    Influence Music Hall
    135 SE 3rd Street Hillsboro, Oregon

Often poetry is like Russia. “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I believe poets do not do this on purpose. They don’t write poetry as if it is a page out of Where’s Waldo or the hidden pictures of Highlights Magazine. Poetry is a medium especially adept at distilling grand ideas into brief amounts of script. It provides a template for a dizzying array of connections. A way of linking disparate thoughts, experiences, images, emotions. It pushes and pulls the reader ultimately attempting to hold a mirror up to the reader to elicit a response. A response of  “I like this” is always welcome but the Holy Grail is “I am like this.”

In pursuit of this penultimate connection the universal and personal need to be simultaneously addressed. The beatific and the scientific, the good and the bad, the whirling colors of experience all need to be put down in black and white. This flattening of reality opens up a world of amazement at work that is able to create complex evocative emotions in the mind of the reader; to elicit multi dimensional thoughts, wavering conclusions, and a choir of points of view. Poetry can be seen in the way that I often described teaching, as non-invasive brain surgery.

The brain filters at least 5 senses, bounces things back and forth between parietal lobes, feels with the amygdala, remembers with the hippocampus. How does one operate on such a moving target much less on the myriad of targets that your audience presents. How does one speak of the ineffable?  With ambiguity. Ambiguity is where poetry comes into its own. Where, with all its foibles and shortcomings, it really shines, outshines its literary brethren, and even the visual arts. Readers expect to work out the meanings of poems in ways that fiction and non-fiction do not require. Ambiguity allows poetry to harness the power of language and all it idiosyncrasies, paradoxes, and complexity. Turning Tony Pfannenstiel’s line from God’s Logic “…while I melted down”  from a nervous breakdown to a profoundly blasphemous nose thumbing when the next line adds “my gold jewelry to fire up another idol”.

Like an impossible object there are multiple ways of seeing these lines. One can pull the nose thumbing to the front or make it recede like a viewer does with a Necker’s cube.  But unlike the visual illusion readers can hold both thoughts at the same time. Viewers of optical illusions switch their assumed viewpoint from above to below, below to above. Readers of poetry can ruminate on the connections between nervous breakdowns and idolatry, of freewill and divine apathy, of submission and defiance. Sliding the conclusions around on a continuum as tangled as a physician’s handwriting.

Just as with the Necker’s cube there is often a default view. With impossible objects it is the view from above. Perhaps linked to our upright viewing physiology. In poetry this default reading is the literal reading. A reading that is linked with the most common of definitions and contexts of words and phrases.

In my work homonyms play a huge role creating a variety of readings. Take the line from Edges “Before your groin became a grotto.”  Groin’s default meaning is anatomical referring to one’s crotch. The default meaning for grotto is cave. There is a certain amount of ambiguity in the metaphor. The mind struggles with imagining how a crotch can become a cave. But the context of the earlier lines clearly puts the reader in the ocean so another meaning of groin comes to mind. Groins are structures built out from the coast to protect the shore from erosion. This layers the idea of a protective structure over the genitalia. The secondary meaning of grotto further complicates the image by noting that a grotto is a hollowed out space often used for worship. Reading this one line there is something that is both genitalia and sea bulwark becoming a cave, that is also a place of worship. Yes, it makes my brain hurt. Especially if you start firing the neurons that are close to groin and grotto the thoughts of sex organs, virginity, protection, worship, and drop them into the sea. A sea that later in the poem works both meanings (ocean and pontiff) when stating, “The sea’s words won’t heal you.”

Do I expect everyone to come to a full realization of each of these meanings.  Quite deliberately no.  I am however not being cryptic.  If I could make all the meanings apparent with brevity and vivid imagery I would.  Writing this explanation reinforces the conclusion that obviously I can not. I often decide it is better to sound cryptic than verbose and to attempt to create multidimensional lines in the flatland of writing.

In another poem Good for the Perfect I use ambiguity from the start.  The title comes from the phrase trading the good for the perfect a twist on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Clipping this down to good for the perfect it reads like snide sarcasm as when one says good for you. The poem continues to describe non-sexual infidelity using an asexual angelic interloper.  To build the otherworldly, sinister feel I used phrases describing symptoms of Marfan’s syndrome like “legs long like contrails” “funnel of its chest” “hummingbird eyes”.  The symptoms being tall lanky build, funnel shaped chest cavity, and dislocation of the lenses of the eyes.

This layer of Marfan’s syndrome coupled with a reference to a Confederate inserted a possible reading that included Abraham Lincoln. It was theorized that he suffered from Marfans.  This was not my intention and the cohesiveness of a reading that includes Lincoln does not hang together.  Yet, if a reader’s brain runs with it and creates a web of logic that holds together for them, I won’t argue.  Sometimes the ambiguity is a result of a happy accident.

One such happy accident was the line “I felt embedded in its palm.” Taken out of context it reveals something more about the speaker’s feelings in relation to the interloper. Put back into context with the preceding line of “My finger touched the gravel” the speaker’s feelings take their rightful spot in the background.  Using line breaks to separate phrases from their context is also useful in increasing ambiguity without losing clarity.

My primary intention is clarity but the complexity and interrelated subject matter of my poems necessitates a two, three or 16.5 prong attack.  Ambiguity marshals the varied meanings and allows me to speak simultaneously.  There are times I will steer away from using words or phrases because of the secondary or tertiary meanings, but in the end this is what interests me, what I enjoy.  Churchill’s follow up to the earlier quote, “But perhaps there is a key … Russian national interest” works for poets also. Primarily poets want to speak to readers, to be understood.  It is not in our interest to be misunderstood.  This doesn’t stop it from happening but for the most part poets are thrilled to have readers know what they mean even when the poet doesn’t.

Think Globally, Write Poetry

Last Monday Poetry
Influence Music Hall
135 SE Third AV, Hillsboro, OR
Monday March 28, 7:00 pm

With the advent of niche marketing, localvore dining, targeted missile strikes it is nice to see the universal can still find a haven.  This haven is a tight spot to maneuver especially within the confines of a poem but the strange breed of writers known as poets relish this confinement.  It is also surprising to see a movement that prides itself on striking emotional chords through a strict elimination of specific time, place, brand come out of Portland.  Portlanders are a people who treasure the boutique, the weird, the personal, the excessively local.  Portland’s allegiance to Stumptown over Starbucks, to food carts over McDonalds, Jumblelaya vintage dresses over Anthropologie, Powell’s over Borders, even Les Schwab over BF Goodrich, or HUB over Bud is rooted in the adage: Think globally act locally.  The poetic movement Inflectionism takes up the thinking end of this saying.

Paramount to Inflectionism is the quest for truth.  Truth over fact not in an Orwellian sense nor asking it as Pilate to escape responsibility but as a way to discover the essential elements of human experience.  Even limiting it to the human experience chaps the hide of diehard Inflectionists like Molotkov or Williams.  Their brand of reductionism works like a black hole.  They strive to condense their truth to a point of extreme density drawing you in along with bending light and time and possibly popping the reader out into another universe.  Needless to say brevity is a key ingredient.  Often the poems are nuggets of introspection.  Take Williams autobiographical poem…

I still remember the day my father was born.

No that is not the title.  That is the whole poem and with its brevity it bends time and opens an alternate universe. 

To get to this level of density one has to detonate stars and peel away whole planets. Cutting away specific locales, jettisoning the Sierra Nevada, the Clackamas and Route 66.  Blotting out the lights of Paris, the white phosphorous of Fallujah, the Aurora Borealis.  Gone is the Douglas Fir, the Lazy Boy, the worn pair of Levi’s.  Heaven forbid the inclusion of your childhood sweetheart, Hannah Gladwell, Rupert your abuser, or the Bard.  Even Kevin Bacon’s 6 degrees will get you the third degree.  Although Mr. Molotkov jokes that New York is acceptable. 

Where does that leave one in terms of truth?  What of finding the universal in the personal, exploring the macrocosm in the microcosm, mining your own history?  Inflectionists leave that to other movements; to the poets of place, to Pastoralism, the Confessionalists.  In many ways Inflectionism is like the Symbolist Movement.  The same quest for absolute truth accessed indirectly through juxtaposition and paradox but with a renewed aversion for narrative perhaps in reaction to the Confessionalists.  There is still plenty of truth left as their growing collection will testify. 

All poetry wrestles with the devil in the details and his evil twin cliché.  Poets reside in a tough spot between the salt rusted bars of Alcatraz and a hard place.  Inflectionists demonstrate their adept skill at navigating these obstacles in their work.  Adroitly sifting the truth from the facts, polishing them and setting them on the page.  Mercilessly they remove the specific and hone open, evocative, and thought-provoking poems.  John Sibley Williams along with other Inflectionists and non-Inflectionists will speak to this process and the crucibles used to fashion truths you’ll call poetry.

First Wednesday Blackbird Wine Shop Reading

Blackbird Wine and Atomic Cheese
4323 NE Fremont Street
Portland, OR 97213. 
Wednesday, March 2 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm

Again. Yes again!  The Guttery reads at Blackbird Wine Shop again.  The sequel that reaffirms the rich, heart wrenching, thought provoking, vivid writing read by the very authors of the very words. Words published, words awarded, words paid for, words you get to hear for free while enjoying some of the world’s finest wines.  This is where it all began.  Blackbird Wine Shop was the first to host The Guttery writers a little over a year ago.  From the packed house at Blackbird various permutations of The Guttery have performed to standing room only at 3 Friends Show and Tell Gallery, for, what was it 4 hours? at Beach Books, Tony’s Tavern, Last Monday in Hilsboro, Third Thursday at the Reed Opera House, and even on the radio as featured by Talking Earth on KBOO .  The authors have continued to win prizes for their short stories and poetry and will have pluthera of publications for purchase.  The Guttery writers Bruce Greene, A. Molotkov, and David Cooke will be joined by John Milliken who is claiming fame through the Poetry Post movement.  Builder of poetry posts and poster of poetry John Milliken joins David Cooke in raising funds and awareness of the poetry posts/poles/boxes popping up in Portland neighborhoods. 

Come see The Guttery writers at the reading that started it all.  David Cooke, Bruce Greene, John Milliken ,  and A. Molotkov will read from their work.

First Wednesday Readings

WORK Literary Magazine

 Poetry Posts

 The Guttery

John Milliken is a local writer of poetry and short stories.  He developed an eclectic voice writing about people and sense of place from extensive travel as soldier, student, bicycle tourist and work as a construction manager.  John has called Portland home for the past 35 years and lives with his partner, Ellen, in the Irvington neighborhood.  Their daughters, Poppy and Robin, though world travellers as well, chose to remain in Portland as PSU graduate and PNCA undergraduate students respectively.  John is a member of the group First Friday Writers, a student of local poet John Morrison and a self described groupie / admirer of Billy Collins.

John also designs, builds and installs poetry poles throughout Portland.  John’s inspiration is Jim Bodeen’s Poetry Post at the Begonia Press home and office in Wenatchee, Washington.  Each pole location is an intimate venue that promotes a sense of community and appreciation for the written word.  John’s motto is:  “I write because I must.”  Begonia Press  http://www.bluebegoniapress.com/index.php?page_id=259 .   John’s Blog (poetry poles)  http://redwind08.blogspot.com/2010/12/contact-email-for-poetry-poles.html

Bruce Greene taught English, history, and psychology in the Bay Area for many years. He now works with beginning teachers at Marylhurst University. In his eclectic writing career, Bruce has been a correspondent for a national thoroughbred horse magazine and published everything from poetry and educational research to creative non-fiction and memoir. Recent credits include winning the memoir competition sponsored by WORK Literary Magazine. He is always looking for another river to fly fish and coffeehouses conducive to writing.  A literary agent might be nice too.  Read his memoir,  Above This Wall: The Life and Times of a VISTA Volunteer 1969-70. ( http://lifeandtimesofvista.blogspot.com/) or check out his blog, Daily Views and Blues.(http://bluesgreene.blogspot.com/

A. Molotkov is a writer, composer, filmmaker and visual artist. He blends art forms to build a varied body of work in which individual components contribute to a greater whole. Born in Russia, he moved to the US in 1990 and switched to writing in English in 1993. He is the author of several novels, short story and poetry collections and the winner of the 2008 E. M. Koeppel Short Fiction Award. His winning short story “Round Trip” was nominated for a Pushcart. Molotkov’s work has appeared in numerous publications, both in print and online. He frequently reads poetry in Portland, OR. Visit him at www.AMolotkov.com 

David Cooke’s debut poem Edges won the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize and was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize. His work appears in Flatmancrooked, Hunger Mountain, A River & Sound Review, Heavy Hands Ink and in performances at the Blackbird Wine Shop, Show and Tell Gallery, Stonehenge Studio, and KBOO’s Talking Earth.  He is also known as The Lawn Guy throughout Portland and Lake Oswego for his lawn maintenance business.  Much of his current work is included in his forthcoming chapbook, Discretion

Stop Staring at Me: A Case for the Male Gaze

Male GazeRecently I was scolded for my poetry; for my description of circumstances which involved a certain action. An action everyone does. It is our first way of communicating. Our first and most instinctual way of indicating. The most often used way to show interest. A look. Being so instinctual it is hard to put your finger on it. There are kinds of looks: the evil eye, the hairy eyeball, the funny vibe, the come hither. One can gawk, gander, glance, and this is the one that got me in trouble … gaze. In particular the one with a penis attached, the Male Gaze.

The poems were admittedly about the Male Gaze in that they described a man looking. From Heavy Hands Ink Vol. III the poem “Napkin Ring” describing Portland with the lines …a city that reeks /of family where young women /speak to me with a pronounced /accent of their own /perhaps I listen /to them more carefully/ shows the special kind of care men take when in the presence of young women. However, this is a wholly different gaze from the next poem I read “The Unsaid” with the lines …A look in her /eyes means to her he does, a look away whispers that he’d like to. He looks her in the mouth /and says,  “No.”

“The Unsaid” in being about a man stuck within a seduction clearly got under the skin of the reading’s hostess. She expressed her disapproval of poetry about the Male Gaze and then continued to elaborate that there is no such thing as gender. My first inclination was to write it off as an academic rant like those practiced in small liberal colleges after taking Introduction to Gender and Equality 101. But she was right on both counts and she was also wrong on both counts.

She was right in classifying the poems as about the Male Gaze; a way of looking that objectifies or at least sets the woman up as other. She was also correct in stating that there is no gender. For if you switched the genders of the characters or jumbled them in the four obvious ways (or even the myriad of subtle ways gender is expressed) the “gaze” still exists. Although it is difficult to call it “male” gaze if it is occurring between lesbians.

What Mulvey describes with the term Male Gaze is a power dynamic rooted in gender. It is not confined by gender, however. It is about power and “The Unsaid” describes not an object or even just an other it describes an opponent. The man as he tries to decide where it is safe to rest his eyes surrenders even after saying no. Looks are more powerful than words. Looking is primal, and primary and without the Male Gaze generations of children would not have been born. It is central to bridging the distance between sexual partners. It acts as an assertion of desire and dominance. For those that don’t want to be desired or dominated or are sick and tired of it happening all the time in every venue keep up the good fight. Call it out when it is inappropriate. Wear your turtlenecks and long pants. Put your hair up or wear a hijab. Just don’t cover your eyes or no one will know what you want.