The Hermit Poet

December 3, 2007

Something Good After a Wearying Week

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:07 am

What’s good? Well DMQ Review just notified me that they’ve nominated my poem “Letter Fifty” for the Pushcart Prize — that’s my second Pushcart nomination this year, my third ever. Pretty cool. What’s cooler? “Letter Fifty” is from my Letters to the Unknown Wife project — that means I’ve now had work from all three of my manuscript projects nominated.

Anyway, I survived what seems to have been my busiest week so far. I completed my abstracts, gave my presentation (despite a major technological failure on my part), wrote 2 response posts for different classes, sent out book manuscripts to 4 more book contests, made final selections for our Pushcart nominations for Boxcar Poetry Review and sent those out, and narrowed down my topics for my two papers for this coming week and the next.

Go me. The rest of the weekend was spent in veg mode while I recovered. Tomorrow I begin drafting my papers and conducting more research on the spots that are, well, spotty.

November 28, 2007

Neck Deep in Papers + Mailing Manuscripts

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 10:22 pm

Neck deep? I’m drowning. It’s proving to be a stressful week of papers, responses, abstracts, presentations, and poetry. Coupled with a frustrating two-week+ bout of writer’s block, I’m more than a little stressed out.

Despite this (or perhaps because of this), I spent about half the day getting my book manuscript ready (trimming a poem or two, reprinting the whole thing, getting copies done, etc) and mailing it out to another 4 contests. I’m glad I cut the poem I did — I’d been thinking for some time that it was a bit on the weak side, but didn’t realize how weak it was until I re-read the whole manuscript last night. Good riddance. Some minor title changes. A couple relineations. Overall, it’s close to what I sent out last month — but the changes are important and hopefully push the manuscript from being “publishable” into being “published.”

Still on the plate for tonight:

  1. Response to a Sedgwick essay on Shame
  2. Response to Jonson’s “Bartholomew Fair”
  3. Precis of my upcoming paper on The Function of Intertextuality in Alphaville (specifically Borges and Orwell — since Eluard has been done to death)
  4. New poem (or recently finished poem, if the muse continues her strike)

Still more for tomorrow… ack. I want to be done with this semester and get back to my own reading/viewing lists.

Ok — back to work.

November 26, 2007

2nd Pushcart Nomination / Homes

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 12:10 pm

Just in — an email from Re Dactions to let me know that they’ve nominated my poem “comment” for the Pushcart Prize!

“comment” is from my current manuscript project, “Babbage’s Dream” which revolves around the themes of isolation and beauty in the world of computers and computer programmers. Re Dactions was actually the first (and so far only) journal to pick up these new poems. It’s good to know that someone is reading and enjoying these poems.

You can read it on my website here

More of the computer poems are out in circulation now, so hopefully some of them will be finding homes soon.

Speaking of homes — my mother has successfully sold her place in Penticton and will be moving to a new condo in Abbottsford. She’ll be closer to my sister’s family, so she can take care of the grandkid more often. I think it’s a good move. Abbottsford has an airport and is close to the US border as well. It’s not far from Vancouver (maybe 45 minutes) and seems like a good central location.

I’ll be flying “home” for Christmas and spending about 10 days there. It should be good — but different.

November 15, 2007

Boxcar Poetry Review – Issue 11 is Up!

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:17 am

Just a quick announcement that Boxcar Poetry Review – Issue 11 is now up.

You can check it out here:

In this issue:


  • Kimberly Abruzzo: “The red-water station”
  • Helene Alchanzar: “Meaning Light”
  • Ruth Doan: “All They Didn’t Take”
  • Jéanpaul Ferro: “On Your Mark, Get Set, Ready…”
  • Jennifer Gravley: “Fortune, Santa Monica”
  • Graham Hillard: “The Lyric Moment”
  • Rathanak Michael Keo: “Last Kiss”
  • Robert McDonald: “Dear November”
  • Tomas Q. Morin: “Cadillac Cathedral, U.S. 66”
  • James Owens: “Is”
  • Donna Vorreyer: “Of Dark, Of Light”
  • Joe Wilkins: “Voice of the Father”
  • Amanda Yskamp: “Not Home”

Geoff Sanderson

Interviews & Conversations
Interview with Alex Lemon ~ Miguel Murphy

Reviews & Responses
Geoffrey Brock’s Weighing Light & Joe Millar’s Autobiomythography & Gallery ~ Gregg Mosson

I’m really quite impressed with the work we’ve brought together for this issue. Kudos to Eduardo for lining up another great interview.

October 18, 2007

Breaking Unintended Silence

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 12:19 am

I’m back — it’s been a busy few weeks — right now we’re in the mid-term season at USC. But since we’re grad students, we don’t have mid-terms, just assignments, projects, and presentations. All of which have been distracting me from blogging on a more regular schedule.

A few news items:

  1. Finished working on a website for fellow poet & friend Joseph O. Legaspi. You can check it out at His first book, Imago, just came out in the bookstores this week
  2. Gave a presentation in my Renaissance Lit class on Witchcraft in Macbeth — really a look at the role and function of witches (as well as how “witch” is constructed in the play). We referred back to the previous week’s readings of King James’ Demonologie and Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft, as well as comparing elements with Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. Also made use of Keith Thomas’ excellent overview of the period, Religion and the Decline of Magic. I was particularly interested in how the language of witchcraft finds its way into the descriptions and portrayals of many of the characters. On closer examination, it seems the Wyrd Sisters are a bit of a ruse — the real witches might well be Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, and Macduff.
  3. Wrote a new poem Tuesday morning for the Babbage manuscript (which actually may be going through a name change — I’m now thinking that it should be a bit more inclusive and not so fixated on Babbage as a figure). In any case, the new poem is “array” and joins “recursion”, “enumeration”, and “copy” as the latest additions to the project.
  4. Sent out poetry submissions to another 5 journals. Slowly getting back into the swing of things. Also need to get more manuscript packets together to send out to the presses & contests at the end of the month.

I’m also starting my reading and research for a paper on Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965). Part of my reading will include Paul Eluard’s The Capital of Pain — a text referred to in the film, but supposedly the passages read from the book in the film, aren’t actually Eluard’s poetry — something made up instead by Godard. Anyway, I’m interested in getting to the root of the issue as well as addressing other issues within the film text.

Right now taking a break. Need to get back to reading for my Lit Crit theory class. We’ve got Claude Levi-Strauss and friends this week.

October 3, 2007

Circle and Stone

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 7:25 pm

Today my father would have turned 60.

I was thinking of him this morning as I sat on my bed and read Macbeth again in the Kittredge edition of Shakespeare he had left me. His notes were in the margins — not many, just a comment or two on irony, some arrows pointing back to characters referred to obliquely. Just enough to know that he’d passed this way before, thinking and pondering the same problems of free will and fate. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine him younger than me, puzzling his way through this text as an undergraduate.

I should be writing a paper right now, but I’m stalling.

I’m thinking of this moment. I’m thinking of kites in the skies. Of the strings which tether them. Of the birds they mimic. I’m thinking of the impossible blue of summer. Of the world of childhood. Of trees. Of the wind which sweeps in unexpected and lifts a thin frame upward and almost out of sight. I’m thinking of my father. The hundreds of letters he sent me wherever I went, whatever the circumstance. I’m thinking of the circumference of gratitude, of the borrowed garb of beauty. How language is a city of words. How each letter is a letter. Of the joy of simple communication, the rough order of delight — how it comes unexpected, silent, comforting. How an arm we do not expect embraces us with a fire and a love for the world and for the world to come.

Here is a circle. Here is a stone.
Here is my father at 60, on the other shore,
reading by the river. The light is good here,
the light is good. He can speak again.
This too is good.

Happy birthday Dad.

September 30, 2007

Many Things Converging Into Wonder

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:34 am

I’m grateful for many things. These past few weeks have been very rewarding. I’m now well underway in my PhD courses (first major assignments are due this coming week) and have been enjoying the readings and discussions.

But not all education and learning happens in class of course. Part of the joy of living in Los Angeles is having access to a wide variety of cultural events. Yesterday afternoon for example I attended an art lecture at the Hammer Museum given by Francis Alys. Rather than discuss the actual exhibit which opens officially tomorrow, he chose to discuss the new project still underway — an attempt to construct a floating bridge of boats to span the Strait of Gibraltar. Listening to him speak and go through his images, sketches, calculations, and the account of the actual legal red tape, was quite illuminating. Much of Alys’ work is collaborative and performative — it’s as much about the action of the creating as it is about the end result — in fact, sometimes all that is possible is the attempted action and the evidence of the attempt(s).

A particularly intriguing complexity which arises from these types of large scale performative pieces is the project’s reliance on humans as medium. Instead of working with clay or paint, Alys chooses to “compose” using non-standard, non-uniform, potentially emotionally or politically unstable elements — human beings. Doing so though makes the “success” of such action the more admirable to me. Why? Because this is not paint, but real individuals and real time converging for the sake of one exercise toward beauty. A medium with agency and infinite opportunity to deviate — and yet somehow a form is maintained and emerges out of what might otherwise appear to lead to chaos and disorder. From the man pushing an ice block through a maze of streets of Mexico until it eventually becomes nothing, to the 500 people in Lima using shovels to move a sand dune. The individual participants behave uniquely and yet the larger project possesses a shape and something ultimately emerges from the action, even if it seemingly has produced (or been reduced to) nothing.

I also started to think of teaching a poetry class as something of a performative art action as well — one that both instructor and students participate in to create a unique performance of texts through the interweaving of reading, physical action and behavior, and dialogue. Each class/performance becomes a unique instant of understanding and yet is also a “rehearsal” (to borrow a term from Alys’ exhibit) — which provides an alternative entrance or perspective on the work which continues to evolve with each “performance”

In some respects I’m just blathering at this point — but I really did enjoy the event quite a bit.

Part of the wonder for this whole evening was really rooted in the delight of human conversation. The friend I went with is currently studying studio art at UCLA and is an accomplished artist with many interesting projects underway. We ran into a friend of hers who was at the event with another friend and ended up in a lengthy discussion on art, literature, the artist’s life, Los Angeles, languages, film, media, and world outside academia. The richness of the discussion and its strange and eccentric turns were endlessly fascinating.

Our own discussion after we left the two of them and headed to Pinkberry continued to turn and explore. Sometimes it seems to me that a good conversation is something of an unplanned dance, a spontaneity of form, even a bit like the movement of a flock of sparrows or gulls whose movements coincide without deliberate plan evolving constantly a pattern which leans into beauty.

September 15, 2007

Boxcar Poetry Review — Issue 10 is Up

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:02 pm


The new issue is up! Read it here

So what’s in this issue?

Here’s a sneak peek.


  • Ryel Alviola: “For Julien who always sat beside her “
  • Lisa Bower: “Nesting”
  • Patrick Ryan Frank: “Virginitiphobia”
  • Robin Halevy: “This, Unspoken”
  • Raina J. León: “The mouths of babes”
  • Robert McDonald: “Travelogue Recorded in the Realm of Sorrow”
  • Tomas Q. Morin: “For the Sisters of the Deutschland”
  • William Neumire: “American Vampire Movies”
  • Erick Piller: “Poem about Mangoes—Poem about Drums— Poem about the Wall and Daniel’s Shadow”
  • Suzanne Rindell: “Locus”
  • Christian Tablazon: “Blueprint”
  • Karen Weyant: “The Night Foreman Sees the Virgin Mary in Furnace #6”

Interview / Conversation

First Book Poets in Conversation: Alex Lemon & Miguel Murphy
(This is forthcoming — we should have this online by the end of next week)


“Intersection” and “Lake seen through trees”
This issue’s photography is actually some of my own work — not my original plan for the issue, but an emergency measure since none of the current art image submissions seemed to fit the bill. In the future I’ll probably have to take a more proactive approach and solicit artwork to avoid depending on my own.

August 23, 2007

Calls for Celebration

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 10:36 am

A number good things to report:

1. Recently learned my friend and fellow Kundiman alumnus, Jee Leong Koh, will be included in the upcoming Best New Poets anthology. Congratulations Jee Leong!

2. Finished reading Writing Machines by N. Katherine Hayles — a more detailed discussion of its high points to follow shortly.

3. My internet connection is finally fixed after another 60 hour outage. Hurray.

August 18, 2007

Walking Before Running

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:39 am

This past week I’ve started walking 2 miles each morning on the treadmill. Since I’m already a bit of a speedwalker, I’m currently using the 4 miles/hour setting — which is speedy, but not my top speed. It is however a good speed for walking longer periods of time.

Classes start in another week, meanwhile my roommate and other PhD students who are teaching this year are neck-deep in teaching tutorial homework (yep, they get homework and reading for 2 weeks before classes start). I’m spending this time ordering my textbooks (done), wandering around Koreatown looking for thrift shops (surprisingly, there really aren’t many), and visiting with old friends. So far it’s been a pleasant break — I’ve even got a welcome back barbecue to attend on Sunday with an old programmer friend of mine.

Last night I slipped over to Santa Monica and attended the Rapp Saloon open reading. It was a small intimate reading (quite unlike a few years ago when the room was packed) — but the readers and the feature were excellent. Mani Suri was hosting, so it was good to catch up with him as well. I also had a nice chat with the poets afterward at the Interactive Cafe – a traditional hangout spot for that reading. The sandwiches were as expensive as I remembered them — so this time I opted for a ham-n-cheese croissant — a more economical solution, just as tasty.

Today already promises to be a full one — I’m planning a trip over to Glendale to scout out one of the thrift stores, maybe a couple garage sales, and definitely IKEA (we need end tables and another lamp). My roommate Suraj (or “Shank” as another poet has renamed him) will likely tag along. I don’t think he’s been anywhere in LA so far other than the airport, campus, and Koreatown.

In other news, it’s the Tofu Festival in Little Tokyo today. Part of me wants to check that out as well — we shall see if it works out. Tonight we (the incoming Creative Writing contingent of the PhD) are having a get together to celebrate the arrival of the last of us (Josh just rolled into town last night after 6 straight days of driving). Somewhere along the way he had stopped in a small town and won a lumberjack competition (bizarre).

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