The Hermit Poet

November 29, 2005

Me and Wally

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:22 pm

I’ve been spending the last few days working on my Stegner Fellowship application and it occurred to me that good ol’ Wally Stegner and I have quite a bit in common.

Like Wally, I spent a good portion of my childhood in Saskatchewan. Also like him, I have lived in Utah and traveled through Montana and other parts of the West. I’ve ended up in California, but wherever I go I still find myself reflecting on the land and people of Saskatchewan. Of course, Wally probably wouldn’t know what to make of a Chinese-Scottish-Canadian poet who is proposing to write a manuscript about the strange beauty of the cubicle city after dark — but I think he might like my poems about missing the big sky, the land that stretches out in an unbroken weft of yearning, and the cold. I think he might find in the new manuscript a different sort of community but familiar all the same. Here within these unwritten pages will appear the workers and artists, the tired and weary populace of the all-but abandoned floor, lit only by the ghost flicker of monitors in the dark. Beneath the skin of technology, the same stories and sorrows arise. I’m looking forward to writing this world. I hope to do so from Stanford.

November 26, 2005

First Book Contest Update

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:41 pm

Just received a letter from the University of Wisconsin Press informing me that while my manuscript, The Lost Country of Sight, was not selected for publication, it was a strong semi-finalist in the competition! I’m pretty stoked. It’s nice knowing that it’s making an impression out there.

I’m finishing up a new revision on the manuscript today and hope to mail out the next batch of book contest submissions tonight. Hopefully there’s even better news coming soon.

Website Relaunched

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 2:53 pm

I’ve just finished a major overhaul of my website, redesigning the whole thing to use CSS. While there is still some similarity between the old look and the new one, the code is considerably cleaner and much more efficient. There’s a part of me that still finds deep satisfaction from coding a website by hand without any helper applications. I guess my case you can take the poet out of programming, but you can’t take the programming out of the poet.

November 22, 2005

CRATE: Still Taking Submissions

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:24 pm

(UPDATED: Theme broadened, Submission deadline moved to Dec 31)

Time to put on my editor cap and do a little promoting…

We’re still seeking submissions for the Spring 2006 issue of CRATE. Open reading period ends Dec 31, so please mail us something before then. Our theme for this issue is “Beyond Pandora’s Box.”

What do we want? Poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, one-act plays, anything that surprises and delights. We want to be impressed — wowed by your submission. With this issue’s theme, we’d like to see some wild and creative takes on the darker elements of our world.

1607 HMNSS
UC Riverside,
Riverside, CA 92521

Although we’re a young journal (2nd year of existence), we’ve been drawing some attention thanks to a sharp cover and an interesting range of writers.

Writers and artists who graced our first issue:

Chris Abani
Marilyn Chin
Stephanie Hammer
Juan Felipe Herrera
Nina Revoyr (plus interview)
Susan Straight
Michael J. Elderman (photography)

Also work by:
Kate Anger
Bruce J. Arnold
Deborah Bogen
Orman Day
Diane Marie Delgado
Ruth Daigon
Frankie Drayus
Cuca Esteves
Sonia Gutierrez
Dann Halem
E.J. Jones
Gwendolyn Spring Kurtz
Christopher Mulrooney
Erica Olsen
Mayra Ortega
Steve Ramirez
Doug Rice
Craig Svonkin
Flavia J. Tamayo
Cynthia Tuell
Alan Wade
Ellen Wehle

Artwork by:
Jill Giegerich

Additional photography by:
Elizabeth Eastmond
Irene Eastmond

CRATE: A Journal Literary Borders & Boundaries
160 pp, perfect bound, digest-sized (but we’re exploring some other sizes right now).
Reads Sep 15 – Dec 15. Reports in February. Prints in March-April.

November 21, 2005

Something light to begin the day

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 10:45 am

Despite appearances, not everything I write is serious. I have been known to write some funny poems as well. Take for instance this rather infamous piece (with 10-syllable lines no less) written for frustrated sestina writers everywhere…

Bad Sestina

Here begins a truly bad sestina,
something so awful that true sestina
lovers will cringe and say, “This sestina
should not have been written!” A sestina
so poorly formed, so short of sestina
perfection, so foul that real sestina

writers will send a death threat sestina
to my home, staple ancient sestina
curses to my door, call my sestina
loving parents “monsters.” This sestina
will invoke the wrath of the sestina
gods that lurk in the smoky sestina

coffeehouses of New York. Sestina
gestapo with their grey coats, sestina
emblazoned shirts, shiny red sestina
armbands, come stalking, poisoned sestina
word daggers dripping slowly. Sestina
writers know that a really bad sestina

is a cancer that kills all sestina
respectability. This sestina
is doing just that. A bad sestina
dangerous enough to try sestina
form without meaning, vapid sestina
verses that echo other sestina

failures or pointless awkward sestina
lines that tumble end over sestina
end, barely deserving the sestina
name. I think if I made a sestina
machine that spat out simple sestina
stanzas, eventually the sestina

workshop people would get mad. Sestina
writers would object to this sestina
making device. But a bad sestina
gathers power, rolls down one sestina
line after another. A sestina
counts beats, three beats for each word “sestina.”

One “sestina” and two “sestina” and
three “sestina” and four “sestina” and
five “sestina”and six “sestina.” Done.

First published in Beyond the Valley of Contemporary Poets 2004

November 17, 2005

Sometimes a great “No” is almost as good as a “Yes”

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:06 pm

In today’s mail, the warmest kind of rejection from Mid-American Review where the editor as pencilled in his own remarks:

Thanks for the strong poems — “Gift” and “Prodigal” came very close for us. It’s always good to see your work come in — I hope to see it again soon.

As an editor of a journal myself, I really appreciate the time put into such a note. It’s hard to personalize this process, but it is deeply appreciated. I’ll definitely be sending something else their direction this weekend.

Found: Spam Lines

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 3:33 pm


Lines taken from various attempted spam postings

in salem,
a horse-deal of the human ebionism
against absolute power in kaleidoscopic affairs.

they paddled out on the artist-son of the Mississippi,
and, surprising their Bellydance pictures,
listen to oriental dance music

so few people talk for themselves,
it’s impossible to experience one’s death

Spam, with its highly evolved techniques to appear natural and meaningful, dips into all sorts of weird terminology and texts. It can be surprisingly educational to try to make sense of its random gibberish. And sometimes, inadvertantly poetic. I’m particularly taken by they paddled out on the artist-son of the Mississippi, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why.

I’ve reproduced the lines as I’ve found them — no grammar, syntax, or word changes have been made. I have cut pieces out though. Is it a good poem? Is it even a poem? Not really, but it is somewhat intriguing what the spambot puts together as an attempt at meaningful text — or at least something that might cause a person to read the email.

Want to know what “ebionism” means? My best guess comes from Websters Revised Unabridged entry for “Ebionitism”:

\E”bi*o*ni`tism\, n. (Eccl. Hist.) The system or doctrine of the Ebionites.

The Catholic Encyclopedia online has the following entry for the Ebionites, an ancient heretical group of Gnostic Judaic Christians. They were “Christians” who did not believe in Christ, or most of the writings that comprise the New Testament. They did, however, like the Gospel of Matthew. As a sidenote, evidently the name Ebionite is a corruption of the Hebrew for “poor men.”

November 15, 2005

Subject for Review

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:05 am

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this entry over at Michael Parker’s blog. (I probably owe him money for such a nice review!)

November 6, 2005


Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 4:05 pm

Where do physics, calculus, and dancing nerds intersect?

Check out “At the Physicists’ Ball” at DIAGRAM

It’s silly and sad and several years old, but evidently the editors at DIAGRAM liked enough to publish it. Must have been the last line…

November 3, 2005

Missing Winter

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 6:15 pm

Evidently I’m not the only one who misses the cold, Alison at awfully serious just posted earlier about missing winter and snow — something I can relate to as a Canadian living in southern California.

Counting Winters in Los Angeles

I no longer mark what falls in passing,
iron stones blazing through the night sky,
leaves turning dry in the autumn breeze,
or old men curled around fires
watching yesterday’s news offered up
as ashes to the dark.

Hiding in the concrete-celled city,
my head is full of another country’s snow,
a loose wind blowing through my room
at night, when I cannot sleep
and lie to myself in dreams
I’ve committed to memory.

I am a stranger to the city that burns
with too much neon. Each night
I wind my sun-burnt car
through towers of glass and steel,
listen to the radiant hum of static,
the muted signal of an invisible sun,
the slow ticking questions keeping time.

What winter will take me home
down an ice-covered road
past the gray boarded shacks,
beyond the bending river’s spine,
then plant me low
beneath the white-haired trees?

What wind will wrap itself
around my waist, and lower me down
to sleep and distant rain?

first published online at Poetic Diversity, Nov 2004