The Hermit Poet

April 30, 2006

Unemployed in Greenland

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:52 am

Well, actually not Greenland — probably Vancouver, BC. Yesterday I received word from the last of the applications I had out for teaching fellowships, indicating that I had not been selected for one of the positions there. So it’s pretty much 100% certain that I’ll be moving back to Canada at the end of this quarter.

Although I don’t have anything lined up right now, I feel that Vancouver would be a good place to set up shop as an adjunct teacher and part-time web designer. In addition to UBC, there’s a lot of community colleges and trade schools in the area. There’s also a thriving literary scene. I hope to run some workshops as well. It’s not really the path I had wanted, but it’s the road I’ll be traveling, so I’ll make the best of it as I can.

I’ve got a few web design jobs lined up, so I’ll have some income in the interim. In some respects, this might work out well for me — I’ll likely have more time to write and work on my other projects. Still, some sort of regular pay schedule would be nice.

If you have advice on how to make ends meet after graduation, I’d be happy to hear it.

April 27, 2006

Current Projects – Planned and Underway

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:48 am

Lots of things in process right now. Here’s a brief survey on my current projects.

  1. Boxcar Poetry Review – Issue 2 — Almost done. Waiting for one last review and a couple layout fixes.
  2. Lost Country of Sight (book of poetry – aka my MFA thesis) – Done for now. Currently seeking a publisher. I need to put it in proper format and gets signatures to turn it in as my thesis, but that’s really a formality as it’s already been approved.
  3. Babbage’s Dream (book of poetry) – About 10 poems in this manuscript so far. Hope to have more done this quarter, maybe even a complete book by the end of summer.
  4. The Poetry of the Stone: Translations of Poetry in Hong Lou Meng (book of translations, some theory as well) – Just started. I’ve written one paper on the topic and done some initial translation work. I don’t believe anyone else has tackled the translation of these embedded poems as real poetry — usually they are passed over or rendered in rather tortured Victorian verse.
  5. The Ephemeral Man (novel based loosely on Sadakichi Hartmann’s life) – Planned. No one has written a satisfactory biography or portrait of Hartmann. I’m not certain yet if this will be a historical novel with Hartmann as the main character or if I will simply have Hartmann’s life as a parallel to what’s happening in a more contemporary moment.
  6. Course Proposals – Started. I’m drafting proposals for all sorts of classes. In addition to the usual Intro and Advanced courses in Poetry and Fiction, I’m also working on courses on the translation of poetry, chapbook design, Asian American poetry, and basic web design for writers (websites vs blogs, publishing online, etc)
  7. Web Design Business – Underway. Realizing that there’s a good chance that I will end up back in Canada after graduation, I’ve decided to run a web design business catering mainly to writers and artists, but accepting occasional commercial projects.

April 21, 2006

It’s Official

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 2:27 pm

I’m 32.

Strangely enough, I don’t feel much different than I did at 27.

April 20, 2006


Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:03 pm

I will be a year older. I will no doubt find more gray and red in my hair. My skin will roughen. Stubble will grow its dark unrelenting field on my chin and cheek. When I leave through the door, I will hear the familiar music of my bones, my legs and arms moving their kind symphony of circles. I will love the not-quite dark of the early morning. I will know nothing more than what the clouds carry in their veils. Nothing more than the sound my empty wallet makes when the wind whistles through. I will want because I am wanting. I will dream. I will love. I will still be here for a little while longer.

Tomorrow, somewhere else in the world a woman will wake not knowing I love her. I will not know her name. We have not met. Or maybe we have. Or maybe our shadows have passed by each other in a hallway. Or just our words. There is only a smallest statistical chance of us meeting. I will write a letter to her. I will call it a poem. But it will refuse to be a poem. It will be a bottle in the deep embrace of a wave. It will be an ocean. It will be the moon, or whatever the moon leaves behind for the trees. I will be a tree. Or maybe the earth. Or maybe salt. The taste in her mouth she cannot name.

April 16, 2006

Boxcar Poetry Review – Update

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:10 pm

The next issue of Boxcar Poetry Review is almost ready. The poetry selection is about done, but I’m still waiting for a few late reviews to arrive.

As a sidenote, I’m always looking for reviews of first books, so please contact me if you’re interested or have a review ready to go. Often I can arrange for a review copy to be sent to you if you’re willing to write something for Boxcar Poetry Review.

If I can get the last few pieces laid out, the next issue will be ready sometime this week.

April 15, 2006

Good News from Spillway

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 2:22 pm

Good news today!  Just received word that two of my poems have been selected for publication in Spillway.  You’ll be able to read “Letter from Home” and “Fridge” in the upcoming issue expected in December.

Good luck to everyone else with poems out there!

April 14, 2006

Fresh off the Presses: “Homage to Vallejo”

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:30 am

I just received my contributor’s copies of Homage to Vallejo, a new anthology from Greenhouse Review Press of poems inspired by Cesar Vallejo’s work. I’ve just started reading it, but already I’m quite enjoying the collection. I’ll post some more on this later. Right now I need a power nap.

April 12, 2006

One Last Song for My Mentor: Leslie Norris (1921-2006)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:50 pm

I just found out today that my first real poetry mentor, Leslie Norris, passed away last week on April 6. I’m not certain what exactly to say, but I feel the world has grown more silent. I will miss his warm Welsh accent, his reminisences and stories, the deep insights into craft, and how easily with just a word or two he could lay bare the real unseen heart of the poem. He was a rare genius, and as noted on other blogs, rarer still for the kindness and generosity which flowed easily from him without pretense or affectation. He simply cared — about people, about nature, and most especially, about language.

Obituary in Salt Lake Tribune
He once told me that if you mention bees in a poem, you should become the world’s leading authority on bees. That there was never room for guesswork — the poet was obligated to know as much as possible about the world and the details of the poem, even if that detail never made it into the poem. This advice still governs my writing today.

I learned the finer details of revision from Leslie Norris. His questions opened doors. His one or two word suggestions transformed the ordinary into the transcendent. He always found a way of opening up the discussion without condemning or belittling the poet. His teaching manner is ultimately one of my greatest influences as an instructor.

For me, it is this closing poem in his Collected Poems which sums up so much of what I loved and still love about this poet and this man:

His Father, Singing

by Leslie Norris

My father sang for himself,
out of sadness and poverty;
perhaps from happiness,
but I’m not sure of that.

He sang in the garden,
quietly, a quiet voice
near his wallflowers
which of all plants

he loved most, calling them
gillyflowers, a name
learned from his mother.
His songs came from a time

before my time, his boy’s
life among musical brothers,
keeping pigeons, red and blue
checkers, had a racing cycle

with bamboo wheels. More often
he sang the songs he’d learned,
still a boy, up to his knees
in French mud, those dying songs.

He sang for us once only,
our mother away from the house,
the lamp lit, and I reading,
seven years old, already bookish,

at the scrubbed table.
My brother cried from his crib
in the small bedroom, teething,
a peremptory squall, then a long

wail. My father lifted from
the sheets his peevish child,
red-faced, feverish, carried
him down in a wool shawl

and in the kitchen, holding
the child close, began to sing.
Quietly, of course, and swaying
rhythmically from foot to foot,

he rocked the sobbing boy,
I saw my brother’s head,
his puckered face, fall
on my father’s chest. His crying

died away, and I
read on. It was my father’s
singing brought my head up.
His little wordless lullabies

had gone, and what he sang
above his baby’s sleep
was never meant
for any infant’s comfort.

He stood in the bleak kitchen,
the stern, young man, my father.
For the first time raised
his voice, in pain and anger

sang. I did not know his song
nor why he sang it. But stood
in fright, knowing it important
and someone should be listening.

April 4, 2006

Programming and Poetry (Revisited)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 4:40 pm

As a former computer programmer, the topic of how programming and poetry intersect has always been of interest to me.  Recently as I have begun researching a new series of poems which explore these intersections, I have come across a number of intriguing articles.

There seem to be a few different approaches to this topic.

David Johnston addresses the cognitive and linguistic similarities between the act of programming and the act of writing poetry in his essay “Programming as Poetry.”

Sharon Hopkins explores the suitability of computer languages (specifically Perl) for writing poetry, as well as evaluating exant attempts at writing the compilable poem.  Her paper, “Camels and Needles:  Computer Poetry Meets The Perl Programming Language” is perhaps the most articulate and complete examination online. contains an entry by Florian Cramer on the two most literary efforts to date out of the compilable Perl poetry camp:  “London” and “Jabberwocky.”   Both of these poems reflect not merely an effort to transcribe the poem to bear some superficial resemblance to their originals, but also a sophisticated approach which leverages the Perl language itself so that the programs actually internally in execution relate to the poems.  “Jabberwocky,” for instance, not only can be read as a close transcription of the original, but when executed outputs two lines:

Beware the Jabberwock! at line 8.,
Beware the Jubjub bird at line 10.

Regarding “London” which is based on a William Blake poem of the same name, Florian Cramer notes:

While it is syntactically correct Perl code, it still does not “properly” run because it relies upon an imaginary software components, namely the module “”. 58 of the 189 lines contain program code, the rest are comments; to the reader, it looks as if the code were unfinished and parts were missing. Aside from the comments, it contains a definition of what in Perl is called an “anonymous array”, i.e. a variable storing several values at once, called “@SocialClass”, a database (or, in programmer’s lingo: “nested hashtable”) “%DeadChildrenIndex”, and two sub-programs (“subroutines”) “CryOfEveryMan” and “Get_VitalLungCapacity”. Thus, translates what “London” describes into a symbolic machinery. It is an interpretation of the older poem in a double sense: as code executed by a programming language “interpreter”, and as a social-political reading of Blake’s poem, focusing the subject onto dead children

These poems seem the exception to the rule.  For the most part, computer poetry tends toward sentimentality, triviality, and pop culture parody.  One repository of such poetry can be found here and demonstrates clearly why some might view “the history of programming language poetry as the history of missed chances” which currently is best characterized as being better noted for its ” juvenile sentimentalism and subjective introspection” (Cramer,

April 1, 2006

Google gets personal

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 4:53 pm

Just when you thought Google had enough information, here’s a rather timely (ie. April Fools) addition to their “services”

Google Romance

Check out their tour / walk thru