The Hermit Poet

April 22, 2008

Sample Poem from The Lost Country of Sight

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Traveling Through the Prairies,
I Think of My Father’s Voice

How we must have seemed like twins over the phone,
my father speaking with my voice, I speaking with his.
Some strange accident of genetics or the unchecked influence

of mockingbirds and mimeographs. I have heard two trains sound
almost alike till they passed, like the one last night bending westward,
the other slowing to a halt, the earth shuddering in the dark between

while the stars held their place overhead, a thousand points of tin and fire.
Had it been day, I might have seen to the far faded edge of nowhere
or whatever town lies wakeless there. Here, the wind sounds the same

blown from any direction, full of dust, pollen, the deep toll of church bells
rung for mass, weddings, deaths. Coming through on the straight road,
the land seems especially bare this year, although the fields are still green

with new stalks of wheat, rye, canola. Someone has been taking down
the grain elevators one by one, striking their weathered wooden frames
from the skyline, leaving only small metal bins. The way the disease

took him by degrees, the body jettisoning what it could: his arms and legs,
his grin, his laugh, his voice. In the end, only his eyes—their steel doors
opening and closing while the storm rattled within—and his breath,

the body’s voice, repeating the only name it knew sigh after sigh,
a lullaby sung to a restless child on a heaving deck, a hush we only learn
in the quiet dark long after the boat has gone and the waves have ceased.

First published in Barn Owl Review #1

April 21, 2008

Circling Back to the Beginning

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Neil enters the uncharted realm of his 34th year.

It’s been a good — almost phenomenal year — in many respects. A year of changes, transitions, recognitions, and surprises. A year too with its share of sadness and struggle. I’m grateful for everything and everyone that has into my way, though I do not pretend to understand it all.

Today was a relatively normal day. I worked on a project for my poetry & music composition class. We had a double celebration in my poetry workshop for me and my classmate Jessica who shares the same birthday — lots of food, drink, and banter. I spent a little time with friends afterward, then went back to my apartment to read and relax. I’ve actually done little to celebrate. And perhaps this year that’s fine. I miss my father. That too is normal. It’s been exactly a year since his passing.

I’ve been wondering what the best thing to do would be under these circumstances – how to celebrate my birthday and yet to honor the memory of my father. Tomorrow night (Tuesday) I’ll be giving a poetry reading with Jennifer Kwon Dobbs at Village Books in Pacific Palisades — and to me at least, that feels like the perfect way to combine both.

If you’re free and in LA or Santa Monica, please do stop by. Jennifer’s reading from her new book, Paper Pavilion. I’ll be reading from my forthcoming book, The Lost Country of Sight.  No cover charge, but buying books is much appreciated.

Tuesday April 22, 2008 — 7:30 PM
Neil Aitken & Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
Village Books
1049 Swarthmore Ave, Pacific Palisades, CA

April 10, 2008

What I’ve Been Reading

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Lately I haven’t been blogging much, or even writing much, but I have been reading. Every time I go to campus, I take one or two books of poetry with me and read them on the bus. It’s been rather productive — I’ve been finally working my way through the large stack of books picked up at various conferences and readings over the past few months.

Recently read:

  • Paisley Rekdal’s The Invention of the Kaleidoscope — I really enjoyed this book, particularly the title poem which resonated with me as a possible model for some of my work on Charles M. Babbage.
  • Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa — another great read, perhaps one of my favorite books in the last little while. Solid all the way through.
  • Cecily Parks’ Field Folly Snow — a very pared down, almost stark rendering of world through fragmented language and distorted correspondence. Interesting, but sometimes I felt the voice was more distant than I would have liked.
  • Ivy Alvarez’s Mortal — I was delighted by the reinvention of myth, the sharpness of language, and the razor-fine balance which renders complex emotion and memory without falling into tired or sentimental language
  • Li-Young Lee’s Behind My Eyes — another fantastic collection and testimony again of why I return to his books again and again. “Descended from Dreamers” has joined my list of favorite poems — I may use it to open some of my readings.
  • Jean Follain’s Transparence of the World as translated by W.S. Merwin. Transparence is the right word — there is something quite startling about the luminous poems about history, the simple life, and beauty.
  • Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife — this too has joined my list of great books of poetry — solid solid solid. The poems are incredible.

Still on the stack:

  • C.G. Hanzlicek’s The Cave
  • Susan McCabe’s Descarte’s Nightmare
  • Juan Felipe Herrera’s 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border
  • Eliot Weinberger & Octavio Paz’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

I think this summer I’ll try to systematically read through all the books in my collection (a bit over 300 poetry books at this point). Ambitious? Yes. But I’d like to be a lot more familiar with what I’ve acquired over the years — and perhaps do a little weeding as well.

April 2, 2008

More good poetry news

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Just received great news from Ninth Letter that they’ll be publishing my poem, “enumeration” in an upcoming issue.  I’m excited to see another poem from the Babbage’s Dream manuscript find a home.

Writing about computers, computer history, and programming theory from a narrative lyric stance seems like such a hard sell sometimes, but I’m glad that there are journals willing to take a chance on work like this .

I’m also excited to report that two more of my friends in the UC Riverside MFA program have recently found publishers for their first books .

Alba Cruz Hacker’s No Honey for Wild Beasts will be published by Plain View Press (Oct 2008)

Kate Durbin’s The Ravenous Audience will be coming out with Black Goat Press/Akashic Books (Fall 2009)