Tag Archives: poetry

Published: In Print or Online (A Meditation)

I struggle a little everyday with something.

It’s something that in the Grand Scheme of It All isn’t worth struggling with. You might say after reading this “Trig, look to the future, man!” and you’d be 1,000% right! Maybe it’s my five years studying to get a BA in creative writing, plus another two years at Brooklyn College earning my Master’s in writing poetry (’cause you need an MFA to write poetry), but whenever I get something published, it’s still a bigger deal to me when it’s published in print versus online.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Some of my proudest moments in print publication.

Perhaps it’s as if by publishing a poem of mine in a print publication like the dozens I have on my shelves, someone is saying that my work is worth paying money to impress onto a page for sale at brick and mortar Barnes and Nobles across the country. Or maybe it’s that’s some editor sitting behind piles and piles of unsolicited manuscripts has sifted through the sop to discover a bioluminescent fish miles below the surface of Poetry and New Yorker verse which lighted on a treasure chest filled not with doubloons but a single sheet of poetry preserved until that deep-diving editor happened upon it.

But why would that be important? Why should it be important?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately. I recently got word from The Good Men Project that my poem “At Closing Time” is up on their site. And that’s awesome! What’s more awesome is that it’s not the first poem I’ve had published on this site; my classic spoken word piece “Old ’89” and “The Naked Kiss” which I’d written after watching Samuel Fuller’s 1964 classic of the same name, were also published at The Good Men Project. But after having it printed in Iodine Poetry Journal –– my favorite print magazine of poetry –– having “At Closing Time” –– my favorite poem I’ve ever written –– online didn’t feel as much of a big deal as it should have. Same for “Old ’89,” which was first published in Harpur Palate, Volume 8, Issue 1). But I was pretty stoked when “The Naked Kiss” was published online, partially because I never actually submitted that poem to any print publications.

Here’s the thing: I look at my aforementioned bookshelf where I keep journals like Iodine Poetry JournalConcho River ReviewThe Chaffin Journal, and the many others (I had to get up for a moment and walk to that shelf to look up the names of them all), and I wonder to myself: Who else has a copy of these wonderful print publications featuring my poems, and the poetry of talented other poets and writers like me? Truth be told, it’s not many. Probably some of the more hardcore poetry aficionados, maybe? Certainly a few Ph.Ded professors who actually still have subscriptions to Poetry Salzburg and Pennsylvania English. When you get a piece published in print, the best you can do to share is snap a pic of the cover or even the piece itself and post it to Instragram, then send folks to where they have to pay $8 to $12 for a copy of the magazine or journal. In today’s world, that’s two too many steps to ask of people.

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture "At Closing Time."

A great image chosen by The Good Men Project to capture “At Closing Time.”

But online? Having something published online opens us writers up to an audience of infinite potential readers. With the click of a share button, I (and you) can send my poem to Twitter, Facebook, heck, even Pinterest if you know how to really use it, and possibly uncover more readers than you ever thought you could –– if the piece is quality enough to stand out from the countless others being shared every day.

I will say, though, that the Activia ad a mere inch below my heartrending closing of “At Closing Time” does spoil the catharsis slightly for me –– hopefully it won’t spoil it for you.

You don’t get that in print, either.

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What do you think about publishing in print versus online?

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Hitting The Writer’s Block (And Breaking Right On Through It)

In all my nearly twenty years as a poet and writer, I’ve never believed in writer’s block.

writers_block

And this isn’t a piece expounding on how I suddenly found myself staring into the blank Microsoft Word document glowing back on my laptop, how my fingers froze, or how some unfelt before fear from the Great Beyond had turned on the faucet and I started sweating profusely.

No, I still don’t believe in writer’s block.

But it believes in me, and it almost hit me nonetheless. Hard.

As many of you probably know, since March of 2013, I’ve been writing a series of mystery novels under the auspices of “Hipster Noir” on the PATH train during my morning and evening commute to work. Three novels later, over 200,000 words, and one proposal to pitch them all to an agent or publisher, I’m still going strong with my fourth novel, The Curious Case of Tomorrow (Or, The Trouble with Time Travel).

But this fourth novel, which is a direct continuation of the third, the way Quantum of Solace is a continuation of Casino Royale, started making me second guess some things. I would still get on the PATH train from Grove Street in Jersey City to the World Trade Center stop on the other side of the Hudson, and my fingers would still go to work with my iPhone music library shuffling between Tom Waits and Gin Wigmore, with an occasional Lykke Li ballad or Pearl Jam anthem cutting in over the seven-minute or so ride.

This time, however, felt different.

I knew that I was really searching blindly for a spark. Now I can’t get too detailed here because I’d have to divulge what my fourth novel is all about, and I haven’t even published any of the first ones yet, but this was the first time over the course of almost thirty-six months that the writing was not yielding anything that I was getting truly excited about, the way the first three novels had done.

Nonetheless, I kept going. I kept writing every morning and evening, just like I’d done for nearly three years. The only difference was that instead of having my characters, story, and all its plot twists, McGuffins and organically sprout from within, I was actively searching for that spark, yet never thinking to admit that I may have finally found what no writer has ever actively searched for:

The Writer’s Block. And yes, I capitalize it like a proper noun ‘cause it deserves a proper level of respect. Anything that pushes us to become better writers does.

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The way I see it, we are the ones who create the Writer’s Block, by pouring out so much of who we are and what we are in our writing. At one point, we run out of things to write. But as Tom Waits sings, “you build it up, you wreck it down…” in a song appropriately titled “Hold On,” that’s exactly I did. I gave it form, shaped the shapeless into something that, in time, and once I found its weakness, I could hope to break right through.

Back to my Curious Case of Tomorrow. Amid my searching within not one, but two separate timelines that this new novel has split into; after figuring out that what I was writing this time around was no longer a mystery novel, but a science-fiction spaghetti western (if there’s even such a thing); when I finally surprised myself one day riding that iron horse through those morning and evening tunnels humming with the electricity of possibility, I knew I had finally blasted right through that ‘Block.

I had found my voice. Again.

Then I realized that it wasn’t the first time this ever happened, but it was the first time I became aware of it’s happening. And I dealt with it.

The Writer’s Block isn’t a stumbling block, it’s an uncarved block. It doesn’t necessarily have to stop your creativity. It’s not the blank page we stare blankly at, but the page that stares at us and pushes us to shut up our minds and write anything, which proves to be the most frightening thing for us writers –– to write without purpose. Without saying anything.

Writing for the sake of writing. Of calling ourselves writers.

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The Uncarved Block, or Pu, as Taoist abstract art.

But at least we’re writing, and in doing so, we’re showing that ‘Block whose boss.

Not enough of us do this. We hit the ‘Block and we wait for the right words. We complain about it on Facebook. We may go out with our friends to forget about that blank stare for a few hours. And each of these may actually work (or seem to work) to get you back on track.

But to find the right words, you’ve got to write down the words. It’s the Taoist principle of Pu –– the Uncarved Block. Though this particular tenet tells us we should let the world carve us into what it wants. From a writerly perspective, we simply need to start with a vague idea and the raw materials of what needs to be said and then hack out the words that don’t add to it. This way, all we’re left with are the ones that do work, and which will resonate and be remembered long after they’re read.

They’ll also be the ones that will remind us why we started writing in the first place.

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Bringing the Beat(nik) Back in American Culture in Film

The other day I was updating my Facebook status and I noticed an advertisement on the side of my screen for On The Road – The movie. I immediately clicked it and was pleased to see that someone had finally decided to turn beat icon Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a true classic of American and cultural literature, into a film.

As with any movie that deals with beatnik culture and the personalities or books associated with it, I was a bit nervous about watching this trailer.

Back when I was a student at New Jersey City University picking up a major in creative writing and a minor in everything else, I stumbled on the beat generation by accident. It was partly because of my good friend Dani Shanberg. I met Dean –– er, I mean Dani –– not long after I started a Poetry Club at NJCU for poets like me to come and read and listen to original bits of writing. I first heard the name Jack Kerouac from him and didn’t think anything of it. I then discovered Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” during a Modern Poetry class and, quite frankly, I thought the poem sucked, mainly because I just didn’t get it. A year or so later, I snagged a Penguin edition of On the Road from a friend who worked at The Book Room, a rustic used book store in Downtown Jersey City, and although reading the book was difficult, not to mention dry due to Kerouac’s intense amount of detail, I took to the tale of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty and their life crossing the great American frontier just enough to pick up an audio book version with Matt Dillon acting out the parts, and I listened to all eleven CDs when my pal Alain and I launched out on our first road trip across the country.

Long-haired and lost in the Louisiana bayou, circa 2000.

Of course, the book took on new meaning after that enlightening and somewhat cliché experience, and it made me delve deeper into the beat mythos, where I discovered more works by these American gods of bop prosody. I ultimately learned to love Allen Ginsberg’s verse in Howl and Other Poems, as well as in his other collections like Kaddish and Other Poems and Reality Sandwiches. Shortly after that, I discovered the poetic stylings of the great Gregory Corso, and my personal favorite for reasons still unknown to me –– William S. Burroughs.

All of these books of prose or verse harken back to a different time in American history, and I’m not talking about the Leave It to Beaver variety with stacks of pancakes at the breakfast table for your 2.5 kids or “blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage.” I’m talking about the Beave’s antithesis –– the scores of underprivileged and highly educated word junkies that fattened the underbelly of American literature.

It seems beatnik culture is being reincarnated in this current Hipster Age, and perhaps there’s no better form for it to take than film. There have been a handful of movies that have explored the beat generation, from the lifestyle itself to adaptations of the more popular beat classics to downright farcical films about French beret-wearing finger snappers tripping light fantastics and dropping phrases like “cool, daddy-o” every chance they can. I owned a few of these films, naturally, but there are others I’d never heard of until writing this blog. Roger Corman’s 1995 horror comedy A Bucket of Blood, for instance, is about a sculptor who accidentally kill his landlady’s cat and hides the evidence in some plaster, and after being pressured to create more of the same, he goes from beatnik to murderer. Then there’s the film adaptation of Kerouac’s The Subterraneans (1960), which is about an interracial couple (taboo during the time it was written, adding more fuel to the fiery fact that the beats were rebels of the written word), as well as Heart Beat (1980) and The Source (1999).

Perhaps the most important beat-based film would have to be David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991), based on Burroughs’ heroin trip of a novel and starring Peter Weller as Bill Lee. Having recently gotten through Burrough’s novel, I can say that the book and film are different. I think. But each is strangely original, blending together a nauseating world of aliens, talking cockroach Underwoods, and more sex and death (and sickly combinations of the two) than you’d ever expect in a novel, even for today’s standards.

A true "WTF?!" moment if I've ever seen one.

Aside from Naked Lunch, there is also Gary Walkow’s 2000 film Beat, starring Kiefer Sutherland as William S. Burroughs and Courtney Love as Burrough’s wife Joan, which ends with the accidental killing of Joan by Burroughs after a drunken game of William Tell goes awry. And for even further insight into Burroughs’ life, there’s Yony Leyser’s William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, a splendid documentary about the tormented writer’s life.

Most recently, beatnik culture has resurfaced from its comfortable subterranean depths with the indie film Howl, Rob Epstein’s biopic that examines the obscenity trail of Allen Ginsberg. I was disappointed with the film, mainly because of James Franco’s performance as Ginsberg and especially with the fact that the entire poem “Howl” is illustrated using cheap computer graphics.

The illustrated "Howl" by Eric Drooker.

So then, what’s my opinion on the trailer for On the Road? Let’s just say that Walter Salles is just the right person to direct a movie about a pair of road hitchhiking free spirits embodying the essence of an entire generation because he already did it in The Motorcycle Diaries. That said, when I did watch this long-awaited trailer, I was pleased for the most part, especially when I saw that Viggo Mortensen is playing Old Bull Lee. I’m not sure how I feel about the actors playing Sal (Sam Riley) and Dean (Garrett Hedlund), and most especially with Kristen Stewart in the role of Marylou. But who knows, perhaps this will be the film that inches her away from what’s proving to be the Twilight of her acting career.

And I’m happy to see that On the Road is only the beginning of a revival of media about the only real American culture ever to have existed, which has inspired everything from hippies to hipsters. Steve Buscemi is slated to direct Burroughs’ gender-shaking novel Queer in 2013, and who knows what’s to follow. I for one would love to see film adaptations of Burroughs’ first novel Junky, which kept me seated in “The Poet’s Chair” on the second floor of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco for well over a hundred pages before I finally caved in and bought a copy for the plane ride back to Jersey the next morning.

Remember this. Always.

Now, if only poems could be adapted into films. That would be a little slice of Nirvana.

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So what’s YOUR favorite beatnik-inspired book that you’d like to see made into a movie?

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Craft Before Content, Part One: The Bob Ross Effect

The other night I was at Bar Majestic in Downtown Jersey City with Marinell all set to do some serious Cerise planning and prep work. Above us on a big screen, a video playing––The Joy of Painting, featuring an artist, white button-downed but laid back, with a palette over his left arm and an easel and blank canvas before him. He also had an Afro and beard, and when he lifted his brush to the canvas, it was nothing short of magic!

Of course, this most famous of American artists is none other than Bob Ross, who made a career for himself by painting “happy little trees” with simple dabs of a fan brush. For a good ten minutes, Marinell and I were both enthralled by how effortlessly (and quickly!) he created a barn sitting in a bed of water surrounded by earthy black trees enfolding the area beset by a lovely orange sunset amidst clouds heavy with shadows.

This isn't the painting that mesmerized us, but it's a darn good one, too!

What struck me most was this: there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in Bob Ross. He felt out the picture in his mind’s eye and fluidly swiped and stroked it onto the canvas, at one with the Tao of his own art. His knowledge of the craft of oil painting, the wet-on-wet technique in particular, must’ve been such that he didn’t have to think about it. He knew how to use every tool in his shed, and by the time the credits rolled, a wonderful piece of commercial artwork was laid out before him.

As writers, we can learn a lot from the Bob Ross method. We spend our early years learning how to comb back a dangling modifier, when to use a gerund phrase and why it’s important to vary our sentences. And we probably hated every minute of it! But without those crucial years of exercise upon exercise, we could never have elevated ourselves to the level of being able to put words down using the tools we’d learned about in college English classes––things like voice, diction, mood and tone that we practice primarily on countless thesis papers. But then we learned literary and plot devices––flashback, nonlinear storytelling, and all the other tools at the disposal of the creative writer and its myriad subtitles––novelist, poet, screenwriter.

You can’t reach a destination in a beat-up Chevy that breaks down every couple hundred miles, but you don’t want to Lamborghini it either ‘cause you’ll miss the journey in between.

The first thing our teachers ever give us to work with in our writing classes is a simple pencil because we’re able to erase our mistakes. And we will make plenty of them! But eventually we graduate to a pen––ink––and with that power of permanence comes a greater responsibility to write what we wish to say well enough the first time. To this day, the only time I use a pencil is during revision, which is the only time I let my second-guessing monster off the leash to tear up my words.

How is it then that some people feel they can skip all that tedious exercise, or worse yet, not pay attention to (or forget) all that basic knowledge gained high school and college writing courses and fast forward to creating their own stories? Much the same way a person can’t climb Mount Everest with arms and legs as thin as twigs, or Bob Ross wouldn’t have risen to his full potential without practicing every day during his brief breaks, a writer can’t tell a compelling story without practicing the craft. The constant act of writing is great for perfecting your story sense, but you have to know how to write well first.

And here’s a two-minute glimpse into the magic that we all can create…as long as we know the right spells! Enjoy!

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Post-Postmodern Open Mic Poetry: A Split Discussion with Myself

Let me preface this post by saying that there are two distinct sides to my poetic persona that don’t always see eye to eye because they are diametrically opposed.

The first is the traditional poet––the suffering, schooled in heartbreak and the hotspurs of political, religious, and economic type (this is also the part that’s well-read enough to traverse the freeways between Pindar and Poe up to the wine country of William Shakespeare and down Bukowski’s bleak and battered alleyways––and yes, even detour along the side streets of Billy Collins).

The second is what I’ve termed the post-postmodern poet––the neo-hipster, beatnik-tweetering-on-the-edge-of-emo variety who lives to ride the freshly paved roads of his poetic ancestors and to rock the microphone with a performance worthy of Def Poetry Jam (this is also the part that enjoys Lady Gaga and Louis Armstrong with equal zeal, and who believes that everything is poetry––from the sonnet composed in perfect iambs and a-b-a-b to the note scribbled between a Romeo and his Juliet during algebra class).

That said, on July 30th, after about a two-year hiatus from the microphone to get some publishing in, I attended a truly excellent event called JC Opens Up the Mic, held at The Warehouse Café and showcasing members of the seven major Jersey City groups who are bringing poetry back to the people.

Jersey City's Open Mic Tour 2010

On the one hand, it proved to be an exhilarating evening of featured poets and spoken word artists, and a great band to boot. On the other, as lively and fun as that night was, and as well-received my signature poem “Pale Imitation of a Rusty Old Night Club Performer” was during the open mic segment, I couldn’t help but notice that this was a very different scene from the one I was part of back in my heyday as a performance poet.

During the early 2000s, the NY/NJ open mic scene was a hornet’s nest bustling with activity. Every night there was a pad, coffee house or hookah bar waiting for poets to tear up the microphone. I even hosted my own series at a bar on Amsterdam called The Dead Poet, where all the after-hours avatars of verse could gather and spit their words to a roomful of fellow artists and aficionados hungering for the white light of new thought and fresh craft.

Cool Beans Featuring Trigonis

My first featured reading at Cool Beans Coffee House in Oradell, NJ, February, 2003.

The Greenwich Village Bistro and Vintage Café in NYC, Rodeo Ristra Lounge in Hoboken, The Waterbug Hotel in my new hometown of Jersey City––these were just some of the venerated omphaloi that held some of the best readings that, in line with my traditional disposition, would be the apogee of the open mic scene.

I look back now and can fully appreciate the underground spirit of that former scene, which bathed my roots in muse-juice and helped to fully sprout my inner poet. Like how the Beats read their words in small cafés, or Frank O’Hara and the New York School at taverns and bars, the way my own crew of angst-engendered renegades and I had done at those lost soul venues that have since shut their doors to be reincarnated as Cluck U Chickens or laundromats.

Welcomed Words, featuring Trigonis

Reading new poems at "Welcomed Words" at Rodeo Ristra Lounge, Hoboken, NJ, September, 2004.

Now the jazz may have fizzled out into the bass-thump of dance pop. The suffering behind each and every word written down or memorized (and in some cases even improvised––the horror, the horror!) may have been all but alleviated while we now sit comfortably together all smiles and snapping fingers, entertained as well as enlightened.

This is open mic poetry today, and it’s a huge, positive step forward (says my post-postmodern personality), reaching out to a wider audience of poets and poetry enthusiasts, and bringing the local community together, which is something that rarely happened back in the early 2000s because of the underground nature of the beast. And as a poster of mine once declared while I was promoting my 2005 chapbook Androids with Angel Faces, I am a “Man of Time” and will therefore travel ahead into what lies in the future of poetry and look forward to prospering in print as well as in front of open mic audiences across New York, Brooklyn, Jersey City and beyond.

Trigonis on the mic

Sharing my words at JC Opens Up the Mic, July, 2010.

But perhaps the one thing both my personas can agree on is that open mics should not take the summers off, especially after such a splendid night of verse and inspiration as JC Opens Up the Mic (thankfully, their 2010 Tour continues!) I mean, back in my day, poets couldn’t afford to take vacations.

Still can’t!

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