Citizen of Poetry

Cactus BlossomI spent fourteen months in England, working hard to make the odd feel normal. When what is foreign feels odd, it is understandable. But when what was formerly normal now feels odd, that is perhaps the oddest feeling of all.

I now find myself, back in the US for a brief visit, ambling through coastal California towns taking snapshots — both mentally and with my iPhone — that a British tourist might take: cactus blossom, stars and stripes, the shimmering coastline. The very scenery of my childhood and early adulthood has become an archaeological dig.

The “shock” in the phenomenon of reverse culture shock occurs while driving, when I turn at an empty intersection and there is a momentary flash, in that between-lanes space, where I have to think hard to remember which side of the road I should be turning into.

Yet I always make the turn. There is a way in which intersection has become more the norm, and made the counter-shock less shocking than I feared. Sucking on a chili-covered lollipop from Jalisco, Mexico while sipping a mug of English tea, it occurs to me that I have always lived in the interstices of cultures — first on the US-Mexico border, and now as an American in England.

More and more, I feel both “at home” and “on vacation” wherever I go. Although my formative experiences will always make me an American, the context through which I relate to the world has expanded beyond my sun-drenched beginnings. For me, this is the place where poems come from — in fascinated relation to the world at large, through moments of specificity.

Perhaps, in this sense, my travels have made me a citizen of Poetry — that state governed by aesthetic appreciation of human affairs, where the tax is repaid on one’s attention by the ability to abide in liminal mysteries, living deeply, line by line.

A Bird Black as the Sun

I came home tonight to a lovely surprise: my contributor’s copy of A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens (Green Poet Press, 2011). If being a poet in California was like being in High School, this anthology would be my yearbook. The table of contents reads like a trip down memory lane.

Who knew these dark muses could set the quills of so many fine poet-friends a-quiver? I know what I will be reading on the tube for the rest of this week — poems like Jackson Wheeler‘s “Crow Sings Jazz” and a promising-sounding one by Paul Fericano, ever obsessed with The Three Stooges, entitled “Curly Howard Misreads Edgar Allen Poe.”

My own poem, “Shelf Road, Ojai” (originally titled “Crow”) qualified me first for an honourable mention in the Atlantic Monthly Student Poetry Competition, then as a runner-up in the Indiana Review Poetry Prize — but has never actually been published before. Re-reading it brings me back to the eponymous trail in a Shangri-La now some six thousand miles away. Perhaps all along these messages-in-a-bottle I call poems were only ever meant to return to me on the shores of a different island, to remind me of who I was, and who was with me, everywhere that I have been.

The anthology is now available at local bookstores or on