Monthly Archives: April 2012

Poetry Spotlight – Greg McBride

One of the positive things about submitting to poetry book contests is that the more gracious presses send you the winning book as part of the contest fee.

A couple of days ago I found myself rereading  Greg McBride’s Porthole, which won the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry from Briery Creek Press. A retired lawyer and Vietnam veteran, Greg McBride began writing later than most, and his book Porthole contains a wealth of life experience that add layers of depth to this superlative debut book. Greg is also the editor of The Innisfree Poetry Journal.

I was particularly moved by one of his Vietnam poems, previously published in Boulevard, and I reached out to Greg to get his permission to share it here.

Martin Ott

The Army Thought of Everything

Vietnam, 1969                                                                                            

In Hueys, in field hospitals, they moaned,

their bodies opened, guts rent by shrapnel,

stumps shredded by severed relationships.

Other absences—balls or butts or their

faces ripped away.  Such intimacy.

I focused my lens, asked that the surgeon

lower a shoulder, checked on the color

temperature, all to preserve the distance

between them and me.  How their bodies heaved

under machines!  Intubated, chest-tubed,

they lay tethered to possibilities

of unbridled breath.  The Army had thought

of everything:  for every grunt, armies

of guys like me, dry and whole in hootches

after a day of pounding typewriters

or fixing jeeps or issuing orders.

All soldiers, we wore the same loose fatigues,

the same two-tone, green-black boots, as if poised

to gun-sling our way into the jungle.

I’d chopper or jeep in, for a week,

into the Mekong Delta, the Highlands,

Cambodia’s border, Chu Lai.  I’d snap

the grunts, kids really, then back to Saigon,

the Dragon Lao restaurant, Thai girl friend,

real shower, where, exposed without my camera,

I suppressed daily death as best I could.

Everything the color of late summer—

olive green, sea green, green fatigues, green grunts

slogging the Delta’s thigh-deep paddy muck

and reeds, encircled in vines and ammo

and dread, pushing on, pressing on, toward home,

Where, just today, I have replayed each frame

stop-time, each image red, blood red, carmine.

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FIELDing Consistently Good Poetry

This weekend, a writer friend pointed out a poem in a magazine that she thought what horrible: sing song, self-absorbed, preachy. In it, the author complained at a writer’s retreat that no one understood his art.

Many magazines publish bad poems along with good ones, but this was in a top five destination for poets and fiction writers. This got me to thinking. If a magazine with this type of reputation could misfire with a bad poem, where could a reader safely go and expect every poem would be a good one?

One magazine came to mind – Field. To test my hypothesis, I sat down and read every poem from the Spring 2012 issue and I wasn’t disappointed. There was not a single dud in the whole issue, and many I reread several times.

The issue kicks off with an imaginative poem There Is a Day Under a Box from Michael Teig that juxtaposes an everyday object with a larger theme. The language is fresh and surprising: “There are friends who fade off the horizon like movie credits.”

This same approach is used by Hildred Crill in They Built the Dance Museum, with lines such as: “…because our bodies are written on rice paper, the bending stem bound into us like a watchword because of the drum’s hidden chamber and because of its skin…” The modern world is not ignored by these poets, even as they expand their lenses to larger questions about our lives. The opening lines of Chris Santiago’s poem A Year in the Snow Country crackles with this same energy: “ Later I married, in the careless zoning of the American West, the sense of not only all the time in the world but the space too.”

The poets in this issue can also be lush and lyrical as in the passage: “In some dreams, the same terrible occurs only it is normal, it is for love, and the green is the green of field corn, fodder green, corn grown for only cows and goats and pigs…” in The Magician’s Assistant by Amy Newlove Schroeder.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Field is that the writers have ambition, and I mean this in the best way. In the opening of Dear Thanatos, Traci Brimhall puts her narrator front and center on topics of religion and death: “I did what you told me to, wore antlers and the mask, danced in the untilled fields, but the promised ladder never dropped from the sky.”

Some of the poems are compact with enviable lines such as: “Little doll murdering her chores, how alike you look in the photo of you and your father” in Pill Box by Marni Ludwig. Others are part of a much larger narrative as in this Excerpt from Mad Men Poems by Dolan Morgan: New organs. Super strength. Chinese. The spoils of victory. How do I know I’m not going to just eat another mushroom and this room will disappear and I’ll be back on a train to Trenton?”

It could be that I am predisposed to poetry with cultural references such as TV, as I am partway through writing a themed collection Yankee Broadcast Network with poetic collaborator John F. Buckley. But I believe this is part of the magic of Field. No matter what style of poetry, there is much to admire in this consistent publication that will have you thinking about your own writing in a more expansive light.

Martin Ott

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The 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is Awarded to…..No One!

For just the 11th time, the Pulitzer judges were unable to agree on a majority decision for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

If I could vote, I would cast one to change this process – this is a wasted opportunity to provide a spotlight on a worthy author and press competing with so many other sources of media for national attention.

Martin Ott

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Company Storytellers – Managing Content Marketing

“Content Marketing is a strategy focused on the creation of a valuable experience. It is humans being helpful to each other, sharing valuable pieces of content that enrich the community and position the business as a leader in the field.” This opening thesis from the book Managing Content Marketing by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi is exciting to content marketers, like myself, who have spent way too much of their career pushing overly clever content out into the flotsam of advertising surrounding consumers.

Can businesses build content to rival media companies and act as publishers as well as marketers? The answer in Managing Content Marketing is “yes,” – but with the right strategy in place to help transform prospects into customers and customers into evangelists.

Apple is a prime example of an organization that is so focused on creating a valuable brand experience that it enables a cadre of evangelists to build fans sites, blogs and social media experiences for them. For those companies still building their brand equity, however, Managing Content Marketing has practical tips for taking control of their story (and becoming the hero in it).

Almost every creative writer I know has read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler that outlines the 12 steps of the Hero’s journey based on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In Managing Content Marketing, the authors tailor the hero’s journey to help companies build their own mythic story and explain the value of building editorial calendars to map this story across different channels.

They also suggest that every organization should have the roles of Chief Content Officer and Managing Editor in order to build a 360 workflow where they can view (with web analytics) and listen (via polls and conversations) to their customers to make sure that their content provides value.

For those of us who have worked with content their whole careers, this transition to companies becoming storytellers and publishers as a mechanism to find and retain customers is no surprise. It’s human nature, after all. Companies that provide value – in their products and in their content – will be at a distinct advantage in being authentic and driving engagement with their brand.

Martin Ott

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Great American Novel 2.0

Pittsburgh native and journalist turned internet professional Dmitri Ragano shares his story about self-publishing his first mystery novel Employee of the Year. His article Great American Novel 2.0 first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is recommended reading for anyone considering self-publishing as an option.

Dmitri is a talented fiction writer and makes a conscious decision to pursue electronic publishing as his primary option. Social media is a professional and personal interest, and Dmitri is excited about his ability to connect to readers in the continually evolving digital community.

Employee of the Year is garnering stellar reviews from readers and is available on Amazon.

Martin Ott

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The Nostalgia Echo – Mickey Hess

The Nostalgia Echo by Mickey Hess, the first novel from C&R Press, is a book with many layers. It follows the storyline of a professional narrator named Gene in search of his birth mother, armed only with a Polaroid photograph of her at a book signing for Doctor Everett Barnes, a nostalgia expert who is at the center of the novel and its subplots.

The Nostalgia Echo is reminiscent of Paul Auster’s City of Glass in that the quest is not the actual quest, but rather the exploration of what is real and what is not from the perspective of an unreliable narrator: “I like to pretend I’m an objective reporter of whatever story I’m telling, but when I get bored and cranky I tend to make things up.”

This propensity for the narrator Gene to make up major and minor characters recasts the true quest of this novel. Its subject is American culture, and our often-misplaced nostalgia for the good ol’ days.

As Doctor Barnes explains, “As children in the Fifties, we dreamed about flying cars. Then in the 1980s I saw a motion picture about a flying car that would take you back to the Fifties. So we’ve seen the future and it doesn’t look good.”

The Nostalgia Echo also contains science fiction elements – like we see in many of Vonnegut’s books – that are so close to our own reality that we barely think twice about them. For example, a drug company twists Doctor Barnes’ assertion that nostalgia is a malady and tries to make a profit by marketing its cure in pill form.

You’ll also be graced with cameos from Americana that intrude into the lives of characters struggling to make sense out of their surreal lives: the Dukes of Hazzard boys, Albert Einstein, J.D. Salinger, and Zorro vs. Godzilla.

The Nostalgia Echo also has another effect, an “echo” that stays with you after reading it. Be prepared for this inventive novel to evoke your own nostalgia, and the truth of everything from childhood memories to modern American history. As nostalgia expert Doctor Barnes explains: “Stories don’t exist in real life. In real life, things just happen, and when you try to make a story out of them, the truth moves further and further away from you.”

Martin Ott

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