Clifford Brooks

Clifford Brooks

Poet | Writer | Teacher

Owning a dog awakens latent maturity - thank God.

The post My Daisy is a Godsend appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Dude, I get it. There are scores of folks out there I owe an apology. In this case I”m referring to dog owners. I know why you think they speak English. I know why you take countless photos. They are quadrupedal people.

Last Christmas I got a dog. I’ve never owned one. No sob story. Parents made it clear who would carry the canine’s responsibility. I wasn’t that guy.

Forty-five years later I find myself in Mostly Mutts. My family felt it time to introduce new members. Carolyn let me in on “real dog life” with an animal well-trained, fun, and even-tempered. There grew a hankering to get one.

I named her Daisy. Don’t know why I picked Daisy. We walked into Mostly Mutts with zero expectations. Twenty-four hours later we returned to take Daisy home. I was terrified.

(I’m less, but still, terrified.)

It’s good in my heart. It’s new to have something so incredibly excited to see you. Carolyn adores me, but Daisy doesn’t care where I drop my underwear or how long it’s been since I got garbage to the curb. It’s apples and oranges. Carolyn wholeheartedly agrees.

Now that I”m six months into my life as a dog owner, here are five reasons bringing home a dog is a stellar idea:

  1. Dogs Promote Chill: I won’t lie. Daisy came eerily pre-programmed. Minimal toilet drama. Nearly zero barking. I am blessed. When anxiety gnaws at me Daisy knows it. I never believed it until it happened. Like God it’s there but indescribable.
  2. Promotes Maturity: Yeeeaaaah….I got behind in this virtue. Good, bad, or train wreck – on the other side there’s selflessness enough to let more in. Daisy isn’t fussy, but she will throw one unattended. I can’t get too full of myself when a life depends on me.
  3. Increases Patience: More than once I’ve said that patience is a super power. The last two years built up my reserves to handle my hairy child. I watch her. She’ll wait long for me to finish writing, but whine when it’s time. I get outside.
  4. More Exercise: You are guaranteed more exercise unless you’re an awful person and lock the critter indoors. Take the dog outside. Safe distance from other people, but chummy with your mutt. Dogs are great listeners. Pretty sure Daisy’s going to blackmail me when she’s old enough to drive.
  5. Awareness of Time: I still have an issue with this. Time. Not so much “late” as “locked-too-long-in.” Attention is given to people in time convenient to them. Daisy is mine to worry about. Responsible for life, for my better decisions, to keeping the little lady in check.

I urge you to think hard about adopting an animal. Let the high wear of, wait a few days, and then make that leap. If you don’t worry a little you should be worried. Getting over that fear, watching the puppy grow up, get gangly, trip, seem to laugh, and lick on you – it’s magic every day.

Mostly Mutts is a no-kill shelter run by phenomenal people. Their staff matches owners with dogs meant to share good days. Never rushed. Professional but compassionate, theirs is an establishment I trust and endorse. I promise dogs make your heart bigger.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: March 21, 2020, 5:15 am

Building a successful podcast is all about confidence, variety, music, and professionalism.

The post How to Build a Successful Podcast appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Building a successful podcast is all about confidence, variety, music, and professionalism. There are scores of radio programs and thousands of podcasts. What makes yours different? What makes it stand out? What’s your demographic? Why are you doing it in the first place?

These are important questions to ask. Do not allow the number of existing shows to sour your enthusiasm. Think of what you want to hear in a show. Research other programs you admire, note what they’re doing right, and jot down notes on what’s missing. You want to fill that hole. Attempting to replicate an existing format will fall flat. Look for an original angle.

WUTC/NPR 88.1FM fell into my lap because I enjoy what I do. Based in Chattanooga, TN, WUTC is a hub of NPR standards and local flair. A friend of mine got me a spot on a show recorded there in 2014. I read poetry and the Misty Mountain String Band made the day perfect with bluegrass. Of course I was nervous and sweaty, but also felt blessed to experience an interview with NPR. I kept my language clean and stories honest. The General Manager, Richard Winham, enjoyed it.

Richard Winham said, “Clifford, you need your own show. In six weeks, once our fundraising pledge drive is over, shoot me an email and we”ll set something up.”

Bullshit,” I thought but didn’t say. What I did say was, “That would be awesome!” Then I left and Richard went back to work.

Seven weeks later I sent that email. Within the same day Richard set a day and time for me to come up and record the first show. I brought fourteen friends, no hint of a plan, and enough excitement to power the whole city.

“So, Clifford, what’s your formula?” Richard asked, not concerned about the dozen or so folks clogging his waiting room.

“Formula?” I answered. (I swear I almost added aloud my radio show wasn’t about chemistry.)

We brought in all the guests and Richard’s editing wizardry sewed it into a palatable whole.

“What do you want to call it?” He asked me.

“Dante’s Old South,” was my answer.

I chose the name to fuse two ideas: 1) The classical tradition of Dante Alighieri, and 2) A term typically held in a negative light. My mission from the start is to squash the uneducated, racist, “yee-haw” stereotype of the South without being ashamed of my roots. Thus far I think we’ve done a solid job.

So, from a slipshod start, now the show has a formula. I bring in folks from all walks of life and find out what makes them tick. I choose guests from my neck of the woods in Georgia and some from the Chattanooga area. I break up the interviews with original, up-and-coming artists from Sofar Sounds of Atlanta. I don’t care if you somehow sound like James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, and Malcolm McDowell at the same time – eventually all-talk will rock listeners to sleep.

How do you create a successful podcast?

  1. Have fun doing it.
  2. Don’t do it with vain intent.
  3. Create a formula that fills a public need.
  4. Vet all guests beforehand to avoid embarrassing grandstanding.
  5. Bring in local artists from all genres to appeal to the whole art community.
  6. Invite guests from outside the norm like mathematicians, land surveyors, engineers, landscapers, teachers, etc. Anything done well and with love is art. Get all of it on tape.
  7. Start an archive of your shows on iTunes, Spotify, etc.
  8. Don’t be afraid to tweak your formula over time to prevent stagnation.

For the first three years Dante’s Old South was broadcast four times a year. Starting in January 2019 we began a monthly spot on the third Sunday of every month at 8:00PM. It’s a labor of love I enjoy every time we get into the studio. I pray you find the same satisfaction as you build your own successful podcast.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: December 8, 2019, 11:31 pm

Your magazine will only be as good as the quality of company you keep.

The post How to Create a Successful Literary Journal appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

How do you create a successful literary journal? Today’s art scene is not short of magazines devoted to them. The internet opened the floodgates for a deluge of new ones. The cost to produce a print magazine is staggering. To publish one online, the startup fee is the price of a domain. The secret to staying in the game is a mix of traditional framework and innovative thinking.

Print magazines carry prestige. They’ve earned it. Online magazines, or ezines, must raise the bar with content and design if they hope to play the game. To gain momentum, the vision must be concise. Leave some room to grow and adapt. Teamwork is essential for true inclusion. Do not get mired in ego.

Five years ago The Blue Mountain Review walked into the world. After the Southern Collective Experience gained traction, Peter Ristuccia, an excellent friend of mine, suggested we create a literary journal. He’s the one who name the gorgeous beast. The two of us spoke for hours with an excitement kids enjoy on Christmas morning. That joy of art for itself alone is tantamount to breaking above mediocrity.

Here are 5 suggestions to follow to build a literary magazine that works:

  1. Ask Yourself, Why am I doing this?: Is this a vanity project, or a desire to elevate the quality of art? Be honest with yourself and check your heart. The intent behind anything eventually rears its head. If a genuine desire for creative inclusion doesn’t exist, the project won’t make it above room temperature.
  2. Hone Your Vision and Incorporate Teammates: What are you trying to accomplish with your idea? What genres to you plan to incorporate. The wider you cast your net artistically, the greater your potential audience. Choose editors that are experts in their field. Pick people who share your vision, but stay open to their suggestions. When you pull the right folks together for the right reason you’ll rarely hear a bad idea.
  3. Do Not Budge on Quality: Your magazine will only be as good as the quality of company you keep. If you set the standard, do not dip below it for any reason. When your primary goal is to publish the best, the best will come from all walks of life. It is better to have a few poems of exceptional quality than massive collection of fair-to-middling efforts.
  4. Do a Line-by-Line Edit: Go through every line before you release the final product. Mistakes happen, but integrity is built on proper grammar. If you strive for perfection, you’ll never get the goods to market. However, rushing creates a hasty end. Sometimes formatting is lost from acceptance of the submission to its arrival on the designer’s desk. Those whose work you accept deserve to have their work displayed as they penned it. It’s your job to see it’s printed that way.
  5. Put Time into Design: If the design chosen to showcase that work is sloppy it cheapens the overall product. This is where hiring a professional graphic designer is the best call and money spent. Find a designer who, like the editors, sees your endgame. Ask to see examples of their work and a resume. Let their imagination run with your energy. Listen to their aesthetic suggestions.

Creating a successful literary magazine is a titanic endeavor. Patience, people skills, eye for detail, and commitment to your vision are essential tools for this kind of literary construction. We decided to go with because it mimics the tactile experience of reading. Submittable is a great way to generate funding for design. Once you gain traction consider selling advertising.

Our decision to incorporate interviews with creatives from the art world as well as life experience came from adding an innovative spin on a traditional standby. Landscapers are artists. Booksellers are artists. Engineers are artists, and all of these people bring a fresh perspective and inspiration. These interviews reached outside the norm to define the BMR as a “journal of culture”.

I pray that these suggestions help you flesh out your dreams to create a successful literary journal. If you have any questions, please let me know. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the new Blue Mountain Review, and feel free to submit at any time.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: November 3, 2019, 2:48 am

Being happy isn't about deception. It's about being honest with yourself.

The post How I Think Love Works appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Honesty: It works, honestly.

Honesty is a brackish tack to swallow. Love is patient. Truth is not kind. Truth doesn’t care who’s right. Love and truth aren’t always in agreement. Love is a farce without honesty. How honest can you be without becoming brutal? Is it possible to poetry-speak something to death?

But seriously, this is how I think love works:

  1. Be Open: Don’t keep secrets. Do not compartmentalize. Personal space is essential, but a mental and emotional closeness/honesty keeps communication easier. The things you feel like can’t be discussed, need to be discussed. Be open to your partner and yourself.
  2. Keep Friendships Clean: We all know what talk is appropriate for “friends,” and talk for those “more than friends.” Men and women can be friends with zero fuss. A goal of all involved is to keep boundaries strong.
  3. Leave Fantasy to Itself: Reality is not a burden. At least, it shouldn’t be. It is a fist-fight often lost, sure. Throwing caution to the wind for a fantastic world where all troubles are immediately eased by one person – that’s a dumpster fire waiting to happen. Never put your faith in a human being. Never go to war with a noun.
  4. Learn What Makes Them Laugh: Laughter is medicine. In the pursuit of love, missteps are inevitable. An appropriate salve is equal parts humility and humor. Good time or bad, their laugh is music. Make it play often.
  5. Bring Up Issues Immediately: Do not bring issues up immediately hot. First evaluate why this event or individual hits a nerve. It’s a bad idea to let it linger. Once you understand yourself, be honest and lay it out for your partner.

These are a few ideas gleaned from the last year of my life. I am vocal about who I cherish, but private in our affairs. Too much on social media leaves too little for those in love. The backbone of love is balance, and balance is not a word often found on my lips.

God keeps all in perspective. Fallible creatures will fail. Putting anyone on a pedestal is an injustice to all-involved. I thank heaven every day for the understanding and calm I experience. A wonderful person to share it with is a tremendous blessing.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: October 19, 2019, 2:53 am

An interview is a keyhole into your life. Take it seriously.

The post Take the Misery Out of Your Interview appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

There are many pitfalls on the creative road to success. How you beat these odds to gain respect and notoriety in the writing world is a herculean feat. Invariably others will want to know how you did it. This curiosity could come from a magazine with a desire to put your story in print.

I’m here today to give you a few tips on how you can take the misery out of your interview.

  1. Stay within the Guidelines: Often your Q&A will come with a set of instructions to follow when you return it. Read-them-closely. Follow them to the letter. If you need guidance, don’t be afraid to ask.
  2. Be succinct: Less is more. It is easy to go on and on and on in undigestable blocks of text. Feel free to gush out every thought in the draft process, but then go over every word to leave only those essential to your meaning. What one thinks is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, to the reader sounds windy and self-absorbed.
  3. Edit: It doesn’t cast you in the best light when bad grammar and misspellings litter every response. Do not depend on the one interviewing to comb through, correct errors, and follow up to make sure they guessed the correct intent. Submitting tightly-written and properly edited pieces will earn the undying gratitude of that journal, and others hoping for your input.
  4. Submit Only High-Quality Photos: You want this interview to snap. The flash will dull with photos of you and/or your book when the pictures are poor. It’s not the personal taste of the interviewer but if the graphic designer can use them. The specifications needed are listed in the guidelines. If you are unsure, ask.
  5. Be Brave and Fill in the Blanks: The interviewer is not in your head. If there was a particular person, trial, triumph, or epiphany that created the person you are today, but they fail to ask about it – ask them if you can fill in the blank. I urge those I interview to do that. Not only does it give their audience a full view of its subject, you don’t go away feeling something vital is missing.
  6. Abandon Ego: Do-not-take-everything-personally. If more information is needed, oblige. If the interviewer sees where fat needs to be trimmed, don’t take it as an insult. If the magazine needs better photos, it’s the quality of the photos – not your face. The journal you’re working with has an image and standard to uphold. All they want is to show you in the best possible light, and look professional doing it.

Other good tips are to stay on deadline. If an unforeseen event causes you to fall behind, immediately tell the magazine. We are all human, and in many cases, more time can be allowed. If you see an error in the interview once it’s published, politely send one email with the issue stated. It will be corrected if the Q&A is online. If it’s a print journal, I suggest more read-throughs and peers enlisted to fish out mistakes before it’s submitted. In the end both parties want a human appeal to an interview. Take the misery out of your interview by adding care and common sense to your creative mix.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: September 24, 2019, 1:20 am

Expect difficult people, but expect more of yourself.

The post Dealing with Difficult People appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Difficult people are a close third with death and taxes as unavoidable forces in life. The brighter you burn, the harder you work, the closer you come to your purpose – the chance you’ll encounter difficult people leaps exponentially. I’ve met a few difficult people, and I’ve been difficult more than once. The place I write from is one where I’ve been on both sides of the argument.

Manipulative individuals don’t like paperwork. The more someone urges you not to worry about a written agreement, the faster you should run away. Protect your investment. It’s good business. Publications, speaking engagements, advances on new projects, artwork commissions, and copyrights all require a contract. Keep your grip tight and legit from square one.

A quality attorney is quintessential to avoiding costly headaches. My dad told me, “Cliff, contracts save family and friendships.” True friends and real family will agree. Difficult people change the rules to suit their comfort level. Contracts keep everything clean. Signatures cannot be argued. Your art is your child. Contracts act as the kid’s health insurance.

Be empathetic, but not a pushover. Stand firm. Do not not be ashamed to say, “No.” If you get that “U-Oh Feeling,” something Greater is suggesting you take a moment to reflect. If it is a pain in your ass, and the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, you owe it to yourself to decline.

The best way to avoid difficult people is to surround yourself with good ones. Choose friends that keep your ego in check, understand your moods, gifts, foibles, and in spite of it all – loyal to the cause. There’s a natural, easy flow in relationships unburdened by pettiness. If a relationship is work, that’s to be expected. If it’s a chore, then you need to lighten the load.

Don’t let people rattle your cage. Don’t let the bastards get you down. I’ve written extensively on the chinks in my armor of self-esteem. If you can’t grow stronger, you’ll grow jagged – or give up. I try every day to be better than my mistakes. I fill my time with good works. Difficult people fill their emptiness with your anxiety. Why that’s true has no good answer. The only answer they deserve is, “No.”

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: September 9, 2019, 2:27 am

Often the easiest way for a rebel to get in print is by following the rules.

The post Increase Your Chances of Getting Published appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

To increase your chances of getting published, just follow the rules and use good manners. This is not a trick. This is proven effective. I cannot tell you where inspiration comes from, but I can tell you what will increase your chances of getting published.

  1. Follow the Submission Guidelines: Really. Submission guidelines are there to streamline the process. Read them carefully. Accept them as gospel truths. If you do, you can be sure the submission gets a fair shake. If you don’t, the work is immediately dismissed.
  2. Less is More with Your Bio: Keep bios short and sweet. Some mystery is good. Add three-to-five previous publication credits, one sentence that describes you outside of letters, and the link to your website.
  3. Make Cover Letters Professionally Unique: Again, less means more. A genuine greeting, note of gratitude, and specific reasons you enjoy a publication and/or what drew you to their door are good ideas. “Genuine” is the word of the day. A succinct show of respect goes far.
  4. Let Us Know if It’s Published Elsewhere: Simultaneous submissions can be a headache for magazines. If your submission is accepted elsewhere, immediately tell the others. Magazines often plug in content as it’s accepted. If failure to communicate prior publication requires editors to redesign the next issue, that leaves a bad taste.
  5. Be Patient: Patience is a super power, and appealing to – everyone. Editors make effort to respond to you in good time. Don’t follow up about the status of your submission until the specified time frame is past. Getting fussy or rude does no favors, and may eliminate any chance of acceptance now, or in the future.

Make sure the magazines you choose to submit publish material in your wheel house. If there’s a theme they want, be sure to match it. If you see an error in formatting once the issue comes out, kindly let the journal know, and they’ll be happy to make it right. In the event they pass on your work, do not take it personally, and do not rage on the editors. Good manners and an eye for detail will do wonders for your submissions. It’s an art form unto itself. I hope this helps you navigate creatively choppy waters.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: September 9, 2019, 1:11 am

The name of the game is quality poetry.

The post The Game of Poetry appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Poetry is a finicky game. Write what you know. Make it accessible. Treat it like a job. If you don’t love what you’re writing, no one else will. Show, don’t tell. Think about you audience, but not too much. All of these rules are true, and a few seem to conflict with one another. Feeling your way along in the dark can often feel like you are left on a dock without a mentor to help you along. Never feel you’re an orphan of words. Creativity doesn’t have to be a one-player sport.

Folks say, “I don’t know how to play well with others. I am an introvert.” I believe artists are all introverts to some degree. A majority of our time involves us in a room alone, or insulated in a crowded room, by our imagination, playing pretend with invisible people. This vivid internal world is crucial for a believable work of art that connects with other people. To balance the internal with a foothold in accessibility, it behooves the artist to adopt a workshop. The key to success is picking teammates who both challenge and support you.

Do not begin any project concerned about how your work will be received. That heavy priority will either daunt you from starting, or force out something so bland that it appeals to no one. Write it for you, keep your eye on the ball, and hunker down every day with excitement for the craft. Abandon fear, and live by the mantra: If I am the only one who reads this, that’s okay. If leafing back through the pages of your hard work gives you peace, you’ve achieved more than most people will in a lifetime.

Visit a few writing groups and online resources for a group that appeals to you personally and professionally. If you get that “uh-oh feeling” of negativity with any part of a group, walk away. Don’t huff off if you hear something other than, “You’re a genius!” Yet, don’t suffer envy, spite, or bullying. Think of your art as your child. Do you want the kid handed everything and blindly coddled? No. Do you want the youngster pushed around by their peers? Also no. Be patient. There’s a team out there perfect for you.

Like all games whether in football, the boardroom, or writing group there will be oodles of men and women who will not like you. Healthy competition breeds better material. Constructive criticism fleshes out your foibles and soft spots in a safe environment to increase your skill. On the other hand, unfair play is everywhere, and if you feel your work is bashed for the reason of keeping you insecure on the sidelines, calmly move on. It is not important for a jerk to know why you bounced from their negativity.

I suggest you meet at least once every two weeks to stay on-point and focused. Email each member you work for the next meeting well ahead of time to allow them an opportunity to study your material. Make sure each session is started with talk about life in general, laugh a little, but be sure to huddle up for the first round of edits before your creative energy is melted away in small talk. The product is the point. Don’t lose sight of the prize.

Set rules for the group that all agree upon. A time limit for each member’s work is helpful, but be flexible if one needs more attention. Understanding and patience goes a long way. Breakthroughs take time, and epiphanies can come out of nowhere. There is an alchemy to creative writing that makes our ball club mystical above-and-beyond eye-and-hand coordination. Yet, we need to bring the same dedication that an NFL player possesses, and wear a thick skin to process criticism without emotional bruising.

The game of poetry is an arduous, prophetic, and profitable. Do not let solitude lose you in the process of writing your first draft. Have faith. Be brave. Forgive yourself, but don’t cow down to anyone – including yourself. A rugged determination is one cornerstone of any successful player. Be your own quarterback, but be sure to build a solid team around you.

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Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: September 2, 2019, 2:37 am

With understanding, "odd" becomes "unique."

The post A Little Bit About Autism appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Living with autism is unique. Like all diagnosis, there is a wide spectrum of varying degrees of those with autism. I am “high-functioning autistic.” It is a condition that today allows me the focus, tenacity, and attention to detail I require to succeed as a writer. It’s toughened me up without evicting my artist’s childlike wonder.

Autistic people are not close-talkers or big-hug-giving folk. Personal space is a big deal. For us: The smaller the party, the better. Our brains translate the external world in shock waves. As people move around the room, various conversations, the smell of awful cologne, lights intensely florescent, someone’s high-pitched laugh- autistic people ingest it all at once, all the time. However, sensory overload can be purged through writing. That’s exactly what I do with poetry.

Social cues are frustratingly hard to translate. The way a person’s tone clashes with their body language will linger as confusion long after the conversation is over. Prolonged eye contact is unnerving. If a sudden sound shocks someone with autism, it pisses us off – bad. We are far more sensitive to smells, the texture of food, the fabric of our clothes, a change in daily routine.

Once a psychiatrist explained autism to me, the peace it gave me still goes strong today. Diagnosed in my 40s, I do not see the years before misspent or maligned. Life is life, and far more of my years have been happy. Today I use appropriate coping skills. I pray. I connected with Autism Speaks and work to educate people. When something “odd” is understood, it becomes “unique.”

Here’s a list of men and women throughout history who thrived, or thrive, with autism.

  • Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
  • Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
  • Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
  • Tim Burton – Movie Director
  • Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
  • Henry Cavendish – Scientist
  • Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
  • Emily Dickinson – Poet
  • Paul Dirac – Physicist
  • Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
  • Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster`
  • Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
  • Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
  • Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
  • Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
  • Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
  • James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
  • Alfred Kinsey – Sexologist & Biologist
  • Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
  • Barbara McClintock – Scientist and Cytogeneticist
  • Michelangelo – Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer
  • Sir Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Astronomer, & Physicist
  • Jerry Seinfeld – Comedian
  • Satoshi Tajiri – Creator of Nintendo’s Pokémon
  • Nikola Tesla – Inventor
  • Andy Warhol – Artist
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosopher
  • William Butler Yeats – Poet

The post A Little Bit About Autism appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: August 12, 2019, 11:00 am

I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing.

The post The Accordion Principle of Poetry appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

The Accordion Principle of Poetry is the literary philosophy I use to polish my work. I never consider a poem finished after I wrap up the first draft. Instead, I hustle words on the page, let it breathe, and then return to it later with fresh eyes. It is time to edit. This is when my accordion comes into play.

I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing. First, remove words (compress) without losing the lyrical essence. Take time to look at each line, then slide it over to a friend or colleague for their impression. Does the condensed version say everything you feel? Remember, it takes greater skill to say it with fewer words than with many.

Next, use free association to dash out (decompress) and attach new ideas, descriptions, references, or whole stanzas. Again, relax and take a moment to read the new product. Often surprises await that hide beneath the surface. Let the same individual/editor as before read what you built for feedback.

Repeat this process allowing time to whistle out of you the true meaning. Like learning the accordion, never rush your composition. Let it find you. Forcing a point will stunt your poem’s growth. Never limit yourself.

Here is a poem of mine I recently used as practice:

Breaking the Steady Bender

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.

Edgar Allan Poe

It is not romantic,
nor necessary dark magic,
to be a drunk.
Obsessing over
old disappointments,
friends fear your
late-night phone calls.
They do not fear you.

You, a callus next-of-kin,
foul – father, brother, son,
the family sees their tree
has another apple
watering itself
into a stupor.
You, the causality
of moral torpor.

An alcoholic apathy
was my altar,
a fetid womb.
God and the poet’s
screaming ego
pulled me out
of that tomb.
It is true.

Good folks,
I didn’t expire
in the addled
by and by
because death-by-cliché
is the worst way
to die.

I set out to create a poem as a bookend to “Judas Noose Tavern” in my first book. The tone of “Judas” left a forlorn feeling that addiction can’t be overcome. The idea of closing the circle never occurred to me until I cleared my head for inspiration. After I looked at the finished product I:

  1. Felt that the title and quote only worsened the hopeless feeling achieved in “Judas.” I didn’t like that.
  2. There was a judgmental tone towards the “you” at the beginning I found unattractive and counterproductive.
  3. My beating my demons by the end speaks from a haughty place not true in me or constructive for the reader.

I let the discomfort settle over me, and for weeks I stared at the poem. One day it hit me to go back to the spark that lit my inspiration – I wanted to bookend “Judas.” To do that I used the sobriety and poetic growth of the last twenty years since “Judas Noose Tavern” came into existence, and the storyteller perked up. I thought, “What if this poem is written by Bacchus? What if he got tired of the boozy, party-fueled scene and retired? What would he remember, and what warning/hope for others would he impart?”

The childlike wonder sat up, my fingers sped ahead, and this is what I created:

Bacchus Retired

Bacchus sits back with his dignity intact
and reminisces about good luck:
“It isn’t romantic, instead sadly tragic,
to waste one’s life as a drunk.”
Sour consequences and fictitious offenses,
the Lord of Libations speaks of regret,
“Dashell Hammett wrote well. Joplin sang true.
a blacklisted falcon and screeching brunette.”

“Barrooms breed black eyes, and a fool’s folklore,”
taps his smoke growing dour,
“Shotgun claimed Cobain; needles Bird’s ‘nevermore’.”
Bacchus detaches from the past to this hour.
“A family sees their tree has another apple
watering itself into a stupor.”
No good reason except bad timing,
the fate of a slack-faced interloper.

Rock back, rock forward, “An alcoholic apathy
was my altar. Kerouac shared that fetid womb.”
Bacchus blew smoke rings around lost chastity.
“Jesus and the Mary Chain
coaxed me out of that tomb.”
Blue eyes hovered over his ocean view.
Peaceful, humble, healthy, subdued,
a respite being rescued enjoyed by too few.

Do you miss it? Not the women? Not the old crew?
The decommissioned deity is asked every day.
“Not a bit. I got a good one. Good company was overdue.”
Bacchus listens to Bach, breathes deep, then smiles.
No one to argue or harangue over mountains for miles,
and he whispers before a nap, “Good folks, I didn’t expire
in the addled by and by because death-by-cliché
is the worst way to die.”

As you can see:

  1. I dropped the title and drudgery of Poe’s quote.
  2. The scene is far more panoramic, and the judgmental over/undertones are removed.
  3. I brought back the spirit of “Judas Noose Tavern” by highlighting folks who succumbed to alcoholism and drug addiction.
  4. There are bits salvaged from the original.

Is the poem a done deal? No, but it’s close. Some of my thoughts are to clean up some of the loose rhymes, add people in the last stanza who did face down their demons, and tinker with the title. Am I unhappy with the original? No, it’s an opportunity do improve.

A cool gift to give your reader is a poem that shows your internal machinery. Do not change a poem from a magazine publication to book “just because.” However, never feel locked-in to a poem because it’s been published. Poetry breathes. Let it breathe.

Few poems in my experience end up expressing what I initially set out to say. There is an ethereal quality to poetry more song than prose. Channel the spirit of Weird Al Yankovic, and accordion your poetry to life.

The post The Accordion Principle of Poetry appeared first on Clifford Brooks.

Author: Clifford Brooks
Posted: July 16, 2019, 10:49 pm
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