Sunday, November 1, 2015

"It's a Major Award!" on Dia de Muertos

Today I received notice that I won the Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Award for my manuscript, All the Beautiful Dead . It will be published in the spring of 2016. 

I immediately thought of that moment in A Christmas Story when the father wins a mysterious award in a cross word puzzle contest and a big package arrives on the family doorstep. The mother asks 'what is it?' before they open the crate, and the father proudly says: "'s a major award!' It ends up being a plastic lamp in the shape of a woman's leg, the lampshade an imitation of a tasseled mini-skirt. Beautiful Kitsch. And so, I kept repeating to Michaela: 'It's a major award!' It was funny the first forty times I said it...
 But, of course, this is oh so much better.

Since the manuscript is called All the Beautiful Dead it's appropriate to make the announcement on the first Day of the Dead. (For those who don't know, The Days of the Dead is a Mexican celebration that takes place on the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day, November 1, and All Souls’ Day, November 2. There is probably a connection to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess called Mictecacihuatl.

One of the traditions is to build a private altar honoring those you’ve known who have died, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and favorite foods and drink of the dead. There is also a visit to graves - eating, drinking, and talking with the dead. 
With that in mind, here's a poem from the manuscript, from 2011: back when Michaela and I celebrated The Day of the Dead on Gower Peninsula. 
From inside a Gower cave
Gower is just west of Swansea and Mumbles in Wales and is dotted with wild horses. It is also home of many menhirs or standing stones from the bronze age and an upper paleolithic cave where the first human fossil was found (a skeleton painted ochre in a burial chamber) and is still the oldest ceremonial burial site in Western Europe. And there's six castles. And sheep aplenty. And seals. And the occasional dolphin. It's a magical place. The poem takes place in the dunes near the village of Llanmadoc.

(There is a gorgeous book of the place called, simply, Gower, with photos by David Pearl & text by the late great Swansea poet, Nigel Jenkins.)


Dia de Muertos,Gower

                                  A white egret
         banks against the wind.
                              Sand flies.
       Bottle of whiskey as offering, we wait
              for a word

            Start with a stone,
                                fallen from a wall

                  No, start
 with the imprint of fish bones in that stone
                              Better yet,
   start with the death of the fish, sinking

            No, no, you have to go further back,
    to the beginning, the face
                                        beneath the face...

              The puzzle of the dead, 
                                          the poem

              Wild horses eat dune grass
               (matted tails, salted bones).

             We watch a grey mother,
                                     her brown foal.

            They stop grazing, stare back.

                                                                                    Whitford Beach, Gower, Wales

(Previously Published in Blazevox)

Gower cliffside, looking out at Wyrm's Head (the dragon)

Thanks to

Paul B. Roth 


Anthony Seidman,

who chose the manuscript .

More Gower, November


  1. "...the face beneath the face..." What mysteries we are to ourselves and others. So much to ponder. Congratulations.