December 1998 Café Society's Poetry News Update
Do you have any poetry news? Do you have any comments for the Readers' Letters section? If so, mail me on the email link at the bottom of this page. This is a non-commercial site - competitions and calls for submissions can be announced here free, because they are of interest to poets.


Julie Damerell
This month's interview is with Julie Damerell, poet, wife, mother of two, and high school reading teacher in rural New York State.

She has been published several times in various internet journals including my Café Society Guest Poets, the June '98 Pigs 'n' Poets, Michael Stephen's Avalon, and the Nov~Dec '98 Wired Art From Wired Hearts. Her column for Ellavon: An Ezine of Basic Culture, is titled Rural Route Two. Two of her essays are included in Mother Voices, an anthology published by Rose Communications in March 1998.

Poetry L & T:When and why did you first start writing poetry, Julie?
Julie Damerell:My grandfather used to write me silly notes with misspellings, pictures, and funny rhymes. I wrote the same type of letters back to him. I wrote poetry in high school because it was assigned. I didn't start thinking of myself as a poet until sometime during the last year. In 1995, during my second stint as a staying-home mom, a friend who was also staying home with her children convinced me that writing would be a way to feel as if I spent my time doing more than feeding, wiping, and entertaining toddlers. Not that there's anything wrong with that job, if you don't count no wages and long hours, but it's good to know that one can do other things as well. I started by writing essays, one of which had a paragraph that all my readers in a workshop liked but insisted didn't fit the essay. I made it into a poem, after insisting vehemently that I could not write poetry, and it was published in a local arts council calendar. I have been writing poetry since then.
Poetry L & T:Who are your favourite well-known poets? Which one is your favourite?
Julie Damerell:I generally like best whoever I've read most recently. Contemporary poets whose work stirs me include Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rita Dove, William Stafford, Adrienne Rich. Each of them has poetry that makes me look beyond the surface of things. Really, almost any well known poet that I've read has done that, so I don't want it to look as if I'm particularly well versed in all poetry. I may be more familiar with it than some because for a long time I've used poetry as part of my reading classes, and that's meant pouring through books and books of poetry for work that touched me or that had a sound I liked or that I thought would be simple or challenging enough for my students to read aloud and try to memorize.
Poetry L & T:Which famous poets are you most influenced by?
Julie Damerell:I can't really name the threads that tie me to famous poets. I suppose I'm influenced by ones I remember teachers making me read: Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Anne Bradstreet, Poe, Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, others...but I couldn't say exactly how they influenced me. I suppose each poet showed me how language could be manipulated. I'm thankful that teachers made me read and think about poetry.
Poetry L & T:After being published in several online publications, do you think you will eventually create your own poetry home page on the web?
Julie Damerell:I've been encouraged to do that and have signed up with a site that offers free space and page making help for the totally ignorant (me). I read somewhere that every poet should have a web page. Surprisingly enough, that advice came from an internet poet. The truth is, however, that I've seen so many really good sites, and have a sense that there are probably a zillion poets with pages that I question the usefulness of adding my efforts to the pile. Of course, once upon a time I also believed that my life was quite full enough, thank you, with books and people, and I did not need access to the internet. I had trouble seeing what *anyone* enjoyed so much about a newsgroup with posts from total strangers. I no longer live in that particular fairy tale. My first published work was written before we had a computer, but the internet has helped me become a *writer* instead of one who could only claim writing a clever family letter every few months.
Poetry L & T:How did you come to be approached by Ellavon, Pigs 'n' Poets and Avalon?
Julie Damerell:Bob Basil, the editor of Ellavon, is a friend I met in college. I think we had one class together. Some time after graduation he wrote a letter that began, "Some people mind blasts from the past. I hope you aren't one of them." We've been corresponding off and on since then, somehow managing to find each other through changes of address, jobs, and marital status. Last year, after a silence of a few years, he wrote again, told me he was starting an ezine, and suggested I send him some writing. I didn't think he'd *really* like it, but I've been one of his regular columnists since then. I wasn't approached by Pigs 'n Poets; instead, I came upon that site while surfing one day and sent the editor three poems. She was the first to accept my poetry. Michael Stephens of Avalon found a poem I'd posted on alt.arts.poetry.comments and asked if he could use it. That poem is the one accepted for Pigs 'n Poet, "Older and Wiser," and since then was also accepted for the online version of Miller's Pond.
Poetry L & T:What were your essays in the Mother Voices anthology about, in general?
Julie Damerell:All the essays in the book are about some facet of motherhood. Mine were about two experiences I had with my son, who was about one when I wrote them. One of those essays grew out of one I wrote for a writing workshop I attended because my friend didn't want to go alone.
Poetry L & T:Is your poetry ever influenced by world events on the news, or true stories in documentaries?
Julie Damerell:I find myself thinking about writing poetry drawn from my impressions of world, national, and local events, but I haven't gone past the thinking stage. I've been writing poetry for about a year and a half and am still working hard at focusing on the details around me, to write well about something as close and real as the tree in our yard. I want to be able to write about it as the writers I mentioned as favorites have, in a way that makes a reader say "Yes, I think so, too" or "Wait, maybe I'd better take another look" about some part of their life. I believe, however, that my writing is influenced in some way by everything I read or hear, including world events.
Poetry L & T:What is it that you don't like to see in poetry posted online?
Julie Damerell:I don't like to see spelling errors. I can't help it, and you might as well know now, before we go any further - I'm a good speller. Which is not to say I always proofread my work before posting it on the newsgroup, though after a few embarrassing goofs I'm trying to be more careful about that! It seems that most people who spell poorly know they spell poorly. I don't know why, given that much self-knowledge, the easy access to spell checkers on computers and the number of books published to help writers with common spelling mistakes, the spelling can't be fixed before work is posted. Work in *print* - and I include the print I can see on my monitor - should adhere to print conventions. I don't care how you spell or punctuate or capitalize if you're reading aloud, but if you're going to involve me as a reader first and listener second, do what you have to do to treat that relationship with respect. Many writers, including e.e. cummings, have played with punctuation and capitalization; I don't have a problem with that. I have a problem with work that looks sloppy.
Poetry L & T:Do you ever find pop song lyrics corny or irritating? As a teacher, do you believe that some popular pop/rock songwriters encourage the writing of sloppy, corny, or sometimes depressive poetry, among their fans?
Julie Damerell:I have to admit some ignorance about current lyrics. I pay attention to the lyrics of the singers whose work I like, only because I listen to it enough times to learn them, but I don't often think about whether lyrics are corny or irritating. I sometimes think they're pretty simple and wonder how and why some songs make it to the radio, but those songs tend to be the ones that I hear so many times that I find myself thinking, "Well,isn't that a catchy tune!" I have no sense of how or if songwriters encourage any writing among their fans. As a teacher, I am thankful for anything that encourages writing. I could be naive, but I don't hold songwriters responsible for the type of writing done by teens. I cannot speak for all teens, but it's natural for many to write corny and depressing poetry. Adolescence is an often corny, depressing time. Teachers are responsible for encouraging and teaching careful writing, but in my experience as a teacher I have not been able to force that. Many teens with whom I've worked don't want to be better writers. They want the bell to ring or a new jacket or a longer lunch or for all adults to leave them alone. In the long run, sloppy writing is the responsibility of the writer.
Poetry L & T:If you were teaching poetry, which poets would you encourage aspiring poets to read and why? Also, which newspapers or magazines would you recommend to expand their minds?
Julie Damerell:Aspiring poets should read as much poetry as they can. Everyone, anyone. Read poetry to learn style, to imitate, to stretch vocabulary and vision. Books that have been particularly helpful to me are The Language of Life, based on Bill Moyers public television series, because it includes the text of his interviews with a number of poets, and A Poetry Handbook and Rules of the Dance by Mary Oliver. Both showed me how poets think. I'm sure there are many other books that can do that, too. Writers draw from a well of experience. That experience should include years of reading poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Similarly, read *any* magazines and newspapers, particularly the small press magazines that publish poetry. Poets should probably look at journals like Poets & Writers, though I imagine one can be a good writer without ever looking at something like that. I've read it, and it gives me different insights than those I find in Highlights for Children or My Big Backyard, the most popular magazines in our house.
Poetry L & T:Poetry L & T: Finally, Julie, a variation question I usually ask to conclude. What advice would you give to an aspiring young poet, who is trying to improve and get published?
Julie Damerell:Find a group of people with whom you can share your poetry. Others' eyes and ears can guide your revision and clue you in to strengths you may not have seen. Response to your work is essential if you want to improve. Plan to revise your work. Read contemporary as well as historical poetry. Plan to learn more about poetry through your reading and writing. Invest in the small presses that publish poetry. Get a copy of the current Poets' Market . Go to writing workshops. Read your work aloud. Buy a thesaurus. If you're not a good speller, use a spell checker, a dictionary, and friends who can spell. Set aside a shoebox to collect your rejection letters.


Dear Poets,

In this issue I am pleased to feature an interview with Julie Damerell, poet, teacher, mother and one of my favourite poets currently posting on alt.arts.poetry.comments.

There is also a special feature of poetry about the more greedy, commercial side of Christmas. I asked for submissions on this subject and received some interesting results, as you will see below.

Jan Sand, whose poems and illustrations featured in the November issue, has written and illustrated an article on the fascinating workings of the creative mind for this issue. He has an unusual viewpoint about how a poet thinks of ideas for poems.

Any comments on this issue or back issues can be emailed to me on the link at the bottom of the page. Best Regards,


Poems on the commercialization of Christmas

"Seraphdollar" & "Cherub" © Pinky/Sara L Russell

© Jan Sand

Christmas crashes into year end
With the sound of bells.
From out its cracked skin
Pours streams of baubles,
Mirror balls, treasures for gluttony,
Thick sticky candies and the hoots
Of hollow hopes. Tons of flat
Unfelt feelings, as valueless
As Weimar marks, shift in torrents
In and out of postal channels
To leave, after the flood,
Buried beneath the final berm
Of glittered offal, a smudge of humanity
Nailed to wood.

[email protected]

© Pinky/Sara L. Russell

© Pinky Andrexa (aka Sara L. Russell) 13/11/98

Their eyes met through the window pane
one flesh-and-blood, one plastic,
on a night of driving rain
amid Christmas light-fantastic.
She was haughty, still and cold,
he was old and full of gin,
on a street that was not paved with gold -
the vagrant and the mannequin.

She gazed with an indifferent stare
into the bleak, cold night
and above her stiffly-coiffured hair,
frozen in mid-flight,
were golden cherubs on wreaths of green
and glitter balls in stately spin
and a loaded silence hung between
the vagrant and the mannequin.

Her beauty cut him to the quick
- like his ex-wife in disguise,
the golden cherubs made him sick
in their plastic paradise,
like a mockery of happier days,
or like a prize he could not win
and tears clouded his steady gaze
as the vagrant looked on the mannequin.

A thought became a deed, a stone -
he broke the window pane,
dragged her from her velvet throne
and out into the rain.
Alarm bells rang in a furious din,
filling him with strange delight
and the vagrant and the mannequin
disappeared into the night.

[email protected]

© Pinky/Sara L Russell
© John Holt

Ah welcome, welcome.
Do step in.
Don't worry if
your purse is thin.

You'll find our
gratitude unending
we never stop
you overspending

But wait!...You're tired
your face is sad,
that's not so good.
In fact it's bad!

Dear Madam,
would you kindly stop,
turn 'round, walk out,
please leave our shop.

[email protected]

© Buttonpresser (Dave Carton)

Mummy Santa smells funny
And his tunic is dirty and torn
And he shouted "watch it Sonny"
When I asked how reindeer were born

Mummy Santa's fallen down
The way that daddy did
That night when he came home from town
And you really flipped your lid

Mummy Santa's leaving
The store detectives came
They said he'd been caught thieving
And he hung his head in shame

Mummy Santa's crying
And he's shouting "it ain't fair
This time I was really trying
But the Bl***y kids drove me spare"

© Pinky/Sara L Russell

© Jerry H. Jenkins

Beneath the ceremonies and the greed,
the season's habits and its obligations,
we carry in us the enduring need
to find and follow someone who will lead
us past our mercantile fascinations.

The gifts we give are silent applications
to heaven for the bounty it will send
to us. We mimic Wise Men's adorations,
like Cargo Cultists dance in imitation
of sky-born wonders they can't comprehend.

We mock the Magi's giving, we pretend
the giving ritual sustains its seed,
and so we give and get, exchange and spend,
oblivious to the day all rituals end,
along with ceremonies and with greed.

[email protected]


The Poetic Essence of a Ham Sandwich © Jan Sand
The average person probably sees him/herself as a sort of pilot driving the machinery of the body in the directions that seem most favorable to the outlook of said pilot. The mechanical aspects of the body have been more or less made apparent over the last couple of hundred years through medical research, and, although there is surely a great deal more to learn, much of what has been discovered has firmed itself up into a paradigm that has withstood a great deal of testing through pragmatic medical usage.
The brain and the mind which inhabits it have also undergone a great deal of examination and, with the technology of computer aided tomography (cat scanning), the geography of many of the activities of the brain and how and when they are activated. This research is still in its early stages and a bit of the mystery has been peeled away, but much of the essential activity and its inter-relationships within the brain and with the rest of the body remains unknown. The essentials of our beings still reside within the murky domains of intuition and speculation.

As someone who has spent a great deal of his life mining his mental unknown for creative effect, I am much concerned as to what machinery is involved in producing these magical creations, for they do seem magical in that many of them appear to me with no obvious previous instigation by my conscious self.

Freud was the pioneer who formulated the concept that the mind is essentially comprised, like a ham sandwich, of three layers. The lowest layer, the underslice of bread, is the id, that portion which represents the primitive drives of the mind and body which demands satisfaction for basic (or what is presumed basic by the supporting substructure of the body-mind) need. This lowest layer of the mind contains all those drives which derive their programming from the genetic make-up of the individual and those which were learned and filed away in early life to supplement those basic drives. The upper layer of bread, the superego, contains all those restrictions that society ( a general term including family and the state and religion, etc.with all its rules ) imposes on the individual. Of course, there are more than restrictions here. There is the entire structure of culture which contains the social paradigms and intellectual architecture which make the world comprehensible. The ham in the sandwich is that part of the brain which the individual identifies as the self, or, perhaps, the conscious self. This part of the self is that which the preFreudians considered the self in entirety and is identified with the homunculus which Descartes felt resided within the brain and constituted the entire self. The unconscious that Freud revealed has changed the basic concept of the mind altogether. The most recent concepts of Marvin Minsky and Daniel Dennett relegate the conscious mind to an even more minor status than Freud. Minsky's book, "The Society of Mind" visualizes a continual competition of compounded elements within the mind to gain control and thus become, at least for a while, the central mover. This is apparent most clearly in the psychosis known as multiple personality disorder in which these competing elements divorce themselves from each other and wrest control of the entire system in a most dramatic fashion. Normally, we are unaware that these separations exist and a kind of unified mask presents itself to the outside world as a single coordinated individual.

I have a hunch that there is some kind of central control mechanism which deceives itself that it is the entire mind whereas it is merely the thin mask that covers all this internal turbulence. The process of growth which we all undergo is a process of continually creating new elements in this stew which have their analogue in computing in macros which are combinations of commands which are directed towards a specific activity or function. Thus, when we learn to ride a bicycle or drive an automobile or write in iambic pentameter, various diverse elements are coordinated and compounded into a structural mechanism which, if we are successful, remains as a resource to be called upon by the mind when that particular function is required. I also believe that immersion in certain activities, such as reading a great deal of poetry (to return to the point of all this) will induce the mind to create an unconscious mechanism that will be stimulated into action by forces that the conscious mind may be totally unaware of. Thus, some of us may have, in the dark secret places of the mind that are unavailable to introspection, a resident poet that sits by itself surrounded by the rich activity of the nervous system and knocks out interesting works that it thrusts into the consciousness at unexpected times. And when I discover a bit of poetry popping into my head, it is not really me who does the creation but this little guy deep down inside who shuffles words and ideas around until it fits a particular pattern which satisfies his sense of propriety. Of course, unfortunately for him (or perhaps her), I get all the credit.

Cat In The Grass © Jan Sand

More of Jan's illustrations can be found in the November issue of Poetry Life & Times, with some of his poems.

[email protected]

Click here for: The Poetry of Lyn Lifshin

Pinky, here is a link to one of my favorite poets of our time. I think you will enjoy her, she is compared to Emily Dickinson. She was first published in small out of the way publications, before the bigger ones took her seriously. Maybe you could interview her for your poetry publication. ;-)

Don't ever let anyone define you as a poet or a person. Remember it is very subjective and you are too good to go unnoticed for very long.

By the way I enjoyed your interview with Diana. Very well done! Take care and be well!


Since receiving this email from Joyce Tres, in late October, I have visited Lyn Lifshin's website and contacted her. I am very pleased to say that Lyn has agreed to be interviewed for the January issue of Poetry Life & Times! Thanks for suggesting this idea, Joyce.

Back Issues of POETRY LIFE & TIMES:

September 1998

October 1998

November 1998

Mail me on: [email protected]

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