May 2015 Reads

1. January 2015 Poetry magazine

jan2015-cover-360I usually enjoy reading the Poetry magazine: it’s fairly inexpensive and has good poetry. This issue wasn’t bad. There were a few poems I didn’t like. Favorite author/poem this go around goes to “At the Fishhouses” by Paisley Rekdal. Nice solid images and an interesting story to go with it. I also liked the photography/poems at the end of the book by young Honduran orphans girls. The poetry is so-so, but the stories and images behind them are amazing.

4/5 stars. Recommend subscription ($3.50/issue, $35 US subscription)  [link to purchase]

2. How To Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, Ariel Gore

9780307346483I saw a shelf talker for this book at Powell’s in Portland, OR and thought it might be an interesting read, so I picked up a copy. This book is geared more toward beginning writers, though I found some of the information useful. The top reason I liked this book? It got me fired up and ready to write and publish more—especially in the fiction section of my writing. Some of the assignments and interviews are worthwhile. I’m ready to be a lit star.

3.5/5 stars: Recommended, (strongly for beginning writers) $14.99  [link to purchase]

3. November 2013 Poetry magazine

november2013-fullcover360_72 I forgot I had this issue to read, so I pulled it down and read it. There were two poems that stood out to me this issue. The first poem “Two Moths” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil has really interesting spacing and line breaks and some wonderful imagery. It also happens to be the first poem in the issue. The second poem that stood  out to me was “Homan and Chicago Ave.” by Philip B Williams (and the rest of his work in here is good too). This the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellow issue and also features some work by Emily Dickinson.

4/5 stars: Recommend subscription ($3.50/issue, $35 US subscription) [link to purchase]

4. The Green Season, Donna Hilbert

UnknownI picked up a copy of this a long, long time ago. My best guess is about 3/4 years ago. I’ve met and spoken with Donna a few times; she is a wonderful and fabulous person and a great poet. I believe this book has been updated. Overall, the poetry is down-to-earth and domestic. Donna is a pro at making daily life stand out on the page. Really good poems about the sudden loss of her husband as well. I liked all the stories in this one, save for the opener. Favorite poems from this read: “What God Wants,” “Credo,” and “What I Know.”

4/5 stars: Recommended $9.95 [link to purchase]

Album Review: All American Boy, Steve Grand

a previous version of this review has appeared on iTunes and Amazon

All American Boy is Steve Grand’s debut album, funded through Kickstarter (the third highest funded music campaign). As a Kickstarter backer, I received the album ahead of its release on March 24, and was excited to finally hear what I’d helped put together.

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Photo by Christopher Free, Photo edited by William Dick

Before album release, I wondered how he would string together the singles to build story or image as each track felt different musically and seemed so disconnected, not providing a cohesive listening experience. I was worried this would be 13 singles slapped together for release on iTunes.

But, the entire album defines a story of growth and learning for Steve. Each track reflects different narratives of his experience in life. This is a carefully constructed album, where each track works with the others, something not all artists manage to do, let alone do well.

Track by Track

Say You Love Me” is a great beginning song. Many of Steve’s fans can relate to the message of the song: silent, unrequited love for a straight man. The song is a sweet, pop-filled tune that’s upbeat and fun despite the somewhat depressed lyrics.

Red, White and Blue” started out as my least favorite song on the album because of the lyrics “waging war for love” which is off-putting imagery. However, after listening to it a few more times, this is probably one of tracks where he is most vulnerable about his past. This song showcases Steve’s lower registers.

We Are The Night” presents the political ideology of equality that Steve expresses on his social media platform, sung over some nice bass and synth sounds. This song also demonstrates Steve’s extensive vocal range.  There is definitely a Lady Gaga-esque anthem feel that’s full of empowerment and uplifting unity, the message that we should all strive toward support and equality in the LGBTQIA community (which is unfortunately often at odds). I think this may turn out to be one of the “sleeper” dance tracks on the album.

The title song “All American Boy,” the song that launched the album, is gorgeous and refined with country and pop rock influences. I feel this is one of the more polished and better tracks on the album, and among my favorites. The message this song provides, that hopefully love can be returned even by someone outwardly straight, has pulled in so many fans. It’s the backbone of the album, and holds all the musicality together.

Soakin’ Wet” falls into a pop/dance song feel with nice bass beats and some great imagery. There is always a story in his songs and this one is no exception. There is a playfulness in the lyrics belied by a few choice words: “acting all mad.” Ultimately, this is one of the more fun, upbeat tracks and always worth a listen.

Though “Loving Again” falls into the middle of the album, there is a feeling of leaning forward, no steam is lost during this power ballad. The lyrics speak to those who’ve made bad choices with ex-lovers—especially when thinking there is something more that is no longer there. I think the message, in the end, is positive about moving past such relationships, despite the ending lyrics: “You just might keep me from loving again.”

Whiskey Crime” falls more into the country side of his influences with enough pop to make it distinct. It’s a catchy, upbeat song in which he often makes fun of his proclivity to make poor choices when drinking (whiskey, of course) when he isn’t feeling his best. We’ve all been there, Steve!

Stay” is one of the previously released singles, and a pretty powerful song. The opening and closing lyrics offer a different picture than the chorus, and he perhaps answers his own question “will you be the one that got away?” with “we lost it.” Musically, this leans more on country influences, yet also pulls from his pop and rock backgrounds.

I feel “Next to Me” is another of those potential dance tracks—even Steve sings “keep dancing next to me.” The song is his usual mixture of genre staples that makes up much of the album. This song is catchy and fun. The lyrics hints at growth, though mainly, he’s enjoying the dance floor views and what happens after a good night out.

Time” was one of Steve’s previously released songs (with an accompanying music video offering a bit more insight into the lyrics). This is a slower power ballad about being in young love and the feeling of permanence in the moments people spend together—even if those very moments don’t last. I love the story-telling in this song, and the feelings of nostalgia for what he once had, even though it may not have been perfect.

Better Off” is a fascinating mix of his unique music style, standing alongside “We Are The Night” in the use of synth and pop. Again, there is great emotionality in the lyrics. While not perfect, the feeling of growing apart and understanding that both parties are “better off,” is a realization many people go through, and an important message for young listeners: “You didn’t kill this thing alone.”

Run” follows the closing of youth. Steve shows he’s learned and grown, but comes to the same conclusions many of us have during our early 20’s: I should know what’s going on, why don’t I? The album is coming to a close, and the end of the lessons Steve has learned and shared with us. The music behind the track is driving and pushing, fitting the theme.

Back to California” is one of my favorite songs on the album, and one that is also a music video (which I think is a fantastic work itself). The music is full of rich harmonies in this closing power ballad. The story follows the narrator and his best friend’s trip to California and the regrets he has by ignoring her when he shouldn’t. This song of friendship touches on the mistakes we make as friends and only realize later—it brings an ache for the times we were more innocent and when we had more hope. And it’s a good close for the album, leaving our musician older, wiser and ready to share his experiences with the world.

General Album Thoughts

Overall, Steve’s lyrics are honest and he is willing to be vulnerable to his audience—required for most artists. Musically, the album maintains sound consistency (a mix of pop, country, and rock) with enough variation to provide pleasant listening several times in a row, and definitely made my once-per-week list.

Kudos to out-artist Steve Grand for using his platform and music to inspire and spread the message of equality to the music scene. I find it refreshing to have stories and themes (LGBT) I can relate to, which is lacking the the music industry and only now changing in the rest of the media. Thank you, Steve, for that!

5/5 stars, recommended. iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | CD/Autographed

IMGL9063+Christopher+Free
Photo by Christopher Free, Photo edited by William Dick

Steve grew up in Lemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in a Catholic family. He wanted a piano so badly, that he made them, dozens of models of them, out of campaign posters, crayon, tape and glue, most of them bigger than the tiny, future musician. His parents got the hint and bought him an old, beat-up, upright piano. After a lifetime of piano lessons, Steve became an accomplished singer and songwriter, playing in school bands, and later, performing in churches and jamming at jazz venues around town. He penned heartfelt tales of heartache and romance, longing and love, living out his childhood dream and making music with his fingers. While he loved his family and his musical upbringing, as a young man who figured out that he was gay after a stint at summer camp when he was in eighth grade, Steve says he felt like many gay teenagers do: alone and confused. Looking around for public role models in music, he found few. Though his parents now accept his sexuality and support him, his religious upbringing didn’t offer any solace, either. (Bio adapted from Steve’s website press kit.)

We All Have Bad Days

I follow quite a few people on Twitter, and a goodly amount of writers. I’ve been following, and occasionally talking to, Loren for a few years. And the gem below popped up on my feed, especially for me to see (well, I’d like to think that!). This is not a happy post, but hopefully will inspire.

I saw this on my twitter feed last week, and I connected with the message so profoundly. I posted a while back about the health issues I’ve been facing, and this brought those experiences back. I had a lot of horrible days. I had a lot of pain (and some days still do), but I managed to write something. I managed to read poetry and perform and make art while in that pain.

Though I didn’t write the whole time, I listened to books or composed in my head to write down later. I understand chronic pain now, and how truly debilitating it can be. I also know better how to manage my time. And the goals I want in life.

Which brings me to this: Writing is worth it. It is worth it all. I want to write for the rest of my life. I’ve waffled and hated writing and wanted nothing more than to run away. I’ve wanted to run away from a lot of difficulties. But I didn’t run away from writing when I most wanted to, and that makes a difference.

It’s worth sharing my experience of the pain and the absolutely crushing weight of thinking this was all futile, wasted time. Because you have probably felt it too. Someone else has felt it and given up. I want to share that I’ve felt it, and when I most wanted to give up, I didn’t.

You too can hold on. You too can hang in there. You are not alone in the struggle. There is a whole line of others that have been there, right where you are, and made it through. You can too.

Updated Website: New publications added

If you haven’t gone over to visit my website, now is a good time! I’ve updated the look a few months ago, and just updated the publications section and menu (New short stories added and new poetry added). Whenever I have a new publication, I will add it to the full list. In respect to the publisher, I wait before posting it online.

If you like the poetry you read, please become a patron on my Patreon and pledge $1 or more (you set how much you are will to pledge and they will never take more than that) for access to the poetry feed. I’ve posted 4 poems so far, and plan on writing and posting between 4-8 poems a month.

In addition to publications, I’ve added events and other information. I’ll start to send out author newsletter information with events, readings, etc.