Monday, April 30, 2012

April Showers

Each month I try to take stock of my writing progress, and here on the tail of April I note that the month has resulted in decent output.  Kind of like a gumball machine.

I've written five book reviews, two essays, and two devotions--all published (or slated for publication) . . . and like the green and yellow and blue gumballs scooting down the chute, there were plenty of pieces that were produced but just didn't make the grade this time out.  I'll have to chew on these for a bit longer until I can work up the consistency to blow a bubble of words.

In addition, there are plenty of ideas that continue to grab my imagination and keep me up nights. 

Once, last week, I even dreamed a poem--and a rather good one--and when I woke I wrote it down.  A paper and pencil next to the bed is a good thing, and as soon as I can interpret my notes I'll know what I have. 

Wy&th* Bl74tyehl You Evczxly Nou1tes Mhbmm, I do glwouply gloop slymklyshouldbefoououeroumkly.

I'm ready for May.  And with two graduations and a wedding fast approaching, I should be able to find plenty of fodder.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Yesterday afternoon, while answering some emails, I suddenly received a pop-up advertisement.  Normally, I minimize these things quickly, or click "delete", but much to my surprise I found myself staring at my own book title.  God bless the publisher for continuing to market this baby after two years, and seeing my own advertisement gave me a new boost of confidence.

Confidence is something, by the way, I've been running low on of late.  I've been down on myself for years now, dejected by my agent's inability to sell any of my new titles (she's made the rounds with no less than seven of my books across the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles and all points in-between).  And I can't believe she's stuck with me this long . . . loser that I am.  Thanks, Cynthia!  Really, you're the best!!!

Actually, I could care less about seeing my name in print.  I passed that Rubicon decades ago . . . and now all I care about it writing the next thing.  I've even started writing under pseudonyms (pen names) to appease those editors who might have a bias against me, or who just like the sound of a writer with an illustrious name like Emilio S. Boogyman or Sir Gwayn Silverster Loverboy III.

I've got so much material now, so many books and book ideas, I'm nearly drowning in my own voice.  So I guess I'll have to morph and multiply myself (like an amoeba) into many writers of many genres.  One of these days, somebody out there will say "yes" again.

But until then . . . I write on.  Early mornings.  Late nights.

The book advertisement was a pleasant surprise.  And I do appreciate the boost.  I'm writing the publisher to say, "Thank you."

I don't know how effective any of these internet advertisements are, really.  Nor how many people notice them.  But this one caught my attention.

And if an idea strikes me, I may find myself writing during my daughter's graduation ceremony next week.  The Ball State graduation program surely will have some available "white space" in which I can scribble a few paragraphs.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Travels Down Under

From time to time I pick up the Robert Fagles translation of Homer's The Odyssey.  It's a classic rendering--probably my favorite of the various translations I own.  And nearly every time I read Homer's words I write a series of poems.

For National Poetry Month I discovered yet another of my classical Greek verses.  Here's one about Odysseus and his descent into Hades (the realm of the dead, or what we might call today, Zombieland). 

Homer's themes are universal, however . . . and in this one I'm trying to relate the concerns that Odysseus had when he met his blind guide, Tiresias.  The prospects of not returning to one's home leads to a myriad of thoughts, and these are the ones shared the world over.  And this theme--of needing a guide and friend to lead us through the underworld--precedes the Christian by a good margin of centuries.  I find this conversation in Homer's poem particularly fascinating . . . and it always leads me home to words.

Odysseus Meets Tiresias in Hades

O kind Tiresias, return once more and prophesy
Of this final journey into death,
This earthly realm of Hades, voice of breath,
From which none may return to testify.

O kind Tiresias, speak comfort to my soul,
For I must cross the River Styx
With coin in hand, as death predicts,
And enter into shadow by this toll.

And you, Tiresias, kind friend and honest guide,
Do not begrudge this last request
Returning to my loves, as I've confessed:
But let my name be blessed and dignified.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On Being "The Man"

A few weeks ago I received an innocuous package in the mail.  The post mark revealed nothing but a Colorado Springs origin.  And inside was a single book.  A marketing firm guru named "Steve" had attached a sticky-note to the title page that read:  "The publisher tells me you are THE MAN to review this book. I look forward to reading your thoughts in print."

Ah, yes . . . THE MAN.

I've never been THE MAN before.  This is new territory for me.

My wife, for example, insists that I am not a man.  Her favorite lines include: "When are you going to be a man and fix the sink?" or "You're such a Pansy!" or "Get your candy-striped *** off the couch and do some weed-eating!"  No . . . I'm not a man.

My son and daughter don't see me as THE MAN either.  My daughter regards me as THE CHECKBOOK, and I keep writing mounds of these things until the ink runs out.  My son sees me as THE OLD MAN, but certainly not THE MAN.  He wonders why I can no longer toss a football or sub as his rugby tackling dummy.  He hears me grunting and groaning and creaking and says, "You sound like you need to be oiled."

"I do," I tell him, "and your mother sees to that . . . every night!"

I've never been anyone's MAN before, and I want to do this right.  Especially for "Steve".  Who knows . . . this "Steve" could turn out to be somebody special.  If he sees me as THE MAN, he must be able to glimpse my soul, to see me as the unique child of God that I am.  "Steve" understands me.  

Don't get the wrong idea, though.  I like "Steve" and all, but he's just a friend . . . some guy I met inside an envelope.  I don't have a "thing" for "Steve".  I'm just reviewing his book.  I mean, I hardly know the guy--although I'd recognize his handwriting anywhere.  But obviously, "Steve" knows I'm THE MAN through-and-through.  Not an ounce of estrogen.

I've told my wife about "Steve" so maybe she will become jealous and start calling me HER MAN.  But this has only served to inflame her insistence that I am a narrow-minded child who craves her approval and can't cook a decent meatloaf.  She still makes fun of my chicken-croquettes and snapped peas. She wonders when I will spin a load of laundry. 

You can bet I'll be giving "Steve" an excellent book review.  I want to be THE MAN more than anything in the world.  I'm tired of living in my own shadow and I want someone to see me in my real light.  When my book review is published and I receive my royalty check and cash it and take my scorching hot wife out to Wendys, I want her to say, "Dude!  You are THE MAN!"  And I want her to be all over me like a cheap suit.

I want to be THE MAN.  And real men, after all, write book reviews and stay well-oiled.    

Monday, April 23, 2012


Last year I began writing a series of poems about writers.  And, with April being National Poetry month, I thought I'd punch a few more verses in this blog.  Here's one about essayist and children's author E.B. White . . . who worked with Harold Ross at The New Yorker and alongside James Thurber, another humorist luminary.

E.B. White

Not every writer could exist
Primarily as an essayist
But as New Yorker personnel
You really pulled it off quite well.

And as a writer, in the middle,
You spun Charlotte then Stewart Little.
While upstate farming gave you peace
We hoped for others much like these.

You wrote the light in the mundane
And paused in beauty to explain
A leaf, a lake, a fishing jig--
And lessons surmised from a pig.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pastoral Poetry

Since January 1 I've been keeping a "poetry journal" . . . writing a poem each day as a kind of reflection or history.  Most of these, I'm finding, are just snippets of observation, snatches of conversation, or pieces of uncompleted thoughts.  But about twice a week I end up with a decent piece of work.

I thought I'd offer here a poem I wrote the evening of March 13 . . . when I was called early that morning to respond to a tragedy here in Brownsburg.  This poem is pastoral . . . and I suppose it reflects the helplessness that pastors often feel when they are thrust into dark situations or into the depths of human grief or misery.  One often struggles to find the words or the actions to make God known . . . and that is what this one is about.

Here is my 3-13-12 journal entry.


When the phone rings I don my special suit complete with tie
And drive across town to the railroad tracks where a man has died.
The fire chief and police meet me there and ask that I
Escort the company of family to a room nearby.

They are stacked there--tear on tear and friend on friend--
Anticipating that my super powers will bring a swift end
To the injuries they bleed and that I will soon defend
The innocent and offer explanation for what they cannot comprehend.

But I have no answers and my weakness is my might.
My speed is touch and without x-ray sight.
My cape is tattered, and when they ask me to explain their plight,
My words are mine--and these are kryptonite.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


My daughter's wedding is slated for June 16--a mere eight weeks from now.  And during this National Poetry Month I happened upon this poem that I wrote a couple of years ago--a villanelle, nonetheless--that is at once soulful and hopeful, I think.  If you are not familiar with what a villanelle is (rhyme scheme, repeating lines and meter) think of Dylan Thomas and "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night".  And if you are not familiar with this famous and classic poem, think Rodney Dangerfield reciting it in Back to School. And if you still don't know what a villanelle is, then heaven help you and don't bother reading mine.  You obviously weren't an English major and you don't see the humor in a name like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Anyway . . . here's one I found in the dust bin.  Not sure anyone will ever publish this one, so I'll stuff it into this blog.  No one--wife, daughter, son or illegitimate relative--has ever read this one to my knowledge.  I don't think it's half bad for a villanelle.  And villanelles are tough muthers to write.


A father begins his slow descent
The day his oldest daughter turns
Twenty-one.  He wonders where she went.

And with each birthday subsequent,
As independence spikes and burns
A father begins his slow descent.

The best of youthful years were spent
In books and hopscotch taking turns.
At twenty-one, he wonders where she went.

A father mourns his age like Lent
And in repentance, as he yearns,
A father begins his slow descent.

He ponders if his life was meant
To teach the lessons that she learns
At twenty-one.  He wonders where she went.

And in some future testament
Perhaps a daughter's love returns:
A father begins his slow descent
Past twenty-one.  And wonders where she went.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I've been writing for publications since I was in middle school.  Back in the day my work was primarily centered on humor (or what I thought was funny), with heavy doses of science fiction and essays and poetry tossed into the mix.  During my college years I frequented poetry readings in "coffee houses" that were laced with reefer smoke.  My hair was long, my beard full, but most of my verse was light, with occasional forays into thoughts about suffering and death by slow degrees.  My first published piece--and for pay nonetheless--was a poem I wrote in high school and during my college days I crammed notebook after notebook with verse.  However, despite a fair number of published pieces during my ISU tenure, I gave up writing poetry for decades (accept for the occasional light verse that I wrote to Becky).

In more recent years, as I've spent more time writing essays and book chapters, I've also tossed poetry into the mix, and now I write a poem most every day.  So, for this National Poetry Month, I found this decent poem about the history of surnames and vocations.  I've always considering myself a writer (at least since I was twelve years old)--and my own name "Outcalt" is from the German and literally means "old Gold" or "old money" or "I don't have any money".

I choose the latter meaning . . . writers typically starve.  But at least it is a vocation accomplished through mind and hand . . . and still is.

And we can't forget that there was a day when everything was made by hand.

Butcher, Baker

How simple life was, once primeval,
When names reflected occupation
And guilds were keys to wealth and station
In the world of the Medieval.

The Butcher hacked, the Baker baked,
The Carpenter was hammer, nail.
The Sailor would unfurl his sail
And thirst for glory never slaked.

The Tinker formed his silver dam,
The Painter was his brush and tint,
The Priest was prayer and firmament,
The Shepherd crook, and goat, and ram.

Each name reflected path and plan,
The tools and talent of a trade.
The world was thereby shaped and made
By no dream larger than a hand.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Heard It From a Friend Who . . .

From time to time I manage to haul up a load of words that I glean from memories or conversations or events from long ago.  Some of these end up as bits and pieces of short stories or in essays or sermons.  And some become poems.

Here's one I discovered last week that still touches me . . . bits and pieces of a conversation over a dinner that have merged and fanned out into grief or reconciliation or just atmosphere.  Anyway, for National Poetry Month . . . here's one that has some tug to it.


Had you survived the overdose
You would be thirty-one today
And we would be sitting in a restaurant
Talking about my grandchild
And how your day had gone
With all its indulations
Of work and play
Or laughing over dessert
About your father and our sex
Or how lovely the day had been
While hugging in the parking lot
And making plans for the next
Time we'd meet for lunch
But this is your birthday
And I have eaten alone
Marking another year
With a big black X
And wondering how one expects
To make it through such days
When the sun is shining
And the world is awake
With promise and delight
But inside it is raining
And I am still expecting you
To blow out the candles on your cake

Monday, April 16, 2012

Coming Out of the Closet

For National Poetry Month (April) I sorted through my backlist of poems and thought I'd publish a few here for my faithful readers.  Here's one that has scrolled around the country and been rejected numerous times, but yet has managed to catch the eye of some editors who have found it delightful.  Not everyone publishes "light verse" however, and this is one of my favorites, despite its rotund rejection.  I'm sure this is the best poem I've ever written about coming out of the closet.


Hanging on the closet rack
are khakis, linens, corduroys,
blue jeans, sweats, and in the back
a pair of long johns.  A turquoise

button-down for golf is clipped
inside a blazer.  And alone--
inside the plastic as it shipped--
an overcoat of herringbone.

The rainbow hues of summer wear
are stashed on hooks, a few Hawaiian;
and ties displayed--so debonair--
through strips of metal with the eye in

each a Windsor knot.  Beneath
the clothing, on the carpet, shoes
on tightened wooden trees bequeath
a scent of leather and diffuse

their oddly aromatic traces.
The vacant hangers shift, extrude,
and beckon me to take their places
as I slip out of the nude.



Friday, April 13, 2012

National Poetry Month

Yesterday I received a very nice (and touching) correspondence from a favorite poetry editor who wrote to inform me that she was stepping away from her post to accept a new position.  As if this were not enough to toss me into a funk, she proceeded to tell me how much she had enjoyed my poetry (both published and not) and thought I always displayed a "delightful turn of phrase".  I know it's just an author/editor relationship, but I felt like crying.

This news also reached me during National Poetry Month (April), when many poets attempt to write a poem a day.  And, since I actually do write a poem a day, I thought I'd use some of the remaining days of April to post some of, what I consider to be, my best unpublished poetry.  

I'll begin on Monday.

Over the weekend, I'll begin the process of gleaning my poetry trove--now thousands of pages--and see if I can't unearth some of the gems hidden among the hunks of coal.  I've got poems I didn't know I had, and hundreds I can't remember writing, and surely among that many I can find a few that still sing.

I'll also do my best to find an array of themes--some romantic, some insightful, some spiritual--that show promise.

National Poetry Month. April.

Ah, but it was wonderful when the editor closed her correspondence by saying, "Go ahead, for now, and send me more of your work."  Guess she wants to read more of my poems while she has the position . . . and the helm.

Thanks, Susan.  I wish you the best.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to Pick Up Women

Some time back I picked up a copy of one of John Updike's oldest short story collections:  Museums & Women.  These early stories demonstrate the escalating talent evidenced in Updike's younger years with themes oscillating between art, paleontology, and various ways to pick up women.  (Art museums being a prime location to meet 'em.)

Fortunately, I've always had ample talent when it comes to picking up women--and that's why I've been picking-up Becky for the past 35+ years.  Let me share my pick-up expertise.

First, a man should grab a woman's right calf with his right hand, and then, before she can protest, place his left hand at the center of her upper back.  Bending slightly at the knees, the guy should then lift, balancing the woman on his palms, and then press her overhead in a swift movement of strength.  This is what is commonly known as "picking up a woman."  She may squeal, but if a man persists with the method he can usually do military presses using the weight of her heft.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  It is imperative that this procedure NOT be performed unless the man can actually press considerable weight over his head.  It is suggested that he practice this "pick up" move, first with small domestic animals like dogs and cats, and then as he gains strength, with barnyard animals such as goats or pot-bellied pigs.  Also, if he hears a snapping sound in his own back, he should immediately cease the "pick up" move and visit a chiropractor.  If the pain in his back continues, he should call his wife from the hospital emergency room and ask her to drive over and pick him up. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Collecting Kurt Vonnegut

During my college years (1979-1982) I became spell-bound to the pen of Kurt Vonnegut--a "Hoosier" writer who had long before moved east but whose caustic novels were cause for both trouble and celebration.  No one else wrote (or illustrated) like Vonnegut.

In those early years I read all of Vonnegut's classic work: Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions and more.  And I continued to read as Vonnegut poured forth in works like Galapagos, Blackbeard, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Some months back, while walking downtown Indianapolis (corner of Mass Ave & Delaware) I noted a large mural of Vonnegut.  My wife and kids asked, "Who is that?"  I'm afraid I waxed on in far too much detail about Vonnegut's connections with Indianapolis (Short Ridge High School), his background, his writings, and even offered some quotes from his work.  But he's still there, looking down at the masses on Mass Ave.

Seeing Vonnegut again also tossed me into collector-mode, and over the past two weeks I've been searching through my library to locate all of my Vonnegut titles (I discovered more than a dozen on shelves or in boxes) and I also began scooping up other titles to fill in the gaps.  I have since purchased and read used hardback copies of Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (various essays), Palm Sunday (a collection of speeches and short work), A Man Without a Country (Vonnegut's final collection before his death) and Look at the Birdie (his uncollected stories assembled by his estate after his death). 

In short, I'm rounding out his body of work.

I don't always find Vonnegut agreeable, but I always find him challenging and entertaining.  And the fact that many of his books (through the years) have been banned by schools and libraries (and burned by "Christian" groups) also endears him to me . . . I absolutely must root for the 1st Amendment.  What's interesting here is that Vonnegut's works contain, at best, only mild language, but plenty of pointed-commentary directed at politicians, our blind trust in the political machinery and in politicians, and the heavy-hand of government.  

Now that I have more than twenty of Vonnegut's titles, I guess I'll keep them around.  I'll drop some back into the storage boxes from whence they came, and others will be used to prop up the other boxes of books that keep flooding into my house and are the cause of much consternation in my wife.

But since she didn't know who Kurt Vonnegut was and has not, to my knowledge, read even a single line of his works, I plan to leave some of these boxes in the middle of the office floor.

Maybe she will trip over Kurt and discover him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Honorable Mentions

Every year, about this time, I seem to receive one or two accolades from editors who have selected some of my published work, or who want to hold it up as exemplary or for accommodation.  I always cherish these accolades, and I make it a point to tell my wife about them so she will know that I have at least one redeeming quality.  I usually show her the editor's letter or my name printed in the list of "award winners" so she will know that I am not lying (like I lie about my weight and my dental checkups). 

Last week I received one of these niceties: an "honorable mention" selection for one of my poems.  (Thank you, Nancy & Donna for the recognition.)  In this case, the editors had selected my sonnet "Full Moon" as one of the top ten poems they had published in 2011 (from among some 300 total).  Okay, and thank you, again.

When I told my wife about this she said, "Oh, they gave you an award, huh?"

"Yeah," I said.  "An honorable mention."

"Sounds about right for you," she said. 

Indeed, I've always been an honorable guy.  That's about all I can say for myself and my full 40-year body of literary work.  Years ago, I once received more 2nd place track and field ribbons than the coach had seen in his lifetime.  He told me, "You need to remember that your favorite color is blue."  But I've never been a first-place guy.  There's always someone better, and I know it.  In fact, if I was winning, I would usually pull back at the finish line so someone else could step in for the win.  It has always been difficult for me to pound someone into submission and claim the top prize.  Even as a teenager, I can remember throwing a few contests that I would have won easily (in basketball, academics, writing) . . . I just preferred a lower place.  This was the one "flaw" that used to drive my coaches crazy.  "Why can't you just pound the pulp out of that little prick?" they'd say.  "I can't bring myself to do it," I would tell them.  "I have a conscience."

Still, I can accept an honorable mention.  God knows I wouldn't know what to do with a large cash prize, or a trophy, or a first-place award.  I would feel the weight of it, and for the rest of my life I would be trying to live up to the hype.

"You should frame that honorable mention letter," my wife told me.

"No . . . " I said.  "I'll just keep trying to write something better.  I wouldn't want to jinx my losing streak."   

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Eggs

Yesterday I took advantage of a quiet Easter afternoon to play croquet with the family, watch a bit of The Masters golf tournament, eat some delicious food, and submit my writing to a plethora of magazines.  I like this word "plethora", and I use it every chance I get.  Makes me sound like a real writer. 

The way I figure it, if Jesus did the hard work of overcoming death, then the least I can do is the hard work of writing 5,000 words . . . sort of like creating a giant Easter egg.

Additionally, I also found myself engaged in some conversations about writing . . . and more specifically with people who had written me on Easter afternoon to ask if I would read a manuscript, or provide the name of an editor, or offer some feedback.  Always happy to help in these ways.

And while I was reading and writing, I ate lots of ham.  Great stuff, ham.  Even inspired me to begin an essay about it.  Still working on the title, but I like "Hamming It Up" or "Ham Strings: Slivers of Thought About Pork". 

My wife usually hates my titles (when I ask her to comment).  She tells me I'm laying an egg.

Yes, but then it is Easter.  And I'm entitled to lay a few. 

I'm might even devil some of them.  Just to be punny.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Power Play

Here on this Good Friday I will offer a few thoughts on Lions, Hearts, Leaping Does and Other Stories, by J.F. Powers.  I picked up this used copy of Powers's early collected works (Time Books) in a South Haven, Michigan bookstore this past Tuesday.  I was suprised to find this copy, and was not disappointed in these tales, all published in the 1940s/1950s, principally in The New Yorker and The Partisan Review (a once-luminous literary journal that served as the trade winds for exceptional writers).

Having first become acquainted with Powers at Duke University through his novel, Like Wheat that Springeth Green, I quickly became a fan of this Roman Catholic writer who, for some reason, sallied-forth with a lifetime body of work that was (with the exception of one novel and only one short story) infatuated with the domestic and personal lives of priests.  Powers is both comic and tragic in his approach to the priesthood, and one wonders how he was able to quilt his patchwork of insights, conversations and struggles about priests into such intricate cloth, having never been a priest himself.

Much like Evelyn Waugh, Powers holds court in two camps at once, and one gets the idea that this Midwestern-born (Illinois) writer kept a constant vigil organizing and recording the idiosyncrasies and conversations that informed his work.

The work and the world that Powers addresses is now distant . . . but there is still a cohesion at the center that carries over into many of the conversations still floating on our contemporary waters.  We meet the priests we know, and would like to know, and feast on the private conversations of priests as they really are.

Powers won't let us forget the humanity.  And I, for one, am grateful.

Anyone (pastor or priest) who assumes the mantle of serving what is, in essence, wild and untameable needs, often retreats to the familiar and shared experiences of those who share the same miseries and joys.  Sometimes I met myself in the pages.  And I was not eager to leave.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Great Times

An oldie, but a goodie:  Good to Great, by Jim Collins offers a well-researched analysis of those companies that have made the jump from "good" to "great".  While it might be expedient to call this a "business book", many of the keys that Collins offers could be translated to organizations of any variety.  And the factors that Collins uncovered have implications that could serve a cross-section of life.  Having said that, however, it is worth noting that few organizations actually make the jump from good to great, and the great ones are few and far between.

Reading Collins's book, I couldn't help but feel average.  Mediocre, even.  Greatness?  Difficult to achieve.

In fact, the average person is average for a reason.   Most of what we see in life is average.  Even the best is average because good is so commonplace. Most of us do a job with efficiency and quality.  But it's all average, according to Collins.  He's probably correct.

As I think about "greatness", according to Collins, I must focus on the one thing that I am the best at. Something that no one else in the world can do as well as I.

Got it?

I can't, frankly, think of a thing.  I might say I'm great a offering quotes from The Andy Griffith Show, but as soon as I get the big head I'll undoubtedly meet someone who knows the show better than I.  And as for anything else I do, I'll just have to say I'm average.

Well, you know what I'm talking about. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Tree Time

Since January I've been keeping a daily poetic journal.  Most of these entries are trite fare, just observations about the day or perhaps an event.

Every now and again, however, I try to write something of consequence.

Here's one I wrote on March 3 about The Cedars of Lebanon . . . don't ask me why.  It's just the kind of eclectic thought that pops into my head.

The Cedars of Lebanon

How tall they must have been, these trees
Towering above the imaginations of kings
And the palaces they built in the majesties,
To have swelled the pride of their vast shade
That nations would sail to their shore
For but a glimpse of the glory
No human hands had made.