Under Dark Waters — the Self-Interview

A Titanic Undertaking?

This book is obviously about the Titanic disaster, but it is also quite clearly about your mother’s death. How did that juxtaposition come about?

My mother died on April 5th, 2015. As the anniversary approached in 2016, my Facebook feed filled up with Titanic-related memes and articles, because of course Titanic sank on April 14th, 1912. I started thinking about that disaster, which has always captivated my imagination, and saw similarities, despite the vast difference of scale. Then the poems started coming…

And boy, did they come! There seems to be a poem in every well-known form. There’s a sestina, a triolet, a couple of villanelles, a ghazal, and even a paradelle. And of course, multiple sonnets. Was that deliberate?

Yes. Anyone who knows me knows I love sonnets, but this material called for variety. I tried very hard to fit the vehicles to the content. For example, one of the villanelles is called “Life Cycle of the Iceberg,” and the cyclical nature is evident in the repetends. Similarly, the paradelle is about the pointlessness of the tragedy. The crown of sonnets, though, was an inspiration!

About that sonnet crown. Rumor has it you wrote it in a day?

I did! Once again, I was fortunate enough to be on a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in the summer of 2016. I decided to write a crown, never having written one before. For the uninitiated, a crown of sonnets is 15 sonnets, each beginning with the last line of the previous sonnet, and the fifteenth sonnet is all the last lines. They aren’t easy! I started after breakfast, about 8.30 a.m., took lunch back to my studio, and just kept going. When I finished, about 5 p.m. I was on a total and utter sonnet high. (The crown is called “A Wreath for Rosie Gray,” and it’s online at Mezzo Cammin.)

How did the book come to be published?

This is also a good story. I submitted it to the Able Muse Book Award in around March 2017, and promptly forgot about it because of my political efforts. (I ran for Hainesport Township Committee in 2016 and 2017.) I found out in early November that it was selected as one of two runners up for the prize by Charles Martin, but I was too busy to make much of that because it was literally the week before the election. The day after the election I woke up feeling pretty bleak, and there was an email from Alex Pepple offering to publish the book. Most serendipitous timing!

That’s a pretty quick turnaround! You have copies already?

Alex is awesome! I asked if we could get it out as quickly as possible, because I had various plans afoot. I have applied for a Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference this summer, and I’ll also be reading in various venues beginning in March. Plus I’m giving a Faculty reading for the first time at Poetry by the Sea, which I’m psyched about. Anyway, Alex worked with me to achieve my schedule. He really is incredibly efficient!

Which are your favorite poems from the book?

The crown is the one I’m proudest of. But the book really hangs together in a way I love. There are a few special poems though, like the villanelle called “On Visiting the Titanic Exhibition in Vegas with My Teenage Daughters.” It’s a great family memory that became an important part of the book because I am a mother as well as a daughter. I think my girls like that they are in the book too! Then there’s a monorhyme called “My Father and I, and Our Wine,” which I love not only for the content, but also because I modeled it on a poem by Dick Davis called “Monorhyme for the Shower.” Then Dick loved the book and ended up writing a superb foreword for it.

I almost forgot to ask: where can I get a copy?

Ha! Indeed! You can buy a copy right now from Able Muse Press, or pre-order from Amazon. Or come by the Poetry by the Sea table at AWP and I’ll sign one for you! My first local reading is on March 24th at the Regency Cafe in Lansdowne, PA. I’ll have copies there too!

Finally, both the subjects of the book are pretty depressing. Is the book depressing?

I don’t think so. Of course, some of the individual poems are, like “I Made Mistakes but More Could Have Been Done.” That one makes me cry. But the book is really about survival. Alex’s first editorial comment on the manuscript, which was originally just called Under Dark Waters, was that he wanted Titanic in the title. So after some thought I added the subtitle, Surviving the Titanic. Most of the Titanic poems are either about who survived the shipwreck, or what survives by way of legend. The sonnet crown is about dealing with loss. My mother was very stoic. I think she would have approved.

Read the Sisters & Courtesans Self-Interview.

Please Note!

With the General Election approaching, and given the involvement of an unscrupulous outside individual in my opponents’ campaign (Jason Carty), I have chosen to make “Private” many of my political blog posts from before the Primary. If anyone has any questions about events in Hainesport from last year’s campaign or in the run up to the Primary, please contact me directly. Thank you!

Thoughts on the Primary and June Meeting

Smear page for the Primary
The Hainesport Happening Page

 

I didn’t think anything could be more divisive for Hainesport than the General Election last year…until we went through the Republican Primary.

Sure, I had an anonymous smear campaign directed at me last fall, but the accusations were toothless. This June, an individual associated with the “Reform” Republican campaign (who doesn’t even live in Hainesport) created an anonymous smear Facebook page called Hainesport Happening, which spent 3 weeks decimating the reputations of their opponents.

I’m not going to get into the details of whether or not the accusations leveled against Tony Porto and Mick Dickinson by the page were true (some were, others were twisted) or fair (are anonymous slurs ever truly ‘fair’?). I’m more interested in two other questions: 1) should we hold candidates accountable for extremely negative campaigning? and 2) Is there any way to move Hainesport into a kinder, calmer mode of local election?

Primary
A Stock Photo from the Smear Page

The Darnold & Evans campaign issued a statement condemning the smear page on May 18th. The Costa & Schneider campaign issued a statement at some point disclaiming the page (which is not the same thing) and that statement has since been deleted. There is also evidence linking the smear page to the person who has been proven to be an Administrator of their actual Campaign page. I hope that, when Hainesport chooses its representatives in November, its residents will take into account the complicity of the Republican candidates in the smear page, and judge any claims those candidates make on ethical leadership and dignity accordingly.

At the June Township meeting last night, I observed during public comment that Moorestown and Mt Holly DO have a kinder, calmer mode of local election. They elect committee members as a block of 2 or 3, to serve for 4 year terms, which means they only have local elections every 2 years. Hainesport could use that breathing space for recovery! Plus, it would probably save money as personnel would be constant for two years. No need to change name plaques, stationery, business cards etc. every year.

Solicitor Gillespie responded by explaining that Hainesport operates under a different form of government, the traditional ‘Township‘ mode, whereas the other two towns have adopted the modern ‘Council-Manager’ mode under the Faulkner Act, and that it would require complicated measures like a Referendum for a Charter Study Commission to change now.

So I did some research on this.

In addition to the benefits of an election-free year and cost-savings described above, I found that:

In each Faulkner Act municipality, individual citizens also have the right of initiative to propose and place ordinances on a ballot for citizens of that municipality to vote on, thus bypassing their elected representatives’ legislative authority. This right is intended to “arous[e] public interest and plac[e] in the hands of the voters … direct means of controlling proposed … municipal legislation.” [James M. McCreedy and Brian Rans, New Jersey Law Journal October 29, 2015]

In other words, residents in a township whose government operates under the Faulkner Act have MORE power (and officials have less) than those in a traditionally governed town. It seems to me that the idea of changing Hainesport’s form of government might deserve at least an exploratory committee, and definitely more than Solicitor Gillespie’s cursory dismissal.

Meanwhile, I hope that, with the incumbents dispatched in the Primary, we can anticipate a gentler, more policy-based campaign this fall. Hainesport does not need the divisiveness of fake smear pages run by outsiders.

Photo Gallery from Poetry by the Sea Conference 2017

Photo Gallery 2017
Kevin Young – Keynote Speaker 2017

Please enjoy this photo gallery of Poetry by the Sea 2017, featuring our all star faculty, including Poetry by the Sea lecturer Meena Alexander and Keynote Speaker Kevin Young.

Poetry by the Sea 2017 Tuesday

Poetry by the Sea 2017 Wednesday

Poetry by the Sea 2017 Thursday

Poetry by the Sea 2017 Friday

Visit our website.

BurlCo GOP Behind Super PAC: Evidence Mounts

A couple of recent articles by Dave Levinsky of the Burlington County Times have added to the mounting evidence that the Burlington County Republican Committee were behind the Super PAC, “Preserving Our Community for Tomorrow.” The group mailed “glossy campaign ads attacking Democratic candidates or supporting Republicans…to voters in Chesterfield, Eastampton, Hainesport, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Palmyra and Westampton” in the run up to last November’s election.

The Evidence

  • The PAC’s Treasurer is Joseph Lisnak, of Riverton, who is employed as the Tax Administrator for Burlington County
  • The PAC’s expenditure filing contains several connections with BurlCo GOP:
    • Political Consultant Douglas Donoris of Mount Laurel, who received $37,100, is friends with Bill Layton, BurlCo GOP Chair.
    • Harper Polling, who got $2,342, lists the Republican Committee of BurlCo as a client
    • Jim Logue, paid $5,500 for Research, is “a legislative staffer for 8th District Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assembly members Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Joe Howarth, [who] has performed research for the Burlington County Republican Committee and Republican candidates.”
  • Business Entity reports filed at ELEC showed that at least two companies with Burlington County contracts gave money:
    • Acacia Financial Group of Evesham contributed $5,000
      • This group also filed evidence of contracts with Burlington County and Moorestown (one of the townships targeted.)
    • Carroll Engineering of Hillsborough gave $3,000
      • This group also filed evidence of contracts with Burlington County and Mansfield (where Hainesport GOP Committeeman Mike Fitzpatrick is Administrator.)

Why This Matters

By filing as a bi-partisan, state-wide super PAC, the group is allowed not to disclose its contributors. As the group spent $108,000 in total, that leaves $100,000 unaccounted for. There are strict rules limiting contributions that can be made by individuals in direct support of candidates, but the same rules do not apply to PACs. Put simply, the PAC allowed interested individuals to spend as much money as they liked to try to prevent the targeted Democrats from winning GOP seats, which is a perversion of election law.

Similarly, the BurlCo GOP were able to “pretend” that their township candidates were running clean campaigns, safe in the knowledge that an anonymous super PAC would do the dirty work.

It matters to me, even more simply, because of the lies that were told about me. (You can read a rebuttal of all those lies here.)

Running for Hainesport Township Committee Again!

I’m delighted to announce that I’m running for Hainesport Township Committee again. This November, my running mate will be Edie Darnold, a 16-year Hainesport resident and youthful grandmother who has experience working in industry and municipal government. It’s going to be a great campaign, and you can read our bios here.

Thoughts on Running for Hainesport Again

When I reread my announcement from last April, I am actually thrilled at how much Natalie and I managed to accomplish, even though we didn’t win the seats. We kept the Health Benefits issue ($30,000 packages taken by our part time elected officials) in the spotlight to the extent that the Committee had to give up this taxpayer-funded perk to be competitive in this year’s election. We exposed their agenda, which was to force the resignation of Bill Boettcher, and to replace Township Administrator Leo Selb. Furthermore, Natalie came within 50 votes of beating Frank Masciocchi.

I also hope that I have demonstrated my commitment to the people of Hainesport. I never gave up. Not when I was the victim of a smear campaign conducted through a Burlington County Super PAC. Nor when Mayor Tony Porto filed baseless criminal charges against me in an attempt to stop me from running for Hainesport Committee again. I kept going to the meetings and reporting on them for YOU, so you could understand what was going on in our town.

Unlike the Republican candidates, Edie and I aren’t beholden to some highly political Burlington County machine. Our campaign won’t be paid for by corporate donors who think they can control committee votes. In contrast, we are only about Hainesport, and are accountable solely to the people of Hainesport.

I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting even more people than I did last year during the campaign season. Please let me try to earn your vote.

 

How What West Chester Did to Kim Bridgford Got Me into Politics

what west chester did to kim bridgford
The Poetry Center, West Chester University

Over the course of my campaign and its aftermath, particularly in the light of what my Republican opponents did (and continue to do) to me, many people have asked me why I decided to run for office. I typically answer that I am a crusader for truth, transparency, and justice, which begs the question of what turned me into that crusader. The answer to this question is, I became a crusader because of what West Chester did to Kim Bridgford.

After Kim became director of the West Chester Poetry Center and Conference in 2010, she asked me to take over the daily running of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. This put us into frequent correspondence, and we became friends. Hence I was among the first to learn when, on September 15th 2014, she was removed from her position, asked to collect her things and leave the Poetry Center (which she was thereafter barred from entering) and reassigned to full time teaching.

I became one of Kim’s most vocal defenders as the West Chester administration and its advocates conspired to give the impression that her reassignment was her fault for being a poor fundraiser (she wasn’t), or perhaps for moving the Poetry Conference too far from its original mission (She was employed to increase diversity and broaden the conference’s appeal.)

During my defense of Kim, my arguments were dismissed as lies, and I was not only regularly told to be quiet, but also frequently belittled and insulted online, mostly by men. It was great practice for facing down the three male incumbent Republican members of Hainesport Township Committee!

The real reason for Kim’s reassignment was that she had discovered financial irregularities under her predecessor as Director, Mike Peich, and when she brought those to the attention of the administrators, they chose to remove her and stage a cover up instead of investigating. Every time I suggested this, however, I was castigated for sullying the reputation of Mike Peich without being able to verify my claims. Unfortunately, Kim was at that time unable to speak publicly about the issues.

Kim and I went on (along with original Executive Board Members Natalie Gerber, Cherise Pollard, and Kat Gilbert) to create and run Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference, now in its third successful year. The West Chester Poetry Conference came back under the Directorship of Sam Gwynn after taking a year’s hiatus in 2015, and an uneasy truce has prevailed at West Chester.

But recently West Chester added insult to injury by engaging Baker Tilly, a firm of accountants, to conduct a financial assessment of the Poetry Center (which Kim’s supporters had demanded), but only covering the years of Kim’s tenure as Director. This financial review, while finding no fault, contains damaging and untrue allegations which Kim has now been forced to refute legally and publicly. The letter from Kim’s lawyer states this:

For 16 years, Prof. Peich directed the center with no accountability, no reporting, and no institutional oversight whatsoever. During that time he drained the six-figure Ahmanson Fund, without notifying any authority, and without being called upon to report his activities.

It concludes:

Prof. Peich’s 16-year wasting spree had been enabled by a passive university and foundation. Dr. Bridgford stepped into a situation not of her own making and did her best to rectify it….The report is unfair to her and protective of those who should be held accountable.

This letter has today been circulated among the faculty of the English department at West Chester University, and finally I am in a position to support what I have been saying all along about the events of September 2014. Truth, transparency and justice are served.

Meanwhile my fight against West Chester exposed many truths I had been ignoring for too long: that many men still attempt to dominate and belittle women, that power corrupts, that those in power will do anything to conceal inconvenient truths, and that it is always the little guy who is exploited. With my social conscience newly awoken, I looked around and I saw examples of this happening very close to home.

And that is why I ran for Hainesport Township Committee.

Hainesport Township Government 101

Hainesport Township GovernmentThe Hainesport Township Website has this to say about our form of government:

Hainesport is governed by the Township Committee form of government. This is comprised of five officials elected by the residents to serve three year staggered terms. The elected members will select a chairperson who will be known as the “Mayor of the Township.”

With no mention of Republican or Democrat anywhere on the website, Hainesport residents could be forgiven for believing, as Committeeman Fitzpatrick is fond of saying, that party politics is irrelevant at a local level. However, he is mistaken.

Current Hainesport Township Committee

The three-year staggered terms currently expire as follows:

Mayor Porto (R) & Committeeman Dickinson (R): 12/31/2017
Committeeman Fitzpatrick (R): 12/31/2018
Deputy Mayor Masciocchi (R) & Committeewoman Gilmore (R): 12/31/2019

There are no term limits (although the Democrats would like to introduce a three term limit). Dickinson & Fitzpatrick are currently serving their third terms. Porto is on his third full term having also served a partial term prior to that.

How Do the Committee Govern?

It’s important to note that being an elected official on Hainesport Township Committee is a part time job. Indeed, Fitzpatrick and Porto both have full time jobs in local government elsewhere (Township Administrator, Mansfield, and Tax Administrator, Hunterdon County, respectively.)

Therefore, the day to day administration of Hainesport is carried out by a hardworking and well-respected paid staff (full and part-time), led by the Township Adminstrator. Until January 12th 2017 the Hainesport Township Administrator was Leo Selb. As of April, the role has been taken by Paula Kosko.

The most visible role of the Committee is at the monthly Township Meetings, during which the business of the Township is conducted by means of Resolutions and Ordinances on which the committee vote. The material for the meetings is prepared by the Municipal Clerk. Until December 14th 2016 the Hainesport Municipal Clerk was Leo Selb (He was a joint Administrator/Clerk), but at the township meeting on December 13th he was removed from that position and the role was given part-time to Amy Cosnoski, the full time Clerk in Pemberton. Once Paula Kosko has qualified as Clerk, the roles of Administrator and Clerk will be recombined.

As explained on USlegal.com, “a resolution deals with matters of a special or temporary character and an ordinance prescribes some permanent rule of conduct or government to continue in force until the ordinance is repealed.” For example, at the January meeting, Mayor Tony Porto was appointed by resolution (effective for 1 year) whereas it took an Ordinance in December 2014,  (Ordinance 2014-10-11) to increase the cost of a Dog License in Hainesport to $15 for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the most influential role of the Committee is in the selection of the individuals who either work as paid staff for the township, or are appointed by resolution as the Township Professionals on an annual basis. And this is where Party Politics comes in.

The Hainesport Democrat & Republican Committees

When Hainesport voted in the last township election, they had a choice between 4 candidates: Schneider & Evans (D) and Gilmore & Masciocchi (R). (You could of course vote for 1 R and 1 D, but most people don’t.) Schneider & Evans were supported by the Hainesport Democrat Committee, while Gilmore & Masciocchi were supported by the Hainesport Republican Committee.

In my experience of the Democrat side of things, the chair of the Township party committee is expected to attend the County committee meetings, which would mean that Mayor Porto would be an active member of the Burlington County Republican Committee, whose Chairman is Bill Layton.

What Do the Burlington County Republicans Have to Do With Hainesport?

  • They funded the smear campaign against me, Anna Evans, which some experts have estimated cost ~$8000
  • They provided campaign literature supporting Gilmore & Masciocchi along with the Burlington County GOP candidates
  • They pushed the Hainesport Committee to get rid of Administrator/Clerk Leo Selb, who was seen as too friendly to Hainesport Democrats and not sufficiently supportive of the Republican agenda

How Else Do Party Politics Influence Hainesport Township Government?

  • Hainesport township professionals are typically Republican and/or campaign donors
  • Appointees to e.g. the Joint Use Planning Board are expected to support preferred Republican candidates
    • Recently the Chair of the JUPB was not reappointed without warning (despite 6 years exemplary service) due to his support of non-preferred candidates.
  • Democrats and their supporters are seen as ‘troublemakers’ and less deserving of participation in community activities
    • Mayor Porto recently ‘purged’ his Hainesport Community Page on Facebook of all members known to be associates of mine.

So, party politics is more important than you thought, isn’t it? Please bear this in mind next November when you are deciding whether to vote Porto (R) & Dickinson (R) in for their FOURTH full terms, or whether to vote for the as of yet unannounced Democrat candidates.

Hainesport Township Election Altercation Video

Hainesport Township Election Altercation
Tony Porto’s Version
Scott Cooper’s Version

After the Hainesport Township election altercation, I gave my version, Scott Cooper gave his (see bottom left), and Deputy Mayor Tony Porto gave his (see top left), calling me a complete liar.

I like being called a liar even less than I enjoy being smeared with vulgar, sexist Kermit the Frog memes.

But what our esteemed township committee had forgotten is that the township building lobby has security cameras. And that the footage is subject to the Open Public Records Act. So we were able to submit an OPRA request and get hold of the footage.

Which speaks for itself. So again, I won’t editorialize much. I don’t need to. Except perhaps to say that Tony Porto doesn’t appear on the footage at all, does he?

This is the view from Camera 1.

And this is the view from Camera 2.

I rest my case.

Let’s Talk About Poetry by the Sea 2016

Let's Talk About Poetry by the Sea 2016
Kim Bridgford & the Cast of the Children of Children Keep Coming

One glorious afternoon last week in Madison, CT, I was gathered with the amazing women of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Seminar (Shout out to Maryann Corbett, Jean Kreiling, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Wendy Sloan, Kathryn Voorhees, and Kyle Potvin, who came down for a day) when Kathryn voiced a thought that many of us were thinking.

“This conference is too good,” she said. “I can’t get any down time, because I don’t want to miss anything. Everything is brilliant.”

If you have to hear a criticism of a conference that you, personally, have poured your heart and soul (not to mention time and money) into, then that would be the one you want. But let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

During the day at Poetry by the Sea, apart from the 1-3 pm Workshop/Seminar slot, there were pretty much always two things happening simultaneously, giving participants a choice of what to attend. Kim’s astute scheduling meant that for many there was often an obvious choice, but sometimes people were clearly torn. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss Todd Boss’s excellent presentation of the Motionpoems project, for example, but I had to miss the first participant reading at which several of my friends were represented.

I was on two panels myself (Negative Reviews with Quincy R. Lehr & David Katz, which, somewhat ironically, got highly positive reviews, and Editing Poetry Journals with Allison Joseph & Anna Lena Phillips Bell, marvelously chaired by Allison), but that meant I had to miss Artistic Collaboration with Elizabyth Hiscox, Michael Bergmann, Morgan Post & Jo Yarrington, and later June Jordan at 80, with Brian Gilmore and Wendy Scott Paff. I had elected to take Richard Blanco’s one-day workshop, which was inspirational, but therefore had to forsake Young Adult Poetry with Marilyn Nelson & Helen Frost, and Translation, with Laura Marris, Todd Portnowitz and Carina del Valle Schorske. And the list goes on.

Poetry by the Sea 2016
Mercy Beach

Furthermore, when we got to the portions of the day where only one thing was scheduled, it was typically unmissable. Consider Ange Mlinko’s incisive Poetry by the Sea Lecture in Poetry, or Spotlight Readings with X.J. Kennedy & Patrick Phillips, then the completely unforgetable Mahogany Browne (and her daughter, Amare) & Gregory Pardlo, or our Kimiko Hahn Keynote, or our Faculty readings (Dick Davis, Allison Joseph, Terri Witek & Cyriaco Lopes, Rafael Campo, Richard Blanco, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, A.E. Stallings (Her new heartbreaking refugee poems!), Marilyn Taylor, Annie Finch, and Joshua Mehigan), or Russell Goings’ and Quentin Talley’s The Children of Children Keep Coming. Dempsey Hall was always full, and I counted two standing ovations.

Therefore, yes, people were on the go from morning to night. But I don’t think they were really complaining! That’s what poetry conferences are meant to be like, after all–intense, joyous, inspirational celebrations of diversity and excellence, all taking place in a gorgeous setting with a shell-strewn beach and a jewel-bright sea.

So, thanks again to our Founder & Director, Kim Bridgford, for a marvelous conference, to Board members Natalie Gerber, Kat Gilbert & Cherise Pollard, Ned Balbo, Tom Cable & Russell Goings for their hard work, enthusiasm, and support. And to anyone reading this, I ask you consider three things:

  1. Come join us next year, Tuesday May 23–Saturday May 27
  2. Like us on Facebook. We have 981 likes! 1000 would be an awesome milestone!
  3. Sponsor us. We are non profit, so it’s tax-deductible, and you can give online. We just want to make it possible for anyone who wants to join us in 2017 to do so regardless of circumstances.

Poetry by the Sea 2016 was brilliant, and with your help, Poetry by the Sea 2017 can be even more inclusive, even more diverse. I’d say it could be even more brilliant, but then when would we sleep?