Biography of My Name

 

People guess I’m from a line of Vikings or Saxons. 

Eric the Red. Admiral Nelson.  Glory and gore in my blood,

a Jute’s nose. But Nelson is an Ellis Island amputation

 

of something long and guttural that started with Nel

and ended in stein. Latvian. Four refugee brothers huddled

in steerage. A line of shopkeepers. Abraham landed

 

in a Pennsylvania coal town where he opened a dry goods

store, married the seamstress Anna Rosenberg and fathered

six children. The youngest, Daveed, my father, delivered

 

groceries on a horse he named Tommy. Eric came from

my mother—mixed English, Irish, Welsh—pure Quaker

by the time she was born near Washington’s Crossing.

 

Even more than most of her Rosie-the-Riveter cohort,

she was devoted to the red, white and blue, her substitute

for religion. She didn’t trust anything she couldn’t see,

 

and what she saw was the backside of faith

when she and my father announced their intention—

the New and the Old Testament families turning on them.

 

That’s why she liked Eric, swaddled me in its pagan creed.

No Peter or Paul for her. No Saul or Jacob, either.

For me, a name for the middle of America.   

at Penland 1.jpg

way more than you want to know...

On December 10th, 1952, I became the 1,000th baby born at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Local merchants showered my Mom and my second lieutenant Dad with baby gifts; my newborn, swaddled-to-the-eyeballs photograph was in the newspaper; and my two older sisters were briefly happy to have a little brother. It may or may not have been the pinnacle of my achievements, but it was a good start. As a military kid, I moved every few years to a new base in a new city. I lived in five states and one foreign country (Japan) by the time I graduated from high school. 

 

I received my B.A. in English from Virginia Tech in 1975 and my M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars in 1977. After receiving my Master’s degree, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I worked as a Copyright Examiner at the Library of Congress, and, more importantly, met Stephanie Tames, a writer and editor for McGraw-Hill. On our first date we went to a poetry reading at Second Story Books on Dupont Circle. The reading was so-so, but the date was a success. For our second date, we went to a Tom Waits concert on Halloween night. Both the concert and the date were excellent. We married in 1980 and remain married to this day (an achievement even greater than my auspicious birth).  

 

In the early 1980's I published a number of poems in journals as well as a chapbook, On Call (Moonsquilt Press, 1983), and a full-length collection, The Light Bringers (Washington Writers Publishing House, 1984). 

 

In 1984, Stephanie and I gave up our comfortable life and secure jobs in D.C., and moved to Blacksburg, VA, where I began my first full time teaching position, a five-year, non-tenure track, low paying instructorship in English at my alma mater, Virginia Tech. Most of our family and friends thought it was madness. And it was. But I wanted to teach as well as write, and Stephanie was supportive (and she was able to work long-distance for McGraw-Hill). Luckily, it worked out well.

 

During this period, my poems continued to appear steadily in journals, including appearances in Poetry, The Missouri Review, Western Humanities Review, California Quarterly, and others. In 1985 and 1988, I was a finalist for the Virginia Prize in Poetry, and in 1987 and 1988 I was awarded a Residency Fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Arts. 

 

Our son Ben was born in 1986, daughter Claire in1988. Also in 1988, I won the Virginia Tech English Department’s Teaching Excellence Award.

 

I began a tenure-track teaching position in 1989 as an assistant professor of creative writing and literature at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.  Two years later, The Interpretation of Waking Life was selected by Reed Whittemore as the winner of the first Arkansas Poetry Award competition.

           

At Georgia Southern, I was instrumental in expanding the creative writing curriculum from a single course in 1989 to a concentration in the Writing and Linguistics major with a wide variety of courses and faculty in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.  I was awarded tenure in 1996, promoted to associate professor in 1997, and to full professor in 2005. In 2009, I received the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, The Ruffin Cup, for sustained excellence in teaching, publishing, and service.

 

I continued to publish in journals such as The Southern Review, The Sun, The Oxford American, Poetry, The Christian Science Monitor and many others.  My poems also appeared online at Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, and in a variety of anthologies, including A New Geography of Poets (U of Arkansas P, 1992), I Feel A Little Jumpy Around You (Simon and Schuster, 1996), Georgia Voices 3 (U of Georgia P, 2000), Strongly Spent: Fifty Years of Poetry from Shenandoah (Washington & Lee UP, 2003), The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review (Bellevue Literary Press, 2008), The Southern Poetry Anthology (Texas Review Press, 2012), Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems (Negative Capability Press, 2015), and Short Flights (Schaffner Press, 2015).

 

In 2004, Terrestrials won the X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, chosen by final judge Maxine Kumin.  The publication of Terrestrials (Texas Review Press) led to being named Georgia Author of the Year in Poetry for 2005. My chapbook, The Twins, won the 2009 Split Oak Press (Ithaca, NY) chapbook contest, and my full-length collection, Some Wonder, was published in 2015 as the winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award, selected by Seth Brady Tucker.

 

In May, 2015, I retired, professor emeritus, from Georgia Southern. A month later, Stephanie and I moved to the vibrant, beautiful mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina, where I write, hike, garden, and teach privately and in The Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina—Asheville.

 

I am looking forward eagerly to the publication of my new collection, Horse Not Zebra, by a small poetry press I have long admired, Terrapin Books.