Skip to content

August 22, 2013

In the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, “Oh Baby!” contributor Norman Minnick defends Robert Bly as well as anyone can. It is a spirited, studied show of support for a poet Minnick readily aligns with Walt Whitman—and not just for the ostentatious hair.

Bly is a rabble-rouser, agitator of the common & comfortable—politically, culturally, spiritually. He has his canonical detractors, as Minnick immediately 13sept_coverpoints out, but Bly is a herald of all things poetry. A devoted champion of the spirit of poetry & other poets in the form of his translations, anthologies, & magazine work. He is a cagey poetry heavyweight and promoter all in one.

I’m happy to see Minnick laud Bly the way he does in “Greatness has a Defender: Robert Bly in the 21st Century.” One of my first doors of poetry took the shape of Bly’s first major anthology News of the World: Poems of Twofold Consciousness. A nerdy teen stacking shelves at a bookstore downtown, News of Universehovering mostly around the poetry corridor, when the pages prompted me to open them the poems delivered me to a world underneath, alongside, & infused in the grit of suburban cement and currency. The poets collected there stretch from Goethe to Neruda to Simic to Levertov, emanating a neo-Romanticism that any youngster is sure to fall—and with any luck live—for. It is one of my earliest companion books and has accompanied me for two decades.

As Minnick states at the end of his appreciation—with a piercingly placed verb— “It shouldn’t take catastrophic events to hurt people into reading poetry because there is something in it we all need in ordinary times.” This living for poetry, to poetry, and of poetry to uplift our normals and extend our blisses is what Bly fox in socksand Minnick both champion.

One of the elements I most appreciated in the essay, though, is the quirky obsession with feet Bly seems to have, which Minnick illuminates citing four passages that deal with feet and/or toes. After that, it was particularly fun to come home & read Neruda’s “Ode to my Socks,” translated by Bly and collected in his second anthology, with James Hillman, & Michael Meade, The Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart:

Maru Mori bought me

a pair

of socks

which she knitted herself

with her sheepherder’s hands,

two socks as soft

as rabbits.

I slipped my feet

into them

as though into




with threads of


and goatskin.

Violent socks,

my feet were

two fish made

of wool,

two long sharks

seablue, shot


by one golden thread,

two immense blackbirds,

two cannons,

my feet

were honored

in this way





They were

so handsome

for the first time

my feet seemed to me


like two decrepit

firemen, firemen


of that woven


of those glowing



I resisted

the sharp temptation

to save them somewhere

as students



as learned men


sacred texts,

I resisted

the mad impulse

to put them

in a golden cage

and each day give them


and pieces of pink melon.

Like explorers

in the jungle who hand

over the very rare

green deer

to the spit

and eat it

with remorse,

I stretched out

my feet and pulled on





then my shoes.

The moral

of my ode is this:

beauty is twice


and what is good is doubly


when it is a matter of two socks

made of wool

in winter.

minnickNorman Minnick’s poem “The Child Nero,” appears in the latest issue of “Oh, Baby.”

“Oh Baby!” She’s Arrived

August 9, 2013

coverTo extend the metaphor, the overdue “Oh, Baby!” has finally been delivered and she is a darling. Here is a glimpse of her: The editor’s note that reveals much of what awaits the audience in the form of poets, essayists, & issues.


During the course of assembling this issue of dirtcakes—which is focused on the health & wellbeing of children—20 of them were taken in the Newtown Elementary School killings by what was arguably still another; my three-year-old son entered the hospital and kept on oxygen for a week; and a cousin I hadn’t seen in 30 years—whose earliest years included juvenile hall & drug addicted parents—hanged himself from a tree in his yard.

It seems the tragedies & traps that wait for our children can spring from the safest of havens, lash out with unexpected force, or lay dormant for decades. Regardless of their specificity, such physical & psychological traumas always appear unjustified.

But during those same months, my older son started to get his 1st grown-up tooth; dirtcakes Art Director Jessica Quadra traveled around the world to see her brand new niece; and a baby girl in Mississippi, given aggressive doses of medication at birth, was diagnosed as HIV-free, apparently completely cured of the disease that has run rampant for half a decade.

It seems also the wondrous renewals that accompany children wherever they sprout—meaning everywhere—are just as unjustifiable, joyously so, freeingly so. Children are illogically liberating in their infant enthusiasm & heartachingly fragile on this whirling world.

That is why here in “Oh Baby!” the giant span of childhood is explored, from the modern woods filled with new wolves to the unbearable lightness of giggles.

Often the darker dangers seemed to take focus in the writing & artwork. There is shocking abuse that comes in the form of other people—not always strangers—in writing by Elizabeth Weaver & Hannah Webster; accounts of cultural abuse that (mal)form the populace by Sean Patrick Dougherty & Brian Glaser; and the deeper, more unbelievable betrayals that come from within, as in the haunting psychological study of imagined pregnancy by Anne McGrath, or the cover of this issue.

The doctored image of a favorite, fun-time childhood food, the candy bar—specifically Nestlé’s Baby Ruth—is not just a visual pun; it is a calling out of the camouflaged confectionary. Nestlé sits atop a network of non-chocolatey endeavors, such as the recent horsemeat scandal and relatively recent poisoned milk discovery.

Specifically regarding it’s duplicitous actions towards children, The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) pins Nestlé to the top of its list of ethics violators regarding the marketing & manufacture of breast milk substitutes. Naming Nestlé the “market leader” in its 2010 report Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules, IBFAN records instances of Nestlé  & other baby formula companies aggressively & fraudulently marketing to mothers across the world to supplant their natural breast milk for supposedly healthier processed alternatives.

Western hospitals are often complicit in this, sometimes unwittingly or contradictorily. When both my sons were born, my wife was visited by a lactation specialist to help with latching & other new mom & baby needs. At the same time, we were given a swag bag stuffed with baby goodies including a few months supply of premium formula. The insignia sewn on the bag read Gerber, which is owned by Nestlé.

In developing countries the issue can be more dire: access to water needed to mix the formula can be limited; that water can be contaminated; poorer mothers may mix less formula than is required to stretch the can; directions for the formula are often in English or other non-native language. Yet supplement are aggressively marketed across the globe.

Much like the witch who lives in a candy house & devours Hansel, Gretel & other little children, Nestlé has been growing fat for decades off the corporate malfeasance that takes place deep in the shade of today’s scary forest. According to IBFAN, “global sales are expected to reach up to
US$42.7 billion by 2013.” How much gets spent on promoting the healthy, totally-normal-since-ever method with proven chemical & psychological benefits to both mother & child?


Not that we are all doomed from the start. The marvelous fun of 1st sensory stimulations is also present in these pages. Emma Townley-Smith recounts the birth of her inner Indiana Jones as she climbs a neighborhood tree; Bill Neumire revels in the enchantment his new child brings.

Not fatAnd then there is the transformative prayer from Sinta Jimenez that weaves its way through the journal, links it together from start to finish like a vital spine. Dedicated to her own daughter Chloe, “Nine Months” brims with majesty, magic, reverence. Divided into nine radiating stanzas, one begins one of the nine sections, which have been provided titles we hope accurately connect the elements of the stanza, that month of pregnancy, and the writing in the section.

Whole, fragmentary, in English, or original tongue—three poems, precisely, appear per section. Usually, they take forms you would readily recognize. But sometimes they come within other texts, as in the Naomi Shihab Nye excerpt from “Someone I Love,” Tricia Casper-Ross edgy, but charming account of decades-distant mirroring violent actions by first her brother, then her son.

Translations by Wendy Burke & Liang Yujing represent more than single voices, too. Where Yujing’s translation is of a different person—Chinese poet Xidu Heshang—and presents with spare somberness an equally quiet & condensed revelation, Burke’s inspirational interview with Nature summons once again those ancient forests we pillage & replace with an industrialized wild—their old stories ignored, language allegedly lost.

Finally, each section is also prefaced by a dirtcakes-procured ultrasound, a window to the writing inside provided by a literal glimpse of the unseeable. We hope all of it buoys & deepens your individual experience of “Oh Baby!” As always, thanks for choosing dirtcakes.


Look at the Law Men Beating Up the Wrong Guy

July 29, 2013

…again. While mainstream media has moved on from its marginal & obligatory coverage of Trayvon Martin, racial profiling by police & civilians will continue with the frequency of an old song on the radio.

Here’s an alternative to pop channel: The history of “Whiteness” in US by Tim Wise. Stick around to the end of the 10 minute clip if you can for a modern day example in the form of Katrina.

Dreamwielder: A New Epic Fantasy

March 24, 2013

Garrett Calcaterra, dirtcakes contributor (“How Hollywood Taught Me to Lie and Write My Own Story,” Issue 2: School Me) has just published his latest novel. Dreamwielder (Diversion Books) is an epic fantasy in the grand, similar-world style of Lord of the Rings. It may not seem the typical dirtcakes fare, Garrett’s writing is always compelling regardless of the genre.

Dreamwielder centers around Makirra, a humble farm girl gifted with the power to dream—in a land where that ability brings supernatural rewards, but where dreams are outlawed by a tyrannical ruler. This basic human function and the magic it carries makes the rustic Makirra, and the friends she makes on her journey, a threat to the power established by that land’s emperor.

Just as  LOTR is easily understood as a tale of class consciousness & struggle, there are clear parallels to us regular Earth-folk in Dreamwielder and the forces we must wage against & can call to our aid.

A preview and full download are available at & More of Garrett, including past publications, at  Follow this video link for a right kickin’ book trailer that sets the opening to music: .

Give Monkey a Chance – The John Fowles Reading Series 2013

March 11, 2013

Celebrated author and peace activist Maxine Hong Kingston recently spoke at Chapman University as part of the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing reading series.

Kingston addressed a crowd of approximately 100, reading from her novel Woman Warrior and more recent autobiographical novel/political protest/stream-of-consciousness language romp The Fifth Book of Peace, relating, among other things, her experience getting arrested at an early protest against the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Bathed center-stage in the ghostly swirl of her own hair, Kingston’s whispery voice occassionally rocked the audience with asteroids of feedback. In her cadences and natural affection for the crowd it was easy to detect one of her literary heroes—Walt Whitman, the literary namesake of the fictional element of The Fifth Book of Peace and her earlier Tripmaster Monkey—Wittman Ah Sing.

Kingston invoked the patriotic cultural law-breaker several times by name, too, along with like-minded literary figures William Carlos Williams and Alice Walker.

The grandmotherly Kingston, with her face of warm wheat rolls, described how on International Woman’s Day in 2003, she, Alice Walker and 25 other women were arrested at a peaceful protest. The collected group was celebratory in its incarceration, smiling for photographers, and singing in the cells. The arresting officer of Alice Walker—a black man—was apparently heard to say, “My wife’s going to kill me for this.” At the station, the booking officer told the defiantly cheerful women, “This is your mug shot, not your prom picture.”

The episode coincided well with Kingston’s literary theme of the evening: the heritage of strong female leaders in China. And it proved she works as much as

John Fowles

John Fowles

she writes for her explicitly proclaimed life goal—peace.

The season’s remaining speakers for the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing reading series follows:

Mar. 11: ZULFIKAR GHOSE novelist, poet and essayist, the Pakistani native writes in the Latin American surrealist tradition and his numerous books include The Triple Mirror of the Self (1992), A New History of Torments (1982), Crump’s Terms (1975), The Incredible Brazilian (a trilogy), and The Murder of Aziz Khan (1967). He currently teaches creative writing at the University of Texas-Austin.

Apr 1: ANDREW LAM web editor of New America Media, author of the forthcoming Birds of Paradise, a collection of short stories, along with Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres. As a boy, Lam led a privileged life in Vietnam as the son of General Lâm Quang Thi of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam before attending the University of California, Berkeley. He currently lives in San Francisco.

 Apr. 15: KAREN YAMASHITA a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award, her novels include I Hotel (2010), Circle K Cycles (2001), Tropic of Orange (1997), Brazil-Maru (1992), and Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990). Yamashita is an Associate Professor of Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches creative writing and Asian American literature.

nominated for the National Book Circle Critic’s award for his first novel, How the Night is Divided, Matlin’s newest release is A Halfman Dreaming. His other poetry and prose includes the books China Beach, Dressed in a Protective Fashion,  and Fontana’s Mirror. He is a professor at San Diego State University.

All events are free, open to the public, and begin at 7 p.m. in the Henley Reading Room/Leatherby Libraries

Gifts, fragments and…

February 28, 2013

a world premiere.

While issue #4, Oh Baby!  rests in the nurturing womb of its final edit, we’re offering you, dear readers and other generous well-wishers, a valuable opportunity to get all three dirtcakes issues for just $25. Read about it on the “Special Offer” link here.

Japan 056_2

Prayer cards in Tokyo

I offer fragments and a world premiere as gifts too.

Last September, on the UN International Day of Peace, I attended the Big Orange Book Festival in Orange, CA, to represent dirtcakes. To celebrate our wide range of voices – our first three issues feature voices from 17 countries – and in the spirit of our mission statement to “illuminate a shared global humanity,” I created and performed a cento, a mash-up of prose and poetry lines taken from the first three issues. It includes one line from each contributor, in 12 stanzas, or steps as I prefer to call them. 12 steps will get you over anything, right?

As far as I know, this is a world premiere, not only of the first dirtcakes mash-up, but also of the newly hatched form of Contributor Voices Chorus cento.

Over the next few weeks I’ll post one or two sections at a time.

Your Reading Companion:

  • Lines in italics are from contributors.
  • Words in brackets within the italicized lines are issue titles, inserted sporadically to create a rhythmic downbeat, backtalk.
  • Source notes at the end include the issue title, the page number where the line is found, and the author’s last name.  Hyperlinks to authors’ websites are provided where available. (I didn’t read these source notes aloud. They’re just for you.)

Japan 180


cento erasure mashup deconstruction reconstruction chorus with moment of silence please breathe


This is a poem I stood and fought – 

wild [hunger] black [hunger] raspberries 

I was alone, a little drunk and writerly, typing out Stubborness
(watch for studded belts and mohawks)

It isn’t that hard to find a human who is starving 

I dreamed that you were reading my palm
I carried my child for 46 years
apron stained with red spaghetti sauce 

I offer a child a perfect peach
fish may rest in graves
soft as sweetcakes after all the milky birds have flown



1.Girls Will Be Women, 49. Chen
2.The Hunger Issue, 18. Romkema
3. School Me, 28. Sims
4. Girls Will Be Women, 47. Janov
5. The Hunger Issue, 9. Keefe
6. Girls Will Be Women, 83. Chalar
7. Girls Will Be Women, 39. Henney
8. Girls Will Be Women, 46. Beck
9. The Hunger Issue, 13. Starkey
10.Girls Will Be Women, 20. Chen
11. Girls Will Be Women, 21. Dotson

For more good reading, remember to take advantage of our special offer.

Not a License to Lawlessness

February 11, 2013

Though sprawling and contradictory, the 15-page, single-spaced letter from fugitive and former police officer Christopher Dorner returns repeatedly to a culture of cover-up, abuse of authority, and sadism within the LAPD.

It should be easy to dismiss the document as a lunatic’s last ramblings. The desperate vestiges of sanity sputtered out before a psychopath’s civilian and cop-killing rampage.

But the early morning hail of bullets by LAPD officers on two women delivering newspapers in an otherwise, understandably peaceful neighborhood should cast some doubt on the seemingly extreme elements in Dorner’s message, though not excuse his alleged actions.

While mainstream news media outlets feed a morbid fascination with the vigilante-type figure, shouldn’t we also focus with as much intensity on the inexcusable “accident” that saw scores of bullets shot at the two women trapped in the truck?

In the picture for the Los Angeles Times, there are 46 visible bullet holes and casings. Five more were lodged in the entryway of a resident. Blessedly, the women survived—Carranza with mere scratches from the blasted glass, but her mother with two bullets in her back.

There was no warning. No signal to stop and disarm, according to a statement for Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71. Just the sudden wall of bullets delivered by at least seven officers.

You can read it as comic embarrassment or divine intervention that the two women survived, but the entire scenario must give rise to at least one among a set of questions: What could have been the intention of the officers?

A few streets and moments away, different officers rammed into a truck driven by surfer David Purdue and again shot up the vehicle. Again, luckily, the innocent driver was not fatally wounded.

Both parties were driving trucks of a different model and color than the suspected Dorner’s. Neither received instructions to stop or alter course.

One defense brought forward for police officers right now is that, as a specified target of Dorner, they feel heightened tension. It’s difficult to imagine a more stressful occupation than police officer where you daily lay your life on the line. But isn’t that specific to the job description? In the end, what makes Dorner so much more dangerous than any armed assailant escaping down an alleyway that officers feel justified in trying to kill him by surprise?

The deaths attributed to Dorner—of Monica Quan, 28,Monica Quan memorial the daughter of the officer appointed at his dismissal hearing, and Keith Lawrence, 27, her fiance, and an officer, 34, in Riverside – are tragic and indefensible. But also tragic and indefensible is that so many of Dorner’s allegations echo with familiarity.

He laments that the days of Rodney King and Rampart never went away, depicts ugly, rampant racism—conventional, intra-ethic, and “reverse” racism—against civilians and fellow officers alike, and writes of officers whose abiding pride is violence.

Without corroborating action like that taken by LAPD officers February 9, the diatribe by Dorner might come off as quickly dismissible.

Police officers, supposedly leaders and protectors of the community, who abide by a bankrupt, bullying set of standards are not leaders nor protectors of anyone, but dangers to the community. Their chosen professions are not simple, enviable, or often appreciated, but a badge ought not to be sought as a license for lawlessness.