Thursday, December 29, 2011

Poetry Economics

The economics of writing poetry are unfortunate. Most journals don’t pay poets for their poems. Most journals don’t make money. Most of the time all the poet gets is a free contributor’s copy. No complaints here. Though when I say most journals don’t pay what I mean they don’t pay money. Those journals, and there are many, pay with respect for the writer and the work. I’ve been thrilled to have my poems in many of them and even continue to support those journals with a subscription. But recently I’ve had a poem appear in an anthology, Wait a Minute, I Have to Take Off My Bra, that's taking advantage of the writer’s who made the book possible. I was happy to let them publish my poem, didn’t even occur to me that I should be paid. When I saw the book was being sold on Amazon I sent them an email asking when I could expect a contributor’s copy. Their reply, it would be months before they sent contributors' copies, and this was followed by an email saying that I could buy books at a discount. Hmmm, they have time to sell the book but don’t have time for the people who made the book possible. Sending contributor’s copies shouldn’t be a troubling chore when it’s the only form of payment. The book has been selling for months. If and when they send a contributor’s copy I’ll let you know. Let’s start a pool and see how long it takes. I’ll send the book to whoever gets closest.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Two poems in the fall issue of the Disquieting Muses Quarterly

Two of my poems, "The Cenotaph" and "The New," are up at the Disquieting Muses Quarterly. Click here: and it'll take you to the table of contents. From there simply click on my name. Hope you like the poems.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Poetry just like painting is something that you have to give your entire life to – and that includes all your life." Jim Harrison

Friday, October 7, 2011

Poetry Reading In San Diego

Reading in San Diego this weekend, Sunday, Oct 9, 3pm.
Open Door Books, 4761 Class Street, San Diego.
Once again, I will try not to be boring.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Prose Poem Workshop

What happens when poets feel the need to rebel against the tyranny of the line break? They signup for my one day prose poem workshop at UCLA Extension. It’s on Saturday, October first. I’ll be fun. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Aerodynamics on PoemFlow

My poem "The Aerodynamics" is on PoemFlow today, (May 29th) poem:

PoemFlow is really an app for your smartphone. But you can see it online.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book review of Death Obscura by Victoria Chang

Book review of Death Obscura
by Victoria Chang and posted at On The Seawall.
The url is

The second book I want to recommend is Death Obscura by Los Angeles-based poet Rick Bursky. At first glimpse, Bursky’s poems might seem deceptively simple, colloquial, even a bit light, to use a word that would be a slap to the face in any poetry workshop. But any careful reader who digs a little deeper and continues reading Bursky’s poems will discover that his poems are anything but light. Bursky’s poems use levity as a way to manage the darker aspects of life, of living. His poems are simultaneously funny and sad—if there was a way to bottle a stand-up comedian and a mortician, Bursky would be it. The poems in Death Obscura are death-obsessed, as in “Cardiology” where the poet begins with humor and ends much differently:

Seven years ago I bought a pair of crutches,
just in case. Each Sunday morning I practiced
walking with them, bent my left leg back
from the knee as if the ankle had been mangled
while stepping onto an escalator....
Twice each week the phone rings
at three in the morning. I never answer.
Someone is practicing sad news, I’m certain.
An oak will one day grow from my heart.
No amount of practice can prepare you
for the first push through dirt.

Bursky’s poems also evoke a sense of longing, whether romantic or not. The speakers in Death Obscura are always waiting for something to happen, longing for a different life without loneliness, as in “The Waiting”:
Standing in front of the toilet urinating,
I lowered my head and my glasses fell
into the yellowed water. So much for beauty.
There are parts of ourselves we don’t want to touch,
stories told in small gestures.
Using the tips of two fingers I fished them out,
let them soak in a sink of cold water.
That was over a year ago.
The past smells like a lost dog.
The past is so damned tired,
following us around.
The past can be forgotten
for a while, like you can forget
you’re wearing glasses …

Bursky’s poems may have thematic preferences across Death Obscura, but he never dwells or lingers too long within his poems, especially within poems that focus on love and relationships. The reader only receives small scenes and we are left puzzled, in the same way the speaker is often left puzzled. Bursky captures the mysteriousness of love through these small glimpses, as in “Heroine in Repose”, here in its entirety:

I wasn’t sure if she kissed me
or simply used her lips
to push my face away. Yes,
the moist warmth was enjoyable,
but when my head was forced
back over the top of the sofa
the intention grayed.

Earlier that day I planned
to quit my job and pursue
a career writing romantic novels
that would be confused as memoirs.
But if I couldn’t distinguish
between a kiss and a push
what chance do I have
or writing romantic novels
that would be confused as memoirs?

After the kiss, and I prefer
to think it was a kiss,
she sank back into the pillows
and watched me
out of the corner of her eye.

In the end, what I love about Rick Bursky’s poems is his ability to take life seriously, yet to poke fun at himself and his travails. So many poets focus solely on the dark (I am quite familiar with that terrain myself). And rarely do poets inject humor into their poems, a task that poets seem to know is fraught with danger and failure. Bursky uses humor successfully to counter the darkness in his poems, in the same way that comedians use humor to break discomfort. He is a master of this and poetry is fortunate to have him.

[Death Obscura by Rick Bursky. Published November 16, 2011. 88 pages, $14.95 paperback]

Monday, February 28, 2011

Death Obscura Review from Booklist

Bursky’s unflinching honesty is certain to resonate with readers as he crystallizes the fleeting moments of life and then cuts to the quick with both precision of language and depth of thought in poems that are at once unsettling and comforting. The collection begins with snapshots of the everyday, then expands into a series of prose poems about death and the supernatural. A woman returns from the dead, another writes her own obituary, and the past smells like a wet dog. Bursky manages to be otherworldly without being inaccessible, somehow making strange phenomena feel all too familiar. The theme of death swirls throughout, yet the poems do not dwell on darkness. Rather, they are revelatory, pulling back the curtain to illuminate troubling and mysterious facets of life we usually choose to keep in the shadows. --Alizah Salario

Sunday, January 30, 2011

See You At AWP

If you're going to AWP drop by the Sarabande table (A29, A30) Thursday at 1 p.m., Ill be signing Death Obscura. See you there.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I was interviewed by Beth Spencer of Bear Star Press. You can read it on her blog: