Reading Postponed

Tomorrow’s reading at Sip This is postponed because of the nor’easter coming. Shannon and I will read late in the year instead on Friday, Dec. 7th. Stay tuned for more readings.

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Talk of Happiness Is Now Available

Talk of Happiness is now available on Amazon.  Thanks especially goes to Tim and Jenny Miller from S4N Books for their continued support.  Pick up a copy.  Heck, pick up two.  I’ll sign one of ’em.

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Reading this Friday!

Come join me and my bride as we read from our most recent works.

Friday, March 2, 2018
Poets in Nassau
featuring Adam Penna and Shannon Mowdy, open mic to follow
Sip This
64 Rockaway Ave
Valley Stream, NY 11580
7:30 PM

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Reading Tonight!

If you’re in the area and undaunted by snow and ice and dark, I’ll be reading tonight.  And I’ll have plenty of copies of Small Fires, Little Flames and, before it’s even available, Talk of Happiness.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Performance Poets Association
featuring Adam Penna, open mic to follow
Sachem Library
150 Holbrook Road
Holbrook, NY 11741-1399
7 PM

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From Small Fires, Little Flames: A Reading

Here’s some video from Friday’s reading at BJ Spoke Gallery in Huntington*. Thanks to the gallery, those who came to listen and, especially, Kelly Powell, for hosting the event.

If you missed me here, you can find me featuring at the Blue Duck Bakery in Riverhead on Sunday, November 26th @ 2PM.

See more info about upcoming readings by clicking the Readings tab above.

*I’m not sure how the audio sounds, so I’ll post the poems I’m reading below.  If you like what you hear, you can purchase a copy of Small Fires, Little Flameshere.


The magician learns his art
and knows this spell or that one
will turn a stone into a dove.
The audience participates and sees.
There was no bird and now there is.

And saints practice humility,
praying for God’s will
who first caused doves to rise.
There is no art to this.
The congregation believes or disbelieves.

The poet is the one I love,
who tries to turn his heart into a dove
and fails or gets it right,
but no one cares or sees.


What god would prick
who could do more?

The one I know isn’t a wind.
He is a whisper.

Among the many voices he is one,
advising yes and no.

So long to other notions of the divine!
This one must do.

It’s been a good friend
since I was born.


I would revise so much
is how it used to go,
and then it changed and all
I used to know as loss
became not loss but possibility.

Potential is the better word.
I almost called it hope
but stopped, and would, just short
of that, because hope also means,
to my chagrin, hold on.


What word was it?  Oh, yes.
That one the heron said.
Was it only yesterday I heard it?

Or the day before and all the rain…
It’s better to be wet and know it
than think: the sun, the sun.

As if to pray were more than confirmation:
this is, and that’s enough.  No more
wishing for this monk.  Yes, that’s right.

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On Talk of Happiness

Soon, very soon, the follow-up to Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji will be released by S4N Books.  A lot has happened since I started writing these little songs almost ten years ago, when the aim, like I understand the aim of all meditation and prayer, was to right myself each day.  The poems were an opportunity to listen, and, I hope, more than an account of a listening, they are also an opportunity for the reader to listen, too.  Poetry, like this, shares DNA with mandalas, those Hindu and Buddhist symbols meant to represent the all of everything.  As a book and as a practice, Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji is successful, I think, because, even now, when I look back at those pages, I am pleased with and proud of the results.  Of course, no poet can return to the state of mind which brought a book into existence.  Neither is it desirable.  Whatever state of mind brought Little Songs into the light was addressed and resolved the minute the final eye was dotted, the final tee crossed.  So while Talk of Happiness begins where LS&LTG leaves off and the two books share a number of preoccupations, the hope of the books couldn’t be more different and so, too, then, the effects.

If LS&LTG is a monument to a certain kind of, albeit humble, success, the poems in Talk of Happiness document failure.  Here I sought not to right myself each day, but rather to test whether poetry could alter my circumstances.  I wanted to know if poetry could make me happy.  When I read a number of these poems at a reading, shortly after their composition, a colleague asked during the question and answer portion, whether the experiment worked.  Are you happier? she asked.  I had to admit, no, it had not worked, I was not happier, and the room laughed, uncomfortably, I guess because of the ironies implicit and explicit in my answer.  But, I added, the experience taught me to look at my circumstances with a certain equanimity.  I suppose I had the stoics in mind, and, if I could conjure a particular image of the lesson, it would be the Wheel of Fortune.  The safest place on that wheel is the hub.  The poems, then, centered me, rather than righted me, is what I concluded then, though I doubt this conclusion now.

I wrote the bulk of these poems over the course of three years.  Again, like with LS&LTG I dedicated myself to writing, at least, one poem a day, though frequently I wrote three or four or more a day, revising–sometimes radically–as I went along.  The notebooks I kept during that time are filled with quickly scribbled compositions, abandoned drafts, and printouts taped into the pages.  I even added to my process, the practice of recording my voice reading the poems, so I could listen to the poems and, thereby, determine which draft best represented the actual utterance as I’d conceived it.  Over the course of one major snowstorm, I wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 little songs.  Not all of these have made it into the final manuscript.  And certainly, many of the poems as poems were failures.  Even in a book ultimately dedicated to falling short, the poems inside must achieve a certain level of success as poems.

The book is organized chronologically, like most of my books; however, there is one difference.  While it may seem that the poems move, like we assume time does, in a linear fashion, actually the sequence is cyclical.  Each section (there are four of them) is numbered I-IV and titled like so: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer. But within these sections, the poems are arranged by date of composition without any consideration for the year of composition.  The effect or the argument, then, concerns the cyclical nature, not only of time but of moods and weathers.  The book, therefore, can be read in any number of ways, that is, from first page to last, but also from the last section through the first and on.  One might even dip in as one pleases.  Or find the season you’re in, and intuit which poem best suggests the complement.  The poems aren’t a calendar, but more like a series of landscapes and still-lives arranged to mirror what a window frames.

Like with most sonnet sequences, read them chronologically and a narrative emerges.  With Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji, you can perhaps just make out the silhouette of the story, not just of my spiritual coming into being, but also of my first marriage, several important losses, including the death of a good friend, mentor and fellow poet, and a hasty and ill-conceived conversion to Christianity (specifically, I became a member of the Episcopal Church).  Perhaps it’s best to think of Talk of Happiness, if the narrative behind the poems concerns anyone at all, as the unraveling of what Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji attempted to knot.  It is first and foremost, now that I read it with some distance, a documentation of my first marriage falling apart and the several storms, both literal and figurative, that seemed to come to destroy it.  Secondly, the book is a document of my shifting perspective on the divinity and poetry’s place in all that.  TOH, finally, is the story of all kinds of love failing, and my attempt to recover that love and, failing that, make some peace with the loss.

The last difference between TOH and LS&LTG is the absence of my erstwhile imaginary friend, Genji.  It’s not that communications with Genji dried up.  There are, indeed, two more cycles of Genji poems, “To an Imaginary Friend” and “Genji in Paradise,” but I thought it best to leave those for a future volume.  Maybe I’ll call it All of Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji.

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Reading Friday, November 10th

I’ll be reading this coming Friday, November 10th at 7 PM at the BJ Spoke Gallery, 299 Main Street, Huntington, NY 11743.  I’ll have plenty of copies of Small Fires, Little Flames for sale, and I’ll sign them.  If you already have a copy, bring it along and I’ll sign that, too.

And if you miss this one, you can always catch me at the end of the month, Sunday, November 26th at the Blue Duck Bakery.

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