Another oink-a-thon ready for hungry readers!

•July 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Announcing the second issue of Pig in a Poke magazine, live July 1st, 2010!

Hi all,

It’s true … the star-studded second issue of Pig in a Poke is ready for human consumption. We’re probably the only kosher pig in the world — anyone can partake. We got a great response to the first issue, and thanks to all our readers for that. And, of course, thanks to all the great writers who made that response possible.

This issue, we have another stellar lineup for you. I think I found some great poems, and Trina did an incredible job of sorting gold nuggets from the corncobs. Although we have gotten very little shoddy writing … even what we’ve rejected has had its considerable merits. Here’s what this issue offers:

Poetry: Our featured poets are Hosho McCreesh, Christopher Cunningham and Justin Barrett, a talented trio who are attracting a lot of attention—and publication—in the poetry world. And you can’t go wrong with the rest of the crew: Louis McKee, Karla Huston, Robin Stratton, Lyn Lifshin, Corey Mesler, Karl Koweski, Michael L. Newell. Mark Jackley, C. P. Steward, Paul Handley, Scott Owens. Helen Losse and Jessie Carty.

Fiction: On the fiction side, Trina has picked a diverse and talented group of writers as well. The work this issue features short-shorts by Jane Banning and Justin Barrett and stories from Christamar Varicella, Michael C. Keith, Christina Hoag, Jo Janoski, Richard Godwin, T.R. Healy, Heather Clitheroe, Corey Cook and Jeffrey Carl Jefferis.

Essays: We feature some sterling nonfiction with essays by Anne Woodman, Peter Dabbene and Michael L. Newell. Quite a mixture of the thought provoking, fun and downright silly in this section.

Special event for our friends!
On a final note, you can listen to a replay of a show originally broadcast at 9 p.m on July 1st. You can hear Trina reading from several of her stories on a show on Blog Talk Radio called Blink Ink Fiction. Harry and Trina will also discuss Pig in a Poke on the show. Go to the Web site and find the July 1 show or simply call (646) 721-9314.

May you piggyback on our success,

Harry and Trina

New publications:
Orion headless (two poems)
Gutter Eloquence (two poems)
Boston Literary Magazine (two poems)


Poetry, thy name is subjectivity

•June 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’m fond of telling the story of how my poem “The Day After Christmas” was published many moons ago in the now-defunct and wonderful magazine Taurus. The poem was, at least in my mind and my intent, on how a relationship could be like the day after Christmas — all the excitement that comes while it’s building up, then the event itself, then the letdown afterward. But one reviewer saw it as “a scathing indictment of the commercialism of the holiday season,” not at all what I intended. Maybe, as Oscar Wilde said, “I’m so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word I’m saying.”

Anyway, recently someone posted a review of my book, The Black Dog and the Road, on his blog. I was and am appreciative. But again it always strikes me that reviewing, like poetry itself, can be quite subjective. For instance, I recently had an editor tell me that he really liked my stuff, but it wasn’t quite “weird” enough for his magazine. Hmmm. Usually, I’m considered sufficiently weird for anyone’s taste.

But that book review. It’s quite favorable, although the reviewer seems to have inordinate concern about (a) my personal habit of breaking the last line of the poem away from the rest, and (b) my use of sentence case instead of title case for my titles. I kinda wish he would have spent a little less time on those issues and more on the book, but it is what it is, as they say.

Our reviewer doesn’t seem to be aware that title case and sentence case — The Black Dog and the Road as opposed to The black dog and the road — are a matter of choice. At IBM, where I’ve worked for the past decade, sentence case is preferred, and I’ve gotten into the habit of using that. I really like title case just as well, and using sentence case is just a habit I’ve fallen into … much like my habit of dropping the last line off from the rest of the poem. In many cases, I do feel that it adds emphasis to the finale of the poem, but sometimes I just do it because, well, it’s what I do.

(I also overuse ellipses … because I feel it’s a gentler break than that harsh old dash and stronger than a comma.)

Anyway, I’m quibbling. A favorable review of my book. I’ll take that any day!

P.S. Don’t forget about us at Pig in a Poke magazine. Second issue coming out in less than a week!

A story of submissions

•May 31, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Today, I submitted poems to one of my long-standing favorite magazines, Abbey. The little mag recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, quite a feat in the small press where magazines come and go like night and day. Editor David Greisman is one of the few editors whom I’ve met; in fact, we spent time together on a few occasions and I even stayed over at his home once.

This long weekend I also submitted to a few other magazines and worked with my magazine, Pig in a Poke. My wife and fiction editor Trina Allen and I are rounding up work for the second and third issues, and I’m pleased with the quality of the work we’ve accepted. Now that the Pig is active again, it’s interesting to see other people’s submissions too.

Getting back to David Greisman and Abbey: Because David and I have such a long history, my cover notes to him are usually more casual and friendly than those I write to other editors. But when I submit, I do try to get some of my personality into the cover letter. And I usually include my bio, unless the editor specifically prohibits it. I figure that any editor stuffy enough to get riled about these habits of mine probably puts out a stuffy magazine that I don’t belong in or want to be in anyway. I’m also naive enough to think that most editors won’t accept work because of a bio or friendly letter. Personally, if I recognize the name, I might give the writer’s poems more careful consideration, but I care too much for my magazine to accept mediocre work, regardless of the name.

So, submitting poems. “The poetry game.” I’ve been pretty lucky at it, as I realized when I sent my bio to David. My trade paperback, I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf. The recently published The Black Dog and the Road and my chapbook, Something Real.

As if this wasn’t enough, I have another chapbook, Before daybreak, with a nod to Frost coming out from Alternating Current’s Propaganda Press, possibly released as soon as tomorrow. And Robin Stratton from Boston Literary Magazine‘s Big Table Publishing will be doing another chapbook in July or August. That one’s title is Retreating aggressively into the dark.

Speaking of Robin Stratton, let me end this post with a story. Recently, I submitted a group of poems to her at Boston Literary Magazine. As usual when I submit, I included a list of the poem titles that I sent. In this case, the list was:

Coming into summer
Walking something
The job and the day of escape
Rejecting Bukowski
Half human, half dog

The punch line? Robin wrote me a note and said that she thought the list of titles was a poem, before she realized what it was. But the ultimate punch line is: She accepted the list of titles and will be publishing it in her magazine!

You know you’re on a roll when someone accepts a list of titles …

Pig in a Poke magazine is going to live again today, May 1st, 2010!

•May 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Big news today for fans of good writing! I’m proud to announce that for the first time in decades, Pig in a Poke magazine is out there again … with a stellar cast of writers.

Pig in a Poke magazine

Back in the 1980s, I edited Pig in a Poke and, when I ran short of money, its smaller, more affordably priced offshoot, Pig in a Pamphlet. (See elsewhere in this blog for details). Now, the Pig’s reincarnation as an online literary journal offers what I think to be an incredible lineup of poetry and fiction, with a few essays too.

My wife Trina Allen edits the fiction and has done a great job with the Web design. She and I worked together to develop the look we wanted … it allows you to spend time with the individual writers in their own intimate spaces. For my part, I choose the poetry and essays, and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.

It’s a tribute to the quality and staying power of our writers that I was publishing some of them back in the 1980s … as long ago as 1982, in fact. We also have some newer talent that I think is equally impressive. And by the way, any poets, fiction writers or essayists on this mailing list are more than welcome to submit for future issues.

I hope you’ll drop by, give a read, maybe donate to the cause, and let me know what you think.

The lineup for this issue includes:

Poetry by:
Jim Daniels
Louis McKee
Lyn Lifshin
Howie Good
Christopher Cunningham
William Doreski
David Barker
Shirley Allard
Carol Lynn Grellas
Robin Stratton
Alan Catlin
Karla Huston
Corey Mesler
Donal Mahoney

Fiction by:
Burgess Needle
Sharmagne Leland-St. John
Daniel Davis
Marjorie Petesch
Anne Woodman
Ginny Swart
James Neenan

Essays by:
James Heller Levinson
Anne Woodman

Some well-knowns, some unknowns, but all, I assure you, quality stuff. Drop in and wallow a while in the Pig sty … it’s not a bad place to be! Thanks in advance for your support.


How Bukowski entered my life

•May 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Note: This is an excerpt from the essay “Charles Bukowski and me,” previously published in Abbey magazine. Credits and much thanks to editor David Greisman.

My brush with Bukowski came in 1985. I had started a magazine called Pig in a Poke in 1982 and put out two issues before it became too much a burden on my income as a bartender and freelance writer. So I scaled down the format and started putting out a smaller version of the magazine and calling it Pig in a Pamphlet. It was in this format that I published Bukowski’s work.

Even without the Internet, the small press flourished and correspondence between editor and writer — and between the editors themselves — was fast and furious. I don’t remember when or where I saw Bukowski’s work published in another little magazine, but by then he had been a legend to many of us for years. I remember wondering how this little magazine got Bukowski to send them some poems.

It turns out that Bukowski apparently felt warmly toward the small presses where he had gotten his start. In a move exemplary of the small press in those days — try anything — I contacted several editors that I knew and one of them gave me his address. I think it was Ron Androla, who put out a little mag called Northern Pleasure. So I sent Bukowski a letter asking if he would be interested in submitting some poems to my little magazine.

When Bukowski wrote back, he sent several poems with his letter. I liked the poems that he sent so much that I kept four of them. Today, the fact that I rejected some of his work still amazes me, but not even the legends get accepted all the time. And with his lifestyle, Bukowski was no stranger to rejection of all kinds. What was he like? Honestly, he seemed like a decent fellow, genuinely grateful that someone would want to publish his work. He had a good sense of humor and would frequently use it in his letters.

The pamphlet of Bukowski poems, titled then I gave up and started drinking heavily after a line from a poem in the collection, came out in 1985 and sold well by my modest standards. John Martin from Black Sparrow Press bought 200 — about half of the press run — at a discount and had Bukowski sign them. So the pamphlets that I sold him at less than 50 cents a copy are now bringing $200 and upwards each at rare booksellers now.

I had some trouble, by the way, with John Martin. I had mentioned to Bukowski that I wanted to do another pamphlet of his work, and Bukowski apparently told Martin. I got a nasty letter from Martin, telling me to back off and that he had the rights to Bukowski’s stuff. I wrote back assuring him that I had no bad intentions. When he replied he was much more pleasant than he had been before. He said he realized that I didn’t mean any harm but that he had to protect his turf. He called me “a decent and honest person” (I still have the letter). And he also enclosed a checklist of Black Sparrow Press books and told me to “check off everything you’d like for yourself and let me send you the books.” I took him up on that. I still have the books — by Paul Bowles, John Fante, Bukowski and others — to this day.

A final footnote to my relationship with Bukowski: I stopped publishing Pig in a Pamphlet around 1989 or 1990. In 1993 I left Pittsburgh for Key West, and somehow lost my signed copy. I wrote to Bukowski asking him if he would send another. Soon after, the signed copy showed up in my mailbox, but not the chatty letter that he usually sent. This was at the end of August, and a little over six months later he passed away. He must have been very sick when he got my letter but he still signed the copy and sent it back to me.

For more on the present day adventures of Pig in a Poke, go to or see my next blog!

The oak of poetry in Hickory, North Carolina

•April 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It was like the marketing for an epic movie: “Years in the making!” Scott Owens of the Poetry Hickory series in Hickory, North Carolina, had set up a reading for my old friend Tim Peeler and me as featured readers over a year before the April 13th, 2010 event. Poetic success is hard to measure … financial gain is certainly not always an accurate gauge of it. Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime, yet nobody today would contest his brilliance. Same with poetry. I’m not Van Gogh, but I’m not the guy who wrote “The sky was blue, and I was too” either.

Poetry is measured in small increments. I think of religion saving one soul at a time or the sleazy designer in Key West who claimed to be “measuring the island six inches at a time.” In this case, it can be selling chapbooks two or three at a time or evangelizing 50 people in a room. It all counts, but sometimes it seems like a long uphill climb. But I believe the rewards are worth the seemingly small paybacks.

Harry Calhoun reading. Photo by Trina Allen.

On a scale of acorn to oak, this reading was a big old solid oak tree. I sold a few books at the reading and I got to hang out with some great people. Met Helen Losse, who has long edited The Dead Mule and featured my work. My wife Trina was there for moral support and took some great photos with our new digital camera. But the most wonderful thing is the reaction that I got to my poems. They laughed at the right places. They seemed moved at the right times. When I had two poems left to read and was concerned about running long, I asked Scott Owens if I should read one or two. He unhesitantly held up two fingers. (I wasn’t drunk, so I assume that he hadn’t put up one finger and I was seeing double.)

Anyway, the reaction to the poems is what all of us live for … not adulation, but simply knowing that we connect. Tim Peeler followed my performance with an incredible reading of his own powerful poetry from his new book, Checking Out, about his years as a hotel manager. It was an outstanding event and I’m proud to have been part of it.

Tim Peeler and Harry Calhoun. Photo by Trina Allen.

After the reading, we went back to the hotel. The one,. by the way, that Tim had written about in his collection, albeit thoroughly remodeled. Our beloved Alex the Labrador kept us up half the night barking as people came and went. I wondered why so many people were checking in. Then I woke up, pulled back the blind a little and saw a huge bus parked sideways in the parking lot. The bus had literally let out as we tried to sleep. Hmm, maybe I’ll pass on the story to Tim for his next collection: Checking Out II: Things that go Bark in the Night.

New acceptance:
“Rifle” in Gemini
“Pictures of Bukowski” in Orange Room Review

New publication:
Just got word this morning that my new chapbook, Near daybreak, with a nod to Frost, has been published by Propaganda Press and is now in the mail on its way to me.

From conception to creation: A poem is born, part 2

•April 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A few blogs ago, I wrote about how my poem “Tierra del Fuego” started with candles perched on two dresser tops across the room. I mixed in Magellan’s discovery and naming of Tierra del Fuego, and ended up with a poem about a relationship. The process for my poem “Johannesburg,” published in Orange Room Review and in my upcoming chapbook from Propaganda Press, took the opposite direction. “Tierra del Fuego” had started with a scene from my everyday life and wove in some history. “Johannesburg,” on the other hand, started with a geographical fact and it then built on events from my life.

The poem started with my reading the simple fact stated in the first line: Johannesburg is the world’s largest city not on a major body of water. This reminded me of how dependent people are on water — for transportation, but more importantly for its life-sustaining properties. From there, I went back into some rather painful personal history. I remembered my grandmother not drinking water before she died back in the ‘80s and also remembered that my father seemed reluctant to drink liquids just before he passed away last year.

These events, and my mom’s death, formed the basis for this poem, which at the end comes around again to the imagery of water being life-sustaining and critical to life.


I read that Johannesburg is the world’s largest city
not on a river, lake or ocean. That’s what I read.
Water is important. But what I know for sure

is that my grandmother could not drink water
just before she died and I remember feeding her
ice. My mother, well, she died like a vapor

before I could even feed her goodbye.
My father anointed his dry mouth with a swab
dipped in water the night before he passed.

And I wake up and reach for the bottle
on the nightstand and just before
the water passes my lips a thousand thoughts

enter my mind and I drink anyway,
thirsty, but what choice do we have, really,
but to stay close to water

for as long as we can