Howard Altmann, Winter 2009-10 Contributor

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Howard Altmann

Howard Altmann‘s second book of poetry, In This House, will be published by Turtle Point Press spring 2010. He is the author of the play The Johnsons & The Thompsons, (Playscripts, 2008) and lives in New York City.

An Excerpt from “In This House”:

I was born in a crowded room
and before the age of reading
I excused myself from the story
and closed the book.

View the Winter ’09-’10 issue here.

After the jump, Howard writes about the process of composing “In This House” and “Bluebird,” two poems that appear in the Winter 2009-10 issue of Ploughshares, guest-edited by Tony Hoagland.

“In This House”

After the son was done with his tirade at his father–very old world and very European–for not being able to name one of the son’s girlfriends from the past twenty years, the son realized that perhaps a break from New York City wouldn’t be such a bad thing. To the top of Laurel Canyon he went, invited by dear friends to stay in their childproofed home while a writing gig stationed them in Toronto for a month.


I can’t say much happened at the canyon’s ridge. I made breakfast. I made lunch. I watched the fog. I talked to the San Gabriel mountains and I collected the mail. About every day I scribbled the same first six lines of the poem, testing different notebooks and pads, hoping for a fresh start.

Writers know when they give birth to pregnant lines. That I needed to nurse mine as long as I did–I finished the poem four months later back in New York–does not make this poet proud. But that I persisted to labor with them till the seal would break, as it were, are the waters that wed me to this whole
wondrous enterprise.


“Bluebird”

Early drafts of “Bluebird” had the words Canada and border in its first couple of lines, having crossed the 49th parallel from my native Montreal many years ago. I don’t know if I was unconsciously exploring the vulnerability and resiliency of identity as an investigation of how I was faring in America. Or if I was trying to raise a flag of innocence in a period when the country I now call home was breaking too many windows. Perhaps the notion that mystery can only be resolved by more mystery was the true spirit of my intentions. Or perhaps what I’m saying here are bird droppings on the windshield. What I do know is that the poem went through enough drafts that the authorities should’ve been called. And had they been called, dual citizen that I am, for my Canadian passport I would’ve reached, in the dark; hoping a lover’s hand would’ve hushed me back to dreamier lands.