Sunday, December 31, 2006

The End of the Year

This has been a strange and difficult year. A good one, too. I am not yet sure what to make of it––I might sit down before dark and scratch together a list of what I am grateful for, perhaps a few resolutions. Meanwhile, gray sky and a cold rain. This seems the right sort of weather.

Starting this blog was one of my better decisions; I enjoy writing it even if few are reading. For those who are, my sincere thanks and best wishes for the coming year.

Here's an excerpt from a letter dated December 31, 1869* from George Sand to Gustave Flaubert:

"All's well here, and everyone adores everyone else. It's the end of the year. We send you your share of the seasonal kisses."



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*From: The Correspondence of Gustave Flaubert & George Sand (The Harvill Press, 1999)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Weekend Update

Good news.

This just flashed up on the USPS website:

Your item was delivered at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2006 in FAYETTEVILLE, AR 72701 to U OF A . The item was signed for by R WILSON.

So my apologies. A generous selection of cheeses and sliced meats for my friends at the United States Post Office in Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701. Never doubted you guys for a minute.

And "R. WILSON"? Hey, I'm buying you lunch.

The Postman Never Answers the Telephone

I dislike films of the "Nightmare on Elm Sreet" variety. I mean, just when you think it's safe to shove the uneaten popcorn under the seat, wake your partner and leave the Cineplex, up pops the psycho killer to stab at the heroine one more time. The question I must now seriously ask––has Figured Dark turned into Freddy Krueger?

I am supposed to have the manuscript in Fayetteville on or before January 1, 2007. No problem, right? I mailed it by Express Mail (the Postal Service's "Overnight Mail") on Tuesday, December 26. I "waived signature" on the delivery, meaning that it was NOT necessary for anyone to be at the Press to receive my packet. Yes, I did think it possible that everyone at the Press might take the week off between Christmas and New Year's. I was taking the week off, as were many in my office.

"Overnight Mail" to Fayetteville, Arkansas from Grand Haven, Michigan on Tuesday, December 26, 2006 actually meant delivery on Thursday, December 28. Again, no problem.

But when I checked on the status of the package on the USPS Website on Thursday, I found out that the packet was at the Post Office in Fayetteville, that delivery had been attempted, but that rather than leave the packet, (remember, I had "waived signature" for this very reason) the Postman had left a notice at the Press and had taken the packet BACK to the Post Office. The website also informed me that one more delivery would be attempted and that after five business days, the packet would be returned to sender (that's me). I then skirled through the world wide web to find the telephone number for the Fayetteville Post Office, (so that I could point out that I had waived signature and wanted the packet delivered to the Press's address whether anyone was there to receive it or not), but APPARENTLY, NO ONE ANSWERS THE TELEPHONE DURING BUSINESS HOURS AT THE FAYETTEVILLE POST OFFICE.

And at the Fayetteville Post Office, as nearly as I can tell, my "Overnight Mail" packet still sits.

But wait, there's more:

To cover myself, I telephoned and e-mailed the Press (no one was there, of course) and on Thursday afternoon, mailed another complete packet to the Press by Priority Mail (2 to 3 day delivery, right?). I also paid for Delivery Confirmation, the little green slip that allows one to track the progress of a packet through the mail system. I thought it possible that the Priority Mail Packet could be at the Press as early as Saturday and (at the latest) on Tuesday, January 2. Remember, January 1, the New Year's Holiday? No mail delivery?

Well, last night I was watching MSNBC and it seems that to honor Gerry Ford, there will also be no mail delivery on Tuesday, January 2, 2007. So this morning I got up at 4 A.M.--couldn't sleep--to check on the status of my packets. My "overnight packet" still sits in the Fayetteville Post Office and I just found out that the United States Postal Service has NO RECORD of the Delivery Confirmation number on my Priority Mail Packet. Zero, Zip, NADA! I don't know where that one is; maybe it never left the Grand Haven Post Office!

This means that my packet may not make it to the Press until Wednesday, January 3 or, if the Fayetteville Post Office decides that delivery is, for whatever reason, "impossible" for them to make and if the Priority Mail packet really is lost, the manuscript may not be delivered at all.

Honestly, I would hop in the car and drive the manuscript to Arkansas but for the fact that my eyes have deteriorated so rapidly that I don't think it's safe to do so. So rather than a victim in a Freddy Kreuger movie, perhaps I am more like Audrey Hepburn, the blind victim in "Wait Until Dark." Less waif-like, but still.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Departure and a Lesson

The manuscript is gone. I bought a celebratory cigar and you won't have to listen to me whine about that anymore.

Here's a poem by Henry Taylor from An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards (1992 reprint ed., Louisiana State University Press):


RIDING LESSON

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying, "Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle."

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you'd
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, "See, that's the way
to do it. When you see
they're gonna throw you, get off."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Okay, I am proud of myself. Essentially for teaching myself what I should have already been able to do, but still. I re-typed the whole book into Word, made a zillion typographical corrections in the manuscript, oriented everything properly on the page, made a few significant adjustments to several poems, then figured out how to insert page numbers (why is that so difficult in Word?) and taught myself how to burn the final corrected manuscript to a CD.

The only tasks left are to write a short cover letter, fill out a form for the press and address an envelope.

I know how to address an envelope.

And while I am hardy a master of Word software, I am now comfortable enough with Word to keep using it as my principal word-processing system.

I am, finally, finished!

And I went shopping, wrapped presents and cooked Christmas dinner for six.

And we managed to have a very good Christmas.

I hope you did, too.

I have a week off from work and hope to get back to my new project. Now, to sleep.

Friday, December 22, 2006

It's a Long, Long Way to Gila Bend

Will they see me coming?
Do they know I'm running?

I finished putting in the manuscript last night at 10:30; got up this morning at 4 and corrected the more obvious screw-ups in the final 15 pages. I'll be reading it against the last print from the old computer today, then again tomorrow, then getting it out of here in the Saturday mail.

This thing has worn out its welcome.

This manuscript must leave.

Got to Tucson in the dark,
keeping eye out for the law.
500 miles or more from a broken heart.
Can they see me coming?
Do they know I'm running?

If you're shopping for a last minute Christmas present for a cool person, get them The Town and the City, the latest CD from Los Lobos. Rock music for adults, by adults. Your giftee may have to listen to it a couple of times to get it, depending upon their degree of coolness. Then they won't be able to turn it off.

Hannah is coming home today for Christmas!

I've slept about 3 hours a night for the past 3 weeks.

It's a long, long way to Gila Bend.
When I get there I can lay my head,
in Gila Bend.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Episode IV: A New Hope

3 p.m. and I have only 15 pages to go. The good news is that my Christmas present from Marcia was (is?) a new chair for my alleged desk.* Thank God, the chair arrived this morning. Great back support, perfect height to type at, so comfortable. Anna Akhmatova could describe the "chair" I've been sitting on the past few weeks. I cannot.

Anyway, I've been in such agony that Marcia let me open my present early.

I went to work for half the day and while there had someone show me how to get a word processing document onto a CD.

Told you I was a bit thick with regard to such things.

Thanks to Diane K. Martin and Robert Thomas for e-mailing me good and helpful ideas about how to get this project finished and out the door, and for their general encouragement.

I think the Jedi have arrived.

*NOTE: The alleged desk is an old door on top of two filing cabinets.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Work Is

I am not having much fun. Briefly, here is the problem. My manuscript is due at the press on or before January 2. It is finished, polished and ready to go. But the manuscript was typed on an old Power MacIntosh 7200/75 in some ancient version of Microsoft Works. It never occured to me that it would be impossible to get this converted somehow––okay, I am an IDIOT--into a version of Word. Well, forget it. I can't even get the thing onto a disc. I also can't scan it in--the manuscript comes out after scanning in about six different fonts (sizes and types) and won't "move" on the page; it seemingly can't be edited.

Solution? Think fast. I had to buy and install Word and am retyping the entire manuscript into my laptop. What, you ask, have I been using for word processing on the new computers? Appleworks. I've been thinking that I should buy Word but I never got around to it, and the book was so close to "completion" on the old computer that I decided not to transfer it to my new computers. I figured I would just final-edit and proof the manuscript "in place" and start new projects on the new computers--which is what I have done.

Had I tried to make the switch--I had plenty of time to try--I might have figured out several months ago that it was impossible and been able to proceed at a more leisurely pace.

Stupid.

I'm sure there is a more elegant solution than what I have elected to do, but as must be obvious, I am not particularly clever and buying the right software and plunging ahead seemed the simple solution.

At least, it was a solution that I understood.

The good news is that I am more than halfway through after installing Word yesterday afternoon and begining to type.

I haven't slept much, though.

I really am too old for this.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Almost Random Notes, Part 3

When I'm tired I write in numbered paragraphs because it's easier than writing transitions:

1. I worked Friday night and yesterday to pull together the manuscript in final form and send it off to the hoped-for blurbers. After the packets were in the mail, I began to tinker with a couple of things and I like the revised poems better--in one case, much better. What should I do? I made the changes and am also going to send them to the blurbers. I know that this is over-the-top compulsive, but as you may have noticed....

2. On Monday the manuscript goes onto a disk and gets sent to the University of Arkansas. After that, I'm going to light a really good cigar and think about the last six years.

3. I went to the bookstore this morning to buy the Sunday papers and also bought The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford (Little, Brown and Company, 2006) and The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe (Harper Collins, 2006). I love to read about artists and writers; I'm fascinated by how others construct working lives as painters or poets. I'm taking some time off over the holidays and hope to get to these in the next several weeks.

4. I wonder if there is a 12-step group for those who are hopelessly addicted to books. Seriously, I shouldn't be permitted within 100 feet of a bookstore.

5. Seth Abramson, who is back from a short hiatus at The Suburban Ecstasies, has an interesting post about the attitude toward MFA programs of blogosphere-based poets who are "purists" versus those who are "egotists." As I understand his categories, I am a purist. Certainly, I am an advocate for MFA programs. My best evidence is my first book, which was written and published before I went to Warren Wilson. I couldn't have written my way from the poems in Holding Down the Earth to the poems in my second book without the time I did in Swannanoa. And the third book? Not likely.

6. In Friday's mail I received a contributor's copy of Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry (Autumn House Press, 2007) edited by Robert Strong. The anthology is comprehensive in its historical scope, incorporating Native American songs, African American spirituals, and 400 years of poetry from the predecessors of Anne Bradstreet to Joshua Corey, Illya Kaminsky and Nicole Collen. Highlights include poems by Alicia Ostriker, Brigit Pegeen Kelly and B.H. Fairchild. My own contribution, "In the Great Field at Mount Holyoke, Under a Dome of Stars" is the opening poem in the Figured Dark manuscript. This is a fascinating look at American spiritual expression, compiled without regard to creed or denomination. It's $24.95, 368 pages, softbound with a beautiful cover and artful design.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

C.K. Williams

I just received my copy of the Collected Poems of C.K. Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). I've been aware of Williams's poems for many years and (of course) often see his work. For example, one of his poems is in the current New Yorker. What I've paid attention to, I've liked, but I've never felt compelled by the body of Williams's work. I often have this reaction if a poet is writing beyond my capacity to read. By which I (sometimes) mean, "Beyond my capacity to read the poems patiently and without distraction."

Everyone at Warren Wilson raved about Tar (Random House, 1983), but I was never able to find a copy of the book--I think it was out of print by the late 1990's. Perhaps it's time to give his work another look.

This is a convoluted way of saying that I'm glad to have his poems in one place and in my hands.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Wrote letters to potential blurbers this morning and worked on getting the manuscript into the proper word-processing format, etc., to send to the press.

I am tired.

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Here's something from Judith Hemschemeyer's translation of The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (Zephyr Press, 1992). Akhmatova wrote this (as a fragment and without a title) in 1914:

You shouldn't be in my dreams so often,
Since we meet so frequently,
But you are sad, troubled and tender
Only in night's sanctuary.
And sweeter to me than the praise of saraphim
Is your lips' dear flattery...
Oh, in dreams you don't confuse my name,
Or sigh, as you do here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Seasonal Rights

For whatever reason, we don't see much lately from Daniel Halpern, editor of the much-missed literary journal Antaeus, and of The Ecco Press.

There is something sad about that.

This is from Halpern's Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994):

WHITE FIELD

It is like standing beyond
a snowfield with a single
set of footprints across it
and you say, Those prints are mine
because no one else has ever been here.
All day the snow comes down,
all day you tell yourself what you feel,
but you remain in that place
beyond the snowfield.
Is there better proof
of your presence than
this open field, where you stand
now looking back across the white
expanse that is once more new to you?
As snow fills the places
where you must have walked,
you start back to where you began,
that place you again prepare to leave,
alone and warm, again intact, starting out.

Monday, December 11, 2006

...and Again

I cut half a line, eliminate the stanza break (smoother!) add an extra word that is not ornamentation, complicate a line where a tiny bit of complexity is justified, make another complex note more simple.

Yes. Done. Finished. Finito.

Light a cigar in the rain and stare into the trees.

My mind's not right, Lowell famously said.

2 Birthday Boys & Reassembling the Manuscript

Today is the birthday of two Michigan-born writers, both of whom now live in Montana. Tom McGuane was born on December 11, 1939 in Wyandotte and was raised in the Detroit area. Jim Harrison was born on December 11, 1937 in Grayling, where his father was an agricultural agent. Both attended Michigan State University.

To celebrate, we'll begin with an excerpt from Tom McGuane's novel, Something to be Desired (Random House, 1984):

"A great blue norther made up and came down off the High Line. Lucien went into town and bought some duck loads for his sixteen-gauge. He admired the town for its symmetry in the bend of the big river, for its smoky cheer in the face of this raid of arctic weather. Then he went off and hunted ducks in a place where the spring creek, having arisen in one small eye of a swamp, wound out in a long ribbon of steam toward the river a couple of miles away. He walked along while the deep cold made a bas-relief map of his own skull, exposing bone through flesh and reminding him that cold, not heat, is the natural order. Suddenly his small white frame house seemed a pale, brave island in eternity. A more analytical person might have concluded that this solitary regimen was a good and happy one for him. But he was old enough to know that loneliness, like some disturbance, would begin to form."

And finish with a small poem by Jim Harrison from his Michigan days, as reprinted in The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998):

LOOKING FORWARD TO AGE

I will walk down to the marina
on a hot day and not go out to sea.

I will go to bed and get up early,
and carry too much cash in my wallet.

On Memorial Day I will visit the graves
of all those who died in my novels.

If I have become famous, I'll wear a green
janitor's suit and row a wooden boat.

From the key ring on my belt will hang
thirty-three keys that open no doors.

Perhaps I'll take all of my grandchildren
to Disneyland in a camper but probably not.

One day standing in a river with my fly rod
I''ll have the courage to admit my life.

In a one-room cabin at night I'll consign
photos, all tentative memories to the fire.

And you my loves, few as there have been, let's lie
and say it could never have been otherwise.

So that: we may glide off in peace, not howling
like orphans in this endless century of war.

_____________________________

I'm going to reassemble the manuscript tonight, add a note or-two to the acknowledgments page, do another read-through (tomorrow?) and get it off in the mail by Friday. It will be good to move on to the next project.

Or to sleep, be a father, walk the dogs, etc.

The days are stacked against what we think we are.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Iceman Cometh: A Response to Joel Brouwer

In a recent post on "Avoiding the Muse," C. Dale Young questioned the utility of poetry reviews. I second the question after reading Joel Brouwer's ice-axing of Roy Jacobstein's A Form of Optimism (Northeastern University Press, 2006); a review that appears in this morning's New York Times Book Review.

Writing a short notice in an omnibus review titled "Poetry Chronicle," Brouwer pulls out his tool and makes quick work of Jacobstein's left temple. Brouwer writes:

"How many full blown road-to-Damascus revelations can we expect to have per-lifetime? Perhaps it is not unreasonable to hope for one or two? Like so many contemporary poets, Jacobstein lays claim to that many per page: his epiphanies arrive as predictably as the 5:15 bus at the end of each poem's workday, ready to take us home to a comfortable lesson."

After citing three examples from Jacobstein's book that Brouwer claims (without particular reference to the texts of the poems) establish his point, Brower tosses the author a bone--though how Jacobstein might gnaw on it with so much metal in his skull remains problematic. Brouwer continues:

"...[W]hen he does kick off the sensible shoes of the 'anecdote + reflection = insight' school, [Jacobstein] shows himself capable of some truly fresh and vivid writing."

No examples, of course, are offered by the critic.

It isn't clear what Brouwer has against epiphanal moments in poetry. To claim (as Brouwer does) that they "pander" to the poetry audience by "repeating back to them what they already believe to be true" is to postulate what remains to be proven-- about epiphanies, about belief and about audience response. It might be noted that many entirely reasonable people are not persuaded of the authenticity of Paul's experience as he approached the capital of Syria. It may be that Brouwer himself has never written to a moment of genuine insight, but it is his criticism, not his poetry, that concerns me.

No, the problem is that Brouwer is flat-ass wrong about this book, and proves himself a very poor reader of Jacobstein's poetry in the process of writing the review.

Brouwer writes, "In 'The Dog Races in Florida' we learn that though our loved ones die, we must go on living." Is that what the poem is about? Here is the evidence. Judge for yourself whether Brouwer has come anywhere near an accurate reading of the poem:

THE DOG RACES IN FLORIDA

He can't stop thinking
of his mother, contorted
in her last bed, her voice

Running to empty, able
only to repeat A point, I need
a better point,
and unbidden,

he flashes to the dog track
in Florida, the loudspeaker
growling over its own static

Here comes Swifty--and they're off!:
a mass of yelping greyhounds
chasing that tiny tin rabbit

trailing the black Buick coupe.
Around and around the tamped
dirt the pack strains. Anyone

would have bet the dogs
had learned by now no matter
how fast they run, Swifty runs

faster. Then the point breaks
clear: They know and run anyway.*

I read the poem as an original (and nearly cynical) comment on the futility of life; a suggestion that many of us will choose to go on living in futility no matter how unwise that choice is. I do not read it as a sentimental comment about anyone's mother, as a sweet insight about the "Great Chain of Life" metaphor, or whatever it is that Brouwer claims the poem to be.

In similar--no, in even more annoying fashion, Brouwer has misread the poem "Sighting" as "[Informing us] that there have been occasions in history when people were persecuted based on their ethnic identities, and that this is wrong"** and the poem "Spastic," which I read as a self-indictment by the speaker of the poem, not as moral instruction about the handicapped.

Brouwer's rhetorical claim that Jacobstein delivers epiphanies at the rate of two-per-page may have been intended as hyperbole; Brouwer is such a poor reader, it is difficult to be sure. In any event, the more general charge is not borne out by the evidence--the texts of the poems themselves. Brouwer cites three of Jabobstein's poems to make his case. I will offer six, almost randomly chosen--"almost" because I want you to read a cross-section of this remarkable book. Read the title poem, read "Peach Time, Nepal," read "Jewel Case," "Discovery," Depth of Field" and the long, stunning sequence "Mosaic: Istanbul" and ask yourself whether Brouwer has treated Jacobstein's work fairly. It is one thing for Brouwer to dislike the literary epiphany, that is his privilege. It is quite another to accuse a poet (on scant evidence) of tepidness, or of mannerisms that do not appear in the poems.

As for the book--as must be obvious, I love this book. But don't believe me about what an important collection Roy Jacobstein has assembled. This is what David Kirby says, from the back cover of A Form of Optimism:

"If poets were athletes, Roy Jacobstein's specialty would be the triple jump, that graceful, hysterical combination of running and leaping that can take a competitor fifty feet or more. Look at a poem like 'The Mystery and Melancholy of the Street,' for example, in which he sails all the way from Pago Pago to Argentina to Billie Holiday to Benjamin Franklin in just a few lines. And when the intern treating his busted clavicle says 'hoops,' he thinks of the little girl in Giorgio di Chirico's famous painting, rolling her hoop into the ominous shade. And out again: not in the painting, but in Jacobstein's mind, so agile and richly imaginative that his every glance amounts, as the title of this collection says, to a form of optimism."

---------------------------

* My apologies that the version of Jacobstein's "The Dog Races in Florida" which appears on "Sonnets at 4 A.M." does not reflect that the lines of the tercets are progressively indented thoroughout the poem. I can make the poem appear in proper form in my draft, but cannot make it properly appear in the "published" format.

**Even under the space pressure of a 233-word (my count) micro-review, it is difficult to imagine a more snide, yawning dismissal of the horrors of racism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, problems that Roy Jacobstein, as a physician working in international public health, deals with on a regular basis. Inserting "Yada, yada, yada" would have only raised Brouwer's word count to 236.

It is odd that Brouwer makes no mention of Jacobstein's profession. Perhaps the reviewer, an academic, is unaware of Jacobstein's day job. Setting aside the content of the poems themselves, Brouwer would not have had to look far to inform himself. This is part of what Lucia Perillo, who judged the 2006 Morse Prize, wrote in her Introduction to A Form of Optimism:

"As a poet and doctor engaged in the field of public health, Roy Jacobstein observes the world--OK, witnesses--from a singularly important vantage. He has the rare authority to say of the AIDS crisis in Africa: 'We found the needs many / But let us not talk about that, / as the people do not.' And when the rental car rolls on (actually, Jacobstein rides in a 'project vehicle'), he dwells not on the obvious and complicated politics of the virus but instead on the details that skitter away from the temptations of propaganda."

Oh yes, the Morse Prize. Did I mention that A Form of Optimism won the 2006 Samuel French Morse Prize in Poetry? Brouwer doesn't say a thing about the prize. Why not?

Insomnia Diary

Whistler need not claim that the moment lacks a narrative.

Better, yes.

Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics, 2002) is a great companion as you write. Pessoa (1888-1935) perfectly sets forth the dilemma of the poet. Or at least, he describes the problems of this one writing this poem:

"The only tragedy is not being able to conceive of yourself as tragic. I've always clearly seen that I coexist with the world. I never clearly felt that I needed to coexist with it. That's why I've never been normal.

To act is to rest.

All problems are insoluble. The essence of there being a problem is that there is no solution. To look for a fact means the fact doesn't exist. To think is to not know how to be."

The moon is so dazzling that as I was walking the dogs, my fingers made perfect shadows against the snow.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

...and Again

I rewrote a line, cut two words, added one, picked up a slant rhyme.

Better, yes.

As Pessoa said, "It is as if my life amounted to being thrashed by it."

Might as Well Jump

I worked on the poem today and actually did have (what might pass for) a moment of clarity. The poem is finished; it's as good as I can make it, though I'm reminded of that line from Prufrock: "It is impossible to say just what I mean!"

I'll go through the manuscript again tomorrow and put it in the mail early next week.

We put up the Christmas tree this afternoon and now the boys are dancing to Van Halen's Greatest Hits. Van Halen is such perfect little-boys-dancing music––all that preadolescent testosterone with no real object of desire.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Carpenter's Lament

Either the poem is finished or the poem is very close. Because I am revising an older poem, I don't have a sense of discovery, there has been no moment of clarity.

I feel like a carpenter, going back into a house months after the project was completed, working through a punch-list. The owner is glaring at me and I'm trying to pretend she isn't.

I'm the guy whistling in the corner, tapping at the wainscotting.

Pay no attention to me.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Notes to a Friend

1. Because this is Michigan. There are herons and wrens, and if I could see the moon this morning, it would be a ragged moon.

From this window it is always a ragged moon.

2. Eight inches of fresh snow--blowing, drifting--and I cannot see the road from the house.

3. It is not impossible, or quite so dreary. For example, in his entry for December 6, 1987, in A Year of the Hunter (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), Czeslaw Milosz wrote:

This is the secret of that time: unknown to anyone in America, just a petty bureaucrat in one of the satellite embassies, I scribbled away, writing, translating poets, decked out in the cloak of my importance in that distant land. I can imagine someone commenting: "How petty such motives are! How he unmasks himself, confessing that he was a slave to his personal ambitions!" But fate was a factor here, and the understanding of certain rules of the game ought not discredit someone unless he is a hypocrite.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From The Far Field

Lately I've been carrying around a copy of The Far Field by Theodore Roethke (Doubleday & Company, 1964) which won a posthumous National Book Award, Roethke's second. Theodore Roethke was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan (his family was, of course, in the greenhouse business) and many of his poems--even those written late in life--carry the unmistakable stamp of his early years in the Upper Great Lakes.

One of my favorites:

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear,
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
and one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Is There a Drama Award for This?

Up early, working again on the poem. I suppose there it is a bit of self-drama in putting so much emphasis on a single poem and delaying the submission of the manuscript because of that poem. But if self-drama is what gets me out of bed in the morning and working, so be it. Thank God for coffee. I am a poor typist (I think that is the reason I'm a poet, rather than a novelist) and until I am properly caffeinated, I am a much worse typist.

In the poem it is a summer night. I am alone. I am walking through a field. I am trying to remember something.

What am I trying to remember?

* * *

It isn't summer, of course. It's December in Michigan, though there was a thaw in the air when I took the dogs out. And so, the first lines of "February Morning" by Laurie Sheck from The Willow Grove (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996):

Low fog. Snow melt. Pines. Then the things of this world brightening,
sharpening.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Snow, a Visitor and Raymond Carver

We don't yet have the 18 inches of snow I predicted--lately, all of my predictions have been a little off--but we are getting closer. Driving home from school last night there were many cars in the ditch, their headlights arced skyward into the whirling snow. The sheriff's deputies, tow truck drivers and fire crews were working hard to pull them out.

On "Countdown," Keith Olbermann said that writing blogs has become so popular, no one is reading them. The average blog now has only one reader. In this, I suppose blogging is an analogue for contemporary poetry. So I am happy--joyous--to report that I have found my reader--or rather, that a reader found me. Yesterday, the poet Robert Thomas stopped by "Sonnets at 4 A.M."

Robert is an incredible poet from San Francisco whose first book Door to Door (Fordham University Press, 2002) won the "Poets Out Loud" Prize and whose latest book is Dragging the Lake (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2006). Robert is one of the contributors to the blog "Of Looking at a Blackbird." Our times in the MFA Program at Warren Wilson College overlapped and I've gotten to know Robert through the annual alumni events, at the AWP Conference and through his poetry, which appears often and in all of the best places. It was good to hear from him and I'm looking forward to keeping in touch through the blogs.

I woke up this morning thinking of Raymond Carver. I don't know why. I love Carver's poetry (which no one much talks about these days) and his short stories. I was thinking of the opening paragraph of "Cathedral," the title story of one of Carver's collections, which also appears in Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988). I finally had to get out of bed to see if the story opens as I remembered it.

He writes:

This blind man, an old friend of my wife's, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife's relatives in Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-law's. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. She hadn't seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn't enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Big Game, Redux?

All week, I've been listening to a certain Los Angeles-based sports radio host who claims that the University of Michigan doesn't deserve a rematch against Ohio State because Southern Cal has a better football team than Michigan, plays a tougher schedule, draws a bigger audience, blah, blah.

Well, UCLA just beat USC 13-9.

See you in Glendale, Jim.

A SUNDAY MORNING REALITY CHECK: Except that the University of Florida beat Arkansas last night and Mike Slive, the Florida athletic director, is head of the BCS.

My prediction? Michigan will end up in the Rose Bowl.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Heavy Weather

I was right about the weather. For such prescience, I should be carried about on a litter and annointed a shaman. Rattles should be shaken in my general direction.

It's rained for two days and grown much colder. This morning we are dusted with snow and a major storm is sliding up from Missouri. When the front finally clears, a blast of cold air from Canada and the lake-effect snow begins. We'll have the eighteen inches in the wood lot by Monday morning.

I am too busy working to do what needs to be done.

To start the day, a few lines from "The Times Atlas" by another Michigan boy, Jim Harrison. The poem appears in The Theory & Practice of Rivers (Winn Books, 1986), in the 1989 Clark City Press edition of that book, and in Harrison's The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998):

Meanwhile the weather is no longer amusing.
Earth frightens me, the blizzard, house's
shudder, oceanic roar, the brittle night
that might leave so many dead.