Monday, April 30, 2007

Happy Birthday to Annie Dillard

One of America's most important writers is having a birthday today. Annie Dillard was born on April 30, 1945. She has published 11 books,* including The Maytrees, a new novel forthcoming in June from HarperCollins. She is married to the biographer Robert D. Richardson.

My favorite of her books is The Writing Life (HarperPerennial, 1989) which I have often used as a text in my writing classes. Rather than tell you why I consider this a holy book for writers, let me just give you a bit of what Dillard has to say:

"One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill in from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: 'Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.' "

-from The Writing Life, pp. 78-79


*By my non-scientific count, and not including multi-book "readers" and anthologies.

Sunday, April 29, 2007



Thursday, May 10, 2007 at 7:00 P.M.


TODD DAVIS is the author of two collections of poetry: Ripe, (Bottom Dog Press, 2002) and Some Heaven (Michigan State University Press, 2007). His work has appeared in such journals and magazines as The North American Review, River Styx, Poetry East, Many Mountains Moving, and Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, and in A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2003). He is also the author of several volumes of critical work. Davis received his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Iowa State University, and currently teaches in the English Department at Penn State University, Altoona.

SUSANNA CHILDRESS is the author of Jagged with Love (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005) which was selected by Billy Collins as the winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, Notre Dame Review, Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, RUNES, Blackbird, and in the anthology And Know the Place: Poems of Indiana , forthcoming from Indiana University Press. Childress received her M.A. in English at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a Michener Fellow, and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She teaches in the English Department at Hope College.




Friday, April 27, 2007

Morning, with Songbirds

I just walked outside with a cup of coffee. There is just enough light to see the trees, in which six or eight different species of birds are all singing different songs, voices straining, every bird at the upper end of its register.

Ah, love.

The noise is like a chamber orchestra in a mad house; all of the players warming up.

A Moment with Homero Aridjis

Homero Aridjis is often described as "Mexico's greatest poet since Octavio Paz." I am afraid I do not have enough Spanish to judge the claim (or sadly, even enough knowledge of Mexican poets) but based upon the poems in Eyes to See Otherwise: Selected Poems (New Directions, 2001) he must surely be among their very best.

Aridjis was born on April 4, 1940 in Contepac, Michoacan, Mexico. His father was a Greek immigrant, his mother was Mexican. He is the founder of "The Group of the 100," an association of Mexican artists, writers and intellectuals concerned about environmental issues.

He has won many awards for his work, was ambassador of the Mexican government to the Netherlands and to Switzerland, and served as the president of International PEN. Aridjis lives in Mexico with his wife Betty Ferber, who often translates his work and who co-edited this volume of poems with George McWirter.


for Andre P. de Mandiargues

They arrived one September morning
when the tourists had already gone
in the ruined rooms they opened their suitcases
changed their dresses
and before the temple for a moment
were naked air made flesh
The swallows flew away from their bodies then
when they entered the dark enclosure
and their voices warbled off those walls
like the most tremulous of the evening birds
At sunset the village men
came seeking them out
and made love to them on folding cots
which appeared about to collapse on the stones
and afterwards at night
From far off the dogs were heard the trees
the men the pyramid and the plain
singing with life's same hum
And for weeks they drank and loved in the ancient city
stepping over as they moved ghosts and the dogs of death
until one morning in an old car the police came
to arrest them
and they left Uxmal in the rain.


NOTE: Eyes to See Otherwise: Selected Poems is a bilingual edition, so those of you who know Spanish will particularly enjoy this collection. This translation of "Whores in the Temple" was done by Martha Black Jordan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Anthony Trollope Visits My Home Town (1861)

The English novelist and travel writer Anthony Trollope was born in London on April 24, 1815. I suggest we pause for a moment and offfer him some belated (by one day) Happy Birthday wishes.

In 1861, Trollope began a journey across America which he wrote about in his book, North America, published in 1862. I thought you might be interested in what he had to say about the night he spent in Grand Haven in the fall of 1861, waiting for a steamboat ride across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. These days, our town places great stock in its charm, and tourism is an imporant part of the local economy. Not much publicity is given to Trollope's assessment of the place where "inexorable fate has required me to pitch my tent."

This is taken from Chapter 9, "From Niagara to the Mississippi":

From Detroit we continued our course westward across the State of Michigan, through a country that was absolutely wild till the railway pierced it, Very much of it is still absolutely wild. For miles upon miles the road passes the untouched forest, showing that even in Michigan the great work of civilization has hardly more than been commenced. One thinks of the all but countless population which is, before long, to be fed from these regions—of the cities which will grow here, and of the amount of government which in due time will be required—one can hardly fail to feel that the division of the United States into separate nationalities is merely a part of the ordained work of creation as arranged for the well-being of mankind. The States already boast of thirty millions of inhabitants—not of unnoticed and unnoticeable beings requiring little, knowing little, and doing little, such as are the Eastern hordes, which may be counted by tens of millions, but of men and women who talk loudly and are ambitious, who eat beef, who read and write, and understand the dignity of manhood. But these thirty millions are as nothing to the crowds which will grow sleek, and talk loudly, and become aggressive on these wheat and meat producing levels. The country is as yet but touched by the pioneering hand of population. In the old countries, agriculture, following on the heels of pastoral, patriarchal life, preceded the birth of cities. But in this young world the cities have come first. The new Jasons, blessed with the experience of the Old–World adventurers, have gone forth in search of their golden fleeces, armed with all that the science and skill of the East had as yet produced, and, in settling up their new Colchis, have begun by the erection of first class hotels and the fabrication of railroads. Let the Old World bid them God speed in their work. Only it would be well if they could be brought to acknowledge from whence they have learned all that they know.

Our route lay right across the State to a place called Grand Haven, on Lake Michigan, from whence we were to take boat for Milwaukee, a town in Wisconsin, on the opposite or western shore of the lake. Michigan is sometimes called the Peninsular State, from the fact that the main part of its territory is surrounded by Lakes Michigan and Huron, by the little Lake St. Clair and by Lake Erie. It juts out to the northward from the main land of Indiana and Ohio, and is circumnavigable on the east, north, and west. These particulars, however, refer to a part of the State only; for a portion of it lies on the other side of Lake Michigan, between that and Lake Superior. I doubt whether any large inland territory in the world is blessed with such facilities of water carriage.

On arriving at Grand Haven we found that there had been a storm on the lake, and that the passengers from the trains of the preceding day were still remaining there, waiting to be carried over to Milwaukee. The water however—or the sea, as they all call it—was still very high, and the captain declared his intention of remaining there that night; whereupon all our fellow-travelers huddled themselves into the great lake steamboat, and proceeded to carry on life there as though they were quite at home. The men took themselves to the bar-room, and smoked cigars and talked about the war with their feet upon the counter; and the women got themselves into rocking-chairs in the saloon, and sat there listless and silent, but not more listless and silent than they usually are in the big drawing-rooms of the big hotels. There was supper there precisely at six o’clock—beef-steaks, and tea, and apple jam, and hot cakes, and light fixings, to all which luxuries an American deems himself entitled, let him have to seek his meal where he may. And I was soon informed, with considerable energy, that let the boat be kept there as long as it might by stress of weather, the beef-steaks and apple jam, light fixings and heavy fixings, must be supplied at the cost of the owners of the ship. “Your first supper you pay for,” my informant told me, “because you eat that on your own account. What you consume after that comes of their doing, because they don’t start; and if it’s three meals a day for a week, it’s their look out.” It occurred to me that, under such circumstances, a captain would be very apt to sail either in foul weather or in fair.

It was a bright moonlight night—moonlight such as we rarely have in England—and I started off by myself for a walk, that I might see of what nature were the environs of Grand Haven. A more melancholy place I never beheld. The town of Grand Haven itself is placed on the opposite side of a creek, and was to be reached by a ferry. On our side, to which the railway came and from which the boat was to sail, there was nothing to be seen but sand hills, which stretched away for miles along the shore of the lake. There were great sand mountains and sand valleys, on the surface of which were scattered the debris of dead trees, scattered logs white with age, and boughs half buried beneath the sand. Grand Haven itself is but a poor place, not having succeeded in catching much of the commerce which comes across the lake from Wisconsin, and which takes itself on Eastward by the railway. Altogether, it is a dreary place, such as might break a man’s heart should he find that inexorable fate required him there to pitch his tent.


NOTE: The map shows Grand Haven, Michigan, circa 1868.

Great Moments in Teaching with Gerald Stern

Today is the final day of class. My students turned in their longer research papers at the beginning of our last session. Today, they are to turn in their writing portfolios.

On Monday, we had a pizza party and I showed them The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), with its famous "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!" line. Although they endured it politely (watching a movie while eating pizza is always preferable to a final exam on the use of the MLA citation format) it is my sense that the considerable charm of the film, and its subtlety--its subversiveness, really--a message for world peace delivered by an all-knowing alien in McCarthy-era Washington, D.C.–-eluded my students, though these are the kinds of things I've tried to talk about all semester. They seemed colossally bored through the entire 97 minutes of the film.

We have become inured to quiet charm, and the lessons of history are pretty much lost. I suppose that is the reason we repeat ourselves endlessly, to such stunningly bad effect.

One always hopes for a "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" moment, even if you are only teaching one section of English comp per semester to students who would, to a person, prefer to be sitting on a blanket in the sun or playing Frisbee in the Pine Grove.

Not that I blame them.

Here's a poem by Gerald Stern from his latest book, Everything is Burning: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2005), about such a moment, even if it came fifteen years or-so after the final day of class.


Those lilies of the field, one Sunday night
I got caught in Pocono traffic and sat there
for twenty minutes during the which in front
a madman saw me in his mirror and leaped
out of his car and running screamed Dr. Stern
I followed your advice I gave up everything
Thoreau was right simplicity I was your
student the which I stared at him the cars were
starting up again but I no longer
believed and had to leave him stranded, I
love you, I shouted, read something else, I would
have pulled off to the side of the road but there was no
shoulder there and so I lost him, whatever his
name was. I made a sharp left turn and that was
that, but what I owe him in his under
shirt, how long his beard was then, his eyes
were blue, his tires were bald, what Christ owes me!


NOTE: Although the Constant Reader knows that I often mis-type things, the version of Stern's "Lilies" you see here is exactly as it appears in his book. I think the off-kilter syntax and diction must have been intended as a reflection of the surprise of the reunion and the stuck-in-trafffic-that-is-just-beginning-to-move-again haste of that moment. Anyway, it is an interesting effect.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My NatPoMo Writing Project--Complete


The painting is The Lagoon, Venice: Nocturne in Blue and Silver (1880) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Rebuilding the Beast: Re-draft of my NatPoMo Project


Monday, April 23, 2007

What Work Is, Part 9

I have a busy schedule at my day job(s) today, though because it is the end of the semester (collect the research papers and throw a pizza/movie party) my late afternoon teaching stint will be fun.

You know the drill:

1. I see there is such a thing as "Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere"! Yes, I will be voting. My non-negotiable, baseline requirements for candidates are (a) that they have a link to my page and (b) that they not also link to NASCAR sites. I suppose the first is what really matters, since one of my primary purposes in starting a blog was to be part of a larger writing community.

2. I'm going to be carrying a copy of my new poem around with me at work today. That means I am obsessed with a poem and think (on some level) that it is close to being finished. I've had some luck with my writing in the past six months--making far more progress than I did in the first year after A Path Between Houses won the Brittingham Prize. I can't say why. I'm not going to ask the Muse too many questions, either.

3. The wind has been blowing hard for the past several hours. It is supposed to rain this morning and then get colder.

Our youngest has been up most of the night, sick.

Yesterday was idyllic and I knew it wouldn't last.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Note on Edward Dorn's Way More West: New and Selected Poems

In one of her poems, Diane Wakoski speaks of Edward Dorn's Gunslinger with considerable reverence, noting that the book (actually, the entire of Gunslinger is in four volumes) represents an unanticipated advance in Dorn's work. If I remember correctly, after asking "what happened" to cause the leap forward, Wakoski writes: "It is hopeful, I think."

I was pleased to see August Kleinzahler's review of Dorn's Way More West: New and Selected Poems (Penguin Poets, 2007, edited by Michael Rothenberg), in this week's New York Times Book Review ("Black Mountain Breakdown," NYTBR, April 22, 2007, p. 20).

Kleinzahler writes:

"Then, in 1968, Black Sparrow Press published Gunslinger, Book I , included here in this New and Selected. The poem––the last of its four books was released in 1974––comes out of left field. Nothing in the previous work seems to anticipate it. The influence of [Charles] Olson and Black Mountain is no longer in evidence, as it had been earlier, especially in the volumes published in England. It is altogether a brilliant and strange performance, with no true parallels in American poetry, at least up until then: comedic, phantasmagoric, a mix of spaghetti western, psychedelic cartoon, allegory and quest saga, chockablock with puns, gags, and metaphysical, epistemological and phenomenological asides, not to mention plenty of first-rate poetry. It's a mess, to be sure, but a glorious mess, featuring a 2,000 year-old Gunslinger, his pot-smoking, talking horse, Claude Levi-Strauss, a formidable brothel owner named Lil who seem to be in charge of things, not to mention a character named 'I' who is disposed of partway through, only to reappear a couple of books later as the messenger of the pre-Socratic philosopher Paramenides. It's a druggy poem, written in a druggy time. The voice, which Dorn handles with mad aplomb, continually transforms from hipster to Hollywood cowboy to mock literary, spouting scientific terms and speculations on the nature of language as it all proceeds, vaguely in the direction of Howard Hughes in Las Vegas. If it's not the major 20th-century long poem a number of serious critics claim it to be––it's all over the place, hit and miss, and some of the gags go on too long, like an inside joke among stoned friends––it's the work of a brilliant, wildly original, very funny poet firing on all cylinders."

My National Poetry Month Project: Cutting the Draft


Sunday Morning, with Cooper's Hawk

Today is one of those days that reminds me why I like living in Michigan.

I've been walking around the yard all morning, saying, "Oh, yeah!" to no one in particular.

Meanwhile, a hawk has been lofting over the house.

Stalking something, perhaps, in the field beyond the wood lot.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

My National Poetry Month Writing Project--DRAFT


A Moment with Stan Rice

I've loved Stan Rice's poetry since first picking up Singing Yet: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) at Powell's Books in Portland. His death in 2002 from brain cancer shocked me.

I suspect that the lack of serious critical attention given to Rice's poetry has been a function of jealousy within the poetry world over the literary and commercial success of Stan's wife, the writer Anne Rice.

What a pitiful lot we are!

Stan Rice was also an accomplished painter, and his paintings often grace the covers of his books.

Here's a poem from The Radiance of Pigs (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999):


I walk 5th Ave
Seeking angels
In their pure being.
But there are so many people.
All seem like extras.
So I come home, sad
And out of Anne's hair
"Go find what makes you happy,"
She'd said. So I went
Looking for angels.
I found only one. In the elevator.
Her profile was alabaster.
Her hair was gold, then gone
Three floors above me.
My cigar smoke in the corner of my eye just scared me.
I thought it was someone coming
Toward me.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Yes, This Actually Happened

Read this:

Pugnacious Pinoy

Thanks to Paul Guest for first linking to this.

Thanks to Oliver de la Paz for posting it.

Thanks to Kazim Ali for writing it.

Here's a press report:


Seven of the Five Books of Poetry I Wish I Owned and Had Read

Suzanne Frischkorn of Litwindowpane tagged me with this: "Five poetry collections you may not have read but certainly must...The collections, for whatever reason, should be a bit off the beaten path. And need not have caused the earth to open and swallow you whole."

I believe the idea for this originated with Sam of the 10,000 Things.

I'm sorry that my response looks a little ragged.

In no particular order:

1. To the Place of Trumpets by Brigit Pegeen Kelly (Yale University Press, 1988). Surely the second greatest embarassment for Yale is the failure of the Yale University Press to keep debut collections from the Younger Poet's series in print. I've never seen a copy of this book, let alone touched one; there's a copy available on Amazon for $649--completely out of my price range---but I did think about it.

2. Monolithos by Jack Gilbert (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982) a book that has (inexplicably) gone out of print. And what about Gilbert's Views of Jeopardy, (Yale University Press, 1962) another (currently unavailable) winner of the Younger Poets Prize. I suppose we'll have to wait for a posthumous volume of Gilbert's collected poems, but that's a day I never want to come.

3. The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson (University of California Press, 1985). This one I actually had in my hands; I just didn't have enough money in my pocket. I became interested in Olson after I read Tom Clark's excellent biography, Charles Olson: Allegory of a Poet's Life (W.W. Norton & Company 1991). While I'm reading The Maximus Poems, I'd also like to read The Collected Poems of Charles Olson Excluding the Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1997).

4. William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books (Thames & Hudson, 2001). I have a copy of Blake's Collected Poems, but sure wish I had this!

5. Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry by Robert Lax (Grove Press Poetry Series, 2001). Lax was a contemporary at Columbia of John Berryman, Jack Kerouac, Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton. Few have heard of him because Lax chose to go off by himself, living in isolation and relative silence on the Greek island of Patmos.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reading in Grand Rapids

Last night, I read at the Grand Rapids Public Library with Heather Sellers, Jackie Bartley and Jack Ridl. We had a nice-sized crowd and the reading went well. I understand that it will be available as a podcast (we were miked for one, anyway) so I'll see if I can set up a link to it.

I read six poems from Figured Dark, the book that is coming out this fall from The University of Arkansas Press: "In the Great Field at Mount Holyoke, Under a Dome of Stars," "Lost-Love Ghazals," "American Kestrel," "Figured Dark," "Not that Happiness," and "Discontinuous Narrative."

It was good to see poets Linda Nemec Foster and Robert VanderMolen at the reading, along with a number of Hope College creative writing students.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Black Day in the Blue Ridge

"But Blacksburg isn't a place of massacres––Blacksburg is my home in southwest Virginia. It's boring--that's why I like it. We are Virginia Tech, the fighting gobblers, the ones who wear the funny turkey hats and plant tasteless turkey sculptures all over town. We are not the stuff of massacres."

-Lucinda Roy

How odd that Lucinda Roy's thoughtful column published on the op-ed page of Tuesday's New York Times ("A Black Day in the Blue Ridge") was followed by the discovery that Roy, who is the co-director of the Creative Writing Program at Virginia Tech, had actually referred the murderer to counseling and reported him to the police because of his threatening behavior and the violent fantasies he injected into his creative writing assignments.*

It must have been horrifying for her to learn after writing the column that she knew the shooter.


*From the ABC World News site: "The threats seemed to be underneath the surface. They were not explicit," [Lucinda Roy] recalled. "And that was the difficulty that the police had. I would go to the police and to the counselors and to student affairs and everywhere else, and they would say, 'There's nothing explicit here. He's not actually saying he's going to kill someone.' And my argument was he seemed so disturbed anyway that we needed to do something about this."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

After Blacksburg, I am Without Words


I am like a leaf that knows its limits
And doesn't want to extend beyond them,
Not to bend with nature, not to flow into the big world.

I am so quiet now that
I can't imagine
I ever shouted, even as a baby in pain.

And my face, what is left
After they hewed it for love,
Like a quarry. Now abandoned.

-Yehuda Amichai, from "Time" (1978)
in Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry, 1948-1994 (HarperCollins, 1994).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Blinded by the Light

Pardon me, I am eating my morning oatmeal.


The days go by and I am not sure how everything that must be done gets accomplished. Somehow, it does.

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy a few minutes with the late William Matthews.

He writes:

We like to talk about poetry as a form of knowledge, a way of knowing, as if it were good to be knowing. In the science fiction movies of the 1950's and 1960's, made in the stunned calm aftermath of the split atom, once the radiation-swollen monsters have been vanquished and the hero and heroine can pause for a deep breath and thought, one of them is bound to say to the other that here are some things humans are not meant to know. But Pandora's box is open.

And Pandora's box is to suffer opening. It is not accidental that such atomic- and later, hydrogen-nightmare movies were made exclusively in America and Japan.

In Roger Corman's 1963 film, The Man with X-ray Eyes, Ray Milland could see through the surfaces of things to their structures. He had conducted experiments on himself, against the advice of more cautious but drably conventional colleagues, to get this ability. Once won, it destroyed him. He was, to cite a Hitchcock title, The Man Who New Too Much, which is a morally melodramatic Hollywood way to say "the man who knew dangerous things." It's not the quantity of what he knew that was a problem but that he exceeded limits and broke taboos.

In one scene in the movie Milland is riding in a car. Modern buildings whir by. He wears sunglasses, the bright light of geometrical structures hurt his eyes so, and his heart and soul. It's like taking Blake for a spin around Houston; Newton has crushingly won the day. The world seems to be made of blueprints, and the structural principles for all the buildings are plagiarisms––not of some historic source, but of each other.

Milland's living hell has no surfaces: it turns out that beauty is only skin deep. Isn't it the light on the lawn that we love, and not the moles, the industrious worms, the fine hairlets of roots? Does a poem really have, as the textbooks say, "levels" of meaning (seven, like Troy!)? Or isn't what is miraculous about poems that they are only ink on paper, the way we live only on the surface of the earth, and the way lovers have, finally, only the surfaces of each other's bodies?

It's true, the viewer feels by the end of Corman's stylishly tawdry movie, that the Milland character gave up everything valuable. At the end of the movie he takes off his sunglasses, and the screen, doused with light, goes bright white, as if blindness were, after all, too much light, the saturating flash of the split atom.

-From William Matthews, "Ignorance" in Curiosities, (Poets on Poetry Series, University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp. 132-133.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Few More Minutes Before the Cold

Dwayne held the muzzle of his gun in his mouth for a while. He tasted oil. The gun was loaded and cocked. There were neat little metal packages containing charcoal, potassium nitrate and sulphur only inches from his brains. He had only to trip a lever, and the powder would turn to gas. The gas would blow a chuck of lead down a tube and through Dwayne's brains.

But Dwayne elected to shoot up one of his tiled bathrooms instead. He put chunks of lead through his toilet and a washbasin and a bathtub enclosure. There was a picture of a flamingo sandblasted on the glass of the bathtub enclosure. It looked like this:

Dwayne shot the flamingo. He snarled at his recollection of it afterwards. Here is what he snarled: 'Dumb fucking bird.'

Nobody heard the shots. All of the houses in the neighborhood were too well insulated for sound ever to get in or out. A sound wanting to get in or out of Dwayne's dream-house, for instance, had to go through an inch and a half of plasterboard, a polystyrene vapor barrier, a sheet of aluminum foil, a three-inch airspace, another sheet of aluminum foil, a three inch blanket of glass wool, another sheet of aluminum foil, one inch of insulating board made of pressed sawdust, tarpaper, one inch of wood sheathing, more tarpaper, and then alumium siding which was hollow, The space in the siding was filled with a miracle insulating material developed for use on rockets to the moon.

Dwayne turned on the floodlights around his house, and he played basketball on the blacktop apron outside his five-car garage.

Dwayne's dog Sparky hid in the basement when Dwayne shot up the bathroom. But he came out now. Sparky watched Dwayne play basketball.

'You and me, Sparky,' said Dwayne. And so on. He sure loved that dog.

Nobody saw him playing basketball. He was screened from his neighbors by trees and shrubs and a high cedar fence.

He put the basketball away and he climbed into a black Plymouth Fury he had taken in trade the day before. The Plymouth was a Chrysler product and Dwayne himself sold General Motors products. He had decided to drive the Plymouth for a day or two in order to keep abreast of the competition.

As he was backing out of his driveway, he thought it important to explain to his neighbors why he was in a Plymouth Fury, so he yelled out the window: 'Keeping abreast of the competition!' He blew his horn.

Dwayne zoomed down Old County Road and onto the Interstate, which he had all to himself. He swerved onto Exit Ten at a high rate of speed, slammed into a guardrail, spun around and around. He came out onto Union Avenue going backwards, jumped a curb, and came to a stop in a vacant lot. Dwayne owned the lot.

Nobody saw or heard anything. Nobody lived in the area. A policeman was supposed to cruise by once every hour or so, but he was cooping in an alley behind a Western Electric warehouse about two miles away. Cooping was police slang for sleeping on the job.

Dwayne stayed in the vacant lot for a while. He played the radio. All the Midland stations were asleep for the night, but Dwayne picked up a country music station in West Virginia, which offered him ten different kinds of flowering shrubs and five fruit trees for six dollars, C.O. D.

'Sounds good to me,' said Dwayne. He meant it. Almost all the messages which were sent and received in his country, even the telepathic ones, had to do with buying or selling some damn thing. They were like lullabies to Dwayne.

-from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Breakfast of Champions (Dial Press, 1973, 1999), Chapter 3

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)

You know––we've had to imagine the war here, and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves. We had forgotten that wars are fought by babies. When I saw those freshly shaved faces, it was a shock. "My God, my God––" I said to myself, "it's the Children's Crusade."

-from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five (The Dial Press, 1969, 1999), Chapter 5

Anne Haines: Comments on the Grant Process

Anne Haines recently attended the panel that reviews grant applications to the Indiana Arts Commission. Her comments about the process and what the panel seemed to be looking for in an application are excellent.

Here is a link:

Land Mammal

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bad Weather Forecast

"Heavy snow is falling throughout West Michigan, as a major late season winter storm is churning toward West Michigan. 2-4 inches of snow has already fallen, creating very slippery conditions across the region. Strong winds will come along with the heavy [snow?], with a cold easterly wind sustained at 15-30 mph with gusts to 45 mph. Total accumulations will be around a half foot or more in many locations."


A Visit with Chris Offutt

I have a busy day today (meetings, class and a lot of paper to push out the door) so I thought you might enjoy a visit with fiction writer and memoirist Chris Offutt. The Same River Twice is a memoir set in Iowa--written as Offutt and his wife were awaiting the birth of their first child--with sidetrips to New York, Kentucky, the carnival, and elsewhere. It is a wonderful book.

Offutt writes:

The midwestern land has a softly undulating quality, like concentric circles spreading from a rock tossed into a farm pond. Before the giant plowing icebergs, water covered everything here. Often, I see the bottom of an ancient ocean quite clearly––the ripples left by forgotten tides, the gentle upsweeps of a reef––and I imagine that the land is still underwater. I possess gills in the woods and move against the resistance, exploring an abandoned sea.

Cloud shadows are great fish moving swiftly overhead. The prairie disappears into the glare of refracted sunlight fading with the depth, and becomes the living floorboards of an ocean. Jet contrails in the sky are a ships prow, cleaving the surface far away. Breath bubbles around my head as movement slows. Sound drifts into silence. I have slid out of my century and into an undersea past, alone with an uncaring force.

I am an alien here in the city. I don't belong, none of us does. Thumbs and cranium lucked us into our current status and we've traded curiosity for erosion. Dinosaurs evolved until their bodies were too big for their brains and they could not command their limbs. The human mind has outstripped its body––we are as ungainly as the last great lizard.

The rivers of the nation are only water now, no longer rivers in any sense, trickles mostly, filled with poison. In ten million years a stranger will explore this former sea, this former iceberg, this former prairie, and sift through our remains. Instead of spear points and mastadon bones he will find bits of plastic. I should be a rock sculptor, carving a mighty pantheon to rival the debris we left on the moon. The ashes of Alexander's library reveal the fragility of books.

–From Chris Offutt, The Same River Twice (Simon & Schuster, 1993) Prologue, pp. 9-10

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Moment with Jim Harrison

Here's a quick morning poem from our old Michigan friend, Jim Harrison. This originally appeared in The Theory & Practice of Rivers (Winn Books, 1986), and can be found in The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998).


What if it were our privilege
to sculpt our dreams of animals?
But those shapes in the night
come and go too quickly to be held
in stone: but not to avoid those shapes
as if dreams were only a nighttime
pocket to be remembered and avoided.
Who can say in the depths of
his life and heart what beast
most stopped his life, the animals
he watched, the animals he only touched
in dreams? Even our hearts won't beat
the way we want them to. What
can we know in that waking,
sleeping edge? We put down
my daughter's old horse, old and
arthritic, a home burial. By dawn with eye
half-open, I said to myself is
he still running, is he still running
around, under the ground?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Not Again, Bill!

Given that it is Easter, I am, frankly, speechless about William Logan's talks-out-of-both-sides-of-his-mouth shiv job on Derek Walcott's Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), which appears on the cover of today's New York Times Book Review (April 8, 2007).

Not to worry. Teju Cole was taking careful notes.

Check out his response here:

Modal Minority

Almost Random Notes, Part 10

1. Happy Easter, to those of you so inclined. Oh, heck, Happy Easter to everyone!

2. Now that Lent is over, I've built out my links again. I've also added some links to institutions and organizations I am interested in or support. The next logical thing, I suppose, would be to organize my links alphabetically. I promise to do that as soon as I am feeling logical.

3. I'm still working on my long poem. I'm at six pages, but the more I look at it, the more possible it seems that what is worth saving is only a page, at most two.

We'll see.

4. I bought this little box, Urania's Mirror: A View of the Heavens, the other day out of the cheap-sale pile at Barnes & Noble. It contained a reprint of a pamphlet printed in England in 1825 and released in America in 1832. The pamphlet was written by one "Jehosophat Aspin" and is accompanied by 32 painted cards: "On which are represented all the constellations visible in Great Britain / On a Plan Perfectly Original / Designed by a Lady." The cards were originally designed for use at the 42nd parallel (almost exactly where I am)* and the package includes a modern star wheel, making it possible to find the constellations thoroughout the year. The cards have little pin-holes in them so that one may (theoretically; I can't image how this would work in practice) hold the cards up to the night sky in such a manner that the specific stars forming the card's constellation(s) shine through.

The cards are quite beautiful, and the pamphlet contains these somewhat arcane and meandering descriptions of the myths behind all of the constellations. The weather has been so snowy and cold that I haven't had chance to test the cards out, but even if they don't work, I'm happy. I love weird stuff like this.

5. Ah, the boys are awake. Easter eggs, candy, presents!


*Grand Haven, Michigan:

Latitude: 43° 3′ 47″ N
Longitude: 86° 13′ 42″ W

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Note On The Paris Review

I'm reading the Spring 2007 issue of The Paris Review (Number 180). Included are interviews with Harry Matthews and Jorge Semprun, letters Flaubert wrote to himself, and poetry by Mary Kinzie, Sharon Olds, Eavan Boland, Victoria Chang, and others.

Why does the "new" Paris Review under Philip Gourevitch seem less accessible, less reader-friendly, more "arch" than the old Paris Review? It's always been a snobby little place: essential, exclusive, the "best of the best," yes, but in the old days I at least felt in on the joke. Recently, everything is steely smooth surfaces and not much fun.

The odd thing is that as the journal has begun to feel less accessible, the institution of The Paris Review has opened up; its web page is alive and they sent representatives to the AWP Conference who actually seemed as interested in the journal's readership as in the daily specials at Elaine's.

In the Dark of the Night with Annie Dillard

Gentle Reader:

Sorry to wake you. I couldn't sleep.

When I wonder what I've done--and failed to do--with my life, I go back to Annie Dillard. Most often to The Writing Life, which I consider a holy text, a writer's Book of Acts, if you will, but tonight---cold as it is, with spring on hold and several inches of fresh snow accumulating in the wood lot--I grew lonely for moths and remembered this from Holy the Firm:

Two years ago I was camping alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. I had hauled myself and gear up there to read, among other things, James Ramsey Ullman's The Day on Fire, a novel about Rimbaud that had made me want to be a writer when I was sixteen; I was hoping it would do it again. So I read, lost, every day sitting under a tree by my tent, while warblers swung in the trees overhead and bristle worms trailed their inches over the twiggy dirt at my feet; and I read every night by candlelight, while barred owls called in the forest and pale moths massed round my head in the clearing, where my light made a ring.

Moths kept flying into the candle. They hissed and recoiled, lost upside down in the shadows, among my cooking pans. Or they singed their wings and fell, and their hot wings, as if melted, stuck to the first thing they touched––a pan, a lid, a spoon––so that the snagged moths could flutter only in tiny arcs, unable to struggle free. These I could release by a quick flip with a stick; in the morning I would find my cooking stuff gilded with torn flicks of moth wings, triangles of shiny dust here and there on the aluminum. So I read, and boiled water, and replenished candles, and read on.

One night a moth flew into the candle, was caught, burned dry, and held. I must have been staring at the candle, or maybe I looked up when a shadow crossed my page: at any rate, I saw it all. A golden female moth, a biggish one with a two-inch wingspan, flapped into the fire, dropped her abdomen into the wet wax, stuck, flamed, frazzled, and fried in a second. Her moving wings ignited like tissue paper, enlarging the circle of light in the clearing and creating out of the darkness the sudden blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine. At once the light contracted again and the moth's wings vanished in a fine, foul smoke. At the same time, her six legs clawed, curled, blackened, and ceased, disappearing utterly. And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burned away, and her heaving mouth parts crackled like pistol fire. When it was all over, her head was, as far as I could determine, gone, gone the long way of her wings and legs. Had she been new or old? Had she mated and laid her eggs, had she done her work? All that was left was the glowing horn shell of her abdomen and thorax––a fraying, partially collapsed gold tube jammed upright in the candle's round pool.

And then this moth essence, this spectacular skeleton, began to act as a wick. She kept burning. The wax rose in the moth's body from her soaking abdomen to her thorax to the jagged hole where her head should be, and widened into flame, a saffron-yellow flame that robed her to the ground like any immolating monk. That candle had two wicks, two flames of identical height, side by side. The moth's head was fire. She burned for two hours, until I blew her out.

She burned for two hours without changing, without bending or leaning––only glowing within, like a building fire glimpsed through silhouetted walls, like a hollow saint, like a flame-faced virgin gone to God, while I read by her light, kindled, while Rimbaud in Paris burned out his brains in a thousand poems, while night pooled wetly at my feet.

And that is why I believe those hollow crisps on the bathroom floor are moths. I think I know moths, and fragments of moths, and chips and tatters of utterly empty moths, in any state. How many of you, I asked the people in my class, which of you want to give up your lives and be writers? I was trembling from coffee, or cigarettes, or the closeness of the faces all around me. (Is this what we live for? I thought; is this the only final beauty: the color of any skin in any light, and living, human eyes?) All hands rose to the question. (You Nick? Will you? Margaret? Randy? Why do I want them to mean it?) And then I tried to tell them what the choice must mean: you can't be anything else. You must go at your life with a broadax...They had no idea what I was saying. (I have two hands don't I? And all this energy, for as long as I can remember. I'll do it in the evenings, after skiing, or on the way home from the bank, or after the children are asleep...) They thought I was raving again. It's just as well.

-Annie Dillard, from Holy the Firm, in The Annie Dillard Reader, (HarperCollins, 1994), pp. 427-429

Friday, April 06, 2007


"There are going to be times when we can't wait for somebody. Now, you're either on the bus or off the bus. If you're on the bus, and you get left behind, then you'll find it again. If you're off the bus in the first place––then it won't make a damn."

-Ken Kesey (1935-2001)

About my eye appointment: the less said, the better. I did manage to score a new pair of sunglasses––classic black Wayfarer frames with my prescription, Polarized, all the UV filters, etc. I may not be "on the bus" in the poetry blogging world--check the blogrolls at the Drivers' Union* if you think otherwise––but I'm going to look su-weet, playing harmonica on the corner as the chosen ones roll by.


* "Still, we were rather pleased with ourselves...We kept our world small."

-Robert Stone

Oddly enough, Stone himself was not "on the bus" during its legendary cross-country ride, though he was at the table for the almost-as-legendary post-ride dinner.

My Lucky Day!

I have an appointment with my retina specialist this morning.

Oh, this will be fun.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

On Crossing the River

Every writer has a date with the dead. There comes a time when each of us––psychologically, poetically––must enter the Stygian realm and cross the dark river, leaving the solid realm of the living behind, going down into the mournful land of the shades. It happens somewhere in the middle of your life. I can tell you, the air is thick and the ghosts swarm. Smoke burns your eyes; the stench is terrible. Voices cry out, as if from nowhere, and fade away. Death has undone so many. This place, if you can call it a place, is unspeakable, mute. It is below or beyond words. I wish this journey on no one. I wish luck to anyone who sails forth, who navigates the black waters; I hope you find your way back.

-from Edward Hirsch, "Summoning Shades," The Poets' Dante: Twentieth Century Responses (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), Edited by Peter S. Hawkins and Rachel Jacoff, p. 395