Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Work Is, Part 12

Well, I was a finalist for the 49th Parallel Award at the Bellingham Review, but didn't win. The good news is that they want to publish my poem, "Orpheus, Gathering the Trees."

I am very happy to have my work at TBR. I love the journal (it's a beautiful, wonderfully edited magazine) and they have been kind to my poems through the years. This is the first poem from my manuscript-in-progress to be accepted for publication.

In other news, I am getting ready to go to my son's school tomorrow as part of their "Arts Week" program. I'll be talking to kids from kindergarten through the eighth grade, so I will have my hands full.

Wish me luck!

Marcia is feeling a bit better.

Despite My Best Intentions

I never did make it to work yesterday. Marcia woke up with a temperature of 103 degrees, shaking like a leaf and about as blue as my friend here. We spent most of the day in the emergency room. It turned out that a little sore throat she hadn't said much about was a runaway strep infection.

Antibiotics, painkillers, and an I.V. later, we were home and she was asleep.

Poor sweet thing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It Was Only a Dream...

In the past few months, I seem to be able to write productively whenever I sit down in front of the computer and begin typing. I've been around long enough to know that this won't last. Finding time to write is my greatest difficulty.

If I won the lottery, I'd quit my job, buy an old pickup truck, paint it primer gray and stencil "Institute for Applied Prosodic Devices" on the doors. Every day, I'd load the dogs into the truck and chug into town to check the mail.

"There goes the village poet," people would say as I drove by. "He's nuts."

As it is, I have to get dressed, put on my lawyer face and go to work.

Our last Village Poet was Edgar Lee Masters (another lawyer) who wrote most of Spoon River Anthology at his summer home on Spring Lake. A failing marriage and disputes with his neighbors finally drove him out of town in the early days of World War I. There is no historical marker here to note his work--nothing. It's as if he never lived, as if he never wrote.

You'd think, at least, that some clever real estate developer would have figured out a way to use the "Spoon River" name in a million-dollar-a-pop condominium project.

Six hours later:

How strange that I would think of Edgar Lee Masters today.

Here's a link:

Spoon River Anthology

Monday, May 28, 2007

Goodbye, Gotham Book Mart

Ron Silliman notes on his blog that the Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan is no longer in business.

What a sad day.

Here's link to the story in the New York Times:

Gotham Book Mart

Someone in the article asks "Where were the poets?"

My guess is that not a lot of poets had $400,000+ to beat the landlord's bid on the stock. Or $1,000 to deposit for the right to attend the auction.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Work Is, Redux

The day was perfect for working--rainy, a bit moody. Much like the writer himself!

The poem is finished, and I think it is a good one, though I am brushing against some stereotypes in the narrative. I think I'll have to let the poem cool down a bit to see whether I have made myself into a tourist to the suffering of others.

I think Ira Sadoff wrote about that.

Friday, May 25, 2007

What Work Is, Part 11

I'm working on a new poem, something that has been incubating for five or six years. Have you ever had something happen that you knew, instantly, you would have to write about someday?

Well, it's one of those poems and it arrived in one big sweet piece this week.

I will only be at work until noon today, so that I can stretch the holiday just a bit. This should be a good weekend to write--no commitments, a few cigars, the weather not so nice as to be a distraction.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Notebooks of Robert Frost

Robert Frost is a necessary poet, though I have never been a big fan of his work. Something about his poetry, like the man himself, has always left me (no pun intended) cold. That Frost seemed to lack empathy for others in his work--and life--has often been noted. In Robert Frost: A Life (Henry Holt & Company, 1999), Jay Parini writes, at p. 264:

"On the subject of Frost's prejudices, Peter J. Stanlis is helpful: 'You may recall a famous remark that Johnathan Swift says in a letter to Alexander Pope (September 29, 1725): "I have ever hated all nations, professions and communities, and my love is toward individuals: For instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Counselor Such-a-one, and Judge Such-a-one: so with physicians--I will not speak of my own trade--soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. This is the system upon which I have governed myself for many years." I think that Frost is very much like Swift; he loved particulars and disliked abstract categories. This is at heart the basis of his hatred of all sentimental responses in life. It also underscored his belief in self-interest far above claims of social benevolence.' "

With that said, I remain fascinated with how other poets work, and while we were in Iowa City, bought a copy of The Notebooks of Robert Frost, (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2006), edited by Robert Faggen. These are literal transcriptions (with strike-throughs, original punctuations, and extensive source notes) of 48 of Frost's notebooks. If you like Frost's work--and even if you don't--this is an interesting book; worth looking at and worth adding to your collection.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What Work Is, Part 10

Now that we are back from Iowa, I have to get back to writing. As I get older, I find that I am less easily distacted while working, but have less ability to get back to work if I spend time outside of my routine. A trip half-way across the country will throw me off for a week.

What brings me back to work are books, new journals, resolutions, lists. Sitting in a familiar place day after day.

I just finished reading Halflife, the debut collection by Meghan O'Rourke (W.W. Norton, 2007). I am not sure what to say about the book. I wonder what my reaction would be if I were paid to write a review?

More objective, I think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On Translating Herbert

In response to my post on The Selected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert, Andrew Shields asked if I had read the essay by Michael Hofmann in the current POETRY* which is so critical of translator Alissa Valles' work in the new Zbigniew Herbert: Collected Poems 1956-1998 (Ecco-Harper Collins, 2007). I have since read the essay, and I also picked up a copy of the book in Iowa City. I can't read Polish (neither can Hofmann, for that matter), so I have no way to judge the literal merits of Hofmann's claims, though there seems little doubt that Hofmann is sincere in his belief that Herbert's legacy would have been better served had this translation been left to John and Bogdana Carpenter, who have translated all of Herbert's books other than The Selected Poems.

Still, I think The Collected Poems is worth owning. First, The Collected Poems does include (almost verbatim) the entire Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott translations of The Selected Poems (an effort Hofmann sniffs at but expresses no real criticism of). Secondly, the translations by Alissa Valles may not be the ideal Herbert, but they are the Herbert we are likely to have in English and in one place for the forseeable future, and you ought not deny yourself the ready exposure to Herbert's work. I agree that the examples given by Hofmann suggest that the Carpenters may offer superior English renderings of Herbert's work; the Valles translations are still worthwhile.

For whatever flaws it may have, this is an important book.


"A Dead Necktie" by Michael Hofmann, POETRY, (May, 2007)

For an admiring review of the Valles translations, see Mark Rudman's comments in BOOKFORUM.

Here is a link:

Mark Rudman

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Parade of Progress

On May 19, 1953, a General Motors Futurliner was on its way to your hometown to show your grandparents how we'd all live in the amazing world of tomorrow.

In other news, I was born.

Friday, May 18, 2007

...And Home Again

We made it home yesterday afternoon. It took slightly over 7 hours to drive from Iowa City, due largely to a major traffic slowdown just west of Chicago. The trip back was otherwise uneventful––the weather cool but sunny all the way.

I had extremely good news on my eyes. My situation is nowhere near as dire as I had believed; in fact, I am at slightly more risk of problems with glaucoma (which is treatable) than I am of problems with macular degeneration. The facilities at the University of Iowa, the doctors I saw, the nurses and the technicians were absolutely first rate. If you have a problem with your eyes, the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration at the University of Iowa is definitely the place to go for help.

My thanks to all of you who kept me in your thoughts and prayers.

We also loved Iowa City. Our favorite place--no surprise, I suppose--was the Prairie Lights Bookstore. This is one of the great independent bookstores in America, and because of its location in a college town--and at Iowa, of course, the center of the writing world--the bookstore has a large poetry selection (very strong in contemporary poetry) and a huge selection of contemporary fiction. Upstairs in the cafe is an entire wall of literary reviews and journals. If you are passing through Iowa on I-80, plan on spending the night in Iowa City and stop in at Prairie Lights. You'll find lots of great reading material for the rest of your cross-country trip.

I'll have more to say about the books I bought in the next few days.

Not to coin a phrase, but I feel light a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I'm looking forward to the summer writing season. Come to think of it, I'm looking forward to writing for a long time to come.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hello, from Iowa City

Tonight, we're in Iowa City. I have a couple of appointments tomorrow at the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration to see what (if anything) can be done about my eyes. I've read enough not to be optimistic, but I am glad that I'll be talking with some of the top people in the country on MD.

I will know far more than I do now by the time we leave for home.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Reading

We had a great evening out last night--dinner at the Kirby Grill with Todd Davis, Susanna Childress and her husband, the musician Josh Banner, along with Jack Ridl, Jackie Bartley and her husband John. Then the reading, which was fairly well-attended--I counted 26. Both Todd and Susannna are wonderful readers, and both read from their recent books and from new work.

It was a long day for both, because they're attending a conference on Midwestern Literature in East Lansing. It was actually Susanna's second reading of the day.

I'm glad everyone had a good time. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to hear Todd and Susanna read, and am glad that we ended up with no strawberries to bring home and only 1/2 of a cheesecake.

I hope everyone survived the pleasant sugar buzz!

My special thanks to Alice Seaver at the Grand Haven Area Arts Council.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Moment with Zbigniew Herbert

I have a busy day--two meetings before noon and (don't forget!) the Susanna Childress-Todd Davis reading tonight at the Grand Haven Arts Council (at 7-ish). I hope we get a decent crowd. If you are in the area, please come.

I did manage to get the grades for my class in on time. I also received some good writing news. Another of my poems is one of ten finalists in a contest. I can't say much more than that it is a good contest and (for me) a very different poem. The immediate benefit is--again--some assurance that I am on the right path with this new manuscript.

Here's a prose poem from The Selected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert (Ecco Press, 1968). This translation is by Czeslaw Milosz. The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert is readily available (Ecco Press, 2007); I simply haven't gotten to it yet. I've had to console myself with this smaller (but still excellent) paperback.


First there was a god of night and tempest, a black idol without eyes, before whom they leaped, naked and smeared with blood. Later on, in the times of the republic, there were many gods with wives, children, creaking beds, and harmlessly exploding thunderbolts. At the end, only superstitious neurotics carried in their pockets little statues of salt, representing the god of irony. There was no greater god at that time.

Then came the barbarians. They too valued highly the little god of irony. They would crush it under their heels and add it to their dishes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In Another Country

It must have been ten years ago, one of the last times I was in Key West, that I picked up a copy of The Kenyon Review and read "A Hemingway Story," an essay by the late Andre Dubus about how his reading of Hemingway's "In Another Country" changed over time. I remember sitting by the pool one morning, reading long stretches of the essay aloud to Marcia. It is a remarkable piece of writing--poignant; insightful about age, handicaps, and the possibility of making a gift to another. Is "In Another Country" about "the futility of cures"? I don't want to give anything away, but No, Dubus concludes, many years after first reading it, "In Another Country" is not about the futility of cures.

You can find the essay in the 1999 Pushcart Prize Volume XXIII (Pushcart Press, 1998), and in Dubus' collection, Meditations From a Movable Chair (Vintage, 1999).

Here are the first two paragraphs of Hemingway's story:

In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind came down from the mountains.

We were all at the hospital every afternoon, and there were different ways of walking across the town through the dusk to the hospital. Two of the ways were along canals, but they were long. Always, though, you crossed a bridge across a canal to enter the hospital. There was a choice of three bridges. On one of them a woman sold roasted chestnuts. It was warm, standing in front of her charcoal fire, and the chestnuts were warm afterwards in your pocket. The hospital was very old and very beautiful, and you entered through a gate and walked across a courtyard and out a gate on the other side. There were usually funerals starting from the courtyard. Beyond the old hospital were the new brick pavilions, and there we met every afternoon and were all very polite and interested in what was the matter and sat in the machines that were to make so much difference.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Good Morning

What is my duty?
What each day requires.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe either said something like this, or he should have.

I have a busy day today.

And you?

Sunday, May 06, 2007


What is it about the figure of Orpheus that makes him an endless source for poets? Even when he barely appears, when he remains silent, Orpheus is everywhere.

I just finished reading "Dante's Metam-Orpheus: The Unspoken Presence of Orpheus in the Divine Comedy" by Leah Schwebel, an excellent article which appeared in Hirundo: The McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Volume IV : 62-72 (2005-2006).

Schwebel writes:

"Dante only explicitly names Orpheus once* in his Divine Comedy, upon seeing him within the Limbo for intellectuals. Yet the function of the Orpheus figure in the Divine Comedy, similar to his function in literature, is that of chimera. The shade of Orpheus residing in Dante's Limbo serves only as the mold for the multiple imprints the figure leaves throughout the text."

*Canto IV, Line 124, Robert Pinsky trans. of The Inferno of Dante, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1994), p. 41

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco de Mayo

On the 5th of May, 1862, the Mexicans defeated a French expeditionary army at Puebla, one of the first great battles on the way to the preservation and re-establishment of the Mexican Republic. It wasn't until 1867 that the Mexicans were able to depose Emperor Maximilian, a member of the Hapsburg family, who had been installed by Napoleon III in 1864 to assure the payment of international debts and to guarantee European hegemony in Mexico.

Edouard Manet did a series of paintings between 1867 and 1869 to commemorate the death, by firing squad, of Maximilian and two of his generals on June 19, 1867. The execution had been ordered by Benito Juárez, who had been displaced as president of Mexico when the French took control. News of the execution reached Paris on July 1, 1867, and Manet, a republican opposed to the policies of Napoleon III, set to work almost immediately. Working from written and graphic accounts of the event, Manet produced three paintings, a lithograph, and an oil sketch.

The largest painting (depicted here) was exhibited in New York and Boston in 1879. The painting attracted very little attention, and this and Manet’s other compositions in the series were largely unknown for many years.

NOTE: The painting, Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1867) by Edouard Manet, is in the collection of the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, Germany.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Dan Gerber on Poetry Daily

Be sure to check out Dan Gerber's poem today on Poetry Daily, selected from his stunningly good A Primer on Parallel Lives (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).

Jonah's Story

The last post has me thinking about Jonah, one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament. Here, in part, is how Jonah is explained in the New Oxford Annotated Bible: "The book of Jonah is unique among the prophetic books. It contains no collections of oracles in verse against Israel and foreign nations, but presents a prose narrative about the prophet himself. Instead of portraying a prophet who is an obedient servant of the Lord, calling his people to repentence, it features a recalcitrant prophet who flees from his mission and sulks when his hearers repent."

This poem is from my first book, Holding Down the Earth (Sky Books, 1995).


So I was tossed over and eaten. Gobbled. Scarfed.
Munched. Snacked on. Picked at. Pecked down.
Gorped. Wolfed. Blimped out upon. Inhaled.
Swallowed whole. Bolted. Noshed. Gummed.
Chewed. Tucked away. Yammed. Laid out
in the trough. Piggled up. Put in the feedbag.
Eaten high on the hog. Eaten out of house and home.
Eaten like it was going out of style. Knocked back.
Eaten like there was no tomorrow. Polished off.
Chowed down. Consumed. Ingested. Dispatched.
Feasted upon. Nibbled at. Masticated. Gulped.
Swabbled. Yum yum, eaten up. Eaten for breakfast.
Eaten for lunch. Eaten as a tasty dinner. Eaten
as a midnight snack. Garnished with kelp
and eaten so thoroughly, there was nothing of me
left. Days later they found me, gasping on the beach,
wild eyed and stinking of fish vomit, spreading my arms
so wide, my motions told them nothing. So I crawled off
to Nineveh, ready to deliver his message. I'm telling you,
my sign is the sign the candlefish makes, swirling
toward the shore. Feeding my Leviathan
is not an easy task.

Note: The painting is Jonah (1885) by Albert Pinkham Ryder.
It is in the collection of the National Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Almost Random Notes, Part 11

I am feeling a bit disoriented this morning, therefore these almost random notes:

1. Like some of the other bloggers I read, I wasn't entirely sorry to see NatPoMo end. Either too much weirdness is going on during the month (it reminds me of Festivus) or too little, in which case I feel left out. Writing a poem-a-day? I can't work like that. And I dislike the inevitable articles and manifestos: "National Poetry Month: Threat or Menace?" or "Whither Poetry?"

Why doesn't anyone write an article like: "Breathing: Do We Really Need to Inhale?"

2. A group of us did manage to get a panel proposal together and submitted for the AWP Conference in New York. I will say more if the proposal gets accepted. I've never had any luck with these; something I also shouldn't talk about, since if word gets around I will be regarded as a Jonah and never asked to be on a panel again.

I am so glad I can swim.

I am so glad that everyone gets four strikes in baseball.

3. I do have some good writing news--I'm a finalist in a contest--but I can't say anything much about that, either. I'll let you know in a month or-so. What I am happy about is that these are quite different poems for me and I entered them to test the waters; to see if they might float.

It is a bit of confidence as I look at the summer writing season.

4. Oh! I have to read term papers over the weekend and get my grades in!

5. In the good-news-I-CAN-tell-you department, our oldest, Elliot (age 26) has a job this summer cooking at a nice resort near Petoskey, and (even better news) has been accepted into the Culinary Arts program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He begins classes in September.

We are so proud of him.

6. More good news: our Hannah has been named Editor-in-Chief of INPRINT,* the undergraduate student newspaper of Eugene Lang College and the New School University. She also has an internship this summer at the United Nations.

She will be a senior in the fall.

Hannah rocks.


*NOTE: There is a link to the online version of INPRINT in my blog roll.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Good News from Jack Ridl: Co-Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award in Poetry

On Monday, Garrison Keillor read a poem on "Writers Almanac" by Jack Ridl, the recently retired professor at Hope College and our great friend. That's something wonderful in and of itself, in a nation that generally ignores its poets.

Here is the copy-and-paste link:


But then, more good news came. Big news. Amazing news. Jack received notice that his latest collection, Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press, 2006) is the Co-Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for Poetry for 2007. Previous winners include Ted Kooser, Jim Harrison, Carl Phillips, Alice Fulton, and Richard Jones.

Jack Ridl's poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, The Georgia Review, FIELD, Poetry East and Prairie Schooner. Broken Symmetry is his third volume of poetry. Jack has also published three chapbooks, two college literary textbooks, two literary anthologies, and has received several awards for his teaching of young poets. In 1996, he was chosen Michigan's "Professor of the Year" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In 2001, his chapbook Against Elegies was chosen by Sharon Dolin and Billy Collins for the Chapbook Award from the Center for Book Arts in New York City.

Jack is an institution in Michigan poetry. His founding of the Visiting Writer's Series at Hope College and his efforts to bring in so many important writers over the years--Maxine Kumin, Andrea Barrett, Russell Banks, Ellen Bryant Voigt, etc.--created a sense of community among west Michigan writers, which often found its lively center in Jack and Julie's living room and on their front porch after the readings ended.

To celebrate, here's a poem from Jack Ridl's Broken Symmetry:


The children come up to him, touch
his robe and giggle. He blesses them. They
run to ask their parents to take their photo
peeking out from behind his filthy holiness.
Mickey quietly comes up beside him, his
huge fingers dangling like loaves of Wonder
Bread, tilts his head as if to say, You better
leave, take a bath, put on clean jeans.
St. Francis whispers, asking for the birds.
Mickey shakes his head. St. Francis holds
his place in line, each ride spinning its
squealing riders round or up or down: a
chug, a plunge, a long and hopeless cast
of thousands, tons of hot dogs, fries, and
pizza, sushi, Coke and Pepsi, pie and
ice cream, chocolate. There are bees.
He has no ticket. He's told to step aside.
He looks up to where the sky should be. He
watches a cat slide under a plastic
elephant. He looks back up. The sky
has gone. The earth has gone. His feet
are sore. His hands are turning into
birds. His hood is filling up with coins.
His beard is filled with bells.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy Birthday to...Me!

Today is an important birthday for me, though it is not what some might call my "belly button birthday."

I can tell you that I am grateful to God and for the friends who have helped me along the way. I am grateful for the fellowship to which we belong.

I can tell you that my writing--particularly my poetry--is what I have poured into the emptiness left behind.

It's good that we are not privileged to know the future. Had you told me 17 years ago what my life would be like today, I would not have gone through what I have to get here.

I can tell you that it is a sweet gift.

I can tell you that I would not trade my life today for anyone else's life.