Friday, June 29, 2007

Driving Around at Lunch Time Listening to the "Stand In The Fire" Reissue...

I realized how much I miss Warren Zevon.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Come Down Off Those Towers!

Working on poem #4, which concerns (in a way) several days of peace and music in a field near Bethel New York, lo these not-quite forty years ago. Trying to make THAT one new (in an Ezra Pound-sense) should be a challenge.

I want to disrupt the narrative a bit in these next poems; step in and out of the text, write a less orderly progression through time.

I was in Holland over the lunch hour yesterday and found a copy of the New York Times at Barnes & Noble.

A small victory in an ongoing crisis.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Progress Notes

Good progress last night and this morning on #3 in the June Poetry Surge, a poem about the S.S. Capitol, flagship of the legendary Streckfus Excursion Line.

The Decider has decided that the June Poetry Surge must continue through Sunday, July 8. On that day, I intend to stand next to my twenty year-old Weber grill*, toss several slabs of ribs thereon, and declare "Mission Accomplished." I'll be taking a few days off around the 4th so that I can finish up, fine tune what I have and finally bring these poems to justice.

I do have poem #4 in mind.

Coffee tastes good this morning.

It tastes like victory.

"I accept nothing from a brain that is dull with sleep."

-Clytaemestra, speaking in Agamemnon by Aeschylus
(Richard Lattimore, trans.)

"The Epic Newspaper Crisis of Biblical Proportions: Greg's Brain Held Hostage" continues--Day 4.


*The grill has no legs and rests under a maple tree, atop three broken pieces of concrete. It's pretty much the only thing I kept from my first marriage. But my God, that grill can cook!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Epic Newspaper Crisis of Biblical Proportions

Every day on the way to work, I stop at Starbucks* and buy the New York Times. This week, I haven't been able to buy the paper. Or rather, the New York Times hasn't been available for me--or anyone else--to buy. After work today, I stopped in at our local independent bookstore (where yes, I buy the newspapers on weekends AND all of my books, and where I would gladly buy the NYT every morning, were they only open when I pass by on my way to work) to find out what the problem is.

It seems that the lady who delivered the major daily newspapers (the NYT, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times) throughout west Michigan quit in a dispute with her distributor. She flippin' quit! For the time being, there is no New York Times from Grand Haven north to Onekema (a long, long way, for you big city folks), and no prospect of having service restored anytime soon.

Yes, I know the New York Times is available online. No, it is not the same thing as holding the actual paper in your sweet hands and reading it alone--quietly, peacefully alone--in the lunch room at work. This is a major crisis in my cultural life. My brain considers itself to be a resident of the far western suburbs of the City of New York. I am going through withdrawal.

This is a spiritual crisis.

I invoke the newspaper gods of every denomination to solve this crisis at once.


*Yes, Starbucks. I like their coffee, and the people who work there are nice to me. Not all corporate culture is bad corporate culture. I can even bring myself to say "Venti." Locally, Starbucks has been a good thing.

Thought for the Day

It has been said that poetry is a kind of code, and this cannot fail to be true if, as some modern philosophers emphatically maintain, all writing, all language, is code. Even if this larger proposition is true, it can be stated that poetry is a code within a code, and this fixes upon it the imputation of elitism and exclusivity. It may be claimed that all of the arts are ultimately elitist, and in the most elementary way, being as they are addressed to a privileged group. For simply to be able to say that something is beautiful means to enjoy, however briefly, the favored position of luxurious serenity, freedom from acute pain, excessive anxiety, overwhelmed internal and external pressures. People in extremis––and there are multitudes of these at any given moment––are not connoisseurs of anything but their own plight. As for poetry in particular, it demands of its readers a greater diligence of attention, and it calls upon more concentrated powers of inference, drawn fom a wider range of reference, than ordinary expository prose; for that reason, many readers of, say, cheap fiction find it impenetrable, and unworthy of their effort.

-Anthony Hecht, from On the Laws of the Poetic Art (Princeton University Press, 1995), p. 101


I've made some real progress on Poem #3, which concerns a strange event in Mississippi history.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Michigan Dinner

Of course, there are compensations for living in the Upper Great Lakes.

Tonight, we had whitefish on the grill and sweet corn; apple cake with whipped cream and a good cup of coffee for dessert. If one doesn't mind that the whitefish was from Canada, the sweet corn (probably) from Florida and the apples from Washington State, it was the perfect Michigan dinner.

Had Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and Otto Preminger stopped by after a long day on location, one might have thought our place was a shabby little roadhouse outside Marquette, circa 1959.*


* Anatomy of a Murder was filmed in and around Marquette in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which was also the setting of the novel by Robert Travers-- pen name of the attorney, legendary fly fisherman, and Michigan Supreme Court Justice, John D. Voelker.

Goodbye, Sunday Chicago Tribune

On May 19, the Chicago Tribune shifted its Book Review from the Sunday edition of the paper to Saturday. This morning, the price of the Sunday Chicago Tribune (at least in west Michigan) jumped to $2.50. No, the loss of the Book Review on Sunday was not made right by the addition of Julia Keller's "Lit Life" column in the Sunday "Arts & Entertainment" section, particularly not at today's higher price. I have never much cared for the Tribune's editorial page, or for its Sunday Sports section, which is printed on Friday and doesn't cover Saturday's game results or sports news.

I can't justify paying more for less.

Goodbye, Sunday Chicago Tribune.

I do wish we could get newsstand copies of the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times,* and the Toronto Globe & Mail, all which have good book sections. This is a price one pays for living in a blueberry field.


*Though I just read somewhere that the Los Angeles Times has also downsized its Book Review. Once again, it must be the fault of those darned bloggers! 6/26/07

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Progress Notes

I have a few lines down for a new poem, but before doing much more, I must clear some work space. There are books and papers and journals piled everywhere on my desk--actually a door-blank set atop two metal filing cabinets--and my available work area has shrunk to the width of my computer screen.

I am not sure why cleaning up my studio is a good prompt to resume writing. It may be that I simply prefer writing to cleaning and after a bit of straightening, begin writing again to rescue myself. It may also be that moving books around and looking at notes and failed drafts gets me sorting, thinking, coming up with ideas for new work.

Anyway, that is how I am spending Saturday afternoon.

Several weeks ago, I said that I was going to concetrate on writing and try to avoid getting into arguments. I still am, but must say that I am tired of the number of literary and cultural critics who have leveled recent attacks against the web (and blogging in particular), claiming that bloggers are "amateurs" who will never replace serious criticism. A great deal of this commentary--and frustration--seems misdirected. It is hardly the blogosphere's fault that major newspapers and other other traditional media outlets have "dumbed down" or eliminated their coverage of fiction, poetry and art and that the "serious" critics are finding themselves out of work. The shrinking coverage of literature and art reflects decisions made in corporate boardrooms and editorial offices, not on the computer screens of America's poets and artists. How editors and publishers expect to sustain a market by making their product less appealing to an intelligent audience baffles me.

And, perhaps because of this void, there is a great deal of serious, lively and informed criticism now available on the web, particularly literary criticism. Websites like Bookslut, Maud Newton, and Edward Byrne's "One Poet's Notes" are performing a valuable function--and they are often doing so amid deafening silence from traditional media outlets.

To claim otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.

I don't consider the small part of the blogosphere I wander through to be "amateur" in any sense. The people I link to are serious, professional writers, many of whom have (or are building) distinguished publishing histories and academic resumes. Because they are working writers, their blogs are not always concerned with literary criticism, but by and large, their reading lists are eclectic and interesting, their discussions are intelligent, and the work they choose to publish (on the web and in literary journals) is accomplished.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Almost Random Notes, Part 13

Part 13? I hope this isn't the unlucky part.

Anyway, you know the drill:

1. Yes, I am excited about the cover of Figured Dark, which I found on Amazon. I was going to say "of all places" but Amazon is a rather logical place for the cover to appear, don't you think? Anyway, Figured Dark should be out from the University of Arkansas Press a bit before November.

I am returning the "first pages" today.

Here is a link:

Figured Dark on AMAZON

2. In addition to the book, I will have another reason to be in New York at the AWP Conference. Our panel proposal Addressing the Eclipse: Poetry and Religion was accepted, and I will be presenting--sometime during the Conference--with my co-panelists Marianne Boruch, Laura Kasischke, Robert Thomas, and moderator Roy Jacobstein. This should be a timely discussion, and I hope it will be an interesting and useful one as well.

3. I have my writing group this afternoon, and I'll be taking along one of the June Poetry Surge poems for them to see.

More later!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And the Book Will Look...

Exactly like this:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Drinking My Soda (huh?) and Lime..."

Ix-nay on the odka-vay, of course.

"Funny how my Memory Slips While Looking Over Manuscripts of Unpublished Rhyme..."

Another twelve hours at work yesterday, which is explanation to myself, not complaint. I have to get the manuscript of my book back to the press this week, so that is where my writing efforts are going.

The "June Poetry Surge" is beginning to smell like Fallujah.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Won't you stop and remember me, at any convenient time..."

Yes, I am still here. Sunday I made the mistake--or rather, performed the necessary task--of mowing the lawn. Two hours of pushing a mower in the 80-plus degree sun did me in for the rest of Fathers' Day. Yesterday, I was in meetings from 8 A.M. until 8:00 P.M.

So "Sonnets at 4 A.M." has, for the moment, become "Ennui at 6 A.M."

I will get back on top of things, given a day or-so.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Happy Bloomsday

Ah, June 16, 1904, when Leopold Bloom goes for his famous walkabout in Dublin.

Happy Bloomsday to you, Constant Reader.

To get us in the mood, here's a short reading from Chapter 12 of Ulysses by our friend James Joyce. I've posted a photo of the good man, and also one of the novel, in its earliest published version.

At 5 p.m., like Bloom himself, I will refuse another drink and light up a cigar, in honor of the Day.

But I digress:

And off with him and out trying to walk straight. Boosed at five o'clock. Night he was near being lagged only Paddy Leonard knew the bobby, 14 A. Blind to the world up in a shebeen in Bride street after closing time, fornicating with two shawls and a bully on guard, drinking porter out of teacups. And calling him a Frenchy for the shawls, Joseph Manuo, and talking against the Catholic religion, and he was serving mass in Adam and Eve's when he was young with his eyes shut, who wrote the new testament, and the old testament, and hugging and smugging. And the two shawls killed with the laughing, picked his pockets, the bloody fool and he spilling the porter all over the bed and the two shawls screeching laughing at one another. How is your testament? Have you got an old testament? Only Paddy was passing there, I tell you what. Then see him on Sunday with his little concubine of a wife, and she wagging her tail up the aisle of the chapel with her patent boots on, no less, and her violets, nice as pie, doing the little lady. Jack Mahoney's sister. And the old prostitute of a mother procuring rooms to street couples. Gob, Jack made him toe the line. Told him if he didn't patch up the pot, Jesus, he'd kick the shite out of him.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Book of Common Prayer

Note to all non-Episcopalians: The next time you are wandering around a good used bookstore, see if you can find a pre-1979 copy of The Book of Common Prayer. It's lovely, elegant, clearly written. I believe what I have is the 1928 version. Unlike the 1979 revision, the 1928 version stands in direct line of descent from Thomas Cranmer's 1549 Book of Common Prayer, as "Americanized" in 1790, following the split with England.

For a couple of bucks, you can't do much better than this in classic American English.


NOTE: I've seen this most often in used book stores and rummage sales in a red cover (depicted here). My copy has an older, dark blue binding.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Progress Notes

I have two poems relatively complete in the so-called June Poetry Surge. I am not sure how I am going to finish three more by the end of the month, unless I declare that the month of June doesn't really end until after the July 4th holiday.

Within the borders of this blog, of course, I have such authority.

Had a good long telephone conversation last night with Dan Gerber. His new book (A Primer on Parallel Lives, Copper Canyon Press, 2007) is doing well. He plans on being back in Michigan for a series of readings this September.

That will be excellent.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No Hitter!

The only television we currently watch around here is Thomas the Tank Engine and Detroit Tigers' baseball.

I'm not sure how well Thomas is doing on his quest to become a really useful engine, but Justin Verlander of the Tigers is doing just fine. He threw a no-hitter tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers, as Detroit beat Milwaukee, 4-0.

Thomas rolls. The Tigers rock.

Monday, June 11, 2007

TIME Magazine, June 2, 1967

I was--what?--both amused and appalled by the near dismissal of poetry in the current (June 18, 2007) issue of TIME magazine.

Read the article, here:

Current TIME

Forty years ago (not quite to the day) Robert Lowell was on the cover of TIME, featured in a lengthy article on the state of American poetry. Here is the eloquent opening paragraph:

"In a scene that draws forever the line between the poet and the square, Hamlet, prince and poet, converses with the busy bureaucrat Polonius:
Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: Tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Or like a whale.
Polonius: Very like a whale.

Poets, their heads being in the clouds, are those who see whales and camels where others see only a chance of rain. That is why poets will always be more important than meteorologists. Poetry is a great imponderable, since it describes and changes the climate of the mind. It is a touchstone by which the spiritual condition of man may be tested."

Here is a link to the entire article:


I may be wrong about this---forty years is a long time and I wasn't standing watch for most of it--but I don't recall reading as much about poetry--or seeing it as seriously considered--in any major American news magazine in the forty years since.

In the meantime, Paris Hilton and American Idol are everywhere in the press.

Perhaps it is journalism and not poetry that has failed.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Here is My Weekend Project

The "first pages" of my book came in the mail today from the University of Arkansas Press. I am not familiar with that term--I would call them "galleys" --but it may be that the Press goes through a couple sets of these.

This is going to be a big (dimension-wise) and beautiful book. The poems look great and the book seems to make "sense" in its current form of organization; it has an organic whole.*

I have to make corrections and have the "first pages" back to the Press by June 22.

I am beginning to think that Yes, it was worth waiting seven years since the Brittingham to get this right.


*Well, uhmm...I think so, anyway.

Thought for the Day

The art of our century is that of collage, involving quotation, parody, cultural inventory. Collage is by genre and by strategy the art of still life, which begins as a duplication of reality in an image, grows into an enduring depiction of symbolically interacting objects in the service of one sentiment or another, and in our time takes on a new significance as a way of deploying dramatic information (as in the hundreds of still lifes in Ulysses) or as the only way of stating the new enigma of reality that came in with the century.

-from Guy Davenport, Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature (Counterpoint, 1998), p.107

I must get to work on something, but the excitement of the past few days has thrown me off a bit.

I haven't an idea in my head!

The older I get, the more important an uninterrupted writing routine becomes.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

An Announcement

The good news?

The good news is that a set of poems I wrote on the American painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) has won the Arts & Letters / Rumi Prize in Poetry. In addition to a cash prize and publication of the poems in the Fall issue of Arts & Letters, I will be reading at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville on Friday, November 9.

The winner of the Fiction Prize--I don't yet know who that is--will also be reading.

The poems are from my manuscript-in-progress titled Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds, which is concerned, in part, with Heade's trip to Brazil during the American Civil War and his (sadly, unsuccessful) attempt to print and market a book of hummingbird lithographs.

Arts & Letters is an elegant, beautifully printed, and smartly edited journal. GC&SU has a wonderful writing program and a great staff. And because I am a big fan of Flannery O'Connor (she went to GC&SU when it was the Georgia College for Women and lived on her family's farm just outside of town), I am particularly looking forward to visiting Milledgeville.

I couldn't be happier.

Here is one of Heade's more well-known paintings, Approaching Thunderstorm (1859), which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Good News coming. Keep watching this space.

Or rather, I suppose, the space immediately above this one.

More later!

Happy Birthday to Elizabeth Bowen

Only dispossessed people know their land in the dark.
-Elizabeth Bowen

The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen was born on June 7, 1899. In an appreciative review in the New York Times Book Review* of Neil Corcoran's study of Bowen (Elizabeth Bowen: The Enforced Return, Oxford University Press, 2004), Stacey D'Erasmo wrote: "Corcoran groups Bowen's work thematically into 'Ireland,' 'Children,' and 'War.' Bowen can indeed be read this way, beginning with her memoir, 'Bowen's Court' (1942), and her delicate early novels of the Irish uprising, 'The Last September' (1929). It is also possible to go straight to the center of Bowen's emotional forest by beginning with 'The House of Paris' (19535) and 'The Death of the Heart' (1938). A.S. Byatt has said that 'The House of Paris' is Bowen's best novel, 'one of thoese books that grow in the mind in time.'"

Bowen died on February 22, 1973, and is buried in a churchyard in Dublin, not far from the gate of Bowen's Court, her family's ancestral home, which was torn down in 1959.

In her review, D'Erasmo also wrote: "Bowen was indeed a great cartographer of the in-between, not only nationally but in the seemingly smallest internal moments and interactions between characters. 'Only dispossessed people,' she wrote, 'know their land in the dark.' For 'land' read: everything most beloved. It as as if Bowen had a sixth sense for the ambiguous, the irresolvable and the fractured, whether in the form of a fleeting emotion, an impossible love, a memory or an entire nation."

I love this notion, and Bowen's sentence. I am using her words as the epigraph for Figured Dark: Poems, my forthcoming collection from The University of Arkansas Press.


*"A Bowen Fan's Notes" by Stacey D'Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review, February 20, 2005.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Speaking of Insects...

Where are the Brood XIII cicadas?

We haven't a peep of them here.

Of Insects and Wood-sheds

The first poem of the June Writing Surge is "finished"--the way all of my poems are when they reach the tiny-edit stage. I haven't anything in mind for the second poem. I will go around the next several days with my eyes and ears open.

Books and the lives of writers fascinate me. I am also interested in craft issues. I am not much interested in literary theory. I am a poet. My relationship to a literary theorist is basically that of an insect to an entomologist.

I am happy to be regarded by clever entomologists as a not very interesting bug. Who wants to be chloroformed? Who wants a pin driven through his thorax? Let me scuttle off and write.

Lately, I am not feeling contentious. I am crawling away from arguments--they could go on for days.

I haven't the time to justify myself.

Annie Dillard writes:

In each book, the writer intended several urgent and vivid points, many of which he sacrificed as the book's form hardened. "The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon," Thoreau noted mournfully, "or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them." *

I am 54 this summer and have a wood-shed to build.


*from Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (HarperPerennial, 1989), p. 5

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

We Do Not Make These Things Up

We only bring you what we see in the papers.

New York Times

A Bit More on Frank O'Connor

An Only Child [Frank O'Connor's autobiographical volume] is a writer's life, a storyteller's story, told because the bits and fragments of the remembered life haunt him like his dreams. Words and phrases and images from a lifetime of writing still color the fabric of O'Connor's prose: hysteria, melancholy, conspiracy, genius, gloom, gaity, loneliness, violence, hallucination, outcast, orphan, voices, Mozartean, home. It is often said that a writer has only one book, which he writes over and over again through the years, continually exploring a few basic themes. For O'Connor two fundamental ideas appeared in An Only Child as they had in nearly everything he ever wrote: first, his perception of life as divided between two worlds, one desolate, the other elusive, and variously figured in his mind as a tension between light and dark, judgment and instinct, masculine and feminine, dreams and reality, romance and realism; and second, his certainty of the ultimate loneliness and irony of human existence, capable of being only momentarily offset by "imaginative improvisation," by which he meant some creative absorption such as music or poetry or love or even faith.

-From Voices: A Life of Frank O'Connor by James Matthews (Atheneum, 1983), p. 337

I am once again on a Frank O'Connor kick, a writer I've loved since reading a short story of his when I was in high school. If you are interested, the biography by James Matthews is worth searching out. O'Connor (1903-1966) is an interesting figure quite apart from his stature as a writer of short stories. He fought in the Irish Republican Army--along with Sean O'Faolain, he worked as a messenger for Michael Collins--was on the Board of the Abbey Theater, and lived for a time at the home of William Butler Yeats.


I was saddened by the death of Sarah Hannah. I did not know her, but had seen--and admired--her work. I'm not sure what it is with poets and suicide. Peter Davison wrote a book titled One of the Dangerous Trades: Essays on the Work and Workings of Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1991), and yes, poetry is, in fact dangerous work. Davison knew something about this. As a young poet he had a brief, troubled relationship with Sylvia Plath.

It's cold out this morning. More like October 5 than June 5.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thought for the Day

Every man's life is an allegory. God knows it, the saints live it, the poets write it.

-Frank O'Connor

So far, the poem I am working on is an anecdote. Still, I did manage to get an open-to-close draft over the weekend.

I have a busy day at work.

Must have coffee.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Angels Are Bowling

A noisesome storm this morning, the pre-dawn air blue-white with lightning.

There is nothing quite like a thunderstorm coming in off Lake Michigan. The thunder cracks and seems to roll forever; the echo coming back, "Mil-Wau-KEE, Wis-CON-sin!"

Wasn't it Randall Jarrell who said, "A man who has been struck by lightning is thereafter seldom appeased by house current"?

Something like that.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

An Absurd Goal, with Audience Reaction

That's more than enough commentary, now it's time to write. I need an absurd goal. Let's say five polished, publishable poems by June 31.

Thirty or forty Canada geese just overflew the house, about five feet over the tops of our white pines.

I think they were laughing at me.

9. My Friend Punch

"I have found that cigar smoke is quite effective as an idiot repellent."


8. Gustave Flaubert

"Bovary, c'est moi."

-Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

7. ...And Adam Zagajewski

Surely we don't go to poetry for sarcasm or irony, for critical distance, learned dialectics or clever jokes. These worthy qualities and forms perform splendidly in their proper place––in an essay, a scholarly tract, a broadside in an opposition newspaper. In poetry, though, we seek the vision, the fire, the flame that accompanies spiritual revelation. In short, from poetry we expect poetry.

--Adam Zagajewski, from "The Shabby and the Sublime" in A Defense of Ardor: Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

6. And John Updike

At the age of seventeen I was poorly dressed and funny looking and went around thinking of myself in the third person. "Alan Dow strode down the street and home." "Alan Dow smiled a thin sardonic smile." Consciousness of a special destiny had made me both arrogant and shy.

-John Updike, the opening lines of the short story "Flight" from Olinger Stories, reprinted in John Updike: The Early Stories 1953-1975 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

5. ...And Vincent van Gogh

I don't need to rush, for there is no point in that, but I must carry on working in complete calm and serenity, as regularly and with as much concentration as possible, as much to the point as possible. The world concerns me only in so far as I owe it a certain debt and duty, so to speak, because I have walked this earth for 30 years, and out of gratitude would like to leave some momento in the form of drawings and paintings––not made to please this school or that, but to express a genuine human feeling. So that work is my aim--and when one concentrates on this notion, everything one does is simplified, in that it isn't muddled but has a single objective. At present the work is going slowly--one more reason not to lose any time.

-Vincent van Gogh, [c. 4-8 August, 1883]

I tell you, I am choosing the said dog's path. I am remaining a dog. I shall be poor, I shall be a painter, I want to remain human in nature.


How does one become mediocre? By complying with and conforming to one thing today and another tomorrow, as the world dictates, by never contradicting the world and by heeding public opinion!

-Vincent van Gogh, [c. 17 December, 1883]

4. And a Moment with Louise Gluck

V.S. Naipaul, in the pages of a literary magazine, defines the aim of the novel; the ideal creation, he says, must be "indistinguishable from the truth." A delicious and instructive remark. Instructive because it postulates a gap between truth and actuality. The artist's task, then, involves the transformation of the actual to the true. And the ability to acheive such transformations, especially in an art that presumes to be subjective, depends on conscious willingness to distinguish truth from honesty or sincerity.

-Louise Gluck, "Against Sincerity"

The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary.

-Louise Gluck, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence"

Both from Proofs & Theories (The Ecco Press, 1994)


Sorry, I don't know how to do the umlaut.

Friday, June 01, 2007

3. ...and from Czeslaw Milosz

To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.

-Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

2. And this from Jim Harrison

"Life, this vastly mysterious process
to which our culture inures us
lest we become useless citizens!
And is it so terrible to be lonely and ill?"
she wrote. "Not at all, in fact, it is better
to be lonely when ill. To others, friends,
relatives, loved ones, death is our most
interesting, our most dramatic act.
Perhaps the best thing I've learned
from these apparently cursed and bedraggled
Indians I've studied all these years
is how to die. Last year I sat beside
a seven-year-old Hopi girl as she sang
her death song in a slight quavering
voice. Who among us whites, child
or adult, will sing while we die?"

From The Theory and Practice of Rivers by Jim Harrison (Winn Books, 1985)

1. Thoughts from The Writing Life

About a week ago, Sam of the 10,000 Things tagged me with the following: “Give us at least 10 quotations pertaining to poetry - from 10 different writers &/or poets which best coincide with your philosophy vis a vis ars poetica. They can be posthumous or otherwise. The order is not important - unless it is to you.”

Since these are all from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, I suppose they will have to count as one quotation. Still, because I believe this is an essential book for anyone who considers writing to be a spiritual pursuit, I think Dillard is worth quoting at some length.

I urge you to buy and read this book.

Here are a few things she has to say:

Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French windows, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place, you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down in the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples' crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

-pp. 10-11

The materiality of a writer's life cannot be exagerated. If you like metaphysics, throw pots. How fondly I recall thinking, in the old days, that to write you need paper, pen, and a lap. How appalled I was to discover that, in order to write so much as a sonnet, you need a warehouse. You can easily get so confused writing a thirty-page chapter that in order to make an outline for the second draft, you have to rent a hall. I have often "written" with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table's edge and pace out the work. You walk along in rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exeedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet.

-p. 46

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, "Do you think I could be a writer?"

"Well," the writer said, "I don't know... Do you like sentences?"

The writer could see the student's amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, "I liked the smell of the paint."


Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles. The problem is structural; it is insoluble; it is why no one can ever write this book. Complex stories, essays, and poems have this problem, too––the prohibitive structural defect the writer wishes he had never noticed. He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he. For there is nothing in the material for this book that suggests to anyone but him alone its possibilities for meaning and feeling.

-p. 72

Almost Random Notes, Part 12

Yesterday was a lot of fun. I went to six classes through the day, reading poems and talking about writing. It wasn't until meeting with the 7-8th graders in the afternoon that I read much of my own work. I had prepared a couple of exercises for the older students, but we never got to them. The students were curious about writing––these are very bright kids––and the faculty was amazing.

Walden Green is the kind of place where (despite a vast array of Macintoshes) the students still read books. When I mentioned that no one really memorized poems anymore, I found out that the 3-4th graders could recite Robert Frost, verbatim.

I also had a chance to catch up with the talented Robert Michmerhuizen, an old friend who teaches art at Walden Green.

I see that my kinsman, Major, Charles Rappleye*, has a cover article in the Spring 2007 Virginia Quarterly Review ("Mexico, America, and the Continental Divide") in which he argues for completely opening the border between the United States and Mexico. Most of this issue is devoted to a thoughtful discussion of the immigration question.

Ted Genoways is doing a marvelous job of editing the VQR.


*He must be some sort of cousin, since all of the Rappleyes are related. I've never met him, though.