Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First Day of Class

Today is the first day of my poetry class. I have have the syllabus ready to go, the books in hand, and I am ready to roll at 4 P.M.

Until then, my other job.

And tomorrow, road trip.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Who, Me?

What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while...What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.

-Holden Caulfield

You're The Catcher in the Rye!

by J.D. Salinger

You are surrounded by phonies, and boy are you sick of them! In an
ongoing struggle to search for a land without phonies, you end up running away from
everything, from school to consequences. In this process, you reveal that many people
in your life have suffered torments and all you really want to do is catch them as
they fall. Perhaps using a baseball mitt. Your biggest fans are infamous

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Happy Birthday, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy Birthday to the German poet, scientist, dramatist, and humanist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born on August 28, 1749. Goethe is best remembered for Faust (1808, 1832), his two-part dramatic poem about the man who sold his soul to the devil. My personal favorites are his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774 ) and Italian Journey (1786-1788), his fascinating record of travel and study in Italy.

Goethe died on March 22, 1832.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Italian Journey:

There is a tale about a fisherman who was caught at night by a storm and was trying to steer his boat homeward. His little son clung to him and asked: "Father, what is that funny little light I see, now above us, now below?" His father promised to give him the answer the next day. It turned out to have been the beacon of the lighthouse, which to the child's eyes, as the boat rocked up and down in the wild waves, had appeared now below him, now above.

I too am steering my boat towards port over a wild sea and am keeping a steady eye on the lighthouse beam, even though to me it seems to be constantly shifting its position, so that at last I come safe and sound to shore.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey (1786-1788), from the entry for February 21, 1787; translated by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer (North Point Press, 1982).


The painting is "Goethe in the Roman Campagna" (1786) by Johann Heinrich Tischbein, Goethe's companion during the Italian Journey.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hannah's Article in Disarmament Times

Be sure to check out Hannah Rappleye's article in Disarmament Times: "At a Glance: The Work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," forthcoming in the Fall, 2007, issue (Volume 30, No. 3). The article summarizes the findings of three Work Groups composed of members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), under the auspices of the United Nations. Disarmament Times is published by the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security at the United Nations, where Hannah was an intern this summer.

Hannah is back in New York now after her brief trip to see the folks in Grand Haven, and is busy with the semester's first issue of INPRINT, the student newspaper of Eugene Lang College and the New School University, where she is Editor-in-Chief.

Hannah rocks.

Syllabus Time

Classes start this week at Hope College and I have just finished the syllabus for my poetry class, which begins on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, I am driving my son--and all his stuff--to Rhode Island for school, then turning around and (I hope!) making it back to Michigan in time for class again on Monday (yes, Labor Day) afternoon.

I always teach Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is" on Labor Day and sometimes when I read the poem I think, "Yes, Phil, I actually do know what work is." Sometimes. It isn't Labor Day yet, of course, but "What Work Is" is a wonderful poem. And any day is a good day to read Philip Levine. The poem is from Levine's National Book Award winning collection, What Work Is (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992). The poem (along with much of Levine's work) has been widely anthologized, but the entire collection is very much worth adding to your book list. This is a volume--and a poet--I come back to time and again.


We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Soggy Days and Soggy Nights

We've had a nearly relentless series of thunderstorms rolling through this past week. The good news is that we haven't had enough rain yet to persuade the ducks to come paddling through our yard. That actually happens two or three times a year. So far, only the driveway is ponded. We've had quite a bit of lightning, too, but not enough wind to knock big branches out of the trees.

Not everyone in Michigan has been so lucky. And elsewhere in the Midwest, sharks may be swimming through yards at this point.

A Passing: Grace Paley (1922-2007)

I was saddened to learn of the death of noted writer and political activist Grace Paley, who died on August 22. Paley was the author of ten books, including The Little Disturbances of Man (1959), her remarkable debut collection of short stories, The Collected Stories (1994), which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000).

During her career, Paley taught at Columbia University, Syracuse, City College of New York and Sarah Lawrence. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction in 1961, and served as Poet Laureate of Vermont from March 5, 2003 until shortly before her death.

Born on December 11, 1922, Grace Paley was 84.

Happy Birthday, Jorge Luis Borges

Happy Birthday to Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, born in Buenos Aires on August 24, 1899. Though perhaps best known as a writer of fiction, Borges always considered himself first and foremost a poet. As his eyesight declined in his later years, Borges turned increasingly to poetry, since he was able to memorize entire poems while composing them, and was less reliant upon a written text.

Borges published many collections of poetry, essays and fiction, and served as Director of Argentina's National Public Library from 1955 to 1973, when he resigned to protest the return of Juan Peron to political power. Borges received a number of literary awards during his lifetime, including the International Publisher's Prize (which he shared with Samuel Beckett in 1961), the Jerusalem Prize, and the Alfonso Reyes Prize. He died on June 14, 1986.

In English, Borges is most readily accessed through the Penguin Classics editions of his poetry and short fiction: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 2000), edited by Alexander Coleman and Collected Fictions (Penguin Classics, 1999) translated by Andrew Hurley. Borges: A Life (Viking Penguin, 2004) by Edwin Williamson is a very good and thoughtful biography; Borges has suffered a bit critically because of his political conservatism.

Here is a short poem:


Cold and stormy the night I sailed from Montevideo.
As we rounded the Cerro,
I threw from the upper deck
a coin that glinted and winked out in the muddy water,
a gleam of light swallowed by time and darkness.
I felt I had committed an irrevocable act,
adding to the history of the planet
two endless series, parallel, possibly infinite:
my own destiny, formed from anxieties, love and futile upsets
and that of the metal disk
carried away by the waters to the quiet depths
or to far-off seas that still wear down
the leavings of Saxon and Viking.
Any moment of mine, asleep or wakeful,
matches a moment of the sightless coin's.
At times I have felt remorse,
at others, envy
of you, existing as we do, in time and its labyrinth,
but without knowing it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Busy Day!

I have another speech to give this afternoon; this one on the Freedom of Information Act, another topic I actually do know something about.

I will be happy when life calms down again.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Additions to the Blogroll at S@4A.M.

I am happy to welcome poet Nin Andrews and novelist L. Lee Lowe to the blogroll at Sonnets at 4 A.M.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On Jeffrey Harrison

At the AWP Conference in Atlanta, I had a brief opportunity to meet the poet Jeffrey Harrison, and to buy a copy of his latest book, Incomplete Knowledge (Four Way Books, 2006). I have been revisiting his poems recently, and must say that I think this is an astonishing book and that Harrison is a poet to read and to learn from.

Jeffrey Harrison is the author of a chapbook and four full-length collections in addition to this one, including The Names of Things: New and Selected Poems (Waywiser Press, 2006), and The Singing Underneath (Plume, 1988), selected by James Merrill for the National Poetry Series. Harrison is currently on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA Program at the Universty of Southern Maine. He has been described as a precise yet lyric poet within whose work, "clarity and mystery" are allowed to co-exist. The poems in Incomplete Knowledge (many of which have appeared in such journals as Agni, The Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares and The Southern Review), certainly display those qualities. I am particulary drawn to Harrison's ability to blend the narrative and lyric and his affinity for the particular, so evident in poems such as the following tribute to Kenneth Koch (drawn, even though, in the poem, the Red Sox appear to beat my beloved Detroit Tigers).

Jeffrey Harrison is a wonderful writer, and Incomplete Knowledge is very much worth adding to your book list.


“I should say something to you
Now that you have departed over the mountains”

“How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible”

—from New Addresses

Yesterday I was leafing through the Times
and saw your face suddenly
fifteen years younger smiling up
from the obituary page and stopped
breathing for a second and didn’t answer
the question Julie was calling from upstairs
but after I started breathing again called
back to her that you had died as if
that were the answer to her question.
I don’t know if you can hear me
where you are now or whether you
will get this at your new address
(it is an affectation to address the dead,
one literal-minded poet once told me)
but reading your poems I know anything
is possible, and you addressed everything
with contagious ebullience:
my first and best teacher, who let me
into Imaginative Writing not because
the poems I showed you were any good
but because as you said in front
of the entire class that first day
there were so many of them!—and I was too
happy to be humiliated, proud to be the only
freshman of the chosen twelve, and I have
always been grateful and of course
you were right about the poems.

After I read the article, Julie and the kids and I
drove to Fenway Park (the Sox
were playing the Tigers). It was a weird murky day,
the sun shining weakly with an eerie light
through a sallow haze that the radio told us
was smoke from forest fires in Quebec.
I thought about you during the game—
how I was such a small part of your life
but you were a big part of mine, especially
those years at Columbia which have stayed with me
all this time, how we were both from Cincinnati
and I always liked to think that meant something
even though it didn’t mean that much
but I still remember when I told you
you halted in surprise on the way out of
Hamilton Hall. I remember your office
on the fourth floor, looking through the window
at pigeons flirting on the ledges as you read
my poems or wrote a letter of recommendation
at tremendously high speed and then
read it aloud to me while I thought
Is anyone going to believe this? but it
and others like it got me to Paris
and a few less exciting places like
graduate school. And after that I didn’t
see you as often but when I did was always
floored by the vigorous way you looked
at the world, like the time I showed you
a colossal elm with twisting limbs and you said
it was like a complicated stanza pattern
you’d like to write in. When something big happened
like a double play or a home run I’d come
awake to the crowd’s cheers and wonder
if there was anyone else in the ballpark
thinking of you. The flag was at half-mast
for Ted Williams (and of course, I thought, for you).

But it was the exuberance of the crowd
in the later innings that was most like you,
and when the wave started going around
the Fenway grandstands I held
my sadness in check and joined the celebration,
throwing my arms up with all the others
as that many-tentacled surge moved
with the energy of one of your poems,
coming to a brief stop at the left field stands
and then reappearing in the center field bleachers,
leaping invisibly across the synapse
of the Green Monster, like your leaps
which always amazed me, and then it
came toward us again and we laughed
in anticipation and rose up cheering
with everyone around us as the wave
moved past us and we sat down
until our turn came to be part of it again.
The sun was still trying to come through
and sometimes pierced the haze as if
to look down on the stadium—Kenneth,
life burst from you like light from the sun,
and if now that sun is partly obscured
we have your poems, your wild joy
and the way you never stopped asking
and answering the question,“So what
is the ecstasy we are allowed to have
in this one life?”

-Jeffrey Harrison

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What Work Is, Part 10

To properly research and complete my current manuscript-in-progress, it would be very helpful to have a bit of financial support. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working on a grant application. What are the chances of getting any money? Well, entirely "zero" if I don't apply, right?


I am also working on an application to an arts colony. I need time away to write.


Last night we went to see "Stardust," the fairy-tale style film by director Matthew Vaughn, based upon the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. The cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer as an evil witch, Claire Danes as (literally) a fallen star, Robert De Niro as a pirate who loves to cross-dress in his spare time and Charlie Cox as the questing hero. As improbable as that all sounds, it is a good film, very much worth seeing.


I mowed the grass yesterday afternoon; a much larger task than it sounds. Everything once again looks nice, but I am still feeling the effects.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thought for the Day

Still lifes, too, can carry overtones and meaning beyond the simple representation of of the objects presented, and sometimes they are expressly symbolic, as, for example, astrolabes and compasses are symbolic of learning, musical instruments are of the arts, and food for our quotidian need for nourishment. But simple kitchen appurtenances can be rendered with such devotional attention as to amount almost to what the poet W.H. Auden defines as prayer. Auden wrote, "Whenever a man so concentrates his attention––be it on a landscape or a poem or a geometrical problem or an idol or the True God,––then he completely forgets his own ego and desires in listening to what the other [by which Auden means, in the case of painting, the subject] has to say to him, he is praying." We recognize this "prayer" in what we loosely call the astonishing "fidelity" of certain kinds of painterly effect, though in truth it has nothing to do with fidelity, being as much a matter of illusion as, for example, Cubist painting. But a painter's success at presenting the sensation of the slime of fish, the softness of fur, the visual complexity of a bossed and knobbed glass goblet, half filled with wine, and lit with the convex diminished image of a distant mullioned window––these attest to a superior attention to the world we all inhabit, along with an ability to translate that world into a pigmented, precise record.

-Anthony Hecht, from "Poetry and Painting," in On the Laws of the Poetic Art (Princeton University Press,
1995), p. 15.


The Painting is Fish and Oyster, or Still Life with Fish (1864) by Edouard Manet, in the collection of the Chicago Institute of Art

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Poem by Liam Rector (1949-2007)


You sailed down
From Provincetown
And I was to meet you

In Key West. I’d never
Sailed. I dressed
In my best and flew

Down from Manhattan,
Where I had been feeling
Punishing failure

And reading Hart Crane.
I brought a robe
I intended to wear

When I jumped off
Our boat mid-sea. I never
Told you that,

Old friend, and I
Apologize now.
What if I had left you mid-ocean

To sail alone?
In our twenty-foot wooden
Thing with no motor

And a radio that didn’t
Work we barely made it
Through the initial storm.

In the Bahamas we
Were often stood
Free beers for being

As insane as we were,
Coming over those waters
With no motor, pure

Sailing like that, a bar
Of soap floating in the cauldron
Of the Bermuda Triangle,

Where motorized cigarette
Boats sped by at money-making
Speeds, running drugs to fill

American needs.
And on our way back
When we lost our rudder

You, former Eagle
Scout, first conscientious
Objector ever to leave

West Point, captain
Of the ski team, jumped
Over the stern

And fashioned out of oar
And thick rope the thing
That would see us to shore

Before we, becalmed,
Drifted off course
100 miles, 100 miles

Of boredom and sun. I snapped
A black and white photo
Of the sea to remind me

Of my boredom, its boredom.
We made it back
To America, hitting

Shore at Boca Raton,
Pulling in midst the boats
Of the very, very rich.

I lived to write this
And never jumped ship.
It was your kinship

Kept me going those years,
Times of ridiculous
Sailing, riotous beers.

Wives sailed by,
So many boats, and you soon
Left for Bangkok and its

Very distant coast.
Being young: being rich
Among inherited ruins.


From The Executive Director of the Fallen World by Liam Rector (University of Chicago Press, Phoenix Poets Series, 2006).

The Death of Liam Rector

I am shocked and saddened by this.

Top N.Y. Poet Kills Self

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thought for the Day: Denise Levertov, Redux

I am saying that for the poet, for the man who makes literature, there is no such thing as the isolated study of literature. And for those who desire to know what the poet has made, there is therefore no purely literary study, either. Why "therefore"? Because the understanding of a result is incomplete if there is ignorance of its process. The literary critic or the teacher of literature is merely scratching a section of surface if he does not live out in his own life some experience of the multitudinous interactions in time, space, memory, dream, and instinct that at every word tremble into synthesis in the work of a poet, or if he keeps his reading separate from his actions in a box labeled "aesthetic experiences." The interaction of life on art and of art on life is continuous. Poetry is necessary to a whole man, and that poetry be not divided from the rest of life is necessary to it. Both life and poetry fade, wilt, shrink, when they are divorced.

Literature––the writing of it, the study of it, the teaching of it––is a part of your lives. It sustains you, in one way or another. Do not allow that fatal divorce to take place between it and your actions.

-Denise Levertov, "The Poet in the World," from New & Selected Essays (New Directions, 1992) p. 134.

I am rereading Levertov's essays. I think she is quite brilliant, and her work (like Rilke's, whom she quotes liberally in this particular essay) seems to me a better way to think about poetry than the work of say, the deconstructionists, whose writing is so often deadly as literature, and spiritually debilitating as well.

Alas, insomnia.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Painting of the Day

Here's something else to think about: New York Movie (1939) by Edward Hopper.

Thought for the Day

"The law––one perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception" ( Edward Dahlberg, as quoted by Charles Olson in "Projetive Verse," Selected Writings). I've always taken this to mean, "no loading of the rifts with ore," because there are to be no rifts. Yet alongside this truth is another truth (that I've learned from [Robert] Duncan more than from anyone else)––that there must be a place in the poem for rifts too (never to be stuffed wth imported ore). Great gaps between perception and perception which must be leapt across if they are to be crossed at all.

The X-factor, the magic, is when we come to those rifts and make those leaps. A religious devotion to the truth, to the splendor of the authentic, involves the writer in a process rewarding in itself; but when that devotion brings us to undreamed abysses and we find ourselves sailing over them and landing on the other side--that's ecstasy.

-Denise Levertov, "Some Notes on Organic Form," from New & Selected Essays (New Directions, 1992) p.73.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Title Poem from A Path Between Houses

Since it is mid-August--and summer, like the poet, is nearly exhausted--I thought it might be an appropriate time to post the title poem from my second book, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000).


Where is the dwelling place of light?
And where is the house of darkness?
Go about; walk the limits of the land.
Do you know a path between them?

Job 38:19-20

The enigma of August.
Season of dust and teenage arson.
The nightly whine of pickup trucks
bouncing through the sumac
beneath the Co-Operative power lines,
country & western booming from woofers
carved into the doors. A trace of smoke
when the wins shifts,
spun gravel rattling the fenders of cars,
the groan of clutch and transaxle,
pickup trucks, arriving at a friction point,
gunning from nowhere to nowhere.
The duets begin. A compact disc,
a single line of muted trumpet,
plays against the sirens
pursuing the smoke of grass fires.


I love a painter. On a new canvas,
she paints the neighbor's field.
She paints it without trees,
and paints the field beyond the field,
the field that has no trees,
and the upturned Jesus boat,
made into a planter,
"For God so loved the world. . ."
a citation from John, chapter and verse,
splattered across the bow.
The boat spills roses into the weeds.
What does the stray dog know,
after a taste of what is holy?
The sun pulls her shadow toward me,
an undulant shape that shelters the grass,
an unaimed thing.


In the gray house, the tiny house,
in '52 there was a fire. The old woman,
drunk and smoking cigarettes, fell asleep.
The winter of the blizzard and her son
Not coming home from the Yalu.
There are times I still smell smoke.
There are days I know she set the fire
and why.


Last night, lightning to the south.
Here, nothing, though along the river
the wind upends a willow,
a gorgon of leaves and bottom-up clod
browning in the afternoon sun.
In the museum we dispute
the poet's epiphany call--
white light or more warmth?
And what is the Greek word for the flesh,
and the body apart from the spirit,
meaning even the body opposed to the spirit?
I do not know this word.
Dante claims there are pools of fire
in the middle regions of hell,
but the lowest circles are lakes of ice,
offering the hope our greatest sins
aren't the passions but indifference.
And the willow grew for years
With no real hold upon the ground.


How the accident occurred
and how the sky got dark:
Six miles from my house,
a drunk leaves the Holiday Inn
spins on 104 and smacks a utility pole.
The power line sparks
across the hood of his Ford
and illuminates the crazed spider web
of the windshield. His bloody tongue burns
with a slurry gospel. Around me,
the lights go down,
the way death is described
as armor crashing to the ground,
the soul having already departed
for another place. Was it his body I heard
leaning against the horn,
the body's final song, before the body
slumped sideways in the seat?


When I was a child,
I would wake at night
and imagine a field of asteroids, rolling
across the walls of my room.
In fact, I've seen them,
like the last herd of buffalo,
grazing against the background of fixed stars.
Plate 420 shows the asteroid 433 Eros,
the bright point of light, as it closes its approach
to light. I lose myself in Cygnus,
ancient kamikaze swan,
rising or diving to earth,
Draco, snarling at the polestar,
and Pegasus, stone horse of the gods,
ecstatic, looking one last time at home.


August and the enigma it is.
Days when I move in crabbed circles,
nights when I walk with Jesus through the fields.
What finally stands between us
and the world of flying things?
Mobbed by jays, the Cooper's hawk
drops the dead bird. It tumbles
beneath the cedar tree,
tiny acrobat of death,
a dead bird released
in a failed act of atonement.
A nest of wasps buzzing beneath the shingles,
flickers drilling the cottonwood,
jays, sparrows, the insistent wrens,
the language of birds, heads cocked,
staring moon-eyed through the air.
Sedge, asters and fleabane,
red tins of gasoline and glowing cigarettes,
the midnight voice of a fourteen-year-old girl
wailing the word "blue" from the pickup's open doors,
illuminated by the dome light,
the sulphurous rasp of another struck match,
red flowers of sheep sorrel, commom mulleins
and foxglove, goldenrod and chicory,
the dry flowers of late summer,
an exhaustion I no longer look at.


Time passes. The authorities
gather the wreckage, the whirr
of cicadas, and light dissembles the sky.
A wind shift, and the Cedar Creek fire
snaps the backfire line
and roars through the cemetery.
In the morning,
I walk a path between houses.
I cross to the water
and circle again, the redwings
forcing me back from the marsh.
Smoke rises from a fire
still smoldering along the power lines,
flaring and exhausting itself
in the shape of something lost.
Grass fires, fires through the scrub
of the clear-cut, fires in the pulpwood,
cemetery fires,
the powder of ash still untracked
beneath the enormous trees,
fires that explode the seed cones
on the pines, the smoke of set fires
and every good intention gone wrong,
scorching the monuments
above the graves of the dead.

-Greg Rappleye

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Note on the Blogroll at S@4A.M.

If you are reading Sonnets at 4 A.M. and would like to be listed on my blogroll, please leave a comment to that effect and I would be happy to add you. I am not trying to create a comprehensive list of poetry bloggers (those exist at Ron Silliman's site and at Seth Abramson's site), but if you are out there and reading my blog, I am interested in adding you to my list and reading what you have to say.

Just let me know where you are.

Progress Notes

In fact, I have not much progress to report. I had a busy week at work--my speech on Thursday went well, I think--and I had some other matters that kept my mind off the writing of poetry. Some of these issues aren't "problems" at all, of course. My oldest two children are back in town for a few days and we've been celebrating that, and the Tigers actually won one last night for a (recent) change.

On the down side, we've had some difficult news this week on Marcia's health and the weather has been a bit merciless--either too hot and humid or stagnant and clammy. My iMac is in for repairs--I am using my Macbook, so I am fully computered, but still; I prefer the iMac for day-to-day work.

To be honest, the real writing problem is that I simply seem to be of of ideas!

So for the next few days I am going to work on the business-side of writing: thinking about submissions, getting some contracts back in the mail, writing a few inquiries about readings, etc.

My book should be out in about a month. I have a reading in town in late September and two more in early November, but otherwise, my calendar is empty. I do want to make work of promoting Figured Dark and getting out to read and meet people, so I'll be setting up what I can. I've always felt that my last book didn't get the attention I had (frankly) hoped for, and I'll do what I can to see that this new one doesn't suffer the same fate.

In the meantime, it's hamburgers on the grill tonight. If you're around, stop in around 5:30. Elliot and Hannah should be here and Carlos and Liam are always looking for new team members for their late-afternoon wiffle-ball game. Bring a glove. Even though it's wiffle-ball, these boys are serious players.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Louise Bogan

Happy Birthday to poet Louise Bogan, born on August 11, 1897, in Livermore Falls, Maine. Bogan attended Boston Latin School and spent a year at Boston University before marrying and having a child. The marriage was an unhappy one and in 1920, after her husband died, she turned to poetry, making her way in the literary community of New York. Her second husband was the poet Raymond Holden, from whom she divorced in 1937. During her life time, Bogan was better known as a critic than as a poet, and she worked for many years as the poetry critic of the New Yorker. She was Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1945 and 1946 (the position now known as "Poet Laureate of the United States") and in 1955, she shared the Bollingen Prize for Poetry with Leonie Adams.

Bogan's first collection of poetry was Body of this Death (1923). Others include Dark Summer (1929) and The Sleeping Fury (1937). Her final and most complete collection, The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995), originally published in 1968, is still widely available, due, perhaps, to renewed interest in Bogan's work among feminists and a growing assessment of her importance as a poet and critic in Twentieth Century American literature. In an essay available on the web for Modern American Poetry, Wendy Hirsch wrote: "[Bogan's] work is particularly important in light of her place in the company of other modernists. In a time of experimentation, of a general loosening of structures and subjects, she held the line for formal poetry and for the precise blend of emotion and intellect to enliven that poetry."

Bogan struggled with depression throughout her adult life. She died in New York on February 4, 1970.

Here is her poem Evening in a Sanitarium, which was originally published with the subtitle, "Imitated from Auden," although later versions of the poem dropped the reference.


The free evening fades, outside the windows fastened
with decorative iron grilles.
The lamps are lighted; the shades drawn; the nurses
are watching a little.
It is the hour of the complicated knitting on the safe
bone needles; of the games of anagrams and bridge;
The deadly game of chess; the book held up like a mask.

The period of the wildest weeping, the fiercest delusion, is over.
The women rest their tired half-healed hearts; they are
almost well.

Some of them will stay almost well always: the blunt-faced
woman whose thinking dissolved
Under academic discipline; the manic-depressive girl
Now leveling off; one paranoiac afflicted with jealousy,
Another with persecution. Some alleviation has been

O fortunate bride, who never again will become elated
after childbirth!
O lucky older wife, who has been cured of feeling
To the suburban railway station you will return, return,
To meet forever Jim home on the 5:35.
You will be again as normal and selfish and heartless
as anybody else.

There is life left: the piano says it with its octave smile.
The soft carpets pad the thump and splinter of the suicide
to be.
Everything will be splendid: the grandmother will not
drink habitually.
The fruit salad will bloom on the plate like a bouquet
And the garden produce the blue-ribbon aquilegia.
The cats will be glad; the fathers feel justified; the
mothers relieved.
The sons and husbands will no longer need to pay the bills.
Childhoods will be put away, the obscene nightmare abated.

At the ends of the corridors the baths are running.
Mrs. C. again feels the shadow of the obsessive idea.
Miss R. looks at the mantel-piece, which must mean something.


NOTE: In my copy of the original poem, the short "carry over" lines are indented several spaces. Unfortunately, I cannot duplicate this effect in Blogger. My apologies.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Butterflies in Question

The butterflies in the poem "Blue Angels" are Karner Blues, rare, tiny butterflies found in several counties in the state of Michigan as well as in a couple of places in Indiana and Ohio. The butterflies eat almost exclusively from the nectar of the lupine flower and also lay their eggs on the lupine plant. Karner Blues have the same basic color scheme as the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying team.

As may--or may not--be apparent, the italicized lines in the fifth stanza are from Paradise Lost.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Blue Angels--From Figured Dark


These are thy glorious works, parent of good.
-John Milton, Paradise Lost
Book V, l.153

Deep in summer and hot the roar
that traces the river road.
Blue Angels have come from the Air Fair
flying in delta formation.

My sons––not quite two, not quite four––
pick up sticks and waggle them at the jets,
testing the air with broken branches.

Under a limitless sky,
Blue Angels arc across the garden.
The Four of Diamonds hector the Opposite Solo
as they roll to Section High Alpha,
while somewhere north, the Lead Solo,
unseen by us now, swoops low across a runway,
doing the famous sneak pass.

The garden is filled with blue butterflies,
their wings dotted black and gold––
butterflies that eat only the sweetness of lupine.
Nothing will grow where lupine grows.

After the Fall, after the loss
of Paradise, when God stopped speaking,
the angels sang Hallelujah,
in voices as loud as the sea. Just are thy ways,
they sang, righteous are thy decrees
on all thy works; who can extenuate thee?

And God gave his angels many tasks
to afflict the world, and thus began
outrage from lifeless things.

I know Satan has the better part
in Milton’s poem,
but God persists in the face of all cleverness.
God works on and on, revising his mysterious plan.
Who are we, sweating in the garden,
against his mysterious plan?

My children are frightened; they weep
and cannot stop. The Blue Angels turn,
their afterburners light up,
the air is aflutter with indifferent butterflies
and deadly flowers wag their nectared heads.
The garden shudders under the thrust
of those engines––Blue Angels rising,
my sons waving sticks at the blue sky.

-Greg Rappleye

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Question

I've spent what little time I have for poetry this week on revisions. I gather from reading around the poetry blogs that there is an unresolved question out there about whether putting (even a draft) of your own poem up on a blog is "previous publication" or not. Without taking any position on the issue (I can see both sides, I suppose) does anyone know a good journal or website that will consider work that was previously posted, in draft form, on a blog?


Not to start another argument, but I say congratulations to Barry Bonds on hitting No. 756. If we kept baseball players out of the Hall of Fame for substance abuse issues, or for not having appealing personalities--which may be Barry's larger problem with a lot of the press and public--the Hall would be half-empty. How many players of Mickey Mantle's generation, for example, abused their bodies with alcohol and thereby "cheated" the game and shortened their careers? How many didn't play up to their full potential on any given day because they were hung-over from the night before?


And the Tigers have won two in a row.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

New on the S@4A.M. Blogroll

I am happy to welcome to the S@4A.M. blogroll, in my haphazard, non-alphabetic manner:

Sandra Beasley
Robert Peake
Ron Slate
Bernadette Geyer
Katie Bowler
Justin Evans
Tom Montag
Diane Lockward

Monday, August 06, 2007

Monday, Monday...

I have a busy day and a busy week. On Thursday I have to give a speech on protected health information and the mental health code--a subject I actually do know, but I am giving the speech to a group that also knows the topic well, so what I say has to be both interesting and specific. And my oldest two children are coming home this week.

We are very much looking forward to seeing them.

I have to make a road trip to Rhode Island at the end of this month to drop my very-oldest off at culinary school. Yes, it can be done and yes, I am glad he is in school--actually, I am ecstatic--but my best guess is that it will be eighteen hours out and eighteen back and I am getting too old for that stuff.

I wrote a new poem over the weekend. One of those 14-liners that is not quite a sonnet.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

On Clayton Eshleman's Translations of Cesar Vallejo

My exposure to the work of the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo has been (sadly) limited. I have seen his work in anthologies of South American poets, and have a translation of The Black Heralds,* Vallejo's first book of poetry, originally published in Spanish in 1918. I also do not speak Spanish, and therefore my ability to judge the efficacy of a translation is quite limited. With those caveats, let me say that I very much enjoyed and recommend The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007), edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman.

Eshleman has made the translation of Vallejo a lifelong labor of love--or perhaps, an obsession, given the many roadblocks set in his path during the years he worked on this project. That story, told by Eshleman in the "Afterward: A Translation Memoir," is itself a fascinating account of those years and of the difficulty of negotiating for the translation rights with Vallejo's widow and estate.

Still, we can be grateful that Eshleman saw this project through to completion, and that the work of Vallejo, so essential to the canon of South American literature, is now available to us in English: complete, in face-on-face translations and thoroughly annotated.

This is a wonderful and very important book.

Here's Eshleman's translation** of one of Vallejo's poems from The Black Heralds:


What would she be doing now, my sweet Andean Rita
of rush and tawny berry;
now when Byzantium asphyxiates me; and my blood
dozes, like thin cognac, inside of me.

Where would her hands, that showed contrition
ironed in the afternoon whiteness yet to come,
be now, in this rain that deprives me of
my desire to live.

What has become of her flannel skirt; of her
toil; of her walk;
of her taste of homemade May rum.

She must be at the door watching some cloudscape,
and at length she'll say, trembling: "'s cold!"
And on the roof tiles a wild bird will cry.


*The Black Heralds by Cesar Vallejo, Translated by Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross, Latin American Literary Review Press Series (2nd. ed., 2003).

**NOTE: Vallejo (and Eshleman) indent the first line of each stanza by several key strokes. I am unable to replicate this in Blogger. My apologies.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Poetry & History

One of the problems of writing historically based poetry is that of "knowing too much." For example, the fact that the Ambassador to Brazil went to Paris for several months in 1864 is useful to me. It provides an opportunity for Martin Johnson Heade to spend a bit of time with the ambassador's young and beautiful wife. That he did so--spend social time, that is--is a matter of record. Whether anything more happened is not.

That the purpose of the Ambassador's trip was to negotiate an agreement with Napoleon III for the withdrawl of French troops from Mexico is fascinating. I can do something with that information. What did the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II (pictured, left), himself a member of the Bourbon and Hapsburg families, think?

But then I am off on a tangent, aren't I?

Perhaps that is why so much history gets told in lyric rather than narrative forms--in ballads, for example. How much of the real history gets glossed or obscured because it gets (very much) in the way of the actual truth-telling, of the lyric moment? Which, by the way, is occuring in the mountain resort of Petropolis, on the porch of the Ambassador's house, while the Ambassador is in Paris, and the servants are away.

No, I am not writing a ballad.

I must also get some poems into the mail.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Charles Simic, Poet Laureate of the United States

I see from this morning's New York Times that Charles Simic has been named Poet Laureate of the United States, replacing Donald Hall.

That's an interesting choice. I've read Simic's work, but do not know his poetry well.

Heade's Letter

I have substantially completed another poem on Martin Johnson Heade, this one concerning "Ruby Throat of North America" (1865) a painting of which Heade made perhaps ten (each, slightly different) versions while living in London, trying to arrange the publication of his Gems of Brazil series. It is not clear what Heade was thinking as he worked on this painting (or rather, on this series); his life is not that well documented. It could be that he was simply homesick, or that painting ten or more versions of the same scene was a relatively easy way to raise money--we do know that Heade became financially desperate as it became clear that his plan for the Gems series was failing.

Or perhaps...

Like everyone else, I was shocked by the bridge collapse in Minneapolis last night. If I am not mistaken, the fallen bridge is very near the infamous pedestrian bridge on the campus of the University of Minnesota, from which John Berryman took his step into the dark on January 7, 1972.