Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thinking Time

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth."

John 1:14


" to solder fragments together into a story that will sweep one along?"

-Franz Kafka

I hope to have a (working) thesis by Monday.

Another Poem I Am Thinking About


Sitting in peace in the dining room
of the country community house one Sunday morning,
reading the paper about the latest truce
in Israel, I heard a disturbance in the living room.
People were scurrying and yelling, "Watch out,
he's got a knife!" and "Put her down!"
Then Kenny, the epileptic from Hudson Valley,
appeared at the door with a little dog in one hand
and a cleaver in the other. He said he was going
to take the dog up the hill and throw her in the well.
He said he was tired of how the people in the "community"
were treating him, and he was going to kill the dog
in order to change their attitude. He had
a crazed look in his eye while the dog hung limp,
Mrs. Smith's terrier. I followed him up the hill
while the others prayed below. I said, "Kenny,
what good do you think this will do? They'll only take
you back to the hospital." Then it was there interposed
a fit and he dropped the dog beside the well and fell
to the ground and cut himself with the flailing blade.
I stepped on the hand that held the knife and watched
him twist like a snake with its neck pinned down.
He frothed at the mouth and swallowed his tongue.
I tried to stick my fingers in and pull it out
but he clenched his teeth in a human vise.
I thought in retrospect I could have cut a hole
in his throat with the knife but he was writhing
to the end, turning blue. I watched his ghost
shut down his skin, then disappear inside the well.
I held his body as a souvenir of the fallen world
and thought no less of him. The little dog began to bark
from the edge of the woods. "Shut up!" I yelled,
"Shut up!" and almost felt what Kenny felt as he held
the dog above the well and dangled it like the angry god
who'd crossed a wire inside he head. It was his hatred
for the little dog that had set him off, just its yapping
every night in Mrs. Smith's adjacent room. He had been
treated kindly by everyone, according to the wishes
of our saintly mother, Dorothy Day, who had always said,
"Treat every stranger as if he were the Christ."

-Chard DeNiord

Another Poem I Am Thinking About


I'm working like a dog here, testing my memory,
my mouth is slightly open, my eyes are closed,
my hand is lying under a satin pillow.
My subject is loss, the painter is Masaccio,
the church is the Church of the Carmine, the narrow panel
is on the southwest wall, I make a mouth
like Adam, I make a mouth like Eve, I make
a sword like the angel's. Or Schubert; I hear him howling
too, there is a touch of the Orient
throughout the great C Major. I am thinking again
of poor Jim Wright and the sheet of tissue paper
he sent me. Lament, lament for the underlayer
of walllpaper, circa 1935.
Lament for the Cretans, how did they disappear?
Lament for Hannibal. I'm standing again
behind some wires, there are some guns, my hand
is drawing in the eyes, I'm making the stripes,
I'm lying alone with water falling down
the left side of my face. That was our painting.
We stood in line to see it, we loved the cry
that came from Eve's black mouth, we loved the grief
of her slanted eyes, we loved poor Adam's face
half buried in his hands, we loved the light
on the shoulders and thighs, we loved the shadows, we loved
the perfect sense of distance. Lament, lament,
for my sister. It took ten years for the flesh to go,
she would be twenty then, she would be sixty
in 1984. Lament for my father,
he died in Florida, he died from fear, apologizing
to everyone around him. I walked through three feet
of snow to buy him a suit; it took a day
to get to the airport. Lament, lament. He had
fifty-eight suits, and a bronze coffin; he lay
with his upper body showing, a foot of carpet.
He came to America in 1905, huge wolves
snapped at the horse's legs, the snow was on the ground
until the end of April. The angel is red,
her finger is pointing, she floats above the gate,
her face is cruel, she isn't like the angels
of Blake, of Plato, she is an angry mother,
her wings are firm. Lament, lament, my father
and I are leaving Paradise, an angel
is shouting, my hand is on my mouth, my father
is on the edge of his bed, he uses a knife
for a shoe horn, he is in Pittsburgh, the sky is black,
the air is filthy, he bends over to squeeze
his foot into his shoe, his eyes are closed,
he's moaning. I miss our paradise, the pool
of water, the flowers. Our loves are merging, our shoes
are not that different. The angel is rushing by,
her lips are curled, there is a coldness, even
a madness to her, Adam and Eve are roaring,
the whole thing takes a minute, a few seconds,
and we are left on somebody's doorstep, one of
my favorites, three or four marble steps and a simple
crumbling brick––it could be Baltimore,
it could be Pittsburgh, the North Side or the Hill.
Inside I know there is a hall to the left
and a living room to the right; no one has modernized
it yet, there are two plum trees in the back
and a narrow garden, cucumbers and tomatoes.
We talk about Russia, we talk about the garden,
we talk about Truman, and Reagan. Our hands are rubbing
the dusty marble, we sit for an hour. "It is
a crazy life," I say, "after all the model
homes we looked at, I come back to the old
row house, I do it over and over." "My house"––
he means his father's––"had a giant garden
and we had peppers and radishes; my sister
Jenny made the pickles." We start to drift
at 5 o'clock in the evening, the cars from downtown
are starting to poison us. It is a paradise
of two, maybe, two at the most, the name
on the mailbox I can't remember, the garden
is full of glass, there is a jazzy door
on the next house over, and louvered windows. It is
a paradise, I'm sure of it. I kiss
him goodbye, I hold him, almost like a kiss
in 1969, in Philadelphia,
the last time I saw him, in the Russian manner,
his mouth against my mouth, his arms around me––
we could do that once before he died––
the huge planes barely lifting off the ground,
the families weeping beside us, the way they do,
the children waving goodbye, the lovers smiling,
the way they do, all of our loss, everything
we know of loneliness there, their minds already
fixed on the pain, their hands already hanging,
under the shining windows, near the yellow tiles,
the secret rooms, the long and brutal corridor
down which we sometimes shuffle, and sometimes run.

-Gerald Stern

The Illustrated Blake

A Poem I Am Thinking About


Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat's head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat's headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.

The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school
And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
The head called to the body. The body to the head.
They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,
Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped....

The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night
She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train's horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.

She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming
Made it so. But one night the girl didn't hear the train's horn,
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling
Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat's body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat's torn neck. Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke....

But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn't know was that the goat's head was already
Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn't know
Was that the goat's head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother's call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

Brigit Pegeen Kelly



Surely he hath borne our Griefs, and carried our Sorrows/Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD, and afflicted.

-Isaiah 53:4

And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.

-Leviticus 16:22

Icons: Windows on the Sacred

[Icons] became so central to the Byzantine experience of God, however, that by the eighth century they had become the center of a passionate doctrinal dispute in the Greek Church. People were beginning to ask what exactly the artist was painting as he painted Christ. It was impossible to depict his divinity, but if the artist claimed that he was only painting the humanity of Jesus, was he guilty of Nestorianism, the heretical belief that Jesus' human and divine natures were quite distinct? The iconoclasts wanted to ban icons altogether, but icons were defended by two leading monks: John of Damascus (656-747) of the monastery of Mar Sabbas near Bethlehem, and Theodore (759-826), of the monastery of Studius near Constantinople. They argued that the iconoclasts were wrong to forbid the depiction of Christ. Since the Incarnation, the material world and the human body had both been given a divine dimension, and an artist could paint this new type of deified humanity. He was also painting an image of God, since Christ the Logos was the icon of God par excellence. God could not be contained in words or summed up in human concepts, but he could be described by the pen of the artist or in the symbolic gestures of the liturgy.

The piety of the Greeks was so dependent upon icons that by 820 the iconoclasts had been defeated by popular acclaim. This assertion that God was in some sense describable did not amount to an abandonment of Denys's apophatic theology, however. In his Greater Apology for the Holy Images, the monk Nicephoras claimed that icons were "expressive of the silence of God, exhibiting in themselves the ineffability of a mystery that transcends being. Without ceasing and without speech, they praise the goodness of God in that venerable and thrice-illumined melody of theology." Instead of instructing the faithful in the dogmas of the Church and helping them to form lucid ideas about their faith, the icons held them in a sense of mystery. When describing the effect of these religious paintings, Nicephoras could only compare it to the effect of music, the most ineffable of the arts and possibly the most direct. Emotion and experience are conveyed by music in a way that bypasses words and concepts. In the nineteenth century, Walter Pater would assert that all art aspired to the condition of music; in ninth-century Byzantium, Greek Christians saw theology as aspiring to the condition of iconography. They found that God was better expressed in a work of art than in rationalistic discourse. After the intensely wordy Christological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries, they were evolving a portrait of God that depended upon the imaginative experience of Christians.

-Karen Armstrong in "The God of the Mystics," from A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Ballentine Books, 1993) pp. 222-223


NOTE: Icons are not "painted." The work of making an icon is called "writing an icon."

Duende & The City of Demons

Ladies and gentlemen: I have raised three arches, and with clumsy hand I have placed in them the Muse, the Angel and the Duende.

The Muse keeps silent; she may wear the tunic of little folds, or great cow-eyes gazing towards Pompeii, or the monstrous, four-featured nose with which her great painter, Picasso, has painted her. The Angel may be stirring the hair of Antonello da Messina, the tunic of Lippi, and the violin of Masolino or Rousseau.

But the Duende - where is the Duende ? Through the empty arch enters a mental air blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, seeking new landscapes and unfamiliar accents; an air bearing the odor of child's spittle, crushed grass, and the veil of Medusa announcing the unending baptism of all newly-created things.

-Federico Garcia Lorca, The Duende: Theory and Divertissement (1930)


It is just such an opening that Czeslaw Milosz alludes to in his poem "Ars Poetcia?" Describing the writer as a person who must be willing to be inhabited by a "diamonion," the poet asks, "What reasonable man would like to be inhabited by a city of demons?"

-Jane Hirschfield, "Writing and the Threshold Life," in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, p.202

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Worth Noting

The "still small voice" in 1 Kings 19:11 goes on to demand the slaughter of thousands in 1 Kings 19:15-18.

Perhaps Elijah misheard something.

Contemporary Poetry and the Still Small Voice

There is an essay in here, somewhere:

And [the angel] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Kings 19:11-12


"The poet Jean Valentine once said in an interview, `Of course all poetry is prayer. Who else would we be addressing?' Part of me wants to agree with her, but I don't know that it's that simple. There does seem to be something essentially unsecular about poetry: both in traditional, oral cultures and in our own, people rely on poetry to convey truths about matters of life and death that are accessible in no other way. In contemporary America, poetry offers many people-including poets-the consolation they no longer find in traditional religion."

-Cseslaw Milosz, The American Poetry Review, November / December, 1998


What doest thou here, Elijah? Can a Poet doubt the Visions of Jehovah? Nature has no Outline, But Imagination has. Nature has no Tune, but Imagination has. Nature has no Supernatural, and dissolves: Imagination is eternity.

-William Blake


Eve Grubin: Your poems are saturated with religious curiosity and yearning. Has that always been central for you?

Jean Valentine: Always. Ever since I was a child. Jane Kenyon had this, too. Not everyone has. I'm very grateful. It wasn't particularly in my family. Maybe one has a guardian angel. It's really a mystery where that comes from. Here, in America, you would never presume that the person next to you would share your religious feelings. I went to a poetry reading in Ireland where Seamus Heaney read, and he was quoting one of the gospels in his poem, and the gospel was so familiar to the audience that I felt how close an audience can be with a poet, and it wasn't only because they knew the poem. Sometimes that happens, but it was the Catholic culture. Over here you can feel something like that at an anti-war reading, or a rock concert. But for the most part, as a culture we are not woven that way, for better or for worse. Ireland is.


Through its power of symbolic expression, art thus gives the spiritual energy that is being produced on earth its first body and its first face. But it fulfills a third function in relation to that energy, one that is the most important of all. It communicates to that energy, and preserves it, its specifically human characteristic, by personalizing it. ... The more the world is rationalized and mechanized, the more it needs poets as the ferment within its personality and its preservative.

-Teilhard de Chardin

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday, Monday

I am glad to be going back to work. Yesterday, I put together a chapbook manuscript, wrote eight or nine thank you letters, assembled a packet of poems, packaged some promotional copies of my book with letters, etc., and am ready to send it all off today. I am no longer doing multiple submission, but despite the fact that I have been working right along, do not have much new work(individual poem-wise) to send out. A great deal of what I had was taken earlier this fall by the Legal Studies Forum at West Virginia University College of Law, a group of poems that will also be published in chapbook form by LSF/WVU in December or January as The Divisible Field. Other poems are forthcoming in Marlboro Review, Prairie Schooner, Dunes Review, and Bellingham Review.

Now it's time to work on my essay for the AWP Conference. I'll take a couple of days to straighten things up (everything is catawumpus--books and papers everywhere) and begin.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Progress Notes

The chapbook is finished, submission letters written. Tomorrow (after breakfast with the Ridls) will be all correspondence: poetry submissions, returning galleys, thank-you notes, book promotion.

I also have poems to review and critique for class.

Four-day weekends are the working poet's friend.

Good, Afternoon!

I worked most of last night on the poem.

This (above) is how I feel after last night's reverie. No matter. I have a new poem and something more if I pull these together--a chapbook, I think.

Is it good? Someone else will be the judge of that.

I am making turkey noodle soup. For my sinuses.


NOTE: The engraving is "On the East River" (1934) by Nicolai Cikovsky (1894-1984), from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, The Library of Congress.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Draft of a New Poem

It's rough, but I have a start-to-finish draft.

The pixie didn't make the cut.


More Ideas

The painting is "Fulton Street Fish Market" (1924) by Alfred Mitchell.

The Fulton Street Fish Market was founded in 1822 and was moved to Hunt's Point, the Bronx in 2005.

"As organisms of diminished vision, human beings in the night rely on kinesthesia, touch, and imagination in order to proceed. An absence of clarity and distinctness of phenomena, an inability to organize the visual field, and a problematic relation to depth perception are managed by means of heightened senses of tactility and hearing. In the night we rely on connotation, we gather information in time, we tolerate ambiguity, and we procede by means of subjective judgment. The nocturne in all its artistic forms is an alternative to the sunlit world of perspectival realism. In the visual arts, nocturnal works pose possibilites for synaesthesia and synasthetic allusion; they bring forward the potentials for seeing beyond single point perspective's present-centered conditions."

-Susan Stewart, "Out of Darkness: Nocturnes," from Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 257.

John Atkinson Grimshaw and Whistler were masters of the nocturne.

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

"Liverpool Quay by Moonight," James Atkinson Grimshaw (1887).

Which sometimes (see Stewart, supra) led to unusual results.

The painting is "Spirit of the Night" by James Atkinson Grimshaw (1879).

How like a hummingbird.

To work.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


On January 2, 1870, construction began on the Brooklyn Bridge.

This painting is "Brooklyn Bridge at Night" (1909) by Edward Redfield. Note the ferry crossing, front-right.

Walt Whitman published the first version of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in 1858.

Below is a photograph of the Brooklyn Ferry, taken circa 1890. From other photographs, it appears to be the same ferry that was making the crossing in the late 1860's. Ferry service ceased in 1924.

READER: Sorry to go all "obscure references and note-book" on you. I am thinking. With exhibits.

This Weekend's Question

What could Martin Johnson Heade have been doing in New York City in the winter of 1869-1870?

I am working on a nocturne.

"The story of Orpheus underlies every poem. The poet risks the dangers of silence and darkness, bringing the message of human emotion to the gods and carrying back news of the gods to men."

-Susan Stewart, "Out of Darkness: Nocturnes," from Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 256.

Below is a photograph of the famed Tenth Street Studios (located at 51 West 10th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1857. This is where Heade stayed while in New York. The building was razed in 1956.

The photograph is by Bernice Abbott, taken on November 10, 1938.


With the exception of the Lions' game--at least I wasn't surprised!--it has been a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here's a poem in honor of the day:


Not bluebirds nesting in a wooden box
nailed to your picket fence.
No geraniums in the planter, but yarrow
where the trees begin, hawkweed
in a clearing near the black locust
and loosestrife—how you are helpless
against its beauty—everywhere
along the creek. No friends anymore
who ask about dinner, but a boy who woke
last week, singing counterpoint
to the wrens. To read, We are without
consolation or excuse
, and remember
a sack of peaches from a roadside stand;
hunger the day you stopped for them.
Maxine Sullivan singing “Blue Skies.”
In winter, lullabies sung for the dead.
The shoulder roast simmering in red wine
with potatoes and sweet onions
on a day when the rain begins; your heart
sliding toward the sinkhole of November.
Who is not captive to some small happiness?
To love a field you can never own—the pink mist
of knapweed, the blue of chicory.
Or the heron that settles in the neighbor’s pond
and croaks through the last of your dreams.
You startle awake, patting your head, glad
that you are not a minnow, darting
among the muddy reeds. How it comes around,
this happiness, like a landlord sniffing out the rent.
Not what you ordered—pennywhistles, cellophane hats,
those hand-crank noisemakers—but the happiness
that finds you, scrawls a receipt, says,
“You paid for this,” whatever happiness is.


"Not That Happiness" originally appeared in The Greensboro Review, and won the 2006 Greensboro Review Literary Award in Poetry. It also appears in Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

...and a Birthday!

It's also a special day for Carlos.

He's 6!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Busy Day Ahead

Song, I think there will be few indeed
Who well and rightly understand your sense.


Convivio, dissertation 2, canzone 1

The poem is finished.

I have a busy day at work. But once I am through today, the Thanksgiving break is in sight.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Epigraph

I spent a bit of time polishing up the poem I've been working on, and (after reading more about the Hudson River School and the Luminists) have changed the epigraph to suggest Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) as the artist who refused to write a recommendation on behalf of Martin Johnson Heade.

I don't much care for Bierstadt's work. Too many of his paintings look as if they should be displayed over a garish sofa in a single-wide trailer.


NOTE: The painting is Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite (1872) by Albert Bierstadt, from the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Revising the Blogroll

Please welcome Charmi Keranen, Karen J. Weyant and Steve Schroeder to the S@4A.M. blogroll.

I have also deleted several "dead" links and a number of others who have shown no interest in anything that goes on here.

Goodbye and good luck.

Dance of the Dog Feast

At the conclusion of the dog feast and dance the leader of the party began the "song of departure" and his warriors took up the melody. Dancing, not marching, they left the scene of the feast, and followed their leader toward the land of the enemy. Only one woman, usually the wife of the leader, was allowed to go with the war party. Four women escorted the warriors as they left the village, walking back and forth in front of them and joining in their song. These women had their faces whitened with clay. At last they divided, two standing on each side of the path, and the warriors passed between them. There were no farewells and the song did not cease. With eyes turned toward the enemy's country the warriors went forth to meet their uncertain fate.

Chippewa Music II by Frances Densmore, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 53, (1913), p. 93


NOTE: Depicted is the artist George Catlin's version of a Sioux dog feast at Fort Pierre (near what is now Fort Pierre, South Dakota), circa 1832.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Really Good News!

Suzanne Frischkorn has REALLY good news.

Check it out, here.

Progress Notes, Redux

I came home last night with a crashing headache. Took three Tylenol, ate a bunch of Thai food and put myself into a little food-induced coma.

I was asleep at 8 P.M.

I left Marcia to handle the wild boys, who were bouncing around the house in their Spongebob underpants, showing off their "sweet dance moves" to the melodious strains of Aerosmith's "Eat the Rich."

Don't ask.

The good news is that my headache is gone. The bad news is that now I am wide awake.

More good news: the title poem of my new manuscript is very close to being finished.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Progress Notes

Had to change "Frederic Church" to "Thomas Eakins" in the epigraph of my new poem, since Martin Johnson Heade was a "colleague and student" of Church, and Church--a good and decent man, at least as far as supporting Heade was concerned--would have recommended Heade for the Astor commission.

Even if one is making this stuff up, it is important to get the history close to "right."

That is Church, above.

Thought for the Day

True ambition in a poet seeks fame in the old sense, to make words that live forever. If even to entertain such ambition reveals monstrous egotism, let me argue that the common alternative is petty egotism that spends itself in small competitiveness, that measures its success by quantity of publication, by blurbs on jackets, by small achievement: to be the best poet in the workshop, to be published by Knopf, to win the Pulitzer or the Nobel ... The grander goal is to be as good as Dante.

-Donald Hall, "Poetry and Ambition" from Poetry and Ambition: Essays 1982-88 (The University of Michigan Press, 1988).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Work Is, Part 16

I haven't accomplished much this month, writing-wise. I've been busy with readings and travel and book promotion work. I hope to finish tinkering with my latest poem, get at least one new poem started over the Thanksgiving holidays, then must turn my attention to preparations for our AWP panel. Fifteen minutes is a long time to have nothing to say.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

...And Denis Johnson for Fiction!

And congratulations as well to Denis Johnson, winner of the National Book Award in Fiction for his novel, Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007).

I was hoping for Jim Shepherd, but still, this is a good choice.

Instant Karma!

A big congratulations to Robert Hass, winner of the National Book Award in Poetry for Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 (ECCO-HarperCollins, 2007).

Not precisely among the Finalists I was hoping for, but sweet enough; sweet indeed.

National Book Awards

The National Book Awards ceremony is tonight. I am pulling for Linda Gregerson and David Kirby in poetry, and Jim Shepherd in fiction. I also very much liked Denis Johnson's novel.


It's funny how a few days away from my routine can upset everything. One becomes an old pasture animal: used to the same sweet grass and the distant tree line, loving the familiar fence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Here's a photo of Flannery O'Connor (with peacock), standing on the front steps of the family house at Andalusia, just outside of Milledgeville, Georgia.

We got back yesterday afternoon, in time for me to pick up the dogs, teach my 4 p.m. class, and to have a pizza-and-cake-and ice cream birthday party for Liam, our (newly crowned) 4 year-old.

Today, another busy one at work.

Reality bites.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Great Place

Milledgeville rocks. What a great place this is!

Details to follow.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Give me three steps, mister, give me three steps toward the door...

Still trying to get out of here. Must go home, pick #1 son up from school, take #3 dog to the vet's, drop all three dogs at dog sitter's, take boys to dinner, drop boys at baby sitter's, pack, etc.

Milledgeville, here we come.


A Busy Day Ahead

So here's a poem about those famous private detectives, Odysseus and Philip Marlowe.


"Oh, you are odd, I see."

— Ino to Odysseus,
—Book V, The Odyssey

How the modern noir resembles the ancient noir.
The war is over. Odysseus, adrift since leaving
Calypso, on his way home. Lost in a storm,
he is visited by Ino, former mortal,
now a minor goddess, who, like a Hollywood starlet,
has changed her name, in this case
because her husband was a murderer.
Don't ask. The myths are so complex.
Anyway, she lands on his raft
in the form of a gannet. Odd enough,
even in those ancient days when a seabird might
land on a raft, sweet tangle in her beak
(which becomes a magic cloak), and begin
talking, like a smart-aleck waitress
in a desert roadhouse. But Ino speaks the words
so quietly, Homer barely writes them.
Of every translation I've read, only Rouse
nurses them from the text. Even Odysseus
isn't sure what she says, hesitates,
is seen by Poseidon before he can escape,
and the poem goes on, dark and inexplicable,

like the plot to The Big Sleep,
Faulkner brought in by Howard Hawks
to make some sense of it, to "punch it up,"
and Faulkner makes it better, but more confusing,
until Hawks, watching the final cut, despairs,
and tells Faulkner, who is on his way
to Rowan Oak, to write one more scene and
he'll bring back the stars (Bogart & Bacall)
to film it. And he will, time and again, trying
starlet after starlet in the scene's crucial role,
until Patricia Clarke finally gets it right: It is night
outside a shed in the desert. Marlowe fires his gun,
the smoke licking the fender of his Ford
coupe. Sapped from behind and cut,
we see him, coming-to, captive of Eddie Mars'
wife, who needs to know what Howard Hawks can't
figure out: What has Eddie Mars done and what
is his link to Sean Regan? So Marlowe tells her,
Your husband is a murderer,
and she slaps him, hard,
and walks out of the room. She's all right,
Marlowe says, rubbing his cheek, I like her.

And so does Faulkner, who finishes the scene
at 3 A.M., on the Missouri Pacific
just west of Memphis. He takes a last sip
of bourbon and branch water, kisses the script
for luck, shoves it into an envelope,
and shambles out to find the porter, a man,
shiny and black, who slides around the club car
like St. Elmo's fire. Faulkner tells him
to mail the envelope at the next stop
and hands him a silver dollar. Yes, sir,
the porter says, and at Memphis
steps off the train, drops the packet
into the box, turns and flips
the silver dollar, a coin so heavy and slow
he counts the spins—five, six, seven, then snaps it
from the air, the back of his black hand
beginning to sweat, shining brighter than
the coin it covers. Across the platform, a soldier
lights a smoke and mumbles something
vile, because he is drunk and because
a black man can't have a silver dollar
in the State of Tennessee. What did he say?
The porter misses a step, his skin beginning to burn,
then shakes it off, laughs and gets back on the train.
It is 1946. The war is over. It is the cusp
of the Postmodern Era. The porter knows it is
all aboard this train that is leaving, all aboard
this train that is going home.


NOTE: This poem originally appeared in The Mississippi Review, and won the 1999 Mississippi Review Prize in Poetry. The poem also appears in my second book, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


In support of the Writers' Guild strike, I will refuse to cross any Guild-authorized picket lines I might encounter in the Grand Haven-Spring Lake-Fruitport Metroplex and I will not be watching any sit-coms, soap operas, or television dramas for the duration of the strike.

I have also ceased working on--okay, even THINKING about--my $2 million-up-front-and- points-on-the-back-end screenplay.

Pencils down means pencils down.

Producers, producers, you bastards--until the Guild has a contract--I'm through!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


The snow began yesterday afternoon and has been off-and-on ever since. No accumulations yet, though accumulations are promised. Tonight, tomorrow, who knows? The wind has been blowing hard for two days and the waves on Lake Michigan are up.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Benefit

There was an amazing crowd for the Julie Moulds Rybicki Benefit at the Kraftbrau Brewery yesterday in Kalamazoo. It's hard to say how many people were crammed into that funky little place--it was already a sea of faces when I got up to read around 4:30. There were poets and writers and musicians and artists from Detroit, Western Michigan University (where Julie received her MFA) , the Traverse City area, northern Indiana (including blogger-poet David Dodd Lee) and a number of faculty members from Hope College, where Julie did her undergraduate work.

It was good to see old friends and to meet some new ones as well.

Thanks to an ill-timed attack of gout in my left ankle, I was in some pain the whole afternoon and left a bit after 5, much earlier than I would have preferred. I wish Julie all the best as she goes for her bone marrow transplant. Please keep her, John and their son in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What Work Is, Part 15

Saturday is a good day for doing po-biz, so I am doing po-biz.

They love me at the Post Office.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Arts Council Dinner

I did a short reading (3 poems) tonight at the annual dinner of the Grand Haven Area Arts Council. They also had a singer- song writer perform who I did not know (think Tori Amos), a short scene by a local Shakespeare company, and a talk by a husband and wife who do brass and gravestone rubbings, so it was a disparate and interesting evening.

I've lived in this town for somewhat more than thirty years and it was odd to be doing a reading (however brief) in front of a group of people who I either did not know at all or who I once knew in a radically different life––and as a far different person––twenty years or-so ago.

Not unpleasant, mind you. Just odd.

It's not as if I went away, either; I just stopped talking to people in 1987, and I haven't exactly been on anyone's party list since.

I need to get out more.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Arts & Letters, Issue Eighteen, Fall 2007

I received a copy of the new Arts & Letters in today's mail. This is the issue that contains the poems that won the 2007 Arts & Letters /Rumi Prize in Poetry; the first four published poems from my manuscript-in-progress about the work of the 19th Century American painter Martin Johnson Heade, Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds. This is a beautiful issue of a great literary magazine. Also contained in Issue Eighteen are Robert Drummond's prize winning short story, poems by Roy Jacobstein and Alan Williamson, an interview with X.J. Kennedy, and translations of the Turkish poet Edip Cansever by Julia and Richard Tillinghast.

I'll be reading with Robert Drummond next Friday night (November 9) in Milledgevile at the campus of Georgia College & State University. If you are in the area, please come!


The painting is The Blue Morpho Butterfly (1864) by Martin Johnson Heade, from the Manoogian Collection. One of my poems in Arts & Letters, "Studies for The Blue Morpho (1864)" concerns Heade's field work on the painting in Brazil.