Sunday, December 30, 2007

Almost Random Notes

Ugh. Now I have a miserable cold. In fact, everyone at our house (except for Liam--age 4) is sick at the moment. But I am up and at my post, trying to make a bit of progress on my essay.

A Momentary Football Digression: Congratulations to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. If you didn't see it, you missed a heck of a football game. The Giants played well, too. I wouldn't mind seeing a rematch in the Superbowl.

My great thanks to Macy Swain (Jan Worth) for her kind words about my book, Figured Dark. You can read what she had to say here.

Reading around the blogs, Poets & Writers, etc., I've had a lot of snarky poetry thoughts. I will keep them to myself for the moment.

Who needs another snarky poetry blogger?

If only I had done a better job of teaching Liam to cook...


Friday, December 28, 2007

Busy Day!

I am on my way to the doctor this morning for a scheduled check up. I will bore him with stories of my latest stomach problems, and spare you, gentle reader. We are supposed to have a snow storm hereabouts this afternoon into evening. I am hoping to complete a start-to-finish draft of my essay by New Year's Day (with timeouts for the New England-NY Giants game and the U. Michigan-Florida game).

After I have a complete draft, I'll go back and figure out what I actually meant to say.

The daily book reviewers (Maslin, Grimes, Kakutani) published their annual "Ten Best" lists in today's New York Times. The only one listed that I've read is I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon, the singer's ex-wife.

If you like(d) Warren Zevon, it's a sad and eye-opening book.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Note on e-Commerce

I try to buy my books locally, but must admit the service from Amazon is remarkable. 20 hours after ordering it, I just received Art and Text in Byzantine Culture edited by Liz James (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Obviously, this is not a book that my local bookstore would have in stock. To have such an obscurity delivered so quickly is amazing.

I am under a bit of time pressure, and the service is appreciated.

Reporting In

My apologies for my recent disappearance. I picked Hannah up at the airport Christmas Eve. We got home at 9:30 and I went to bed because I was not feeling well. I was sick all day on Christmas. I still don't have my appetite back, but everyone else had a merry day.

On the occasions when I am vertical, I am continuing work on my essay. How I will ever condense this material into a 15 minute presentation is beyond me.

Word just in on the BBC that Benazir Bhutto has been assasinated in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

More madness. My prayers for her.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

White Christmas

We started out this morning at 5:20 with a great gust of wind that woke me up, and a quick thunderstorm. By dawn, all of our remaining snow was melted. The temperature has steadily fallen, the wind has kept a constant howl and there are blizzard-like conditions tonight.

Hannah's flight from NYC was cancelled; she won't be in until late tomorrow night.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thought for the Day

The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown down here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that from our very prison we should draw, from our own selves, images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.

-Andre Malraux, "La Condition Humaine," (1933)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Auden in the Night

I came home last night from an administrative hearing with a massive headache and, after taking the dogs out, promptly fell asleep. I woke up an hour or-so ago and took the dogs out again. Now I can't sleep. Bother. I hope to take some time off over the holidays and get back to work on my essay. At the moment, there is simply too much going on, at my day job and otherwise.

I am on a little Auden jag, and thought this one perfectly expressed my state of mind about a number of things--poetry, the night, politics, the nation.


A cloudless night like this
Can set the spirit soaring:
After a tiring day
The clockwork spectacle is
Impressive in a slightly boring
Eighteenth-century way.

It soothed adolescence a lot
To meet so shamelesss a stare;
The things I did could not
Be so shocking as they said
If that would still be there
After the shocked were dead

Now, unready to die
But already at the stage
When one starts to resent the young,
I am glad those points in the sky
May also be counted among
The creatures of middle-age.

It’s cosier thinking of night
As more an Old People’s Home
Than a shed for a faultless machine,
That the red pre-Cambrian light
Is gone like Imperial Rome
Or myself at seventeen.

Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

For the present stalks abroad
Like the past and its wronged again
Whimper and are ignored,
And the truth cannot be hid;
Somebody chose their pain,
What needn’t have happened did.

Occuring this very night
By no established rule,
Some event may already have hurled
Its first little No at the right
Of the laws we accept to school
Our post-diluvian world:

But the stars burn on overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgment waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.

-August, 1948


From W.H. Auden: Collected Poems, Edited by Edward Mendleson, (Vintage Books, 1991)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Horoscope for Today

Of course, I never believe this stuff. Unless it's true.

Like today:

Lie low during the day, dear Taurus, and try not to get caught up in the frivolous verbiage that is dominating the waking hours. After sundown, however, feel free to come out of your shell and speak your mind. You may notice that there is a rather sober tone to your emotions today, and a restrictive sensation that may leave you feeling like you'll never be able to break free from your current situation. Don't get caught in this negative mindset.

Verse Daily!

Yes, I do have a poem today at Verse Daily. It's "Blackbirds" from Figured Dark, a poem that originally appeared in Poetry. My thanks to Andrew Shields for pointing this out; I actually didn't know it was coming.

And yes, "heating" should be "heading."

A typo, I'm afraid.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thought for the Day

The awareness in the poet's work of the soul need not be announced by the use of that word. What I look for is a sense of a larger perspective, an awareness of how spirit informs each aspect of our lives. To be serious about spirit means the hard work of locating spirit in a time and a place. It means the hard work of coming to terms with many concepts and qualities––good and evil, profanity, divinity, sin, eternity, humility, salvation, karma, corruption, bliss, enlightenment, desire, despair, temptation––that have lost their currency in an era which swears allegiance to objective explanations (even if it fails, as it must, to live by those explanations). It means the hard work of indicating the accuracy of the frameworks of existing religions and the urgency of emerging religious notions.

-Baron Wormser, "Soul Music: Religion and Poetry," in Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry, James McCorkle, Ed., (Wayne State University Press, 1990).


I watched movies and slept and cooked and went to see Santa this weekend. My apologies this morning to my friends in West Virginia--my law school alma mater has stolen two coaches in a row from WVU.

Sorry about that.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Thought for the Day

We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

-Henry James
The Middle Years (1893)

"She Broke Gin Bottle--Found Husband Dead"

There is an interesting essay in the most current New Yorker (December 17, 2007) concerning the life and mysterious death of novelist Malcolm Lowry.* The author, D.T. Max, marshalls some circumstantial evidence (and a great deal of speculation) to suggest that Lowry's wife Margerie, gave Lowry an intentional overdose of barbituates on the night he died. The article was prompted by the recent release of The Voyage that Never Ends: Malcolm Lowry in His Own Words (New York Review of Books Press, 2007), a collection of Lowry's previously unreleased fiction, fragments, letters and poems, edited by Michael Hoffmann.


*"Day of the Dead: Malcolm Lowry's Mysterious Demise," by D.T. Max, p. 76

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Office

At my day job, we are building an addition onto our building. I can look out the window and watch the workmen setting the blocks for my new office.

I'll have three windows* and a view of the forest.



*Oops! Two windows. My assistant has pointed out that one of the windows is hers.

Thought for the Day

Money is beauty, money is sex, money is a party to which I've inexplicably been invited, wasabi roe and squab liver crostini, stock options like pheromones in the air, a ten million dollar house in Pacific Heights around which I wander with the discontented purity of a palace eunuch. Money is my father––crafty man, Odysseus of the desert--renting a truck at twenty-one and driving all night to New Mexico because, he's heard, the price of wood is so much lower there than in treeless West Texas that if he can just bring back a truckload he'll be, well, not rich maybe, but at least not broke, not fucking broke. Money is the dawn so full of promise, his blank fatigue, the ax that slips and lays his leg open to the bone. It's the hospital bill, the cleaning bill for the blood in the truck, the ticket he gets on the drive home. Power and terror, means and ends, fat man in a Philadelphia bank who, after I've explained proudly that I've just paid off my last debt with a poetry prize, denies me a car loan for that reason, his oleaginous jowls jiggling ever so slightly as he says, "How else can we know you exist?": money is shit.

-Christian Wiman, from "Filthy Lucre," in Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ice Storm

Oh, yeah.

Progress Notes

The icon materials I ordered arrived and last night I spent some time looking through them. The primary problem is (as always) the more one knows, the less suitable the comparisons / analogies / metaphors seem.

I often write "I have a busy day." The truth is, today I do.

We are supposed to be having an ice storm. Thus far, it is only a bit of rain.

Slogging onward.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Michael Ondaatje's Novel

I spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday reading Michael Ondaatje's latest novel, Divisidero (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007). There is a great deal that I liked about the book--Ondaatje is a fine, lyric writer who also knows how to propel a (very economically written) novel. The book is divided into three parts, and I thought the final section (when Ondaatje goes back in time to explore the life of a writer being studied by one of the book's principal characters) was too detached from what had come before to function as a satisfying resolution of the story.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Progress Note

I began to write my presentation for the AWP Conference this morning and got about 1,200 words into the essay, finishing up several workable introductory paragraphs (faith and contemporary culture) and a few general thoughts on the poetic image. I have sent away for some material on icons, and will not be able to progress much further until after I receive those books. Perhaps I can jump ahead and explicate the poems I will be writing about, though that is difficult without fully understanding what the icon material will suppy as a "lens" to look into the poems.

I like listening to the BBC-4 on the internet. I wish we had something like it in America.

Weekend NPR is not the same thing.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Playing Catch-up

If you've e-mailed me and are waiting for a response, I'll get back with you asap. Between work and school and fatherhood, etc., I was very busy this week. Thank you for your patience.

I did finally come up with a thesis statement. Not by last Monday, mind you, but still...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Just a Couple of Notes Before I Go...

I have a busy day today, beginning with a meeting with our local judges at 7:00 A.M.

A couple of notes:

1. Yesterday was the last day of my poetry class. We finished with a reading at Lemonjello's, a coffeehouse in Holland. We had big and enthusiastic audience and the student-poets did a terrific job presenting their poems. I will miss this group.

2. The interview with August Kleinzhaler in the new Paris Review is well worth the cost of the journal. Congratulations to good friend Robert VanderMolen for being named by Kleinzahler as one of the contemporary poets he "reads with pleasure."

I am the worst typist in America.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Book and Blog of Note

Those of you who love Rilke--and who doesn't?--will be interested in M. Allen Cunningham's novel Lost Son (Unbridled Books, 2007) and in Cunningham's blog, which covers Rilke and other subjects thoughtfully and in depth.

Check it out here:

Lost Son

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, Rainer Maria Rilke

Say Happy Birthday to Rainer Maria Rilke, born December 4, 1875 in Prague. Rilke is considered one of the German language's greatest 20th century poets. His poetry focuses "on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety — themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between traditional and modernist poets."

Rilke's two most well-known verse sequences are the Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies. His two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He also wrote more than 400 poems in French.

Rilke died on December 29, 1926.

Here's a short poem from one of my favorite translations of Rilke's work.


I would like to sing someone to sleep,
to sit beside someone and be there.
I would like to rock you and sing softly
and go with you to and from sleep.
I would like to be the one in the house
who knew: The night was cold.
And I would like to listen in and listen out
into you, into the world, into the woods.
The clocks shout to one another striking,
and one sees to the bottom of time.
And down below one last, strange man walks by
and rouses a strange dog.
And after that comes silence.
I have laid my eyes upon you wide;
and they hold you gently and let you go
when something stirs in the dark.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Images (North Point Press, 1991), trans. by Edward Snow, p. 59.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Happy Birthday, Joseph Conrad

Today is the birthday of Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski on December 3, 1857). Conrad is regarded as one of the greatest English novelists, though (born a Polish national) he did not learn to speak English well until he was in his 20's. Conrad is recognized as a master prose stylist. His books include Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Typhoon (1902), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1907).

Conrad died on August 3, 1924.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Another Note

I am not writing about faith. I am concerned with the utility of symbol and metaphor; responding (in other than a visceral way--my first reaction) to Ira Sadoff's article in the American Poetry Review a couple of years ago.


Heather McHugh has an interesting article in the December, 2007 Poetry ("The Fabric: A Poet's Vesalius," p. 243), concerning Titian's drawings for a text by the Belgian anatomist Vesalius.


My name and public face may speak of who I once was, but of this my heart knows nothing.

-Wang Wei

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Strange Coincidence

I was re-reading parts of What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills this morning and came upon this:

"Early poems and plays (especially in medieval treatments of it under the title of "the Harrowing of Hell"), along with endless paintings afterwards, show Jesus breaking open the prison of the past to free those not previously vindicated by his blood. The normal depiction highlights the emergence, first, of Adam and Eve. Some pictures show him accompanied by the bandit who died with him. The comprehensiveness of God's salvic plan is emphasized––how

Through black clouds the black sheep runs,
And through black clouds the Shepherd follows him.

Though most depictions give the starring roles in this event to Adam and Eve, I believe the Shepherd was first seeking out his special lost one, Judas."

pp. 122-123

The next thing I did was open this morning's New York Times, and saw this:



In the painting, note the Hinges of Hell on either side of Christ's legs. Grace Dane Mazur presented an excellent paper on this topic (as metaphor and on its use in fiction) at a Warren Wilson MFA Program Alumni Conference several years back.