Saturday, May 31, 2008

Two Green-Breasted Hummingbirds (1863-1864)

By Martin Johnson Heade. This is one for which a chromolithograph survives.

Brazilian Hummingbirds II (1864-1865)

This is one of the chromolithographs.

Celtics Prevail!

Oh, no! The Boston Celtics beat my Detroit Pistons last night 89-81, and Boston will be going to the NBA Finals against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Looks like I owe Beth Perdue a bowl of chowdah.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

At Walden Green Montessori School Today

Today is the annual trek across the street to the Walden Green Montessori School, where I will be reading and talking about poems. This will be fun.

More later.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Response from Michael Theune

The Constant Reader will recall that on May 10, 2008, I made a comment on S@4A.M. about Michael Thuene's new book
Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007). My original comment is here. I strongly recommend this book; it is an important contribution to contemporary thinking about poetic form and structure.

I just noticed that Michael responded* to my blog post, and I didn't want his words to go unnoticed. He writes:

Hi, Greg,

Thanks so much for taking some time with S&S, and for posting on it. Very cool!

A quick clarification: in my intro to S&S, I do not in any way intend to suggest that structure is the single or core essence of poetry. Image, form, syntax, etc, are all vital elements of poems.

What I do mean to do is to advocate strongly for greater attention to poetic structure, which, as you note, S&S defines as the pattern of a poem's turning.

Such advocacy is necessary because, on the one hand, the turn is a vital aspect of poetry (as my intro makes clear: all kinds of poems, and not just sonnets, employ turns), and, on the other hand, the turn has received (prior to the publication of S&S) almost no significant attention in contemporary poetry writing pedagogy.

I'm very glad you're enjoying the readings of the poems in S&S, Greg. The book has great contributors. I hope, though, that you're also intrigued by the book's other main offering: the [new] taxonomy of poetry that it provides, its whole new way of classifying (and thus conceptualizing, and thus, perhaps, considering the crafting of) poems.

My folks tell me that western MI is lovely right now. I hope and trust you're enjoying it!

All best,
Mike Theune


NOTE: Michael Theune is from Spring Lake, Michigan (just over the "little bridge" from where I live), and I have known him for many years. His father recently retired as a pastor at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake. Mike attended Hope College, Oxford University as a Marshall Fellow, the Iowa Writers' Workshop (MFA), and received his Ph.D in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

He teaches at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thought for the Day

Eloquence means saying the right, beautiful, possible thing, regardless of consequences. Rhetoric means saying the persuasive thing at the right time to the right person or people..."

-Denis Donoghue in On Eloquence (Yale University Press, 2008) p.112.


Back to my day job. Today I must use a great deal of rhetoric. I will try for eloquence later.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Poet at 55

Speaking of mirrors...

On Narrative and Lyric

I've been writing poems lately that emphasize a narrative--poems based upon historical figures, both real and imagined. I am trying to avoid the autobiographical, even in my more lyric work.

I am happy with the results. Those poems in which I am directly implicated--it is difficult as a contemporary poet to entirely avoid the self--seem informed by this looking outward; by the avoidance of a mirror.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Supporting Cast

Perfect. There really was a Reverend MacLeod.

Looks like him (i.e., my character), too.

I almost can't make this stuff up.

Finished First Draft

The flag of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.

A Passing Thought--Mid-draft

How compliant are the dead. You can arrange them, like cut flowers.

-William Gay

Our Ship

This is actually the RMS La Plata, the Oneida's sister ship in the Royal Mail Steam Packet Line.

At Sea with Martin Johnson Heade

I am in the Atlantic Ocean this weekend with Martin Johnson Heade, aboard the RMS Oneida, heading from Brazil to England.

The artist is in a contemplative mood.


NOTE: The music is by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma, playing a bit of Vivaldi.

Friday, May 23, 2008

This Just In

The beautiful new (Spring, 2008) issue of the Bellingham Review, featuring work by friends Patricia Atkins, Martha Carlson-Bradley, and Kelcey Parker.

Also, one of my Orpheus poems.

More later. I have a busy morning, but a real chance to write this weekend.

Even at 1

He drives, he scores.

Hi, Beth!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Visual Image of the Day

I am working on a new poem.

Watch out, Mr. Albatross!

Happy Birthday, Dante

Però ne la giustizia sempiterna
la vista che riceve il vostro mondo,
com’ occhio per lo mare, entro s’interna;
che, ben che da la proda veggia il fondo,
in pelago nol vede; e nondimeno
èli, ma cela lui l’esser profondo.

Therefore the sight that is granted
To your world penetrates within the Eternal Justice
As the eye into the sea; for though from the shore it sees the bottom,
In the open sea it does not,
And yet the bottom is there but the depth conceals it.

–Dante Alighieri, Paradiso canto xix, lines 58-63 (ca. 1315)

The exact year of Dante's birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from the biographic allusions in Vita Nuova, "the Inferno" (Halfway through the journey we are living, implying that Dante was around 35 years old, as the average lifespan according to the Bible [Psalms, 89, 10] is 70 years, and as the imaginary travel took place in 1300, Dante must have been born around 1265). Some verses of "the Paradiso" also provide information about the day he was born, stating that he was born under the Gemini sign, i.e., the period between the 21st of May and the 21st of June ("As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious", Paradiso canto XXII, lines 151-154). Dante died on or about September 13-14, 1321.

His birthday is celebrated on May 21.

Dante's central work, the Divina Commedia (originally called "Commedia" and later called "Divina" by Boccaccio hence "Divina Commedia"), is considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. In Italian he is known as "the Supreme Poet" (il Sommo Poeta). Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio are also known as "the three fountains" or "the three crowns." Dante is also called the "Father of the Italian language." The first biography written on him was by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), who wrote the Trattatello in laude di Dante.

I just bought a copy of Vita Nuova, and am anxious to start it.


NOTE: Information regarding Dante's life is from Wikipedia, edited to meet our (oh, let's pretend) exacting standards at S@4A.M.

The painting (at top) is "Dante and His Poem 'The Divine Comedy'," by Domenico di Michelino (1465).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

To top it off...

It's on to the Stanley Cup Finals for the Detroit Red Wings, who blasted those pesky Dallas Stars last night, 4-1.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Today is my birthday.

Thought for the Day

“Revision is the poet’s most difficult, demanding, and dangerous work. Difficult because it’s hard to let go of our original inspirations or ideas or our best lines, as we may have to do in service to the poem. Demanding because it calls for us to reach deeper or further than we may want to, or feel we know how to. Dangerous because we feel we might, in the act of trying to make a good poem better, lose touch with the raw energy that drove the poem into its fullness to begin with and destroy what we have so joyously created. But revision is necessary work for poets who care about their craft. Richard Tillinghast, in an essay titled ‘Notes on Revision,’ says, ‘The willingness, the ardent desire even, to revise, separates the poet from the person who sees poetry as therapy or self-expression.’ Ardent desire may be a bit more than we can hope for, but certainly willingness is important.”

-Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, “The Energy of
Revision,” in The Poet’s Companion (W. W. Norton, 1997)

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Safely home, with many new books.

The session on revision went well.

More later.

Friday, May 16, 2008

In Ann Arbor

Almost showtime. But first, I am going next door for a Timmy's.

If you don't know what a Timmy's is, you've never been to Canada. Or to southeastern Michigan, for that matter.

Tim Hortons: Hot. Refreshing. Canadian.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Poem by Suzanne Frischkorn

One of the poet-bloggers whose work I deeply admire is Suzanne Frischkorn of Lit Windowpane. I have had some time recently to spend with American Flamingo (Menendez Publications, 2008), her lush, elegant, beautifully produced chapbook; a collection of 15 poems concerned with Cuba--as memory, as family myth, as metaphor for loss and desire. It's difficult to describe the chapbook and its poems, simply because they are so beautiful--as if Dante had written a travel brochure for Paradise--and description does not do them adequate service.

Anyway, here is one of my favorites, the opening poem from Suzanne Frischkorn's American Flamingo:


Conch shell pink, this sky echoes an ocean; a song weighted with pearls and sea glass. Mercedes, what did you make of Miami? Did it taste like sunlight on your wrist? White mariposa replaced by ribbon orchid. Jasmine, a scent of dreams. And flamenco? Las Guajiras? Castanets cast on the ground. Your granddaughter will seek you in a hundred mirrors. In Castile, in Cuba, she'll twine a history with silver thread. The ocean will race up to whisper in her ear.

These Just In

We are off to the Ann Arbor Book Festival this morning. Hope to see you there. In the meantime, several of the books I recently ordered have flown in over the transom. Among them:

Sleeping it Off in Rapid City: Poems New and Selected by August Kleinzahler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). I know Keinzahler's work from poems here and there, the occasional essay, and from talking with poet Robert VanderMolen, who corresponds regularly with Kleinzahler. This book has gotten a fair amount of publicity, and a quick scan-through seems rewarding. I am looking forward to spending some time with this one.

Sea Change: Poems by Jorie Graham (ECCO/HarperCollins, 2008). I've never warmed much to Graham's work, but I admire her bravura style--she always seem to teach me something I don't otherwise know about risk; no small thing in poetry. We'll see.

Watching the Spring Festival: Poems by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). I've loved and followed Bidart's work ever since finding out that, as a young poet, he was a friend and confidant of Elizabeth Bishop. I recommend that everyone get a copy of Bidart's In The Western Night: Collected Poems, 1965-1990 and read their way forward in his work. Bidart is a major American poet with great poetic sensibility. One of my favorites.

Black Lightning: Poetry in Progress by Eileen Tabios (The Asian American Writers' Workshop, 1998). Because of the class on revision I am teaching on Friday, I have spent a bit of time with this over the past several days. What a great book it is.

Tabios works her way through the drafting and revision process in the work of fifteen Asian-American poets, including herself. The essays are meticulous, with copies of drafts, redrafts, interviews, and an almost "working out loud" style that is utterly compelling. The poets covered are as diverse as Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, Garrett Hongo, Meena Alexander, and John Yau. The book is also physically beautiful.

I almost can't put this one down.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I Have This Stuck In My Head. Sorry--Now You Do, Too!


Luckily, that was only a 12-hour virus.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Now Reading

I got this through a used book dealer: Visions & Revisions: The Poet's Process by Barry Wallenstein and Robert Burr (Broadview Press, 1971, 2001). The book discusses drafts and final poems written by poets as diverse as William Blake, John Keats, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell and Alicia Ostriker. I am reading it ahead of my class on revision--seeing what the book might add to our discussion.

The book is in near perfect condition.

I love it when things are actually as they are represented.

Happy Birthday, Rosellen Brown

Poet and novelist Rosellen Brown is the author of five novels: The Autobiography of My Mother, Tender Mercies, Civil Wars, the critically acclaimed and best-selling Before and After, and Half a Heart. Her most recent book of poems is Cora Fry's Pillow Book. She has also published another collection of poetry, a book of short stories, and the Rosellen Brown Reader. Her stories have appeared frequently in O'Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies. She has received an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts.

She teaches in the creative writing program at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Rosellen Brown was born on May 12, 1939.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What Work Is, Part 17

I spent most of today working on my presentation for the Writers' Conference at the Ann Arbor Book Festival. I'll be speaking on Friday morning (May 16 at 8:30 A.M.) on "Revision and Poetic Practice."

After 10 hours of work and much typing, I have something to say.

And I mowed the lawn yesterday.

Gaak! I am tired.

Happy Mother's Day

Saturday, May 10, 2008

This Morning...

There were actually five of these.

Now Reading

I am reading Michael Theune's Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007). The book is a collection of essays--Theune contributes one himself and co-writes another with Prageeta Sharma. Mary Szybist, Mark Yakich, Corey Marks and others also have work in the collection.

Theune writes in his Introduction:

Poetic structure is, simply, the pattern of a poem's turning. As such, poetic structure identifies a vital feature of poems: the best poems often include convincing, surprising turns. T.S. Eliot calls the poems turn "one of the most important means of poetic effect since Homer," and in a lecture called "Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry," Randall Jarrell claims that "a successful poem starts from one position and ends at a very different one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem." More than any other aspect of poetry, it is structure that reveals how poems remain whole and unified even as they move, leap, turn.

First Impressions: This is an intriguing book. I must say that after flipping through it last night I am far more interested in how the writers dissect the poems than I am convinced of Theune's thesis. It will be difficult to persuade me, for example, that "the pattern of the poetic turn" is a complete (or even, a very satisfactory) explanation of the "poetic structure" in Brigit Pegeen Kelly's "The White Rider: Old Pilgrim Cemetery," or a host of other contemporary poems which feature multiple narratives arrayed across extended lyric forms. One might as well argue that the structure of a Ferrari can best be understood by remarking upon the pattern of its turning radius. It seems to me that the coach work, the chassis, the red paint, the fuel injection ports, the sticky tires and the 12-cylinder engine have something rather more to do with not only our sense, but also our understanding of what a Ferrari is.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Almost Random Notes, Part 18

In another sign of the Apocalypse,* local birders have discovered a Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) feeding off the Grand Haven pier; apparently the first time the bird has been spotted in Michigan. The Neotropic Cormorant is found throughout the American tropics and subtropics, from the middle Rio Grande and the Gulf and California coasts south through Mexico and Central America to southern South America. It also breeds on the Bahamas, Cuba and Trinidad. It grows to approximately 64 cm long with a 100 cm wingspan, and weighs from 1 to 1.5 kg; birds of the southern populations tend to be bigger than the more northerly birds. It is small and slender, especially compared to the larger, heavier-looking Double-crested Cormorant. It has a long tail and frequently holds its neck in an S-shape. Adult plumage is mainly black, with a yellow-brown throat patch. During breeding, white tufts appear on the sides of the head, and the throat patch develops a white edge. Juveniles are brownish in color. Its diet consists mainly of small fish, but will also eat tadpoles, frogs, and aquatic insects. The Neotropic Cormorant forages for food by diving underwater, propelling itself by its feet. It is also known to forage in groups, with several birds beating the water with their wings to drive fish forward into shallows.

Unlike other cormorants, Neotropic Cormorants can often be seen perching on wires.**

NOTE: This photo is NOT of the Grand Haven bird, but those photographs can be found on the web.


I had to have some work done on my car today, which pretty much necessitated that I remove most of the books and papers that had accumulated therein over the past two teaching semesters. Surely I can't be the only adjunct faculty who uses his or her car as a gigantic book shelf, snack bar, filing cabinet and clothes closet. It's kind of embarrassing, and now my studio area--where I hauled everything--is a complete mess.

But I have brakes again. And a new belt of some-sort that had gone bad.

Those are good things.


I was looking at a copy of my first book, Holding Down the Earth (found under the driver's seat of my car as I was cleaning it this morning), and got a kick out of reading some of the poems. There are a more than a few awkward places in the book and I didn't have much of an idea of what a line was when I wrote it, but since it is pretty much out of print (it was published by a small press in 1995), it occurred to me that I might straighten out some of the awkward stuff and republish it (through LuLu, or whatever) under a DIY imprint and with a new cover.

Someday. After I do everything else I have promised to do.



*As I remember it, from Ghostbusters (1984):

I remember Revelation 7:12. And I looked, as he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great Neotropic Cormorant, and the sun became as black as sackcloth. And the moon became as blood.

And the seas boiled and the skies fell.

**All bird-facts according to that font-of-all-wisdom, Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

...for Lo-ove!

As the Zombies might sing it.

Grades are in!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It's the Time of the Season...

I continue grading final papers. Grades are due by tomorrow at 4.

Happy Birthday, Randall Jarrell

Happy Birthday to poet and critic Randall Jarrell, born in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 6, 1914, where he attended Vanderbilt University. Randall Jarrell was struck by a car and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the age of 51 on October 14, 1965, in a death that may or may not have been a suicide.

I have many thoughts on Jarrell and his imitators (Logan, Kirsch, Chiasson, et al.,) and could go on at length. Let me spare you that. I have an early meeting this morning, and after all, it is the man's birthday.

Here is Jarrell's most well-known poem:


From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

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

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


This was reviewed in yesterday's New York Times Book Review.

I suppose I must read it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Almost missed this one: 18 years on May 1, for which I am very grateful.

The Trip to Jackson

We drove down to Jackson on Thursday morning. We stopped by my parents' house, picked up some cheesecake and strawberries for a post-reading treat, and then checked into our motel. The reading itself went well; Debby Sears and the entire crew at the Jackson District Library treated us wonderfully. We had a good turn-out (one always hopes for more!) and it was good to see my parents, friends--old and new--and relatives (even my high school Geometry teacher), in the audience. On Friday, I spent the morning at Jackson High School, doing readings and discussing the writing life with several groups of students. My thanks to Jodie McEldowney (Chairperson of the English Department) for setting this up and to the teachers and students at JHS.

The boys had a nice time--it's amazing how much fun can be had jumping on beds in a motel room and playing video games on your father's laptop--and Marcia was happy to be away from her day job.

Here are a few photos:

Me, appearing to drift during the reading Thursday night.

Carlos and Liam, mastering a game on the Macbook Pro.

The boys, crashed out after a day of candy and bed-jumping.

Marcia and Liam. Marcia's immune system isn't quite right yet and she was suffering from a weird bout of Fifth Disease that came on Thursday morning; she soldiered on through the long weekend.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Safely Home

We arrived home about 2:30 this afternoon. It was a good and eventful trip.

More later.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy May Day, People!

The workers will be on the march today, heading for Jackson, Michigan. I am reading at 6:30 tonight at the Carnegie (downtown) branch of the Jackson District Library. Tomorrow from about 9 until noonish, I will be meeting with classes at Jackson High School.

Hope to see you there.

Thought for the Day

When will they come again? When will they come again?

The laurel, the lizard, and the stone will come no more. The women weeping at the gate have gone and will not come again. And pain and pride and death will pass, and will not come again. And light and dawn will pass, and the star and the cry of a lark will pass, and will not come again. And we shall pass, and shall not come again.

What things will come again? O Spring, the cruellest and fairest of the seasons, will come again. And the strange and buried men will come again, in flower and leaf the strange and buried men will come again, for death and the dust will die. And Ben will come again, he will not die again, in flower and leaf, in wind and music far, he will come back again.

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again!

It had grown dark. The frosty night blazed with great brilliant stars. The lights in the town shone with sharp radiance. Presently, when he had lain upon the cold earth for some time, Eugene got up and went away toward the town.

Wind pressed the boughs; the withered leaves were shaking.

-From Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), Look Homeward, Angel