Thursday, July 31, 2008


A couple of days ago, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard the cicadas yet this year. Not to worry. This morning, they sound like a chorus of bandsaws in the trees.

I like cicadas.

Unlike Billy Collins, I think we need more cicadas in our poems.

Anything as weird as a cicada deserves to be celebrated.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tigers Trade Pudge Rodriguez to the New York Yankees

How many magic beans is New York letting us have?

AND we get to keep our underpants, three cat's eye marbles and the Mackinac Bridge, too?!?!


Thanks, Mr. Steinbrenner!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thought for the Day

Almost anything you do in the garden, for example weeding, is an effort to create some sort of order out of nature's tendency to run wild. There has to be a certain degree of domestication in a garden. The danger is that you can so tame your garden that it becomes a thing. It becomes landscaping.

In a poem, the danger is obvious; there is a natural idiom and then there is domesticated language. The difference is apparent immediately when you sense everything has been subjugated, that the poet has tamed the language and the thought process that flows into a poem until it maintains a principle of order but nothing remains to give the poem its tang, its liberty, its force. Once the poem starts flowing, the poet must not try to dictate every syllable.

-Stanley Kunitz, from The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005).

Stanley Kunitz was born on July 29, 1905.

Happy Birthday, Stanley.

Progress Notes

I am writing a poem about a movie, a painting, stars, West Indies rum, hummingbirds. There are many things in this poem. I have (or rather, had) a very long draft.

The poem wasn't working. I had a frustrating time last night, trying to decide what to keep in the poem and what to give away. I went to bed around 10, got up twenty minutes later, and cut every thing that wasn't working. I said a prayer for the rest, and went back to bed.

This morning, I am encouraged. I didn't do everything that needs to be done, but the poem is alive. If I can finish a few more poems by Labor Day, I will be back in the mix.

"You just go on your nerve," Frank OHara said, if I remember properly.

I owe responses on several requests and projects. Not to worry, I will get to them. I became a bit obsessive in the past two weeks about my work, but of course, that's why I'm here.

All this heat, so little rain.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Draft of a New Poem


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Last Cut

Actually, not, but the poem is coming along.

I was listening to a blues program tonight on one of our local public radio stations and they played a couple cuts off this CD.

Great tunes.

It's the eighth inning and the Tigers are struggling against the White Sox.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Thought for the Day

First because of the stage, then because of cinema, spectators (including authors) have long been vulnerable to the amiable delusion of being actors, of performing their personal experience in a self-generated spotlight. In the twentieth century especially, trained by habitual moviegoing from the time of childhood, each of us has imagined a camera positioning us in artful compositions wherever we are--walking the streets, engaging with landscape, making love--until some internal censor shuts down the show. That our lives are movies cast with our selves and others has become a cliche so perdurable it has hardened into one of the few indisputable assumptions of postmodern culture. How, we sometimes ask, can we escape the inauthenticity of seeming unreal shadows of ourselves? One way is by resorting to popular movies that affirm the integrity of the self, thereby compounding our anxiety.

-Laurence Goldstein, "Coruscating Glamour": Lynda Hull and the Movies, The Iowa Review, (Vol. 29 Number 1, Spring 1999).

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Progress on the poem.

Nearly dark.

Praise for the bat, looping through the trees, doing his holy work.

Thought for the Day

Today I still love, even foolishly, the signs and wonders, felt presences or nearnesses of meaning, where we must follow, in trust, having no more sure a guarantee of our arrival than does the adventurer in a fairy or hero tale.

-Robert Duncan, Fictive Certainties (New Directions, 1985) p. 46.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Building the Perfect Beast

I have the poem built out to 110 lines and think I have the whole story. Now I have to "poem" the thing--cut the extraneous, smooth out the lines, attend to vocabulary, cut the dross; polish, polish.

This is my favorite part of writing a poem.

This will take some time.

Two Fighting Hummingbirds with Pink Orchid (1875) by Martin Johnson Heade

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joanna Lumley Tells Us What She Really Thinks

I don't care.

She's still Absolutely Fabulous to me.


Thanks to Jilly Dybka for this one.

Growing the Poem

I actually did mow the lawn--a three-hour, mosquito-infested slog on Sunday afternoon. I am not yet rehydrated.

My new poem is growing in several directions. My process is somewhat like marlin fishing--I'm letting it run, letting the big fish take line off the reel. I can always cut a 200-line poem into a sonnet.* It's more difficult to grow a sonnet into a much longer poem.

There's an idea. As Steve Orlen once famously asked, "Does this poem need a fish in it?"**

Hummingbird feeders.


* Or at least, into a 14-liner.

**Upon reflection, probably not.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I had trouble finding the poem on the Poetry Foundation website this morning, so here is a link.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Cool!

My poem "Blackbirds" which appeared in the April, 2004 edition of POETRY, is the "Poem of the Day" today on the Poetry Foundation's website.

Working Poet

It has been a wet summer. The downside of this is that the grass grows too quickly. The upside, at least this weekend, is that it rains so much, the grass is too wet to cut. So instead of yard work, I am at work on a longish new poem, and feeling good about the process. It is possible that I will have the ingredients for a full-length manuscript by Labor Day. I don't want to talk about that too much, however, at the risk of writerly paralysis.

Yes, I realize that several days ago I was moaning that I might never write again.


Welcome to my psyche.

This weekend is the motorcycle festival in Muskegon. Tomorrow, there is a competitive hill climb, just down the road from us. So it is pretty much black leather and Harley-Davidsons everywhere I look. I don't mind; I'd much rather have the bikers around than the summer people in their Mercedes and BMWs.

Though they are here, too.

Dinner tonight is salmon with lime and pesto on the grill, Spanish rice, asparagus, and an amusingly pretentious little diet Coke, with key lime pie and coffee for dessert.

Summer is sweet, even when it rains.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Weiners, Not Canapes

John McCain is just down the street right now, at a big fund raising event ($2,300 per plate), being held at the lakefront home of the former ambassador to Italy.

Here's a link.

We are going out for hot dogs.

NOTE: I understand that Senator McCain also stopped in Grand Haven this afternoon for a Pronto Pup and a chat with bystanders.

Kay Ryan: Poet Laureate of the United States

Kay Ryan has been named the new Poet Laureate of the United States.

Here's a link.

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1498.

It was called by the native Carib people IERE
or "The Land of the Hummingbird."

"She got hers in Berlin...My whole life has been Berlin."

-Robert Mitchum as Felix in Fire Down Below (1957)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Progress Note

"What a wonderful thing it is to be an American. You believe you can forget everything."

-Rita Hayworth as Irena in Fire Down Below (1957) directed by Robert Parrish.

Yes, I am working on something.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Random Thoughts in Mid-July

I was hoping to make more progress than I did last week. For the past eight years, I have spent 10 days or-so of the summer out of town--a writing retreat, an MFA program alumni conference. I cannot afford anything like that this year, so I stayed home and tried to psychologically "induce" myself into a week of intense creative effort. It did not work. I am not sure why, and perhaps my time is better spent going forward at whatever pace I can manage than worrying about why I can no longer write five or six ambitious poems in one week. That pace may sound absurd, but I literally plan for such times. Writing is my "third job" (after law and teaching) but it is my first love. And right now, I simply do not seem to be able to manage such intensity; not this summer, not in this place.

At 55, am I too old to work as I have in the past? Perhaps.

Some things come more naturally now--a sense of my own voice, monosyllables, finding my way more surely to the final poem. Other things--subject matter, not repeating myself, writing more deeply, more spiritually, less and less about the self---these are challenges.

I love to be in the poem--for hours if I can be--and I only caught stray moments of that feeling this past week. I do not know what to make of this.

To be a poet--writing against, outside, or even deep within the dark belly of this culture, is a lonely and foolish task. Whether it matters is something we will never know in our lifetimes.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Draft of a New Poem


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Draft of a New Poem


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Progress Note

That was a long, miserable slog for a 14-line poem, but I think I have a live one.

Thomas M. Disch (1940-2008)

I was saddened to read in this morning's New York Times of the death (by suicide) of poet, critic and novelist Thomas M. Disch. In the early to mid 90's, Tom Disch wrote a great deal of criticism that appeared in POETRY and elsewhere, and which was collected in The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters (Picador USA, 1996). At the time, I remember agreeing with much of what Disch had to say, and loving the (often hilarious) way he said it.

My attitude towards snarky criticism--or my understanding of the difficulty of persevering as a poet--has changed over the years.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Not-Quite Lost Weekend

I had great plans for writing this past weekend, but ended up doing nothing but celebrating the Fourth of July. Which was great fun, of course. Here are some photos:

What better way to wake up on the Fourth of July than with turkeys (two hens, 12 chicks) right outside your bedroom window?

Marcia, Carlos, and Liam, bikes decorated, waiting for the parade to start.

Liam, before the parade, standing next to a 1936 Ford coupe.

Carlos at the town picnic.

Who needs ROTHBURY when you can have entertainment like this? The musical stylings of "Guys in the Neighborhood," playing at the town picnic.

Me, "resting" before the fireworks.

Yesterday I cut the lawn, which pretty much did me in for the rest of the day. I am taking a couple of days off and hope to make a bit of progress on the manuscript.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Because this is an election year, we can look forward to the restoration of our country's reputation in the world community.

That is worth celebrating.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How We Roll at S@4A.M.

If Marcia thinks I am the only one taking those kids for bike rides, she has a surprise coming when she gets home from work.


In other news, there was a terrible double murder in Grand Haven yesterday--two dead at a local jewelry store in what appears to have been a robbery. It is an old saying, of course, that "Things like that don't happen around here," but the truth is, they don't.

There are many people on the road through town the past couple of days who appear to be on their way to ROTHBURY, the 4 day-long festival of peace, love, understanding, music and merchandising that is being held about 30 miles north of here. Many big acts--sort of like Bonnaroo. They will have a lot of water and mosquitoes to deal with--we had 5 to 6 inches of rain yesterday.

We shall dog-paddle--and ride--onward.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Paging Mr. Herman...

I spent most of last night putting together--or rather, trying to put together––my new bicycle. The final problem is the handlebars, which were bolted at an impossible-to-ride-angle by a worker in China who is certain to win a Gold Medal in the hammer toss at the Beijing games.

I haven't been able to loosen them.

We'll see what a good spraying with WD-40 might have accomplished overnight.

When I am finished, Peewee Herman will have nothing on me.

Take that, Big Oil.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The House That Fear Built*

Living in fear of what a critic like William Logan might say about your work is like living in fear of what Hedda Hopper might say.

An American poet must live more courageously than that.


*The name given by the long-dead gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to her Hollywood home.