Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Modest Proposal

To (only slightly) paraphrase the theologian Stanley Hauerwas, "I'm for the death penalty. I think they should build a guillotine on Wall Street and execute people for mortgage fraud!" At least, as a negotiating strategy, it's worth exploring--haul a load of lumber into the financial district, start pounding a few boards together, hum La Marseillaise, and see if we can't get better terms on, you know, the bailout thing.

Hayden Carruth (1921-2008)

I was going to slide into a little rant here, and then I saw that Hayden Carruth had died.

I was very sorry to learn this.

More later.

A Moment with James Hillman

In this world there was no place for Eurydike, except as enchanted listener, a follower, which [Orpheus] recognized she could not be. As he let go, or she let go, as he looked back because she was letting go, did he see that it was not her he desired but the longing inspired by her image. It was her image he needed to hold on to rather than her hand. To keep the loss of her, loss as keepsake--that is what sounds through her Orphic voice.

At that moment begins Orpheus's fateful chastity--not as abstinence and frustration, or misogyny and homosexuality (the conventions that would explain it) but chastity as that energizing fidelity to the beloved image--like Petrarch, like Dante--the chastity of longing required by the poetic calling, giving it wings that expand through the widest cosmos, and make possible a cosmological, an Orphic, imagination.

-James Hillman, "Orpheus," in Mythic Figures: Volume 6.1 of the Uniform Edition of the Work of James Hillman (Spring Hill Publications, 2007), p. 307.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How I Spent the Weekend

This weekend we repainted the kitchen and put down a new floor.

I am tired.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

American Kestrel


Though you were watching me,
I neither ate nor drank, but what
you saw was a vision.

-Tobit 12:19

Atop the pole, a kestrel.
The field? Not yet green,
though it was a day between storms
and the sun was doing its work.
I was resting in the light-filled air
and the cottonwoods along the river
were letting go their cottony seeds––
wind blowing, trees letting go.
The seeds were like angels, ascending
and descending in the breeze.
It was male, this kestrel,
with a steely crown and rufous breast
and false eyes at the nape of his neck.
His talons were maize, the yellow
of summer corn. I know this
because I have book of raptors,
a book that was written
for use in the field,
and every illustration, every word
is directed to that end.

The kestrel sang a kestrel's song.
Killy, killy are the words.
And the kestrel rose from the pole
kiting in the wind
to sing and search the field.
Though he was small as raptors go,
he seemed a great angel
wheeling among cherubim, searching
with his true eyes.
I did not so much see as dream this––
how the kestrel wheeled
in the blue air,
then struck the field in a flurry of wings.
Yes, the kestel killed the mouse.
I knew before I saw the bird
lift the body and tear the flesh.
The little king at work in the field, lifting
the body and tearing the flesh.

The body seemed a great weight.
The blood stained the kestrel's talons
and his rufous red breast. The blood
made true his killy, killy song.
But the angels went on, rising
and falling in the blue air.
They could not stop what was written
but kept their watch.
Yes, the blood watered the field
and the grass grew green.
The field, the field at least,
was grateful for this.

-Greg Rappleye

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

a.) Cataracts

b.) Glaucoma

c.) Macular Degeneration

d.) Near-sightedness

e.) All of the above

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eye Appointment

I have an appointment with the ophthalmologist this morning, which the Constant Reader knows is a day of fear and loathing.

At least I don't have to drive all the way to Iowa for this one.

Presidential Speech

"The fundamentals of our economy are a moose stew, full of sawdust and rutabagas."

-George Bush

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Gaze of Orpheus

When Orpheus descends to Eurydice, art is the power that causes the night to open. Because of the power of art, the night welcomes him; it becomes the welcoming intimacy, the understanding and the harmony of the first night. But Orpheus has gone down to Eurydice: for him, Eurydice is the limit of what art can obtain; concealed behind a name and covered by a veil, she is the profound dark point towards which art, desire, death, and the night all seem to lead. She is the instant in which the essence of the night approaches as the other night.

Yet Orpheus' work does not consist of securing the approach of this point by descending into the depths. His work is to bring it back into the daylight and in the daylight give it form, figure and reality. Orpheus can do anything except look this "point" in the face, look at the center of the night in the night. He can descend to it, he can draw it to him--an even stronger power--and he can draw it upwards, but only by keeping his back turned to it. This turning away is the only way he can approach it; this is the meaning of the concealment revealed in the night. But in the impulse of his migration Orpheus forgets the work he has to accomplish, and he has to forget it, because the ultimate requirement of his impulse is not that there should be a work, but that someone should stand and face this "point" and grasp its essence where this essence appears, where it is essential and essentially appearance: in the heart of the night.

-Maurice Blanchot, "The Gaze of Orpheus," in The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays by Maurice Blanchot (Station Hill Press, 1981), translated by Lydia Davis, p.99.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Among the Sub-Geniuses

Interesting that there are no poets among this year's crop of MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellows. There is only one fiction writer--Chimamanda Adichie, 31, of Columbia, Maryland.

Back to your Big Chief tablets, everyone.

Intensify the struggle.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Good Day in Class

Today's poetry class was my annual session on meter and form. There is only so much one can cover in an hour and fifty minutes (it becomes a race to get everything said), but about halfway through I realized that I was actually making sense and that the students were tracking what I was saying. That gave me a bit of confidence, and things went even more smoothly in the final forty minutes. We read and briefly discussed examples of sonnets, villanelles, rhymed quatrains and sestinas, and discussed prosodic symbols and the major metrical feet. I use Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms by Miller Williams (Louisiana State University Press, 1986) as a source book, a text I like because it works well for beginners and is also precise and quite thorough. Their assignment is to write a poem in the form of their choice. We will workshop several of the drafts on Wednesday, I will review all of the drafts, and then the students will have an opportunity to revise their work.

It isn't any great thing, of course, to lead a basic discussion of meter and form--the students should expect that from me--but I am particularly pleased because I wasn't happy with my performance the last time I led a class on these topics. I did a much better job of it today--I was well-organized, made my little points, and made it clear how they could use the class materials to help them with their poems.

I have a good group of students this semester, and today we pretty much rocked.


At a certain point, the cricket chirping merrily outside one's bedroom window becomes indistinguishable from a car alarm.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The English Major

I spent most of the afternoon reading Jim Harrison's new novel, The English Major (Grove Press, 2008), which I picked up yesterday at The Bookman in Grand Haven. It is a very funny book and sad, too: a 60-ish, freshly divorced ex-teacher and failed farmer from Michigan goes on a western detour in his ramshackle Ford Taurus. The book is chock full of picaresque sex, diner food, and wry observations about life, aging and the state of our nation.

Once I start a Harrison novel, I cannot bring myself to put it down, and today old Jim saved me and my blood pressure from another woeful Detroit Lions game, who (rumor has it) lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 31-13.

Morning in Fly-Over Country

We went out this morning to Culver's in Grand Haven, which was holding a pancake breakfast to benefit the Lakeshore Military Families Support Group. Breakfast was good and the boys in particular had a fine time of it--coloring pictures for the troops, having their faces painted, "fishing" for trinket prizes, and posing for photographs with a soldier who was home on leave.

Our congressman, Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland), was at the event and I had an opportunity to ask him about the Wall Street bailout (which he reluctantly supports) and the anticipated bailout of the automobile industry, which he views with considerable skepticism. I do not agree with much of what Congressman Hoekstra stands for, but I like him personally; the way I like most of our local Republican elected officials. They are generally competent at what they do, they listen, and they are reliable stewards of public resources. There are many good reasons to have local governments run by those who think as Republicans do--they are practical, have the welfare of the community at heart, and are cautious in the best way--not out-spending the capacity of the government and its citizens to pay for public improvements and economic development.

I couldn't help but feel sorry--and concerned--for the military family members and the children of our soldiers who were at this event. They are the unfortunate American victims of our ill-considered war in Iraq.

After breakfast, we took the boys for haircuts. With the exception of going to a parade, I don't think that our morning could have gotten any more "All-American" than it was. After a week of economic panic and loathsome political behavior, it was a reassuring (yet sobering) start to the day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

James Crumley (1939-2008)

I’m not a natural short story writer. I have lots of friends who are. It’s just never sort of been my format. I wrote ’em when I first started because it seemed easier to throw something away that was short. I think for short stories you really have to think that way. You’ve got to arc very quickly. My short stories tend to be truncated novels or sort of things where I haven’t got any idea what’s going on. Sometimes I will write one on purpose. There’s a story called “Hostages” that was in Dennis MacMillan’s collection Measures of Poison which has suddenly been anthologized several places. It’s a ten-page short story set in the Depression. I don’t know where that one came from, but my wife made me do it again because it was so short: “It’s nice, but it’s just too short.”

-James Crumley

Joan Osborne

NOTHING to do with Sarah Palin.

I just love Joan Osborne and her version of this song.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Limbo in the North

Read Hannah Rappleye's amazing article about Uganda, written with Peter Holsin, in the current San Diego City Beat:

Limbo in the North.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bailout Wednesday

Why is bailing out the rich good and necessary, while helping the working poor always bad economic policy?

Where are the rigorous, manly proponents of social Darwinism when it is their turn to have the note called, the loan refused, and the mortgage foreclosed?

Is there a way to blame all of this on illegal immigrants?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Meltdown Monday

I was driving to work this morning, listening to NPR, and "Meltdown Monday" occurred to me as an apt title for what appears to be happening in the financial world.

My name for today has also occurred to others.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Frank O'Hara

Those as disappointed as I was by William Logan's recent diatribe in the New York Times Book Review regarding Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems will appreciate Edward Mendelson's review in the current New York Review of Books.*

Mendelson begins:

"Frank O'Hara was the most sociable of poets, always happy to read aloud at parties, always praising friends or lovers or anyone else who got his attention, almost always portraying his inner life as if it existed only so that it could savor his outer one. O'Hara loved writers, artists, poems, paintings, bars, cafés, food, sex, film stars, buildings, and much else, and he seemed to toss them all into the mixed salads of his poetry with the same indifference to form and logic, the same domesticated surrealism, that characterized much of the American avant-garde of the period. Almost everyone who remembers O'Hara from his heady days in bohemian New York in the 1950s and 1960s remembers him as the liveliest guest at any party in Greenwich Village or the Hamptons where the artistic and literary avant-garde gathered to celebrate itself."

In addition to a generous and intelligent discussion of O'Hara's work and times, Mendelson provides several interesting observations about the avant-garde, among them:

"Membership in a coterie, school, or group produces different effects on major and minor writers. For minor writers, a group provides a repertory of styles and themes and gives them confidence to work at the height of their powers. They return the favor by compiling group anthologies and writing manifestos, but when the group disintegrates, they may have nothing more to say. For major writers, a group tends to provide themes and publicity in the first few years of their career, when they are already looking elsewhere, and their mature work has nothing in common with the latter work of the rest of the group. The members left behind, now famous mostly because they had once been associated with the major writer, mutter resentfully that he betrayed them."


*The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 14 · September 25, 2008, p. 28, ‘What We Love, Not Are’ By Edward Mendelson, a review of Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara, edited by Mark Ford, Knopf (2008), 265 pp.

Weather Mysteries

It's been raining here since Friday. We've had 3 or 4 inches of rain so far. Now what is left of Hurricane Ike has parked itself atop us, and it is raining and will go on raining--perhaps through tomorrow.

Here's something I do not understand. How can a hurricane take days to come onshore in Texas (when it had 100+ mph winds), and then slide all the way to Michigan overnight and have no wind associated with it at all?

"That's One of the Mysteries," as we Catholics are given to say.

Leslie Has Something to Say About Publishing, the Contest System, the Life of Poetry

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

I was saddened to learn of the death of David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist and humorist best known for his 1996 novel "Infinite Jest." Wallace was found dead Friday night at his home in Claremont, California.

He hanged himself.

Wallace, best known for his sprawling, funny, and strange 1996 novel "Infinite Jest," was 46.

His books also included "The Broom of the System," his 1987 debut novel; "Girl With Curious Hair," a 1989 collection of short stories, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments" (1997) and "Oblivion" a short story collection published in 2004.

In 1997, he received a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.

I had never met David Foster Wallace. I had read "Infinite Jest" and his essay collection and enjoyed both.

May he rest in peace.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Galveston Flood (1900)

"Death come howlin' on the ocean,
Death called, 'You got to go.' "

Say a prayer for those being targeted tonight by Hurricane Ike. Many people along the Texas shoreline have apparently refused to evacuate.

I remember the folk song "Galveston Flood" recorded by Tom Rush for his 1966 album, "Take a Little Walk with Me"* which told the story of the September 8, 1900, hurricane that topped the seawall at Galveston and killed more than 6,000 people; perhaps as many as 12,000.

As Rush sang in the chorus, "Wasn't that a mighty storm?"


*Yes, I had the album. At 13, I was... let us say, precocious.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11


Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

-Billy Collins

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Note to the Management of NBC News and MSNBC: Locate Your Spines

Monday, September 08, 2008

Slow-Motion Hercules

Okay, so this doesn't look exactly like me. But I am making progress on all of the things I have been promising people: reading drafts, reviewing mansucripts, writing blurbs, writing recommendations.

Not much longer. Patience. A day, at most. Most of the work is finished, I just need to put it in final form.

As soon as I finish cleaning out these stables.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Little Help?

I am looking for books (or good essays) on Orpheus and Eurydice. I am not so much interested in other people's poetry ( a great deal of which I have--Gregory Orr, Louise Gluck, Rilke, etc.), as I am in work that considers the various myths and their implications. I recently acquired The Dream and the Underworld by James Hillman, but there isn't much in it about this. My particular focus (for a series of poems-in-progress) is on Orpheus after, and without, Eurydice, but I am interested in reading just about anything on the topic.

Any ideas?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Thought for the Day

To cast syntax into lines is to provide choices, to place precision in the service of equivocation by making us consider the implications of reading the syntax in one way rather than another. So if line determines the way a sentence becomes meaningful to us in a poem, it also makes us aware of how artfully a sentence may resist itself, courting the opposite of what it says––or more typically, something just slightly different from what it says. Writing free verse is not, as Frost once quipped, like playing tennis with the net down; it is like playing tennis on a court in which the net is in motion at the same time that the ball is in motion. But to have said so is to have discovered the limitation of the metaphor: whenever we come to the end of the line, no matter how we've gotten there, the net is never standing still.

-James Longenbach, "The End of the Line," from The Resistance to Poetry (University of Chicago Press, (2004), pp. 24-25.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Well, back to work.

I owe many people many things, project-wise.

You shall have them all by the end of the week.


I took this photo on Sunday in the side yard.

Yes, it is Fall.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Another Summer Gone and Once Again, No One Invited Me to the Block Party

Where I would have played the timbales and danced.

Yoga-blessing-thank-you-hands, and all.


Tuesday, 10:40 A.M.:

Had to take this down, or I would sing and dance all day.

Must work, must work.

Hurricane Day: The Book of Jonah, 1:1-15

11: 24 A.M., EDT

God said to Jonah: Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against its people; for their wickedness is great.

But Jonah fled from the presence of God. Jonah went to Joppa, and found a ship, a trader in wines, going to Tarshish. He paid for his passage, and went down to the docks, to go with them to Tarshish, far from the presence of God.

But God sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest and storm in the sky, so that the ship was in danger of breaking.

The sailors were afraid, and every man cried out to his god, and they cast the wine from the hold into the sea, to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone down inside the ship. He was fast asleep.

So the shipmaster came to him, and said, What are you doing, O sleeper? Arise, call upon your God, so if your God cares about us, we will not perish.

And the sailors said, Come, let us cast lots, that we may know why this evil is upon us.

So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.

The sailors said to Jonah, Tell us, we beg you, for whose cause has such evil afflicted us? What is your work? From what country do you come? Of what people are you?

And Jonah said, I am a Hebrew; and I fear the God of Heaven, who has made the sea and the desert.

Then the ship's company was afraid, and said to him, Why have you done this? For Jonah had told them he was fleeing from God.

The men said to Jonah, What shall we do to you, that the sea may be calmed? For the sea waters raged across the ship, and the ship was in danger of breaking.

And Jonah said, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calmed--for I am the reason this great storm is upon you.

Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship to port; but they could not, for the sea waters rose across the ship, and the sky was against them.

Wherefore they cried unto God, and said, We beseech thee, God, we beseech thee, let us not die for this man's life, and lay not upon us his innocent blood; for you, O God, have done as you pleased.

So they took up Jonah, and cast him into the sea. And the sea ceased raging.