Friday, October 31, 2008

Draft of a Very Small Poem


Best Ghost Movie Ever: "The Uninvited" (1944)

Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner and Gail Russell in "The Uninvited" (1944) directed by Lewis Allen.

Oh, I can almost smell the mimosas.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stop the Voices! No More Political Noise, Please!

In the first days of November, 2004, I reached the point of rhetorical overload--a place where I could no longer listen to National Public Radio on my way to work. So I picked up a CD of Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits and sang--not so well, but yes, sang--my way through election day. For whatever reason, I have reached the point of political exhaustion a week earlier in this cycle. I can no longer listen to NPR, and do not even want to listen to myself singing with Frank. My friends, as someone might say, the day that I no longer want to listen to myself singing...

Anyway, I bought Impressions, a CD of the late cellist Jacqueline Du Pre playing The Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, the Haydn Cello Concerto in C, and two pieces by Beethoven. I don't pretend to know all that much about classical music, but I do like this.

The cello is the sexiest of the instruments. And from the days (long ago) when I was a kid and she was written up in TIME magazine, I've had a thing for Jacqueline Du Pre. The quality of my drive-time has wildly improved and the only voices I now hear are whispering in my head.

Which is, you know, okay.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now Reading: The Letters of Ted Hughes

In 1965, the poet Ted Hughes wrote a verse-drama titled Difficulties of a Bridegroom. His play was rejected for performance by Peter Hall, Director of the Arts Theatre in London, who found the manuscript to be "...characterized by 'over blown metaphors' that make everything seem rhetorical and empty."

Hughes wrote to Lucas Myers on December 10, 1965:

"My fault was to attend to the content etc. of the verse, rather than simply listen to characters whom I imagined real. That's the dilemma. The moment I begin to ripen up the writing, I lose sight & sound of an actual character speaking. When I simply listen to imagined characters, of course, they speak quite natural prose. But whereas the final effect of the former is artificial & literary, the final effect of the latter is real. The charm is to see and hear characters who seem real, yet who surprisingly speak in verse, or in something more stylized than prose. I think its probably better to put all the complications into the situation, & let the speech be what you hear. Late in life, when the brain shrinkage has shriveled everything into a mustard-seed, it will all happen together naturally."

I am enjoying Hughes' Letters. The reviews I have read suggest that Hughes spent too much time in his correspondence "explicating" his poetry and not enough time--what? I am actually not sure what he was supposed to do to make his letters more interesting--gossip?

The critics are wrong on this one. For the working poet--for the writer in any genre--this is a marvelous book.*


*Ted Hughes, The Letters of Ted Hughes, Selected and Edited by Christopher Reid (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

The portion of the letter quoted above is found on page 251.

Monday, October 27, 2008


It is Sylvia Plath's birthday. She was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on October 27, 1932.

And this lively blog, "Sonnets at 4 A.M."?

2 years old today.


Sorry to be so quiet lately. I was sick all weekend--my annual Fall cold. I made a huge pot of chicken noodle soup and slept. I have recovered enough (of course!) to return to work this morning and to class this afternoon, where we will be workshopping poems.

Last night a strange weather front blew in off the lake. There were two flashes of lightning--one of which fried our telephone and knocked my computer off-line. I managed to reconnect to the internet, but the month-old telephone appears to be finished.

It is supposed to snow.

In other news, I have new glasses and can, remarkably, see.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Actually Am--Working on It

Chris Rea again.

"I got eight little fingers and only two thumbs..."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Note to Self

Wear a hat, a coat; get an umbrella.

You are too old to careen around in shirtsleeves in an October rainstorm.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Antique Muses Stir a Modern Orpheus

And for many in the art world the monumental head is recognizable. It belongs to the American artist Jim Dine, who for the last 50 years has made his name as a highly successful painter, printmaker and sculptor while more quietly (and less lucratively) honing his skills as a poet.

The self-portrait will be the centerpiece of an installation called “Jim Dine: Poet Singing (The Flowering Sheets)” that opens at the villa on Oct. 30. Mr. Dine has also written out a poem in charcoal on the gallery’s white walls and recorded it on a soundtrack that will play on a loop in the gallery.


I vaguely recall that I was also once a poet. I am going to work on a new poem today, just to see what happens.

I will probably not work on a giant plaster mold of my head.


Jim Harrison’s writing is oddly mysterious. His prose style is plain, even flat. His sentences unspool casually and are often comma-free to the point of sounding almost hapless. Yet they fuse on the page with a power and blunt beauty whose mechanics are difficult to trace even when you look closely. This straw-to-gold technique has served him in 14 previous books of fiction, including “Dalva” and “Legends of the Fall,” as well as numerous volumes of poetry and essays.

Someone should make a giant plaster mold of Jim Harrison's head.


Also reviewed in the New York Times this morning, a (very good) book I am reading:

For anyone who has logged much time on a bar stool staring at the elegantly lighted bottles across the way, the latest title in pre-Castro reminiscence — “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause,” by Tom Gjelten, a veteran NPR correspondent — might be a little confusing at first. For years the labels of many versions of Bacardi’s rum have announced, beneath their familiar bat logo, that they are the products of Puerto Rico, where the company has operated a distillery since 1937. But Bacardi was founded 75 years earlier in a tiny dirt-floored distillery in Santiago de Cuba by Facundo Bacardi Massó, the Spanish-born son of an illiterate bricklayer.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Annie Proulx: No Longer at Home on the Range

So much of Proulx's hard, fine writing is about place it's a wonder more people don't try to find her. After winning the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for her novel "The Shipping News," set in Newfoundland, Proulx became a fixed star in the literary constellation, winning almost every prize a writer could win.

She has often criticized the literary establishment for knowing nothing about what goes on in America outside its cities. She hates and generally refuses interviews (especially in her home). But she has agreed to talk -- although a polite e-mail from her publicist warns that she "takes a while to warm up to people." Her ferocity is literary legend, often cushioned by the phrase "doesn't suffer fools."

I saw Annie Proulx in New York City a few years ago, walking near St. Patrick's Cathedral. She suffered this fool long enough to say Hello.

I am a big fan of her writing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chris Rea: On the Beach

Yes, I am on a little Chris Rea jag.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The English 155 Class Reading

If you are in Holland (Holland, Michigan, not the Netherlands!) tomorrow afternoon, be sure to come to the English 155 Class Reading:


At Lemonjello's, 61 East Ninth Street
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 4:00 P.M.

You'll have a chance to hear to hear the students from my poetry class each read a poem they've written this semester, introduced by yours truly.

It will be a lot of fun. I have a very good group of poets in my class.

Lemonjello's is a great little coffee house, located very near the Hope College campus.

Meanwhile, far from the Dream Coasts...

A cold front is blowing through this morning. From four o'clock on there's been a smattering of rain and a great deal of wind, beginning far out on the lake, then swelling through the pines. No cars passing the house for an hour.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Adam Kirsch

I'm currently reading The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008) by Adam Kirsch. I do not often agree with Kirsch's conclusions--he is a bit too Apollonian for my tastes--but I do enjoy reading his criticism. Unlike (for example) William Logan, Kirsch does not heap personal abuse upon the poets he writes about.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Atonement (2007)

I just watched "Atonement" (2007) the Oscar-nominated film directed by Joe Wilson and based on the Ian McEwan novel.

You must see this. It is marvelous and very much a writer's film.

Duck & Goose Season

This is opening day (locally) of the duck and goose season. The neighborhood sounds like the London Blitz--shotguns popping off everywhere--and my Labrador Retrievers (who have never hunted) went all "birdy" this morning.

It's in the blood.

Friday, October 10, 2008

John Milton's "Paradise Lost" at the Morgan Library & Museum

For those fortunate enough to be in New York City, this would be an interesting event at the Morgan Library & Museum, October 7, 2008-January 4, 2009. Be sure to follow the link to the online exhibit, which includes a reading of page 1 of Paradise Lost:

John Milton's Paradise Lost celebrates the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton (1608–1674) with an exhibition drawn from the Morgan's collection of the English poet's work, which includes the only surviving manuscript of Paradise Lost. This manuscript of the first book of Milton's epic, transcribed and corrected under the direction of the blind poet, was used to set the type for the first printing of the poem in 1667. Copies of the first and later editions of the poem, including the first edition of Milton's work printed in the United States, are also on view. The exhibition also features Albrecht Dürer's engraving The Fall of Man, William Blake's Milton: Old Age, Richard Westall's watercolor depiction of Satan, and a rarely seen miniature portrait of Milton.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Great Novel, Great Film

The novel by Oscar Hijuelos and the film "The Mambo Kings" (1992) both made me feel that I was born in the wrong time; in the wrong country. The novel [The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989] , of course, was well-received--Hijuelos won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1990. But I also think the movie, directed by Arne Glimcher and a bit of a departure from the book, is vastly underrated. I particularly liked Armande Assante's work in the difficult (and not always sympathetic) role of Cesar Castillo.

The film's soundtrack (with Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Arturo Sandoval, among others) is amazing.

Yes, that is Antonio Banderas singing.*

The character of Nestor Castillo (Banderas in the film) is very much Orpheus, at large in the world after the loss of Euyridice (Maria of the song-title, who is left behind in Cuba). As James Hillman wrote of Orpheus, "[A]s 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."

The answer, of course, is "No," he did not see this, and that failure is his downfall.


* An English-language version of this song, "Beautiful Maria of My Soul," recorded by Los Lobos, is also on the soundtrack.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Poets Laureate

If you receive The Diane Rehm Show on your local National Public Radio station, Billy Collins and Donald Hall are on this morning, talking about the role of the Poet Laureate and the state of American poetry.

"It's Over"

About midway through the debate last night, I began to hear Michael Caine's great, drunken take on this song in "Little Voice."

But here's a version by the original, Roy Orbison.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Book I Must Read

What distinguishes [Leszek] Kolakowski from [the other anti-utopians] was his abiding concern with religion. His argument against Marxism was not only that communism was a utopia whose pursuit led to totalitatianism. He argued that Marx's conception of communism was a byproduct of a tradition of mysticism going back to Plato and Plotinus, revived in Germany by Christian mystics such as Meister Eckart and Jakob Bohme, and given a philosophical gloss by Hegel. Most Western critics of Marx's ideal of communism have attacked it primarily on political grounds, arguing--for example--that the abolition of markets involved too great a centralization of power. Kolakowski's criticism, summarized in the last sentence of Main Currents [of Marxism], was quite different; it was explicitly religious: "The self-deification of mankind, to which Marxism gave philosophical expression, has ended in the same way as all such attempts, whether individual or collective: it has revealed itself as the farcical aspects of human bondage."

-John Gray: "A Rescue of Religion," A Review of Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers by Leszek Kolakowski, (Basic Books, 2007) in The New York Review of Books, October 9, 2008, p. 43-45.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Poet Czeslaw Milosz's Last Days

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Poem I Didn't Write

I received a Google Alert for my name today and found that one of "my" poems was included in an online anthology titled (as nearly as I can tell), For Godot: Research in Poetry--Issue 1, a 3,785 page pdf document "edited" (or rather, "researched") by three people I don't know named Vladimir Zykov, Steve McLaughlin, and Gregory Laynor.

Here is the poem which is attributed to me on page 3,498 of this document:

Bonnie Winds and Fair Twists

Like a bird
Like a bonnie wind
To depart left and permission
To perceive velvet and hubbub
To leave forgiving for a right
To leave a privilege of bushes
To stir growing scope

Greg Rappleye

I don't mind someone posting one of my actual poems on their blog or website--as long as it is attributed to me--in fact, I am generally honored to see that someone cares enough about my work to make such an effort and, perhaps, say a kind word.

However, I do object to having my name associated with a steaming turd like "Bonnie Winds and Fair Twists."

For the record: I did not write this poem, did not authorize the use of my name in association with this poem, and I have never heard of these people or their bizarre project. Could I lift a 3,785 page "online anthology," I would drop it on their heads.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

William Logan, Redux

Some twenty months after savaging The Library of America's Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters (2006) in the pages of the New York Times Book Review, William Logan has surfaced in the October, 2008, Poetry to respond to the many critics of that review. In the first paragraph of his essay, Logan also asks an interesting question that he never bothers to answer: "Why give the critic the last word?"

Why indeed, one might ask the editors of Poetry, particularly when that critic is the egregious William Logan?

In his Poetry essay, Logan names only two of the poets whose responsive letters were published in the New York Times Book Review: Paul Mariani and Daniel Halpern. Logan's response to their more general criticism of his review is to dither about minutiae (in answer to Mariani) and to prop up an illogical straw-man argument about Halpern's premise and thump that scarecrow to the ground. Lost--through the intervening twenty months and within his self-serving argument--is any genuine response from Logan to the actual criticism (by Mariani, Halpern, and others) of his NYTBR review--a criticism that defended Hart Crane's poetry and the importance of his work and a response that suggested the poetry community at large has had enough of Logan's peevishness.

So, rather than let William Logan have "the last word"--at least in my small corner of the poetry world--I am reposting, verbatim, my original comment on his NYTBR review, which appeared in "Sonnets at 4 A.M." on January 28, 2007:

I was disturbed by William Logan's review of Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters (Library of America, 2006) in today's New York Times.* I wondered, after Logan's sneer-filled dismissal of Crane, why the Library of America wasted 849 pages on a poet so readily judged a failure:

"Defensive about his lack of education, a Midwestern striver out of a Sinclair Lewis novel, Crane tried to make it among the big-city literary men, gripping a rum in one hand and a copy of 'The Wasteland' in the other. Had beauty been enough, he might even have succeeded."

After telling us that Crane's early poetry "showed more style than talent," that Crane's poem "Chaplinesque" is a "dreadful mess," after sniffing at Crane's "voracious sexual appetites"--is there any American critic (or poet) more afraid of the human body than William Logan?--the critic writes of Crane's great project, "The Bridge":

"Much of 'The Bridge' seems inert now--overlong, overbearing, overwrought, a Myth of America conceived by Tiffany and executed by Disney. Crane imagined the Brooklyn Bridge as a mystical symbol for art, for history, for America, for any old thing; in this spiritual version of Manifest Destiny, he threw his poem backward to Columbus and worked forward to the invention of the airplane. The canvas was broad, but its success would have required a language less Alexandrian than Crane possessed. At his best, he stayed just this side of wild-eyed prophesying, though his grandeurs might easily be mistaken for grandiosity..."

I have friends--otherwise bright people, mind you--who actually like Logan's criticism; people who find Logan's work in the New Criterion and elsewhere "intelligent" and "bracing." I don't. I think his critical work is annoying, predictable and consistently mean-spirited.** I think even less of Logan as a poet. His claim that Crane's work is "inert" is almost laughable. Years ago, I paid $1.92 at a circus-tent "Book Blowout" for a remaindered copy of Sullen Weedy Lakes, Logan's third collection, a book so bloodless, so dead-on-the-page, I still think he owes me change.

Yes, Hart Crane's life was a mess. He drank too much, loved profligately and died too young. But he left us with poems like "My Grandmother's Love Letters," "Sunday Morning Apples," the "Voyages" sequence, all of "Key West: An Island Sheaf," and yes, "The Bridge." That is far more than poets like Logan have ever put on the table.

And Crane, for all the despair that led to his too-early death, also offered hope (instead of cynicism) for what we might accomplish as writers. In his Introduction to Marc Simon's edition of The Poems of Hart Crane (Liverwright, 1986) John Unterecker*** speaks of a letter Crane wrote to his father, a man who made his fortune as a candy manufacturer in Cleveland, and a man who hoped that his son might one day take over the family business:

"It was a difficult letter for Crane to write, for, as he was careful to indicate, he had no contempt for his father's world and his father's values. The 'dimensional world' has very real satisfactions. At the end of his letter, Crane tried hard to explain why creating something as useless and as invaluable as art seems to him the highest possible goal he could set for himself.

'And in closing I would like to just ask you to think sometimes,--try to imagine working for the pure love of simply making something beautiful,--something that maybe can't be sold or used to help sell anything else, but that is simply a communication between a man and a man, a bond of understanding and human enlightenment--which is what a real work is. If you do that, then maybe you will see why I am not so foolish after all to have followed what seems sometimes only a faint star. I only ask to leave behind me something that the future may find valuable, and it takes a bit of sacrifice sometimes in order to give the thing that you know is in yourself and worth giving. I shall make every sacrifice toward that end.'"


*"Hart Crane's Bridge to Nowhere," New York Times Book Review, (January 28, 2007)

**My thanks to "Avoiding the Muse" for a reference to Brian Henry's recent remarks on the critical work of William Logan. Here is a link:

Verse Magazine

***John Unterecker is Crane's biographer. See: Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane (W.W. Norton & Company, 1987)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hayden Carruth, Poet and Critic, Dies at 87