Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Day Before New Year's

I worked very hard at my day job on Monday and Tuesday, finishing up a few year-end projects. I am taking today and (of course) tomorrow off, but do have to be back in the office on Friday. I'm not sure what plans I had for today--drop the kids at the sitters and go out for lunch and a movie? No matter. I am home with the kids and am going nowhere today.

Perhaps I can make a bit of progress on another poem.

Elliot went back to Providence yesterday, Hannah left this morning for NYC.

I do have a good plan for the coming year. More on that later.

In the meantime, if you are currently in Australia or Samoa, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Morning Draft


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Progress Notes

I have thirty-nine pages (22 poems) of hummingbird material, all of which comes together fairly well into a manuscript concerning the work of Martin Johnson Heade. I also have 28 pages (18 poems) that are overtly unrelated to the Heade poems.

I am trying to decide what to do with all of this. I'd like to mail some submissions over the New Year's weekend, which will prompt me to focus this week--revising, polishing, thinking seriously about good homes for what I have so far.

The first write-through of my new manuscript is nearing completion. This is the first time I have attempted to write something "themed" from the outset. In earlier manuscripts, I simply wrote a bunch of poems and then looked through them for a thread around which to gather the collection. That seemed clear enough as an approach.

Anyway, I thought this project was fairly straightforward, but I gave a copy of the Heade materials to my daughter Hannah, who is preternaturally clever. After reading it, she pronounced herself baffled. Exactly what is (was) my little point? Obsession? Failure? I feel as if I have one--if not several such points, but if that isn't coming across...

Still though, alas, I invoke these almost deadly birds of the soul.

Weather Mysteries

I am not sure how this is possible. On Tuesday, we had three feet of snow on the ground. It then rained through Christmas. Yesterday, the temperature was around 60 degrees (F) all day, melting what was left of the snow and turning our yard into a vast lake. We now have 40 to 60 mph winds and a temperature of 30 degrees (F). Our yard-lake is turning into a skating rink, trees have fallen all over the county (we lost our power overnight but it came back on; others were not so lucky), roads are flooded everywhere and it is supposed to snow.

Were it February, this would be suicide weather.

Not to worry. I have my books, and my poetry to protect me. I am a rock. I am (almost literally) an island.

Shown is 104th Avenue and Adams Street.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Few Moments with Jorge Luis Borges

I read this story this morning and it made me laugh. It seems there are no new problems (or personalities) in the poetry world. Remove Daneri's name in the final sentence of this excerpt and insert that of the poetry blogger of your choice. Present company excepted, of course:

On the thirtieth of April, 1941, along with the sugared cake I allowed myself to add a bottle of Argentine cognac. Carlos Argentino tasted it, pronounced it "interesting," and, after a few drinks, launched into a glorification of modern man.

"I view him," he said with a certain unaccountable excitement, "in his inner sanctum, as though in his castle tower, supplied with telephones, telegraphs, phonographs, wireless sets, motion-picture screens, slide projectors, glossaries, timetables, handbooks, bulletins..."

He remarked that for a man so equipped, actual travel was superfluous. Our twentieth century had inverted the story of Mohammed and the mountain; nowadays, the mountain came to the modern Mohammed.

So foolish did his ideas seem to me, so pompous and so drawn out his exposition, that I linked them at once to literature and asked him why he didn't write them down. As might be foreseen, he answered that he had already done so -- that these ideas, and others no less striking, had found their place in the Proem, or Augural Canto, or, more simply, the Prologue Canto of the poem on which he hd been working for many years now, alone, without publicity, with fanfare, supported only by those twin staffs universally known as work and solitude. First, he said, he opened the floodgates of his fancy; then, taking up hand tools, he resorted to the file. The poem was entitled The Earth; it consisted of a description of the planet, and, of course, lacked no amount of picturesque digressions and bold apostrophes.

I asked him to read me a passage, if only a short one. He opened a drawer of his writing table, drew out a thick stack of papers -- sheets of a large pad imprinted with the letterhead of the Juan Crisóstomo Lafinur Library -- and, with ringing satisfaction, declaimed:

Mine eyes, as did the Greek's, have known men's
towns and fame,
The works, the days in light that fades to amber;
I do not change a fact or falsify a name --
The voyage I set down is... autour de ma chambre.

"From any angle, a greatly interesting stanza," he said, giving his verdict. "The opening line wins the applause of the professor, the academician, and the Hellenist -- to say nothing of the would-be scholar, a considerable sector of the public. The second flows from Homer to Hesiod (generous homage, at the very outset, to the father of didactic poetry), not without rejuvenating a process whose roots go back to Scripture -- enumeration, congeries, conglomeration. The third -- baroque? decadent? example of the cult of pure form? -- consists of two equal hemistichs. The fourth, frankly bilingual, assures me the unstinted backing of all minds sensitive to the pleasures of sheer fun. I should, in all fairness, speak of the novel rhyme in lines two and four, and of the erudition that allows me -- without a hint of pedantry! -- to cram into four lines three learned allusions covering thirty centuries packed with literature -- first to the Odyssey, second to Works and Days, and third to the immortal bagatelle bequathed us by the frolicking pen of the Savoyard, Xavier de Maistre. Once more I've come to realise that modern art demands the balm of laughter, the scherzo. Decidedly, Goldoni holds the stage!"

He read me many other stanzas, each of which also won his own approval and elicited his lengthy explications. There was nothing remarkable about them. I did not even find them any worse than the first one. Application, resignation, and chance had gone into the writing; I saw, however, that Daneri's real work lay not in the poetry but in his invention of reasons why the poetry should be admired.

-From "The Aleph," (1949) by Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, December 26, 2008

Drafty on a Friday Morning


And off we go to writers' group.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Tree by James Merrill

Christmas Tree

To be
Brought down at last
From the cold sighing mountain
Where I and the others
Had been fed, looked after, kept still,
Meant, I knew—of course I knew—
That it would be only a matter of weeks,
That there was nothing more to do.
Warmly they took me in, made much of me,
The point from the start was to keep my spirits up.
I could assent to that. For honestly,
It did help to be wound in jewels, to send
Their colors flashing forth from vents in the deep
Fragrant sables that cloaked me head to foot.
Over me then they wove a spell of shining—
Purple and silver chains, eavesdripping tinsel,
Amulets, milagros: software of silver,
A heart, a little girl, a Model T,
Two staring eyes. The angels, trumpets, BUD and BEA
(The children's names) in clownlike capitals,
Somewhere a music box whose tiny song
Played and replayed I ended before long
By loving. And in shadow behind me, a primitive IV
To keep the show going. Yes, yes, what lay ahead
Was clear: the stripping, the cold street, my chemicals
Plowed back into the Earth for lives to come—
No doubt a blessing, a harvest, but one that doesn't bear,
Now or ever, dwelling upon. To have grown so thin.
Needles and bone. The little boy's hands meeting
About my spine. The mother's voice: Holding up wonderfully!
No dread. No bitterness. The end beginning. Today's
Dusk room aglow
For the last time
With candlelight.
Faces love lit,
Gifts underfoot.
Still to be so poised, so
Receptive. Still to recall, to praise.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pre-Christmas Update

Elliot came it at about 10 p.m. Sunday night. I went (literally) breaking through the drifts to pick him up at the Muskegon airport--his was the only commercial flight to land there all day--every other flight was diverted to Grand Rapids. I didn't know that until I arrived in Muskegon, of course. Hannah flew into Grand Rapids Monday afternoon, but her mother had to pick her up. I had a couple of projects at work that absolutely had to be finished and out the door.

I did a week of work in two days.

Anyway, it is good to have the big kids home. The little ones (Carlos and Liam) are thrilled to have them here--they've done little but run through the house squealing since the older two arrived. Even the dogs are excited to to see Hannah and Elliot.

We have close to three feet of snow at this point. I should say, we had close to three feet. It began to rain this morning, which has tamped things down quite a bit.

Today, of course, will be a busy day. I want to set out early for the grocery store, etc.

In the odd moment over the next few days, I also hope to make a bit of progress on a new poem. For some reason, ideas are boiling in my head right now.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Draft of a New Poem


NOTE: The flag is the Brazilian Imperial Standard

Another Snow Event

This may not look like much on the radar, but it is persistent lake-effect. We now have over two feet of fresh snow, with much more to come.

In theory, Elliot's plane gets in at 8:30 tonight. Since the Muskegon County Road Commission pulled their trucks off the roads before noon today, I should have an interesting drive to the airport.

It is odd to sit in a snow drift like this, writing poems about hummingbirds.

Our side yard, moments ago:

A Christmas Present

I am grateful to have found this at Edward Byrne's One Poet's Notes. He more than made my day.

Coincidentally, at the end of last year the University of Arkansas Press released a wonderful book of poems by Greg Rappleye, Figured Dark. This excellent collection was published near the close of 2007, perhaps too late to be considered by many for their lists of best poetry books for the year. Although most readers would have encountered the volume in 2008, it does not qualify for this year’s lists either because of its publication date.

Nevertheless, I must state Figured Dark was among my favorite poetry books read during the last twelve months. Rappleye’s poems invite readers to engage in contemplations on various topics, such as the beauty and fragility of nature, the value of life and living while acknowledging aging and mortality, the poet’s appreciation for language and admiration of other arts. Rappleye’s work exhibits an ear for lyricism and an eye for detail; yet, the words flow so smoothly that they often imitate an intimate conversation with a wise and concerned companion frankly confiding his thoughts. Figured Dark is a book of poems to which I have returned repeatedly and enjoyed reading throughout the past year.

Friday, December 19, 2008


It really was a difficult drive into work, but because I am a public employee--well, duty and all that. Of course, the "Call of the Wild," Jack London-ish part of me likes to hop in the SUV and bound through the drifts.

The trick is to keep that aspect of my personality properly medicated.

Assuming Elliot got on the plane in Providence, he will make it to Detroit. His flight from Detroit to Muskegon has been cancelled.

UPDATE AT 11:50 A.M.: Elliot's plane took off from Providence, circled, and then returned to the airport. Who knows when he will get out of Rhode Island?

Chris Rea: Driving Home for Christmas

All the schools are closed, so the kids get an extra day of vacation.

I hope Elliot makes it in today!


8:40 A.M. : Made it to work, but the ride in was a Winter Flippin' Wonderland.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Storm Warning

We have a huge snowstorm headed our way that includes "thunder snow"––the strange phenomenon during which there is actually, yes, lightning and thunder as it snows. As soon as this storm clears out (after leaving 6 to 12 inches), another snowstorm is arriving on Sunday into Monday. I have no real problem with any of this ('tis the season, fa-la-la-la-la), except that the big kids are coming home ––Elliot from Providence, Rhode Island, tomorrow afternoon (in the middle of the first storm) and Hannah from NYC on Monday (in the middle of the second storm).

I would bet that neither of them will make it on time, and I expect Nightmare Road Trips from Hell to go pick them up at the airports (Muskegon and Grand Rapids, respectively). For the moment, my responsibilities in the pick-up-and-transport department only put me in Muskegon tomorrow. Because the Muskegon Airport is only 5 miles down the road, it would seem that I have the easy part.

I remain very busy in my day job, but was hoping to take some time off between Christmas and New Year's Day. I did manage to get my grades in for my poetry class on a timely basis. I will miss this particular group of poets. Next semester, I am teaching composition once again, and will have to revise my syllabus over the holidays. I would much prefer to be writing poetry to all of this. Other than seeing Elliot and Hannah, that is, who haven't been home in a long while.

Oh, yes! And Erika will be home from Cambridge, so I will have to see her and get the Harvard Report, and fill her in on all the day-job news.

Today we went to the Christmas Sing at Walden Green Montessori School for Carlos and Liam. That was totally sweet.

Stay safe and warm, all of you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Moment with Annie Dillard

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery. The surface of mystery is not smooth, any more than the planet is smooth; not even a single hydrogen atom is smooth, let alone a pine. Nor does it fit together; not even the chlorophyll and hemoglobin molecules are a perfect match, for even after the atom of iron replaces the magnesium, long streaks of disparate atoms trail disjointedly from the rims of the molecules' loops. Freedom cuts both ways. Mystery itself is as fringed and intricate as the shape of the air in time. Forays into mystery cut bays and fine fiords, but the forested mainland itself is implacable both in its bulk and in its most filigreed fringe of detail. "Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden," said Pascal flatly, "is not true."

-Annie Dillard, from From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in The Annie Dillard Reader (HarperCollins, 1994).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thinking about Today at Work

I said, "Argh."

Yesterday, the weather went from 40 degrees F. at 2 a.m. to 14 degrees F. at 5 p.m.

With 20 to 40 mph winds.

This morning it's about 15 degrees F.

No wind, though.

Not that I have to work outdoors, of course.

But what a metaphor.

Once more, unto the breach.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Draft of a New Poem


Red Beans and Rice

Prompted by some leftover ham from the office Christmas Party, I made a big (like, huge) pot of red beans and rice and we've been eating it for two days now. Delicious, if I say so myself. I learned how to cook this dish in Chalmette, Louisiana; perhaps the single most valuable thing I learned in 1988.

Low budget cooking is a great skill. Unless the Great Writers' Bailout happens quickly, we'll be eating like this for a long time to come.

Not to fear, Roosevelt. I am also working on a new poem. There's big money in that, for sure.


NOTE: The photograph is illustrative; this isn't my red beans and rice. For example, I don't use green peppers or green onions, opting instead for sweet white onions and a bit of fresh cilantro for color.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Moment With Andrew Hudgins

NN: Your use of narrative structure and dramatic monologue obviously has an impact on the language in your poems. How would you describe that impact?

AH: A couple of years ago after I gave a reading in New York, there was a question-and-answer period, and a woman in the audience asked what was more important to me, story or words, though I think she actually said narrative or language. I tried to joke about the subject; she got annoyed, impatient, and snapped that I should answer the question. And I, in turn, snapped back "story" just because I figured, for no particular reason, that was the answer she would not approve of. But I've always regretted that I didn't have the presence of mind and emotional maturity––twenty-twenty hindsight––to say it's a false choice.

What would you rather hear, a poorly told story or a gorgeous gibberish? Duh! Most people given such a choice would say, "Maybe I'l just take a long, hot bath." But in the real world the answer is, "Why can't I just have a gorgeously told story?" If the choice is Dreiser or Swinburne, choose Dante, Chekov, Faulkner.

"Andrew Hudgins: An Interview with Nick Norwood" from The Glass Anvil by Andrew Hudgins (University of Michigan Press, 1997).

Friday, December 12, 2008

The United States Senate to the Workers of Michigan: Pound Sand

Thanks, guys.

This is a photograph of Ford's Willow Run Assembly Plant near Detroit, where, at the height of World War II, the United Auto Workers produced one, complete, flight-ready B-24 Liberator Bomber per hour; 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

They made so many airplanes, so fast, the government couldn't find enough trained flight crews to fly them away.

The next time the Free World needs production like that, don't come knocking on our door. Ask your buddies, the hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers.

Any of you Senators running for President in four years, eight, twelve years?


Another 3:30 A.M.

This will make no sense, but an image/idea popped into my head and I had to get up and make a record of it.

I can't be the only one who does this.

All rightie, then. Pay no attention to the guy in the corner.

The photo is: Sebastião Salgado -- Full view of the Serra Pelada gold mine. Brazil, 1986

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Morning Prayer

Dear God:

Please, no more dreams about being a lawyer. You know the one where I am late for the deposition in that case I know nothing about, and I can't get there anyway, because I can't get my shoes tied? Ix-nay on that one. Bad enough that I have to do that work during the day.

Some poetry dreams would be nice. Something about the National Book Award. Or that flying dream. The pine trees and blueberry fields look great from the air. Or the dream with Carole Lombard in it.

You could bring that one back.

That's a good one.

Your Old Friend,


Draft of A New Poem


The photograph: Members of the so-called "Thayer Expedition" to Brazil. Agassiz himself is not shown. The philosopher William James is at the lower left.

Haven't quite got the lineation right on this one one, particularly at the top.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Received the following tag from Sam R. at Sam of the 10,000 Things:

RULE ONE, I have to grab one of the books closest to me, go to page 56, type the fifth line and the next two to five lines that follow.

RULE TWO, I have to pick five people who love books and who could receive the Bookworm award with honor.

Here goes:

"[...You have only to present] yourself at their gates at the end of a day's journey, and if you have the air of a respectable traveller, you are sure of a hearty welcome, shelter and food. The card of a friend or a note of introduction assures you all the house can afford for as long as you care to stay."

-From A Journey in Brazil by Professor and Mrs. Louis (Elizabeth) Agassiz (1868), University of Michigan Historical Reprint Series (2008), p.56.

Rule Two will have to wait until morning.

UPDATE--WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10 @ 2:30 p.m.: I never did follow through on "Rule 2" by designating five bloggers to follow Rule 1. That is why I am very bad at these things--too little time and too many claims against it. Anyway, you five (or six, or ten) know who you are. Take up the p. 56 challenge and pass it on.

Thank you, and my apologies for being a sometimes-bad blogger.


Midstream, after a long day, the problem with writing a book is having the faith to finish it.

Another Musical Interlude

While I put up a Christmas tree, sing along to my favorite version of one of the best protest songs, ever.

This is Mercedes Sosa and Holly Near singing "They Dance Alone" by Sting, from Near's fabulous live CD, Singer in the Storm (1990).

Draft of A New Poem (REDUX)


Some progress!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Musical Interlude

"I'm All Right" by Madeleine Peyroux.

Draft of a New Poem


The Painting is Orchids and Hummingbird
By Martin Johnson Heade, (c. 1875-1883)

It seems we have crossed the Rubicon, manuscript-wise.

Alea iacta est.

More Stairways to Heaven

Modulation in Sync: Jacob's Ladder by Nam June Paik, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2000)

From: Speculum Humanae Salvationis (ca. 1430)


Meanwhile, far from the Dream Coasts, the day is a great shaken snow globe--it is snowing here and will go on snowing through the weekend. Yes, I am continuing to work on a new poem. As might be gathered from the various stairways, I am obsessing a bit.

But this is good, for a poet.

Did you ever feel that you were meant to write something?

More later.

Friday, December 05, 2008

More Stairway

Marc Chagall, Jacob's Ladder (1973)

I am working on a new poem.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Moment With Jim Harrison


His wife has asthma
so he only smokes outdoors
or late at night with head
and shoulders well into
the fireplace, the mesquite and oak
heat bright against his face.
Does it replace the heat
that has wandered from love
back into the natural world?
But then the shadow passion casts
is much longer than passion,
stretching with effort from year to year.
Outside tonight hard wind and sleet
from three bald mountains,
and on the hearth before his face
the ashes we'll all become,
soft as the back of a woman's knee.

-Jim Harrison, from The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 2000)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why Bother?

A friend reports that he purchased four used copies of my book, Figured Dark , for 1 cent each, plus shipping. At least one of the copies had a card in it that I gave out only at the AWP Conference and a few local readings.

Still though, alas, I invoke these almost deadly birds of the soul.

I know the four copies will find good readers, so that is some consolation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More Stairways to Heaven

Gustave Dore

William Blake

Thinking Time...

And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

Genesis 28: 10-17 (KJV)

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Monastery of St Catherine, The Sinai (12th C.).

Question: How can I have Richardson's biography of Emerson in my library, but no Emerson? At least, I can't find any.

Note to Self: Get organized.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Landscape with the Dream of Jacob (1691)

The painting is "Landscape with the Dream of Jacob" (1691) by Michael Lukas Leopold Willmann.

And I have an idea.