Saturday, January 31, 2009

4:33 with Annie Lennox

I love Annie Lennox.

Though I suspect I am waiting in vain for her love.

NOTE: Medusa (1995) ***** 1/2 *'s, is fully endorsed by Sonnets @ 4 A.M.

Orpheus, Adrift


His head [the women] threw into the river,
but it floated, still singing, down to the sea,
and was carried to the island of Lesbos.

-Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 28.d

Before my lips kissed the gravel
of river-bottom, I looked back

and saw the lost body,
and the fingers of my severed hand

twitching for my lyre.
Even then, I bobbed up, singing.

They threw the lyre beside me
and the lyre began to play.

I could hardly hear the strings
for the noise of rushing water.

When the river slowed through the tidal flats,
I came to love the taste of salt.

For months I have drifted
among the bluefish and the tunas.

Leached of all blood and beset by sea lice,
one eye pecked by a passing gull––

I still sing. The lyre, drifting with me, plucks on.
I hear the sounds of wave-on-beach

and sense the schooly candlefish,
frenzied in the surf.

Whatever land I drift toward,
I sing for what lives there.

My hair braids through the nut-brown kelp
that tangles along the shore.

-Greg Rappleye


NOTE: The painting is Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus by J.W. Waterhouse (1900).

This poem originally appeared in Volume XXXII, No. 1 (2008) of The Legal Studies Forum (West Virginia University College of Law)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Thought for the Day

Never be ashamed of the strange.

-Theodore Roethke

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Man with the Branded Hand

I was reading Heather McHugh's essay Lines of the Hand, which is currently posted on the Poetry Foundation website, and was reminded of a bit of local literary history.

Jonathan Walker was born in 1799 on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Walker was a Quaker sea captain who became a national hero in 1844 when he was tried and sentenced as a "slave-stealer" because of his efforts to help seven runaway slaves escape from Florida to the Bahamas. Walker's trial was held in Federal Court in Pensacola. He was convicted, fined, pilloried, and branded on the palm of his right hand with a hot iron with the letters "S. S.," for "slave-stealer." Walker was imprisoned for eleven months, and was released only after his fine was paid by Northern abolitionists.

After his release, Walker lectured widely on the abolition of slavery. About 1850, he moved to what is now Norton Shores, Michigan (just several miles north of where I live), where he bought a fruit farm and lived until his death on May 1, 1878. Walker was the subject of John Greenleaf Whittier's popular poem The Branded Hand, published by Whittier in 1846. A monument was erected in Walker's memory in Muskegon's Evergreen Cemetery on August 1, 1878. The monument is engraved with a quote from Whittier's poem and includes a carved stone image of Captain Walker's branded hand.

In 1999, the grave was marked as a Michigan State Historic Site.

by John Greenleaf Whittier

Welcome home again, brave seaman! with thy thoughtful brow and gray,
And the old heroic spirit of our earlier, better day;
With that front of calm endurance, on whose steady nerve in vain
Pressed the iron of the prison, smote the fiery shafts of pain.

Is the tyrant's brand upon thee? Did the brutal cravens aim
To make God's truth thy falsehood, His holiest work thy shame?
When, all blood-quenched, from the torture the iron was withdrawn,
How laughed their evil angel the baffled fools to scorn!

They change to wrong the duty which God hath written out
On the great heart of humanity, too legible for doubt!
They, the loathsome moral lepers, blotched from footsole up to crown,
Give to shame what God hath given unto honor and renown!

Why, that brand is highest honor! than its traces never yet
Upon old armorial hatchments was a prouder blazon set;
And thy unborn generations, as they tread our rocky strand,
Shall tell with pride the story of their father's branded hand!

As the Templar home was welcome, bearing back-from Syrian wars
The scars of Arab lances and of Paynim scimitars,
The pallor of the prison, and the shackle's crimson span,
So we meet thee, so we greet thee, truest friend of God and man.

He suffered for the ransom of the dear Redeemer's grave,
Thou for His living presence in the bound and bleeding slave;
He for a soil no longer by the feet of angels trod,
Thou for the true Shechinah, the present home of God.

For, while the jurist, sitting with the slave-whip o'er him swung,
From the tortured truths of freedom the lie of slavery wrung,
And the solemn priest to Moloch, on each God-deserted shrine,
Broke the bondman's heart for bread, poured the bondman's blood for wine;

While the multitude in blindness to a far-off Saviour knelt,
And spurned, the while, the temple where a present Saviour dwelt;
Thou beheld'st Him in the task-field, in the prison shadows dim,
And thy mercy to the bondman, it was mercy unto Him!

In thy lone and long night-watches, sky above and wave below,
Thou didst learn a higher wisdom than the babbling schoolmen know;
God's stars and silence taught thee, as His angels only can,
That the one sole sacred thing beneath the cope of heaven is Man!

That he who treads profanely on the scrolls of law and creed,
In the depth of God's great goodness may find mercy in his need;
But woe to him who crushes the soul with chain and rod,
And herds with lower natures the awful form of God!

Then lift that manly right-hand, bold ploughman of the wave!
Its branded palm shall prophesy, "Salvation to the Slave!"
Hold up its fire-wrought language, that whoso reads may feel
His heart swell strong within him, his sinews change to steel.

Hold it up before our sunshine, up against our Northern air;
Ho! men of Massachusetts, for the love of God, look there!
Take it henceforth for your standard, like the Bruce's heart of yore,
In the dark strife closing round ye, let that hand be seen before!

And the masters of the slave-land shall tremble at that sign,
When it points its finger Southward along the Puritan line
Can the craft of State avail them? Can a Christless church withstand,
In the van of Freedom's onset, the coming of that band?

More Bad News for the Literate

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Michiko Kakutani on John Updike

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike (1932-2009)

At the age of seventeen I was poorly dressed and funny looking and went around thinking of myself in the third person. "Alan Dow strode down the street and home." "Alan Dow smiled a thin sardonic smile." Consciousness of a special destiny had made me both arrogant and shy.

-John Updike, the opening lines of the short story "Flight" from Olinger Stories, reprinted in John Updike: The Early Stories 1953-1975 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

Blogroll, Please!

As long promised, I have updated my blogroll. Please welcome:

Erika Rosebrook
Joseph Hutchison
Ron Slate
Brian Brodeur
The Weaver of Grass
Mark Doty
Jeneva Stone
Keith Montesano
Sara Quinn Rivara
Poet Hound
Rick Bursky

to Sonnets at 4 A.M.

I also restored a few links and edited out some that (in one way or another) had gone dead.

If you are reading S@4AM, have a blog, and I am not linked to you, please leave a comment and let me know so that I can add you to my blogroll.

Thanks for reading and thank you for your patience!



*double poof!*

THE SCULPTURE: Orpheus and Eurydice, (probably modeled before 1887, executed 1893); originally intended for the "Gates of Hell" series.

Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Draft of New Poem (Re-post)

*triple poof!*

*NOTE: This line is offset in the actual poem. I could not make Blogger accept the offset, which builds my sympathy for the workers at Day & Son.

My apologies.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Progress Notes, Redux

I put my manuscript back in the rack today, cleaning up mistakes both large and small, working especially hard on the last two poems I wrote, one of which ("The Apprentice Lithographer's Story") I very much like.

I am tired.

Crimea War 1853-1856
"Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade 25th October, 1854"

From the original tri-tinted lithograph by Edmund Walker after William Simpson, R.I., FRGS (1823-1899).

Published by Day & Son, Lithographers to the Queen, London, May 24, 1855.

Day & Son were the (ultimately, unsuccessful) lithographers chosen for Martin Johnson Heade's "Gems of Brazil" project.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Progress Notes

Finished. There are rough spots (four new poems in a week will cause those) but the Orpheus poems fit sweetly into the manuscript and I think I have it now, start to finish.

I will work this weekend to smooth out the rough spots, and will be submitting a few more poems to journals early next week. But yes, I have a finished poetry manuscript ready to roll out the door, and by March 1, I will be turning to a new, and novel, project.

Excuse me while I light a cigar.


The painting is Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds (1870) by Martin Johnson Heade.

Michael Theune at Hope College, Today!

Mike Theune, who graduated from Hope College in 1992, returns today to talk about his book, Structure and Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007).

This will be fun.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

As Gerald Ford once said, "At last, our long national nightmare is over."

Thank you, indeed.


The papers are marked up--not graded, of course; these are drafts.

We will be working hard in class this semester.

To paraphrase President Obama, "It's time to set aside our childish things."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hannah, with Cat

That's my daughter Hannah. I don't think she is actually strangling the cat.

I worked last night until I was stupid, then I fell asleep.

Two poems to go, I think.

I am also going to update my blogroll this week.

Oh, and I have papers to grade (or rather, to mark up)!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Gaze of Orpheus, Redux

The act of writing begins with Orpheus' gaze, and that gaze is the impulse of desire which shatters the song's destiny and concern, and in that inspired and unconcerned decision reaches the origin, consecrates the song. But Orpheus already needed the power of art in order to descend to that instant. This means: one can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing. In order to write, one must already be writing. The essence of writing, the difficulty of experience and the leap of inspiration also lie within this contradiction.

-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. 104.

Progress Notes

There are many reasons to hope that no more artists and writers I admire die in the near future. One of the lesser reasons is that it will keep my blog from continuing to look like a peculiarly cryptic obituary page. I have been writing quite a bit, blogging (I am sorry to say) not so much. I am very close to having a complete, book-length manuscript on the work of Martin Johnson Heade––so close that I am lavishing every spare moment on nothing but my poems. I have a couple of imaginary deadlines coming up toward the end of February and must also prepare for the panel at the AWP, so I am a bit "under the gun," as the legendary pirates and hedge-fund managers once said. Well, I suppose they said it several times.

I would never buy a foreclosed house (bad Karma) but I will shop at a "going out of business" sale, so yesterday I went to Circuit City and bought one of those tiny portable stereo systems (actually, a glorified Boom Box) to put in my studio. I've been listening to Glenn Gould, Jacqueline Dupre, the Julliard String Quartet and Cecilia Bartoli since Saturday afternoon. I don't pretend to know much about classical music or opera, but it is all a lovely sweet noise to write to.

In the meantime, the weather has tempered itself. We have risen from 5 degrees (F) to 24 degrees. Our predicted 3 inches of snow turned into 18 inches since late Friday afternoon. Thus always, the dreaded "lake effect."

But for my music, the world is silent.

What might happen to Martin Johnson Heade during the Carnival Ball at Petropolis, Brazil in 1864? Today, I will be figuring that out. Heade is going to the masked ball dressed as Orpheus. Who will play Eurydice? I hope to have that question--among others--answered by tonight.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

John Mortimer (1923-2009)

A man with a bristling gray beard came and sat next to me at lunch. He had very pale blue eyes and an aggressive way of speaking. He began, at once and without any preliminary introduction, to talk about yachting in the English Channel.

“But isn't it very dangerous, your sport of yachting?”

“Not dangerous at all, provided you don't learn to swim. I made up my mind, when I bought my first boat, never to learn to swim.”

“Why was that?”

“When you're in a spot of trouble, if you can swim you try to strike out for the shore. You invariably drown. As I can't swim, I cling to the wreckage and they send a helicopter out for me. That's my tip, if you ever find yourself in trouble, cling to the wreckage!"

It was advice I have been following all of my life.

-John Mortimer

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

I can't work completely out of my imagination. I must put my foot in a bit of truth; and then I can fly free.

-Andrew Wyeth

For 15 years, from 1970 to 1985, Wyeth had labored in secret on an enormous collection of works: 246 in all, including sketches, studies, drawings, 32 watercolors, twelve drybrush paintings and five temperas. Not even his wife was aware of the magnitude of the undertaking. Moreover, almost all of them were of a middle-aged German whom Wyeth identified only as Helga and who lived near the Wyeths' winter home in Chadds Ford, Pa. Artist and model met in various places over the years, and the resulting works, many of them nudes, are streaked with an intensity both clinical and erotic. Here was the hidden treasure of a major artist -- the most hallowed member of America's reigning art dynasty -- displaying new vigor late in his career.

-Time Magazine, August 18, 1986

Andrew Wyeth, "Lovers," (1981)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hortense Calisher (1911-2009)

“First publication is a pure, carnal leap into that dark which one dreams is life.”

-Hortense Calisher

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Morning in Fly-Over Country

It's 9 degrees out. The wind is blowing. It's snowing.

Why am I singing, "Got a heater in my truck and I'm off to the rodeo"?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

W.D. Snodgrass: 1926-2009


The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I'd ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who's trusted me
I'd be substantial, presently.

I haven't read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date.And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead's notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body's hunger;
That I have forces true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.

Monday, January 12, 2009

At the AWP Conference, Saturday February 14 at 12:00 p.m.

S144. Bad Poems by Great Poets: Where They Went Awry, What We Can Learn. (Roy Jacobstein, Laura Kasischke, Margaret Rabb, Greg Rappleye, Robert Thomas) Whether our favorite poets are O'Hara or Dickinson, Stevens or Plath, Berryman, Ashbery or Wright, they wrote some poems that are almost parodies of their great poems. We inquire out of an interest in craft, not schadenfreude: how did they write poems so flat, sentimental, boring? Do the bad poems teach us how to read the good? Rather than comparing apples to oranges, we will use these poets as their own control, contrasting to see what makes one of a pair of poems, and only one of them, great.

I am going be talking about Larry Levis.

I would love to have you all in the audience.

It's All True (1942), Redux

Sometimes you can't make stuff up quickly enough, and you must tell the whole strange, terrible truth; whether anyone believes you or not.


"We're finally to be judged not by the degree of our involvement in the mainstream, but by our individual response to it."

-Orson Welles

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sol de Monterrey

This is Carlos-Jair Garcia-Guerro of Monterrey, Mexico, reading "Sol de Monterrey," a poem by Alfonso Reyes. Garcia-Guerro has posted several poems by Reyes on YouTube.

I wish my Spanish was better--this is really wonderful to listen to.

I have worked all weekend and have a start-to-finish draft of a new poem.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Alfonso Reyes

This is a (late) photograph of the Mexican writer and diplomat Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959), a friend of Orson Welles.

It's All True (1942)

In 1942, Orson Welles, at the request of Nelson Rockefeller, went to Brazil to film a documentary for the United States government and RKO Studios, which was supposed to encourage cooperation and understanding between the people of Brazil and the United States. What happened next was one of the great cinematic disasters of all time. When management changed at RKO, the studio cut off funding for Welles's efforts, and proceeded to destroy both the director's vision for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and his reputation in America.

The documentary, It's All True, was never finished.

There must be a poem, and a hummingbird, in there somewhere.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thought for the Day

"When I brought [the Abstract Expressionist Hans] Hofmann up to meet Pollock and see his work which was before we moved here, Hofmann’s reaction was — one of the questions he asked Jackson was, do you work from nature? There were no still lifes around or models around and Jackson’s answer was, 'I am nature.' And Hofmann’s reply was, 'Ah, but if you work by heart, you will repeat yourself.' To which Jackson did not reply at all."

-Lee Krasner

Sound of the Great Horned Owl

It's been a year since I saw him, but this morning when I took the dogs out, our Great Horned Owl was calling, a tremulous "who-oo-hoo-hoo, who-who?"* deep in the wood lot. I had to come back in the house and look up recordings of owl calls on the web to identify him as a male Great Horned.

I've been very busy at my day job this week and also started class (it went well), which is why I haven't posted much.

I do have a few things to say, however, and will catch up this weekend.


*This roughly translates as "Get those damn dogs out of my trees."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Progress Note IV

AWP Conference? Registered.

Submissions? In the mail.

Syllabus for class that starts tommorow? Finished.

Victory Lap? In progress.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Progress Report III

Late this afternoon, I put three packets of poems together, wrote letters and addressed envelopes. No multiple submissions. Tomorrow, I am sending the poems to good places and keeping my fingers crossed.

I am, as the saying goes, "back in the mix."

I made pretty good use of my time as a writer over the Christmas holidays. I worry quite a bit about wasting time. I have so little time to write and, really don't know how much time I have left––in terms of my ability to see well enough to work, I mean.

Tomorrow it's back to my day job, and on Wednesday, back to teaching. Yes, I still have to do my syllabus.

I also have to register for the AWP Conference, get a hotel room, etc. I usually stay at a hotel away from the Conference. Because I don't drink, it takes away the annoying pressure to watch other people party, and gets me out for a walk at least twice a day.



NOTE: That's Mr. Zip, for those of you too young to remember.

Progress Report II

I have been working on the poem off and on through the night. The topic of the poem is (in part) insomnia, and in this case, it has been something more than a metaphor.

I am very close.

Hooray for subject matter. I must say that it is difficult to go over-the-top rhetorically when writing about a 19th Century American painter adrift in the jungles of Brazil, painting hummingbirds. It has become a challenge to arc down the language.

Syntax-wise, I am beginning to feel like Lucie Brock Broido.

But with far less hair, of course.

That's Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) in his later years. I particularly like the hat.

Must get cleaned up now and go out for the morning papers.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Progress Report

Over the past two days, I have written--and am close to "finishing"* ––another poem. I am sorry that my posts for the past several weeks have been so uncommunicative and without substance, but I have been on something of a roll, writing-wise, and have directed my energies toward the poems. I just can't let an opportunity like this go by. I know what it is like to go through a time when the poems do not come.

Onward, then, like a comet.


*"Finished," of course, is a term of art. It will be months before these poems are truly "finished."

Note: The images are of the poet Sappho and the Great Comet of 1811, which (who?) both figure in the poem I am working on.

Friday, January 02, 2009

On The Friday That Feels Like Monday

Back to the rock pile today. We have an organizational meeting that is held (by rule) the first business day following New Year's Day. There are many "good government" reasons to have such a rule, but none of them sound very persuasive at the moment. Whenever the subject has come up in the past, I have argued that we need the meeting asap because the Board needs to elect its leadership, pass banking resolutions, name committee chairpersons, etc.

This morning, part of me wishes I'd kept my big lawyer-yap shut.

Enough complaining.

The illustrations are of the Great Comet of 1861, which (for the moment) is figuring in a new poem.

I was able to make quite a bit of writing progress over the past ten days. I hope to finish another poem over the weekend.

Onward. Soon enough, "the Friday that feels like Monday" will feel like Friday again.