Sunday, May 31, 2009

Judith Minty

Today I will be traveling to Ludington to make a small speech (at 3:00 P.M) dedicating a room at the Ludington Area Arts Center to my friend, the poet Judith Minty.

Minty's first book, Lake Songs and Other Fears, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press and received the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1973. Since then she has published more than nine collections of poetry, including Walking with the Bear: Selected & New Poems, published by Michigan State University Press in 2000. Her work has been recognized with numerous honors, including the Villa Montalvo Award for Excellence in Poetry and the Eunice Tietjens Award from Poetry magazine.

A sense of place is a recurring theme in Judith Minty's poetry. Born in Michigan, she grew up spending the school year in Detroit and summers camping in the North Woods with her family. After earning an MFA at Western Michigan University in 1973, she taught at universities in Michigan and the west coast, and was director of the Creative Writing Program at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, from 1982 to 1993. She now lives in western Michigan near the Lake Michigan shoreline, and spends part of each year at a cabin on the Yellow Dog River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Though very much a poet of national importance, much of Judith's work finds it's ground in Michigan and the lake country of the Upper Midwest. Helen Collier wrote in Woman Poet: The Midwest:

"...the clear and white world created by a winter's storm, the dramatic changes of the seasons, and the presence, in history and legend, of Indians. [Judith Minty's] poems give a physical sense of life in the Midwest."

If you see Judith before 3:00 P.M today, don't tell her about this. I am told it is a surprise, though the word is already out on the web.

The photograph is of the Yellow Dog River Falls in the Upper Peninsula's Marquette County, approximately 40 miles south of Big Bay.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals

I apologize in advance to all of my Pittsburgh friends, but letting Marian Hossa leave the Penguins and come to Detroit will haunt you.

Go Wings!

Factoid: Dan Bylsma, the Pittsburgh coach, is from Grand Haven.

Great Moments in Cinema: Napoleon Dynamite

Rex: "Now, watch this, everybody. Grab my arm. The other arm. My other arm. Okay, now watch this. I'm just gonna break the wrist and walk away. Break the wrist, walk away."

Kip: "Geez!"

Rex: "Okay, it was just that simple."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Great Moments in Cinema: The Usual Suspects


Agent Kujan pushes and shoves, looking this way and that.


LOW ANGLE on the feet of dozens of people.
Verbal's feet emerge from the crowd on the far side. They
hobble along the curb.

SUDDENLY, the right foot seems to relax a little, the inward
angle straightens itself out in a few paces and the limp
ceases as though the leg has grown another inch.


Verbal's hands are rummaging around in his pockets. The good
left hand comes up with a pack of cigarettes, the bad right
hand comes up with a lighter. The right hand flexes with all
of the grace and coordination of a sculptor's, flicking the
clasp on the antique lighter with the thumb, striking the
flint with the index finger. It is a fluid motion, somewhat

Verbal lights a cigarette and smiles to himself. He turns and
sees the car running alongside.

A Moment with Ruth Stone


In someone else's house
you are not exactly at ease.
It's a matter of protocol.
That is, sequence.

There are unspoken rules.
Some of the rules are
under the rug--
so to speak.

You employ
a mechanical mouse
to investigate.

-Ruth Stone

Somehow, this poem seemed so appropriate for today's work.

Ruth Stone's What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. She lives in Vermont.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eyes-Wide-Shut on Wednesday*

I spent yesterday morning reading poems to the amazing students at Walden Green Montessori School (fun), yesterday afternoon with the retinologist having my retinas photographed (interesting) and last night at a meeting in Allendale explaining a proposal to reorganize an economic development organization (not so much fun and not so interesting, but necessary).

The drive to the meeting was interesting though, with my eyes fully dilated.


Interesting also that the once voluble Seth Abramson has gone silent on the Padel-Walcott imbroglio. **

Ron Silliman of course, is not silent on Padel and Walcott; he's frothier than usual in his latest assault on the so-called "School of Quietude."

Ron says that sexist conduct and bad behavior are the traditional province(s) of the poets he calls the "SoQ's." Such things would never happen, one might conclude, among his more erudite, more sensitive, more highly evolved lang-po crowd.

In the hallowed annals of egalitarian non-sexism within the avant and post-avant, perhaps someone could explain Louis Zukofsky's shabby treatment of Lorine Niedecker. I can't. As for general comradeship, fair treatment and avant good-feeling, what about the way Robert Creeley and Charles Olson ridiculed and dismissed Cid Corman?

My own take on Padel, Walcott, and the fallout:

Anyone who expects poets to conform to rules of sexual conduct that exceed their expectations for domesticated rabbits will be disappointed. With regard to jealousies, subterfuge and backstabbing among poets, I suggest that any ingenues among us watch "Best in Show" and multiply what you see there by a factor of ten to arrive at an approximation of these problems in the poetry world. The relegation of your work and poetic identity to the "appropriate school" --and your subsequent totally-free, our-gift-to-you dismissal as irrelevant--are only more examples of this.

See also: Joseph Hutchison's commentary.


The photograph at top is of Lorine Niedecker.

*Even though it's Thursday.

** Seth Abramson has since posted, volubly, on Walcott and other topics.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday in the Jungle

Me, in red chair, under the palms.



Ruth Padel Resigns Oxford Post

Memorial Day


All night the flares go up; the Dragon sings
And beats upon the dark with furious wings;
And, stung to rage by his own darting fires,
Reaches with grappling coils from town to town;
He lusts to break the loveliness of spires,
And hurls their martyred music toppling down.
Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze,
Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder'd seas.
Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night,
And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams.
Tenderly stooping earthward from their height,
They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung,
To hail the burning heavens they left unsung.

-Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Build Out

Suzanne Frischkorn will appreciate this one.

New picnic table, painted in "Mermaid's Song."

I cannot make this stuff up.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Evaluation Day

Yesterday was only the run-up to this morning--I have my evaluation at my day job at 10 A.M.

I would not be concerned about this, but for the economic facts-of-life in Michigan. To be 56 and terminable-at-will in our local economy is to (truly) be a sinner in the hands of an angry God.

How fortunate that American Lit. I prepared me for the vicissitudes of late middle age.


The painting is of our old pal Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). He died when he was 54, so at least I've got him there.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Positive Reviews

I stopped by school over the lunch hour and found that the evaluations were already returned from my Spring Semester composition class. And the evaluations were positive. In fact, they were enthusiastic. The consensus among my students was that the class was a lot of work but very much worth the effort.

One student wrote: "Take this class. The prof./class are awesome. You will learn a lot."

I am particularly happy about the positive reviews for this class. I know I can motivate a poetry class--I love the topic and (generally) the students want to be in the class. Keeping a group of first year students enthused about a composition class that none of them particularly want to take--well, that's something. And most of the students also acknowledged that the class was a great deal of work--more work than their friends seemed to be doing in other, similar composition classes.

"So I've got that going for me. Which is nice."

-Carl Spackler

A Poet's Work is Never Done

This (the stone patio) is what I did yesterday. I also painted the front door (to match this one) and mowed the lawn.

It will be a relief to be writing again!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday


Monday, May 18, 2009

Freak Accident in Providence

The phone rang at 1:47 this morning--never a good sign. It was Elliot, calling from the emergency room. He was riding his bicycle home from the restaurant last night and went to stop--by putting his right foot down. Bad move. Somehow, his ankle snapped, along with several tendons. He called again at 5:45 A.M., still at the hospital. It is probable that he will have surgery and a metal plate installed in his foot.

Elliot is a student in the culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence. How can one take culinary arts classes and work in a restaurant with a broken ankle and torn up tendons?

I have no idea.

I did not get much sleep last night.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What We Did All Weekend

Carlos on the new mower.

Liam on the new mower (sorry, but the boys refused to pose together, and both wanted their photos on the blog).

Bought blue boxes for outdoor toys, put up trellises, planted a yew and some ivy, turned a mud hole into a rock garden.

The "big view" of all our work, with Liam and front-end loader.

Painted the door a spiffy sea-green, put up our sign, and bought two new Adirondack chairs.

Potted many flowering plants.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bring on the Grass

My birthday is next Tuesday. Rather than complain all summer––or keel over behind my push mower some hot Saturday afternoon--I went out yesterday after work and before a night meeting and bought one of these babies as a 56th birthday present to myself. I took the dogs out this morning and laughed at the yard.

Bring. It. On.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yo -Yo Ma

Another of my recent CD aquisitions was this one, Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach's unaccompanied cello suites, recorded in 1990. It is very good.

Years ago, I saw Yo-Yo Ma flying on the shuttle from Washington D.C. to NYC. He had purchased a seat for his cello.

Unfortunately, I am very busy again this week, and not in any way that agrees with me.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Remark on "The Mainstream"

I plead "no contest" to the charge that I am a "mainstream" poet. I feel no need to respond with more than two questions to the allegation, even when made with a condescending sneer.

I only ask, Can you find the river I fish in?

If so, are you poet enough to stand against the current?

Enough of this tiny, self-indulgent mourning. I have a novel to write.


The image on the poster is “Evening Fishing” (1989) by Russell Chatham.

Elliott Carter

I am woefully undereducated in music. I know what I like, but don't necessarily know why. Last night, I bought several CD's, and because there was a sale on classical music--buy two, get one free--I picked up Elliott Carter: A Nonesuch Retrospective. I knew the composer by name, but not his music--it was an attractive box and an opportunity to take a chance and learn something new.

Anyway it is very interesting music, well worth repeated listening. Not "dissonant," but not traditionally melodious, either. His work reminds me a bit of Aaron Copeland. I did not previously know this, but Carter has written music for poems by Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Frost. The Lowell poems--and Carter's music, of course--are included in the four-disk Nonesuch collection.

So I am getting a "free" and very welcome education in the music of Elliott Carter.

Carter is 100 years old--he was born on December 11, 1908--and lives in Greenwich Village. He has twice received the Pulitzer Prize in Music.


Question: Are there any literary journals reading in the summer that might be receptive to somewhat more narrative work? I have a manuscript full of Martin Johnson Heade-hummingbird poems, many of which are still looking for good homes.

So many editors seem baffled by what I am up to in this manuscript. On the most obvious level, however, the work seems both straightforward and yes, interesting. But I also believe that so much beyond what is easy and received is happening in these poems. I am grateful when someone, somewhere, seems to "get" both the larger project and its disparate parts.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Oh, No! Manny!

I say it's just another case of "Manny being Manny."

50 games is too long. They should have suspended him for five...okay, ten games.

C'mon, it's summer. Let the kids play.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Small Poem


Sitting in the back yard,
reading about the various untruths––
the lie of extended consciousness,
the lie of interpretation. Knowing
there are others. Down the hill,
the lake greens in the declining light,
and those who have motor boats
move in and out of the launching ramp.
I remember the lines
from another man's poem:
When he touches you,
it will be with my hands.

In summer, the songbirds never know
when to quiet themselves,
singing on into the darkness.

-Greg Rappleye


NOTE: The painting is Melancholy (1896-1898) by Edvard Munch

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


I am finished reading papers, and have submitted final grades. I enjoyed working with this particular group of students--it was a good semester.

Bring on the novel.

Monday, May 04, 2009

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Spring Gardening Tips From Old Uncle Greg, Continued

#2. Remember that raking wet leaves is like fighting an insurgency. To avoid discouraging the cadres, it is sometimes best to fashion a new narrative. For example: Our goal was not to rake the leaves; our goal was to distribute a slimy brown mulch across the length and breadth of the yard.

Spring Gardening Tips From Old Uncle Greg

#1. Never rake all the leaves you didn't rake last fall into huge piles in the very lowest part of your yard a week before receiving 6 to 8 inches of rain. "Stockpiling" mounds of tattered leaves in "the seasonal duck pond" is, as we yard-care professionals say, "Contra-indicated."

Poem for the Day


It's one of those lighted signs
you tow behind a truck. For years,
the man down the street has kept it in his yard––
as if a retired samurai might wander by
on his way to Lund's Hardware
or the Whippi Dip. Tonight, I sit out
in the moonlight. The neighbor is drunk,
his stereo loud, You done me wrong,
sung in a man's voice. The music
seems familair, but it's not.

Moonlight has a strange effect.
In 1856, under a full moon,
James Jesse Strang,
the self-styled Mormon prophet,
ran a sword through his chief rival
on Beaver Island, declared himself King
of Michigan, and began a bloody rebellion
that didn't end until a frigate was sent
to put it down. And did you know
the Japanese saber combines
a European hilt with a Japanese blade?
It's forty inches long and weighs three pounds.
Of course, my neighbor may want
a katana, long-sword of the samurai.
"The human heart is unknowable," the poet
Tsurayuki wrote, "but in my birthplace,
the flowers smell the same as always."
The wind moves through the roses
that tangle in the fence, rose that are
a delicate pink in any light.

Did you ever want a different life?
When I did, I went into the fish business
and sold salmon roe to the Japanese.
Ikura, it was called, tiny eggs
that gushed from the razored salmon
like translucent orange moons.
I was going to be rich.
You lost your ass! my father laughed,
meaning I would never be the King of Michigan.

The music stops. My neighbor
comes into his yard and starts
banging a stick against the ground.
He begins a drunken dance, a dark figure
backed by a glowing sign––whirling,
jumping on one leg––he falls, rises, and
falls again, twirling the stick around
his head, groaning and shouting out.
Finally, he stumbles and does not rise, his body
lost in the cedared dark.
What does it mean to want so badly
you dance in the glow of your own desire?
Sending a stick hissing through the sky,
pounding the earth until you disappear,
amazing no one but yourself?

-Greg Rappleye

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Swine Flu at Hope College

I was working on this on Thursday and then again, the entire day on Friday. This is the first time my "day job" has intersected with my teaching job, so it was a very interesting week. There is a shot of our Board Room in the video (the room with the big Seal on the wall). I sit up front and to the left during Board meetings. During this news conference (which was broadcast live), I was standing among the cameras, to the right.

The people at Hope College and from the City of Holland were very professional as we met and worked on this, and everything thus far has gone about as smoothly as can be expected. We spend a lot of time training for this stuff--particularly since 9/11--and all of our training has served us well.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Oh, I Almost Forgot This

9:00 a.m. : Well, I obviously can't count. Make that 19 years.

Even better.

Happy Non-Belly Button Birthday to me!

18 years today, for which I am, yes, grateful.

What I Am Doing These Days

Read about it here.

Sorry I haven't been much of a blogger lately, but I have been busy in my day job.

I expect this to continue for a bit.

May 1, 2009

Have a good May Day, Comrades!