Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thought for the Day

...Pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us like a leper; and like willful travelers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the albino whale was a symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

-Herman Mellville, Moby Dick or, The Whale, Chapter XLII

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tony Hoagland on Dean Young

Dean Young is the contemporary avatar of avant-garde populism in American poetry. His poems are jazzy, imagistic, ironic, romantic, humorous, surrealist-inflected, and accessible. They gratify the expectations of both art and of entertainment. Without dumbing-down for his audience, his allegiances to pop culture, his anti-intellectual asides, and his slangy Americanski patter serve to hold his poems in the gravity field of the general reader. Though influences are certainly visible in Young's work (New York School poets, French Surrealism, John Ashbery, etc.), he has refined and honed a poetic mode and texture distinctly his own. Young's own aesthetic influence among young poets is widespread, and––though he is not the only model for the style de jour––his work brings into focus certain values and habits of our poetry era––speed, dissemblement, parody, romantic irony. His own work also highlights, by contrast, some of the shortcomings of his emulators.

-Tony Hoagland, "The Dean Young Effect," in The American Poetry Review (July/August, 2009). p. 29.

I like Dean Young's work a great deal. At his best, he's a wonderful poet. I recall, in particular, a poem about Walt Whitman's brain that appeared some years ago in The Threepenny Review that I carried around with me for months, I liked it so well. But there are times when he strains so for effect and affect that I find his work falling flat.

Perhaps what he is attempting is sufficiently difficult that we should not be too critical when he's unable to keep all the juggling pins in the air at one time.

Tony Hoagland (top photo)

Dean Young (bottom photo)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Michigan Open Meetings Act versus The Freedonian Open Meetings Act

MCL 15.262 Definitions.

As used in this act:

(a) “Public body” means any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council, that is empowered by state constitution, statute, charter, ordinance, resolution, or rule to exercise governmental or proprietary authority or perform a governmental or proprietary function; a lessee of such a body performing an essential public purpose and function pursuant to the lease agreement; or the board of a nonprofit corporation formed by a city under section 4o of the home rule city act, 1909 PA 279, MCL 117.4o.

(b) “Meeting” means the convening of a public body at which a quorum is present for the purpose of deliberating toward or rendering a decision on a public policy, or any meeting of the board of a nonprofit corporation formed by a city under section 4o of the home rule city act, 1909 PA 279, MCL 117.4o.

(c) “Closed session” means a meeting or part of a meeting of a public body that is closed to the public.

(d) “Decision” means a determination, action, vote, or disposition upon a motion, proposal, recommendation, resolution, order, ordinance, bill, or measure on which a vote by members of a public body is required and by which a public body effectuates or formulates public policy.





The fireflies are out tonight. A hopeful sign.

I am always looking for signs and wonders.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hail, Freedonia Montessori School!

What kind of a school board refuses to meet with parents to hear the parents' concerns on the (false) grounds that the format of such a meeting a priori prevents the school board members from responding to those concerns?

By such "logic," the school board need never hold another public meeting--or answer a question--as long as anyone has a deeper inquiry for the Board than "Where is the rest room?"

Marx--in this instance Groucho, not Karl--would be so proud.

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

If you can't say anything nice about the dead...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ministry of Magic: Restore Dumbledore 2

We remain preoccupied with the intrigue at Walden Green Montessori. So far, this is very much like the plot to "Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix." Central Michigan University, which may be likened to the Ministry of Magic, is responsible for Walden Green's charter.


In other news, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile is in the area today.

This seems totally appropriate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Life Imitates Art

Tuesday morning, a trailer tipped over on I-430 near Little Rock, Arkansas, sending some ninety hogs out into highway traffic. I was reminded of this poem from Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007).


God is alive, programming all night radio
for Knoxville, Tennessee.
How else to explain why "Love is Alive,"
Gary Wright's great aching chestnut
comes on as my car inches
toward the burnt out Kenworth on I-40?

Because I won't go on tonight
beyond the next exit,
I'll hear the story at breakfast--
how wheel bearings overheated,
until the cab began to sputter and melt.
Whne the driver was finally flagged down,
the trailer was in flames
and seventy-eight hogs in back
were scorched and squealing.

The driver did what had to be done--
he unlocked the gate, and those pigs
that didn't break their legs
broke loose in the westbound lane, and so
I'm working a slalom of flares
and wounded hogs, shattered cars with air bags
popped, the elaborate red-amber whirl
of strobe lights.

My soul is a wheel that's turning.
I love the start-and-stop of this song,
the second thoughts and double takes,
the bass line that carries me
into the next lane,
where a cop waggles his flashlight.
meaning, Come along now, slowly.

Some of the hogs were disemboweled.
Some had the shit knocked out
in a literal sense. Others are lost,
defecating in the dark.
But because God works his play list
or is busy, banging out another solar system
along the edge of the galaxy,
He won't stop the carnage.
The truth is, God lives in the City of Angels
and sent this song beyond the skirl
of the ionosphere,
then back to a satellite dish
in Knoxville, Tennessee.
God knows I need a soundtrack,
knows My heart is on fire, that
a great hog staggers along the edge of my high beams,
froth at his mouth and a clot
oozing at his shoulder.

Two deputies approach the bloody pig,
three shots ring out
amd the pig drops and steams
as I crawl past.
The only way out now is to drive out,
meaning one final lane change
before I am waved back to speed.
The song blinks away on two repeating notes,
I am within the black-and-white lines,
Alive, alive, alive.

-Greg Rappleye

Monday, June 22, 2009


Back to the rock pile.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

...And The Reading?

The reading went very well. I read for about forty minutes, starting with a poem from A Path Between Houses and cycling through Figured Dark, and then a poem from Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds, and ending with the poem "Discontinuous Narrative," which is concerned with the Bayeux Tapestry and other things. The audience seemed receptive, and had many good questions for me afterwards.

I was introduced by the poet Jan Weissmiller, who coordinates the reading series at Prairie Lights. One of my favorite poets, Jane Mead, was also in the audience, and it was wonderful to have her there. I met Jane briefly in North Carolina in the late 90's. Lucia Perillo is a mutual friend (well, technically, Lucia was my teacher), and it was good to tell "Lucia stories" and catch up.

Jane Mead's work means a lot to me (she is on my short list of "holy writers"), and had I known beforehand that she was going to be in the audience, I might have read a few different things for her--work that might have connected a bit to what I think she is saying in her own poetry. As it was, I work steadily through my set-list, cutting things as I went along--time passes more quickly when I am reading than I think it will when I am putting a reading together.

I was very pleased by how things went, and would go back to Iowa City in a heartbeat to do it all over again. Prairie Lights Books is a great place for poets and writers, with so many wonderful books and literary journals, and a kind, helpful and knowledgeable staff.

Carlos and Liam were listening to the reading at home (via the internet "live feed") and got a kick out of hearing their disembodied father's voice reading poems.

I was happy to see some old friends from Michigan in the audience, including the poet Margaret Reges, who was raised here in Spring Lake and who just graduated (in May) from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Later this summer she will be a Fellow at Provincetown. I told her that when she comes back to Michigan, we'll put together a reading--you know, to show the townies what a star she has become.

My thanks to Jan Weissmiller and the good people at Prairie Lights.


The photograph is of the poet Jane Mead.

I meant to take some photographs at the reading itself, but got a bit overwhelmed with all that was happening.

My bad.

Postcards from Iowa City

The lovely Comfort Inn in Coralville, Iowa.

The doors of Prairie Lights Books, the best bookstore between New York City and Portland, Oregon.

If you are passing through, you must stop here. They have a great poetry selection.

The Java House in Iowa City, a great place for a cup of coffee--each cup is individually made.

Inside the Java House, getting ready for the reading.

A must stop for bagels on the way out of town.

Traveling provisions.

This is the storm that chased me across the Midwest on Friday. I managed to scoot below it coming across Chicago, but the rain caught up with me as I turned north into Michigan.

The "World's Largest Truck Stop" on I-80, east of Iowa City.

Restore Dumbledore!

I can't leave town for a minute! While I was gone, the Board of Directors of Walden Green Montessori School terminated our principal. His mother, who is the founder of the school and the very embodiment of Montessori education in Western Michigan, resigned.

Well, now we have something to fight for.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Getting Ready for the Reading

I drove into town this morning, had a great cup of coffee and checked in with Jan Weissmiller at Prairie Lights Books. I am going to get some lunch and then make some final cuts, etc., for the reading tonight. For those of you who might be interested, I am told that the reading (audio) will be "live-streamed" on the web at this address:


That's at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central (local) time.

You can also find this web address by putting "The Writing University" + "University of Iowa" in on Google.

At Prairie Lights, I picked up a copy of the correspondence of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, and also a volume of Hikmet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Iowa City

I made it to Iowa City at 4:30 p.m. (local time). I intended to stop earlier but the town sort of crept up on me. I will be enjoying all of the comforts of the Comfort Inn.

Hey, it's comfortable!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Semper Non Paratus

I have a star map of the visible universe and several maps of Central America. You'd think I could find a map around here of how to get to and from Iowa.

No such luck.

I am leaving tomorrow, because I don't want to drive seven hours on Thursday and then read Thursday night.

I am too old for that.

Happy Bloomsday, Constant Reader

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

––Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

––Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!

Bloomsday is a commemoration observed annually on June 16 in Dublin, Ireland and elsewhere to celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce and relive the events in his novel Ulysses (1922), all of which took place on the same day in Dublin in 1904. The name derives from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. June 16 was the date of Joyce's first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, when they walked to the Dublin village of Ringsend.

Monday, June 15, 2009

For a Free Iran

The Iranian government has rounded up Iranian journalists and banned many foreign reporters. Efforts are being made by the government to "jam" the internet and Iranian telecommunications, in an effort to block communication with the outside world.

Technology, however, is a difficult bottle to re-cork. There is a great deal of "raw" footage coming from Iran over the internet.

I've been watching some of it on Youtube.

The world continues to frighten and amaze.


As noted in the New York Times LEDE Blog:

Update | 7:03 p.m. The Lede will be back tomorrow morning with more updates. We leave you for the evening with the most recent plea from the Mousavi1388 Twitter feed:

We have no national press coverage in Iran, everyone should help spread Mousavi’s message. One Person = One Broadcaster.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Comment of the Week

Jack Ridl wants to know:

"Why Does William Logan Hate Me?"

Sunday Afternoon

We have a beautiful patch of phlox that blooms in the wood lot this time of year. As I finished taking these photos, I heard a scrambling sound just behind me, and turned to see a small fawn––not much larger than our smallest dog––rise and run off into the trees. The mother must have been just out of sight somewhere.

No, I did not get a photo of the fawn. It all happened too quickly.

I sent a couple of poetry packets off Saturday, and hope to mail a couple more early this week. Yesterday, I did a telephone interview with a reporter for the Daily Iowan, who is writing a story about the upcoming reading at Prairie Lights Book in Iowa City. That was great fun and a real honor. The idea that a place exists where poets are treated as serious artists, worthy of a newpaper interview! My thanks to reporter Eric Andersen.

The boys are away today and I have been working on the novel.

Such slow progress.

Speak Up For a Free Iran

The effects of the suppression of the vote in Iran for former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, are discussed in this article from the New York Times:

Quoting Ferdowsi, the epic poet, he said, “If there is no Iran, let me be not.” Poets are the refuge of every wounded nation — just ask the Poles — and nowhere more so than here in this hour.

Ferdowsi (c. 935- c.1020) wrote "The Great Book" or "Book of Kings," the national epic of Iran which told the history of the Persian people. Written in rymed couplets, "The Shanameh" is several times longer than the Odyssey. When not paid by the ruler for whom he had created the poem, Ferdowsi left behind a poem, stuck to the wall of the room where the poet had worked for more than thirty years. It was a long and angry poem, more like a curse, and ended with the words:

Heaven's vengeance will not forget.
Shrink tyrant from my words of fire,
and tremble at a poet's ire.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bad Ideas from the Midwest

Blowing the air raid siren at the fire barn every day at noon is a bad idea. Is it the London Blitz? Pearl Harbor? The Cuban Missile Crisis? Are the Rooskie bombers headed over Lake Superior?


Did the perch burn at the town fish fry?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Excuse Note & Slapshot Analysis of Game 7

Dear America:

Please excuse Western Pennsylvania and the entire State of Michigan as we proudly sing "O, Canada" and drop the puck on Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Management


First Period Summary:

NBC Announcers:


Score at end of First Period:





Guys, we let Pittsburgh have the puck too freakin' often and for too freakin' long on our side of the ice, eh?

Second Period Summary:

Max Talbot from Pittsburgh scores two goals.


"Oh-oh! Daddy said the F-word!"

NBC Announcers:

"Crosby is hurt!"
"Crosby is hurt!"
"Crosby is hurt!"
"Crosby is hurt!"
"Crosby is hurt!"
"Crosby is hurt!"
"Crosby is hurt!"


Crosby, hurt.


Guys, we'll never win the freakin' Cup unless we get the freakin' puck down on Pittsburgh's side of the freakin' ice, eh?



"Eh, are you imitating Sidney Crosby out there?"

Talbot: "Huh?"


Do the NBC Announcers get a Canadian Looney every time they mention Sidney Cosby?

Third Period Summary:


Uhm, NOW!

Oh, oh.

The Cup is out of the box and they are polishing it. Pittsburgh still leads, 2-0.

YES! Ericsson Scores!

2-1 Penguins!

The Wings pull goalie Chris Osgood from the net.

The seconds tick down.


We lose.

And Crosby is still hurt!


We didn't put the freakin' puck in Pittsburgh's freakin' net often enough, eh?

Jack Ridl (a total Pittsburgh guy) will never let me live this one down.

NBC Announcers:

"Sidney Crosby, so, uh, you're still hurt, eh?"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reading at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City

Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.


Location: Prairie Lights Books

Description: Greg Rappleye will read from his most recent collection of poems. Rappleye is both a lawyer in Grand Haven, Michigan, and the author of Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007) and two other collections. "With a wonderful voice and an instinctual sense of language, Rappleye is an old-fashioned storyteller, a creator of brilliant lies, myths, and histories."

Prairie Lights Books
15 S. Dubuque Street
Iowa City, IA 52240
Tel: 319-337-2681
Fax: 319-887-3084

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Someday, I Will Make a Life List of Birds

The other day I saw a strange and wonderful bird walking across the road in front of my car. It took me quite a while to figure out what I had seen. Here it is--a King Rail (Rallus elegans). Michigan is at the northern edge of their breeding area, and they are somewhat rare here.

From my vantage point, I thought I'd seen a duck walking on stilts.

A Moment with Christine Rhein

I first met Christine Rhein--it must have been--in the early Nineties at the Third Coast Writers' Conference at Western Michigan University. Year after year I would see her there. Every time I read and heard her work, it was apparent that she was rapidly progressing as a poet. And then her poems began to appear in the big journals; places like the Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and the Michigan Quarterly Review. These were poems of genuine wonder and accomplishment. Then I heard that her full-length manuscript, Wild Flight had won the Walt MacDonald First-Book Series in Poetry, and would be published by Texas Tech University Press.

I bought a copy in February at the AWP Conference in Chicago. Wild Flight is an amazing book, full of great poems and hard-won truths. Robert A. Fink, judge of the Walt MacDonald contest wrote, in a perfect introduction to Christine's book:

"You've heard this before: 'I started reading and couldn't put it down.' With Chris Rhein's manuscript, not only could I not put it down, I feared turning each page, almost certain the pilot could not sustain such blood-rushing combinations, such patterns and deviations, and return whole to earth, touch down, roar into another poem. When the ride ended, I got in line to go again."

Christine Rhein worked as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry. She now lives in Brighton, Michigan, just Northwest of Detroit.

Here's one of my favorites from Christine Rhein's Wild Flight (Texas Tech University Press, 2008):


So now it's come to this--Sharon Olds
in black suit and pearls, reading
to me and a full auditorium
about the topography of her
and her husband's bodies together
in bed while I pant alone
in my basement in an old T-shirt
and shorts, stepping up one
plastic stair only to step right
back down before climbing up again,
getting nowhere, like the pet mouse
Olds wrote of, its burial
after all that wheel turning.
My whirring mind sweats as I listen
and wonder if Sharon, in her tallness,
ever exercises or feels she should,
and what she would think of me,
the sound of my breath and footfalls
mingling with her words.
Sharon, I've watched your tape
at least a dozen times, your cadence,
though not the beat of rock, urging
me to move, to push heavy weights
over my head and out from my heart,
to consider all the people who
would choose any music over poetry,
who have never heard of you
or Galway Kinnell and the taste
of his icy, black blackberries,
who live life without struggling
to write about it, until I don't know
who's the wiser--them or me
forming a poem as I crunch through sit-ups,
listening now to Czeslaw Milosz
whose muscles never tired of the strain--
"Reality, what can we do with it?"

-Christine Rhein

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Moment with Chris Dombrowski

Chris Dombrowki is a poet whose work I very much admire. I first met Chris when he was an undergraduate at Hope College. Jack Ridl had invited me to workshop a few poems with some of his students, and Chris was very much a star. Chris received an MFA from the University of Montana, and has worked as a river guide--Jim Harrison swears by Dombrowski's ability to put a drift boat over trout--and as a teacher of creative writing both at the University of Minnesota and at Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he served as Writer-in-Residence.

Chris Dombrowski's debut collection By Cold Water, was published this spring by Wayne State University Press, and is one of the finest first collections I've seen this year. Here's one of his poems, which originally appeared in the journal Salt Hill.


We were taught to count kestrels on wires

like coins in our pockets. Whole years

we recalled by color: that torch-year,

tanager, fox, sandstone, sage. Droughts

revealed the river’s former ways, oars wedged

between boulders, a derailed boxcar,

conductor’s leather cap. A recluse fell in love

with certain shadows spilled across

her cellar floor, and among the east’s first stars

were the occasional words jeweling-up at dusk

with junkyards, chrome hubcaps—as mirrors

struck small skies across our bodies.

-Chris Dombrowski

If Only I Wrote Song Lyrics

"...takes a ladder
steals the stars from the sky,
puts on Sinatra and he starts to cry."

Great lines.

Stephen Bishop wrote this song, of course, and this is a very good video (from the late 70's, I'd guess), of Bishop singing it. I was actually looking for a video of Kenny Rankin's wonderful version of this song. Rankin died Sunday in Los Angeles at age 69. If you don't know his work, start with a copy of his 1976 album, "The Kenny Rankin Album" (on which this song appears), recorded with a big band conducted by Don Costa. Costa, of course, is best-known for his work with Frank Sinatra.

Rankin played in Bob Dylan's backup band on "Bringing it All Back Home" in 1965, and wrote the song "Peaceful," made into a hit by Helen Reddy.

He had a remarkable voice--warm and rangy--and great taste in material. He will be missed.

Kenny Rankin (1940-2009)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Thought for the Day

Rain, and the birds still singing in the trees.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

We Go to the Baseball Game

Friday was the last day of school for the boys, and in the afternoon, we drove down to Ann Arbor and spent the night. On Saturday, we went to the University of Michigan's Museum of Natural History and then to see the Detroit Tigers play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever they are) on Saturday night.
Here are some photographs.

Marcia and the boys outside the Museum, posing next to one of the panthers.

I think this is a Mammoth on the left and a Mastodon on the right.

Pterodactyls. Very cool.

Liam and stuffed puppy friend.

Carlos and crystals and stuffed puppy friend.

Dad, at lunch.

Marcia, Carlos and Liam at the game.

A view of the field, looking toward left field from our seats along the first baseline. Comerica Park is a great place to see a game. Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions, is just over to the left. You can see the sign past the third baseline. On Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins were also in town (at the Joe Louis Arena) playing the Red Wings in game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Detroit won that game, too (5-0), and the Motor City was rocking. Just outside of Comerica Park is "Hockeytown," a bar owned by Chris Chelios, one of the Red Wings players. The area was packed with Red Wing fans, and a cheer went up in Comerica Park every time the progress of the Stanley Cup game appeared on the scoreboard in the photo.

Liam (he's the cute one) and his Dad.

Carlos takes a self-portrait, with Liam.

We had a great deal of fun and yes, the Tigers won, 2-1. It wasn't much of a game for offense, but the Tigers' starter, Edwin Jackson, pitched a complete game, striking out the heart of the Angels' order in the 9th inning.