Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Walking Home

The complete text and my reading of “Walking Home,” the poem by eighth-grader Marianne Azakian mentioned in the April 15 Café Night 2008 entry, is included in the Second Anniversary Blast of the Armenian Poetry Project. My thanks to Project curator, Lola Koundakjian.

Meanwhile, as so often happens, one reference leads to the next in You Don’t Say: first, from Grecian fable, we have Niobe, who paid so terrible a price for insulting Latona that she wept herself to death and was changed into a stone; next comes Childe Harold, a poem by Lord Byron in which he styles Rome the Niobe of nations, the “lone mother of dead empires.” Ah, bless my 1948 edition of The Reader’s Encyclopedia.

And, as The Conversation Continues, we explore the many sides of a total stranger. Don’t ask why. It’s just something we do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Carl Sandburg: Languages

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

From Chicago Poems (1916), by Carl Sandburg. For more about Sandburg, go here.

Added thirty-two terms to the Burns Glossary, thus finishing the K’s.
A new poem, Short Poem for Spring, added to Collected Poems.
A real life imagined in the forum.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Annotated Proverbs of Hell

Genius describes what the spirit knows
And the senses fail to perceive;

The river wonders where the water goes,
Man what he believes;

Genius, is the night with eyes:
By Genius sown, of Genius conceived.

From Songs and Letters, The Annotated Proverbs of Hell.

A note about Billy Barlow, a street droll from the nineteen century in the East of London, added to You Don’t Say.

A new poem, “Religion is a Funny Thing,” added to Songs and Letters.

A Vonnegut lookalike spotted in the forum.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring Haiku, Poem 2

Snow on the lilac —
my mother has already
forgotten that day.
(first publication)

More about Dale Hobson and his fine chapbook of poems, The Water I Carry (Benevolent Bird Press, 2008), in the forum.

Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms: feeling my way into the K’s.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring Haiku

The earth rolls over
in her sleep — an old woman
whose breath is still sweet.
(first publication)

Forum update: a book found in Thoreau’s cabin.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Death and Dr. Hornbrook

‘Waes me for Johnie Ged’s Hole now,’
Quoth I, ‘if that thae news be true!
His braw calf-ward whare gowans grew
Sae white and bonie,
Nae doubt they’ll rive it wi’ the plew:
They’ll ruin Johnie!’
From “Death and Dr. Hornbrook,” by Robert Burns. To read the entire poem and accompanying English translation, go here.

All twenty-nine terms beginning with the letter J, including “Johnny Ged’s Hole,” added to the Burns Glossary.

God wonders what to do next as The Conversation Continues.

The “religious” theme continues with three more short poems in Songs and Letters: Sunday School, Judgment Day, and In The Garden.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Modern Story

The modern story is also the ancient one. Clothe it any way we like, it still contains the firelight of that far off, unrecorded time, when words and sounds and stars were not so rigidly defined. Nights then were profoundly dark — as dark as any moral, religious, or philosophical abyss we have since invented or imagined. If they had not been so dark — if the world were bathed in constant light and the riddle of the night sky had never been posed or revealed — how different our stories would have been!
From “The Modern Story,” a short essay published recently in a new online magazine by the same name. Editor-in-Chief: Morten Jensen.

A brief introduction to The Modern Story added to News and Reviews.

More heaven than you can shake a stick at in the forum.

Two entries added to You Don’t Say: one from Scandinavian mythology about Hymir, a giant with a frosty beard, the other about Hound and Horn, a literary magazine founded in 1927.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Modern Word

I pause to record that I feel in extraordinary form. Delirium perhaps.
From Malone Dies, originally published in 1951 in French as Malone Meurt, by Samuel Beckett, and later translated into English by the author.

I’m just starting to look at a website called The Modern Word — or perhaps “portal” would be a better term, in this case “a large network of literary sites dedicated to exploring twentieth century writers who have pushed the envelope of traditional narrative and structure. This includes many writers associated with Modernism, surrealism, ‘magical realism,’ and postmodernism. Our mandate includes both writers who have experimented with prose styles and narrative conventions, such as Joyce, Burroughs, or Pynchon, and those who use literary techniques to frame alternate ways of perceiving reality, such as Borges and Philip K. Dick.”

The Beckett quote and many others can be found here.

In one fell swoop, the I’s are done. Granted, there are only fifteen words, but some of them are classic, such as: Ill-Thief (The Devil); Ill-willie, and Ingle-cheek.

Two very short poems, “Heaven” and “Novice” begin Volume 19 of Songs and Letters.

In The Conversation Continues: “Beckett Imagines Heaven” and a quote from Beckett’s Murphy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel

The sun turned toward his mother, and his mother, frightened,
rushed to light all her ovens at the sky’s foundations
and cast in forty loaves of bread to feed him well.

From the beginning of Book V, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, by Nikos Kazantzakis, trans. Kimon Friar, Simon and Schuster (1958).

A brief note about Recently Banned Literature, and how it already seems to be outgrowing its original purpose, added to News and Reviews.

In keeping with the spirit of things: another slice of ham in the forum.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Zimmer Imagines Heaven

At dusk Alice Toklas brings out platters
Of Sweetbreads à la Napolitaine, Salad Livonière,
And a tureen of Gaspacho of Malaga.
After the meal Brahms passes fine cigars.
God comes then, radiant with a bottle of cognac,
She pours generously into the snifters,
I tell Her I have begun to learn what
Heaven is about. She wants to hear.
It is, I say, being thankful for eternity.
Her smile is the best part of the day.
The last verse of “Zimmer Imagines Heaven,” by Paul Zimmer. To download the complete poem, click here (PDF). For a glimpse at Paul Zimmer’s papers, go here.

Updates in The Conversation Continues include a video/audio link to John Berbrich reading two short poems.

Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms: finished the H’s.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I have a feeling
they will sing right up
to the moment
the world
From Songs and Letters, first published February 5, 2008.

An extensive — but incomplete, since it originally appeared prior to her death — biographical note on the life and career of Edna St. Vincent Millay added to You Don’t Say.

In the forum: “Zimmer Imagines Heaven.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dirge Without Music

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
From “Dirge Without Music,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950).

A melancholy entry in my Notebook also includes a poem from Songs and Letters.

A grand entrance re-imagined in the forum.

Friday, April 18, 2008


With so many of us talking at once,
I wonder how there can be silence at all.
Or is silence the sum total of sound,
An infinite roar, a vessel rimmed with stars?
From Songs and Letters, originally published January 27, 2008.

Twenty-two more Scottish terms added to the Burns Glossary. A hoodie-craw is a hooded crow, and hirplin means limping.

A little about poet Dale Hobson, of North Country Public Radio, and his recent chapbook, The Water I Carry, in The Conversation Continues.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Immortal Wound

It is absurd to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound — that he will never get over it. — Robert Frost
Another short poem, “The Blind,” added to Songs and Letters.

In the forum, one thing leads naturally to the next. That’s what’s so scary about it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Walt Whitman’s Reply

Do not listen to the ministers of failure, who promise redemption for their imagined sins.

From Songs and Letters, originally published April 15, 2005.

Published April 14, 2005: Letter to Walt Whitman.

Added a short poem called “Meditation” to Songs and Letters.

Added twenty words to Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms, including Hen-broo (chicken broth) and Hiltie skiltie (helter skelter).

Linked to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Underwear” in the forum.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Captain Lebyadkin

Notes on Captain Lebyadkin, a drunken, manipulative army captain and phony poet in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (1872) who is “simultaneously crafty, comically pompous, and proud,” and his sister, Marya Timofyevna Lebyadkin, a “pathetic, crippled idiot,” added to You Don’t Say.

Forum updates include, among other things, mention of an upcoming poetry event and a link to this archived North Country Public Radio reading and interview with small press publisher and editor John Berbrich.

Café Poetry 2008

For the past three years, poet-principal Shahé Mankerian and his eighth grade students at St. Gregory’s Hovsepian School in Pasadena, California, have observed National Poetry Month with their own Café Poetry Night. For the event, the students choose poems written by contemporary Armenian-American poets, memorize them, and then recite them before an audience of family and friends. They also write their own poems inspired by those they’ve chosen. Then, to complete the circle, poets who live in the area attend and read the students’ poems.

This year’s Café Poetry Night will be held Saturday, April 19, 2008, at eight o’clock in the evening. The school is located at 2215 E. Colorado Boulevard.

The students will be reciting work by the following poets: Yeva Adalyan; Alan P. Akmakjian; Ara Babaian; Beatriz Badikian; Lory Bedikian; Sylva Dakessian; Tina Demirdjian; Gregory Djanikian; Alec Ekmekji; Jaques Hagopian (trans. Ruth Touryan); Armine Iknadossian; Arpine Konyalian Grenier; Shahé Mankerian; Victoria Melekian; William Michaelian; Sona Ovasapyan; Arto Payaslian; Aram Saroyan; Leon Z. Surmelian (1905-1995); and Alene Terzian.

Since I won’t be able to attend, I’ve recorded two very nice poems for the event: “House Keeping,” by Arman Seuylemezian, and “Walking Home,” by Marianne Azakian.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On the Translation of the Illiad

Sacred, sonorous, is heard the long-muted speech of the Hellenes;
Shaken, my soul knows thee near, shade of the might old man.

by Alexander Pushkin (1830), trans. Babette Deutsch, The Modern Library (1943)

More additions to Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms.

Dylan Thomas makes a surprise appearance in the forum.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yin and Yang

I put out the cat;
that’s one too many,
the night replied.

From Songs and Letters, March 19, 2008.

Fifteen words — Hash’d, Haslock, Has’t, Hastit, Haud, Hauds, Hauf, Haughs, Hauns, Haurl, Haurls, Haurlin, Hauver, Havins, Hav’rel — added to Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms.

Dylan Thomas’s late-night habits, rotten teeth, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog mentioned in The Conversation Continues. We’ll see where that leads.

Friday, April 11, 2008


An ideal way to open doors in our native language is to listen to the music, cadences, and speech patterns of languages we don’t understand. In the process, we discover that there is really no such thing as a foreign language (the same can be said of countries, I think, as the concept of borders is trite, arbitrary, and offensive) and that words in all languages have the power to invigorate and inform the words of our own.

Added a short definition of the Spanish term olla-podrida to You Don’t Say.

“Reply,” a poem of thirteen words and seventeen syllables, added to Songs and Letters.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

House Fear

Your house is your larger body. It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? and dreaming, leave the city for grove or hill-top? — Kahlil Gibran

House Fear

Always—I tell you this they learned—
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.

From the unabridged Dover republication (1993) of Mountain Interval, by Robert Frost, originally published by Henry Holt and Company, New York (1916).


Empty cupboards
and bare walls:
did you know
that we had gone?

What did you feel
that first long night alone?

A sigh at every window,
gray hands upon each knob

And when strangers hurried on?

I drove them mad with groans,
made their fires all go out

A wise approach. And now?

I’m as mad as anyone.

From Songs and Letters, originally published November 15, 2006; also appeared in Barbaric Yawp, (June 2007).

Added notes on T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems 1909-1962 and two excerpts to And I Quote.

A Prayer for Old Age

God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;

From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song’s sake a fool?

I pray — for fashion’s word is out
And prayer comes round again —
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.

From Parnell’s Funeral and Other Poems (1935), by W.B. Yeats, included in The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, revised second edition, edited by Richard Finneran, Scribner (1996).

The Conversation Continues (new page)
Songs and Letters (new poem)
Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms (still in the H’s)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Confederate General from Big Sur

I love this description of the approaching night, from Richard Brautigan’s first novel, A Confederate General from Big Sur (1965), written when he was twenty-eight:
“Night was coming on in, borrowing the light. It had started out borrowing just a few cents worth of the light, but now it was borrowing thousands of dollars worth of the light every second. The light would soon be gone, the bank closed, the tellers unemployed, the bank president a suicide.”

Meanwhile, more blabbing in the forum.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Great God Brown

There! Between calls from my agent, producer, mechanic, and psychoanalyst (esteemed elf expert, John Berbrich), I added an intriguing note about Eugene O’Neill’s play, The Great God Brown (1926), to You Don’t Say, my “compendium of odd words and literary references.” Since O’Neill’s play involves masks, reading about it reminded me of the first paragraph of Kahlil Gibran’s inspiring introduction to The Madman (1918):

“You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, ‘Thieves, thieves, the curséd thieves.’”

Hale Breeks and Hallions

My two favorite terms of several just added to Robert Burns: A Glossary of Scottish Terms.

Hale breeks: breeches without holes, uninjured.
Hallions: clowns, common fellows.

Trouble with Elves

The latest entry in my “forum,” also known as The Conversation Continues:

“Oh, now I understand. What I thought was a conversation all these years, has really been a psychological examination and evaluation. In other words, you’ve been humoring me — time and again trying to coax me into discussing the elves, all the while planting clearer and brighter images of them in my mind. Well — I won’t be your monster, Dr. Frankenstein. These elves are just as much yours as they are mine. To put it another way, if I’m a nut, then so are you.”

And to think it only took us five years to reach this point!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Other Hand Clapping

Or, “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.” Or, as Thoreau put it, “If you should ever be betrayed into any of these philanthropies, do not let your left hand know what your right hand does, for it is not worth knowing.”

The launch of Recently Banned Literature announced in News and Reviews.

Monday’s Child

A sixteen-word poem added to Songs and Letters. Written while drinking a cup of organic green tea, without sweetener.


According to Wikipedia, the term marginalia was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I didn’t know that back on January 19, 2006, when I gave the title “Marginalia” to one of my poems. I do like the word. I also like the word colophon, and used it in a poem called “Fresno Onions.”