Thursday, July 31, 2008


Selected Poems of Robert Burns
Edited with an introduction
by J. De Lancey Ferguson,

Professor of English,
Ohio Wesleyan University

The Macmillan Company
New York (1926; reprinted 1937)

Image: Glossary, pages 344-345 (click to enlarge).


Thirty-eight terms added to the Burns Glossary. Whirlygigums: useless ornaments. So gat the whissle o’ my groat: to play a losing game.

Note: After eight months, I’m almost done with the glossary — another session or two at the computer should do it. Since it’s been such a pleasant, educational experience, and since the page is attracting so many visitors from around the world, I’ve decided to make it even more useful by adding the entire Index of First Lines. Who knows — maybe someday this will earn me an epitaph like the one Burns penned for “Holy Willie”:

          Here Holy Willie’s sair worn clay
               Taks up its last abode;
          His saul has taen some other way—
               I fear, the left-hand road.

Other updates:
A new haiku, “Art Lesson,” added to Songs and Letters.

In the Forum: sunflowers growing on the beach, wearing bright yellow scarves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For the Sister I Never Had

          The sound of raindrops,
          an open window — summer
          peeks at your notebook,

          asks, whose tears
          are these?

Written and added to Collected Poems July 29, 2008.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another Kind of Poem

One of my earliest memories is of being with my mother while she trained a small one-year-old vineyard onto six-foot, hand-split redwood stakes. I wasn’t quite three years old. The soil was light on that part of the farm, almost sandy. There had been a rain. Afterward, as the ground dried in the sun, a thin crust formed on the surface. The crust was just stiff enough that wherever I stepped, a perfect footprint was left behind, and the crust around it undisturbed. I called the ground “step-in ground,” and I can remember being delighted by the sound my sturdy little shoes made as the crust was broken by my weight.

While my mother worked, I would watch her intently for a minute or two, then go off to make more footprints. The vines were seven feet apart. For each seven feet my mother walked, I probably covered fifty. My footprints were everywhere, and formed a complete and irrefutable record of my travels. There was something to investigate in every direction: partially decayed brush and leaves, feathers, clods, shiny grains of soil, animal tracks. There was also the satisfying fragrance released by the extra growth my mother had trimmed from the vines as it dried on the ground, and of the yellowish twine she was using to tie up the succulent trunks.

Later, after the vineyard grew up and thrived and became the rugged annual producer of a dozen or more tons of sweet red wine grapes per acre, and after I had become one of its faithful custodians, there was no season, no year, during which I did not remember my first steps there. And I have many similar memories involving my brothers, our father, and his father, from the countless hours we spent together in the fields. I remember running home in a spring thunderstorm with one brother, each of us carrying a hoe, and arriving at the house soaked to the skin. I remember listening to the sparrows in the neighbor’s Santa Rosa plum trees. I remember the sound of pruning shears cutting through brush in the thick valley fog, and bits of conversation coming from hundreds of feet away.

This is how a place creeps into your bones, and how it whispers in the silent regions of the mind, drifting past landmarks of experience and thought until it reaches the essence of your accidental, remarkable reality to utter the single indestructible word, home.

I can only imagine what life would have been like otherwise, had my parents moved restlessly from one place to the next. Maybe I would have discovered another kind of harmony in that life, another kind of poem. I know others have. Over the years, I myself have found poems thriving in the most unlikely, inhospitable places. I think it has to do with another strange and powerful word, hope.

From Songs and Letters, originally published August 27, 2005.

Image: Accidental Remarkable Reality, colored pencil on plain white paper, July 28, 2008.

* * *

Note: Another of my dreams has been added to Lynn Behrendt’s Annandale Dream Gazette (July 28 entry). That makes three in all.

A new haiku, “Summer Postcard,” added to Songs and Letters.

Twenty-four words added to the Burns Glossary. Whaizle: to wheeze. Wham: whom.

A timeless quote from Don Marquis added to Useless Information.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dream-blue Flowers

Yesterday morning, as my son drove us north on Interstate 5, past old houses and fields of ripening grain en route to Powell’s Books, a gap in the center divider revealed a swath of dream-blue flowers — the pavement of the southbound lanes. I told him of my impression; he was pleased, not surprised. We were together. We were there. The time was ripe for a million things.

Recently Acquired:
Contemporary French Novelists, by René Doumic, translated by Mary D. Frost. Thomas Y. Crowell & Company: New York, 46 East Fourteenth Street; Boston, 100 Purchase Street (1899). C.J. Peters & Son, Typographers, Boston.

As the Conversation continues, the names of twenty-eight sunflower varieties become the titles of poems for a prospective chapbook.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tachibana Hokushi

Experimenting . . .
     I hung the moon
     On various
Branches of the pine

By Tachibana Hokushi, from The Four Seasons, Japanese Haiku, The Peter Pauper Press, Mount Vernon, New York (1958). Decorations by Marian Morton.

To read Ryu Yotsuya’s History of Haiku and the work of ten haiku poets, go here.

Fourteen words added to the Robert Burns Glossary. Waught: a hearty draught.

In the Forum: an accidental poem along the way, followed by an intriguing list of sunflower varieties.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Francis Jammes: By the Yawning Door

By the yawning door, thick and studded and painted in green,
I saw a square of light which fell
On a budding branch. And I made these verses
To fix the moment of a dream
As I sat at the table, eating beans
With the ghosts of my mother and my wife,
But that life with its long flame burned out long ago,
Leaving only a black and white, solitary lily
On the floor.

By Francis Jammes, translated by Walter Wykes.

Image: Francis Jammes, by Jacques Emile Blanche, from Association Francis Jammes.

Update: A note on Francis Jammes, called by some “the Thoreau of France,” added to You Don’t Say.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cherry Blossoms

Yesterday, in the waiting area of an auto shop, I overheard a salesman trying to sell advertising space to the owner in his office. I was reading haiku at the time. Some were sad little poems, about the hollow lives of scarecrows. The salesman failed. He left the office — white shirt, white hair, body lumpy and prematurely aged — with his binder under his arm. I returned to my book. The telephone rang. The owner answered. I read something about the sweet brevity of cherry blossoms.

From Songs and Letters, originally published July 24, 2008.

Twenty-six terms added to the Burns Glossary. Pick and wale: of choicest quality. Wallop in a tow, to hang one’s self.

As the Conversation continues, we learn that the Sunflower Goddess also shucks corn and smokes a pipe.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Mansion on the Hill

We cling to what we know; the more we know, the more we cling. Or so it seems to me. But if knowledge is not to be an encumbrance, we must remember that we cannot know everything, and that what we do know, however much it may be, is still very little. And temporary. What we know doesn’t really belong to us; when we treat knowledge as property, or express it in a way that implies our superiority, grief is sure to follow. By sharing what we know, we keep knowledge from becoming a burden.

A Mansion on the Hill

Your knowledge
is a mansion on the hill;
my hut has a hole in its roof;
could it be the things I see at night
are things you never will?

(written July 23, 2008; first publication)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Three Summer Haiku

Hereby I assign,
     In perpetuity,
     To wit:
To this bird this fence

                                   — Issa

I will not forget
     This lonely savor
     Of my life’s
One little dewdrop

                                   — Basho

From the day it’s born
     Of abandoned
     Sticks and rags . . .
Elderly scarecrow

                                   — Nyofu

From the “Summer” section of Cherry Blossoms, Japanese Haiku, Series III, The Peter Pauper Press, Mount Vernon, New York (1960).

A new poem, “Unto Distance as Distance Decrees,” added to Songs and Letters.

Sixteen words beginning with the letter W added to the Burns Glossary. Wabster: a weaver. Wadset: a mortgage.

In the Forum, we travel into the heart of the Sunflower Nation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tao Teh Ching

Tao Teh Ching
by Lao Tzu
translated by John C.H. Wu
Shambhala, Boston and London (1989)

I found this book at Goodwill the other day, when my youngest son and I were there looking for an extra two-quart bowl for making madzoon (yogurt). Here is Chapter 54, from the second, or “Lower Part”:

What is well planted cannot be uprooted.
What is well embraced cannot slip away.
Your descendants will carry on the ancestral sacrifice
     for generations without end.

Cultivate Virtue in your own person,
And it becomes a genuine part of you.
Cultivate it in the family,
And it will abide.
Cultivate it in the community,
And it will live and grow.
Cultivate it in the state,
And it will flourish abundantly.
Cultivate it in the world,
And it will become universal.

Hence, a person must be judged as person;
A family as family;
A community as community;
A state as state;
The world as world.

How do I know about the world?
By what is within me.

A short piece titled “Under Our Hats” is the first entry in Volume 20 of Songs and Letters.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Sunflower

a ragged sunflower
at the end of the
at the end of the
at the end of the
of the very
          old man who
had planted it
nods its head
like a black
as the sullen
dusk falls the
leaves whirl
the telephones start ringing.

By John Berbrich. The latest of many poems scattered throughout our Conversation.

Image: Sunflowers near Fargo, North Dakota (click to enlarge). To read more about sunflowers, go here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trees are Poems

From Sand and Foam, by Kahlil Gibran:

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky. We fell them down and turn them into paper that we may record our emptiness.

Should you care to write (and only the saints know why you should) you must needs have knowledge and art and magic—the knowledge of the music of words, the art of being artless, and the magic of loving your readers.

They dip their pens in our hearts and think they are inspired.

If I were to choose between the power of writing a poem and the ecstasy of a poem unwritten, I would choose the ecstasy. It is better poetry. But you and all my neighbors agree that I always choose badly.

A poet is a dethroned king sitting among the ashes of his palace trying to fashion an image out of the ashes.

Inspiration will always sing; inspiration will never explain.

Thinking is always the stumbling stone to poetry.

A great singer is he who sings our silences.

Genius is but a robin’s song at the beginning of a slow spring.

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York (1926, thirty-third printing, May 1977).

Sixteen words added to the Burns Glossary, eight beginning with the letter U, eight beginning with V, thus finishing both sections. Uncos: strange things, news of the country side. Virls: rings, bands.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On Reading and Writing

More wit and wisdom from Samuel Johnson:

It is strange that there should be so little reading in the world, and so much writing. People in general do not willingly read, if they can have any thing else to amuse them.

A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.

A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?

What is written without effort is in generally read without pleasure.

No man loves to be indebted to his contemporaries.

Source: The Sayings of Doctor Johnson, edited by Brenda O’Casey and published by Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., London (1995, second impression).

Definition of the obsolete term pithanology (the rhetorical use of persuasive arguments) added to You Don’t Say. Extracted from Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, G. & C. Merriam Company (1924). For more on that dictionary, go here. To read about Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, go here.

As the Conversation continues, we venture into sunflower psychology.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Taking Care of My Mother

Early morning. She’s sound asleep.
Passing through the quiet house,
I pause, extend my arms —
To stretch, I think — and then,
Suddenly, I’m lifted by the breeze.

Far below, the vineyard rows of home.

Now I walk the valley ground,
Inhale the scent of earth and weeds,
Stop — look up at what I was —

A bird, alone, circling.

(first publication)

Image: In Flight, colored pencil on plain white paper (inverted), July 17, 2008.

Thirty-five words added to the Burns Glossary, thus finishing the T’s. Troggin: wares sold by wandering merchants. Tryst: a fair, a cattle-market.

In the Forum: the child who wanted to be a sunflower.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Ordeal of Poetry

Yesterday I added a fascinating entry on “ordeal,” the “ancient Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic practice of referring disputed questions of criminality to supernatural decision, by subjecting the suspected person to physical tests by fire, boiling water, battle, etc.,” to You Don’t Say. Oddly enough, it makes no mention of the ordeal of poetry, in which prodigious poets of little talent inflict their poems on the alleged offenders. In any case, here it is, in its entirety:

ordeal (A.S. ordel, related to adoelan, “to deal, allot, judge”). The ancient Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic practice of referring disputed questions of criminality to supernatural decision, by subjecting the suspected person to physical tests by fire, boiling water, battle, etc.; hence, figuratively, an experience testing endurance, patience, courage, etc.

This method of “trial” was based on the belief that God would defend the right, even by miracle if needful. All ordeals, except the ordeal of battle, were abolished in England by law in the early 13th century.

In ordeal of battle the accused person was obliged to fight anyone who charged him with guilt. This ordeal was allowed only to persons of rank.

Ordeal of fire was also for persons of rank only. The accused had to hold in his hand a piece of red-hot iron, or to walk blindfold and barefoot among nine red-hot ploughshares laid at unequal distances. If he escaped uninjured he was accounted innocent, aliter non. This might be performed by deputy.

Ordeal of hot water was for the common people. The accused was required to plunge his arm up to the elbow in boiling water, and was pronounced guilty if the skin was injured in the experiment.

Ordeal of cold water was also for the common people. The accused, being bound, was tossed into a river; if he sank he was acquitted, but if he floated he was accounted guilty. This ordeal remained in use for the trial of witches to comparatively recent times.

In the ordeal of the bier, a person suspected of murder was required to touch the corpse; if he was guilty, the “blood of the dead body would start forth afresh.”

In that of the cross, plaintiff and defendant had to stand with their arms crossed over their breasts, and he who could endure the longest won the suit.

The ordeal of the Eucharist was for priests. It was supposed that the elements would choke him, if taken by a guilty man.

Source: The Reader’s Encyclopedia.

Image: The Violent, Tortured in the Rain of Fire, by Gustave Doré, from Digital Dante: Doré Gallery.

Other updates:
“Primitive art” is the subject of a new Notebook entry.
In the Forum: the significance of an unopened book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Dawn, n. 1. In summer, the time when one side of a tree is awake,
the other side asleep. Some say enlightenment begins this way,
then spreads, leaf by leaf by leaf. In winter, when the branches
of many trees are bare, they resemble the open arms of loved ones;
in spring, belief; in autumn, secrets kept for years. 2. An uncanny
explanation of the night. 3. That which follows grief. 4. A vast distance
measured in heartbeats or by the rhythm of wings. 5. The riddle
of an empty street. 6. What a child knows, but cannot tell.

From Songs and Letters, originally published August 12, 2007. Also appeared in Barbaric Yawp, September 2007.

Twenty-two words added to the Burns Glossary. Toy: a very old fashion of female head-dress consisting of a close cap of linen or wool, with flaps coming down the shoulders.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Takarai Kikaku

     As a fine horse gallops
     20,000 poems are houseflies
     scattered in the wind

By Takarai Kikaku, from Eighteen Haiku by Kikaku, translated by Michael K. Bourdaghs.

Written to commemorate Ihara Saikaku’s composition of 23,500 poems on a single day in 1684, with Kikaku in attendance.

Image: Ihara Saikaku (click to enlarge).

As the Conversation continues, a silly word game degenerates into an idea for a perfectly useless bestseller.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Distance at the Asylum

Never have ten paces
carried me this far

each step a door
closed behind my back

From Songs and Letters, originally published November 12, 2007.

* * *

An interesting paragraph on Jones Very (1813-1880), an American poet, scholar, and mystic encouraged by Ralph Waldo Emerson and at one point declared insane, added to You Don’t Say.

Sixteen words added to the Robert Burns Glossary.

In the Forum: scowling cowled cows, headed out to sea.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Bless me, fither, fer I have zinned,
it’s been foorty years
zince yer last confusion.

Neverwhiles in the pub
where you was zittin,
fer I was listnin to you woo
bright’n cheery maids.

Red-haired they was, fither,
don’t you go an deny it,
behind yer game a ordinary cairds.

I seen ya creakin in yer vestments,
thinkin noons the miser,
er somesich in yer ringading bell.

Nodden down foorn yer blessin,
fither, yer the one a needs it now.

Nodden down, den zither
we’cn go an dream
another paint a stout.

Nodden down, den zither
we’cn scheme
what life is all about.

From Songs and Letters, originally published January 9, 2006.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Homer’s Scourge

By their own follies they perished,
the fools.

From The Odyssey, by Homer.

Notes on Zoilism and Zoilus, the spiteful fourth century B.C. Greek rhetorician who came to be known as “Homer’s Scourge,” added to You Don’t Say.

Twenty-three more words beginning with the letter T added to the Robert Burns Glossary. Thrapple: throat, gullet, windpipe.

A note echoing yesterday’s entry about the soon-to-be-released William Saroyan centennial edition added to News and Reviews.

Crows storm the Bastille as the Conversation continues.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A William Saroyan Reader

Coming August 1, 2008:

He Flies through the Air with the Greatest of Ease:

A William Saroyan Reader

Edited by William E. Justice
Foreword by Herbert Gold
Heyday Books, Berkeley, California
Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1-59714-089-8, $35.00
Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-59714-090-4, $24.95

My thanks to Gayle Wattawa, Acquisitions Editor at Heyday Books, for including my drawing of “an older Saroyan” in the photo section of this beautiful new centennial edition. I sincerely appreciate her request.

A new poem, “Faith,” added to Songs and Letters.
In the Forum: “Life is change; how it differs from the rocks.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The sunflowers I saw at Safeway the other day did not look like this. To see and read about more sunflowers, visit this page at the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery, curated and produced in Toronto by David Brooks. The site also contains all of Vincent’s letters.

A Sunflower, colored pencil on plain white paper, July 9, 2008. (Click to enlarge.)

Twenty words added to the Burns Glossary. Thack and rape: thatch and rope, the roofing material of a cottage or grain-stack, hence common necessaries, such as shelter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer of Dreams

The neighbors hate me
because I plowed up our lawn
with an old mule —
an out-of-work friend of mine
dropped in to visit from a former life,
too tired and set in his ways
to retrain for a career in high-tech.

The lawn went under
in the warm, sacred afternoon.
We cut our paces in an easy rhythm,
to a quiet beat of tranquility
and forgetfulness,
while the atmosphere rumbled
with aromatic earth-song,
calling the birds,
calling the insects,
making the dogs bark —
the poor hobbled creatures
tied to pegs with dung-encrusted rope,
wide-eyed and desperate
for companionship.

We sank rejoicing to our knees
in the mellow-brown soil,
to the sound of slamming doors
and neighbors clearing their throats.
Hands on hips, not one of them
could fathom our joy,
confident there was a law against
plowing up one’s front lawn
and that a word with City Hall
would net them satisfaction.

I was visited once by a man
in a pickup with a logo on its side.
We chatted amiably.
Later that week I planted corn.
Now the tall stalks rustle in the breeze,
the mule sleeps in the shade,
and clouds of hostility brood
over driveways, garbage cans, fences.

“Summer of Dreams” first appeared in Barbaric Yawp. It’s also included in Collected Poems, along with a short introduction.

The William Michaelian Papers:
One book of matches from Bakersfield, California, purchased for fifty cents in an antique shop on the Oregon coast by my youngest son.

In the Forum, we ponder change and wonder about the current status of haiku in Japan.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Works and Days

A trip to Safeway to pick up prescriptions for my mother: sunflowers, in six-dollar bunches by the door; rotten eggplant neatly stacked in the produce aisle; hard tomatoes and wilted bell peppers at prices few people can afford. And I think, There used to be a field here. Oh, what I could do with a field just a quarter of the size of the Safeway parking lot. The dreams I could cultivate. The things I could grow.

* * *

A note on Hesiod’s Works and Days, characterized in my old Reader’s Encyclopedia as “a sort of ‘farmer’s almanac’ of ancient Greece,” added to You Don’t Say. For a bit more about the 800-verse poem and an image from a 1539 printing, go here. For more about Hesiod, go here.

Twenty-two words added to the Burns Glossary, as we venture into the T’s. Tarrow: to murmur, to delay, to show reluctance.

In the Forum: sifting through the old black-and-whites.

Monday, July 7, 2008


We are in our glory now,
thanks to that stylish artist, Edgar Degas.
He might have painted us that same morning,
when I was too bewildered to pull on my socks
and my wife was unable to find the mirror
beside the armoire we had used for kindling.

A wisp of dirty French sunlight fell upon her hair,
then struggled like a newborn spider to escape.
The sheets were damp with sweat and all awry,
gone with coal dust, liquor, and stale perfume,
a variegated monument of worn-out linen
soiled by lonely, seasick mourners, she and I.

Even so, she found a dress to wear,
with collar frills and sleeves to hide her pale arms.
We dug for coins and I put on my coat and hat,
for the charm and grace left of them and the stature
they implied, tobacco in one pocket, pawn tickets
in the other, to keep us company while we sat.

Such has been our ritual, lo these many years,
of forgetting her labor and my failure to pay the rent.
An empty table is all that we require, a place to rest
our elbows and our drinks while we stare at our
reflections in the street, unmoved by what we see,
no longer caring what it means, or what is best.

As for the dreams we had, like our children,
some of them died and the others simply flew away.
The Revolution passed us by, on angry carriages
steered by drivers who were blind, rattling the bones
of those who live and die in this Parisian sewer,
yet powerless against the inertia of our marriage.

Yes, we are in our glory now,
thanks to that stylish artist, Edgar Degas.
He might have painted us late that night
crawling up the café steps, or later still, when my wife
dragged me home across the dirty stones and tore
her last good dress, cursing in the cold moonlight.

From Songs and Letters, originally published May 24, 2005. Also appeared in Convergence, Spring 2007.

L’Absinthe in Wikipedia.

Image: Detail from L’Absinthe (1877), by Edgar Degas, from cover of L’Assommoir (1877), by Émile Zola, translated by Leonard Tancock, Penguin Books (1980, ninth printing).

* * *


Links to recent selections from this blog added to News and Reviews in acknowledgment of Recently Banned Literature’s 100th entry.

Oars in hand, we ponder the East-West cyclic syndrome dichotomy as the Conversation drifts past Hawaii.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Duly Noted

“It is observed that a corrupt society has many laws; I know not whether it is not equally true, that an ignorant age has many books.”

By Samuel Johnson, from The Sayings of Doctor Johnson, edited by Brenda O’Casey, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., London (1995, second impression).

* * *

Forty words added to the Burns Glossary, thus finishing the S’s.

One hundred nine words added to the Forum, thus finishing nothing.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Ormulum and other Poems

The review of Winter Poems posted by Irene Koronas about a month ago in the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene blog and first mentioned here is also included in the tenth issue (Volume 3, No. 2) of the Wilderness House Literary Review as a PDF file.

Meanwhile, thanks to Lynn Behrendt for adding my strange and rather unsettling dream to the Annandale Dream Gazette, an interesting site with a thought-provoking premise. Lynn has also done some distinctive portraits of poets. Who knows what she would make of my beard.

* * *

A note on the Ormulum, a Middle English religious and didactic poem, added to You Don’t Say. For more extensive information, see the Ormulum entry in Wikipedia.

In the Forum: a traumatic experience for Stanislaus Spimic.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Simblin Report

Don’t miss Joseph Hutchison’s follow-up report on “simblins,” a term I first read in a wonderful quote from Mark Twain’s Autobiography in this entry of his blog. Not only is it interesting, it’s another fine example, I think, of a poet’s natural curiosity.

Also, while you’re there, take a few minutes and follow the links to samples of his poetry. Further down the page, you’ll find a selection of Hutchison’s books spanning twenty-plus years.

Now, about the picture he posted. Those may well be simblins; but I had wanted them to be bigger and lumpier than that — a bit gourd-like, perhaps, and with bigger leaves. Oh, well. (Wait — Joe just added a second picture. . . .)

A new poem, “Hail Mary, Mother of God,” added to Songs and Letters.

Nineteen words added to the Burns Glossary. Stoited: walked stupidly, lurched. A fair strae-death: a natural death, a death in bed.

As the Conversation continues, we are joined in the studio by a haunted Eastern European poet.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Observer Observed

My thoughts have been everywhere this morning: waterfalls, mountains, vineyard rows, barns, cemeteries, casinos, railroad crossings, fields, birds, clouds, stacks of firewood, country roads, cool mornings and the first day of school, old desk drawers full of papers, mirrors on the wall, oak trees, city sidewalks, fig jam, roosters crowing and hens scratching in the yard, hands, dusty beetles, stop signs, neighbors, rain, unanswered telephones, empty boats rocking on the water, lemon groves, faulty wiring, mothballs, old worn out coats, church bells, the last rites, cable cars, insurance claims, laughter, and even thoughts themselves and the very thinking of them, as well as the miraculous observation of their rise and fall, and of the observer itself, the observer in the act of observing, the observer observed ad infinitum, each in turn ridiculed and amused, certain and torn, satisfied and overwhelmed, a candle that steadily burns, that shines its light in the name of stars, that knows not when its flame goes out and imagines its eternal presence, that is the light, that is the world, that is the moment as it was accidentally conceived, blessed, embraced, and poignantly misunderstood, that is forever blind and extravagant in its grace, that follows the order set down, that is first, last, and always alone, that is identical in its need, that is no one, that is you, that is me.

From Songs and Letters, originally published October 10, 2006.

A short note on Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos added to You Don’t Say. For a full run-down, go here.

A link to the Armenian Libraries Consortium listings of Another Song I Know and Winter Poems added to Cosmopsis Print Editions.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dinuba Library, 1916-1975

A few days ago, I linked to an old photo of the Carnegie Library in my hometown. Here’s a look at the interior (click to enlarge), as it appeared well before my time when there were fewer shelves and books. Oh, how I remember that floor, those windows, those solid tables and chairs. . . .

The building went up in 1916; it was demolished in 1975. For a snippet of Branch #1 history, go here.

A new short poem, “Saved,” added to Songs and Letters.

Nineteen more words added to the Burns Glossary.

Added “Update #24” to the Webmaster’s Reading List section of Favorite Books & Authors. Partial list includes seventeen new titles.

In the Forum: Who the heck is the Poet Laureate, anyway?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Declaration of Poetic Rights and Values

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all languages are created equal, endowed by their creators with certain inalienable meanings. These meanings are embedded in sounds and texts; in words, imagination, and the poems that bind them. Poetry is the distillation of language; the uproarious babble of human thought, and the engaging patter of consciousness itself—in all languages—all 6,500 of them.

From the Preamble of A Declaration of Poetic Rights and Values, written for The People’s Poetry Gathering and City Lore by Steve Zeitlin, Bob Holman, and Emilia Bachrach with assistance from Jerome Rothenberg, Mark Abley, and John Foley.

To read the Preamble and Declaration, go here. For the full text of the Declaration, see

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There are nine different words for the color blue in the Spanish Maya dictionary but just three Spanish translations, leaving six [blue] butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.

From “The Last Word: Can the World’s Small Languages Be Saved,” by Earl Shorris, Harpers, August 2000.

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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.

From an entry titled “Olla-podrida,” published here April 11, 2008.