Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Tell Myself No Stories

It amounts to nothing, I know,
the words, the pain, the books.
I tell myself no stories.
I simply do my work
because I am not cut out
for anything else.
Day by day, I am more insane.
In public, I ask myself strange questions.
“Have I forgotten my pants?”
Am pleasantly surprised.
“Ah. There they are.”
Move on to other conversations.
A clerk is waiting at the counter.
She remembers my name,
laughs at everything I say.
Should I tell her about my pants?
Or about the cuckoo clock
I imagine behind her on the wall?
The rustling of papers
by unseen hands,
the stamps on tattered documents,
visas, passenger lists, lonely eyes
sailing into the harbor,
the roaring crowds, angry men
with hammers and guns simultaneously
building and destroying the future?
No. And yet I have forgotten why
I’ve come. To ask her my name, perhaps.
To wonder about her children.
Is her mother still living?
Is her husband dead or blind?
She is glad to see me. Why?
The streets outside are empty.
The ones inside are full.
A bubbling spring has caused
a mighty tree to fall,
Jesus has died upon a cross.
I see him standing on the corner,
waiting for a ride. The gutter
is full of blood. “Thank you,” she says.
But when? Before or after the empire falls?
When the innocents are burned,
or when the politicians are impaled?
The ships have sailed,
but no souls ride upon them.
The moon has lost its glow.
It amounts to nothing, I know.
I tell myself no stories.
Only set down my grief each day
because I am not cut out
for anything else.
And each day,
each strange and lonely day,
I am more and more insane.

From Songs and Letters, originally published April 7, 2005.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits
January 30, 2009
Plain White Printer Paper, PaperMate Write Bros. Med. Pt. Black

1.30.2009 #4
1.30. 2009 #3
1.30.2009 #2
1.30.2009 #1

Spirit Mask

Spirit Mask
January 30, 2009
Plain White Printer Paper, PaperMate Flexgrip Ultra Med. Black

1.30.2009 #3
1.30. 2009 #2
1.30.2009 #1

Mirror View

Mirror View
January 30, 2009
Plain White Printer Paper, PaperMate Flexgrip Ultra Med. Black

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

1.30.2009 #2
1.30.2009 #1

Pine Flat Dam

Kings River Below Pine Flat Dam
Sierra Nevada Foothills Near Piedra, California

January 2009
Photo courtesy of Richard Hachigian
(click to enlarge)

It’s been many years since I’ve visited Pine Flat Dam. After the spring run-off, our family used to go for picnics along the river. The vents in the lower part of the dam would be gushing, and we could feel the spray hundreds of feet downstream. We also did some fishing on the lake itself. The lake’s capacity is a million acre-feet. I’ve seen it full, and with water spilling from the gates at the very top of the dam, and I’ve seen it almost empty during drought, old roads and trees exposed at the bottom. I just read on Wikipedia that access to the dam has been limited since September 11, 2001. No more walks across the top. What a shame.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Still Life

This old dictionary,
in full bloom
on my work table.

A petal falls:
solitude, noun.

From Songs and Letters, originally published April 18, 2008.

In the Forum: zombie interviews and a plumbing thesis.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In This Light

The bigger raindrops are snowflakes. The bigger snowflakes are feathers. The bigger feathers are clouds. The bigger clouds are dreams. The bigger dreams are galaxies. The bigger galaxies are universes. The bigger universes are raindrops. Inside one of these raindrops, the neighbors have finally moved their Christmas tree outside, and have left it where it can be seen from the street and through their front window, while I watch these changes in the weather. How beautiful it would look against someone’s skin, just in from this shower of stars. “You’re here.” “I am.” And believing is, what we believe, it is.

From Songs and Letters, originally published January 27, 2009.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Next Exit

While driving somewhere, I see a new freeway off-ramp under construction. It descends from a wooden overpass partly obscured by clouds, is impossibly steep, and has no visible means of suspension. The pavement stops about a hundred feet above the ground. In an almost vertical position, two or three pieces of heavy equipment defy gravity while the workers take a coffee break. I pull off the road. Near an old industrial building, I see an adult version of a boy I knew in grade school. He seems down on his luck. I say his name, “Ernesto.” The two of us walk around a corner. Ernesto tells me he needs a job. We come to a blue door. I point at it and say, “Have you asked at the mailroom?” He says no, and walks off alone.

Added this morning to the Annandale Dream Gazette.

Note: Ernesto’s visit took place a couple of hours after a frightening dream that ended when I kicked so hard I almost fell out of bed. I even got up for a minute so the dream wouldn’t resume. While facing the bathroom mirror, I caught myself just as I was drifting off and about to fall over backward. Now I can’t remember a single detail from the dream.

1.27.2009 #2
1.27.2009 #1

Before you can say Jack Robinson

This entry from my battered old copy of The Reader’s Encylopedia is the latest addition to You Don’t Say:

Before you can say Jack Robinson. Immediately. Grose says that the saying originated from a very volatile gentleman of that name, who used to pay flying visits to his neighbors, and was no sooner announced than he was off again; Halliwell1 says (Archaic Dictionary, 1846):

The following lines from “an old play” are elsewhere given as the original phrase —

          A warke it ys as easie to be done
          As tys to saye
Jacke! robys on.

But the “old play” has never been identified, and both these accounts are palpably
ben trovato. The phrase was in use in the 18th century, and is to be found in Fanny Burney’s Evelina (1778), II. xxxvii.

1 A few hasty clicks has me thinking that this is the Halliwell in question. And he is mentioned here, where Grose’s name is also scattered throughout.

Image: James Halliwell-Phillipps, from Gerald Massey:
a biography
- Chapter 5.

In the Forum: Night of the Living Dead Opera Singers.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Footnotes are little doorways with stairs leading down and the stairs give way to rocks and the rocks give way to a river of fire. The river of fire is haunted by the ghosts of those who perish while trying to navigate in wooden boats. The ghosts carry lanterns and in each of the lanterns is a small portion of the river. They implore us to take the lanterns and return to the surface. When we do, the meaning of the text becomes quite clear: turn the page, you fool.

In the Forum: crippled by ideas.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The End of the Rainbow

When I was in the fourth grade, our teacher gave us a short reading assignment about a porpoise. Since I had never heard of the animal or seen the word porpoise in print, I ignored the i and assumed the word was “purpose.” The purpose was friendly, and splashed in the water. It was a slippery purpose with rows of tiny sharp teeth. I thought these were odd ways to describe a purpose, but having a naturally poetic turn of mind, I was willing to go along with it. I was ten years old. There was no reason a purpose had to be set forth in strictly business-like terms. As far as I was concerned, a purpose could be a soft leather baseball glove, or the shiny spokes on a new bicycle.

After we finished reading, a discussion began. The porpoise this, the porpoise that. The teacher asked me a question. I had no idea what he was talking about. I said, “I thought it was purpose.” The girl next to me laughed. Neither of us knew that seven years later, she would be homecoming queen and I would be her escort, and that a short time after that, we would drift in other directions and never see each other again. In fact, it didn’t enter into it. I was crushed. Apparently a porpoise was a kind of fish, some sort of happy wet mammal known for being smart. And when people think an animal is smart, by gum, it must really be something. This was proven a few years later by a television show called “Flipper.” Flipper was a porpoise. Or was he a dolphin? Is there a difference? To this day, I still don’t know. Does one of them have a longer snout? Or is the word proboscis? My proboscis is a sunny green field. It is a home run hit by Willie Mays.

I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way....

My father and I were taking a ride in the hills in his 1965 Chevy pickup. We were making the gentle climb on Highway 180 into the little town of Dunlap when a rainbow appeared in the hills to the south. It was vivid and close. As soon as he could, my father turned on a side road, and we headed for the end of the rainbow. I had never been on the road before. It was wet from a recent shower, and steam was rising from the pavement. The rainbow loomed. It plunged into the earth behind a green hill covered with oaks. My father was as excited as I was. What would we find? Treasure? Leprechauns? A doorway to another world? We rounded the bend. The nearer we drove, the larger the rainbow became. We were immersed in color....

An eternity later, with pieces of the rainbow still warm in my adult pockets, I found myself in a hospital room, where I looked down upon my father as he lay sleeping, never to wake again. I whispered the rainbow’s bright colors into his ears, then took the wheel....

I’ve been driving ever since, forward, backward, all around. The old roads look the same, but the landmarks have been rearranged. I see a man along the way. I stop and let him in. Where are you going, friend? Where have you been? To the end of the rainbow, then back again. To the end of the rainbow, then back again....

From Songs and Letters, originally published June 18, 2005.

A short poem, “After the Move,” added to Songs and Letters.

As the Conversation continues, Aqualung wields a nasty plunger.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Poets of the Nineteenth Century

Recently Acquired:
The Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Selected and Edited
by Rev. Robert Aris Willmott
Illustrated with One Hundred
and Thirty Engravings
Drawn by Eminent Artists
Engraved by the Brothers Dalziel

New Edition (1869)
London: Frederick Warne and Co.
Bedford Street, Covent Garden
New York: Scribner, Welford, and Armstrong

620 pages

Another dollar well spent — unless you count the quarter I put in the parking meter in the library parking garage, and the gas and wear and tear on my mother’s old boat of a Lincoln, which I’ve been using for the past few months since our van’s transmission went bad. But it was a short trip. Call it three dollars. Either way, the book is old and beautiful, and other than the front cover being detached, in good condition. It was given to Emma E. Reese by D.E.W. on December 25, 1875. Here is the first paragraph of Rev. Willmott’s Preface:

Very suggestive of musical and pleasant thoughts is the Picture-gallery which this Preface opens; and among them is the recollection of the manner in which these choice Word-paintings have been contributed by the Authors, or their representatives; always with liberal promptness, and sometimes with expressions of personal good-will, to be gratefully treasured. Nor can I forget the generous enterprise of the Publishers, and the tasteful skill of the Brother Dalziel, by whom grace and the beauty of the pencil have been translated into the popular language of their own Art.

If I’ve counted correctly, there are seventy-five poets included:

James Beattie, William Cowper, William Hayley, James Hurdis, Charlotte Smith, Anna Seward, Erasmus Darwin, William Crowe, Thomas Percy, George Crabbe, Mary Tighe, Ann Radcliffe, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Hannah More, W. Lisle Bowles, Samuel Rogers, William R. Spencer, Amelia Opie, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, Henry Kirke White, Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, James Montgomery, Joanna Baillie, James Grahame, Robert Bloomfield, Thomas Moore, Charles Wolfe, Allan Cunningham, Sidney Walker, James Hogg, Felicia Hemans, Mary Russell Mitford, Reginald Heber, Robert Southey, John Leyden, Bernard Barton, William Sotheby, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, Thomas Hood, Thomas Pringle, Walter Savage Landor, John Keble, Henry Hart Milman, Leigh Hunt, George Croly, John Moultrie, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Taylor, Richard Chenevix Trench, Henry Alford, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Kingsley, Thomas Davis, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Bryan Waller Procter, Edwin Atherstone, Mary Howitt, Alexander Smith, Philip James Bailey, Sheridan Knowles, Gerald Massey, Charles Mackay, William Allingham, Frances Brown, Owen Meredith, Robert Buchanan, Dora Greenwell.

Since my favorite name among them is Richard Chenevix Trench, I’ll include his short poem, “Life Through Death”:

      A dew-drop, falling on the wild sea wave,
      Exlaim’d in fear, “I perish in this grave;”
      But, in a shell received, that drop of dew
      Unto a pearl of marvellous beauty grew;
      And, happy, now the grave did magnify
      Which thrust it forth, as it had fear’d, to die;—
      Until again, “I perish quite,” it said,
      Torn by rude diver from its ocean bed;
      O unbelieving! so it came to gleam
      Chief jewel in a monarch’s diadem.

Image: George Dalziel (click to enlarge).

This entry, minus the image, added to And I Quote, my “random selection of books and authors, some famous, some forgotten.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Perfect World

There are several buttons on my keyboard that I’ve never pressed. They have funny little symbols on them. I don’t know what they mean. Is it possible I need them and don’t realize it?

My keyboard is black. I like black. The buttons I don’t use are silver. I like silver, but not as much as black. I like to think black and I have an understanding.

I can imagine walking on a sidewalk alongside a busy street, holding my keyboard and pretending it’s a baby or an accordion. I’m not unhappy, but I’m wearing a melancholy expression.

I can imagine my keyboard trying to tell me something. “I didn’t sleep a wink,” for instance. Or, “Put me down at the corner, I need some time alone.”

A policeman asks, “Why are you talking to that keyboard, son?” I explain that we are friends, and that we are on our way to the library. “In a perfect world,” he says, “I would believe you.”

“In a perfect world, you would believe everything,” I reply. He doesn’t hear me. I reach into my pocket and hand him my very last rainbow. He thinks it’s a stick of gum.

(first publication)

“A Perfect World” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Toast

Note: This is one of four photographs showing the final gift presentation of a commissioned poem written last year. The pictures arrived in Tuesday’s mail. The padded envelope also contained a quarter of an ounce of Ararat ocinum basilicum (purple basil) in a recycled seed packet that originally contained certified organic Mideast Prolific cucumber seeds (cucumis sativus). For the record, and if memory serves, this is the first and only time I’ve reused a poem title — the first “A Toast” being in my book, Winter Poems. The two poems are nothing alike, but it still bothers me a little. It shouldn’t. The title is ideal in both cases. Multiple toasts. To your health, then, and may we be as real as we imagine.

A short note about this entry added to News and Reviews.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That Which Is Left Unsaid

That Which Is Left Unsaid
January 20, 2009
Plain White Printer Paper, #2 Pencil

A reader’s comment on my novel, A Listening Thing, added to the bottom of the book’s comment page, along with my response.

In the Forum: The Plumber of the Opera.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oedipus Wrecks

As sort of a useless addendum to Joseph Hutchison’s first of what I hope will be many entries about his mostly used book acquisitions, I thought I’d mention the fruitless trip my youngest son and I made to Goodwill a couple of days ago. Well, fruitless in terms of books, at any rate: the place was jammed with people while we were there, giving us many new faces to study. In that sense, the trip was quite successful; its poetic value was also greatly enhanced by the many bits and pieces of conversation we enjoyed and pretended not to hear.

The small poetry/literature section that seldom fails us, though, was a bust. We could have brought home another collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, but didn’t. There were a handful of issues of Negative Capability that didn’t strike my fancy; the requisite number of battered Brontë and Austen paperbacks; a Civil War reader that combined Bierce, Whitman, and Crane but contained stuff we already have on hand; yet another collection of pithy Mark Twain remarks; a hardbound edition of Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran, which has been sitting there for months now; a basic assortment of Plato and Aristophanes paperbacks; and a large paperback edition of writing from the Pacific Northwest that I would have bought if its pages weren’t dog-eared and its corners weren’t mangled, or if it had been priced at ninety-nine cents. In frustration, my son did bring home a little paperback edition of the Oedipus cycle, which he immediately abandoned for the 1943 hardbound edition of Fifteen Greek Plays that I picked up in Berkeley many years ago.

The bright side of all this? There were four checkout lines, and we were in the slowest. Due to some confusion at the cash register, we literally did not move forward for ten minutes. In the next line, there was a little girl creeping along below knee level on her new rocking horse. I was speared from behind by the edge of a clothes rack being pushed by an employee moving hangers from one side of the store to the other. I saw a stain on the floor that looked like Freud smoking a cigar. It was great. “Here we are,” I said. “Alive. It’s a miracle.”

Monday, January 19, 2009


Words are living things. Sometimes, through ignorance and arrogance, we murder them, or treat them as if they were already dead. I was at a word funeral once. The casket was a meadow. The pall bearers were clouds. Most of us in attendance were writers in some frail dimension: poets, novelists, critics, storytellers, biographers. What pale expressions we wore! — thus bearing evidence of our guilt. The funeral lasted all day. Night fell. The stars looked on. Someone lit a candle. Soon we were all given candles to hold, and, singing, we followed the casket into the unknown.

(first publication)

“Melody” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: the pipes are calling.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

He didn’t expect the bubbles to look like eyes, or to feel his heart breaking when one he’d been watching as it drifted along burst as it was passing over a rock. Neither did he expect the rock to care, or even notice, but it did, and in a colossal effort it dragged itself out of the water and died on the bank. In anguish, the entire current went rushing into the hole where the rock had been and disappeared. As the sandy bed beyond dried in the afternoon sun, there arose a great cry: “I’m blind, I’m blind, I’m blind ... ”

(first publication)

“Stream of Consciousness” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: the Mardi Gras of universes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Citrus Dialects

I just polished off my first honey tangerine of the season. It was excellent — very sweet and juicy. Most of the sections had two seeds, but a few had one or three. The fruit contained twenty-five in all. Not a record, but very respectable. Occasionally, one tangerine will hold thirty or more. And like people, some seeds are more talkative than others. Their language, of course, is Citrus, but it’s worth noting that there are many Citrus dialects, and that quite often even seeds in the same piece of fruit are unable to understand one another. Maybe that’s why they’re so hard.

1.17.2009 #2
1.17.2009 #1


A couple of days ago, I received a wonderful letter from a visitor who wrote to say how much she had enjoyed reading Poppy, a story of mine about a clairvoyant woman and her grandson. She said the story had been recommended to her by her eighteen-year-old son, and explained that the two of them are very close, and that he thinks she will be like Poppy when she’s a grandmother.

“I believe he thinks I am clairvoyant,” she wrote in part, “because I seem to know how he is feeling and what is going on in his life before he tells me. While that is true, I haven’t told him that it is a mother’s love, and making sure that he knows he is treasured beyond measure.”

“Poppy” is the second story in No Time to Cut My Hair, an online collection of seventy stories written in a ninety-day period back in 2002. Receiving a letter like this now is a blessing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up
January 15, 2009
Plain White Printer Paper, #2 Pencil

Note: This is a larger version of the drawing that accompanies a new Notebook entry of the same name.

As the Conversation continues, we realize that the universe business is more complicated than it seems.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A dream, or a dream of a dream?

Shortly before five this morning, I awoke from a dream that consisted of one distinct, bright image. In the process of remembering the dream, I began searching online for black artists. While sifting through the results and following some of the links, I whispered the dream to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. To my disappointment, the dream faded with each repetition. Shortly after five, I opened my eyes. I was still in bed. Our youngest son, home from working a late shift, was still up and listening to music in the kitchen. The dream was gone. And now I wonder if it really was a dream, or if I was dreaming that I was dreaming.

Added yesterday to the Annandale Dream Gazette. My thanks, as always, to Lynn Behrendt.

Note: When reading over this entry several hours after it was first published, I suddenly remembered the following short passage from a poem I wrote about three years ago:

          live life the dream
          not as dreamer,
          but the dreamed.

In the Forum: disposable universes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Assuming I have the stamina and mental wherewithal to forge a more productive work-life after my mother has settled into her new surroundings at a nearby long-term care facility — a sad, very necessary change soon to take place — part of my plans for 2009 and 2010 include the publication of one or two new poetry chapbooks and two new books, one each of fiction and poetry. If I can find the patience, I’m also considering an experiment or two with the Issuu technology.

If I don’t have the stamina and mental wherewithal, I will probably just write myself to an early grave and leave business matters to someone else.

On the other hand, if I have the stamina but not the mental wherewithal, or the mental wherewithal but not the stamina, or the mental stamina but not the wherewithal, or the stamilmenthina but not the withwhereal, or the whamilwithal but not the mentina, I might have to reconsider the whole thing.

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

In the Forum: faulty merchandise on a grand scale.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lord of the Flies

Recently Acquired:
Lord of the Flies
By William Golding
Introduction by E.M. Forster

Riverhead Books, New York (1997)

Note: Another Goodwill acquisition, this paperback is in perfect condition and appears never to have been read. The volume includes a Biographical and Critical Note by E.L. Epstein, and several pages of Selected Highlights of Critical Analysis.

In the Forum: Is the universe really Finnegans Wake held upside down?

Monday, January 12, 2009


I just read your letter —
then looked inside
the envelope one last time.

From Songs and Letters, originally published April 11, 2008.

In the Forum: In all likelihood, the universe was written on a gigantic bar napkin.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Idea Man

February 13, 2005 — I need to do something with the phrase “ideas leaking out of his head.” Imagine a person being so revolutionary a thinker that even as he goes about his everyday mundane business, you can see ideas leaking out of his head. And he has so many of them that he doesn’t even notice. When he goes out to get the paper, ideas run down the arms of his pajama sleeves and land on the sidewalk. Within seconds, little weeds of thought sprout in the cracks, and by the time he’s dressed and ready for work the whole sidewalk is in bloom. But does a person like this really get dressed and go to work? What office would tolerate such a nut? “Ned is an idea man. A little peculiar, but handy to have around.” And then there was the time Ned sought medical help for the strange unwarranted seepage. By the time his turn came to see the doctor, the philodendron in the waiting room had blossomed into a jungle, complete with monkeys and its own rain cycle. No one else saw it, of course. Everyone in the room was preoccupied with their own list of disorders, and thought philodendrons had always been house plants. “I’m referring you to a psychiatrist,” the doctor told Ned after a cursory examination of his ears and other portals. “He’ll know what to do.” Ned put his shirt back on. Within seconds, it was literally soaked with ideas. He smiled at the doctor and gave a helpless little shrug. Later that afternoon, he went to see a Dr. Zoozle, who had been curious enough to make room for Ned in his busy schedule. Shortly after Ned’s arrival, there had been a massive explosion in the parking lot across the street from Dr. Zoozle’s fifth-floor office. Bored by what he assumed was gang warfare, Dr. Zoozle never dreamt that the explosion was Ned — or, rather, one of Ned’s ideas. When Ned entered the office, his hair was several feet long and tied in braids, and he looked like an ancient wise man from Nepal. Dr. Zoozle, of course, didn’t notice. His walls were lined with diplomas and certificates of distinction and he wore his little glasses way down on the end of his nose and wryly hummed Puccini arias. But none of this meant a thing when it came to diagnosing Ned. Ned was the diagnosis. Ned was the spirit wandering in the void and the creator of vast worlds of startling beauty. That was Ned. Dr. Zoozle was educated — so educated, in fact, that not one of his thoughts was truly his own. He was in essence a dead man, albeit with a very nice office and a dandy income. None of this was lost on Ned, who like a raging Viking took a mental bite out of the good doctor’s polished desk, leaving it with three corners. The doctor didn’t notice the missing corner. He thought Ned was the one with problems, and wasn’t even aware that the entire building had been moved to another planet. This amused Ned. At one point, just to see the doctor’s reaction, he said, “You know, I think you might be right. I never thought of it that way.” Completely unaware that his nose had been transformed into the beak of a toucan, Dr. Zoozle leaned forward eagerly and said, “It will take time, of course. Perhaps a year, maybe two. But if we work together, I’m sure we will be able to . . . ” But Ned was no longer listening. He had just had another idea. This one brought an end to war.

From One Hand Clapping, a daily journal in two volumes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

All Wet

While washing my hair this morning, I was surprised to find several bare oaks, a farmhouse with a smoking chimney, a flock of geese, and a despondent janitor crowding around the drain amidst a wave of diesel fumes. Then I remembered: I drove to the airport yesterday afternoon.

1.10.2009, #2
1.10.2009, #1


The end of the world.
All humankind, pleading,

What, have you done, with my mirror?

From Songs and Letters, originally published August 13, 2008.

Recently Linked:
In yesterday’s second entry, I mentioned linking to Joel Jacobson’s blog. Joel has also very kindly returned the favor.

In the Forum: Yes, we are nuts, and we have a manifesto to prove it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Man Looking Over Rainy Ledge

Man Looking Over Rainy Ledge
January 9, 2009
Index Card, #2 Pencil

Recently Linked:
My thanks to J.E. Jacobson for throwing caution to the wind and adding his profile link under “Followers.” A link to his blog, A Poetic Matter, can be found in my “Reading Room.”


Your way of expressing anger with a hammer
taught me how to write shorter and shorter poems,
until at last, one day, somehow, a single blow
left us both speechless and we turned,
unexpectedly, to stone; only then
did we hear the pleading
of this grieving

From Songs and Letters, originally published January 8, 2009.

In the Forum: The Bacon Face Defense.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Keats, Snyder, Keene, and Burns

Let’s see ... what other used books did I pick up the other day? I paid three dollars for a beautiful hardbound copy of Keats, a biography by Andrew Motion published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1998. This 636-page tome is in perfect condition; I have no idea why it was withdrawn from the Salem Public Library. There are illustrations scattered throughout, and two glossy photo sections. Plate 18 is the life-mask of Keats, made by Benjamin Robert Haydon in the autumn of 1816. The caption reads, in part, “Keats’s sister Fanny later described it as ‘a perfect copy of the features of my dear brother ... except for the mouth, the lips being rather thicker and somewhat more compressed which renders the expression more severe than the sweet and mild original.’” It’s a picture I could look at for hours, and probably will.

And here’s a copy of the seventh printing of Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, first published by New Directions in 1974. On the cover it says, “Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1975.” Here’s Snyder’s poem, “For Nothing”:

          For Nothing

          Earth a flower
          A phlox on the steep
          slopes of light
          hanging over the vast
          solid spaces
          small rotten crystals;

          Earth a flower
          by a gulf where a raven
          flaps by once
          a glimmer, a color
          forgotten as all
          falls away.

          A flower
          for nothing;
          an offer;
          no taker;

          Snow-trickle, feldspar, dirt.

Meanwhile, Donald Keene’s Japanese Literature looks interesting. Published in 1955 by Grove Press, this 114-page paperback includes sections on Japanese Poetry, Japanese Theatre, the Japanese Novel, and Japanese Literature Under Western Influence.

Last but not least, I found a rugged old volume of Robert Burns’s Poetical Works, published in New York at 46 East 14th Street by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. No date is given, but the book was signed by one Esther R. Williams on December 25, 1899. This book, also 636 pages, is a little over an inch thick and extremely heavy for its size. It contains a lengthy Biographical Preface and Glossarial Index by Alexander Smith, a Chronological Table of Burn’s Life and Works, large sections of Poems, Songs, and Letters, an Index to First Lines, an Index to the Letters, and a section of Notes. (As time permits, I’ll compare the glossary to the one I so foolishly and enthusiastically reproduced.)

Letter to Mr. Robert Muir.
Edinburgh, December 20th, 1786.

My Dear Friend,

I have just time for the carrier, to tell you that I received your letter; of which I shall say no more but what a lass of my acquaintance said of her bastard wean; she said she “did na ken wha was the father exactly, but she suspected it was some o’ thae bonny blackguard smugglers, for it was like them.” So I only say your obliging epistle was like you. I inclose you a parcel of subscription bills. Your affair of sixty copies is also like you; but it would not be like me to comply.

Your friend’s notion of my life has put a crotchet in my head of sketching it in some future epistle for you. My compliments to Charles and Mr. Parker. —R. B.

As the Conversation continues, we wonder if questions arise from answers, rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


After looking at both sides, he realized the situation was not a flat object. This reminded him that flat objects, even those which were extremely thin, had more than two sides. A sheet of typing paper, for instance, had six, its four edges actually being very narrow sides. One would have a difficult time indeed if he were to try to write a poem or novel on a surface that narrow — although, to be fair, he knew it was possible to write legibly on the edges of the pages of a closed book or ream of paper. Then, if the sheets were examined individually, one could detect a tiny portion of the message on each. In a way, it was like studying a sedimentary record to understand what had happened over time in a given place. To test his theory, he picked up a used book of his that had been discarded by the public library, and then ...

“Are you even listening to me?”

(first publication)

Recently Linked: William Blake: “The intention of this blog is to compile a catalog of posts containing William Blake’s images.” My thanks to Kathleen Callon for linking to yesterday’s post. A link to her blog has been added to the “Reading Room” at left.

“Withdrawn” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: “No fact within reason.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Songs of Innocence

Another of my recent acquisitions is this 1971 Dover edition of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, a “Color Facsimile of the First Edition with 31 Color Plates.” This book, like the one I mentioned a couple of days ago, has a nice inscription:

He’s gonna marry me.
Merry Christmas!
Theo 1996

While I’m not crazy about the poems in this collection — I guess I’m more a The Marriage of Heaven and Hell kind of guy — I do find this portion of the Publisher’s Note of particular interest:

In 1789 William Blake, a London journeyman engraver barely thirty, printed the plates of a most unusual book. The first of his “Illuminated Books,” Songs of Innocence consisted of thirty-one color plates facing one another on 17 sheets, approximately the size of the present volume. In its contents, on nearly every page, poetry and design seemed to be strangely intermixed, so that one hardly knew where poetry ended and design began.

The origin of the book was no less interesting. For some time Blake had been searching for a suitable form for the presentation of his poems. The solution, according to his own account, was supplied by his brother Robert, who had died two years before and dictated the method now in a dream. Both poem and design were to be engraved on a copperplate; then each copy of the book was to be colored with washes by hand. No two copies of the book were to be identical; even the order of the pages was not fixed.

After 1794 Blake expanded the book to include Songs of Experience, enlarging the format and darkening the coloring. At that time six plates from the earlier work were transferred to Songs of Experience.

The copy of Songs of Innocence reproduced in this Dover edition is from the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection in the Library of Congress (scholars will recognize it as Copy B in the Census of Blake’s Illuminated Books published by The Grolier Club in 1953.) The light coloring indicates that the book, one of some twenty extant copies, was published about 1790.

The Dover edition contains all thirty-one of Blake’s original color plates for Songs of Innocence, and presents them in the manner of the early copies, on facing color pages. To our knowledge this is the first facsimile which has thus presented color pages in Blake’s original format.

64 pages; 5¼ x 7

As the Conversation continues, there are murmurs about a hostile takeover of Willipedia.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I was quite happy being a cloud, until one day in the post office I heard someone in line tell her friend that she wished she was a cloud, because clouds were never homesick. Then and there, I became a bundle of letters.

“Look at him,” she said. “Pretending he’s not a cloud.”

(first publication)

“Postscript” added to Poems, Slightly Used.
Forum: the amazing Willipedia.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Writers Collective: Portland, Oregon, 1998

My new year’s book buying officially began yesterday afternoon with the purchase of six used volumes, two of which I chose for their inscriptions as much as their content. The first is Writers Collective: Poems by 19 Writers, Portland, Oregon, 1998, edited by Michele Glazer and published by Quiet Lion Press.

Merry Christmas 1998
Kirsten — I thought you would like a bit of your Portland home to have with you in Norway! Dearest friend, I love you and I miss you! Alison

Paging through now by the light of my computer screen, I’m finding some very nice poems. Here’s one by Michele Glazer:


      Larkspur——bluemoss——his deciduous hands——
      oh, but why would you want to?
      He is somber honey.
      He is a mouthful of bees.

Yes, indeed. I will be returning to this book.

83 pages

Carl Adamshick, Kelly Allan, Sophie Crawford, Michele Glazer, Trudy Godat, Melanie Green, Michael Griggs, Eric Hull, Christy Hurt, Arthur Irwin, Ursula Irwin, Tracy Klein, Katharine Miller, Sabine Miller, Mary Misel, Quigley Provost-Landrum, Tom Richards, Richard Sanders, Patricia Staton Thomas.

Recently Linked:
I would like to extend my thanks to Annie Wyndham for including my poems “A Christmas Wish”1 and “What December Said to January”2 in this entry of her blog, Jottings of an AmeriQuebeckian. I’m delighted they became part of her serendipitous, wild-eyed Web travels. I’m also grateful to Annie for linking to my main website, Recently Banned Literature, and Poems, Slightly Used. A link to her blog can also be found in the adjacent column under “Reading Room.”

1 More about “A Christmas Wish” here.
2 Also included in Winter Poems, Cosmopsis Books, San Francisco (2007).

Saturday, January 3, 2009


I’m still pondering the aveluk1 my brother’s wife made for us on New Year’s Day. Prepared as a salad, it reminded me of smells from my childhood: an agreeable combination of weeds drying in the sun, barnyard animals, and tobacco. The best I can determine, aveluk is mountain sorrel, which grows wild all over Armenia. The plant is picked, dried, and braided for later use.

I almost liked it, which is to say, I think I could get used to it. I didn’t not like it. To better understand the experience, I had a second helping.

I visited Armenia in 1982. I was there for over a month. I ate many wonderful, interesting things, but no aveluk.

“William is not ready for aveluk,” the mountains whispered.

I thought it was the wind.

1 ah´veh-look; oo as in “balloon” or Cat Ballou.

In the Forum: this mortal coil.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Saving Grace

Today it’s the rain,
and the way it finishes
every sentence.

(first publication)

“Saving Grace” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: Howard Cosell with a heart.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Go lightly, friend,
for what you

know has

since then.

From Songs and Letters, originally published December 31, 2008.