Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why a book? (3)

That of which it’s made, ages just like you.


(the title page of the top volume in this entry)

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Friday, April 29, 2011

An Apology to Idlers

Lesson learned, with thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson:

Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold mill....

When nature is “so careless of the single life,”1 why should we coddle ourselves into the fancy that our own is of exceptional importance? Suppose Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark night in Sir Thomas Lucy’s preserves, the world would have wagged on better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to the corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any the wiser of the loss. There are not many works extant, if you look the alternative all over, which are worth the price of a pound of tobacco to a man of limited means. This is a sober reflection for the proudest of our earthly vanities....

1 See Tennyson’s In Memoriam, LV, where the poet discusses the pessimism caused by regarding the apparent indifference of nature to the happiness of the individual.

“Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life.”

From An Apology to Idlers, by Robert Louis Stevenson, taken from Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson, selected and edited with an introduction by William Lyon Phelps, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons (1906).

Essay first printed in the Cornhill Magazine, July 1877, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 80-86. Note on Tennyson by William Lyon Phelps.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why a book? (2)

To weep, with its weight in your lap, over a man’s letter to his father
about the death of his friend, 448 years after it was written.

Upon reading Montaigne’s letter to his father
on the death of La Boétie (1563)

Michel de Montaigne: The Complete Works
Page 1,276

“In the friendship I speak of, our souls mingle and blend with each other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them, and cannot find it again. If you press me to tell why I loved him, I feel that this cannot be expressed, except by answering: Because it was he, because it was I.”

(Page 169)

I too am a well worn object

That story, though,
is best told with your hands,

As lace pleases wind
at the sill.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I was the one in the waiting room,
Reading an old book bound in soft leather.

The world? was something I’d heard about.
I let it pass, like so much weather.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

For You

Yesterday afternoon, I happened to be near the front window when a little girl, wide-eyed in glorious innocence, picked one of our bright-red tulips and ran away.
My first thought: someone’s grandmother, embarrassed, proud, and pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Delicate and Myth

“Canvas 234”
April 22, 2011

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“Canvas 235”
April 22, 2011

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Friday, April 22, 2011

When a century had passed: a drawing and a poem

When I was a kid, on Good Friday in the small town where I grew up,
the stores all closed from noon until three o’clock.

“Canvas 233”
April 21, 2011

[click to enlarge]

When a century had passed

When a century had passed
and their tea had grown cold,
he spoke:

I interpret your silence thus,
he said,

That something in my face
has come between us; like a primitive mask
in torchlight, it frightens you.

Whence came the answer:

Not your face, but a sudden fear
of my own; for what you see, I think,
appalls me.

And they sat quietly for another century.

The minutes were the fingers of their hands.
The seconds were the bones inside them.
The miracle was that it should be so.

Then there arose the cry of a great multitude
and the sound of someone hammering.

There it is again,
the first said.

came the reply.

And they waited helplessly for the sound to end.

When it did, these words were said:

There is something I want to tell you.

What is it, pray?

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing, my friend.

The Trick

The trick, one poet said to another,
is to make your long lines seem short
and your short lines seem long —
then, let your words echo like freight cars.

That’s no trick, the other poet replied,
it’s just plain common sense.

The talk that followed
was drowned out
by the sound
of a passing train,

thank God.

From Poems, Slightly Used.

Note: I first offered “The Trick” here back on September 8, 2008. I link to it because the one beautiful comment it earned was written by Brian Salchert, a gracious poet-friend and friend to many who passed away August 31, 2010. And I link to that entry because it’s now updated to include burial information thoughtfully sent to me by Brian’s sister, Jean. Through the noise and through the fear, we remember.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I tell my ignorance what it longs to hear

             You are beautiful, I love you

And in its face I see a thousand mirrors

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


One stray crocus, raised like a prophet’s fist.

From Poems, Slightly Used.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Volumes of Volumes

It’s a slow process, but I’ve added quite a few titles lately to my online catalog. Most are poetry or poetry-related, and all but a few are part of Gerry Boyd’s two gift shipments from last year. One hundred seventy-three books: I’m still amazed by his kindness.

Rather than list and link each title here, I will instead invite interested readers to view my profile and browse through my collection. Remember, this is a work-in-progress, one I necessarily neglected while designing my new website.

And speaking of websites, I would like to thank each of you who have taken the time to view its pages. For quick reference, here are the main links:

Author’s Press Series
Cosmopsis Books

The links can also be found in the sidebar in the “Reference Section.” The pages can be searched, translated, and shared in social networking sites.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two Canvases

If we aren’t willing to die for it,
then we aren’t willing to live for it either.
And that is the price we pay.

“Canvas 226”
April 14, 2011

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“Canvas 227”
April 14, 2011

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bootleg Burns

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From across the pond, a kind gift of Robert Burns recordings.
The CD contains twenty-one readings by some of Scotland’s famous folk.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

William Michaelian 2.0

Ten years ago, when I launched my website, I’m Telling You All I Know, what I didn’t know was where it would lead and how much it would grow. My purpose then was simple: I wanted to introduce myself and tell readers about my forthcoming novel, A Listening Thing. Now, more than 1,200 pages later, and because life is the beautiful, crazy thing it is, I am clearing the slate and doing exactly the same thing:

Coming Soon from Cosmopsis Books

A Listening Thing

Tenth Anniversary Authorized Print Edition

With new Preface & Afterword by the Author,
Extensive new Interview & Materials
from the Original Unpublished
& Online Editions

Welcome to my new website. I hope you like it, and I hope you like the book, too, when it’s ready. It’s going to be something special. I promise.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bob Arnold: Yokel

If not for the heart, the hands wouldn’t know what to do.

a long Green Mountain poem

by Bob Arnold

Book design by two~hands
Cover photograph by Susan Arnold


156 pages. Paper. $18.00
ISBN: 978-1-929048-09-0

[click on photo to enlarge]

Canvas 225

“Canvas 225”
April 11, 2011

[click to enlarge]

Friday, April 8, 2011


I have a feeling
they will sing right up
to the moment
the world

From Songs and Letters, first published February 5, 2008.

Note: Yesterday, while I was clearing gutters and drainpipes, this blog celebrated its third anniversary. And it’s still not sober.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


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.

Library Notes: The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

In the Forum: “The Pig’s Tale.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Digging Holes

Last night I dreamed I was looking for kindling. I found some under the walnut tree at the west end of the house where I grew up. But it was wet, and it was not enough. And there was no firewood.

Paging through my book, One Hand Clapping, I found this entry:

April 6, 2003 — When I was a kid, I used to dig holes in the shade of the walnut trees growing by our house. My intention was always to live in them; when that didn’t work, I settled for long afternoons. My main occupation was reading old issues of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. One hole, I remember, had a fireplace. The chimney was formed by driving an old metal horseshoe peg into the clay soil. All I had to do was light a few leaves, twigs, or pine needles, and then watch the smoke rise up through the chimney. Paradise. And I’m still quite good with a shovel. But now I usually dig my holes on paper — that is, when I’m not digging them by the stupidity of my actions. Sometimes I succeed in combining the two. This is always cause for celebration. Several years ago, we were told by the landlord of the house we were renting that the holes my children had dug in the backyard would have to be filled in. I said, “But they’re holes. Kids are supposed to dig holes. Didn’t you dig holes when you were that age?” His answer amazed me: “I did, but my father always made me fill them in.” And I thought, What a sad thing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shall We Go See the Old Man?

Shall we go see the old man?
I hear their voices all the way across town,
Across the country, I hear them in Denver, Colorado,
I hear them in Ohio and Vermont, yes, let’s go and see him,
Let’s go see the old man.

I plant flowers for the occasion, watch them grow and die.
I bury the neighbor’s cat because she no longer has a husband.
A lone dry cornstalk rustles by her bedroom window.
Did Walter miss her so much that he returned?
Then one day she pulls him out by the roots,
Inhales his cloud of dust. Is that what becomes of us?

Shall we go see the old man? Shall we take him out to dinner?
He’ll need a clean shirt, a shower, and a shave.
And what about his sheets? It’s more than I can bear.

What do you mean, Daddy, you haven’t seen us in a year.
I mean where were you. I mean that I’ve been here.
But we stopped by yesterday. Don’t you remember?
My daughter washes my hands and arms.
Am I really this far gone? Do I say I love you,
Or leave me alone?

From Songs and Letters, originally published March 2, 2007.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dante Times Three

Having finished reading, finally, The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, I think it’s time for a change of pace. The Divine Comedy should do it. But in which translation? I have three on hand. First, there is the beautiful Heritage Press edition published in 1944 with illustrations by William Blake and translated by Melville Best Anderson. Second, from my partial collection of Harvard Classics, the rugged 1909 printing of a limited edition, five volumes of which you see here. Translator: Henry F. Cary. Third, a Modern Library edition I brought home many years ago, also from 1944, rendered into English by three translators: John Aitken Carlyle (Inferno); Thomas Okey (Purgatorio); and P.H. Wicksteed (Paradiso).

My son and I were looking at these last night. He has the book in yet another edition, which he said he would bring by soon. But while we were passing them back and forth between us, it came to me that the only logical* thing to do is to read all three translations. And so that’s what I plan to do. I know, too, that there are other translations, each with something to recommend it. But I have these, and so for now these will have to do.

* My use of the word logical is my nod to April Fool’s Day.