Monday, October 31, 2011

The Book of Lamenting

On the back of every tongue in my family
there is a dove that lives and dies.”

The Book of Lamenting
by Lory Bedikian

Levine Prize in Poetry 2010

92 pages

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Songs from Robert Burns

If you should choose
to read the thots from out
this book think not of its
weight in terms of silver,
nor of gold, but rather,
in terms of Friendship,
with its words
breathing sweet
emanations of the heart
more subtle than a
summer breeze
at eventide.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gardening Leave

Whether the writing is short, long, or in between, I’m inspired each time a reader feels compelled to say something about his or her experience with A Listening Thing. And so, in thanking Jonathan Chant, who writes thoughtfully in his new blog of a “wise and generous novel,” I’m also thanking everyone — readers, writers, thinkers, dreamers — for I see at work here an ongoing cumulative process as steady and reassuring as the changing seasons. The book grows with each mind it passes through and each observation of it that is made, and I change right along with it. Without a doubt, I’m a richer, better person for having met and listened to so many talented, spirited souls.

I’ve been following Jonathan’s blog since he started it on the seventh day of October this year. I think it’s time you joined me. This quiet, modest voice from “across the pond” speaks from a wealth of memory and experience:

My Grandfather as a boy walking through a wood with his father, walking out to see what they’ve killed. England between the wars. The wood is near Dorchester and Thomas Hardy has not long been dead. What time of year is this? I don’t know, but I keep seeing leaves. A carpet of dead leaves. Black leaves. Leather boots churning the leaves. My Great-Grandfather – Granfer – wearing his weskit over his collar-less white shirt. Their eyes scanning the ground looking for traps. Traps that they had planted. Iron teeth to catch a rabbit. But instead, something else, lying in the leaves....

Thank you, Jonathan.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Experiment in Public Art

The following is from my Notebook, dated August 2008. Gosh — I was sure funny back then.

Before he stepped into the shower a moment ago, my youngest son and I briefly continued a discussion that we began last night at the supper table. My idea — inspired by Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, the artwork for that album, and composer Ian Anderson’s stage antics — is to declare myself public art.

In the first phase of the experiment, I would sit on a park bench downtown in the lovely area near the State Capitol, with a little sign that says, simply, “Sitting on a park bench.” That would, in effect, be my title. In the second phase of the experiment, I would play a flute while standing in the gutter — the gutter being symbolic of how low I’ve sunk, as an artist and especially as a human being, the flute being my frantic attempt at appeasing randomly imagined gods (odd, considering I don’t play the flute). My eyes, of course, would be rolled back in my head so that only the whites show, symbolizing the long inward gaze of introspection, Zen, karma, ancient forms of plant life, the birth and death of planets, galaxies, and stars, shame, bad hygiene, etc., etc. The title of this piece would be Thick as a Brick.

Now, it should be mentioned that the police in Salem are a little skeptical of such experiments, as even young people strumming guitars on city sidewalks are viewed with suspicion and often asked to “move along,” as if the tempo of their aspirations were somehow lagging behind that of the rest of the citizenry. My son has experienced this himself, despite the general interest and approval of passersby, mothers and their little children included, some of whom have gone so far as to drop quarters, dollar bills, and baked goods in his open guitar case to show their appreciation.

And therein lies the problem. One of the most sacred, straightforward acts — the earning of honest money by working at something someone loves — is not welcome on city streets. Somehow, it is deemed to interfere with the legalized theft that goes on behind the doors of so many venerable businesses and institutions, which are themselves leech-like and rotten to the core.

For instance, let us say that I, sans flute and with all due gravity, were to recite on a busy street corner two of Walt Whitman’s best known, most loved poems about Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” And let us say I were to do so in such a profoundly moving way that several people gathered and a few even gave me money. How would this be received by business owners in the immediate area and the police?

In this Whitman phase of the experiment, I would, perhaps, need to be handled with slightly more care — told more politely, in other words, to “move along,” or possibly even
asked to do so. And if that happened, it would be a victory for artists everywhere: the day one of our number was asked instead of told, or, as the government really prefers, ignored altogether.

Then again, what if no one realized I was reciting Whitman? A distinct possibility, I’m afraid.

There are, of course, other ways to function as public art. I might slowly walk the streets of the downtown district with a sign that says “Poet,” or “Writer,” or “Human Being.” Or one that bears this thought-provoking message: “Instead of war . . .”

Note: The drawing for a free signed copy of my novel, A Listening Thing, is open through October 31. Don’t be shy — if you’d like to enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on that post or on my Facebook page. Good luck!

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Love You, Whoever You Are

When I was eighteen and living away from home, I developed a peculiar form of calligraphy. It consisted of graceful curving strokes that began low on the left and ended high on the right, and which made the shorter letters look as if they were being protected by the taller ones. The cross on the capital letter T, for instance, began well below the base line on the left, and provided shelter to the letters that followed.

While an entire page of this script would have been difficult to read, the style was suited to a beginner’s verse. When bad poetic weather blew across the page — this happened even more often then than it does now — the eager o’s were far less likely to get a’s in their i’s, and the three-legged m’s still managed to keep their feet dry. This meant a lot to me. The fact is, it meant far too much, but in those days I wasn’t quite ready to face myself in cold stark type.

Even so, I knew I had a wealth of material at my disposal. I had already beheld my fellow human beings in their competitive rottenness and heartbroken despair, had seen their lonely lights flickering late at night through undraped windows, and been inspired by their spontaneous acts of beauty, love, and grace.

I moved through this world like a haunted form, drunk with observation, astonished by these spiritual creatures struggling everywhere around me, arguing, laughing, playing, kissing, sighing, protesting, mourning, deceiving, courting, and always trying their best to explain that which was, by its profound nature, unexplainable.

It was a beautiful, lonely time, a happy time full of wonder tempered by sadness and loss — just as it is today, with its painted autumn leaves and children playing in front of droopy little houses, its disorderly fields of abandoned hopes and dreams, its wars, and its grotesque sanity for sale on every corner. The flower of Sixties unrest was still a joy to behold, but it had begun to fade. Here and there, resignation and cynicism sprouted in the gutter.

As far as I am aware, no sample of my old calligraphy has survived. A short while ago, I tried to recreate it and failed. I was not surprised, or even disappointed. I am no longer eighteen. My blissful, lustful ignorance has given way to a kind of wisdom that very much resembles hardheaded stupidity. I would rather type anyway.

I do remember once tacking one of my handwritten poems on the wall above my desk. I have long since forgotten the words, but I know what they must have said:

Pleased to meet you,
I love you, whoever you are.

[From Songs and Letters, originally published September 29, 2005]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Listening Thing — One Free Signed Copy

I have good news: two months after its release, 100 copies of the Tenth Anniversary Authorized Print Edition of my novel, A Listening Thing, are now in circulation — or soon will be, as I’m about to explain.

As an expression of gratitude, Cosmopsis Books has furnished me with Copy #100, free of charge, which I will autograph and send, also free of charge, to a lucky person whose name I pull out of my old gray hat. To get your name into the hat, you must either leave a comment on this blog entry, or where the entry appears on my Facebook page. I will then write your name on a small piece of paper and add it to the hat.

Everyone is eligible, including those who already have a copy and might want to pass one along as a gift.

Entries to this drawing will be accepted until midnight, Pacific Daylight Time, October 31.

On the first day of November, I will mix the entries, and, without peeking, pull one out of the hat. I will announce the winner later the same day.

The Hat

If you would like to enter the drawing but can’t comment because you don’t have a Blogger or Facebook account, drop me a line via email and I will see to it that your name is included. You can find my email address at the bottom of the sidebar, or on my Profile page.

And that’s all there is to it. In the meantime, here are some useful links:

The Cosmopsis bookstore (includes book description)
My Facebook page (the fun never stops)

Again, this is Copy #100 of the limited first printing. The books, 150 in all,
are hand-numbered and printed on archival, acid-free, FSC certified recycled natural paper. They are made to last, and truly a pleasure to read and hold.

Thank you! And now, let the drawing begin...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On finishing the last chapter: a reader’s notes

I finished this book, and I lay it down. The emotion I felt was gratitude.

As with other writers in the past, I felt this validation and comfort in knowing that someone else sees what I see. In other words, I “get” Stephen Monroe in so many ways, except from the male point of view, which I was lucky to also get a glimpse of. It was enlightening to say the least.

Each chapter was a joy to read, great storytelling, never dull or meandering, with a delightful cadence, words painting pictures in my mind of the most minute detail. The humour and playfulness woven into a tale of angst and redemption, the complete likability of your character who laughs at himself yet still retains his dignity. You are sir, a true artist.

I don’t review many books, in fact I never have. I just wanted to say thank you, and let you know that I was left wanting more….to hear what else Stephen Monroe might say about life and himself through the unique lens of his unflinchingly honest, very funny observations.

Loved it. 4 stars.


From personal correspondence, shared with permission.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lost and Found

If you doubt the power of this medium, if you question the strength or validity of the friendships that are forged herein, consider this.

Vassilis lives in Greece. We have only words between us, many of them unsaid. And yet I have dreamed of being in his kitchen.

Master poet, brother, friend: in my mind, the words he finds bring light, every way I turn them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

From personal correspondence

I finished the book around eleven last night. . . . Stephen Monroe is a man we should all aspire to be in my mind. Everything he went through, put himself through, was for love and understanding, of himself and the world around him. Mary is a gift from the heavens.

The way you brought Uncle Leo into the book and laughter and this great sensitivity throughout the whole book was absolutely beautiful. Your views on the futility of wars and the draft were introduced so naturally.
A masterstroke.

I am all over the map with telling you about my experience with
A Listening Thing. I am still so very excited about this novel, this autobiography of yourself and me and countless others.

I am going to make a T-shirt saying,


I thank you
for your friendship
your beautiful mind
your eyes that see beauty in the decay.

From Robert, shared here with his gracious permission.

Fra Atlanta til Havet

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The chosen ones

As of yesterday afternoon, I’ve entered 665 titles in my LibraryThing collection, and there are still several hundred books that await my attention. The task is time-consuming and totally unnecessary, and therein lies its appeal. I don’t need to have my books posted online. But in examining each I’m restored to grace by the names of authors, illustrators, translators, editors, and publishers, and inspired by inscriptions and bits of handwriting, love notes, pressed leaves and flowers, satin markers and lace crosses, old photos, notes, and newspaper clippings — in short, life itself, committed to the safety and sanctity of what their former owners knew, or perhaps only sensed, would outlast them.

Scrolling through the catalogue, many of the books seem ordinary enough. But I assure you they are not. I assure you, nothing is when it’s carefully examined.

And while this catalogue is unnecessary, it does serve a purpose. Most of these books are here in this room where I work. Entering this space is like entering a used bookshop in which the owner also lives and conducts his day-to-day affairs. See and smell the books, know the man — know what he loves, and where he has been. Know, too, that the books have chosen him.

[My son and I are going to a book sale at the library today — hardcovers for a dollar.]

Friday, October 14, 2011

Between us

First signs of light here this morning.....
to the east there’s a band of clouds rising from the Cascades;
it looks almost like a giant ocean wave
headed our way....

              “Let there be calm seas, William.”

Now it’s a blanket;
the mountains are too lazy
to get out of bed.

[From an early-morning email exchange with a friend]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mirror Image

what I imagine
is disturbed

by the rings

your ankles
in the water

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October Passing

the moon is out

an owl is calling through the firs

perhaps I’ll awaken soon

and find this dream

is yours

Monday, October 10, 2011


This beautiful comment, and the observation that follows it, was posted this morning by Facebook friend, Donna Belleson. Such kind words to start the day. And of course I mention Facebook only for reference. No medium, however large or pervasive, can contain the human spirit.

I just finished William Michaelian’s first novel, A Listening Thing. I picked it up and could not put it down (except to let the dogs out — they were grateful). Reading this book was a bit like my first experience with sushi... while taking the first couple of bites, I was not quite so sure of what I was getting into, but I kept eating because it was so beautiful... and strangely delicious. In the end, I was filled to the brim, but still comfortable in my jeans. Looking forward to the next plateful, William. This was a five tilde read ~~~~~


Your brand of humor flows effortlessly... even before reading your book, those who know you can feel that it comes from ‘beyond thought’. To me, that place beyond thought is where personal genius patiently, or sometimes impatiently, resides awaiting our notice. If we are fortunate enough to find it, and then to be able to tap that gift and present it in in a form that can be absorbed by others, this is art. Thanks for sharing yours...

Thank you, Donna.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Of revolution I do speak. Protests, politics, and war are outward symptoms of inner conflict, as sure as the seasons. Everything I write is a call to revolution — that defining moment when one decides not to change the world, but himself. As long as we are blind to the connection between what is going on in the world and the way we live our daily lives, we are doomed to fail. Without this understanding, taking to the streets is dangerously akin to the thrill of organized athletics or religion: the moment we return home and our adrenalin subsides, we are alone again with our fears, our hatreds, and our doubts. What good are our protests, what possible meaning can they have, when we dominate our children and those we claim to love? What good are our votes, when we are dishonest in our day-to-day business dealings? If we are not responsible for our actions, why should we expect anything different from our so-called leaders? We are the society and world we have made. Each starving child starves in our lives and in our minds. Every bullet fired, we have fired. Every book burned, every inquisition, every raped woman, child, and forest — surely we must see. And oh, how I love the autumn — this colorful leaf I am, soon to die, soon to be swept aside, even as the browned fiber of me yearns for the next life, and the next, and the next, eloquent food for worms.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Life and Times of #84

The more I read it, the more I enjoy this wonderful review by fellow blogger Annie Wyndham. I love where she takes it, and where it eventually takes her:

Michaelian’s novel made me aware that choosing to be who you are can be revolutionary — and life altering, not only for you but for others.

That is the very heart of the matter. And getting there is a matter of life, love, and listening — the very ingredients Annie brings to this and all of her thoughtful “jottings.”

Who I am is of little importance. Stephen Monroe is the one who matters, because in this world he is everyone I have ever known.

Thank you, Annie.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eye Talk

              When you’re quiet like this,

                             it’s hard to prove I’m not a ghost.

“I was thinking the same thing.

                                             But that’s when I love you the most.”

[From Songs and Letters, October 9, 2008.]

Saturday, October 1, 2011