Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Modern Eloquence

Modern Eloquence
Library of After-Dinner Speeches,
Lectures, Occasional Addresses

Thomas B. Reed, Editor

John D. Morris and Company


The present work, as its title implies, is devoted exclusively to Modern Eloquence. Its publishers have aimed to supply the reading public with the best After-Dinner Speeches, Lectures, and Occasional Addresses delivered in this country, or abroad, during the past century. In this respect the Library of Modern Eloquence may be said to cover a field peculiarly its own. The orations of Demosthenes, Cicero, Burke, Webster and other noted orators may be found in every well-equipped public library, and there have been published, from time to time, oratorical anthologies containing gems of eloquence culled from the speeches of standard orators of all countries and of all ages; but this is the first attempt to preserve unabridged and in lasting form the best occasional oratory of recent times....

[click on photos to enlarge]

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

After an Image

Warm thanks to Claar Griffioen for including two of my self-portraits
on the writers’ portraits page of her website. Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Michaelian —
how strange (and slightly ridiculous) it all seems. Who knows?
Maybe I’ll like being dead. A dress rehearsal, perhaps?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Longfellow: A National Tribute in 30 Volumes

The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company
The Riverside Press, Cambridge


Somehow, after all these years, twenty-six volumes of this extraordinary, profusely illustrated set of Longfellow’s poems have miraculously (so it seems to me) found their way into this crowded library and work space. Their condition varies. One book is missing its front cover. Several covers are loose, and a few are detached, but present. Most books are completely intact. They remain unread. The pages have not been opened (see photo, below). The books measure 9 ½ inches by 12 inches. Each volume contains 32 pages, printed on very heavy paper.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Highway 99, San Joaquin Valley, California

In this, the third entry from Songs and Letters, my “uncharted book of poetry and prose,” I write about my growing-up place the way it was — or, perhaps more accurately, the way I was, and am, except for a thousand changes mean and profound, down to the sound of my voice and the rhythm of my worn out shoes.

Highway 99, San Joaquin Valley, California

In the old times, before roads and barns and dams and ditches, a giant Sequoia wandered alone by the river, calling for his mate. In a century his call was answered and the two were bride and groom. The whole valley shook when the two trees sighed. And when they returned to their home in the high Sierra, thunder echoed down the granite face.

There is a fire in the hills, a wire fence on Bear Mountain.
There are iron rails and crucified timbers choked by dead weeds,
and derelict porches of sunbleached boards
where deranged lizards soak up the sun
like besotted small town mayors.

Here a drop of water is a jewel that seeks remembrance upon a woman’s neck.
Against her hot brown skin, it gains the potency and sting of rattlesnake venom.

When they built the long road, the 99, it was already too late.
But the doctors operated anyway. The bleeding never stopped.
“To save the patient,” they said, “we must murder her.”
And the people liked the death they saw, and claimed it as their own.

I knew an Okie who said the valley was a garden. I knew a Mexican who said the land was rightfully his. I knew a Tule Indian who walked naked to a Spanish mission where the friars gave him clothes. I knew a white man from St. Louis, who knew a fisherman in Maine, who one day killed a Chinese man, then calmly went insane. The truth is, I knew just about everyone everywhere at one time or another. I knew them on the train West, I knew them in saloons. I knew them in the red brick banks, and in upstairs hotel rooms. I knew them as bartenders, horse thieves, grave diggers, assayers, harmonica players, Sunday school teachers, butchers, and engine men. I knew the preacher who saved the farmer’s daughter. I knew the judge and jury who arranged for the innocent man’s slaughter. I knew the man before he was hung, and the man who did the hanging. We went out back and had a drink, and I learned he knew him too. A few months later, when the child was born, he looked like the devil himself. Sad how things work out sometimes.

When they built the long road, the 99, they killed two million horned toads and a symphony of crickets. The squirrels climbed the power poles and the gophers gave out tickets. Then, in the name of Beauty, the highway department planted oleanders.

Nixon used the road once, back in 1960. He was impressed by the oleanders.
“A man could go to the toilet in there if he had to,” he said, “and not be seen.”
When they drove though a massive cloud of gnats and dragonflies,
he asked the chauffeur if they were expecting rain.
“Not for about ten years now,” the chauffeur said and smiled,
though he knew a drop did slip through from time to time.

March 20, 2005

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Moon

New Moon

March 15, 2013

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five lines, and more, from Adelaide Crapsey

Another name new to me — and indeed many are as I make my way through An Anthology of American Poetry — is Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), a poet you can read about here and here, and more of whose cinquains can be found here. Crapsey died young, a victim of tuberculosis. But for those of us who have managed to dodge such peril, her observations still seem eerily familiar — at least they do to me.

November Night

Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Moon Shadows

Still as
On windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
So still will be my heart when I
Am dead.

Susanna and the Elders

“Why do
You thus devise
Evil against her?” “For that
She is beautiful, delicate;

The Guarded Wound

If it
Were lighter touch
Than petal of flower resting
On grass, oh still too heavy it were,
Too heavy!


I know
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these.

The Warning

Just now,
Out of the strange
Still dusk . . . as strange, as still . . .
A white moth flew . . . Why am I grown
So cold?


I make my shroud, but no one knows—
So shimmering fine it is and fair,
With stitches set in even rows.
I make my shroud, but no one knows.

In door-way where the lilac blows,
Humming a little wandering air,
I make my shroud and no one knows,
So shimmering fine it is and fair.

[From An Anthology of American Poetry: Lyric America, 1630-1930.]

Reading these, and hearing them, and knowing so well my mother’s own turn of mind, I can’t help thinking how much she would have loved these lines. Maybe she even knew them in her youth. Might there have been a copy of one of the Knopf editions of Verses in our old public library? Alas, I can think of no one living I might ask.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Henry Harmon Chamberlin

“Blithely I’d beg my bread from door to door”

Poems, by Henry Harmon Chamberlin, privately printed at the Commonwealth Press, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1911. Henry Harmon Chamberlin, born 1873. Two days ago, I’d not heard his name. I may yet come to know him. No need for him to know me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Distant Ship

I’ve mentioned before the historic Carnegie library in my hometown, and how my habit of collecting old books might have begun as an unconscious effort to recreate its cherished atmosphere here at home. That effort is hardly unconscious now. If only I had room for the hardwood study tables and chairs, where silence was observed and pages were turned in that distant ship anchored amongst sycamores in our old city park.

My love for these old volumes, of course, is more complex. Books are sacred to me, as much as objects as for the wisdom, folly, and joy they contain.

The stately hardcovers, gilded, deckled, and sound as bricks, declare and define their presence as effectively as any child — for they are children, of those who conceived them, and ultimately of us all.

New Arrivals

So have patience, if you will, with this old lover of books — this man who still does not have, or even know how to operate, a “mobile device.” I’m more at home in this ship with a book, adrift on imagined oceans.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Who knows the dreams that lie here buried?

After finishing Ellen Terry & Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence, my sole focus, at least for the moment, is another volume I mentioned a few days ago, An Anthology of American Poetry: Lyric America, 1630-1930, edited by Alfred Kreymborg. I have a number of poetry anthologies, or at least anthologies that include poetry — seventy, according to this search of my online catalog. My reason for reading American Poetry is simple: it’s one of my most recent acquisitions, I like the paper, and I like the way it smells.

Now, while I feel no need to discuss poetry anthologies per se — often a source of contention among the more learnèd poets of our age — I thought I might, however briefly, share my impression thus far of the one at hand. I’m on Page 255, having just finished the fifth section, which ends with these wise words from Stephen Crane:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

I love that.

My impression is this: I have these past few days been walking through a most pleasant graveyard. And like each stone with its name carved thereon, each poem, each voice in this book, is out of context, yet somehow comfortable in its present home. I love that too. The largest stones from where I stand and pause (to the insistent rhyme of a far-off ocean) belong to Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. But there is something to admire about each of the others, who, at the very least, tried, and lived, and tried to live (and here a hawk soars overhead).

I suppose this is why, this morning, while I was in the shower, the very first Notebook entry in my old website came to mind, and why I thought to share it here:

Who knows the dreams that lie here buried?

About a mile down the road from the house where I grew up, there is a little cemetery situated on a corner knoll where the soil is a light, sandy gray.

Surrounded by a plain iron fence and without any grass, the entire grounds occupy no more than a third of an acre. The place is kept company by squirrels, rabbits, lizards, and a variety of birds that raid the nearby vineyards and orchards. A tiny shed used by the caretaker stands in the center of the lot.

As best as I can remember, I knew only one of the people buried in this unassuming spot, and that man was our family doctor, who very early one Monday morning did me the lifesaving favor of removing my appendix when it was ripe and ready to burst.

Once or twice a year the cemetery welcomes someone new to its number and a procession of cars will pass by our old home place.

As a kid, I remember many times standing and watching with my father as a long line of cars drove slowly by. We always took off our hats and would stop whatever it was we were doing until everyone had passed.

During my grade school years, the bus I rode used to turn at the cemetery corner, and I would always look to see if there had been any activity.

More likely than not the place was completely undisturbed. But occasionally I would note with satisfaction a recently raked and burned pile of leaves, or the door of the caretaker’s shed standing open and a rake or shovel leaning against the building.

I didn’t think much about eternity in those days. To me, the cemetery was just another place. Still, it was a place that belonged, every bit as much as the farm houses, barns, and chicken coops that shared the neighborhood. I liked having it nearby.

Little by little, as the noticing, acknowledging and recording of death became part of my own life, I began to make a point of paying an occasional visit to other cemeteries, especially the smaller ones scattered around the countryside.

I’ve never had much of a feeling for the newer places, whose tidy flat stones and lack of trees seem altogether too precise and formal. To me, a cemetery needs to be a little careless, and, above all, its stones must be vertical, despite the modern practical concerns of lawn mowing equipment and hourly wages.

Our lives, certainly, are not lived so uniformly, and this last attempt at restoring order seems silly and out of place.

To me, a cemetery is not a morbid place. Cemeteries are marble orchards, bone yards, boot hills, and a fact of life.

And, though we seldom mention it, they are also artificial communities of people who, when living, may well have hated each other, stolen from each other, and cheated on each other’s wives and husbands.

Ah, well. Some things never change.

But the thing I like most about cemeteries, and the reason I visit them, is that they give me a chance to stop and puzzle over the stories each marker represents.

As one of my all-time favorite inscriptions goes, “Who knows the dreams that lie here buried?”

Who knows, indeed?

Neither you nor I.

It is impossible to know.

But I do think it’s worthwhile to make a guess. Because, in so doing, we might remember once again what our own dreams are.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

And to this day, I find her dreaming in the wood

And to this day, I find her dreaming in the wood

March 4, 2013

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

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

If you identify with that observation, or even if you don’t, you might enjoy “The End of the Rainbow,” a favorite remembrance of mine added to Songs and Letters back in June of 2005, and now available in my website’s Archive.

Songs and Letters, an “uncharted book of poetry and prose” in twenty-four volumes, was published in installments on my first website from March 18, 2005, to July 24, 2009. The book contains 716 pages, a few of which consist of multiple entries. A large portion of The Painting of You, the first volume in my Author’s Press Series, was taken from the work. Volume 15, a cycle of 20 poems, is also forthcoming as a chapbook, under the title The Asylum Poems. Other entries are scattered throughout this blog.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Irony and Pity

As sort of an addendum to yesterday’s entry where it pertained to reading, I realized later that I forgot to mention another book I finished, namely, The Garden of Epicurus, by Anatole France. I do enjoy this man’s learnèd philosophic rambles. There is much to be said for growing up in your father’s antiquarian bookshop — almost as much, in fact, as there is for growing up in your father’s vineyard, as I did, or your mother’s kitchen (in keeping with more pleasantly nostalgic, aromatic examples).

Here is one brief sample:

The more I think over human life the more I am persuaded we ought to choose Irony and Pity for its assessors and judges, as the Egyptians called upon the goddess Isis and the goddess Nephtys† on behalf of their dead. Irony and Pity are both of good counsel; the first with her smiles makes life agreeable; the other sanctifies it to us with her tears. The Irony I invoke is no cruel deity. She mocks neither love nor beauty. She is gentle and kindly disposed. Her mirth disarms anger, and it is she teaches us to laugh at rogues and fools, whom but for her we might be so weak as to hate.

 † Nephthys

Monday, March 4, 2013


We will change, even if to stone — our cynic smile,
our refusal, our so soon too brittle bough — unless to daylight
now, and flowers, and that secret feared most love,
we heed the timeless call to yield.


I’ve finished two more books since the avalanche. I highly recommend, should you care to find them, two plays, both of them simple, eloquent tragedies: Riders to the Sea, by J.M. Synge, and Paolo & Francesca, by Stephen Phillips.

I’m also well into two other books. One, which I’m enjoying as another kind of history of these curiously united States, is An Anthology of American Poetry: Lyric America, 1630-1930, edited by Alfred Kreymborg (includes Supplement 1930-1935). The other, in keeping with my inclination to eavesdrop, is Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence.

If you’re not familiar with these figures of nineteenth and twentieth century drama, or would care to refresh your memory, there is plenty of information online.