Monday, June 30, 2014

Love's Offices

Indian pipes at Thorne Swift Nature Preserve, Emmet County, Michigan, several years ago.
I had never seen such a large clump before.


Look, I said, Indian pipes
flowers for ghosts.
You stopped to gather a few
of the livid blooms, then we
went on through deepening woods.
You walk there still---
ghost flowers withering
in your hands, long since a ghost.

Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
The New Yorker, June 23, 2014, page 44.

What a wonderful surprise to find Robert Hayden (long since a ghost) in the pages of a recent New Yorker! And with a poem about those delicate lovely, ghostly growing things that so impressed me when I saw them. I was surprised to discover that I have never put the poem below on this blog. It has been one of my favorites ever since I was first really interested in poetry, and is still one of the few poems I know, reliably, by heart. Here is a link to a short biography of Hayden.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thank
ed him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden, from 
The Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, Liveright, 1966.

This is just plainly a stunning poem! Rest well, Robert Hayden!

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Summer grasses going to seed along The Little Union Canal.

I spent the afternoon and most of the evening outside in the shade from the great cottonwoods. Bird-sounds were all around: quail-cry, coo of the Eurasian Collared-Dove, harsh cry of the redwing blackbird and much chitter and chatter from all. Mallards were quiet, though when they fly, the slapping sound of their wings makes one lift one's eyes from the page and watch them as they go.


In our idleness, cinnamon
blossoms fall.
In night quiet, spring
mountains stand

empty. Moonrise startles
mountain birds:
here and there, cries in a
spring gorge.

This is David Hinton's translation of  Wang Wei (701-761) in his book, Classical Chinese Poetry: an introduction, Kindle location 2771. I love the poetic quality of Hinton's translations.

Birdsong Brook

 Mind at peace, cassia flowers fall,
Night still, spring mountain empty
Moon rising startles mountain birds
Now and again sing from spring brook.

Wang Wei; translated by Irving J. Lo 
in Sunflower Splendor; three thousand years of Chinese Poetry, Doubleday Anchor, 1975, p. 96.

The disparity of these translated poems is slightly distressing. 
Maybe I should read some English poems now; 
I went looking for Mary Oliver, It didn't take me long to find this poem.


No sky could hold
so much light ---
and here comes the brimming
the flooding and streaming
out of the clouds
and into the leaves,
glazing the creeks,
the smallest ditches!
And so many stars!
The sky seems stretched
like an old black cloth;
behind it all
the celestial fire
we ever dreamed of!
And the moon steps lower, 
quietly changing
her luminous masks, brushing
everything as she passes
with her slow hands
and soft lips ---
clusters of dark grapes, 
apples swinging like lost planets,
melons cool and heavy as bodies ---
and the mockingbird wakes
in his hidden castle;
out of the silver tangle
of thorns and leaves
he flutters and tumbles
spilling long
ribbons of music
over forest and river,
copse and cloud ---
all heaven and all earth ---
wherever the white moon
fancies her small white prince ---
field after field after field.

Mary Oliver 
in Twelve Moons, Little, Brown, 1979, pp. 38-39.

I started this post with the poems centered because the first one was printed that way. The other two are printed right-justified in the sources. But, liking the look of them this way, I present all three centered. Do all your poems hang onto the right margin? Do you sometimes center your poems or drape them all across the page? Here is a link to an example. Think about it. 

Michigamme Moon
All blog photos are my own.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

So much blue, so close

The blue Adriatic, seen from Santorini, when I was there in 2006.

I have been carrying The Gettysburg Review (Winter, 2013) around with me and when I finally dipped in I was delighted (because I'm a birder) to find a whole group of bird-themed items, essay, fiction and poetry toward the end of the issue.

This one on page 618 reminded me of Greece:

City of Low Houses

The streets flow 
easily into the sky.
Behind the palm trees in the plaza
the sun sets: red
shadows to purple
there, very near.

And above the houses, clouds
---sometimes large stripes
---or cotton ones, with brilliant edges.

---all right there, touching low roofs.

The light lingers on corners
catches on a balcony, then reluctantly lets go.
The sky touches everything
and enters everywhere.

What shall we do with so much 
blue, so close.

Circe Maia 

One of the benefits of this kind of trolling for blog poems is learning about poets new to me. Circe Maia turns out to be a member of my own generation who has been writing poetry in Uruguay for a lifetime. Here is a short description from the website Poetry Daily:

Circe Maia
Circe Maia was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1932, but has lived most of her life in the northern city of Tacuaremb├│. She is the author of nine books of poetry and is one of the most important voices of the generation that brought Latin American literature to the world's attention. Her collected poems, Circe Maia: Obra poetica(Rebeka Linka Editores, Montevideo), was published in Uruguay in 2011. 

I also find she had a nice hummingbird poem in The New Yorker last year, which I remember liking! It is really wonderful to think about the all the poets working all over the world. So much to learn.

I need to get back to Greece and look for some poets!
But, since I have no Greek. . . .

Friday, June 27, 2014

Try to Praise

Last year I had S pull over to the side of the road so I could try to capture the sweep of this landscape. In the years immediately following the fall of the Twin Towers, these road trips across the country and back so we could spend summer and autumn near our daughter in Michigan were very important to my sense of being an American (and pleased about that) all my life.

I've been saving this poem for quite some time. It is Adam Zagajewski's poem that appeared in the New Yorker on September 24, 2001.

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

—Adam Zagajewski

Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh.)
The New Yorker, September 24, 2001.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chicken Stew

Tondo Chicken, made with an app.
Tu Fu      712-770

Ch'iang Village  

Flocks of chickens clucking from every corner, 
They fight each other as visitors arrive. 
After I chase the chickens up the tree,
I could hear the knocks at the wicket gate.
Elders of the village, four or five, 
Came to ask me about my long journey.
Each carrying something in his hand,
They pour out jugs of good and poor wine.
"Hope you won't mind if the wine tastes too weak:
No one has been able to attend to farming.
And since we're still in the midst of battles,
All our children have gone to the eastern front."
Then I ask to sing to the elders a song;
In these hard times, I'm deeply moved by their affection.
Singing done, I look up to the heavens and sigh,
And tears stream down the cheeks of all who sit around.

Tu Fu, translation by Irving Y. Lo from Sunflower Splendor; Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, edited by Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Anchor Books, 1975, page 121.

In Bali, he showed me this handsome bird.

I made this Polaroid fake from a digital photo of ranging fowl at the Farnworth Farm,

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Swallow's Hour

Our new U. S. Poet Laureate's book The Zone Journals is an appealing model for me. The book consists of meditative poems in varying lengths, some of them marked with the day they were written.
I've written about this in a recent post.

Here is tonight's poem.

6:30, summer evening, the swallow's hour
Over the vine rows:
                              arrowing down the valley, banking back
And sliding against the wind, they feint
and rise, invisible sustenance disappearing
Out of the air:
                      to the long dark beams of the farmhouse,
The termites and rhinocerous beetles bore in their slow lines
Under another sky:
                             everything eats or is eaten.

from The Zone Journals by Charles Wright, 
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988, page 57.

Keeping a journal of things that my mind is roving over is so appealing to me that I have never actually done it. It seems that one would need a level of mental quietude that I think I have, but maybe not. There are so many wonderful journals, those of Thoreau, for instance which would take a lifetime to read, if one could afford the printed set.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Week Sets Sail

This eatery is called THE EGG FACTORY. An an homage to the source-chicken, there are many chicken effigies standing atop the red wall. The light comes in the front windows in a beautiful way and bounces off the yellow wall onto the floor, which is a dark, non-yellow green. The customers and wait-people are very friendly and eating there is always a cheerful experience. While we are in Idaho, we manage to go there a couple of times a month. We were there today after picking up a dental appliance for S. It locks ones teeth together during sleep, so your jaw cannot fall back and cause your airway to collapse, interfering with your essential oxygen supply. Tonight will be the first test. Fingers crossed.

This blog is becoming a little too much I-did-this-I-did-that. Perhaps it all depends on a certain distance from the material to make writing interesting to the reader. Tonight we will stay with Derek Walcott and his long autobiographical poem, which is set during his youth in the Caribbean city of St. Lucia. These passages are from early in the long poem, which is titled Another Life. The first is at Kindle Location 2008 at the very end of Part I:

The sheets of Monday
are fluttering from the yard.
The week sets sail.

and here is the first section from Chapter 3, Kindle location 2091.:

Each dusk the leaf flared on the iron tree,
the lamplighter shouldered his ladder, a sickle
of pale light fell on the earth.

The child tented his cotton nightdress tight
across his knees. A kite
whose twigs showed through. Twilight
enshrined the lantern of his head.

Hands swing him heavenward.
The candle's yellow leaf next to his bed
re-letters Tanglewood Tales and Kingsley's Heroes,
gilding their backs,

the ceiling reels with magic lantern shows.
The black lamplighter with Demeter's torch
ignites the iron trees above the shacks.
Boy! Who was Ajax?

Derek Walcott from Another Life.

OK, here's the plan. I am going to try this, and I suggest you do, too. Write a poem of about this length (15 lines) in four stanzas, perhaps with four-stress lines) about that childhood time when you were in bed but not yet asleep. You may include something about what is going on outside your room or your house. Try to make an extended metaphor (like the kite one) from your child-body and your nightclothes, or something else in your room. What is happening about light? Is there a crack under the door? A nightlight? Are there books in the room? Can you include some titles? In the Walcott poem, we later find out that Ajax (in addition to being that warrior from ancient Greece) is a horse who works as a cart-horse, except for the annual race-day when he is a winner. Is there a motion from a character in your book, to something else about your life that you can briefly indicate? If you do this exercise, why not post it in the comments so we can all see it? And now that you have a new task: sleep well! Good night1

Monday, June 23, 2014

Images of Erasure

Today we walked to a local sandwich shop to eat some of their acclaimed sandwiches while we waited for the new cover to be installed on the truck bed. I found (and left) this mysterious still life on the footing to the pillars over the eating porch on the way in. The mysteriousness of the small orange was somewhat lessened when I found a pile of them inside: an apple or an orange was included with each sandwich. Still, I think this image could be the start of a good poem. And still I am wondering: who lost her shoe? Did she toss away the other one and walk home barefoot? Or did it fall out of her truck after she changed to her sneakers?

There are many other quote-worthy paragraphs in the Edward Hirsch interview of Derek Walcott in the Paris Review, Winter 1986 issue. But the one I saved for tonight is this one. Tomorrow we may transition to the current Paris Review with its splendid interview with Henri Cole!

People who come out to the Caribbean from the cities and the continents go through a process of being recultured. What they encounter here, if they surrender to their seeing, has a lot to teach them, first of all the proven adaptability of races living next to each other, particularly in places like Trinidad and Jamaica. And then also in the erasure of the idea of history. To me there are always images of erasure in the Caribbean—in the surf that continually wipes the sand clean, in the fact that those huge clouds change so quickly. There is a continual sense of motion in the Caribbean—caused by the sea and the feeling that one is almost traveling through water and not stationary. The size of time is larger—a very different thing in the islands than in the cities. We don’t live so much by the clock. If you have to be in a place where you create your own time, what you learn, I think, is a patience, a tolerance, how to make an artisan of yourself rather than being an artist.  
                           Derek Walcott

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Beauty of the Earth, the Beauty of Life

So I found the link for you last night to the Paris Review Interview with Derek Walcott. Then, natch, when I finished the post I had to read the whole interview. And then I had to go and investigate his autobiographical poetry in Another Life. And then I noticed that the huge new forthcoming gathering of 60 years of his poetry is forthcoming and you can even order that now for Kindle for a very reasonable price. So I did order it. And while I was reading the interview last night I found this quote for tonight, Walcott is talking about Another Life in the longer PR Interview passage below that. Here is a short description about that work that I just lifted from Amazon:

"Another Life", Walcott's masterpiece of autobiography in verse, has of course been widely praised. D.J. McClatchy, for example, writing in "The New Republic", called it "one of the best long autobiographical poems in English, with the narrative sweep, the lavish layering of details, and the mythic resonance of a certain classic". 


There are some things people avoid saying in interviews because they sound pompous or sentimental or too mystical. I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation. What I described in Another Life—about being on the hill and feeling the sort of dissolution that happened—is a frequent experience in a younger writer. I felt this sweetness of melancholy, of a sense of mortality, or rather of immortality, a sense of gratitude both for what you feel is a gift and for the beauty of the earth, the beauty of life around us. When that’s forceful in a young writer, it can make you cry. It’s just clear tears; it’s not grimacing or being contorted, it’s just a flow that happens. The body feels it is melting into what it has seen. This continues in the poet. It may be repressed in some way, but I think we continue in all our lives to have that sense of melting, of the “I” not being important. That is the ecstasy. It doesn’t happen as much when you get older. There’s that wonderful passage in Traherne where he talks about seeing the children as moving jewels until they learn the dirty devices of the world. It’s not that mystic. Ultimately, it’s what Yeats says: “Such a sweetness flows into the breast that we laugh at everything and everything we look upon is blessed.” That’s always there. It’s a benediction, a transference. It’s gratitude, really. The more of that a poet keeps, the more genuine his nature. I’ve always felt that sense of gratitude. I’ve never felt equal to it in terms of my writing, but I’ve never felt that I was ever less than that. And so in that particular passage in Another Life I was recording a particular moment. Derek Walcott in his Paris Review Interview. Interviewed by Edward Hirsch, Winter, 1986.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cottonwood Summer

     This lovely afternoon in early summer, with all around the faint sounds of moving water and rustling leaves. And lots of birds, doves, red-wings, Brewer's blackbirds, calling quail. I brought books and a notebook out of doors. For a long time I watched a first-year house sparrow hop about on the cement underneath the feeder, picking at the seed spilled by the quarreling red-wings. He was hopping on one leg, because the other was a stick maybe one inch long, without a foot. He was very nimble, and if I hadn't been that close, I would not have noticed anything.

      Biting off more than I can possibly chew, I began then to read The Lives of the Poets by Michael Schmidt, Vintage, 1998, 2000, 975 pages. Nine hundred seventy five! It's a history of poetry in English roughly from before Chaucer to Paul Muldoon and Derek Walcott and beyond. Includes lots of Americans and colonials, judges and compares and places them in contexts, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism when it came out. That one could even attempt to know, discuss, all of them in one book knocks me out!

     Here is the epigraph (I am becoming ever fonder of epigraphs!)
to the third (out of sixty-three!) section "The Anthology" (Page 12, The Lives of the Poets.)

One could abandon writing
for the slow-burning signals
of the great, to be, instead
their ideal reader, ruminative,
voracious, making the love of masterpieces
superior to attempting
to repeat or outdo them,
and be the greatest reader in the world.

       Derek Walcott, "Volcano"

     Of course, if we have read him, we know Derek aims very high! Here is a link to his Paris Review Interview. Walcott gave a workshop once in San Jose. He never got to my poem so it was not discussed in the group. It had my address on it and I later got a nice letter from a member of the workshop who had liked the poem. That was the only time that ever happened to me. Later on, for instance at the Foothill Writing Workshops, the rule was to pass the poems back to the poet after the discussion. Quite a few of these manuscripts were marked with a copyright symbol, which always made me giggle (to myself) since I had seen so much poetry being passed around safely without intellectual property theft. Steal it! I wanted to shout, make it famous! The other thing I remember about Walcott was his habit of hitching up his pants by grabbing his belt with both thumbs right behind each hipbone, and giving it a rough tug, and a shake. He's a great poet, I'll have to find something else of his to use here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Long Hayfield

I only dwelt on The Farm for three years and another summer after my freshman year at the University of Arizona. But it was a wonderful part of my life. At my new school, I met a best friend that I still have! I also had a horse and much more open space. I still prefer the open woods and fields of the temperate climate that I knew then. This is the field where my father showed me the grass called Timothy; I remember the time he showed it to me. There was a lot of timothy in this field, along with some other forage grasses. In the recently scanned family slides, I found a whole series of these haying slides. I had not remembered driving the tractor, but here I am, giving my little sister a thrill. On the other side of the field, you can see our old car hitched to a trailer and hauling hay, too! These slides remind me again and again how we managed to spend very little and have such a fine time there.

The hayfield was a long narrow field running east and west. A favorite place to ride Cindy was along the track on the north side of the field. There was plenty of room to let her just run. I rode on the saddle that came with her. It was a wooden saddle, leather covered, with a split in the wood above the horse's backbone. My horsewoman-aunt Molly tried to explain to me about "posting" but I never coud see much sense in that.

The Paris Review came today; it is always a struggle not to just drop everything and DIVE into the Interviews! I did just manage, but riffled through the poetry and found a poem that begins with GRASSES! The poet is a 2014 Guggenheim fellow whose work I had not seen. Her name is Ange Mlinko. I wonder how her work will develop.


Roadside grasses are seen
to vary, stem and thistledown:
pale straw or light brown,
gray brown and transom green.

Spinning wind into something vatic:
seven synchronized giantesses.
A thought only rarely coalesces
from the brain's static.

You think you were always thinking,
but try to form a sentence
while you're driving. A fence.
A pylon. A form of blinking,

like a quasi-town that won't so much
as marry a Dairy Queen
and an El Rey Del Tacos. Lean 
times times out of touch

equals areas where lives
depend more clearly on the wages
of atmospheric averages; 
that's how prayer survives.

Ange Mlinko, from The Paris Review, #209, page 71.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What, precisely, is your procedure?

The farmhouse of old dreams of permanence is about to fall down. Yet, in early summer, white daisies adorn the grass. And sandhill cranes come for a short visit.  In a little while, they will lift into the air together and fly away, calling to each other their bugle-call.

I have been reading the biography of John Updike today. The author, Adam Begley, has been giving lots of samples of gloriously-written sentences from early Updike work. This has made me inspect my sentences (like the first two above) with alarm. But no matter, sometimes I manage something that pleases me. And I always find something else to think about when I am writing or typing out the poem.

Here, as I promised last night, is the rest of last night's poem.

The challenge, to start
not with theory but with tangible performance

You and others, approaching

We shall be asked for a way out

             to be fed

             to keep warm and dry

Starting with experience, magic
genuine science

More than once we have been lost
in a trackless wilderness

dwarfed and shadowed by mighty buildings
subway trains wild as elephants

One goes blindly back to one's desk

These moments come, their dark

We glimpsed control 
and more tragic waste

We entered with 40,000,000 warriors
with the dignity of cathedrals

The lake is upon you
You have two canoes, your tent

You have your axes

What, precisely, is your procedure?

Anna Moschovakis, from YOU AND THREE OTHERS ARE APPROACHING A LAKE, Coffee House Press, 2011, pp 30-31.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Still Life with Fruit

Whenever I get together with these four grandchildren (ages 3-9) we have at least one watercolor painting session. They usually do Abstract Expressionism, but this time the oldest made me a fruit salad in the Primary Colors! I cannot recommend a better way to improve your life than by encouraging children to paint freely, whatever they wish!

And as a counterbalance to all this joy, tonight I am offering the poem from which the title of this recent prizewinning book of poems is taken:

Natural resources (the gutting of a continent):

You and three others are approaching a lake
The day of the pioneer may have passed its noon
but it still runs strong

It is after six. What is your procedure?

The history of the material conquest 
of America 
largely parallels

the history of every other
rich and virgin area

Free experimentation, trial and error
No job for academic philosophers

Those hunters who slew bird and lynx
as their stomachs and their safety demanded---

is it more than you would have done?

The error is material--it's an island ahead. You are already in the lake.

An oil well is a hole in the ground about a quarter of a mile deep

into which a man may put a small fortune
or out of which he may take a big one.

There were housewives, children

shelter and clothing

reasonable comforts

The island turned over

in a canoe

Anna Moschovakis, from YOU AND THREE OTHERS ARE APPROACHING A LAKE, Coffee House Press, 2011, pp 28-29.

The poem seems to end here. (There are only five lines on page 29.) And yet it seems to continue onto the next two pages, which I plan to give you tomorrow night. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Barbra Streisand Hybrid Tea Rose

We replaced one of the roses that died in the bad winter a couple of years ago with this one (putting on a great show right now!) which was available in a can, so we didn't have to start with bare root. Here is the description from the Regan Nursery:

Barbra Streisand
Rosa Hybrid Tea
An avid rose lover, Barbra was very choosy when it came to picking a rose that would bear her name. It had to have large flowers with an attractive color. But mosst of all, it had to be fragrant! the Barbra Streisand rose certainly fulfills those desires. Just one big shapely blossom can nearly overpower you with strong sweet scent. The clean lavender colors show off strikingly against deep glossy green leaves. Her vigorous plant bears loads of long-stemmed beauties. Great for cutting or just for smellin  Yep! Smellin with no period!


  Interesting Notes
This dramatic new lavender Hybrid Tea has rosarians falling all over themselves trying to out-brag each other about the extravagant number of perfect flowers on their tall, vigorous bushes. And the sweet, heady perfume is reported to be so powerful it almost knocks you down. "Babs" is the grandchild of Angel Face, and great-grandchild of Sterling Silver, hybridized by the legendary rose breeder Tom Carruth. He's done a commendable job of capturing the various beauties, perfection, and charms of the ancestors, combining them in a generous, elegant, and very striking rose.

This was interesting to me because we grow, in California, both Angel Face and Sterling Silver; I think we are both partial to lavender roses, particularly to ones that are scented. 

Having finally polished off some literary biographies started this year, I just treated myself to the new Updike by Adam Begley, Harper Collins, 2014. About, guess who?  As far as I am (Harvard) a lot of the burden of the story is about what a some of us might refer to as his "mother problem."

I love epigraphs, and each chapter has one. Here is the first: "A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror. --Sigmund Freud"

and the second: "What is the past, after all, but a vast sheet of darkness in which a few moments, pricked at random, shine? "The Astronomer"" [by John Updike.]

Updike began as a poet, with light verse published both during high school and college. His first book was a book of poems: here is an early poem published in Chatterbox:

Child's Question

Oh, is it true
A word with a Q with 
The usual U does lack?
I grunt and strain
But, no, in vain
My weary brain
           John Updike

Sniff if you will, but were you ever published in Chatterbox???
And one more quote (then you can get the book)!!

From his memoirs, on the first meeting of Hyder Rollins's course in Late Romantic Poetry:

As I settled into the first lecture, in my one-armed chair, my heart was beating like that of a boy with a pocket of heavy nickels as he walks through the door . . . of a candy shop. It would be bliss. . . I thought, to go on forever like this, filling in one's ignorance of English literature slot by slot, poet by poet, under the guidance of tenured wizards, in classrooms dating from the colonial era, while the down-drooping, golden-leaved elm branches shivered in the sunlight outside in the Yard.  [Updike, page 76.]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Inscription for a Painting

Photo by Olga Butler Hopper.

This is another of my mother's slides from perhaps the late 1950s or early 1960s. It is from a batch labeled "Toluca Market" and is I think, a great street photo. There is a Toluca Market now near Burbank, California, where she could have been visiting relatives: aunts, uncles, cousins. But she also visited Mexico during these years. Since the picture was taken so many years ago, these children--if still living--would be elders by now. I thought at first that the older child was eating something (and not sharing) but when I enlarged it I could see that it looks like one of those Mexican clay whistles; this one is in the form of a goat with golden horns. I love the expressions on the children's faces and the details of their hands and clothing. I rejoice in the texture of the wall behind them. I can imagine someone basing a gorgeous painting on this image. I think it would work in either watercolor or oils.

I have been spending time again with the ancient poets of China, courtesy of my Kindle copy of The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry from Ancient to Contemporary, edited by the Barnstones. This is not an expensive book, in print or on Kindle, and I can give it a strong recommendation. I have found in one longer poem the plot for a wonderful novel, but tonight I want to give another recommendation for a painting.

Inscription for a Painting

Late on a sunny day by a village.
Fresh peach blossoms by the water.
Where is the cowherd going?
On the ox's back a gull is sleeping.

Yuan Mei  (1716-1798)
One of the achievements of this Qing Dynasty writer was his direction of a school for women poets, for which he was criticized by many of his contemporaries. This information comes from the short biographies included in The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry . . . These are full of delightful information, here is a little more: "Though he often strikes a philosophical note in his work, he is certainly one of the most personable of Chinese poets--not averse to humor, sympathetic with the poor, and bearing a strong resemblance to the T'ang poet Bai Juyi. His poems are direct, simple, often strikingly autobiographical."

I often find that a short time dipping into this book clears my mind wonderfully!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Climbing Vine, Clematis

In bloom right now, when I went out to look at the late afternoon light. And once again noticed that I haven't been outside enough today. Now it is dark.

One of the new Poet Laureate's books is called Zone Journals. I have it on my Kindle now. It is a series of ten longer poems that all have the word "journal" in their titles. Each one begins by paying attention to the time and season (like haiku!) and are written in paragraph-like stanzas.

Here is a section from one of these poems:

---Function is form, form function back here where the fruit trees
Strip to November's music,
And the black cat and the tortoiseshell cat
crouch and slink,
Crouch and slink toward something I can't see
But hear the occasional fateful rustlings of,
Where the last tomatoes seep
from their red skins through the red dirt,
and sweet woodruff holds up its smooth gray sticks
Like a room full of boys
all wanting to be excused at the same time.

Charles Wright from "A Journal of True Confession" in Zone Journals, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988, Kindle location 294.

I am thinking about an arbor where I might think this kind of meditations and write them down. It almost feels like I would need a special pen. Here is a link to sweet woodruff. I love the part about the tomatoes and the sticks of the plant in November remind me that yarrow sticks are sometimes used in iChing divination.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The night will be dark and cold the ground

The way the willow catches the last light of each day here; 
I always notice these few splendid moments.

There has been a great deal of fussing in the news about the new US Poet Laureate, Charles Wright. In checking books I have here in Idaho, I found only one. It is a long landscape-format book that was put together by Wright and artist Eric Appleby, called Outtakes. Each double page spread pairs a small abstract section of a black and white photograph by Appleby with a typed poem by Wright, presented in facsimile, including dirty typewriter keystrokes and a few hand-corrections. It is an interesting idea that I would like to copy. Naturally I find interesting the the conjunction of image and text. Although these images are such small details so enlarged as to be virtually meaningless blurs, I think. I also notice that, around the middle of the book, Wright seems to have cleaned his typewriter keys.

All our family typewriters are gone, alas, our college portables went to India with a friend many years ago, and I have forgotten what we did with the dissertation Smith Corona which lived on the workbench in the garage for many years before it left our ken. Because these poems have made me quite lonely for typescript.


Deadfall and limb-bearded tamaracks,
                                         the grass in ginocchio, creek gurgle,
Landscape on which the sun has gone down,
First smudge of shadows beginning to form,
                                                         light still on ridge line.

Year after damped year, anxiety burns out my heart,
I know that one must not say so,
But, year after year, anxiety burns out my heart.

Charles Wright, from Outtakes, Sarabande, 2010. no page numbers.

Typing this poem, I noticed the big difference in this font and typewriter font. This font is much more economical of space, so, in the book, the poem spreads out across the whole long page.

In ginocchio,I think, means on one's knees, or kneeling. And I quite like the rhythms of this bleak poem when read aloud.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Red Umbrellas

I didn't even notice until I looked at the picture after I got home that these are Coca-Cola Umbrellas! The sun was almost too bright and we had to finish our calzone and big chicken salad indoors. I love the way the bright sun turned the tops of the umbrellas white in the photograph! And I've been thinking about the color red since last night's post. Here's a beloved poem/song by Robert Burns.

A Red, Red Rose

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

By Robert Burns

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Something Red, Something Black

This is another of my mother's slides. I like the graphic quality of this. It seems to be a stage production, perhaps of Our Town. If so, this would have been Shaker Heights High School in the late 1960s. That might even be my brother Robert (who died in 1997) at left, but I might not find out now. R Rob was tall and slender and sported that kind of fluffy, longish hair at the time. He also took part in high school theatricals.
                                                              * * * * * * * * * *

Today I got a new book by Chasrlotte Digregorio,
Haiku and Senryu; 
A Simple Guide for All,
Artful Communications Press, 2014.
It isn't really that simple, being over 200 pages, without much space around the sample poems. I am eager to get started on it, but it is the kind of book you have to ingest in small bites.

Riffling through, I spotted this haiku of Issa's that I don't remember seeing before, The article on Kobayashi Issa in Wikipedia says he wrote more than 20,000 haiku, so I guess that is not surprising that I don't know them all. Next to Basho, he is probably Japan's most revered haiku poet. The poet and translatoe, David Lanoue has created a website for Issa, with many of his translations of that poet. This website, which presents translations (with commentary) of about 10,000 of Issa's haiku is well worth some afternoons and evenings of your time,

Here is the haiku from Charlotte's book; it is in David's translation.

unaware the tree
is destined for the axe . . .
nest building         (page 62)

ISSA   (1763-1828)

This has for me the same poignant quality as finding a picture that might be of my treasured brother so many years after his death. The poem doesn't completely reject life as it is, but looks at things with a clear and unsentimental view.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


This house isn't there any more. The lakeside farm in Northern Michigan has been turned into a stalled housing development called Eagle Beach. When I began photographing this home place every year, the barn was gone; only the cement silo still stood. Now the house has been removed, too. I wonder what kind of pictures I can take when we get back this year?


     Structure and sense that dreams from the corners of a 
room. . . .
     Table edges that remind us of tensions drawn from exacting boundaries, falling finally up from the patterns of a 
rug. . . .
     Those drapes hanging by that window draped like
classical stone, shifting with subtle compliance to an
atmosphere softly breathing from a distant meadow. . . .

     Above us is a monstrous artifact of clouds that've lain
together for centuries like sleeping swine. . . .

     The drift . . . .

Russell Edson from The Rooster's Wife
BOA editions, 2005, page 14.

Notice how the title makes this poem much more immediately accessible to the reader. Think about the title of each one of your poems: what effect does each one have on the apprehension of the poem? Do you like that, or would you prefer to change it??

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Improvised grasses I painted on a postcard years ago.

Improvised Scene Poem

Plum blossoms, a lonely village
water flowing past a few cottages
Against the setting sun no one is seen,
just an ox lying in the wheat field.

JI YINHUAI (17th century)

Ji Yinhuai, also known as Mao Lu, was the sister of Ji Yingzhong, another Qing dynasty poet and learned how to write poetry from her brother. She wrote a collection entitled Deeply Cold Hall Poetry, but she stopped writing when her husband, Du Ji, was killed during the Manchu invasion of the city. She lived in poverty with her children for over thirty years. Her line "Nesting ravens and flowing waters highlight autumn" was highly praised by Wang Shizen.

Poem and information from The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry from Ancient to Contemporary, Kindle location 1571.

Today I read a book called One Drawing a Day, but I did not make one drawing. Soon, though, I plan to start. Small. It is wonderful to me that this small poem by the female poet Ji Yinhuai has survived to come to English readers in this translation. Truly wonderful. Good night.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Folded Leaf

Today, I wanted to read a novel--not just any novel, but one I was sure would please me and make it a day well-spent. It didn't take me long to choose The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell, Random House, 1945. Since I came to Maxwell many years after his novels were published, there are several I haven't read yet. I save them for times like today.

The man is a master of the written word.

The poem below is a selection from Song of the Lotus Eaters by Tennyson, which Maxwell has placed as an epigraph to the novel, and from which he chose the title. I have also included the following four lines from the poem, which he did not use.

Then I chose the picture from a boat ride on Crooked River in Northern Michigan, since that is where I know the most profusion of leaves. And where apple trees grow wild in the woods and bear fruit!

Lo! in the middle of the wood, 
The folded leaf is woo'd from out the bud 
With winds upon the branch, and there 
Grows green and broad, and takes no care, 
Sun-steep'd at noon, and in the moon 
Nightly dew-fed; and turning yellow
Falls, and floats adown the air. 
Lo! sweeten'd with the summer light, 
The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow, 
Drops in a silent autumn night. 
All its allotted length of days,
The flower ripens in its place, 
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil, 
Fast-rooted in the fruitful soil. 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833

What I would like you to notice about this is the seamless rhythmic beauty of the English language in poetic forms that characterized so much of the great Romantic and Victorian poetry. Musicality!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Picking and Choosing .

Outside my window onto the Northern Michigan woods, this tree was the favorite of woodpeckers, large and small. Each year its hold on life diminished, until finally it was a dead tree that the birds still spent a lot of time on. Why did they choose this tree?

One of my favorite lines in the poem below is: "Humming-bug, the candles are not wired . .." I am not going to pretend to completely explain this poem, which people seem to write dissertations on. But I like it very much for how it includes so many different knowledges.


Literature is a phase of life. If one is afraid of it,
the situation is irremediable; if one approaches it familiarly,
what one says of it is worthless.
The opaque allusion, the simulated flight upward,
accomplishes nothing. Why cloud the fact
that Shaw is self-conscious in thee field of sentiment
but is otherwise rewarding; that James
is all that has been said of him. It is not Hardy the novelist
and Hardy the poet, but one man interpreting life as emotion.
The critic should know what he likes:
Gordon Craig with his "this is I" and "this is mine,"
with his three wise men his "sad French greens" and his "Chinese cherry"
Gordon Craig so inclinational and unashamed--a critic.
And Burke is a psychologist, of acute raccoon-like curiosity.
Summa diligentia; to the humbug whose name is so amusing--
very young and very rushed, Caesar crossed the Alps
on the top of a "diligence"!
We are not daft about the meaning,
but this familiarity with wrong meanings puzzles one.
Humming-bug, the candles are not wired for electricity.
Small dog, going over the lawn nipping the linen and saying
that you have a badger--remember Xenophon;
only rudimentary behavior is necessary to put us on the scent.
"A right good salvo of barks," a few strong wrinkles puckering
the skin between the ears is all we ask.

Marianne Moore from The Complete Poems
Penguin Classic, page 45.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Painting the Barn White

Here ia another of my mother's slides from, perhaps, the summer of 1956. The barn hasn't been painted for a long time (ever?) and is soaking up the paint. The house was built between 1860 and 1870 and the barns must have some later. I looked them up on Google Earth (from the air!) and it looks like one of the barns (there were of them, placed in an L-shape) has been torn down. I did a lot of painting, too, before I left home in rural New York State to attend the alma mater of my parents, the University of Arizona. I painted the clapboards of the addition to the house (one coat of linseed oil, two coats of white paint) for $1 per hour, which I saved for college. The year before I had painted the metal roof of the house, one section at a time. I've been telling the story of what we call The Farm in this blog over many posts. To find them put "the farm" in the search box at the upper left.

Far away in Scandinavia, a nightingale is singing in this poem by Tomas Transtromer. Like this blog, this poem is also about time and memory. Unluckily, I haven't been able to find anything about Badelunba.

The Nightingale in Badelunba

In the green midnight at the nightingale's northern boundary. Heavy leaves hang in a trance, the deaf motorcars rush toward the neon-line. The voice of the nightingale does not step aside, it is as penetrating as the crowing of a cock, but lovely, and without vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I wasn't aware of it then, but I am now. Time streams down from sun and moon and into all the tick-tock, tick-tock-thankful clocks. But just here no time exists. Except for the voice of the nightingale, the raw resounding tones that hone the pallid scythe of the night sky.

Tomas Transtromer, from Inspired Notes; poems of Tomas Transtromer, translated by John F. Deane, Dedalus Press (Irelnad) 2011, page 47.

Write a paragraph-poem about time, memory, birdsong and/or the distant past. Try to coin some hyphenated words like "neon-line" or "tick-tock-thankful." And sleep well!

Friday, June 06, 2014

A grassy field in late summer

A single click on the picture will enlarge it.

Here is another of my mother's slides from about 1954. It reminds me of a scene from a movie. I like the oddness of the composition. The woman is my mother's sister, Aunt Hazel and the man below the barn is my Uncle Howard. They had come all the way from California to visit us at our new farm near Grooms Corners, NY, with their two children. I can see Dennis behind Aunt Hazel and I think that is Susan in the grass closer to the house. My baby sister, Marjory, is in the foreground in red and white checks. At the right edge I can see one of my brother's arms; Richard's arms were slender like that. And the blurred man at left is my prince of a father, whom I know by his stance and his engineer's white work shirt, which became farm garb by gutting off the cuffs and sometimes even the collar.

They are all in the field below the house where we often grazed the horses, looking out toward the Mohawk River downslope. A few years after this my father was transferred by GE and we had to leave this beautiful place, which still has a main place in our family folklore. I like this picture because of its unusual composition. It tickles me that the grasses are more definite than the people. Also, I can imagine building a novel or a play with just this material even if the place and the people were unknown to me beforehand.

As part of my adventures through literary biography I have today finally finished Peter Conradi's biography of Iris Murdoch, the British novelist. I had kind of avoided her novels for many years, but I always remembered that Dorothy liked them, and I respect her judgment. Iris seems pretty intense and we might have not liked each other much, but she surely did have a lifelong gift for friendship.

She kept journals throughout her life. This is from one of them:

25 May 1984
Last night a strange scene in the garden. Just before twilight, a very vivid darkish evening light (after a sunny day), we saw from the window [a] deer . . . daintily walking and feeding in the longer grass of the lawn. Such a pretty graceful brown animal. We watched for a while, the deer lifted her head, then there appeared, like an entry of dandyish quarrelsome youths in a theatre, three large fox cubs, who stood insolently displaying the tawny frills of fur round their necks, just under the yew trees by the new lawn. They approached the deer, who lowered her head menacingly, ran at a cub who approached her and drove him away. Then the three began to run round, one always appearing behind her, while she kept turning aggressively. This game, I think the cubs just playing, went on for some time, until the deer suddenly raced away. The fox cubs stayed and played on the lawn where we watched them for a long time until it got dark. It was like something out of a Book of Hours, the colours were so vivid.

Iris Murdoch,
a journal entry as quoted in Iris; The Life of Iris Murdoch 
by Peter J. Conradi, Norton, 2001, pages 557-8.

I wish I had seen this; I wish I had written this! I wish I had kept a journal. . . I love the reference to those small vivid paintings in Medieval books. I wish I had finished a tiny fraction of the things I planned and started. I see now I never wrote here about the deer dance I witnessed near dawn at the place in Michigan. (Probably because I was disappointed in the photographs. So I'll fix that, hopefully tomorrow.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


I am working now on the last batch of family
When one starts to go through family photographs,
(since one is the oldest sibling and can identify the most people, places and things)

1) It is a lot of work
2) It takes a lot of time
3) It makes you think and rethink your principles of organization
4) It makes you want to revisit the past, and retake some of the pictures
5) It makes you happy all over again to belong to what Robert (second from left) named your FOO (family of origin)

Here we are assembling for that Icon of American Life; the family photograph of children in a line.
Here is a link to the first version I found, a photo made from the next slide that was very faded. Now I have found the original slide and the one taken just before it (abovonee)
Because the boys are wearing white shirts, this is Sunday and we are either going or coming from church. I am wearing one of my favorite pleated skirts which I made and the blouse I made to go with it. I made many of these skirts and used the blouse pattern at least three times.

I recently got a copy of the book that won a recent James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, YOU AND THREE OTHERS ARE APPROACHING A LAKE by Anna Moschovakis, Coffee House Press, 2011, page 18.

I quite like these poems. Here is one:

Human wants:

First the necklace of bone
then the shift of leather

tea, tobacco and gambling

in other words

ten men could live on the corn
where only one can live on the beef

* Anna Moschovakis *

The family pictures are reminding me how simply we lived, not a lot of fancy clothes, no eating out, no theme parties, play dates or other requisites of today's family lives. We played and sometimes with an animal, and the boys played with each other. I am often reminded of my brothers when I see video of wolf cubs, or fox cubs playing and pouncing.