Sunday, January 29, 2017

In Praise of the Ordinary

In an ordinary place on an ordinary day, several people get together to choose poems for a poetry journal.

In an extraordinary place on an extraordinary day, several people get together to choose which hateful, ignorant acts to codify into law.

In which group of several people do you think there is the most discussion about the merits of the words on paper, the most empathy, the most concern for the unseen lives that will be touched, the most regrets for the many no's that must be said?

Why bother with the poetry at all, when there is such an uphill battle to be waged against the ignorance and hatefulness?

If I need to answer that question for you, you might want to look around and ask yourself how you came to be in that extraordinary place.


have it both ways
raven    crow
historians all

Friday, January 27, 2017

"No Hope" Is Not the Same As Without Hope

I've been busy teaching six college courses...Anything happen this week?

Seriously, I've been busy teaching, and everything that happened in my classrooms has provided a stark contrast to everything that has happened in the Oval Office and other Trump-tainted venues. Focused and engaged discussion by adults who want to learn about one another's world view, versus...well, versus the exact opposite in every possible way. So I've had a great week. And not.

And that (added to the previous couple of months) has caused me to rethink the concept of hope. I don't think I believe in it, if I ever did (I am a gloomy poet, after all). And it's not hope, so much as magical thinking...That's what I am really trying to understand: The line between hope (inspirational, bring-out-the-best beliefs, uplifting, influencing in a positive way of current behavior) versus magical thinking (delusional, bring-out-the-denial beliefs, paralyzing, influencing in a negative way of current behavior).

I cannot hope my students do well, and then sit back for fifteen weeks, signing "executive orders" to the effect of "That chapter shall be read" and "That paper shall be written" and "That poem shall be explicated." Old, odd habits of hope must be put off. The new abnormal must be met with something equally as new. It was met with something new last weekend in cities all over the world. It has been in my classes this past week: a new energy, perhaps coming from me, perhaps from my students--I'm certain only that I felt some little glimmer of renewed effort to do something, even if that something is learn. That's yuge, right? Into the mist, old habit of hope.


into the mist old habit of hope
into the mist odd habit of hope
into the missed odd habit of hope
into the missed odd haven't of hope
into that missed odd haven't of hope
into that missed odd haven't any hope
isn't that missed odd haven't any hope

Sunday, January 22, 2017

And, Singing, Made

And then sometimes, these things just happen right outside your window.

This morning, I was reminded (by George!) of Wallace Stevens's poem "The Idea of Order at Key West," specifically the lines,

                                            ...Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

And then sometimes, a poem just happens right outside your window.





Notes to Self

Notes to self, because self is a little overwhelmed these days to remember on its own:

1.  Beauty is there, in every moment. You may need to look within to find it, but really, it's there before your eyes. The challenge is to see it and name it and give it staying power through art.

2.  Yes, beauty can be squandered, damaged, defiled, wasted, even destroyed. But it also has a way of passing on its own. Try to see the passage less as passage and more as transition. A new beauty will arise.

3.  Be an agent of arising, not an agent of squandering.

4.  Seek the bridge between the beauty within and the beauty without. That is the thing tyrants always miss.

5.  Every day is a new season.

6.  Most of all, remember, remember, remember: We name ourselves. The word hole that spews carnage is the word hole of carnage incarnate.


winter meadow
the grace
of broken things

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Shame On Us

I almost feel as if narrative poetry has died. There is no story to tell, at least not until we can answer the unanswerable "why" of how we arrived in this story-deprived place, a place of fear and depravity and lies.

And so, in place of narrative, stream-of-consciousness, perhaps a little word association, a souvenir of story in a place with no beginning, no middle, no end. If not story, then look around and describe what is outside, what is within. The connection between the two (without, within) will offer the possibility of something sublime.

Shame on us for killing off story. Story was what kept us human.


why remember winter why remember flood
why come to the meadow to remember
winter flood why crow why river
winter flood winter meadow meadow flood
river crow remember why remember

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thin Ice

There is no such thing as ordinary, I tell my students, usually in the context of teaching a poem or short story. Every work of art celebrates something, even if the work is also a catharsis of pain, anxiety, grief.

Too often, we must simultaneously celebrate and mourn.

Here and gone. Hoped for and feared. Together; alone.

Overcome, then overcome again.

And so we go forward in a way that feels like going way, way back. Let us call it creative mourning. Let us think of it as thin ice. May we find one another on the other side.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Same Sky

Just a quick little "doodle collage" as I was thinking more about translation, how to smooth out language in a way that doesn't impose idiom, meaning, or meaninglessness onto a poem, how to intuit the poet's intent from half a world away...

Do any of us speak the same language?

Do we even understand ourselves?

Is the surreal more real than real?

Do we live beneath the same sky?


texture of paper
the way it isn't so much


speed of light
more solid than
sky looks


the blue
of sorts
a little
around the
perhaps a

Breathe Poems

This is inspired by my correspondence with an editor of an international haiku journal who publishes each haiku in the journal in at least two languages.

Imagine attempting to convey the paradox, the connotations, the idiomatic idiosyncrasies of a poem—even a short one; especially a short one the entire raison d'etre of which rests in those exact connotations and idiosyncrasies...

Amazing, yes, that there are people with such passion for words, for poetry; people so convinced that words are necessary and vital, and that poems are the equivalent of oxygen in terms of sustaining life?

How to thank someone for such a love of words?

Read poems, write poems, breathe poems.


do not disturb
wondering if
the pebble feels


for each grave
a different verb
carried, lifted, borne


the translator
who speaks no language
waning moon

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings

One of my favorite poems is by Edward Dorn. It is simply titled "Song," as are many of his poems, and begins in media res in the voice of a wanderer who, at least in his imagination, is searching the world for his lost love. The opening lines have always haunted me...

Again, I am made the occurrence
of one of her charms [...]

Not only do I love those lines within the context of the poem, but they seem to me to be a description of all the avenues of inspiration that converge to make a poem. I know that is how some of my haiku come together: a tune stuck in my head; a full moon; the fear that we have seen the last of truth; remembering the topic of my research paper in Modern Poetry (c. 1983?)  as I work on my course outline for Modern Poetry...How the mind does go to and fro! The poet is made the occurrence of the poem, not the other way around.

All this, and a Ferris wheel as a symbol of these vertiginous times...



Friday, January 13, 2017

A Quilt, a Garment, a Garden...

Everything is new; nothing is new. That paradox is on my mind these days, as I prepare for my Modern Poetry course and as I try to process the cognitive dissonance of our post-truth world.

Creating things really is the only way through this sort of thing. I think back to Salem, Massachusetts, in the aftermath of the witch trials. As the terror lingered, as the survivors adjusted to lives that would never again be trauma-free (the dreams of seeing one's neighbors hanged; every knock on the door for the next five days or fifty years triggering the certainty that they've come for me...), I imagine a quiet, introspective woman, in mourning for the community she once knew and loved that had gone mad seemingly overnight, guilty for feeling relieved that she herself had avoided the noose, turning to some way she had of creating beauty in the midst of all that ugliness. A quilt; a winter cloak with stitching so fine that no winter wind would find a way in; a patch of garden pleasing to the eye and nourishing to a body deprived of luxury.

Or a quiet, introspective woman in northern France during the Plague years...again, in mourning for the community she once knew and loved that had gone mad seemingly overnight, guilty for feeling relieved that she herself had avoided (so far) that fate, turning to some way she had of creating beauty in the midst of all that ugliness. A quilt; a winter cloak with stitching so fine that no winter wind would find a way in; a patch of garden pleasing to the eye and nourishing to a body deprived of luxury...

Anywhere, at any of these dark times: a quilt; a garment with fine stitching; a garden...

...A poem, a song, a painting, a sculpture formed with a plasma torch from a piece of found metal...

Make something, the imagination pleads, in the quest to attain to some new normal after a reminder of just how abnormal things can get.

(This is no time for art, the ones who are still caught up in the madness will tell you. Artists are the problem, say the ones who embody the madness. There are dangers, to be sure.)

And just as important as making, be the one who is open to seeing these small, beautiful, necessary things. Things that re-order the chaos. Things that startle us because they are new, and yet comfort us because we realize we have known and needed them all along. And always will.



Wednesday, January 11, 2017


“[Art] looks at things in the light of all the different sorts of significance they could possibly have.” That’s from Alva Noe’s Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature. This concept will form the basis of my Modern Poetry course this semester. How do we begin to explore “all the different sorts of significance” various “things” can have? What “things” do we choose to consider? War; technology; the subconscious; perception; individual human emotions such as love and how they find relevance amidst all these “big” things…

And this is also where art does what politics cannot. Art encourages new ways of seeing. William James (one of the usherers-in of the modern era) recognized that ours is “a pluralistic, restless universe, in which no single point of view can ever take in the whole scene.” Even before the concept of “a pluralistic, restless universe” was put into words, art was already exploring ways to perceive what was multi-perceivable, ways to imagine the multi-imaginable.

We need this more than ever, these reminders “of all the different sorts of significance” of things.


                the entire lake
in winter shards the lake
                   entirely lake

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Museum Metaphor

Yes, this is the same statue as in the haiga of my previous post; I wasn't finished seeing what I could do with this image. In the process, I started thinking about how each of us is a museum, with our images we keep on permanent display and the images we keep down in the climate-controlled storerooms.

And I'm mixing—or complicating—the analogy now when I think of the relationship between art and memory. Each is a creation/recreation/re-vision. Each is a tool to understand the present.

I don't know if I would go as far as Edgar Allan Poe, who said, "Everything we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream." But there's a truth there that keeps calling me back to explore the nature of art and memory. There's a feeling of trying to know the unknowable, but it's just too enticing to let go of.

I would go to a museum every day, if I could.

Oh, I do.



Mansplaining at the Museum

So, funny story. Three friends and I were at a museum yesterday, a small, local museum that offers a glimpse into cultures that transcend time and place. We were transfixed by the exhibits in all four of the galleries.

At the time we were there, a museum guide was giving a tour to two women, who mostly sat while the guide droned on in a voice loud enough to be heard in the neighboring gallery. My friends and I had to leave a gallery to go to the one farthest from this person's voice. When we finally had no choice but to be in the same space as this docent, I tried to block out what he was saying. The snippets I caught were of things tangential to the actual exhibit, plus the docent seemed unsure about many of the details beneath the surface of the artistic waters into which his monologue had waded.

It was painful, but afterwards we enjoyed ourselves greatly at this blowhard's expense. My favorite line of the day came from friend Linda who said, "I'm so hungry my stomach is rumbling louder than that guy's voice."

We saw some amazing art; we were transported, as I said, across time and culture. I would visit this museum often if I lived closer. And we learned once again that the volume of the declaimer is proportional to the inanity of the declaimer (seriously, is there no escape from blowhards these days?). And in the center of it all, passed by all who made their way through the museum, the perfect example of the beauty of silent contemplation, a reminder to us all to sometimes, just shut the f. up.


her composure
unlike ours
impervious to
the docent's
daily drone

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Teaching = Learning

I'm about to head into school, to sit in my office and choose about 100 poems by about 50 poets for my Modern Poetry course outline. I have modified the course so that it's somewhat chronological, but also thematic. I'm learning so much just by putting together the outline.

I'm terrified, but I'm certain that my terror will translate into a wonderful classroom experience. I can't wait to report on all the stuff I learn from my students.


no dreams
not enough sky
for their wings

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Time Is Out of Joint

"The time is out of joint. O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right."

Yeah, Hamlet, and how'd that work out for you? I looked up the etymology of "spite" as I pondered that quote. It comes from various European language words for "contempt," which I had never fully considered. "Spite" sounds so trivial, but it really isn't. It's the perfect word for our own out-of-joint present, our seemingly endless season of contempt.

And so, I succumbed to the tulips in bloom at the local grocery store. It was actually still December when I bought them, but December,'s like memory in haiku, out of joint and of debatable authenticity. I am not a strict adherent to the element of kigo in haiku; like all "traditional" haiku elements, kigo (the use of a seasonal word to indicate the present-ness of the poem) was misunderstood by the early English-language promoters of haiku and warped into a thing that never actually existed (the 5-7-5 syllable count is another example of this). So I use kigo sparingly, as a reminder to myself to think about the poem's relationship to the reality it (I hope) transcends.

What a wonderful paradox, then, to use "tulip" as the kigo in a haiku written in this winter clime. And  pinks and purples are way out of my aesthetic, as well, but these (to me) ooky colors I hope bring a little levity to the proceedings.

Levity, a disregard for seasonal cues, and spite. Bad poet, indeed.


bad poet
way out of season
buying tulips

Monday, January 2, 2017

Nothing But Haiku

new year's resolution
all morning
rearranging clouds

a good snow
to raise our hopes
toward spring

winter sunrise
a secret to all
but the tallest pines

cloud-filled cove
an upside-down world
I finally understand

A Blessing of Sorts

Poets spend their lives courting juxtaposition and paradox; those elements add depth to a work of art, and without them there is no real exploration of the human condition. Still, the level of paradox that characterizes the world today is unsettling. This new year is marked by a dread such as I have never known in my fifty-five years. Everything is in question, from friendships to our future. After all my years of teaching students to recognize fallacies, the fallacies seem to have won—as if naming them has done nothing more than afforded them extra power.

Every time I compose a paragraph these days, I read it over and think, Yuck, who's gonna wanna read that little puddle of despair. Therefore, I resolve that my next blog entry shall be all haiku, in an attempt to counteract the despair of prose. The truest paradox is that which is a step on the way to clarity...that is what all poets, artists, teachers, thinkers need to remember as we resist the forces of evil for the next several years.


a blessing of sorts —
the first of many winters
in the north cove