Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Apocalypses

I remember the comet, a dusty smudge on the black of the sky, pacing our car as my family drove north through the Missouri night. I watched it out the window with the wonder and engagement of a young teen who has just had his first kiss days ago on an Arkansas hillside, the kind of awe which I know I've lost to some degree as an adult. Only vaguely do I remember hearing about the cult that committed suicide to escape what they expected to be the coming doom presaged by the Hale-Bopp comet.

That was my first apocalypse. And there have been more than I have known since (someone is always predicting a rapture or doomsday) but I missed out on most. Next for me came the secular end of the world scenario Y2K, the changeover on computer clocks that would - experts assured the public - cause nuclear meltdown or launches, power losses, and widespread technology failure. People stockpiled water and canned food only for the year to begin without a glitch. Dick Clark counted down in Time Square. The ball dropped. I watched it on TV. No blackouts. No nuclear fire raining from heaven. No radioactive clouds blooming from over-heated Midwestern reactors.

Over the last fear years, we've had a doomsday heyday fueled by gloom and pessimism over the recession and ongoing, quagmirish wars. Harold Camping convinced his followers to spend life savings advertising on billboards across America that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011. The sun came up on a world warming and crowded but still very much intact. The clouds did not part with a trumpet blast and I went to work and taught three sections of American literature.

And yesterday - the most popular doomsday of my life, apocalypse á-la Mayan calender, came and went. And life changed; ends came, at least for me - bad news about an old friend and, muted by national tragedy and political divide, the beginning of a Christmas season, happily white after months of dark and rain.

Our armageddons are personal and come without herald. They don't light up the sky. But before they come unannounced, we have this day and each other. Dear reader, I send you the fondest of Christmas tiding and, whatever dooms befall us, collectively or separately, I wish you a happy new year. My mind veers to an episode of M*A*S*H showing new year after new year ringing in during the Korean War. Colonel Potter  makes the same speech each time, repeating a toast I'll leave you with here: Here's to the new year...may she be a damn sight better than the old one and may we all be home before she's over.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lorca Whale

One of my students has been working on translations of Federico García Lorca's poetry. He's done some great work and, most gratifyingly, is discovering the pleasure of poetry, the way you can roll sounds around in the mouth and make a image sing in English through word choice or idiom shift. He's noticed one of Lorca's tics is the constant use of the verb temblar. He's been harried by Spanish verse for weeks. I've been pushing him to edit and submit his work for publication so my coworker drew this picture of him being attacked by a lorca whale.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness

I've seen everything from purses to cell phones colored the patent pink of breast cancer awareness and emblazoned with the Susan G. Komen Foundation ribbon. But two parts of the campaign strike me as a bit much.

While walking the sidestreets of Grand Rapids, I saw a breast cancer awareness trash bin. The motto for this is, kick breast cancer to the curb. An older yoplait campaign in which people could send the tin lids to yogurt cups to the company; for every lid received, the company would make a donation to fight breast cancer. The slogan for the campaign was together we can lick breast cancer.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

WYCE Poetry Reading - 10/30/2012

I've been mostly silent lately when it comes to blogging. The demands and duties of life have kept me from posting. But it's not only that. I can feel myself holding my words in, keeping them for myself, saving them for a time when I might need them, mulling them over and holding them back. It's like tensing a muscle for action. There is, I read, a season and time to every purpose, for speaking and silence. And so this seasons goes. But here, to break the silence between us, Dear Reader, my annual reading on the radio. Some old poems re-read, and some new poems - immigration, epitaphs, foggy mornings of sipping tea, walks in the park. In speaking, something is staked (in every sense of the word). So here is a wager, my landclaim, my issue, and my point of execution.

A hand raised in greeting to you across the electronic gulf between us,



Monday, November 5, 2012

The Clod and the Pebble

In one respect, there are many types of love - philia, agape, eros, caritas, xenia. In another, there are only two - love of self and love of another. I think of these Blake lines often and try for non-pebblishness:

"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair."

So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hungry Howie's: Love, Hope, and Pizza

In an election year, there is a general uptick in biblical quotations and misuses - salt of the earth, plowshares, writing on the wall. And now billboards and mail advertisements all over Michigan are spreading this strange appropriation of Corinthians.

And now these three remain: love, hope and pizza. But the greatest of these is pizza.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Fall has fallen on Whitmore Lake. Swans bob between swirls of steam rising from the lake's surface as the sun breaks the treeline. This season has brought changes but also shape to life. A roundup of the latest:
  • Nimrod has accepted my poems "Silent Mail" and "Cicada" for publication. Memoir Journal has taken "Epitaphs for Katrina." 
  • I tried listening to the audiobook for Julian Barnes' A Sense of an Ending but the last disc had a flaw in the last track so I couldn't get a sense of the ending.
  • In the Iliad, we see how rage strips away thought of the future and memory of the past. In that sense, it is the truest form of the present tense.
  • A Rosario Castellanos quote sent in a letter from a friend: "El hombre es animal de soledades, / ciervo con una flecha en el ijar / que huye y se desangra."
  • Aftermath - N - 1: that which happens after (usually a negative). 2: the second growth after the first hay mowing.
  • I arrived early at the Anne Carson reading. It was a panel performance of sections of her translation of Antigonick. For a sound check, she went from microphone to microphone saying we learn by suffering. We learn by suffering.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


"Don't just volumize, millionize your lashes with our New mascara: Volume Million Lashes." So goes the new ad campaign slogan from L'Oreal Paris. It's always a pleasure to encounter new words in advertising (see my post on the nescafe droolisimo ads) and I am fond of strange marketing.

The word millionize is nice. It plays into an idea of richness, implying perhaps that this product will make one look like (they have) a million bucks, as well as tapping into the general desire for thick, full lashes. Science, however, shows that people have 100-150 eyelashes. Clearly multiplying this by ten thousand would be a monstrous disaster.


I am a believer that words are words as long as they communicate meaning. Millionize does this. I realize reading the slogan that volumize is a new coinage as well, perhaps part of an ize verbing trend, and that it has successfully infiltrated English as an accepted word. Perhaps one day millionize will be common too and won't make one bat an eyelash.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Abandoned lines

Lines from unfinished poems, discarded drafts, and excised edits:
  • Kiss or chimera, my classical stoicism slipped away / as light spilled over the border from Windsor.
  • Silence / filled the gap between us, tall grass damp / beneath our palms. We found a way / to take summer on the chin.
  • And that girl / in the supermarket wearing a jean jacket that partially obscured / the word on her shirt – did those block letters read peace / or peach
  • I have evaded even memory, the concrete underground, / flower sellers, the way bodies jar / against one another / in the jolt of speed.
  • The lit tracer of a rocket transfixed / the camera phone of a rebel before coming to light / on the selfsame city block where he stood, recording / its arc.
  • If I said I scored, it was because we were keeping score.
  • The failure of the sign is itself a sign.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Postscript - Seamus Heaney

This morning, when I drove through town on my way to work, mists were swirling up over a glassy Whitmore Lake, catching the new sun, burning with light. Swans glided out by the Macs Marina and farther along toward Swanotter, stately, placid. I thought of this Heaney poem:

Be well, my reader, as fall deepens in your city. Love the sun in season, while it lasts.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sting, analytics, and a reader's privacy

We write in hopes of a reader. Yes, I think this is true, at least for me, at least for blogging, though it's different with poetry. One of the interesting dimensions of blogging is that you can see that people are watching. You post a post, the hit counter goes up. Using analytics, you can see what country, even what town people are reading from and where. This is an interesting sort of reverse stalking. I see that someone in El Paso read my blog on Housman, that must be Selena. Today I got a blog hit from Gypsum City, that's Dirk. A fair number, maybe a majority of hits come from google traffic, people I don't know. This is gratifying as well. Ah, I got a hit in Tunisia, now I've had hits from the whole coast of North Africa. Bingo! 

I think there is a problem in this - a reader should be able to be anonymous. The author surrenders this right when he/she publishes, The reader hasn't. A desire to know who's watching has inspired dozens of scams on Facebook (where you can't know who is, say, viewing your photos, reading your posts). But most of us, I think, aren't acting to an empty theater. We post in hopes of a viewer, we update in hopes of a reader. There is something very appealing to vanity if we can know we are being watched and by whom, at least when we choose to be and can control what is being seen.

We are being watched more than we know. Our shopping habits, our clicks, our googles are monitored. But at least that invasion of privacy is at least impersonal. The idea of Big Brother, governmental or corporate, does not bother me as much as that of a real person. Every time I think of that, "Every Breath You Take" pops into my head.

And so I don't check my google analytic account much, as I did when I first blogged. I think now that the reader deserves privacy, the right to read without being read, the right to watch without being watched. After all the author has made the choice to be public/published. But every now and then I log in to see what posts and subjects are popular. Here are some interesting highlights:
  • My post on the bumpit and jeggings net a steady stream of outside hits.
  • People occasionally find my site while looking for sea captain Matt Landrum out of Florida.
  • My analytics shows hits from 51 countries, 29 languages, and 369 cities.
  • Most tantalizingly, I once had a hit from Uganda from someone searching for jeggings.
And so, dear reader, read on in peace. We blog for a reader but readers don't read for a blogger, they read for themselves and deserve some privacy while doing it. So I leave you to it. I won't be looking over your shoulder.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Defense of Standard Measurement

Three-hundred and thirteen years after the nativity of the metric system in revolutionary France, only three nations stubbornly cling to the old standard system - Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States. Other nations agree to the (quite sensible) subdivision of the time and space into tens, hundredths, thousandths. But I love standard. It's annoying, hard to remember, and makes our tools not work on foreign cars but it is poetic.

It's precisely the precision of the metric system that turns me off. If Robert Frost had said I have promises to keep / and kilometers to go before I sleep / and kilometers to go before I sleep, it wouldn't have conveyed the roadweariness of miles. Kilometers are definite. Miles are indefinite. Poetry is what's lost in metrication. Some examples:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A poem from the Frisian

by Geart Van Der Zwaag translated by R. Jellema

I think, Tamme,
if an angel meets us
and has something to say,
he'll say it in English and be amazed

if we don't understand him.
“Didn't you know?” he'll say,
“Didn't you know that with my language
you could go farthest and escape

everything that's small and petty,
you could understand mankind and folks
to discover that the negro is more
than his color, the Frisian more than his tongue?”

Come, late pupil,
let us learn some English
and conjugate the irregular verb
to be.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Today's Reading: Two Renderings of Sappho - A. E. Housman

The weeping Pleiads wester,
    And the moon is under sea;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
    Far sighs the rainy breeze:

It sighs from a lost country
    To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
    And I lie down alone.

The rainy Pleiads wester,
    Orion plunges prone,
The stroke of midnight ceases,
    And I lie down alone.

The rainy Pleiads wester
    And seek beyond the sea
The head that I shall dream of,
    And 'twill not dream of me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New lines from the homophonic telephone

I've been in the (long) process of proctoring a short poem's homophonic journey through different languages (see previous posts here and here). So far the poem has gone English -> German-> Polish-> Faroese-> German -> Hebrew-> French-> English-> Spanish-> Korean-> Telegu-> Italian. It's currently being put, sound for sound, into Maltese. I meant this chain to be shorter, to be about what survives from the original. But I extended the project to meet the page count requirement for a Anomalous Press' chapbook contest. And now it's become about the journey of words and the personality of each new poem. Here are some lines from the latest samples:
  • If allowed, there is no newspaper in the heart.
  • Same with the police, / almost got guts.
  • The fate of friends, / Matt says, perchance, / is rain`, love, / hats.
  • Of storks, today there are none, I heard.
  • My love makes this city famous.
  • The toasts are untamed, we say nothing.
It's nearly a year since the start of this project - slow, slow. But art, love, and other worthwhile things always are. Thank you for attending to these words, reader, nonsensical and strange. More to come soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"But at least this much has been gained: we’ve rid ourselves of hope and expectation."

So says Cavafy's mycenaean commentator on the events surrounding the end of the Trojan War. Living in constant anticipation of an event has taken a toll on the people, as evidenced by the watchman's monologue at the beginning of Agamemnon. Ten years has passed waiting. The citizens of the stallion land of Argos have spent the decade witness to the adulterous affair between Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. Hell will certainly break loose as soon as Agamemnon returns. But in the eyes of the narrator, expectation is a weight, as freedom from waiting is gain even if it means chaos.

The connection of our age means constant expectation - will she email? will he call? what is the market doing? how many people have viewed my latest blog post? Our age of anxiety leaves us waiting for the next thing. But of course, when and if happiness comes, it often brings less joy than expected.

When the Watchman Saw the Light - Constantine Cavafy

Winter, summer, the watchman sat there looking out
from the palace roof of the sons of Atreus.
Now he has good news to report. He's seen the fire light up
in the distance and he's glad: also, the drudgery is over.
It’s hard to sit there night and day in heat and cold,
on the lookout for a fire to show
on the peak of Arachnaion.
Now the longed-for signal has appeared. When happiness comes,
it brings less joy than one expected.
This much is clearly gained, however: we've rid ourselves
of hope and expectation. Many things will happen
to the house of Atreus. No need to be wise
to guess this now the watchman has seen the light.
So let’s not exaggerate.
The light is good; and those coming are good,
their words and actions also good.
And let’s hope all goes well.
But Argos can do without the sons of Atreus.
Ancient houses are not eternal.
Of course many people will have much to say.
We should listen. But we won’t be deceived
by words such as Indispensable, Unique, and Great.
Someone else indispensable and unique and great
can always be found at a moment’s notice.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Free Translation: Classical Drama

I went to a local book store last week to hear a reading of Anne Carson's new translation of Antigone. Besides prompting the realization that a disproportional percentage of female poets are very thin, the event reinvigorated my dormant plans to do a (very) free translation of classical drama.

In her Antigone, Carson's characters, self aware of their being fictional characters and prescient of future philosophy and literary criticism, mention Hegel, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and Freud. They also use modern metaphors involving electricity, cars, and American politics. 

So, this brings me to some thoughts - possible plays to mash-up, deform, modernize, and bastardize. My ambition is to research and work on Syrian Women, an adaptation of Trojan Women, a sort of triangulated translation between the Greek of Euripides, the Latin of Seneca, and the nightly newscasts on the continued struggle of the Arab Spring.

Comment with a possibility for another play transformation title/topic/etc/anything. I'll send you a post card.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Today's Reading: Self-help for Fellow Refugees - Li-Young Lee

If your name suggests a country where bells
might have been used for entertainment

or to announce the entrances and exits of the seasons
or the birthdays of gods and demons,

it’s probably best to dress in plain clothes
when you arrive in the United States,
and try not to talk too loud.

If you happen to have watched armed men
beat and drag your father
out the front door of your house
and into the back of an idling truck

before your mother jerked you from the threshold
and buried your face in her skirt folds,
try not to judge your mother too harshly.

Don’t ask her what she thought she was doing
turning a child’s eyes
away from history
and toward that place all human aching starts.

And if you meet someone
in your adopted country,
and think you see in the other’s face
an open sky, some promise of a new beginning,
it probably means you’re standing too far.


Or if you think you read in the other, as in a book
whose first and last pages are missing,
the story of your own birthplace,
a country twice erased,
once by fire, once by forgetfulness,
it probably means you’re standing too close.

In any case, try not to let another carry
the burden of your own nostalgia or hope.

And if you’re one of those
whose left side of the face doesn’t match
the right, it might be a clue

looking the other way was a habit
your predecessors found useful for survival.
Don’t lament not being beautiful.

Get used to seeing while not seeing.
Get busy remembering while forgetting.
Dying to live while not wanting to go on.

Very likely, your ancestors decorated
their bells of every shape and size
with elaborate calendars
and diagrams of distant star systems,
but with no maps for scattered descendants.


And I bet you can’t say what language
your father spoke when he shouted to your mother
from the back of the truck, “Let the boy see!”

Maybe it wasn’t the language you used at home.
Maybe it was a forbidden language.
Or maybe there was too much screaming
and weeping and the noise of guns in the streets.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is this:
The kingdom of heaven is good.
But heaven on earth is better.

Thinking is good.
But living is better.

Alone in your favorite chair
with a book you enjoy
is fine. But spooning
is even better.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Strange Spam - a Critical Look

I receive a fair amount of mail in my spam folder and normally delete it after checking to make sure nothing important has slipped through. But I kept this for interests sake and share it with you now:

Welcome dear, Peggyzoso

They say good education in University will give you considerable income?

Increased lifetime income is not a fiction - higher qualification always gives considerable income. Specialists with degree will always have higher salary and higher rating in labor market

Ministry of Education made research concerning "Lifetime Earnings Soar with Education" and got interesting results about gained incomes.

It was found out that higher education considerably rises the income of the specialist, and the further developing of educational status rises income several times. Below there are simple examples of income level, the difference is evident
If you still hesitate, may be these number of expected earnings will change your mind

Does new appointment require confirming your qualification? You have a wealth of experience but no diploma? We can solve your problem in 30 days. Your experience will be confirmed by the proper diploma.

We don’t call up you give up your study and get with garbling, our offer will help professionals with a wealth of experience that don’t have much time for attending classes. We will provide the proper diploma in a month but your income will rise and remain all your life. 

Earnestine Harper

A few observations:
  • The title line of the email reads Improve your "Ph.D" resume in less than 40 days. The author makes ample use of unnecessary quotation marks throughout the piece. I like the title in particular as it really is a "Ph.D." one would be buying.
  • The greeting is very strange. I've never heard the name Peggyzoso before. Perhaps consider it for your next son or daughter (I think it works either way).
  • The writer seems unsure of herself, making statements like They say good education in University will give you considerable income followed by a question mark.
  • Give up your study and get with garbling, our offer... has a nice alliterative quality.
  • Ms. Harper brings up a valid point that work experience is undervalued and college degrees overvaluedin the US labor market. Still, I think buying degrees online is not the way.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

In Memoriam

Gertrude Petra Landrum 
(June 10, 2011 - June 10, 2011)

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
  as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
  its jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
  the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
  neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
  all the wealth of his house,
  he would be utterly despised.
(Song of Solomon 8:6-7)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In Memoriam

My dear daughter,

I learned this song so I could play it for you after you were born but never had that chance. So here it is for your birthday. I wish so much that you were here. You're forever in my heart and mind. We'll be seeing each other.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Three from the Greek Anthology

Nothing is sweeter than love, all other blessings
come second to it. I have spat even honey
out of my mouth — I, Nossis,
say this is so. But one whom Kypris
has not loved, will never know
what roses her flowers are.
          -Nossis (trans. Peter Jay)

The regions of Tyre are noted
  for the delicate beauty of their people.

And do no the bright regions of the sky
  pale when Myiscus steps forth?
          -Meleager (trans. Peter Whigham)

The grammarian's daughter,
having declined with a man,
gave birth to children — masculine,
feminine, and neuter.
          -Palladas (trans. Peter Jay)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Today's Reading: Ballade - François Villon

I know flies in milk
I know the man by his clothes
I know fair weather from foul
I know the apple by the tree
I know the tree when I see the sap
I know when all is one
I know who labors and who loafs
I know everything but myself.

I know the coat by the collar
I know the monk by the cowl
I know the master by the servant
I know the nun by the veil
I know when a hustler rattles on
I know fools raised on whipped cream
I know the wine by the barrel
I know everything but myself.

I know the horse and the mule
I know their loads and their limits
I know Beatrice and Belle
I know the beads that count and add
I know nightmare and sleep
I know the Bohemians' error
I know the power of Rome
I know everything but myself.

Prince I know all things
I know the rosy-cheeked and the pale
I know death who devours all
I know everything but myself.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

After Lorca...


      para mi ave cantorita 

A single songbird is singing

but the air doubles and redoubles it:

we hear through mirrors.

Views from the Road - Nashville to Bilouxi

bridges between the barrier islands

the middle of no-where - 8 miles of gravel without a house or an intersection

salt marshes in alabama



crab po-boy

a black fin shark on the gulfport pier

at a fireworks shop in memphis

Strange Fortune V

More fickle fate from Whitmore Lake's eccentric China Garden. I particularly like the image of me as a boat's mast - I am quite tall.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Today's Reading: On the Stairs - C.P. Cavafy

As I was going down those infamous stairs
you were coming through the door, and for a second
I saw your unfamiliar face and you saw me.
Then I hid so you wouldn't see me again,
and you hurried past me, hiding your face,
and slipped inside the infamous house
where you couldn't have found pleasure any more than I did.

And yet the love you were looking for, I had to give you;
the love I was looking for - so your tired, suspect eyes implied -
you had to give me.
Our bodies sensed and sought each other;
our blood and skin understood.

But we both hid ourselves, flustered.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read

Of the Guardian's 1000 novels everyone must read, I have read a somewhat depressing 53. The list is broken up by genre. No surprises: my weakest genre was comedy, my strongest love. Life is very short and the canon grows faster than one can read. Comment with how many you've read. Winner wins a book from the list.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Cakes and Ale - Or, the Skeleton in the Cupboard by W Somerset Maugham
Thank You Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan DoyleThe Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
The King of Torts by John Grisham
Cover Her Face by PD James
A Taste for Death by PD James
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Possession by AS Byatt
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Atonement by Ian McEwan
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Feel Good Music for a Saturday


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Adaptation of the Pyrrha Ode

Horace lends himself to endless reinvention. I've updated wine regions, cities, and idioms while translating his work. In his adaptation of the Pyrrha ode, Anthony Hecht brings in modern fashion slang making Pyrrha something of an uptown girl. I find this infinitely more appealing than the Milton version which reads as dated. I like how Anthony Lentin describes Pyrrha's style and grace in his preface to Horace's odes: "[her] liveliness and sophistication are purchased at cost of ephemerality and triviality." The Clairol and Gucci captures this spirit nicely. Ah, piranhas!

What well-heeled knuckle-head, straight from the unisex 
Hairstylist and bathed in "Russian Leather,"
Dallies with you these late summer days, Pyrrha,
In your expensive sublet? For whom do you
Slip into something simple by, say, Gucci?
The more fool he who has mapped out for himself
The saline latitudes of incontinent grief.
Dazzled though he be, poor dope, by the golden looks
Your locks fetched up out of a bottle of Clairol,
He will know that the wind changes, the smooth sailing
Is done for, when the breakers wallop him broadside,
When he's rudderless, dismasted, thoroughly swamped
In that mindless rip-tide that got the best of me
Once, when I ventured on your deeps, Piranha. 

Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
cui flavam religas comam,

simplex munditiis? heu quotiens fidem
mutatosque deos flebit et aspera
nigris aequora ventis
emirabitur insolens,

qui nunc te fruitur credulus aurea,
qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem
sperat, nescius aurae
fallacis! miseri, quibus

intemptata nites! me tabula sacer
votiva paries indicat uvida
suspendisse potenti
vestimenta maris deo.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Today's Reading: Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 (ESV)

Ecclesiastes is my favorite biblical book. Whether reading for philosophy, theology, or poetry, it fascinating and lovely. Below is my favorite section, a beautiful poetic exhortation. I post it for my friend who has just taken up reading the Bible for literary value and curiosity - two excellent reasons to read, religious or not.

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nursery Rhymes, Ancient Papyrus, and Die Hard

In reading A History of the World in 100 Objects, I came across this three and a half thousand math problem from the Rhind Papyrus:

In seven houses there are seven cats. Each cat catches seven mice. Each mouse would have eaten seven ears of corn and each ear of corn, if sown, would have produced seven gallons of grain. How many things are mentioned in total?

This is strikingly similar to the Cornish riddle:

As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Every wife had seven sacks. Every sack had seven cats. Every cat had seven kits. Kits, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St Ives?

Eerie to be sure. The answer to the Rhind Manuscript: 19,607. The answer to the Saint Ives riddle: 1, as the narrator is going to Saint Ives and the animal loving, luggage laden bigamist party is going the other way. Samuel L. Jackson provides the same number in Die Hard with a Vengeance but explains the answer with colorful explanation something to the effect of "the man's got seven wives. He ain't going nowhere." (I think the original has cursing).

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Light of Future Suns - anxiety and the use of the future tense in Ether/Ore by Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

A psychologist once told me that depression is living in the past tense, anxiety living in the future tense. This seems to hold a deal of water. The future tense, after all, is a construction of what may or may not come. It is always speculative. Even a phrase such as I am going to the store after work supposes a working car, absence of personal emergency, and the continued beating of one's own heart. Brett Elizabeth Jenkins explores anxiety and uses of the future tense in her debut album Ether/Ore. Her tight, disarmingly honest collection uses the inevitable extinction of the sun as symbol of mortality and a source of anxiety. "How small have we become," she writes on considering the slow dying of our source of energy, heat, and life, "How light."

The poem "Dim Fires" begins with the statement, "I'm going to stop worrying about the sun." The narrator then proceeds to spend the rest of the poem (and the book) worrying about the sun, how nonexistence terrifies us:

      "no thoughts to wake us in the morning, no eggs
                  sizzling on the stovetop, or slippers, or feet

       for that matter in them (where do we go
                               when we leave our bodies?), no one to take
                 photos and no one to see them."

The future tense of vowing to change that starts off this poem with hope descends into the questioning panic what if?

On the page facing "Dim Fires," "Outlines" begins with a success story, the narrator has successfully completed one day of following her vow. Her sunrise/sunset tables tell the future tense with certainty: "at four minutes after six, the buildings are darkening, making outlines of red." These charts tell her also that mornings are dawning earlier, hastening the moment of panic (she doubts she will beat fear the following day) of seeing "[the sun's] bright arc popping / over the horizon like a lightbulb about to shatter."

Transferring anxiety onto the sun is not enough to keep off pervasive care. The narrator admits, in "If the Sun," that

            "If the sun went out, yes, I would
             spend the last eight minutes doing exactly

             what I spend the rest of my time doing:
             worrying about the places

            people keep their guns..."

The sun is not the issue. It's the realization that we are dependent on forces much greater than us, forces that are inhuman and unfeeling, utterly beyond control. "Outer space," she says, "is real. / And then it hit me: I am mortal. My God, I will die."

Later, Jenkins writes "Daylight savings time begins / in three weeks. "I will really have it together then," I say." This use of the future tense to shift and shirk responsibility onto a future self - what to say except I see myself here. Perhaps anxiety comes from a failure to take the advice of Horace to seize the day, trusting nothing to the future.

Of course, the present and past is made of futures that have come and gone, promised much but fizzled. Jenkins addresses this future past in "World without Me," writing "How many unfilled spaces shimmer like / ether, remembering what potentially was." Regret is the end of anxiety. The pitch has gone by. We did not swing. No need to worry. Only sadness remains now that time has clamped down the possibility of propositional futures. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

deleted poetics

The New Yorker recently wrote a blog post asking its readers the question "What word would you eliminate from the English language?" I began writing down an alphabet of words I would like to do away with and realized that there is a right time for any word. However, there are plenty poetic themes, words, and habits of which I am deeply distrustful.

A few words that are only used in poetry and used with alarming frequency - flay, Caravaggio, splay, engender, heft, haft, cigarette, filet.

Categories that I distrust - mythology, gardening, cooking, mechanics, painting. It's not that these can't be good topics, its that a poets narrative of cooking and gardening can create a Better Homes & Gardens effect, awing the reader with lifestyle and borrowing technical terms that show a sophisticate knowledge.

I dislike poems that mention other authors. Leaning on the ethos of Mandelstam, Rilke, Whitman, or any other dead poet cheapens the content of the piece at hand. Interacting with other poets can be done well of course - I love "A Supermarket in California" - but I don't trust casual mention. I also look askance at poets who dedicate poems to famous poets they know. I've read books where a half-dozen poems were dedicated to great contemporary poems. This seems a ploy to impress readers with how cool and well connected the author is.

End capitalization at the beginning of lines!

I have written poems about natural and human disasters but don't buy in to the idea often poetry of witness. Poetry must be witness but to private language not to wars and rumors of wars unless the muse moves. Poetry of witness can be wonderful but often poetry on subjects like the civil rights movement, tsunamis, and earthquakes relies on pathos not poetics.

No to concrete poetry.

Literal translations are fine but might not be poetry. Spirit is the key of translation, so it requires liberty and poetry.

Politics should be taken head on in poetry. That said, I do not like the bashing of conservatives (I know it's easy), religious groups, America, and people with whom a poet does not agree. This is not a political statement. Poetry is about complexity, humanity, connection, and language. Dehumanizing a person for voting republican or equating a political stance with a lack of intelligence is a gross oversimplification. It is unpoetic. I have seen a very low level of discourse from some very famous poets on politics in this election year and am saddened by it.

Don't not write. Do all the things above before you give up on a poem - editing bad poems is the way good poems are written.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Auld Lang Syne

I have been sitting on this video for a few weeks. One of my students taped it in class when I was teaching Robert Burns. My embarrassingly vain reason - I don't like my hairstyle (lack of styling gel) in the video. But today I am nostalgic for auld lang syne, the good old days gone by, temps jadis. And so, dear reader, despite bad hair and shabby singing, I raise my pint cup to you and auld lang syne.


Sun is streaming in through the window making it hard to see my computer screen. It's springish but still chilly after unseasonable warmth in February and March. I've been off blogging for a week or so as I've been busy. So a quick update:

  • Structo submissions are in and in process.
  • I have new translations from the Faroese at Asymptote Journal and a poem forthcoming in Stymie.
  • As a finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars Contest, I received a scholarship to travel to Lithuania this August. Perhaps. Perhaps.
  • The homophonic telephone project is in the hands of a French speaker now and nearing the end its long journey through language. A great line from the latest leg - there is no newspaper in the heart.
  • An interview on my translation project with Agnar Artúvertin is available on Faroe Islands Podcast.
And all of you I've been meaning to write letters and emails to - I will. I will. I will.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Today's Reading:If I Could Tell You - W.H. Auden

A good friend sent me this poem during a difficult time some years ago. I've carried it with me since. I love its combination of fierce devotion and resignation, the way it captures the frailty of human love. It echoes Housman's sentiment "If truth in hearts that perish / Could move the powers on high, / I think the love I bear you / Should make you not to die." But of course, Housman and Auden remind us "all is idle."


Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A River That Makes the City Glad

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A translation for Easter weekend


        after Federico Garcia Lorca

Look - the stars
are taking off their clothes
again! Blanketing the fields,
their cast-off camisoles.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Today's Reading: Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther - A.E. Stallings

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night,
The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?
Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons
And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,
The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Grammatical Gender in the Bhagavad Gītā

A large chunk of the Bhagavad Gītā consist of Krishna listing things he embodies. During this litany, he briefly mentions grammatical gender. Interestingly, he touches on feminine gender but does not mention masculine or neuter. 

I am death that carries off all things, and I am the source of things to come. Of feminine nouns I am Fame and Prosperity: Speech, Memory and Intelligence; Constancy and patient Forgiveness.

I have a great fondness for grammatical gender, insofar as I have experienced it in Latin and Faroese. A friend of mine tells me there is a movement in Germanic languages to make language more inclusive by purging certain grammatical gender habits. It will be interesting to see what comes of this - language                                                                  naturally defies legislation and prescription.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Cure a Feminist

I came across this 2003 Maxim page today - there is so little to say that I don't know what to write... The girl going from unshaven to uptight to pigtailed to pornographic speaks for itself. She strips and dumbs down to become an "actual girl!" Now she knows a man completes her and thinks Camaros are sexy. The speech bubbles indicate that her feminism wasn't intellectual after all but only a cover for psychological pain (see the absent father bubble). She also becomes progressively tanner. The problem with blogging about this curious travesty is that anything I have to say is over-obvious or snarky. So I leave it to you dear reader. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A translation for false summer

Otra poema de "Album Blanca" escrita por Federico Garcia Lorca - for a Saturday's reading in false summer.


Neither Pan
nor Leda –

on your wings
sleeps the full moon.

Neither the forest
nor the reed –

the cold night
ruffles your feathers.

 Neither tan skin
nor kisses –

riverfrost, dreamboat
for the dead.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Peruvian Street Musician Marketing and the NPR Pledge Drive

Spring is in the air - robins are hopping about the driveway, the grass is greening with the March rains, and NPR is making its listeners suffer through another pledge drive. For those of you who listen to NPR, the irksome nature of the pledge drive needs no introduction. For the rest of you, a quick overview - NPR reporters regularly interrupt programming to give a repetitive reminder the current program is only possible because of donations. 

Okay - I understand the need for donations and believe in the mission of NPR. No problem. But I find one of their marketing strategies odd. They remind their listeners frequently and explicitly that they will stop asking for money and get back to regularly scheduled programming as soon as they reach their funding goals. This hostage marketing strategy reminds me of the time I was drinking cremoladas at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Pucallpa and our table was serenaded by two untalented musicians. They sang until my friend tipped them then they promptly left. "It's Pucallpa marketing," she explained, "You pay them not to sing." 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today's Reading: Survivor - Jacquelyn Pope

Whatever possessed you
pursues me. Whatever
unnerved you sings me
to sleep, repeats and repeats,
insists. Whatever composed
you constricts me. Where
you were bright I was blind.
Whatever you saved
I’ve squandered. Where you
were soft I was scabbed.
Whatever consoled you
confuses me, retreats
and retreats, insists.
Whatever the heart wills,
hands divide. Wherever
the bough breaks, the baby
follows, cradled for a fall.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cradle Hymns - IV: The End of the World

Doomsday is in this year, so it seems appropriate to post a cradle hymn on the subject. The Wailin' Jennys' excellent "Apocalypse Lullaby" gives voice to human love, strong and calm in the midst of bombs, wars, and the destruction of societal systems. It is at once immediate and prophetic, of our time and of a time just beyond the horizon - not an expected subject, but more striking and beautiful for it.

My Last 100 Submissions

 William and Mary, Columbia, Michigan Quarterly Review, Walrus, Chattahoochee Review, Appalachee Review, Connecticut Review, Tin House, Agni, Chicago Quarterly, Bayou, Copper Nickel, Versal, The White Review, Dark Horse, Blue Mesa, Zone 3, Jelly Bucket, Notre Dame Review, Harper Palate, The Journal, Lousiville Review, The New South, 32 Poems, Tulane Review, Mid-American Review, Field, Circumference, Summer Literature Scholarship, Salt Hill, Asymptote, Yemasee Journal, Colorado Review, Parcel, Cutbank, Barrelhouse, Boulevard, Black Warrior, Emerson Review, Sycamore Review, Burnside Review, Rowboat, PANK, Blue Earth Review, Meridian, The Normal School, Sonora Review, Hampden-Sydney Review, Willow Springs, Natural Bridge, Phoebe, St. Ann's Review, Portland Review, Upstreet, Los Angeles Review, Crab Creek Review, Missouri Review, Salmagundi, Post Road, Five Points, Boston Review, Florida Review, Chautauqua Review, Booth, Cream City, Potomac Review, Barrow Street, Cincinnati Review, Jubilatt, North American Review, The Common, Harvard Review, Copper Nickel, Arsenic Lobster, Arts and Letters, Crazy Horse, Epiphany, Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Smartish Pace, Sugarhouse, Fleeting, A Public Space, Valparaiso Review, New Republic, Minnesota Review, Southampton Review, New Madrid, The Literary Review, The White Review, Yemasee Journal, Passages North, Tuesday: An Art Project, Silk Road, Utter, Hunger Mountain, Hayden's Ferry, Poetry Northwest, Natural Bridge, West Branch, Euphony

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cradle Hymns - III: Perdition and Seduction

Seduction, divorce, death, and loose living are realities for many mothers but rarely make it into cradle songs. Emmylou Harris' song, Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby," is quite disturbing lyrically - "you and me and the devil makes three..." - and sweet and sultry musically. "Everybody's gone in the cotton and the corn..." - the baby seems an afterthought, someone to sing to while getting gussied up for a night on the town or for skipping town.

The below scene is from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? The song and scene caused a bit of a controversy for being unsuitable as a lullaby, especially framed with this staging. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cradle Hymns - II: Lorca

The last poem in Federico Garcia Lorca's Collected Poems is "Cradle Song for Mercedes, in Death." Speaking to one who cannot hear, imagining a continuing, moses-like voyage through mists and days, Lorca gives dignity and humanity to the tragedy of stillbirth. I read this often and think of my own departed beloved Gertrude.

Cradle Song for Mercedes, in Death

We can see you even now, asleep,
your wooden boat along the shore.

White princess of never,
sleep in the dark night.
Body of earth and snow,
sleep in the dawn, sleep!

You wander off, asleep,
your misty boat of dream along the shore.

Cradle Hymns - I: On Content

During my final Bennington workshop, an argument started over my poem "Arkansas Cradle Hymn." The issue was what one should or should not (or would or would not) say to an infant. "Arkansas Cradle Hymn" takes a dour tone, something like you were born under a bad sign. One of the teachers and a student disagreed (rather personally) about whether or not my poem was viable. The other teacher chimed in, relating a cradle song from his youth in the German-speaking farmlands of Wisconsin that translates something like:

            Fly june-bug, fly!
            Daddy's gone to Pomerania;
            Pomerania is burning to the ground.
            Fly june-bug, fly!

So not all cradle hymns are hush my babe, lie still and slumber. I like this very much. It bucks against the trends of niceties for children that pervade American culture. The Barney refrain of I love you, you love me fails to compass of the world. Protecting the young from the harsh realities of life makes them all the less ready to face the inevitable hardship of life. And art should never be subservient to pleasance. If you have any disturbing cradle hymns, dear reader, do send them along. I'll be posting more on this subject soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Today's Reading: Asters - Gottfried Benn

Asters—sweltering days
old adjuration/curse,
the gods hold the balance
for an uncertain hour.

Once more the golden flocks
of heaven, the light, the trim—
what is the ancient process
hatching under its dying wings?

Once more the yearned-for,
the intoxication, the rose of you—
summer leaned in the doorway
watching the swallows—

one more presentiment
where certainty is not hard to come by:
wing tips brush the face of the waters,
swallows sip speed and night.

on Geoffrey Brock's "Alteration Finds"

In the latest translation issue of Poetry, Geoffrey Brock translates three poems from three languages into a single unit that is at once translation and original poetry. It is interesting to me that Brock reads only one of three of these languages (French). The German and Greek are gleaned from other translations and dictionaries (an activity sneered at by academic translators but common in the recent issues of Poetry). The poems are transmuted into an amalgam whole, the Rimbaud and Rilke whittled down to fit in the formal constraints of the Seferis. To the critics of imitation or loose translation, borrowing or stealing, I ask what it matters if accuracy is achieved if the result is poetry.



How many hours I kept
that vigil by your side—
entire nights, eyes wide,
as you so sweetly slept.

What I was wondering:
why you yearned to evade
the real. No one has prayed
harder for anything.

It wasn’t for your life
I feared, but for mankind.
Did you, in the end, find
secrets for changing life?


The head we cannot know,
nor its bright fruit, the eyes.
And yet the body has
its gaze: a lamp turned low.

Or else the breast would cease
to dazzle, the hips fail
to curve into that smile
that begets more than a kiss.

And flesh would lose all life,
not flare till there’s no blind
it can’t see you behind.
You must change your life.


The afternoon grew hotter
along our secret shore.
We thirsted in the glare
but couldn’t drink the water.

On golden sand we traced
your name beside the sea.
The wind came like a sigh;
our writing was erased.

How passionate our life,
how full of sex and song,
spirit and heart—how wrong!
And so we changed our life.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Strange Fortune III

More strange fortunes from my local Chinese restaurant. They may have a point, my setting leave quite a bit to be desired.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On Fashion: The Bumpit

When I first discovered the existence of the bumpit, I felt that elation of finding the unexpected in the everyday. This trend says to me humanity is still young. There is a sort of tribal, aboriginal quality to this fashion. The idea of making one's head appear larger is a sort of humane version of ancient Peruvians of skull-binding. Three easy steps to a larger head: simply part and tease, insert bumpit, and spray for hold. Then enjoy your larger head.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Good words: landscape features

Sand - Diminutive name for a Faroese beach. 
Bottomland - forest swampland found in floodplains.
Hoodoo - A pillar formed by erosion of surrounding rock.
Slough - a sluggish drainage channel.
Zawn - a chasm or inlet cut by waves into seaside cliffs.
Coombe - a small wooded valley.
Erg - a shifting dune seas of the Sahara.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Today's Reading: "The Rest I Will Tell to Those in Hades" - C.P. Cavafy

On this tail end of Fat Tuesday night, I'm thinking about honesty - not telling the truth instead of lying, but actually speaking instead of being silent. Ah, "what we protect here like sleepless guards" - things that won't matter down in Hades but are everything here... Perhaps you are secretive too, my dear reader, silent songbird.

The Rest I Will Tell to Those in Hades

“Indeed,” said the proconsul, closing the book,
“this line is beautiful and very true.
Sophocles wrote it in a deeply philosophic mood.
How much we’ll tell down there, how much,
and how very different we’ll appear.
What we protect here like sleepless guards,
wounds and secrets locked inside us,
protect with such great anxiety day after day,
we’ll disclose freely and clearly down there.”

“You might add,” said the sophist, half smiling,
“if they talk about things like that down there,
if they bother about them any more.”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Poetics and Twitter

I've been writing a poem in my twitter box. It's one I've been stuck on for five months. Now, with a form - prose blocks of exactly 140 characters - I've been able to (slowly) move ahead. With the decision of shape and pattern made, word and style can be focused on. Form is the greatest gift of love - a place to be, a shelter, a home.

Here highways stitch the loamy floodplain; cotton congeals in ditches. Silent for miles, you absently trace the scar beneath your shirt.

Lines Written between Dublin and Keflavik

These words are not meant to be read in their entirety. Skim them the way this plane skims the cloud layer, jostling sometim...