Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project

Dear Reader,

I am undertaking the challenge of Tupelo Press' 30/30 project, writing a poem a day in the month of January. The poems will be posted daily on the project's website. Stephen King says that the draft of a book should only take three months and there's something in that -- an invitation to move beyond perfectionism, dig deep, and play fast and loose. I don't normally write much more than 30 poems in half a year, so this is a way to plow toward a final manuscript. I invite you to be a part of my writing this month, first and foremost through reading. And get in touch. Writing can be a lonely pursuit and encouragement, thoughts, or even heckling would be a welcome word from the outside world.

You can also be a part of my month-long writing adventure by supporting Tupelo Press. 30/30 provides poets with a challenge and unique publication venue. As a part of the project, poets agree to attempt to raise a certain amount of money for the press. My goal is $350. Donations to the press help projects like 30/30 continue along with book publishing and the Tupelo Quarterly, which published my poem Tea for Jelena earlier this year. I'm very much averse to asking friends for money, even for a great cause, so I'm not. Rather, I'm offering an exchange. Below are what you'll get for your donation depending on amount. Please consider pitching in, even a dollar or two.

$1+ -- A letter or postcard
$10 -- A handwritten poem
$20 -- A poem on a prompt of your choosing
$35 -- A limited letter-press print of my poem Cicada by the artist Marie Kinscher (see above)
$100 -- A private reading

I'll be posting about my progress here and linking daily poems on Facebook and Twitter. I can't think of a better way to kick off a resolute new year than 30/30. I wish you a fair 2015 and hope we'll meet again and often in it. .


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Updates and Miscellany

It is often the case that good times, though remarkable don't need remarked upon. The last months have been a flurry of good things -- catching up with old friends and translating new authors, warming up with rum punch and and enjoying long walks on still winter days -- and I haven't written here. I've had the proud pleasure of accompanying students at vocal recitals and the joy of fellowship with thirty friends cozily packed into my cottage for carol singing. A few things:
  • I received an anonymous bunch of Faroese children's magazines in the mail for no apparent reason. It is always nice to get Faroepost though and I enjoyed reading about Iphones and potatoes. Any clues on the sender?
  • My translations of my dear friend Kat Müller's Gernan poems came out in Fjord's Review last month. It was a great moment as a writer to walk into Barnes & Noble and find the issue on the magazine rack.
  • My best Bennington friend, Brett Jenkins, sent me her manuscript. In it was a poem dedicated to me I'd forgotten about - These songbirds chattering us awake / were rocking the truths of the morning / gently into us, that each rock shook / from your shoes that first Vermont summer/ was preparing your body for loss... I'm so lucky in my friends.
  • Paper Darts published an illustrated version of my poem "A Trip to Jerusalem.
Last year, this time, I had Geoffrey Brock's "Alteration Finds" stuck in my head with its refrain of changing life. Since then, life has changed and for the better. I've experienced friendships built over jenga and theological discussions, the beauty of a voice rising in the swelter of summertime, cold seas and warm hearts. Merry Christmas, dear reader. Let's drink of cup of kindness for auld lang syne, the good old days. May these be those days.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Haiku for November

November blusters in Whitmore Lake. It's the season of books and tea, rum punch and scarf-wearing. Darkness sets in early. The rain and wind sweep across my roof. The world becomes insular as weather stretches distances. Basho understood this in his haiku, the way a season can separate people–––

   Autumn deepening –
   my neighbor...
   how does he live, I wonder?

And yet there are letters from friends, books from a long way off, music and cheer and company. And from time to time, a word from you, dear reader.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pop songs

At open mic - Peaberry Bean & Beats. I need to smile more when I play.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Braille Edition of Playboy Is Now Available Online

I was perplexed to find a Braille edition of Playboy while rummaging at Kaleidoscope Books in Ann Arbor some months ago. And last night, stumbling across the Buzzfeed headline The Braille Edition of Playboy Is Now Available Online, these lines of Cavafy occurred to me

     how much of the pathos, the yearning of our race,
     how much weariness
     these nine tragic words contain.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Love in the Time of Ebola

For the last weeks, the news has been dominated by stories of the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa and its subsequent spread to limited areas of Europe and America. One of the reasons, I think Ebola has captured so much public attention (besides its horrific symptoms and high mortality rate) is that it exposes the interdependence of our systems and the interconnectedness of the world. An outbreak of a disease in Africa doesn't stay in Africa anymore. It travels via plane, train, and automobile. It can spread and infect, crossing borders and entering new circles of connectivity. This sort of issue and its accompanying anxiety goes well beyond a medical threat. The 2008 breakdown of the global financial markets spread in much the way of virus might. Describing bank failure, the news used the word infection

So much of life is now at the mercy of global forces and systems. On any given day, I might eat a nectarine from Chile, receive a wire transfer from my magazine in England, or chat with a friend in Sydney. Everything I do or think is fair game for a Facebook post that will be shared with 1000+ friends. If I want strawberries in January, I don't have to wait until the season. I can hop on a plane and be in Brest or Berlin in half a day. Social media gives me windows (well-dressed ones) into other people's lives, importing dissatisfaction and the sense that there is something else better out there than what I'm doing, someone better than who I'm with. It can be hard for me at times feel anchored, to feel engaged with the people in my life. Lately I've been thinking about all this, wondering what place love has in this time of Ebola.

My answer — love is local. It supersedes the banks of computer scattered around the world that are involved in the simplest debit card transaction. It gives value perspective to the litany of likes one might receive on a Facebook post. It draws us back to the present moment and present location. There is no FOMO in love. Like John Donne says: love, all love of other sights controls, / and makes one little room an everywhere. Love can't cure Ebola, but it can bring us back to ourselves and to the present moment and can make this strange, overpopulated, beautiful world of ours more habitable and make us inhabit it more fully.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Isis and Osiris - new meanings for old mythologies

Today I taught my students the myth of Isis and Osiris from Egypt, a story of jealousy, murder, and resurrection. In the back of my head as I read: how the names from this story have been appropriated for new purposes in this brave and strange new world of ours.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Drinking your words - Chartreuse

I attended a wine and illegal cheese party (the FDA doesn't approve of some European cultures) last week. For a sendoff, our host opened a bottle of chartreuse, an herbal liqueur with a sweet taste and mythic-sounding back-story. It's brewed by monks in the French Alps. Only two of them know the recipe at any time. When one dies, a new acolyte is taken in. And so it's passed down the ages. And it's passed into the English language, now mostly divorced from its history. There's even a crayon.

Chartreuse - Noun
1. A Carthusian monastery in the French Alps near Grenoble, France.
2. An herbal liqueur brewed by Carthusian monks.
3. A yellowish green color, that of the French liqueur.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On Blushing

I knew a girl who blushed and everything – compliments, kissing, winning and losing, laughing at a joke. She had a determined blush and bashful blush. She stayed flushed after a workout. Her blush could mean anything and everything but how to tell what? And like anything ever-present, it meant little. And like anything ever-present, it meant a lot.

Poetry gives us the best answers for the mundane and the all-important. This Keats poem is both of those things. I was delighted last night to find it in an anthology. He's so serious most of the time and I like him better for having read it.

Sharing Eve's Apple - John Keats

O blush not so! O blush not so! 
Or I shall think you knowing; 
And if you smile the blushing while, 
Then maidenheads are going. 

There's a blush for want, and a blush for shan't, 
And a blush for having done it; 
There's a blush for thought, and a blush for nought, 
And a blush for just begun it. 

O sigh not so! O sigh not so! 
For it sounds of Eve's sweet pippin; 
By these loosen'd lips you have tasted the pips 
And fought in an amorous nipping. 

Will you play once more at nice-cut-core, 
For it only will last our youth out, 
And we have the prime of the kissing time, 
We have not one sweet tooth out. 

There's a sigh for aye, and a sigh for nay, 
And a sigh for "I can't bear it!" 
O what can be done, shall we stay or run? 
O cut the sweet apple and share it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crooked Still: Friends of the Fall

This is in my head as the last swelter of summer gives way to chill at night and leaftips suggest the first blush of fall color. Mornings, the lake is a lift of fog shot through with sunlight. Evenings, wood smoke rises over the neighborhood. And through it all, a heady feeling of stepping fully into life.

It'll end too soon, if it ends at all..

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Song from Shakespeare

I normally don't go in for anthologies, especially of the poem-a-day variety. But I picked up Poem for the Day (ed. Nicholas Albery) at a book sale after reading Cornford's "To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train." I've been catching up on the year and read a snippet of Shakespeare today, the latter half of which I had jotted down after reading it in an epigram to another poem a month or so ago. I like these little synchronicities of reading. So here it is, a thing of beauty, an ephemeral song about the ephemarality of youth and eros:

from Twelfth Night - Act Two, Scene Three

    O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
    O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
    That can sing both high and low:
    Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
    Journeys end in lovers meeting,
    Every wise man's son doth know.
    What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
    Present mirth hath present laughter;
    What's to come is still unsure:
    In delay there lies no plenty;
    Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
    Youth's a stuff will not endure.

And a side note: though the Burnett compendium of A.E. Housman (which lists traceable influences and similar lines in other works) doesn't mention this song, I'm quite sure there is a link between youth's a stuff will not endure and Housman's breath's a ware that will not keep. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thomas Hardy and the Color Run

In college, I binged on Thomas Hardy, reading all of his novels in a single semester. It's been a decade now but running the color run Friday brought The Return of the Native to my mind freshly as if I'd just read it. That's one of the joys of literature: what you read stays with you; you carry it around inside you, and, at certain times, it comes back in force.

In this novel, the jilted lover Diggory Venn turns to the road and the reddle trade. Reddle is a ocher powder used to dye ownership markings on sheep. "Reddle," writes Hardy, "spreads its lively hues over everything it lights on, and stamps unmistakably, as with the mark of Cain, any person who has handled it half an hour." On the color run, volunteers flung powder at the runners with great aplomb turning me into a veritable rainbow. One color-flinger hit me full force in the hip, such was his enthusiasm. By the end of the race and subsequent color mosh pit, I felt a bit like the unfortunate Venn, though died green rather than red. Luckily it only took a long hot shower for me to return (mostly) to my normal coloration.


"Reddlemen of the old school are now but seldom seen. Since the introduction of railways Wessex farmers have managed to do without these Mephistophelian visitants, and the bright pigment so largely used by shepherds in preparing sheep for the fair is obtained by other routes. Even those who yet survive are losing the poetry of existence which characterized them when the pursuit of the trade meant periodical journeys to the pit whence the material was dug, a regular camping out from month to month, except in the depth of winter, a peregrination among farms which could be counted by the hundred, and in spite of this Arab existence the preservation of that respectability which is insured by the never-failing production of a well-lined purse.

A child's first sight of a reddleman was an epoch in his life. That blood-coloured figure was a sublimation of all the horrid dreams which had afflicted the juvenile spirit since imagination began. "The reddleman is coming for you!" had been the formulated threat of Wessex mothers for many generations. He was successfully supplanted for a while, at the beginning of the present century, by Buonaparte; but as process of time rendered the latter personage stale and ineffective the older phrase resumed its early prominence. And now the reddleman has in his turn followed Buonaparte to the land of worn-out bogeys, and his place is filled by modern inventions."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bonhoeffer and Blake

I've been reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a reflection on community. Bonhoeffer's human love and spiritual love align with William Blake's selfish love and sacrificial love in "The Clod and the Pebble." 

Compare Bonhoeffer's human love and Blake's pebblish love:

Human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible, to rule.


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.

Bonhoeffer's words on spiritual love are not so obviously aligned with Blake's cloddish love but the parallel is still there:

Because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother or in the enemy but the Word. Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above, it is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.


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.

Love calls us outward, beyond ourselves. Any other direction turns love into a well of gravity which will consume everything around before consuming itself. Blake and Bonhoeffer, two very different men bat at this concept, reaching the same insight, one that I'll call (the very unpopular word) truth

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Memoriam

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

My dear daughter,

In three years of mourning you, my grief has mellowed. I will always miss you but today my sadness is tempered with hope and with confidence that one day everything will be set right and made new, that the storms of life will pass and bring a joyful morning. This song speaks to that. Your grandfather played it for me when I was young and it's one of many songs I would have loved to play for you. So here it is. On that morning after the storm, we'll meet again. Happy birthday.

In Memoriam

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

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

(Revelation 21:3-5)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Word Frequency - an alphabet of one-offs

An alphabet of single use words from my writing from over the past year:

A is for acridity, B is for balm, C is for chiropractor, D is for dehydration, E is for ether, F is for forsight, G is for gloss, H is for hymnody, I is for Instagram, J is for jealousy, K is for kitchen, L is for Lana Del Ray, M is for metaphor, N is for neon, O is for olive, P is for permanence, Q is for question, R is for rifle, S is for seasickness, T is for Tanquerey, U is for ugliness, V is for verbage, W is for wilding, X is for Xerox, Y is for Youtube, Z is for Zeus.

Poetic Obsessions III - Word Frequency

Life changes. We change our lives. Obsession drifts and reflects itself in the mirror of writing. I run a word frequency count every so often so as to see myself. These drafts cover the last year's writing. Put on a word document, the list runs to 47 pages of one word per line. 23 of those pages are one-offs. 

There's lots of alcohol this year and a suspicious number of animals hiding in the count. There's an odd number of knees but an even number of hips and breasts. And somehow, the story of a year:

14 glass, 10 deer, 9 grenadine, 8 zebra, 8 oneiros, 8 houses, 8 fields, 7 thirst, 7 tidal, 7 linen, 7 arabesques, 6 pomegranate, 6 mud, 6 green, 6 glistering, 6 girl, 5 sunbound, 5 shandy, 5 knees, 5 exile, 5 drunker, 5 drinking, 5 dreaming, 5 dog, 4 subdivision, 4 lemonade, 4 languorous, 4 intention, 4 hurricane, 4 hips, 4 foals, 4 breasts, 3 woman, 3 winters, 3 windows, 3 swans, 3 semaphore, 3 newscasters, 3 fragments, 3 chlorine, 3 bikini, 3 arctic, 2 waterslides, 2 tonic,  2 artichokes, 1 tuba, 1 passport, 1 milkyness, 1 marriage, 1 Kardashian, 1 fox, 1 ache

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Odd Advertisement: New Is Always Better

Photo Credit - GVT
I saw this advertisement at Bar Louie last Friday, a small marketing phrase unwittingly making a huge statement about American culture. I'll modify a bit of Cavafy's "Theophilos Palaiologos" to say of it

Ah, how much of the pathos, 
the yearning of our race,
how much weariness
these four tragic words contained.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Updates and Miscellany

It's been some time since I've written here. No doubt, the persistent chill of a miserably frosty winter has hampered my posting as has a drudgy graduate school class (for the next level of teaching certification). I finished the latter yesterday and in the words of Eliot's post-coital lover in "The Wasteland," well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over. Life has changed in these days of lengthening sunshine. I've started yoga and have been reading a great deal. I've started making preliminary plans for a month or two in Europe this summer. And I've accumulated some collections, updates, and miscellany:
  • The Ilanot Review recently published my poem "Saint Christopher in the Copenhagen Metro" which you can read here.
  • Structo Magazine is taking on my Lenten Psalm Contest this year. Entries for the contest open on Ash Wednesday. General submissions open on March 1. In other Structo news, we've just published a new issue with translations from Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Classical Chinese, and Jèrriais. Our chief editor recently did an interview with Margaret Atwood which will appear in the next issue.
  • I've an imitation of Alcaeus coming out in the next issue of Midwestern Gothic.
  • Balustrade comes from the Greek word from pomegranate flower.
  • My hairstylist on being able to tell if someone is good looking based on pictures: the problem is that you need to see how the still features animate.
  • AT&T recently posted an advertisement for Black History Month with the unfortunately genocidal-sounding slogan make black history!
  • I'm taking forty days off technology for Lent. I'll pop on to post an analog blog or two but will be limiting myself to a half hour of screen time a day, just enough to get necessary emails, bills, and grading done. If you'd like to talk, we can resort to pen and paper and postage.
I've been reading A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes. In it he writes how letters need a reply: Perpetual monologues apropos of a loved being, which are neither corrected nor nourished by that being, lead to erroneous notions concerning mutual relations and make us strangers to each other when we meet again, so that we find things different from what, without realizing it, we imagined. Dear reader, let not silence stand between us, lest we be strangers to one another. And so, I send you this flimsy blog post, a late valentine of sorts. May love and friendship keep you warm through the dregs of winter and carry you on into a glorious summer of swimming and strawberries.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Google Mistranslation - Lewd Lorca

Google Chrome's autotranslate feature makes an interesting rendering for Lorca' Romance Sonámbulo. Trescientas rosas morenas / lleva tu percha blanca should read something like three-hundred blood-brown roses bloom across your white shirtfront. Google's version is a bit more racy:

Friday, January 17, 2014


From time to time, I come across new word coinages in fashion and advertising - jeggings, droolisimo, millionize. A friend recently brought to my attention the newly minted smellcome. This disturbing portmanteaux is brought to you by Old Spice deodorant. In the commercial, a mom weeps because she smells Old Spice spray deodorant on her son and realizes he's a man. In later installments, she bewails the fact that her son is now irresistable to women because of said aerosolized anti-perspirant.

About this aberration of a word, I can only say that I maintain a policy that smelling on the good side of neutral is best. No-one should wear so much deodorant that it greets people around them. Smell should not be the first sense activated when someone meets you. That's why we say nice to see you and nice to hear from you rather than nice to smell you. My junior year, I had a suitemate who took spray-baths in axe body spray in lieu of proper showering. I know that I never felt smellcome when entering the shared suite bathroom afterwards.

Sigh No More