Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Homeric Thoughts on Being Home

The last months saw me far-flung, from the high deserts of New Mexico to the grass-clad steeps of Faroe. Travel is a wonder but I can't shake the Homeric truth Odysseus tells Nausicaa -- Where shall a man find sweetness to surpass his own home and his parents? In far lands he shall not, though he find a house of gold.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

30/30 -- Round Four

Tomorrow is August which means more dry heat here in Santa Fe and a start to another round of 30/30, Tupelo Press' poem a day challenge. This is my fourth time around for this daunting challenge. It'll be an interesting one as I'll be far-flung for it -- New Mexico, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Denmark, and Ireland. Writing a poem a day will be the thread to hold the disparate locations together.

I hope you'll join me in my journey and follow me (and the other great poets) as we write our way into newness and revelation -- who knows what the page will bring?! There are three ways you can support me during this coming marathon of writing.

Read. The best way to support my journey to read along. Last year, so many people were kind enough to follow my daily progress and to get in touch with messages of encouragement and appreciation. Just knowing you're out there means a lot. And get in touch with my fellow 30/30 sprinters if you like what they're writing.

Collaborate. My friend Laurel got off to a head start on this one dropping me a postcard with a great poetry prompt on it. Many of my previous 30/30 poems came from reader suggestions. Others doodled out lines from my poems in art/word drawings. One friend sent a postcard from her honeymoon in Grandada with my poem Granada written on the back. 

Donate. 30/30 helps raise awareness and funds for Tupelo Press. For the last fifteen years, Tupelo Press has been publishing and supporting work from a diverse array of poets from around the world. They're innovative and creative and maintain a wonderful community of poets through projects like 30/30. My goal is $350 dollars. That's just a few donations of ten and fifteen dollars. If you choose to donate, I have some perks I'll throw your way.

$1+ -- A handwritten (hope you can read it) postcard!
$15 -- A handwritten poem from the month's work!
$35 - A copy of my chapbook, The Homeland - translations from the German of Katharina Müller.
$50 -- A limited letter-press print of my poem Dog Days from The Michigan Poet
$100 -- A private reading at your home or any venue of your choice

Monday, June 18, 2018

Notes for a failed novel


Tórshavn, Faroe Islands

Start with the location, basaltic hills, green against the grey sweep of the North Atlantic. Its stark majesty will seem like a literary device but sometimes the reality of a place happens to lends itself to meaning. Still, despite the realtors’ adage, there are more important things.

Describe sheep.

There’s a ruined cathedral in Kirkjubøur, massy medieval stonework standing unroofed beside grass-roofed houses and a smaller wooden church with a whalebone gate. In the 1800s, researchers found a reliquary with a metatarsal of St. Magnus and a fragment of the true cross which they sealed up again. When opened a century later, there was only dust. This must be a metaphor for something.

I lived in a tar and timber house…

A possible beginning: a German, a Canadian, and two Americans walk into the bar at Hotel Hafnia.

Another: The Faroe Islands rose out of the icy sea in a tumult of volcanism fifty-five million years ago. It’s been downhill since. On second thought, avoid erosion jokes.

Warren says the last eruptions covered swamps with molten lava. The contact layer of metamorphic rock can be seen clearly in the cliffside at Gàsadalur harbor. Another metaphor? For what?

Graffiti truths in the bathroom at Sirkus Føroyar: “once bread becomes toast, it can never be bread again.”

In Old Irish: Argir means “the summer pasture.”

The puffin is sometimes called “sildberi,” “the herring-bearer.” Kennings are alive and well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day

Happy May Day, dear reader. It's beautiful here and spring is stirring dormant creativity and slowness. I feel my shoulders relaxing and my gaze widening to take in a beautiful world. Herrick's poem below celebrates rural customs of celebrating May in the form of an escalatory argument of a suitor to get his sweetheart to come into the woods and celebrate the fertility of spring with him. He ends with a momento mori, that spring implies winter, that fertility implies death, that we must live while we can and pick the flowers in season.

Corinna's going a Maying

Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow'd toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: 'tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.

Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm'd with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see't?
                     Come, we'll abroad; and let's obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

There's not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w'are not a Maying.

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do's the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne'r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown'd with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

World Literature Today

The new issue of World Literature Today launched this week featuring some of my work on Faroese poet Jóanes Nielsen. It was exciting to appear alongside my first Bennington teacher Major Jackson and a litany of other great poets and translators. You can check read my translation of "I Brushed the Dust off an Intoxicated Poet" here and my translator's note here

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Thread

What is the story of your life? What's a story of your life? What are the small moments, the accidents, and momentary casualness that redirected life and made it something new?

SD was asking me about Faroe once and I thought back to 2005. I was at Miller Library at Cornerstone and stumbled across poetry by the Shetlandic writer Christine De Luca in the online magazine Words Without Borders. I was probably looking for something romantic to round out a letter to my then-girlfriend who was studying in Spain at the time. It was only fifteen minutes out of life but something in the poetry kept me thinking and the next week I ordered her books from Shetland. They arrived a few weeks after that and probably sat around for a few more waiting to be read.

De Luca mentioned Faroe in the preface to her work. I didn't know what it was and googled it and saw how beautiful it was. Further googling turned up a link to the Faroese Summer Institute. I kept it in the back of my head for another six years before I finally stepped off a plane into the rainy, sheep-strewn mountains of Vágar and boarded a bus for the capital.

Life changed that trip. Life changed after because of it.

I hadn't realized until SD's question -- which was not meant to spur existential reflection -- how everything could so easily have been different. A friend could have started a conversation. I could have found another of a thousand literary journals or read work on the site by a different author. Our lives are not fated. But reader, I read that day, and a slow tension began on a thread that would snap itself taut one day and life turned on a stitch.

I think of Great Expectations and Pip's reflection on meeting Estella one day.
“Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
We have stories to live yet, sneaking up on us -- chains forming from briars and roses, threads twining themselves, while we go about our everyday lives unawares, into the fabric of our being.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Silly as Praxilla

We've lost everything Greek poet Praxilla wrote expect a brief fragment mentioned by Zenobius to explain the phrase "silly as Praxilla." The line is Adonis' answer when asked in the underworld what the most beautiful thing he left on earth was. 

Finest of all the things I have left is the light of the sun, / Next to that the brilliant stars and the face of the moon, / Cucumbers in their season, too, and apples and pears.

Apparently placing cucumbers and pears next to the light of the sun is what made made Praxilla silly In this depth of winter, missing the sun and the season of cucumbers, I don't find her the least bit silly.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Blanket Me

I've been writing about sculptor Leah Waldo's work for a reading next week at The Scarab Club. Her recent work deals with ideas of guardianship -- totem, amulet, dovecote, obelisk. The idea has split in a dozen ways for me, giving rise to drafts for more poems than I could ever have hoped to finish in the two months we've been collaborating. This week, it's struck me in the Hundred Waters song Blanket Me. "A dense phrase," Leah says about the refrain. And a complicated wish too. But it's a beautiful one too and a lovely song.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dog Days

It's hard to see home clearly. I travel during the summer most years and it gives me perspective and fresh vision that I can carry home. Traveling through Greek literature gave me a window into my own backyard in this after Alcaeus poem about my old cottage in Whitmore Lake. The Michigan Poet published it as a poster. Reading it now makes me miss my cottage and long for summer and finishing every evening with a swim in Horseshoe. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mark Jarman -- Questions for Ecclesiastes

I presented at Breathe Writer's Conference last October, a talk about his wrestling with faith through verse. It's not easy to do -- religious writing veers toward tradition and kitsch -- and it takes bravery to say something true because the truth is often difficult and messy. We're called to these difficult truths, the doubt and the waiting, the inexplicable events and the lack of answers. I love how Jarman handles it in his poem "Questions for Ecclesiastes." It's one of the best things I've ever read. 
I'm writing poetry right now for a reading at The Scarab Club -- February 15th. It's easy for me to get in my head about writing, endlessly cycling through lines, letting the form dictate content. Reading this calls me back to the point of poetry, of all great art: to call us back to this world and the see tenderly again the people, the pain, the joy, the great beauty.

Questions for Ecclesiastes –– by Mark Jarman

What if on a foggy night in a beachtown, a night when
the Pacific leans close like the face of a wet cliff, a
preacher were called to the house of a suicide, a
house of strangers, where a child had discharged a
rifle through the roof of her mouth and top of her skull?

What if he went to the house where the parents, stunned
into plaster statues, sat behind their coffee table,
and what if he assured them that the sun would rise
and go down, the wind blow south, then turn north,
whirling constantly, rivers - even the concrete flume
of the great Los Angeles—run into the sea, and four-
teen-year-old girls would manage to spirit themselves
out of life, nothing was new under the sun?

What if he said the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor
the ear filled with hearing? Would he want to view the
bedroom vandalized by self murder or hear the
quiet before the tremendous shout of the gun or the
people inside the shout, shouting or screaming,
crying and  pounding to get into the room, kicking
through the hollow core door and making a new
sound and becoming a new silence - the silence he
entered with his comfort?

What if as comfort he said to the survivors I praise the
dead which are dead already more than the living,
and better is he than both dead and living who is
not yet alive? What if he folded his hands together
and ate his own flesh in prayer? For he did pray
with them. He asked them, the mother, and father, if
they wished to pray to do so in any way they felt
comfortable, and the father knelt at the coffee table
and the mother turned to squeeze her eyes into a
corner of the couch, and they prayed by first listen-
ing to his prayer, then clawing at his measured
cadences with tears (the man cried) and curses (the
woman swore). What if, then, the preacher said be
not rash with thy mouth and let not thine heart be
hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in

What if the parents collected themselves, then, and asked
him to follow them to their daughter's room, and
stood at the shattered door, the darkness of the
room beyond, and the father reached in to put his
hand on the light switch and asked if the comforter,
the preacher they were meeting for the first time in
their lives, would like to see the aftermath, and
instead of recoiling and apologizing, he said that
the dead know not anything for the memory of
them is forgotten? And while standing in the hall-
way, he noticed the shag carpet underfoot, like the
fur of a cartoon animal, the sort that requires comb-
ing with a plastic rake leading into the bedroom,
where it would have to be taken up, skinned off the
concrete slab of the floor, and still he said for their
love and hatred and envy are now perished, neither
have the dead more portion forever in anything
that is done under the sun?

What if as an act of mercy so acute it pierced the preacher's
skull and traveled the length of his spine, the man
did not make him regard the memory of his daugh-
ter as it must have filled her room but guided the
wise man, the comforter, to the front door, with his
wife with her arms crossed before her in that ges-
ture we use to show a stranger to the door, acting
out a rite of closure, compelled to be social, as we
try to extricate ourselves by breaking off the exten-
sions of our bodies, as raccoons gnaw their legs from
traps turning aside our gaze, letting only the numb
tissue of valedictory speech ease us apart, and the
preacher said live joyfully all the days of the life of
thy vanity, for that is they portion in this life?

They all seem worse than heartless, don’t they, these stark
and irrelevant platitudes, albeit stoical and final,
oracular, stony, and comfortless? But they were at
the center of that night, even if they were unspoken.

And what if one with only a casual connection to the
tragedy remembers a man, younger than I am today,
going out after dinner and returning, then sitting in
the living room drinking a cup of tea, slowly
finding the strength to say he had visited these
grieving strangers and spent some time with them?

Still that night exists for people I do not know in ways I do
not know, though I have tried to imagine them. I
remember my father going out and my father com-
ing back. The fog, like the underskin of a broken
wave, made a low ceiling that the street lights
pierced and illuminated. And God who shall bring
every work into judgement, with every secret thing,
whether it be good or whether it be evil, who could
have shared what he knew with people who needed

urgently to hear it, God kept a secret.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Uttermost Parts of the Sea

Psalm 139, a psalm of David

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my anxious thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Disembodied Literature and William Blake

You see quotes on cards and refrigerator magnets with quotes by famous authors, disembodied literature ripped from its context. One of my students read out William Blake's The Book of Thel today and I recognized the line Every thing that lives / Lives not alone, nor for itself. I must have seen it in some wall art kitsch or as an instagram quote. It has a good ring to it but in context, it's grimmer and even more precious than I knew. 

Thel, a beautiful maiden of the valley, disputes with a lily, a cloud, a worm, and a clod of clay on the evanescent of vernal life, spring fading and death coming after high summer. She learns that the clouds water flowers that are fed by worms and that she will one day be food for the worms to nourish the flowers. This line comes as the cloud comforts her in her knew knowledge. It stuck with me through the day, resounding in my head in my student's sonorous voice. 

Everything will come in time. We are connected, even if not speaking. Our lives are not our only. The stone falls. The placid surface breaks as ripples go out. We will never know just how much we touch other lives and other lives beyond those. We meet in the meeting of ripples.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Where I Lived and What I Lived for -- Bennington

I found these snow football pictures Julia Pistell took during our first winter residency and posted a few on Instagram. My friend Ben replied with a quote from a shared favorite novel A Separate Peace: Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person "the world today" or "life" or "reality" he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.

It's a good quote and Bennington is as close to Gene Forester's Devon as anything. That winter residency was beautiful and real. Snow football in the sunset splendor of the Green Mountains made us feel like Kennedys. It stamped me, yes, but it isn't only Bennington and that time. When someone says "life" or "reality" to me, it's that sense of community I assume they mean. I've been lucky in mine and was lucky to be a part of this one in the freezing winters of Vermont, playing with my poet and prose comrades without keeping score, then climbing into the common room through the window, hands cut by the razors of snow, jeans frozen stiff.

Dink's Song

This is my earworm, my sad anthem for happy days of friends and Detroit beauty. The harmonies are perfect, expected Mumford. The lead is Oscar Isaac who I know better as Poe Dameron, X-wing pilot from the new Star Wars. It's an old song collected in 1934 from a woman named Dink who sang it while washing her clothes in a river. It's a ballad of longing for a lover departed across the river to Arkansas, leaving the speaker pregnant with his baby. Whatever river of time or space or circumstance separates us, dear reader, fare thee well.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Rye Whiskey

I'm sitting at the counter of Great Lakes Roasters, warming up for the bitter cold of a January Detroit with a rye whiskey old fashioned. There's a traditional song Rye Whiskey that goes 

      If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck
      I'd dive to the bottom to get one sweet suck
      But the ocean ain't whiskey and I ain't a duck
      So we'll round up the cattle and then we'll get drunk
      Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry 
      If a tree don't fall on me, I'll live till I die

The Landrum men have a debate over the best lyric among the hundred or more verses. My father loves the poetic leap of being a drunk duck in an ocean of whiskey and the pullback into reality and settling for action. I love the irrefutable logic of "if a tree don't fall on me, I'll live till I die." It makes me think of Horace's poem celebrating the day where a falling tree nearly killed him but didn't. 

Either way, the drink itself makes for slow sipping in a fast world. I raise a glass to you, reader, and wish you a future free from falling trees. Let's live till we die. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God.
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:2-3, 18-19)

Sigh No More