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Poetry: I read it, write it, teach it, edit it, review it, publish it; Etc.

Friday, January 30, 2009


This talk is refusing to be led in the direction I set myself~
Calvino, "Exactitude"

So, a poet's blog without a recognizable poem so far. Therefore, to rectify and exactify myself, I'm pasting in a poem of mine that appears in C&R Press' just released anthology, Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes. I'm pleased to have this poem appear alongside so many remarkable odes; Breathe is a volume worth picking up despite the fact there's a typo in my title (doh!).

The poem is called

Remembered Lines on the Way to Stockton

My father owns the cattle on a thousand hills;

they graze among windmills scattered

along the interstate. Beneath a tinfoil moon

it’s not quite dark by nine. A silver-sided truck

roars, sucks at my passing car

flashes high beams to let me over.

Bott’s dots reflect the headlights,

comets chased by tails along an asphalt skyway.

I have traveled this road all the years of my life

a journey landscaped with exits never taken

into countryside where mown hay swells blonde

against alfalfa fields already regreening

and words rise from wild grasses

like surprised birds or flock along power lines

draped pole to pole beyond the city limit sign.

I pass the towers for a drawbridge.

It no longer raises over its river

the only ship a row boat upended on the bank.

Faded letters on a grain tower

advertise horses for sale. They died

half a century ago.

There is no map for places such as these

that recede in the rear view mirror

and await my return. It is dusk

forever here, with the scent of mowing.

Tonight I drive straight through to Stockton.

My father’s mansion has many rooms,

if it were not so I would have told you.

A sudden oasis of farmyard hemmed

by walnut trees. The rising thrum of cricket.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Post-Inauguration Six Word Story

Gotta add former President Bush's that he uttered upon his return (thank the good lord) to Texas today:

"It is good to be home."

To that I will add my postscript:

At Crawford Ranch sunset, then quiet.


Monday, January 19, 2009

The problem with January

It's the 19th already. This brings to mind Calvino's personal motto, an old Latin saying, Festina lente, or "hurry slowly."

Actually the problem with January seems to begin in December. Do you remember there used to be an entire week between Christmas and New Year's, one long, languid week with no school or little work, holiday celebrations over, and tiiiiiiiiiime to simply relax? What happened to that week? It's gone as far as I can tell. I close the door on the last guests Christmas night, blow out the candles and when I awaken, it's New Year's afternoon. It's January, when most of the boxes on the new calendar are still as empty and white as a snowfield. January, when a whole year stretches out wide, one you get to spend all over again. January a time to dream, reflect, perhaps resolve to do things differently. In any case, not much else used to happen in January. It was a long month. At least that's how I experienced it. January was a month you could count on to drag like an iceberg.

Now like the last week of December it seems January too shifts from glacier to galactic. The stillness of winter no longer exists. Stillness becomes a curiosity, something to glimpse as a blur out the window of a bullet train. Oh, look, how lovely, what were you saying? And so the year barrels ahead full-speed.

Hurry slowly. Apparently the concept isn't strictly post-modern. And it tempers the alternative, hurry hurriedly. All blurredly. Even though that's how most of life gets lived-- fast, faster. The ancients must have felt it, too. Festina lente. I guess there's some comfort in that. Festina lente. Here we go.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Calvino planned to write about Consistency as his sixth memo but died before he was able to do so, as I mentioned yesterday. It occurs to me that his unfinished business, the mystery, this gap in the narrative that causes us to wonder and imagine, is somehow very consistent with Italo Calvino's work. Very appropriate, as my granddad would say.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One line story

When I woke up, the dinosaur was still there.
--Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso

Calvino cites Monterroso's line as a favorite example of the one line story. Yes, I'm still hanging with Calvino, still proceeding slowly through this second chapter, "Quickness." Because the short prose object, be it flash fiction, prose poem or vignette, falls under consideration in this chapter I'm finding it even more difficult to leave behind. Only the promise of 3 more chapters, each considering another essential aspect of literature lures me on, the sixth memo never written down. That in itself teaches the writer something essential: for god's sake, write it!

Poet, etc, David Lehman is another advocate of the one line story. If any of you have written one, send it to comments. Here's one I've composed. See what you can do.

He forced open the door and found the pilot slumped over the controls.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Speaking of

Earlier last week after I began this blog I noticed a peculiar convergence of ideas in my reading and recent experience. I decided to go with it and attempt to describe some of the apparent intersections here. I mean, I thought I'd be writing about the film Donnie Darko and the giant rabbit Frank, but instead it's been flying buckets, Vespas, and magic--Yesterday I opened the new issue of the American Poetry Review to the back cover where a long poem is typically featured. This time, it contained a passage from Stanley Kunitz taken from a commencement speech he'd given entitled, "Speaking of Poetry." Besides pursuing a Donnie Darko discussion, I'd also been creating a mental list of recommended reading to pass along from time to time. I'm suggesting this short essay now and hope you'll have the opportunity to read it for yourself. But I couldn't fail to take note of one of Kunitz's comments, even as I type realizing I enact an even deeper level of synchronicity. "The moment is dear to us," he writes, "precisely because it is so fugitive, and it is somewhat of a paradox that poets should spend a lifetime hunting for magic that will make the moment stay."

Friday, January 9, 2009

And then

And then like cloud drift, I touched ground. "Che fai tu, luna silenciosa . . ."

Calvino's second chapter considers "Quickness." As I said, I'm reading slowly. Even cumbersomely-ish. What has stopped me short in this 2nd memo is a generalization about literature that he forms from an ancient legend about a magic ring, a legend that reinvents itself in the mythos and legends of various cultures. He summarizes by saying that "the moment an object appears in a narrative, it is charged with a special force and becomes like the force of a magnetic field . . . We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic." Maybe only Calvino can make such an assertion, Calvino, Borges, Marquez, but doesn't it grab your attention? Even though he tempers his assertion with "might," he is saying something crazy, something that demands a response. Don't you immediately want to come up with some exception? I might agree that my flying Vespa is magic, but the burning battleship? The war planes? What I like about Calvino's seemingly innocent but totalizing statement is that it forces the imagination to wake up and either embrace or resist the premise. Any object? Always magic? And so we begin to look deeper into a narrative, into our own assumptions, and to move more carefully over each object we encounter. What's at work here? Magic? I think so.

"Dimme, che fai . . .?"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Che fai tu, luna, in ciel? Dimme, che fai,
silenciosa luna?

What do you do there, moon, in the sky? Tell me,
what do you do, silent moon? -Leopardi

So, I'd begun re-reading Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millenium as an appropriate sort of new year's contemplation, reading slowly, musing, taking notes. I began the first chapter, "Lightness," on New Year's day, the chapter from which Leopardi's quote is taken. Last night I began the chapter's conclusion. Calvino acknowledges that he's introduced several varied ideas, or threads, in his consideration of lightness, a consideration which has to do with weight rather than illumination here. He writes, "There remains one thread, the one I first started to unwind: that of literature as an existential function, the search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living." Wow, that's going in the blog, I thought. And so it has.

But he isn't finished and goes on to connect this existential function of literature to anthropology, ethnology and mythology. He considers how way back before literature, folktales in the oral tradition often featured "a flight to another world," and how this is also a common function in the heroic tradition, and of course here is where I am really engaged; if I ever had time for a doctorate, this is my stuff . . .but wait, he then describes Kafka's very short story, "The Knight of the Bucket," in which an empty coal bucket flies the protagonist above the impoverished town and into the night sky . . . Calvino ends "Lightness" writing, "Thus, astride our bucket, we shall face the new millenium, without hoping to find anything more in it than what we ourselves are able to bring to it."

That isn't exactly the same as being astride a flying Vespa, but close enough.