Sunday, July 05, 2020

name check

D. A. Powell has hit the big time. He’s won awards, been the subject of adoring essays, publishes in very competitive venues, goes on reading tours. That sounds like the big time to me.

I don’t know how many books he sells. I hope he sells some. Doug is a poet. Poetry sales can’t hope to match a mid-list mystery novel. In poetry the big time isn’t big money. Still, he’s been noticed. 

Doug found his feet as a poet in the Sonoma County poetry scene about the same time I did. He’s not much older than me, so we were peers. Weren’t we? Despite the smallness of the scene I don’t remember running into Doug much. I’m sure we had poet friends and acquaintances in common. 

It’s not easy to get around Sonoma County without a car. I didn’t have access to one, except when my mother would drive me somewhere — and, for a brief period, I got to use her old car after she bought a newer one. I was fortunate in that the Russian River Writers Guild based its reading series in Sebastopol, where I lived, and getting to it was a walk of about ten minutes. 

One of the organizers of the Russian River Writers Guild, Mo Hurley, has set up a blog for RRWG memorabilia. Going through a box of old papers last week I came across some copies of The Obligatory Hug, the RRWG newsletter. One of the Hugs wasn’t represented on the blog, so I snapped images of it and posted them.

In that Hug there’s a calendar of the reading series Doug Powell ran at a cafe in downtown Santa Rosa. I was never invited to read there, but many of the names are of people I knew well. I don’t remember if I ever attended. (See above about lack of transportation.) Since these poets would read in Sebastopol, maybe arranging to get to Santa Rosa didn’t seem necessary. 

In other words, Doug and I never really hung out. As he began to make a name for himself in the national poetry scene, I took for granted that Doug had no memory of me. 

Besides the RRWG blog Mo has set up a memorial blog for Marianne Ware, another RRWG stalwart, a self-declared mother figure for SoCo writers, and an instructor at Santa Rosa’s community college. Marianne was a sweetheart, and a fine performer of her own, often hilarious, writing. 

Reading through reminiscences at the Ware blog, I was surprised to find myself name-checked. By D. A. Powell. 
[Marianne Ware, Doug writes, was o]ne of the first of many passionate and gifted poets I met in Sonoma County. Donna Champion brought me to the Russian River Writers Guild for a holiday party, and introduced me to Maureen Hurley, Glenn Ingersoll, Paul Mariah and Marianne. I was nervous & young, and whatever poem I shared with the group that night was, I'm sure, crap. But Marianne, a gracious and nurturing presence, smiled and told me how wonderful the poem was. 
Wait, I remember the poem now! It's in a drawer somewhere, if I haven't burned it. Yes, it truly was crap.

I remember reading a manifesto Doug wrote, championing a new poetics — Badism. Write crap! Don’t be ashamed. Own it. 

Maybe, by 2010 when he wrote the note about Marianne, Doug had eschewed his old Badism beliefs. After all, he’d hit the big time with good stuff!

Friday, July 03, 2020

“the world everybody else lives in”

A poet’s perspective, according to Mary Ruefle:

There is a world which poets cannot seem to enter. It is the world everybody else lives in. And the only thing poets seem to have in common is their yearning to enter this world.

source: “Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World”
an essay by Mary Ruefle
The Planet on the Table: poets on the reading life
edited by Sharon Bryan and William Olsen
Sarabande Books, Louisville, KY

Thursday, July 02, 2020

a continuity of taste

Mary Ruefle describes a continuity of taste:

I was … reading, for the first and last time in my life, my own private journals, which I began writing when I was sixteen and ceased to write when I was forty. As is my habit, I was copying selected passages from the [poet I was also reading at the time] into a notebook. Later that evening I began reading a journal I kept twenty years ago. In it, I was reading the notebooks of the [same] poet … and had copied into the journal by hand my favorite passage, which was identical with the passage I had copied earlier in the day, believing completely that I had never encountered it before.

In my Best Poems posts I list all the poems I copied out in my own hand over the previous year. Have I have copied out the same poem more than once? There are two occasions I have copied out the same poem in different translation. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about reading over my personal anthology and coming across the same exact poem in English — only a handful of years separating the duplicates. How did I not remember? Surely, the poem seemed awfully familiar.

Not that this was a problem. I mean, I liked it. I’ve wondered occasionally if I would copy out some poem in my personal anthology if I were to come upon it all unseen. In that case, the answer was clearly yes. 

source: “Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World”
an essay by Mary Ruefle
The Planet on the Table: poets on the reading life
edited by Sharon Bryan and William Olsen
Sarabande Books, Louisville, KY

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

be suspicious of your sources

I don’t recall having heard this before: 
[A] month or so after atom bombs annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the New York Times discounted the rumors that were terrifying the world.  
On September 12, 1945, the daily published a front-page story by its chief science reporter William L. Laurence, which challenged the alarmist notions head-on. There was no radioactivity whatsoever in those razed cities, the article assured one and all, it’s only ‘the Japanese continuing their propaganda …'   
That scoop won Laurence the Pulitzer Prize. 
Sometime later it came out that he was receiving two monthly paychecks: one from the New York Times, the other from the payroll of the US War Department.

The Wikipedia entry for William L. Laurence doesn’t tell the story quite that way. “For his 1945 coverage of the atomic bomb, beginning with [an] eyewitness account from Nagasaki, he won [the] Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1946.” 

Wikipedia goes on:

In 2004, journalists Amy Goodman and David Goodman called for the Pulitzer Board to strip Laurence and his paper, The New York Times, of his 1946 Pulitzer Prize. The journalists argued that at the time Laurence ‘was also on the payroll of War Department’ and that, after the atomic bombings, he ‘had a front-page story in the Times disputing the notion that radiation sickness was killing people.' They concluded that ‘his faithful parroting of the government line was crucial in launching a half-century of silence about the deadly lingering effects of the bomb.'

Children of the Days: a calendar of human history
by Eduardo Galeano
translated by Mark Fried
Nation Books / Perseus Group, New York

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

word of the day: tiercel

word: tiercel


winter sun 
in the eye of her tiercel 
returns to her glove

Harvey Hess

definition (Merriam-Webster): a male hawk; especially : a male peregrine falcon

This haiku was opaque until I looked up “tiercel.” Suddenly, it was evocative. 

source: Haiku World: an international poetry almanac
edited by William J. Higginson
1996. Kodansha International, New York

Monday, June 29, 2020

what won’t surprise a poet

“It is the gift of all poets to find the commonplace astonishing, and the astonishing quite natural.” — Margery Sharp

The mice of the Prisoners’ Aid Society, who have been sent to rescue a poet from the dungeon of the Black Castle, at last meet the prisoner and he is not surprised to hear them speak. 

I rather like Sharp’s description of the poet’s perspective. Oddly, however, not once does Margery Sharp quote a line of the young man’s poetry. 

Nor do we ever learn what led to his imprisonment. One might assume it had something to do with the poetry, but Sharp never really tells us. 

The Rescuers
by Margery Sharp
1959. A Yearling Book / Dell Publishing, New York

Sunday, June 28, 2020

word of the day: adjure

word: adjure

[A] cruel black paw pinned [the two mice] to the ground! … ‘Whatever you do, lie still!’ adjured the glance of Miss Bianca.

definition (Merriam-Webster): to command solemnly under or as if under oath or penalty of a curse

One of the complications for the intrepid mice of the Prisoners’ Aid Society is the prison cat. Up to now Miss Bianca has figured out ways to placate — or, at least, distract — the monstrous mouser, but now her dear friends and colleagues, Nils and Bernard, are under the cat’s power. Can she outwit the cat this time?

The Rescuers
by Margery Sharp
1959. A Yearling Book / Dell Publishing, New York

Saturday, June 27, 2020

words of the day: strawfoot and hayfoot

words: strawfoot and hayfoot

”Hear that, Amelia? The lady says we never learnt no manners! Hands up all who goes to dancing class! Hands up all who know strawfoot from hayfoot! My word, she should see some of our barn dances!”

definition: the strawfoot is the right foot, the hayfoot the left. According to an American Heritage article, during the US Civil War “the drill sergeants repeatedly found that among the raw recruits there were men so abysmally untaught that they did not know left from right, and hence could not step off on the left foot as all soldiers should. To teach these lads how to march, the sergeants would tie a wisp of hay to the left foot and a wisp of straw to the right; then, setting the men to march, they would chant, ‘Hay-foot, straw-foot, hay-foot, straw-foot’—and so on, until everybody had caught on. A common name for a green recruit in those days was “strawfoot.”

The mouse rescuers of the Prisoners’ Aid Society are on their way to the Black Castle to save an imprisoned poet. They’ve stowed away on a supply caravan. The journey lasts several days, so the carriage drivers must camp along the way. At night, local, country mice clamber up to check out the provisions and socialize with Miss Bianca, Nils, and Bernard. Miss Bianca whispers about the lack of refinement of the country mice, but they have sharp ears. 

The Rescuers
by Margery Sharp
1959. A Yearling Book / Dell Publishing, New York

Friday, June 26, 2020

word of the day: postilion

word: postilion

[The intrepid rescuers] received all last instructions in the committee room [which was] an old carriage lamp … tossed down into the wine cellar by a long-ago postilion.

definition (Merriam-Webster): one who rides as a guide on the near horse of one of the pairs attached to a coach or post chaise especially without a coachman

Miss Bianca, Nils, and Bernard have been recruited by the Prisoners’ Aid Society to rescue a poet from the dungeon of The Black Castle. The Prisoners’ Aid Society consists entirely of mice. As you know, mice are intimately familiar with the unfortunate situation of prisoners, and, it seems, they have organized to help them. 

The Rescuers
by Margery Sharp
1959. A Yearling Book / Dell Publishing, New York

Thursday, June 25, 2020

I will love you forever, more or less

An American is talking translation with a Japanese who lived in Korea for more than 20 years. 

[A translator] must keep his readers’ sensibilities in mind. [The Japanese] cites a common Korean expression of fondness that he had trouble translating in a novel. ‘A Korean who loves someone might say, “I’ll wait for you for ten years, for a hundred years, for a thousand years!” And to a Korean reader this would be absolutely normal.’ But translating the phrase literally would perplex the Japanese reader. ‘“A hundred years?” he’d wonder. “But I’ll be dead by then!”’

The Invitation-Only Zone: the true story of North Korea’s abduction project
by Robert S. Boynton
2016. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Title to Indian land, part one

Back around the turn of the 20th century the US government divided up Indian lands into individually-owned parcels. Naturally, they didn’t ask the Indians if they liked the idea. But what could be more American than private property? And the US government wanted the Indians to be as American as possible. The policy was called “allotment.” As Peter Nabokov, editor of Native American Testimony, puts it: “[T]he parcels soon became so diced up among descendants that no single heir could possibly sustain a family [on their small piece]. … A non-Indian with enough money and know-how could lease adjoining squares from Indians to create a big, promising cattle operation — a practice on many reservations today.” 

Nabokov then quotes from Indians are People, Too (1944) by Ruth Muskrat Bronson: 

The usual way a white family handles [inheritance] is for the family member who wants to keep the farm to mortgage the land for enough to buy out the other heirs. [Indians] can’t do this for this land cannot be sold because [they are] ward[s]. … In a country ill adapted to agriculture, [even] thirty-five acres are not worth much money, so the land will probably not be partitioned. Instead, the government will go on leasing the land, dividing the lease money among the heirs down through the generations.  
There are pieces of land on the books of the Indian Office so divided among heirs that the annual lease income therefrom to any one heir is less than one cent. Yet the annual cost to the government to administer the estate is estimated at approximately fifty times as much as the annual lease the heir receives.

Indians were considered wards of the state. They did not, in other words, have full US citizenship and the rights that come with it. They lived in a separate nation, sort of, though not a nation allowed to make its own decisions. (The South African government took inspiration from the US system when setting up its own sovereign-in-name-only “homelands” for black South Africans.) 

Growing up I was told I had Indian heritage through my father. Sioux, he said. I didn’t have any more information than that until well into adulthood when I learned that some Ingersoll cousins were registered as heirs to property on the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles the border between North & South Dakota. My blood siblings and I registered as heirs, too. I don’t think Dad knew we could do that. Not that registering came with much benefit. I’m not a member of the Sioux Nation, a Lakota, not officially. I did start receiving lease income statements. Which was cool. Except that, as Ruth Bronson says, the money earned was eaten up by administrative costs. Pretty easy, as the amount earned was less than the postage spent on the envelope. Yup, I found myself looking at statements recording income of less than fifty cents.  

This seemed silly. But, like I said, here was evidence to back up the family story. I liked having that evidence. That it meant nothing as far as money was concerned didn’t bother me. If there had been money, I thought, better it go to the people on the reservation than me. Seems to me they ought to have it. 

Native American Testimony: a chronicle of Indian-White relations from prophecy to the present, 1492 - 2000
by Peter Nabokov
1999. Penguin Books, New York

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Lyn Lifshin, Virgil Suarez way out in front

In a sidebar to a directory of literary magazines published in 2003, the directory compiler presents the results of a sort of popularity contest. He has totted up the number of times a poet’s been named by literary magazine editors as exemplary of the kind of poet the magazines have published — and that they hope to publish in the future. These were the poets named most frequently (number of literary magazines naming that poet appears in the parentheses):

Lyn Lifshin …… (47)
Virgil Suarez …… (40)
Simon Perchik …… (22)
Walter MacDonald …… (22)
John Grey …… (21)
Richard Kostelanetz …… (20)
Robert Cooperman …… (17)
B. Z. Niditch …… (16)
Gerald Locklin …… (14)
Marge Piercy …… (14)
W. S. Merwin …… (13)
James Tate …… (13)
Albert Goldbarth …… (12)
Seamus Heaney …… (12)
Errol Miller …… (12)
David Ray …… (12)
Sherman Alexie …… (12)

Editors want to name poets others will have heard of, so a contributor (or purchaser) will get a sense of the magazine’s tastes. So there’s a bias in reportage toward frequently-seen names. But I suspect this ranking reflects pretty closely those most-published in fact as well as perception at the turn of the 21st century. 

These poets are also among the most prolific poets of the era. They wrote a lot. They sent their work out a lot. 

I wonder what names would top the rankings in today’s internet.

Directory of Poetry Publishers, 2002 - 03
edited by Len Fulton
Dustbooks, Paradise, CA

Monday, June 22, 2020

what people wrote in my jr high yearbook, 1978

In the late 70s I attended Brook Haven Junior High (6th - 8th grades) in Sebastopol. I hated it. Yet at the end of 7th grade I bought the yearbook. Not sure why. To salvage the experience somehow? I loved books and something about seeing myself and the people I knew in a book? I was disappointed I only appeared in one photo, the individual portrait lined up in the gallery of classmates. Looking through the yearbook, I find I remember a greater percentage of the kids than in my high school yearbooks. But then Brook Haven was a smaller school. 

When I got the yearbook I had to buck up my courage to ask people to sign it. I watched other kids eagerly exchanging theirs, and once again felt left out. Then there was the disappointment of getting it back when I had found someone to sign it and having to read the emptiness of “have a great summer” over and over. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any of these people in the summer. It felt like a taunt. Or, at least, boring. I have no examples of what I wrote in anyone else’s yearbook, but I do remember resolving never to write “have a great summer.” I did not buy the 1979 edition.

I have faithfully reproduced all misspellings.

in a corner of the front cover:

It’s been cool knowin ya, stay cool

inside front cover:

Glenn, It’s been nice knowing you and have fun next year.

To Glenn,
I have learned a lot from you. Have a super summer and keep on reading your favorite books.
Kim Strange

Hope you have a great summer & 8th grade year!
your friend
Cindy Well

Pity your not in the 8th you could have come to camp and I really could have bugged you! But your a good kid, even if you are in 7th grade!

Have a good summer (so original). Drama was the highlight of the year. I’ll see you when you get to Analy (if you graduate)!
Good luck,
Greg Victor

To a real nice friend
have a nice summer and good luck next year
Christine Masaoka

from the faculty pages:

Best of luck. See you next year.
Dave Graves [vice principal]

To a real sweet and cute guy,
Have a fun summer and I’ll see you next year.
love, Mrs [Joanne] Myers [girls P. E.]

Onward and upward as an eighth-grader — much success!
Mr. [Dennis] C[hristiansen] [boys’ P.E.]

Best wishes
M[arilyn] Neff [Arts & Crafts]

teacher signatures without notes:
James Pascoe, principal
Karen Nahmens, history
Oran Sapp, music
Harley Parmenter, science

Autographs page:

Hi — Glenn
Fritz Friday [I can’t read the signature so this is a total guess]

Hi, I know your brother — so have a good summer
Kathy Spillane

Have fun this summer
Kelly Strong (Kyle)

Have a great summer

Best wishes glenn
Mark Henson

Have a cool summer

Bill, give me your pistol!
Davy Figaro

[no message]
Doran Reynolds

Have a great summer
Rich H.
Have a great summer
Rich H.
[yes, he wrote it twice]

Hope to see you next year
Kenny Anderson

George Herring

Have a good one
Jocko Parkinson

Hi Glenn
Have a nice summer

It was fun having you in drama
and doing the play!

I hope you have a great summer
I hope to see you next year
Adrienne Sklavos

from Kenny P.

Have a good summer 
hope to see you next year
Jon D. 

Have a nice summer and have a good school year and good luck
Danny Lindstrom

In Graduating Class Favorites next to her picture for “Teacher’s Pet”:

Glenn —
I wish you were an 8th grader.
You dance so well.
Karen [Elvy]

inside back cover:

Have a nice summer and stay out of trouble with everyone. Hope to see you next year.
your friend, 

have fun in 8th grade
John Knox

Have a nice summer

to a really nice & cute guy.
have a great summer see you next year. 
good luck always
Stacie * 

Start doing push-up over the summer. Then as an 8th grader you may get rowdy which every well-rounded person must do once. Never Quit.

Don’t beat up to many 7th graders next year. See ya when ya get to Analy. 
Jackie Beat 


There are two references above to our junior high production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. I had the role of Boatswain, which we pronounced Boat’s wane, rather than Bosun. I got two lines? Ralph (which our teacher had us pronounce “Rafe”) Rackstraw asks me for my gun, and I say something like, “Here it is!” I don’t remember what the other line would have been.

I just looked up the script for H.M.S. Pinafore and Boatswain got a lot more than two lines! I knew Mr Sapp had abridged the play — or used an already abridged version — but, boy, did I get ripped off. Of course, there’s only so much sitting on cold metal bleachers you can expect of supportive parents. All the meaty parts went to 8th graders, and I’m sure those were greatly abbreviated as well. 

I got a big part myself the next year, the lead gangster in Mrs. McThing. I remember H.M.S. Pinafore going pretty well. Mrs McThing, sadly, did not. A story for another day.

Sunday, June 21, 2020


“White” is a tricky word.  As a descriptor for a human grouping it seems, on the surface to be obvious — people with pale (white-like) skin. 

White as a power category also appears uncomplicated. Those who look white are included in the group socialized and legally constituted to have a superior power position in America to those who don’t. You don’t get to choose your whiteness — or reject it. You are granted it automatically because the power structure needs an easy-to-police dividing line. 

When I say “white” gets tricky, I mean when you try to pin down the definition in regards to each individual, you start to realize you are deciding who exactly gets to be included in the power category. Somebody has to be not-white, if white is to remain a power category.

Who do you want to allow to be white? Who do you force not to be? What quantity of melanin is too much? What family ancestry qualifies or disqualifies? The obviousness of the division crumbles. 

When I did a semester in London years ago, I stayed with a family where the mother was a brown-skinned American latina and the father was a pale-skinned Brit. They had two children, one a blonde, pale-skinned girl, the other a boy darker than his mother with black hair. If you were sorting purely by a glance, the daughter would be white and the son wouldn’t. That doesn’t seem fair. But, of course, none of this is fair. 

In an essay about multiculturalism Jack Foley remembers a family discussion:

My son Sean came home from school recently and told me that he had seen some T-shirts which had the equivalent of the phrase ‘Black Is Beautiful’ on them. (I believe the phrase was in fact ‘Black By Popular Demand.’) He complained that he couldn’t wear a shirt saying, ‘White Is Beautiful” or ‘White By Popular Demand.’ I said, ‘That’s true, but you could wear a shirt saying, “Irish Is Beautiful” or, “Italian Is Beautiful” or, “Jewish Is Beautiful.”’ The point is that white is not an ethnic group. [italics in original]  [W]hat is it? 
I think the answer is that … ‘White’ … is always an indication of power … In [a text I quoted] from 1726 … the opposite of ‘Whites’ is not ‘Blacks’ but ‘Slaves.’

“White” is not an innocent category, one we can take for granted. White and other so-called racial categories are not clear natural sortings with no more social significance than those who can curl their tongues and those who can’t. Rather, these are power categories, with white being the dominant power. Wearing a “White Power” t-shirt you declare yourself a member of the superior power category — and one who is willing to make sure that category remains exclusive and that you will police the borders of the category to keep others out (and out of power). 

Any other declaration, even “Black Power,” is, at most, aspirational. Everybody knows where the power lies. 

“Multiculturalism and the Media”
an essay by Jack Foley
Multi-America: essays on cultural wars and cultural peace
1998. Penguin Books, New York