Thursday, January 02, 2020

Best Poems of 2019

Basho … two haiku

Boncho … one haiku (“the brushwood”)

Linnea Brett … bird avenue

Buson … seven haiku

Chippewa song … Sometimes I Go About Pitying Myself

Sheila Dong … Prayer

Giles Goodland … Bees

Katharine Harer … Death Over Breakfast

Christopher Jon Heuer … The Hands of My Father

Jackleen Holton Hookway … Luxury

Hokushi … haiku (“I kept hanging the moon”)

Issa … three haiku

Joso … haiku (“above the noise”)

Julie Larios … What Bee Did

Dorianne Laux … The Lost

Michelangelo Buonarroti … 90. Sonnet; possibly for Tammaso

Jim Murdoch … Shadow Writing

Otsuji … haiku (“the spring rain”)

Roka … haiku (“the water-fowl swims”)

Ryokan … haiku (“the burglar”)

Shiki … three haiku

Michael Dylan Welch & Tanya McDonald … Between Night Hills (a haiku sequence)


I have a loose leaf notebook into which I copy out poems. The above were the poems I copied out in 2019.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Titles Read in 2019


My Neighbor, a 4-poet haiku chapbook, Paul Miller, editor

Best Gay Poetry 2008 edited by Lawrence Schimel

Phoebe 2002: an essay in verse by Jeffery Conway, Lynn Crosbie, and David Trinidad

The Last Five Miles to Grace by David Lerner

Between the Cracks by Julia Vinograd

Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, v.17 n.2, 1998

Futures Trading, anthology four. 2017. Caleb Puckett, editor

frogpond, v.39:1, winter 2016. Haiku Society of America

Bijou in the Dark by John Yau

While England Sleeps by David Leavitt

The Best American Poetry 2008 Charles Wright, guest editor; David Lehman, series ed.

Jazz & other hot subjects: new and selected poems by Katharine Harer

The Hot Breath of War by Alixopulos

frogpond, v.39:3, autumn 2016

Jim, 2014 edition, by Jim Woodring


Querelle by Jean Genet, translated by Anselm Hollo

The Largeness the Small is Capable of edited by Crag Hill [ebook]

Mipoesias, 2015 edited by Nin Andrews [ebook]

Has the Gay Movement Failed? by Martin Duberman

Hanging Loose, 103, 2014; Hershon, et al, editors

Invincible Ultimate Collection, v.12: #133-144 Robert Kirkman, writer; Ryan Ottley artist

Pieces of Eight: haiku offerings by Jerry Ball

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner

Haiku, vol.1: Eastern Culture by R. H. Blyth


Unthinkable: an extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains by Helen Thomson

Hanging Loose, 93, 2008; Hershon, Lourie, et all, editors

Across the Great Divide by Tobey Kaplan

The Complete Peanuts: 1959-1960 by Charles M. Schulz

W. W. Denslow by Douglas G. Greene and Michael P. Hearn

The Darker Fall by Rick Barot

Konfidenz by Ariel Dorfman

The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962 by Charles M. Schulz

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Smith Going Backward by Steve Carey

A Spy in the House of Years by Giles Goodland

Facts About the Moon by Dorianne Laux


Benefits of Doubt by Cyrus Armajani

Saigon Calling: London, 1963-1975 by Marcelino Truong

The Book of Men by Dorianne Laux

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner

Deaf American Poetry: an anthology edited by John Lee Clark

The Best American Poetry 2009 David Wagoner, guest ed.; David Lehman, series ed.

So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak

Getting Lost in a City Like This by Jack Anderson

A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses by Anne Trubek

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin


I’m Not Even That into Astrology by Linnea Brett

Babel: around the world in twenty languages by Gaston Dorren

Haiku, vol.2: Spring by R. H. Blyth

Yellow Moving Van by Ron Koertge

Olympusville by Ron Koertge

Look Back and Laugh: journal comics by Liz Prince

Gods in Color: polychromy in the ancient world Brinkmann, Dreyfus, Koch-Brinkmann, editors

Moon Crumbs by Sheila Dong

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: poems for men edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, Michael Meade

X-Men Grand Design, vol.2: Second Genesis by Ed Piskor

From the Estuary to the Offing by Kevin Bertolero

The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal


Once I Was Many Other Things by Jessie Knoles

Inside Star Trek: the real story by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman

Ticket to Exile: a memoir by Adam David Miller

The International Homosexual Conspiracy by Larry-Bob Roberts

Big Dreams: into the heart of California by Bill Barich

War on Peace: the end of diplomacy and the decline of American influence by Ronan Farrow

Haiku, vol.3: Summer - Autumn by R. H. Blyth


The Best American Poetry 2012 Mark Doty, guest editor; David Lehman, series editor

Gay and Lesbian Poetry: an anthology from Sappho to Michelangelo edited by James J. Wilhelm

Hasib and the Queen of Serpents by David B. 

Shenandoah, v.34 n.2, fall 2004

I Killed: true stories of the road from America’s top comics edited by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff

Mama’s Last Hug: animal emotions by Frans de Waal

Kid Gloves: nine months of careful chaos by Lucy Knisley


On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock

Detour by John Rowe

Merry Men by Robert Rodi and Jackie Lewis

Parkland by Dave Cullen

Haiku, vol.4: Autumn - Winter by R. H. Blyth

Modern Japanese Tanka edited by Makoto Ueda

Broken World by Joseph Lease

Senryu: Japanese satirical verses by R. H. Blyth

Nepantla: an anthology for queer poets of color edited by Christopher Soto

The Body Ghost by Joseph Lease

Europe in Sepia by Dubravka Ugresic

Look Busy by Jane McDermott


Married at Fourteen by Lucille Lang Day

Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

The Best American Poetry 2013 Denise Duhamel, guest ed.; David Lehman, series ed.

The Trouble with Gravity by Richard Panek

The Penguin Book of Haiku translated and edited by Adam L. Kern

New Poets of the American West Lowell Jaeger, editor

Can Grande’s Castle by Amy Lowell

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

Only as the Day Is Long (the New Poems section) by Dorianne Laux


The Best American Poetry 2014 Terrance Hayes, guest ed.; David Lehman, series ed.

Wide Awake by David Levithan

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Where Do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson


Voices of the Soviet Space Program: cosmonauts, soldiers, and engineers who took the USSR into space by Slava Gerovitch

Bindweed Anthology 2018: Devil’s Guts edited by Leilanie Stewart and Joseph Robert

The Best American Poetry 2015 Sherman Alexie, guest ed.; David Lehman, series ed.

Monsters I Have Been by Kenji C. Liu

Calypso by David Sedaris

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore


Daughters of Destiny by L. Frank Baum writing as Schuyler Staunton [ebook]

Animal Man, vol.1, issues 1-9; Grant Morrison, writer; Chas Truog, artist

Spell by Ann Lauterbach

Sunday, November 10, 2019

a poet’s accounting

I’ve never before seen an accounting of a poet’s earnings for a poem. So when I came across the one below in the notes at the back of the Best American Poetry anthology, I took note. 

Thomas Sayers Ellis writes:

I was paid $2,230 for the publication of [my poem] in Poetry magazine, $250 for the recording of the poem for the Poetry Foundation’s podcast; and $500 more, by the Poetry Foundation, when the poem received the Salmon O. Levinson Prize. The appearance of ‘Vernacular Owl’ in this anthology will add $100, bringing the total to $3,080[.]

The poem takes up seven pages, so the original payment works out to about $320 per page. Not bad! I know the Poetry Foundation is awash in money due to a bequest from someone superrich, so I’m glad to see that they are paying poets decently. And they don’t charge reading fees. It would be nice if they took a little less time to make a decision, though. It’s been six months since I sent them poems. 

source: Best American Poetry 2015 Sherman Alexie, editor; series editor, David Lehman. Scribner Poetry / Simon & Schuster, New York

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

notes toward an autobiography by others

When the [yoga] class is small, the teacher gives instruction and walks around helping students make adjustments. When she came to help me as I struggled with a posture she asked me if I had any injuries. 
“Well,” I said. “I had a really difficult childhood.”

When I read this passage I had an intense feeling of deja vu. I said exactly that in answer to the yoga teacher’s question. Different yoga teacher (I’m sure), different class. 

Have you had any injuries? she asked. 

“An unhappy childhood,” I answered. 

source: Look Busy: one hundred 100-word stories by and for the easily distracted by Jane McDermott

2014. Fourteen Hills Press, San Francisco CA

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

the only reason you need rights is cuz you’re ugly

“We women . . . . !”
A skinny creature
Stands there.

— Chinchabo

“It is no accident that most suffragettes and women workers are unattractive people. Beautiful women have their privileges which they properly value more than their rights,” adds editor and translator R. H. Blyth in a note appended to the senryu. 

This isn’t an argument. It’s merely a taunt. Ha ha! You’re ugly! If you were pretty you’d be happy. 

If you want to classify the fallacy, call it ad hominem; as Wikipedia has it, “genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument.” Fits this one to a T. 

Blyth follows up by elevating “rights” over “privileges,” which basically translates to I Got Mine So Shut Up, in Blyth’s version of What Women Want.


source: Senryu: Japanese satirical verses
translated and explained by R. H. Blyth

1949. Hokuseido Press

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

another possible epigraph

A year ago I put up a post that included a few lines I thought might make a good epigraph for “Autobiography of a Book.”

This poem by the Greek poet Strato of Sardis has good possibilities as an epigraph too:

Lucky little scroll, I am not jealous. Some boy
while reading you might squeeze you, touch his chin with you,
or press you to his dainty lips, or even place you on 
his tender thighs to roll you up, most blessedest of scrolls.
You will often rest there on his bosom, and when he puts 
you on his chair, fearless you will dare caress his bottom.
You will hold conversations all alone with him.
I beg you, little scroll, put in a word for me quite often.

Scrolls were the book equivalent of the time. Strato was writing in the second century A. D. The translation is by James J. Wilhelm.

source: Gay and Lesbian Poetry: an anthology from Sappho to Michelangelo
edited by James J. Wilhelm
1995. Garland Publishing, New York

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

David Wagoner changes his mind about simultaneous submissions, maybe

In the introduction to his number of Best American Poetry guest editor David Wagoner writes: 

On December 1, 2007, the first day this anthology was assigned to cover, I submitted poems of mine to fifty American magazines. I hadn’t been sending out work recently and had been prolific for a while, and I thought I’d find out how prompt the poetry editors in this country were being nowadays. The prizewinner … took only four days to reply. After three months, I’d heard from one-third. After six months, I’d heard from a little over half. The losers are the nine magazines who still haven’t replied, though thirteen months have passed. The editors in the last group are difficult to excuse. … It’s no wonder many poets have turned to multiple submissions: sending the same set of poems to two or more magazines at the same time.

The term of art these days, as I understand it, is “simultaneous submission.” The term “multiple submission” seems to refer to sending more than one submission in a short period of time, that is, before the editors have dealt with the first poems. I remember back in my Berkeley Poetry Review days writing to a prolific poet and asking her not to send more than one batch of poems during our reading period. This was after we editors had gathered together three to five of her fat poem-stuffed envelopes. (How could she afford that much postage?) 

I edited Poetry Northwest for thirty-six years [Wagoner continues] and made it my policy early on not to consider [simultaneous submissions] if I could help it. I also made it my policy not to make any poet wait longer than a month — usually it was closer to two weeks — for a decision. But I became more and more lenient as the years went by and I learned how long most other editors were making poets wait.”

Lenient? Wagoner means he started allowing simultaneous submission? Did he ever explicitly change the policy, or did he just decide not to ban the simultaneous submitters he found out about? Poetry Northwest was by no means unusual in hating on simultaneous submissions. In fact, the method was long anathema to editors. Editors are jealous of their time and efforts and hate loving a poem only to find someone else loved it first, thus depriving them not only of the poem but of making them waste their supremely valuable time and joy. On the other hand, a simultaneous submissions ban shows little respect for the time and effort of the poets. 

Wagoner prides himself on a turnaround time of less than a month. Respectable, yes. But it still means that if a poet has a ten percent acceptance rate it will take a year on average to place a poem. I guess that’s okay with David Wagoner. 

In the bio and notes section in the back of BAP poet Michael Johnson writes of his poem, “How to Be Eaten By a Lion” : “[The poem] ended up getting turned down over fifty times …”

That’s five years of rejection under David Wagoner’s respectable time frame. And fifty years if the poet sends to magazines edited by those Wagoner calls “the losers.” Yet Michael Johnson’s poem ultimately so impressed the editor(s) of Best American Poetry that it got featured in that highly exclusive annual. So it’s not like it was just a bad poem, naturally being rejected due to its obvious unworthiness. 

source: The Best American Poetry 2009 David Wagoner, editor; David Lehman, series editor. Scribner Poetry / Simon & Schuster, New York

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

my favorite errata

In the Errata section at the back of volume 39, number 3 of the Haiku Society of America’s journal Frogpond appears this correction:

Bruce H. Feingold’s poem, ‘Egotesticle,’ was a 2012 HaikuNow! finalist in the Innovative Haiku Category, which should have precluded Cynthia Cechota’s submission, ‘egotesticle,’ from being published in Frogpond 39:2.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“the solid permanence of publication”

I share some of Anne Trubek’s puzzlement here:

As a writer myself, I must admit to being somewhat confused by dancers and stage actors and chefs. All that work, I think, all that practice and preparation and effort, for what? An ephemeral product, an hour or two on stage, a meal to be eaten? How does one put so much into something that will only dissipate and dissolve into the slipstream of unreliable memory? Writers choose words as their metier partially out of a desire for the solid permanence that publication, reading, and rereading provide.
“[T]he solid permanence of publication” is only solidly permanent in comparison to a dance performance or a soup slurped up. Libraries burn, books sop up flood waters and feed mildew spores. Even the bestselling and awardwinning fade from cultural consciousness. 

The poets in my poetry group have a running joke. “What does it matter?” someone says, usually me. Then comes the attempt to come up with a reason why it matters. This got started when one of my poet friends, in frustration, asked me whether I thought publication in little magazines or ezines “matters.” I stammered that book publishers like to see a track record of publication. They want to see you’ve built an audience, a reputation. They want to see that you are acting professionally, putting your work before editors and, presumably, learning from the experience. They look at prior publication as evidence of commitment, as a publisher wants the writers they publish to participate in the marketing of the finished book. These are things I’ve read in all the years I’ve been reading advice to writers. 

But do publishers really care about prior publication? If they love the work, does prior publication matter? I suspect publishers like the reassurance that their favorable opinion is not unique. They’re human, too! 

But does a book matter? Does it matter whether anybody reads what you’ve written? 

This is when I slide over to spiritual justification. Everything matters. Each breath, each bowing of a leaf before the wind, each turn of the red storm on Jupiter. Because every thing that happens makes the world. And we make ourselves and each other and art is one of the intentional and careful ways we do that. 

source: A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses by Anne Trubek

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

queer brains aren’t strange brains

Among the people Helen Thomson interviews for her book on “the world’s strangest brains” are two gay men. She does not interview them because they are gay (or “queer,” as the title of my post has it). She does not seem to find that aspect of their brains to be something that makes them stand out, that makes them objects of her curiosity as a science reporter. Thomson herself is in a het marriage; she doesn’t say whether she experiences any non-het attraction. In fact, Thomson does not address sexual orientation in the book at all. 

It wasn’t that long ago that same sex sexual attraction was considered perverse, bizarre, at the very least strange. And researchers would struggle to explain it, to understand it, to seek out its causes — with the presumption that something had gone wrong — and the goal of the research was to effect a change in that aspect of the person, to fix what was obviously broken. (And, of course, before scientists got into the business, law and religion were all up in it, mostly sticking to denunciation and punishment.)

Presumably the respectable consensus in the scientific community these days is that there’s nothing wrong with gay people. We don’t need to be fixed. We’re not even strange any more. It’s nice to see that. 

Research into how people come to have same sex sexual attraction is still being done. But the focus isn’t usually on how to undo it. There is even research into how sexual attraction of any kind comes to be. Why study heterosexuality, an aspect of humanity that must perforce be the dominant way of being else the human species would go extinct? Why study how the human species came to have feet when if we didn’t we couldn’t get from place to place and the human race would go extinct? Why study anything?

Science explored the weird and unusual before it got around to the obvious and taken for granted. 

Anyway, back to the strange brains Helen Thomson interviews. In my last pile of reading post I quoted a Spaniard with synaesthesia who described the color he saw when the thought about his ex-boyfriend: 

’[T]he first time we met, I remember thinking he was this bright red. But he had this amazing voice and these blue, almost green, eyes — and those two things, the color of his voice and the color of his eyes were so distinctive that they mixed and that became his color. It was this pale gray. No one else had that color.’

The other gay man Thomson interviews is also a synaesthete. But Joel Salinas has another ability as well. Salinas feels what you feel. If he sees you poke yourself with a needle he flinches, smarting from the prick. Salinas also “feels the same emotion as the people around him,” Thomson writes. “If he doesn’t remove himself from a situation or focus his thoughts on something neutral, he can go for hours experiencing an emotion that has no relation to his own state of mind.” He feels happy around happy people, you see, and sad around sad people. That doesn’t sound unusual, though I will grant that the extent to which he feels these vicarious emotions must be. Salinas is very good at reading body language, he says, because he feels the emotion that is making your body do what it’s doing, even if you’re not conscious of the emotion yourself. 

Spend enough time with Joel and it’s hard to ignore the strange sensation that he knows you like a best friend. He finishes your sentences and immediately senses when you’re confused or troubled. But sometimes this can make relationships difficult. Over the past year, he’s been going through a divorce — a difficult situation at the best of times … [W]hen you’re trying to iron out your difficulties, too much empathy for another person’s feelings makes it difficult to keep your own feelings straight.

His ex-husband [the first (in fact the only) place Thomson refers to Salinas’ sexual orientation] lives in Seattle and at the worst point of the divorce they talked by FaceTime. It helped, says Joel, to have an image of his own face in the corner of the screen in an argument. … ‘The minute that I did something, it was affecting him, which was then affecting me and it turns into this really turbulent spiral.’ [Being able to look at his own face during the conversation helped Salinas separate his own emotion from his soon-to-be-ex’s.]

Some of the people Thomson describes only discover they are strange by happenstance. They’re listening to a lecture in which synaesthesia (or whatever) is defined, and the definition fits, and the listener suddenly realizes that most people aren’t like that, and that to be a synaesthete is unusual. Here they’d thought themselves perfectly normal. 

source: Unthinkable: an extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains by Helen Thomson

Friday, March 01, 2019

Kurt Vonnegut fly killing system

I’ve read about this fly killing system elsewhere, I’m pretty sure. But I can’t remember where.

The tumbler-and-soap technique worked like this: A woman would look for a fly hanging upside down. She would then bring her tumbler of suds directly under the fly very slowly, taking advantage of the fact that an upside-down fly, when approached by danger, will drop straight down two inches or more, in a free fall, before using his wings. Ideally, the fly would not sense danger until it was directly below him, and he would obligingly drop into the suds to be caught, to work his way down into the bubbles, to drown.

Of this technique Eliot often said: “Nobody believes it until she tries it. Once she finds out it works, she never wants to quit.”

I don’t think I’ve tried it. We just don’t have many house flies around here. Anybody?

source: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

Thursday, February 28, 2019

pile of reading

It’s been two years since I did a pile of reading post. Two years! Wow. I used to do them pretty regular. The pile I have going right now is small. These are the ones I’m in the midst of. Several books are piled up, totally ready to be in the reading, but I haven’t actually gone beyond putting a placemark at the first page of text. So they aren’t technically in the pile of reading. So I won’t list them today.

The Best American Poetry 2009 David Wagoner, editor; David Lehman, series editor
This one barely counts, according to the above criteria. I’ve read the first page of Lehman’s intro. He’s talking about poetry criticism. I don’t get that he likes it. But maybe the argument will develop beyond that. For the first several years of BAP I read each volume as it came out. Then I let that annual ordeal go. I’m catching up on unread volumes. If you don’t like the poetry of the guest editor, you probably won’t like the poems the guest editor chose. They like to read what they like to write. 

Deaf American Poetry: an anthology edited by John Lee Clark
I’m also not far into this anthology. Past the intro! Four pages into the 19th century verse essay by John R. Burnet. You can’t make a deaf person hear, Burnet agrees. “We cannot bid the long seal’d ears unclose, / Nor give the nerves to thrill when music flows[.]” But you can educate their minds and stir their souls!

Unthinkable: an extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains by Helen Thomson
I like this sort of thing. Thomson says the writings of neurologist Oliver Sacks inspired her to pursue an interest in science journalism. Sacks writes with a literary bent. Thomson not so much. Her prose may not be particularly evocative but I liked her casual rapport with some of these strange brains. One Spaniard who sees auras, among other synaesthetic experiences, talks about red and how men he finds sexy look red to him. “‘I had a boyfriend up until a few years ago and the first time we met, I remember thinking he was this bright red. But he had this amazing voice and these blue, almost green, eyes — and those two things, the color of his voice and the color of his eyes were so distinctive that they mixed and that became his color. It was this pale gray. No one else had that color.’”

Haiku, vol. 1: Eastern Culture by R. H. Blyth
Blyth’s books on haiku, this first volume was published in 1949, have been in my hands a few times, but Blyth surrounds the haiku with so much interpretive prose that I’ve been put off up to now. I prefer to form opinions without a whole lot of handholding. The handholding starts to feel clammy and uncomfortable when I find myself disagreeing. But the Blyth books are comprehensive, a serious and thorough discussion of the topic, probably the best up to that point and, perhaps, since. Blyth has spent many pages on religion and philosophy, not just Eastern but Western as well. It’s fairly interesting. “They spoke no word, / The visitor, the host, / And the white chrysanthemum.” — Ryota

The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner
At only 57 pages, it’s a pretty brief book of poems. There’s a batch toward the end about Matthew Shepherd. “I am at the Hole in the Wall alone. / Forty years old. Twice the age that you, Matthew, were / before you died. You can see the lines under my eyes, / the gray in my hair, my flabby belly. Here I like to pretend / that everyone is looking at me. I like to pretend a lot of things.”