Sunday, December 30, 2012

counting syllables

Everybody knows that a haiku is a poem consisting of three lines, the first five line syllables, the second seven, the third five again.

But what is a syllable? Presumably, when setting up a scheme in which the poet counts pieces, each piece is intended to be equivalent. Otherwise, why do it? It’s always puzzled me that in English “wound” has one syllable, the same number as “it”; “strength” has one syllable, while “into,” which, it seems to me, takes less time to say, has two.

The Japanese, who invented haiku, have notions about syllables that I don’t think quite correspond to what we English speakers think.

According to Harold G. Henderson in his An Introduction to Haiku:
If anyone wishes to do ‘syllable-counting’ he should remember that Japanese count in “ji-on,” which corrrespond only roughly to English syllables. Most ji-on are either vowels or short syllables ending in a vowel; but the ‘n’ that in English would conclude a syllable (as in ‘ban’) is also a ji-on, as is the first of any doubled consonant. E.g. ‘teppatsu’ (te-p-pa-tsu) and ‘Onjo’ (O-n-jo-o) both have four ji-on.

This helps explain why translators often say that haiku in Japanese are very short, in experience shorter even than the seventeen syllables we English speakers think awfully clipped.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fogbank, for example

Things decay. Just sitting around unused things decay. Even if protected from active agents of entropy like sun and wind and rain. Things by themselves, alone and untended, go through changes.

Knowledge gets lost. It’s hard to imagine in an era where information is supposedly expanding at an exponential rate, but some stuff we learned how to do once we no longer have the know-how for. Maybe the processes didn’t get written down comprehensively, or the instructions were misplaced. Maybe the people who had the skills dropped dead.

I confess I hadn’t considered the possibility of America’s nuclear arsenal being a victim of these two truths. Nuclear bombs just sitting around lose their effectiveness over time; internal chemical reactions make them unstable – and dangerous. Being a nuclear power requires maintenance of the stockpiles. But sometimes we don’t quite know how to do that, it seems.

Rachel Maddow discusses the difficulties in her book, Drift: the unmooring of American military power:
These … fixes … require[] real, hard-won technical nuclear expertise … Fuzes, for example, were failing, and there was nobody around who could fix them: ‘Initial attempts to refurbish Mk21 fuzes were unsuccessful,’ admitted an Air Force general, ‘in large part due to their level of sophistication and complexity.’ The fuze that previous generations of American engineers had invented to trigger a nuclear explosion (or to prevent one) were apparently too complicated for today’s generation of American engineers. …

Then there was the W76 problem. W76s were nuclear bombs based mostly on the Navy’s Trident submarines. By refurbishing them, we thought we might get another twenty or thirty years out of them before they needed replacing. The problem with refurbishing the W76s – with taking them apart, gussying them up, and putting them back together – is that we had forgotten how to make those things anymore. One part of the bomb had the code name ‘Fogbank.’ Fogbank’s job was to ensure that the hydrogen in the bomb reached a high enough energy level to explode on cue. But no one could remember how to make Fogbank. … [N]o one today remembers the exact formula …

It took more than a year just to rebuild the long-dismantled Fogbank manufacturing plant at the Oak Ridge nuclear lab … But even after years of trying, even after the Fogbank production program went to ‘Code Blue’ high priority, the technicians were never able to reproduce a single cauldron of Fogbank possessed of its former potency.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

“You’re not supposed to look like popcorn!”

Retired as a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, Jock Soto filled the dance need in his life with teaching. I like some of the metaphors he uses with his students:
[W]hen you take a ballerina by the wrists it shouldn’t look like you are riding a motorcycle.

Never paddle a ballerina in a turn. Stir her discreetly with your finger in finger turns, not like you have a spoon and she is a pot of soup.

I can’t quite picture what paddling a ballerina would look like. But that probably just indicates how ignorant I am of the art. Plus maybe I like imagining a ballerina as a canoe?

Soto says he finds himself using cooking metaphors while he teaches. I imagine Soto quietly giving the advice above, then shouting when the boys are on the floor.
”Don’t stir her like a pot of soup! She is not a pot of soup!”

“Don’t stand there like a frozen fish stick!”

When an ensemble exercise with eighteen boys was horribly executed I stopped them and scolded: “You’re not supposed to look like popcorn!”

source: Every Step You Take: a memoir by Jock Soto

Sunday, October 21, 2012

word of the day: tyro

word in context: “[O]nly a tyro asks what a poem ‘means’; the only thing that matters is what effect it has.”

definition: a beginner in learning : novice

source: An Introduction to Haiku: an anthology of poems and poets from Basho to Shiki by Harold G. Henderson

Saturday, October 20, 2012

“a death of fabricated personhood”

For Laci Lee Adams being called to ministry and coming out as bisexual are intertwined stories. In one of her sermons she uses death as a metaphor in a way that is exciting, transformative, and kind of creepy:

There can be no new life without a death of an old life. Coming out is a death. It is a death of an old way of living! It is a death of a life of lies! It is a death of unhealthy expectations! It is a death of fabricated personhood! And let me tell you, death is difficult! And we need to be able to sit with death because when we can really embrace death, we can more fully appreciate resurrection.
Lies do not die a quiet death.

I can imagine being stirred as this sermon is delivered. But there’s something about the metaphor that disturbs me. We do not die every day. We do not die, only to be reborn every year like a crop of barley. “When we … embrace death,” Adams says, “we … appreciate resurrection.” Are we really talking about death here? Death is permanent. Except when negated by resurrection. In which case death is not death. For death is permanent. Death-with-resurrection is death-as-temporary-thing. “What happened to you?” “Oh, I died.” “You died!” “Yeah, but I got better.”

The paragraph quoted is from “A Quietly Queer Revolution” by Laci Lee Adams in the anthology The Full Spectrum: a new generation of writing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and other identities edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell

Sunday, October 07, 2012

words of wisdom from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Travis Stanton remembers a life-changing encounter:

I had the good fortune to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak to an arena full of students and faculty at my small private liberal arts college in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Toward the end of the presentation, Tutu allowed for a brief question-and-answer period. One student stood up and addressed the archbishop. She noted the work he had done in his own country of South Africa to address the issue of gay and lesbian equality, and asked, “Isn’t that contradictory to what the Bible has to say about homosexuality?”

The archbishop paused for what seemed like an eternity. I remember naively thinking that his answer would change the world – either opening up the hearts and minds of the audience members, or forever slamming the door on my neatly appointed closet. Then he started to laugh. “The Bible says a lot of things I hope you don’t believe,” he chuckled.

quoted from “A Fairy’s Tale” by Travis Stanton in the anthology The Full Spectrum: a new generation of writing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and other identities edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell

Saturday, October 06, 2012

“So, you think you might be gay?”

Here’s a striking image from a coming out story:

I checked out every book the library had on queer youth, fiction and non-fiction. They had seventy-six. I spread the books over the house, stacked on the kitchen counter, balanced on the arms of the couch, perched by [the] desk chairs, piled on the coffee table, and liberally scattered around my bedroom. A few days later one of [my parents] said in passing, “So, you think you might be gay?” and I said, “Yes.”

quoted from “Queer: Five Letters” by Kat Wilson in the anthology The Full Spectrum: a new generation of writing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and other identities edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Most Famous Song Moldova Ever Produced

"[T]he minibus blasted a song I heard in every Eastern European country in 2004: O-Zone's tune 'Dragostea din tei,' which most of the world knows as 'Numa Numa.' It hit number one on the charts throughout Europe and was number three in the UK. YouTube amateur lip-synching video versions of the song have gotten over one billion views. ... Eastern Europeans consistently told me that they were a Romanian pop group. However, they originated out of Moldova. Sadly, Moldova rarely gets credit for the most famous song it ever produced."

source of quote: The Hidden Europe: what Eastern Europeans can teach us by Francis Tapon

That's the nice thing about the internet, it can provide the audio-visual dimension to what otherwise is flat text.

As long as I'm posting one goofy overplayed pop song, why not one more? Kent and I finally caught up with "Gangnam Style" by PSY, the most popular South Korean pop song ever:

Oh, why stop with two? Let's go on to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." Could it be the most popular Canadian pop song ever? We'll see.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

giant artificial manhood

“The women are voluptuous and curvy, with enormous strap-on dildos that look like authentic if colossally oversized penises. The site is full of scenes of attractive, busty women stroking their giant artificial manhood until geysers of fake semen spray across the room.”

quoted from A Billion Wicked Thoughts: what the world’s largest experiment reveals about human desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

Ogas and Gaddam are describing a website devoted to futanari porn. It's big in Japan, it seems.

Puts me in mind of Steely Dan III in Burroughs' Naked Lunch - "Mary is strapping on a rubber penis. 'Steely Dan III from Yokohama,' she says, caressing the shaft. Milk spurts across the room."

I've posted about Steely Dan before.

Monday, October 01, 2012

"almost anything homosexual"

“During the 1992 Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, an estimated 80 percent of the audience were straight women who wanted to watch men have sex. As journalist Richard McGregor writes, ‘In Japan, almost anything homosexual can attract an all-female audience.’ … [W]henever a Japanese animated television series or male-targeted manga series becomes extremely popular, the producers almost always issue a boy-love version, where the male characters have sex with each other. ‘It’s widely understood that the audience for these boy-love stories is women.’”

quoted from A Billion Wicked Thoughts: what the world’s largest experiment reveals about human desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

Sunday, September 30, 2012

fathered by a man other than

“In an analysis of about twenty-four thousand children across nine mostly Anglo-Saxon countries, about 3 percent were found to have been fathered by a man other than the presumed father. That means that about one out of thirty men was unknowingly raising someone else’s child …”

quoted from A Billion Wicked Thoughts: what the world’s largest experiment reveals about human desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

Six generations back every one of us has 32 great grandfathers. If you draw your family tree past the sixth generation, chances are you’re beginning to or already are running down the pasts of men not related to you.

Does this statistic include the artificial inseminations? I guess sperm banks don’t go far back. But there’s always been adoption. And it’s not always been something people have talked about.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

straight but not thick – or long

“The average length of the gay penis is 6.32 inches. The average length of the straight penis is 5.99 inches. … When it comes to the prime organ of masculinity, [gay men] have been endowed with nearly an extra half inch.”

Authors Ogas and Gaddam even speculate that the fayest of the gays have the meatiest of the cocks. A study waiting to be undertaken?

From the notes in the back of the book: “Gay men are thicker too: straights have a penis circumference of 4.80 inches, while gay men have 4.95 inches.”

source: A Billion Wicked Thoughts: what the world’s largest experiment reveals about human desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

Friday, September 28, 2012

40% chance

“According to recent DNA analysis, through the history of the human race about 80 percent of the women reproduced, but only 40 percent of men reproduced.”

quoted from A Billion Wicked Thoughts: what the world’s largest experiment reveals about human desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

I remember a primate researcher saying that human sexual dimorphism (in regard to the relative sizes of men and women) is consistent with our being the descendants of families of one father and two mothers. In a species that is primarily monogamous the males and females are much the same size and weight. Gibbons, an example. On the other extreme would be gorillas – big big male, several much smaller females.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the single most popular

“[W]hat is the single most popular search term users enter into the PornHub search engine?


quoted from A Billion Wicked Thoughts: what the world’s largest experiment reveals about human desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

Monday, September 24, 2012

Glenn Ingersoll in silhouette at 2012 Berkeley Poetry Festival

This was in May of this year. The sound is fairly good. Crank it up!

update: When I first watched this I couldn't see my face, but it looks like the contrast has been improved quite a bit. Thanks, litseen!

More Berkeley Poetry Festivals vids at the litseen youtube channel.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How’s your cultural literacy?

Delving my pile of reading one night I passed from Heaney to Meeker:

from “In the Attic” by Seamus Heaney

Like Jim Hawkins aloft in the crosstrees
Of Hispaniola, nothing underneath him
But still green water and clean bottom sand,

The ship aground, the canted mast far out
Above a seafloor where striped fish pass in shoals –
And when they’ve passed, the face of Israel Hands

That rose in the shrouds before Jim shot him dead
Appears to rise again … “But he was dead enough,”
the story says, “being both shot and drowned.”

source: The New Yorker February 9 & 16, 2009
The dunes rose steeply at the back of the cottage with their endless waves of white sand; the paths twisted and climbed through the stunted sprawling pines, half buried in sand – pines that could be climbed, and that, if you sort of squinted your eyes, became very like the crow’s nest of a sailing ship such as the one Jim Hawkins had sailed on. He could imagine his tormenters, in gay pirate costumes (but none so gay as his), toppling one after the other into the sea after some particularly deadly encounter with his trusty blade.
source: Better Angel a novel by Richard Meeker

The Meeker novel was originally published in 1933. I was reading an Alyson Publications paperback reissue. According to the introduction “Better Angel is possibly the first novel published in America to show male homosexuality in a positive light …” The excerpt above is from when the hero was a boy.

I didn’t remember who Jim Hawkins was until I got to the second passage. Oh yeah. Him.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sambo unexpectedly in the pile of reading

When I was a kid for a treat my mother would take our family to Sambo’s, a diner not unlike Lyon’s or Denny’s. I remember the art on the walls, menus, and placemats told the Sambo story, not quite so I understood it, but colorfully enough that I was fascinated by particular scenes – the boy in the turban, the tigers. At some point I heard the Sambo story was considered racist. Why? The boy seemed clever and resourceful and won out over scary tigers. Was it mainly the illustrations in the original storybook, The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman, that created the problem? Bannerman was British and may have intended the story to be about dark-skinned South Asians; tigers live in Indian, not Africa, after all. David Pilgrim in an essay about “The Picaninny Caricature” says Bannerman’s Sambo “is very dark, has a broad nose, and the stereotypical exaggerated red lips and rolling eyes found in black caricatures,” which he sees as a clearly African rather than South Asian lampoon. Besides the illustrations, the names Bannerman chose for her characters suggest racist stereotypes. “At the time that the book was originally published Sambo was an established anti-black epithet, a generic degrading reference.” And there’s nothing flattering about Sambo’s parents’ names – Mumbo and Jumbo.

Pilgrim doesn’t think Helen Bannerman meant to be malicious. But her work was much pirated and imitated – and itself subject to lampoon and caricature – and non-Bannerman versions took the Sambo story into clearly ugly territory, reinforcing hateful attitudes about African Americans. Says David Pilgrim, “By the 1960s the book was seen as a remnant of a racist past.”

The Sambo’s restaurant chain is no more. At its height in the 70s, according to Wikipedia, there were 1200 Sambo’s restaurants. Controversy over the name as well as some sort of “corporate level decisions … led to Sambo's … demise.” The first Sambo’s still exists in Santa Barbara, California.

Sambo popped his head up one night recently. I was reading a little of this and a little of that, as I do. In his book on the Moon’s origins, The Big Splat, Dana Mackenzie says back in the early days of the solar system the Moon and the Earth orbited quite close to each other, they spun a lot quicker, and they hadn’t yet cooled into hard globes. They were, in other words, “whirling around each other like the tigers in an Indian folktale who chased each other around a tree until they melted into butter.” Oh, I said to myself, Mackenzie’s talking about the Sambo story.

In Ellen Conroy Kennedy’s The Negritude Poets the Sambo story comes up in a very different context. Kennedy says two women were getting to know each other “at the Dakar Festival, in April 1966.” Both women were American. One woman had a son, “a beautiful child of about five or six, [who] had been playing tiger, and growling, ‘Watch out! Watch out! I’m going to eat you up!’ [The white woman said] in surprise, ‘Hey, that’s what the tiger said to Sambo! And he said, “Oh, please, Mister Tiger, don’t eat me up, and I’ll give you my fine green umbrella! …”’ [ellipsis in original] Suddenly the boy’s mother, who was black, turned on the other woman and gave her a furious tongue-lashing. Hearing the word ‘Sambo,’ she thought the stranger had meant to insult her child.” The white woman, shocked at this reaction, reports the incident to her friend, the poet Edouart J. Maunick. “[S]he burst into uncontrollable sobs trying to explain what had happened. Maunick was much moved.”

Edouard Maunick wrote a poem in response, “Letter to Ellen Conroy Kennedy.” Yes, the white woman was the editor/translator herself. Maunick offers solace and a philosophical shake of the head at the legacy of painful words. “The byword is despair / sign and symbol of / a terrible divide / the war of words / the war of roots and branches / lies heavy in a stranger’s mouth / despite her uncontrary mind …”

Monday, September 10, 2012

a found poem by Kent Mannis

can a profit business
use voluntaries
people from a non profit organization
for a set price
for each voluntaries,
in other word a profit business
for stadium stand
using voluntaries people thought
a non profit organization
an classify them
as non employees.


No, Kent did not write the above. He works for an internet company that provides employment law compliance information to employers. So he gets questions, some straightforward (“Do I have to pay my employees overtime on a federal holiday?”), some less so … The one above – Kent broke it into lines – has, as one of Kent’s colleagues said, “a certain beauty.”

Even if I didn’t hear stories nearly every day from Kent about this or that employment law topic he’s had to confront, I think I’d find this one funny. It has that flavor of language that ought to resolve into meaning, that you feel is surely about to, that if you only held it on your tongue a bit longer you’d be able to name, and yet …

Sunday, September 09, 2012

a senryu by Kent Mannis

bumper to bumper
rolling a joint on College
such concentration

Monday, September 03, 2012

word of the day: plantigrade

[S]aid Snuffer gruffly, “but let me tell you one thing, never cross a bear. A crossed bear is a cross bear and beware of him.” Paying no attention to the mirth of the outlaws, Snuffer went calmly on with his recital. “I am as you have probably noticed, a plantigrade, carnivorous animal, though I much prefer fruit, vegetables, fish and honey.”
definition: walking on the whole sole of the foot, as humans, and bears.

source: Ojo in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson

I am reading through Ruth Plumly Thompson’s contributions to the Oz series for the first time in chronological order. On the whole I’m enjoying the experience. In Ojo in Oz Thompson gives Ojo his biggest role since his first appearance in Baum’s The Patchwork Girl of Oz.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Notes toward an autobiography by others, part 11

Reading Daniel Allex Cox’s Shuck, a novel about a rentboy in New York City who wants to be a writer, I came across a couple quotes that read like I could’ve said them:

“I spent hours in Barnes and Noble, nosing out which magazines felt empty without my writing.”

“I’m doing my best to stay positive, but I have to tell you that trying to get published … feels like buying raffle tickets for a prize that’s already been given out by a church that’s already burned down.”

I used to flip through piles of literary magazines in the bookstore trying to figure out which wanted me. Editors often complain that the poetry they receive is nothing like anything they’ve published before, thus surely the poet has not read an issue of their magazine. If they got an amazing poem that was nothing like anything they’d published before it would be an automatic discard? Because what you want to publish is what you’ve already published?

I give editors the benefit of the doubt – maybe what they really mean is they get a lot of poetry they can’t stand and if the poets would only read their amazing magazine the poets would know not to send them that crap! Yeah? What this means is you send them poems that sound as much like what they’ve published as you can find in your oeuvre … or you send them what you’ve got that’s ready and hope they find a place for that amazing poem that isn’t exactly what they’ve already published. Usually I fail to meet their needs. Which are mysterious, anyway.

As to the second quote, that there is no prize, not really. It’s all smoking ruins. Well. I don’t know. When a poem does land somewhere, it’s sweet. It’s ephemeral. Does anybody read it? The rewards of publication don’t quite match the effort. I’m not compiling a resume, don’t intend to teach, so have no need to publish to get and keep my professorship. Part of what tempts me about self-publication is the feedback. If you sell a copy you know right away. If you give a copy away you know who you handed it to or you write the letter to the stranger you admire and include your book and hope they read it. If there’s any response at all you don’t have to rely on some far off publisher to let you know.

Sadly, I am no better at being a publisher than I am at battering down the doors of the magazines. I did a couple chapbooks fifteen or twenty years ago and sold them to friends and co-workers. Haven’t tried that in ages, though.

My poetry career creeps along. But I continue to write. And I continue to find value in my writing. And there the rewards are.

Last few years I’ve only managed to get work out a few times. I sent to two places this month. One has rejected me. The other always takes a long time to reply.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Darryl … called me a year or two later and said … I had wounded him terribly by making him doubt his sexuality. I guess he was clueless enough to think maybe he was gay just because I said so, and then when he found out he wasn’t I turned into a demon bitch in his mind. It was one of those phone calls that make[s] you realize someone has been relentlessly seething about something you don’t even remember.
That’s from Jennifer Blowdryer’s autobiographical White Trash Debutante. Now and then I get to feeling guilty about some mean thing I did way back when and wondering how unhealed that person I wounded might still be. Other times I wonder if some other so-and-so who hurt me real bad ever realized he hurt me. How could he not! Then I wonder which events stuck in my head are ones that matter to other people. As age gathers the years into a fatter past and my brain’s capacity doesn’t commensurately enlarge, I note that recent events really can’t compete in emotional weight with childhood injustices. Why? Maybe those old hurts got the mental real estate and, boy, they ain’t giving it up. They’ve been revisited frequently so have an insurmountable statistical advantage over the newer tears. Not to say you can’t hurt me today like you hurt me yesterday. I don’t know. Don’t make that a goal, ‘K?

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Frans de Waal suggests that the continuing prohibition on anthropomorphizing chimpanzees smacks of something he calls anthropodenial, “a blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other animals, or the animal-like characteristics of ourselves,” a blindness that emerges from our subconscious need to promote human exceptionalism at all costs.
I’ve written before on this blog about what Andrew Westoll here calls “human exceptionalism.” I’ve not been sympathetic to the tendency.

Although I can’t quite say I’m fond of the particular coinage offered by Frans de Waal, it’s probably useful to have a pejorative to counter the pejorative. Denying that nonhuman beings have emotions is one of those thought games that, when imposed on the real world, has justified a lot of cruel behavior. The prohibition on anthropomorphism, it seems to me, is closely allied to the ranking of human races. They may seem like us, but it’s an illusion. Really, those creatures displaying human-like characteristics aren’t human. Therefore it is okay to treat them in a way we would never tolerate with other humans. See: chattel slavery. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine, if you read up on torture, the dropping of the atom bomb, the factories of death in Germany or the neighbor-to-neighbor machete killings in Rwanda, what atrocity one could name that humans refrain from perpetrating on other humans.

quote source: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: a true story of resilience and recovery by Andrew Westoll

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"my brother and his husband"

The Smith nuclear family and their spouses went out to dinner … It was a glorious evening, everyone talking, laughing, eating heartily, and enjoying being together. My sister and her husband lived in Japan at the time, my brother and his husband lived in Florida, and Jen and I were out in California, so it was rare that my mom could get all her kids together in one place.
This happy little family reunion is described in filmmaker Kevin Smith’s new memoir disguised as a self-help book, Tough Sh*t: life advice from a fat, lazy slob who did good. I’ve tried to think before about what it means to be gay and find that considered unremarkable, uncontroversial certainly, merely one aspect of the way one is identified in a crowd scene written by a non-gay person. Kevin Smith has a brother and that brother has a husband.

Now and then I read histories about gay people. The people who research and write such histories are faced with a difficult task. If Kevin Smith had written about his family getting together a hundred years ago, or fifty, or if he weren’t the type of writer he is, unashamed and cheerily confrontational, the brother’s husband might have gone unmentioned. That doesn’t mean the brother’s husband wouldn’t have been there, nor does it mean that the siblings would have considered the brother’s husband a stranger or even considered him unmentionable among themselves, but he would have been left out of the description and everyone would have understood that including him in the description would have required a dangerous explanation, putting information out that would implicate loved ones in criminal acts. Thus things that were actually taking place are left out of the written record, or, if written down, carefully guarded and destroyed should the possibility arise that they might be read by unsympathetic eyes. The historical record is an edited one, censored often by the actors themselves. The testimony of a primary source can be the closest we get to the truth, but that doesn’t mean it is the truth. Who kissed who, who fucked who, who lived a long and loving life together, these are stories we don’t get unfiltered.

Yes, he really meant husband.

But what did he mean by that?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

pile of reading

Ishi: last of his tribe by Theodora Kroeber
Theodora Kroeber was the wife of Alfred Kroeber, the chairman of the Dept of Anthropology at the University of California when Ishi was found. In California you know Ishi. His story is taught in elementary school. Ishi was the last survivor of a small tribe of California Indians. They only made it as long as they had by living in hiding from the Whites. When Ishi found himself alone he no longer cared whether he lived or died, so he turned himself in. The Kroebers helped to find a place for Ishi in his last years. I didn’t think I’d read this book, a story-like biography of Ishi and his tribe in hiding, but once I started it it seemed familiar. I suspect I have read it, perhaps for school, or maybe I heard one of my grade school teachers read it aloud.

Neuromancer by William Gibson
I plucked this tattered copy of Neuromancer from the shelf thinking it would be a good thing to read on our Kauai trip. Turned out it requires a little more concentration than a casual bite, you gotta pay attention to the world Gibson creates. It’s one of the first cyberspace novels (pub. 1984) and some of the territory Gibson pioneers gets taken up by the Matrix movies, among other things.

The Big Splat, or how our moon came to be by Dana Mackenzie
I bought this book when the author gave a talk at a local bookstore. My receipt was jammed in the book and I’m using it as a placemark. 2003. I stuck it on the shelf cuz in the talk Mackenzie pretty much answered the question about the moon’s origins, even showing some nifty animations of the proto-Earth being struck by a Mars-sized body, going all liquid, then coalescing into the Earth and Moon as we know them. Science books, especially astronomy books, often spend a lot of time on earlier theories, and The Big Splat is no exception. I bog down a bit in the review of Aristotle and Anaxagoras.

The Yellow Knight of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson
I’ve read L. Frank Baum’s Oz books in order and more than once. They were all available to me as a kid. Not so Ruth Plumly Thompson’s 19 sequels. I became a collector just so I could read those out of print stories. Once I finally got them all in readable if often battered form, I lost interest in first editions and printing variants. I would still like to have copies that contain all the illustrations. The illustrations produced as separate glued-in color plates were too expensive, the publishers thought, to keep in late reprints. If you want those pictures you have to be ready to pay some high prices. I’m really not. Anyway, after I completed the Thompson set, reading them as I got them, basically in random order, I knew some day I would reread them all in the order they’d been written. But I long assumed that would be a rereading of the entire Oz series from the beginning. This spring I decided, since revisiting Baum wouldn’t tell me much I didn’t know, I would reread Thompson on her own. I’ve often liked Thompson’s writing and she deserved an independent evaluation. Yellow Knight features an original Thompson creation in the lead, Sir Hokus of Pokes, a King Arthur-type knight that she introduced in her very first Oz book, The Royal Book of Oz. With Yellow Knight Thompson gives Sir Hokus a back story.

The Hidden Europe: what Eastern Europeans can teach us by Francis Tapon
I saw Mr Tapon give a talk and slideshow at the Berkeley Library a few months ago. Eastern Europe hasn’t featured as one of my dream destinations. The dreariness of the communist legacy being one reason, the persistent homophobia being a strong current obstacle. But Tapon’s twitchy energy and the grand nature of his project (he visited all the countries in person, sometimes couchsurfing) intrigued me. So I put a reserve on one of the library copies of the book. At more than 700 pages it takes time to read; I’ve had to return the book to the library and get it out again. Right now I’m in the midst of his chapter on Hungary.

White Trash Debutante by Jennifer Blowdryer
Jennifer Blowdryer writes her autobiography. Jennifer takes her last name from her first punk rock band, The Blowdryers. Sounds like she formed the band for the most punk rock of reasons, boredom, alienation, not being good at anything she could stand to do, and a need to be the center of attention. I’ve heard her read from her writings and bought this at one of those readings, maybe even the one I asked her to do for Poetry & Pizza.

City of Concrete and Hope by Luke Warm Water
A chapbook of poems by a Lakota/Sioux poet living in Oakland. “My first year living / in the San Francisco bay area / knowing nobody / I ate my Thanksgiving meal with homeless / so I didn’t have to feel so alone”

The Negritude Poets: an anthology of translations from the French edited by Ellen Conroy Kennedy
I brought this anthology home from the library because it contains poems by Tchicaya U Tam’si, a poet who is now represented in my personal anthology by two poems copied out several years apart. U Tam’si’s poems don’t appear until page 200 but I didn’t jump ahead. I guess I wanted to build the suspense. Now that I’ve read this batch of U Tam’si I want to read more. While there are other poets of interest in the anthology U Tam’si is the one I had the most sympathy with. He’s more playful than most.

Legitimate Dangers: American poets of the new century edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin
My generation. Many of the poets in this 2006 anthology are younger than me – and all have published a book or two (or more). My poems wouldn’t seem out of place among these post-Surrealist, post-Language school works. I’ve gotten to page 79 (a little less than 400 to go). I haven’t yet marked anything for rereading.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

a brain teaser

In her new book on dolphins Diana Reiss describes a scene she couldn’t explain:
I was often puzzled at the sight of a ring of river rocks encircling the central drain at the bottom of the pool. These smooth-surfaced eight- or nine-inch oval river rocks were stewn here and there on the bottom by divers so the dolphins could rub their bodies along them. … A quick investigation revealed that the divers weren’t responsible [for the rings.] How did the dolphins move these rocks?
Did the dolphins pick the stones up with their mouths? No, says Reiss. “If they used their mouths, the dolphins would injure their teeth.”

Perhaps a dolphin would push the stone along the floor of the pool with its nose (or, as the “nose” is called in dolphins, the rostrum, there being no “nose” to the dolphin snout)? Reiss dismisses that guess, too. “Pushing with their snouts, the dolphins would injure their rostrums.”

The dolphin researchers had to keep a sharp eye out to catch the dolphins at their task.

It’s a clever and elegant solution.

They saw the dolphin, Stormy, with a stone. “Stormy turned upside dow, placed the top of her head on a rock, sucked it onto her blowhole, then turned right-side up and swam away with it atop her head.”

As to why the rings, the dolphins never told. Art?

source: The Dolphin in the Mirror: exploring dolphin minds and saving dolphin lives by Diana Reiss

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

an interesting mistake

Scientific discoveries [Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon] declared, are really quite easy to make, and will quickly perish unless they are explained with elegance and grace. That is because mere facts are not human achievements – they belong to the natural word and are therefore hors de l’homme, “outside of mankind.” Eloquence, by contrast, is the highest evidence of human agency and genius …
How closely did you read the above quote? Did you note the typo?

With “world” missing its el, the statement’s meanings struggle more than intended.

source: Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: translation and the meaning of everything by David Bellos

Monday, May 14, 2012

“saying the same thing”

[L]anguage [is] a rich, illogical, and complicated tool for making fine and often arbitrary distinctions – for discriminating, separating out, and saying the same thing in different ways.
source: Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: translation and the meaning of everything by David Bellos

Sunday, April 22, 2012

“they can’t be anything else”

She … turned to me and said that by being in bed with me she was also doing something she had never done before, which was sleep with a man who was Chinese. I thought of telling her that I was helping her do something I had never done before, which was sleep with someone who was Chinese … A Chinese woman once told me that many people want to have an interracial relationship once, but few want to have more than one. Suppose, I told her, all your relationships are interracial, they can’t be anything else because of who your parents were. In my case, a mixture of Chinese and English. In her case, a mixture of Chinese and German.
source: My Symptoms, a collection of short stories by John Yau

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Gay Agenda: Killng and the Straitjacket

[T]hey want to win the right to mimic the institutional straitjacket of state-controlled marriage, and to openly join the armed forces in state-sanctioned killing.
That’s historian & playwright Martin Duberman in his recent Waiting to Land: a (mostly) political memoir, 1985-2008. The “they” would be “the national gay organizations [or] most gay people – who’ve expressed no wish for a radical analysis of class nor a radical alliance with straight left-wingers.” Or both, gay organizations and most gay people. Duberman does mean both, doesn’t he?

This formulation of the goals of marriage equality and of the eradication of sexual orientation discrimination in government employment (including the military, at last) is the bitterest and most sarcastic I’ve seen, though the critique is not unfamiliar. Or, rather, the “left-winger” opposition to the military and to the patriarchal family structure enforced by traditional marriage and family law is familiar. The critique is muddled.

When gay people marry legally are they “mimic[king] the institutional straitjacket of state-controlled marriage” or being bound by it? The language smacks of the old stereotype of a gay or lesbian couple having to sort by gender role. Which is the Man, which the Woman? Seems beneath a longtime gay activist, theorist and historian like Duberman. Same sex marriage is only possible where marriages are egalitarian. If one partner must be subjugated to the other, as has been the traditional assumption in patriarchal marriage (woman subjugated to the man), how would that be applied in a same sex household? Is this where the mimicking comes in?

As to the military, I may be a passivist, of all things. I can’t say as I approve of the armed forces, certainly not in the business of killing to enforce U.S. hegemony (or “interests,” as it’s so often put). But, as with that queer “mimic,” there’s a word in Duberman’s formulation that gets me, “openly.” Should we remove it, what do we have? “They want to win the right to … join the armed forces in state-sanctioned killing.” I’m not sure there’s any right currently to join the armed forces. Is there? If you don’t match what the military is looking for, physically, say, the military doesn’t have to take you. You’ve no right to be a soldier. Now let’s try the sentence another way: “They want to win the right to [live] openly [even in] the armed forces” where they are currently serving in secret. Gay people have always been in the armed forces (usually secretly), performing “state-sanctioned killing,” among other things. What Duberman would do is what, end state-sanctioned killing? And how does singling out gay careerists for career destruction serve this end? It’s always good to destroy a soldier’s career because soldiering is immoral and if this burden falls extra hard on gays, well, that’ll help the cause, because the no state-sanctioned killing cause needs soldiers and who better than the aggrieved gay (former) member of the armed services? That suggests it’s best when the state hurts people, we want the state to hurt people, for it is from encouraging the institution to hurt people that the opposition to the institution gains strength.

I wonder if that’s true.

Judging by the behavior of the civilian police in the smiting of the Occupy protesters, including gays and women hasn’t gentled paramilitary culture. So it would be silly of me to suggest that allowing gays to serve openly would serve any kind of peacenik purpose. I am angered by anti-gay military policies for two main reasons. The first would be those directly harmed by the policy, the people who are attacked by the institution for no reason other than prejudice and judeo-christian conventions, the blackmail power it gives to harassers (protest your treatment and you will be fingered as a lez and lose your career and your harasser will go unpunished), the culture of internal suspicion and spying. The second would be the legitimizing effect of military service. If gay people are honored as soldiers, their families honored, there will no longer be an honored place in the foundational institutions of the United States for the official designation of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as inferior, substandard, suspect.

I don’t expect magic to come from that. If the draft came back I wouldn’t celebrate the fact that gays would be rounded up along with everyone else. They would be anyway, of course. As they always have. Sure, a few would get out of it by asserting their homosexuality, if homosexuality remained a disqualification for service. But if the military needs bodies, it takes them. Later, when you’re not needed, that’s when the anti-gay policy becomes convenient. You’re tossed out and denied benefits you’ve earned, your separation paperwork declares you unfit (even if you fought as well as anybody) - and civilian employers, unsurprisingly, have been known to discriminate against morally unfit people.

There is one other thing I’d like to mention. Though military service and marriage may or may not be the most important priorities for a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender movement, they do seem to be the fights the right-wingers have been most eager to engage, partly as a money-raising tool. Not to fight these battles would be to abandon the field to the hating religionists. Would that be wise?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Wizard of Oz did not run for president

From Debt: the first 5,000 years by David Graeber:
L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which appeared in 1900, is widely recognized to be a parable for the Populist campaign of William Jennings Bryan, who twice ran for president on the Free Silver platform – vowing to replace the gold standard with a bimetallic system that would allow the free creation of silver money alongside gold. … [O]ne of the main constituencies for the movement was debtors: particularly, Midwestern farm families such as Dorothy’s, who had been facing a massive wave of foreclosures during the severe recession of the 1890s. According to the Populist reading, the Wicked Witches of the East and West represent the East and West Coast bankers (promoters of and benefactors from the tight money supply), the Scarecrow represented the farmers (who didn’t have the brains to avoid the debt trap), the Tin Woodsman [sic] was the industrial proletariat (who didn’t have the heart to act in solidarity with the farmers), the Cowardly Lion represented the political class (who didn’t have the courage to intervene). The yellow brick road, silver slippers, emerald city, and hapless Wizard presumably speak for themselves. “Oz” is of course the standard abbreviation for “ounce.” As an attempt to create a new myth, Baum’s story was remarkably effective. As political propaganda, less so. William Jennings Bryan failed in three attempts to win the presidency, the silver standard was never adopted, and few nowadays even remember what The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was originally supposed to be about.
David Graeber follows up on this passage from the main text in the notes section at the back of the book:
Baum never admitted that the book had a political subtext, but even those who doubt he put one in intentionally … admit that such a meaning was quickly attributed to it – there were already explicit political references in the stage version of 1902, only two years after the book’s original publication.
Perhaps, the most incontrovertible piece of evidence for Wizard’s being a political allegory is this:
Dorothy represents Teddy Roosevelt, since syllabically, “dor-o-thee” is the same as “thee-o-dor,” only backwards.
In his bibliography David Graeber gives the following sources for the above:

Littlefield, Henry. 1963. “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism.” American Quarterly 16 (1): 47-98.

Rockoff, Hugh. 1990. “The ‘Wizard of Oz’ as a Monetary Allegory.” Journal of Political Economy 98 (4): 739-760.

Parker, David B. 1994. “The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a ‘Parable on Populism.’” Journal of the Georgia Association of Historians 14: 49-63.

Taylor, Quentin P. 2005. “Money and Politics in the Land of Oz.” The Independent Review 9 (3): 413-426.

I learned from Graeber’s Debt and I admire his devotion to tracking down this story – four sources! – but what I learned from Debt was not this nonsense about The Wizard of Oz. I was going to slap Graeber around myself but then I happened upon this passage in Paul R. Bienvenue’s The Book Collector’s Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz:
The impact of [The Wizard of Oz] on American culture was felt almost immediately. The front page of The Syracuse Sunday Herald printed what may have been the first Wizard of Oz-inspired political cartoon on January 20, 1901 [four months after the book was published], and the story continues to be a favorite of cartoonists today. Critics were quick to ascribe symbolic and political meanings to the story : an early review revealed that ‘under the sweet simplicity of the tale for children is a satiric allegory on modern history for big people,’ with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion representing Russia, Germany, and Great Britain. Over half a century later, the ‘Populist Parable’ theory of The Wizard of Oz, designed by Henry Littlefield as a simple tool for teaching high school American history, would become dogma to academics worldwide, in spite of later protestations from Littlefield himself that it had no basis in fact.
Paul Bienvenue’s sources:

The review that claimed the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion “were originally supposed to” represent European nations was published in The Beacon (Boston), Sept. 1900.

Littlefield, Henry M., “The Wizard of Allegory,” The Baum Bugle v. 36: 1, Spring 1992, p.24; see also Michael Gessel, “Tale of a Parable,” p. 19-23 of the same issue. The Baum Bugle is the official publication of the International Wizard of Oz Club. I’ve been a member myself since 1980.

Perhaps, Mr Graeber, L. Frank Baum never “admitted” he wrote a political allegory in The Wizard of Oz, not because he didn’t, but because as allegory it was meant to be broad and child-like. Check your paper today (if you still get a paper) and see if a political cartoonist hasn’t taken advantage of the simple allegorical possibilities of Brainless, Heartless, and Cowardly. Or the humbug wizard hiding behind a screen. What was the story originally supposed to be about? Not William Jennings Bryan.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Best Poems of 2003

Tachibana Akemi ….. 2 poems beginning “Happiness is”
Wakayama Bokusui ….. “Look at the mountain …”
Yosa Buson ….. 3 haiku
Chiyojo ….. 2 hokku
Billy Collins ….. The Best Cigarette & Budapest
Gregory Corso ….. Dialogue – 2 Dollmakers
Lucille Lang Day ….. from Field Notes: “Sea Slugs”
Jean Follain ….. October Thoughts
Jim Harrison & Ted Kooser ….. 10 poems from Braided Creek
Ozaki Hosai ….. “Carved into Buddha’s form …”
Kobayashi Issa ….. 7 haiku
Jakuren ….. “Loneliness has no special color …”
George Oppen ….. from Twenty-Six Fragments
Priest Saigyo ….. “At the roadside” & “The deep snow that” & “Ice wedged fast” & “In a hailstorm” & “Today again”
Senryu by anonymous poets ….. 5 senryu
Princess Shikishi ….. “Would there were other means of consolation …”
Fujiwara no Shunzei ….. One-Sided Love
Tanigawa Gan ….. Morning in a Foreign Land
Natsume Seibi ….. “Once when my five-year-old daughter was out playing …”
Shigeji Tsuboi ….. Balloon
Masaoka Shiki ….. 3 haiku
Ishikawa Takuboku ….. 2 haiku
a Tsukeai, an anonymous ‘linking’ poem ….. “I made her wet …”
John Yau ….. A Sheaf of Pleasant Voices
Ishihara Yoshiro ….. Song of the Ringing in the Ear
Kinoshita Yuji ….. Late Summer

Since 1989 I’ve been collecting poems. The best poems are the poems I like best, not just the poems I like, admire, think are done well, but the poems I want to spend time with and look forward to returning to because they strike something inside me that might, for all I know, be peculiar to me. Not so peculiar that someone else didn’t write the poem, but unique enough that just cuz I think it’s great it don’t mean everybody else will. So. The best poems are the ones that work best for me. No surprise, eh? It’s not like there’s objective criteria, you know.

With “The Best Poems of 2003” I am exposing the last of the contents of the looseleaf binder that I’ve been filling up for the last 12 years.

These are the other eleven:

The Best Poems of 2011

The Best Poems of 2010

The Best Poems of 2009

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

The Best Poems of 2002

The Best Poems of 2001

The Best Poems of 2000

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Best Poems of 2002

Anonymous ….. Li Sons D’un Cornet
Guillaume Apollinaire ….. There Is
Janine Canan ….. from Travels: “The crayfish has gotten huge”
Marc Cohen ….. Stairway Beach
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore ….. The Roses of Saadi
Emily Dickinson ….. “I reason, Earth is short” & “Is Bliss then, such Abyss” & “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?” & “We grow accustomed to the Dark”
Annie Dillard ….. The Hunter
words from the Hmong language …. txij txej, etc.
Marc Elihu Hofstadter ….. The Nap & Poetry & A Sunday Afternoon in January
Miroslav Holub ….. Interferon
Kobayashi Issa ….. 9 haiku
Valery Larbaud ….. The Gift of Himself
Salvador Diaz Miron ….. The Example
Pierre Reverdy ….. Air
Sappho ….. “heart” (a fragment)
Tristan Tzara ….. Epidermis of the Night-time Growth
John Updike ….. Dog’s Death
W. B. Yeats ….. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

As I read a book of poems I keep placemarks handy. When I read a poem that really impresses me I pop in a placemark so I can easily find the poem for a revisit. If after rereading the poem several times it still strikes a personal chord, such that I don’t want to leave it behind, look forward to reading it again, and find the physical discomfort and hassle of copying the work out by hand a mild form of payment for something that will give me pleasure for years to come, the poem shows up in a list of “Best Poems” for whatever year I found it. I have filled a few looseleaf binders with these poems. The years 2000 through 2011 fill one such binder.

The Best Poems of 2011

The Best Poems of 2010

The Best Poems of 2009

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

The Best Poems of 2001

The Best Poems of 2000

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Best Poems of 2001

Rafael Alberti ….. The Dead Angels
Yehuda Amichai ….. The Narrow Valley
Paul Celan ….. “Husks of the finite …”
Gunter Eich ….. A Mixture of Routes
an Eskimo song ….. The Word-Fisher
Edward Field ….. To My Country
Louise Gluck ….. Screened Porch
Thom Gunn ….. In the Post Office ….. A Young Novelist
Lyn Hejinian ….. from Nights
Brad Leithauser ….. On a Seaside Mountain
Richard McCann ….. Nights of 1990
Leslie Norris ….. The Pit Ponies
Marlene Pearson ….. To Document a 20-second Hug …
Julien Poirier ….. “Slow astronauts are obliged”
Joanna Sondheim ….. “breeze within”
Alfonso Quijada Urias ….. There’s an Orange Tree Out There
Victor Valle ….. Teofilo
Alice Walker ….. from African Images: “A strange noise!” & “The native women”
Ray A. Young Bear ….. Always Is He Criticized

I heard Louise Gluck read “Screened Porch” this spring. She read in UC Berkeley’s Lunch Poems series. I was only able to make half of her hour reading as it was on my lunch break and getting up the hill from the public library where I work took ten minutes hoofing. It was a little strange hearing her say words I’ve repeated to myself many times, as though she had snuck the poem out of a place I’d thought hidden.

The Best Poems of 2011

The Best Poems of 2010

The Best Poems of 2009

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

The Best Poems of 2000

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Best Poems of 2000

Anonymous ….. haiku
Gary Aspenberg ….. “Homeopathic Poem I”
Basho ….. haiku
Buson ….. haiku
Blaise Cendrars ….. “Fish Cove”
Chiyo-ni ….. haiku
Clark Coolidge ….. “Combed Through the Ballardian Perspex” and “The Image Links” and “On the Light”
Russell Edson ….. “For Many Years”
Jorie Graham ….. “Opulence"
Ha Jin ….. “A General’s Comments on a Politician”
Robert Hass ….. “Layover”
David Ignatow ….. “Circling the Silence” and “Staying Alive”
Ikkyu ….. “something in us always wants to cry out”
Robinson Jeffers ….. “Cremation”
Samuel Johnson ….. “asylum”
haiku ….. Joso
Anna Karnienska ….. “A Prayer That Will Be Answered”
Philip Levine ….. “The Mortal Words of Zweik”
Federico Garcia Lorca ….. “Rundown Church”
Bronislaw Maj ….. “A Leaf”
Czeslaw Milosz ….. “One Life”
Mo Fei ….. “Stuck in Place” and “Young Prophet”
Robert Morgan ….. “Bellrope”
Po Chu-i ….. “Evening Rain” and “Sick and Old, Same as Ever”
Lawrence Raab ….. “Sudden Appearance of a Monster at a Window”
Shang Qin ….. “Electric Lock”
a Southern Bushman song ….. “The Day We Die”
Wnag Ping ….. “Of Flesh and Spirit”
Yang Lian ….. “An Elegy for Poetry”
Zhang Zhen ….. “Deep into Smaland”
Zhen Danyi ….. “Poem”
Zou Jingzhi ….. “Old Bowl”

Listmania! Some people like lists. Me? Not a huge fan. Even when I’m sympathetic to the purposes of the lists. I’m exposing my “Best Poems” lists on the blog more because I have them than that I need to wave them around. I ought to be writing something about these. But I always feel like my expounding on poetry is redundant at best. If I think the poem is great stuff I should hand it to you and you would have opportunity to judge for yourself. On the other hand, why should you care what I think is good?

The above is the contents page for the poems I hand-copied from various sources in the year 2000. Occasionally I’ve told a poet about capturing his poem and tried to convey my reasons. I recall telling Robert Hass that I’d copied out “Layover.” It was at one of his readings. What was he supposed to say? I think he nodded, said, “Oh,” in that mild noncommittal way he has.

The Best Poems of 2011

The Best Poems of 2010

The Best Poems of 2009

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Best Poems of 2009

Anonymous ….. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “We Shall Overcome”
Benjamin Franklin ….. from “Poor Richard’s Almanack”
Gintaras Grajauskas ….. “World in Your Pocket”
Kaylin Haught ….. “God Says Yes to Me”
Lee Hays and Pete Seeger ….. “If I Had a Hammer”
Marc Elihu Hofstadter ….. “Black Angel”
Emma Lazarus ….. “The New Colossus”
Percy Montross ….. “Clementine”
Geoffrey G. O’Brien ….. “Old War Injury”
Plato ….. “Socrates to His Lover”

plus haiku by Keiho

The Best Poems of 2011

The Best Poems of 2010

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

Saturday, February 04, 2012


A few days ago I’m reading before bed like usual. I read some pages from a book, then I put it down and pick up another, go a few pages further into that one. In Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense, his essays on current poetry, I come across a discussion of the way the Australian poet John Tranter has mined “Dover Beach” to create some poems of his own. Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” ends thus:
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
So I put aside Close Calls with Nonsense and pick up Gregory Benford’s science fiction novel Timescape. The characters hear noises out in the garage so go to investigate. They surprise some thieves and one of our heroes brandishes a fireplace poker.
Markham swung the poker back and forth in front of him. The men seemed paralyzed by the sound of it. In the gloom they could not tell how close it came. Markham could not judge the distance either. Ignorant armies clash by night, he thought giddily.
So, hey, that was fun, going from one book to another and encountering the same line of poetry in two different contexts.

Then I remembered that a few days previous I had read Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” in its entirety in an anthology edited by Robert Bly, News of the Universe: poems of twofold consciousness, a book I’m still working my way through.

There’s one more item. I’ve been reading another anthology, The Cento: a collection of collage poems, edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford. As Welford explains, “A cento is a collage-poem composed of lines lifted from other sources – often … from great poets of the past.” I came across the placemark last night (2/5/12). I’d put it in a couple days after the Close Calls/Timescape incident. Maybe I was prepared by that, making it seemed natural when in a contribution by David Lehman I came across this:
… To begin the morning right,
The small rain down can rain

Where ignorant armies clash by night
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Glenn Ingersoll reading from a Roger story, plus some Fact poems

Louis Cuneo has uploaded to youtube selections from the Touch of the Poet series, which took place in the basement of the UC Berkeley Art Museum. This is me reading from a notebook. The video announces itself as documenting a 1997 reading then seems to change its mind and say it's 1998. I can't remember myself, but I may be able to get the correct date from a diary. Not that it matters so much. The chapbook I read from at the end is one Kent put together on the computer at home.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Best Poems of 2010

Steven J. Bernstein ….. “Murdered in the Middle of the Dance”
Walid Bitar ….. “A Moral Climate”
Sargon Boulus ….. “How Middle-Eastern Singing Was Born”
John Cage ….. from “Themes and Variations”
Heidi E. Cooper ….. “untitled”
Najwari Darwish ….. “Clouds”
Michael Davidson ….. “Thinking the Alps”
Lucille Lang Day ….. “In Praise of Jellyfish” and “Near Kibbutz Nir David”
Andrew Demcak ….. “Postcard”
Dmitry Golynko-Volfson ….. “Passing the Church of the French Consulate”
Ko Un ….. from “Flowers of a Moment”
Alexander Kushner ….. “Memoirs”
Ann Lauterbach ….. “Clamor”
Rachida Madani ….. from “Tales of a Severed Head”
Thylias Moss ….. “The Lynching”
Rea Nikonova ….. “312 steps …”
Michael Palmer ….. “Voice and Address”
Po Chu I ….. “Sleeplessness”
Vasko Popa ….. “The Starry Snail” from “Heaven’s Ring”
Samih Al-Qasim ….. from “An Inquest”
Alejo Dao’ud Rodriguez ….. “Sing Sing Sits Up the River”
Sohrab Sepehri ….. “At the Hamlet of Golestaneh”
John Oliver Simon ….. “Caminos” and “El Canto” and “Endecasilabos” and “Jade”
Patricia Smith ….. “Annie Pearl Smith Discovers Moonlight”
Jeet Thayil ….. “Spiritus Mundi”
Alexandr Ulanov ….. “Untitled”
Keith Waldrop ….. “Wandering Curves”
Wang Shih Ch’eng ….. “The Red-Petaled Plum”
Marjorie Welish ….. “Skin”
Adam Zagajewski ….. “At Daybreak”

plus haiku by Buson, Seibi

In the links below I talked about how my “best poems” lists come about, so if you’ve Googled yourself or some other obscure poet and come here all unknowing, but really want to know, do a little link diving.

The Best Poems of 2011

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

Sunday, January 08, 2012

pile of reading

Timescape by Gregory Benford
This science fiction novel was published in 1980. I remember reading a review of it, probably in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I don’t remember the review being an all out rave, but it was positive enough for me to pick Timescape off the shelf at the paperback book exchange in Sebastopol when I had credit to use. The book then sat in a box in the closet for years. I brought it to Berkeley when I cleared out my mother’s house. It’s okay. I’m about halfway through. Characters living in 1998 are trying to send messages via tachyons to characters living in 1963, hoping the folks in ’63 will manage to head off some of the fomenting ecological disasters of the late ‘90s. I read another SF novel recently that was set in a year that came and went. Benford doesn’t fill his 1998 with spaceships the way Frederic Brown did.

If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan Van Meter
A collection of essays, the ones I’ve read so far recounting memories of a sissy boy childhood and awakening gay sexual feelings. “First” describes a car ride in which the five-year-old Ryan proposes to his five-year-old beloved, Ben. That’s what people in love do, they get married, right?

Close Calls with Nonsense: reading new poetry essays by Stephen Burt
Twenty years ago I swore off reading critical essays because I was reading all these critical essays in order to find out what I should be reading but rarely actually reading the works the essays were written about. That’s what you do when you’re an intellectual, read thinkers writing about art. Right? No more reading about fiction or poetry, I sternly directed myself. You must devote your reading time to the poetry or fiction that these critical thinkers are thinking critically about. It was a good choice. I gave myself permission very recently to read essays again. Since I’ve been reading without the help of the judgments of others I have developed judgments of my own so when I read a critic, Stephen Burt in this case, I have confidence in my own opinions and have some perspective on the critic’s take. I’ve read a few of the contemporary poets Burt talks about here – D.A. Powell, August Kleinzahler, Rae Armantrout – but mostly not – Liz Waldner, Laura Kasischke, H.L. Hix. I don’t know what I’ll take away from this book, exactly. On the whole I think it better I go back to reading poetry to the exclusion of people talking about poetry. It only matters so much what others think. If Burt loves somebody I care not for, so what?

Paradiso Diaspora poems by John Yau
John Yau is a favorite. I just read a selected by him. Liking this one less, the writing seems slacker, but there are lots of fun lines. “[T]hose of us perched in the back rows, and there are far more of us than there are seats, can’t tell which entrance in the hours erected by the sky’s solid fa├žade might prove useful should the mounting chatter take a turn for the worse …”

The Wounded Alphabet: poems collected and new, 1953-1983 by George Hitchcock
Both Yau and Hitchcock ply surrealistic bayous. Yau is playful and shifts from serious to goofy over the course of a poem (or a line). Hitchcock doesn’t do fun. He’s all serious, often in that melodramatic tone I associate with 19th century verse. “[S]omewhere in the years outside these walls / A boy, shivering, dives in a golden river // Still searching for a bit of porcelain, / White, in the shape of a fish.”

The Cento: a collection of collage poems edited by Theresa Malphrus Welford
The poems I crafted from titles owned by the UC Berkeley library would fit well in here.

News of the Universe: poems of twofold consciousness chosen and introduced by Robert Bly
A Sierra Club publication that wants to be more ambitious that just being a collection of nature poems. I understand there’s a new edition available, but I’m reading the old one which was given to me by my first landlady in Berkeley.

Drama: an actor’s education by John Lithgow
This memoir can be fun, can be a bit much. “In the towns, the streets are eerily empty. The carousel in Oak Bluffs is shuttered and silent. As the days pass, all signs of human life disappear from the windswept beaches, leaving them desolate and melancholy.” The streets can’t just be empty, they have to be “eerily empty.” The beaches without humans on them are necessarily “melancholy”? Drama, indeed.

From Hell a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
I was going to read this someday. When I saw that the West Branch copy had been misshelved at Central I decided I would be doing the library a favor by checking it out so that when it came back it could be directed to the owning location. Alan Moore is interesting. I don’t always love his stuff. In fact, I often find it a tad overwritten. And Eddie Campbell’s art is a bit scratchy and stiff. But I don’t doubt this is worth reading, even if I did see the forgettable movie version (Moore hates all movie adaptations of his work) and don’t care about Jack the Ripper.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Best Poems of 2011

Anita Barrows ….. “The Ancestors”
Guy Bennett …. “Poem after Josef Sudek” and “Condensed Poem” and “Necessary Poem”
Molly Fisk ….. “Red River” and “This is the Story of My Life”
Angela Weld Grimke ….. “Tenebris”
Paul Guest ….. “Elba”
Judith Herzberg ….. “Kinneret”
Rachel Korn ….. “From Here to There”
Donna M. Lane ….. “Pajamas”
Nicanor Parra ….. “A Man”
Gyorgy Petri ….. “I Am Stuck, Lord, on Your Hook”
Edouard Roditi ….. “The Paths of Prayer”
Harvey Shapiro ….. “Like a Beach”
Leonora Speyer ….. “The Ladder”
Anna Swir ….. “He Was Lucky”
Julia Vinograd ….. “Street Musician”
Stanislaw Wygodski ….. “Winter Journey”

plus haiku by John Brandi (2), Margaret Chula (2), Cid Corman (2), Raffael de Gruttola, Diane di Prima, Bernard Lionel Einbond, David Elliott, Sandra Fuhringer, Christopher Herold (3), Brent Partridge, Alan Pizzarelli, Jane Reichhold, Frank K. Robinson, Alexis Rotella (2), Edith Shiffert, Ruby Spriggs, Tom Tico, Anita Virgil

Did you make my list of the Best Poems of 2011? If you did, yay for you, I guess. If you didn’t, well, maybe I didn’t read any of your poems.

The list is a favorites list, which poems I liked best of those read in 2011.

I keep a stack of placemarks ready whenever I’m reading poetry. If a poem strikes me just right, I pop a placemark into the book so I can revisit. If, after several rereadings, I decide it’s a poem I don’t want to leave behind, I hand copy the poem and slip it into a 3-ring binder. I’ve been doing this for about 24 years so I’ve got some fat binders.The one I’ve been filling for the last twelve years has finally gotten too tight, so I’m moving it to the archive shelf and starting anew.

On the first of the year I read aloud all the poems I’ve collected over the previous year. Usually I’m reading to myself, in case you were wondering. This year Kent listened in. Of course, he had his own opinions and wasn’t afraid to question my choices. If you want your tastes reflected, friends, fill your own notebooks. On the whole, though, he seemed to enjoy it, even tearing up over Donna Lane’s “Pajamas.”

I haven’t posted a “Best Poems” list since 2008, so I have 2009 and 2010 to share with you folks. Yes, I had favorites those years, too.

The Best Poems of 2008

The Best Poems of 2007

The Best Poems of 2006

The Best Poems of 2005

The Best Poems of 2004

Thursday, January 05, 2012

a tale of two Burroughses

Tarzan fascinated me and inspired a lifelong love of Africa, its people, and its wildlife. … When I first read Tarzan, going to Africa became an imperative. And I also desperately wanted to be able to communicate with animals as my hero did. Edgar Rice Burroughs never set foot in Africa (in fact, William S. Burroughs has probably been a more reliable guide to me), and his descriptions bear no relation to what it actually looks like, or what it’s like to live there …
So the book that set Tony Fitzjohn on his way to becoming the main assistant to George Adamson in the camp Adamson set up to return orphaned and failed pet lions to the wild in Kenya was a book that bore “no relation” to reality … There’s something about the magic of the imagination, eh? Africa is more accessible than Barsoom!

There’s something else in the quote I’m going to point out. I read several books at once and it’s not uncommon for me to turn from one book, a book on lions, say, to another set in an entirely different milieu, U.S. indie rock, maybe, and in that same reading period find the different books talk about the same thing. William S. Burroughs, in this case. In my January First post I quote from Bob Mould. He stole a book from the library, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. A Brit who ends up a lion caretaker in Africa and an upstate NYer who ends up a rock star were both into William Burroughs.

source: Born Wild: the extraordinary story of one man’s passion for Africa by Tony Fitzjohn

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

“the ground had become impregnated with urine”

[L]ions are not particular about where they urinate. They will do it lying, sitting or standing, at any time and in any place, although they are most particular about where they defecate and will always move well away from their sleeping places. It is quite possible that their free and easy habits of urination have a definite purpose. Lion urine appears to be an insect repellent as I noticed this to be the case of Elsa and her sisters; their small night enclosure became heavily infested by fleas, but after a time, when the ground had become impregnated with urine, the fleas disappeared.
source: A Lifetime with Lions by George Adamson

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

According to Masters & Johnson

I’d heard that Masters & Johnson, the sex researchers, had studied gay people, but that their final report was riddled with homophobia. In her book on sex research Mary Roach reads the M&J report and lets us know, not only is it flawed by homophobia, the gay people come off as better lovers than hets.
They ‘tended to move slowly … and to linger at … [each] stage of stimulative response, making each step in tension increment something to be appreciated …’ They teased each other ‘in an obvious effort to prolong the stimulatee’s high levels of sexual excitation.’
Those are some of Roach’s excerpts from Masters & Johnson, thus Roach’s elisions and interpolation. Some of the couples were singles randomly assigned by the researchers. For the shy among us, you might note that all the couples, male/male, female/female, and female/male, performed under lights in a lab while being observed. All must have been pretty confident about their ability to showcase their skills.

According to Masters & Johnson a woman would get about as turned on by her female lover’s arousal as by anything happening exclusive to herself. This, you might or might not be surprised to learn, was not the case with hets. The goal in het sex is climax, with both boys and girls trying to push their partners to rapid release. M&J call this “goal orientation, … trying to get something done,” with main focus on the genitals, and by that I mean the penis.
Meanwhile, the homosexual men lavished attention on their partners’ entire bodies. And the gay men, like the gay women, were adept at the tease.
The gay lovers “talked far more easily, often, and openly about what they did and didn’t enjoy. Gay men and women simply seemed more comfortable in the world of sex.”

And the homophobia? Where did that come in? “Masters & Johnson spent the second half of the book touting a therapy for helping homosexuals convert to heterosexuality.” Oh. One can see how that would overshadow the research’s positives.

source: Bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex by Mary Roach

Monday, January 02, 2012

“Smoking … the timepiece of my life”

I started smoking a pack a day at the beginning of college, and by the end, I was up to three packs a day. Smoking had become both the centerpiece and timepiece of my life. Every cigarette was six minutes long, and I could practically mark out the whole day with smoking, like a sundial. Six minutes on, nine minutes off. Repeat sixty times a day.
When I came across this passage in Bob Mould’s new memoir I was surprised. Here was a reason for smoking that had never occurred to me. Cigarette as timepiece!

I remember being delighted the first time I was given candy cigarettes. I could mime the grown-ups at last. I could playact the mystery of smoking. It wasn’t very good candy. And I wasn’t that picky about candy! Fiddling with the candy cigarette told me nothing about what would make one want to suck smoke and stink up their clothes. I did like fire. And cigarette lighters. Having permission to set little fires all day everywhere seemed seductive.

When my brother told me he’d been secretly smoking cigarettes I pestered him to explain what he got out of it. The explanation didn’t sound sufficient. Something about a waky buzz? I tried, smoking at least one cigarette sitting behind a bush near the little league bleachers. When it made me sick I was told that’s what happens to everybody, but you get over that. Plus there’s something cool about it because the people who smoke are cool. Oh? My stepmother was cool? I liked her all right. But, I don’t know, cool?

source: See a Little Light: the trail of rage and melody by Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad

Sunday, January 01, 2012

another memoir, another library thief

During the day, my work-study job was at the library. I would move quietly through the stacks, restocking the returned books and observing people studying quietly – or discreetly pleasuring themselves in an obscure alcove. It happened all the time. I also lifted the library’s lone copy of Naked Lunch for my personal collection.
source: See a Little Light: the trail of rage and melody by Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad

compare to our last library thief