Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I’ve started a notebook

from the diary (1/3/89, Tuesday):

I’ve started a notebook in which I comment on books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen, plays, too, I s’pose, tho’ I hafta see one first.

So there it is, the first mention in the diary of the book log. I started Dare I Read with the idea I was going to expose the book log to the world. Here was all this writing already done. Content! as they called it back in the dizzy days of the Internet Bubble. Rainbows everywhere! All you had to do was color them in, and it didn’t really matter what colors you used. People were so desperate to get into the filmy web that anything would do. Just throw it up online and cash the checks as the eyeballs stuck.

Not that I had a mercenary vision for Dare I Read. I didn’t enable Google Ads for years. (I still haven’t made enough to get a check. Google doesn’t send you money until the ad click-thrus generate $100. DIR’s current balance? $14.04. That’s the entirety of the “earnings” for the lifetime of the blog.)

I was writing pretty regularly on my first blog LoveSettlement at the time I started Dare I Read and I wanted space between the creative noodlings and life musings of LuvSet and the book discussions of DIR. Looking back maybe I should just have added the book log to LuvSet and used labels to give the different kinds of posts their due. One blog is more work than I’ve usually managed. In 2009 I wrote all of 149 posts across both blogs. That’s respectable. But with the blogs separate the numbers come out to a less impressive 67 for DIR and 81 for LuvSet. After a big project ended in January 2013 LuvSet went into hibernation; 2014 saw only 2 posts.

My first idea for the book log was ambitious, record everything — books! movies! plays! comic books! When that proved overwhelming I decided I could still keep up the log if I stuck just to books. That is what I’ve done ever since, more or less.

On page one of volume one of the book log: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh … OK. I guess there will shortly be part II posts on DIR for those books.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Scott Lipanovich

The ex-coworker and writer who recommended Michael Chabon was named Scott Lipanovich. Scott also recommended Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. I read and liked both books. (I do remember being annoyed by the publisher calling Love Medicine a novel as it was clearly a book of short stories.) Now & then over the years I’ve popped Scott’s name into a search engine in hopes of seeing his writing or a publication announcement or something. You see, I never did get a chance to read Scott’s work and I’ve always been curious. My latest search results provide some Lipanovich news. According to an article in SonomaCounty.com Scott has curated an art collection for the eight year old Doyle library. (The Doyle replaced the Plover Library where I worked as a student employee):

[T]he Doyle Library now houses The Doyle Collection, a clutch of 80 artworks by 52 artists, all of who[m] worked either as staff or faculty at the JC since the college’s art department was established in 1950.

Covering 1.5 acres of wall space on the third and fourth floors, these artworks — there are two sculptures, the rest [are] framed — represent the output of the cream of Sonoma County artists for the past 60-plus years and include such surprising names as California funk artist Robert Arneson, painter Maurice Lapp, and the great North Coast naturalist Larry Thomas.

The Doyle Collection is a labor of love curated by library technician Scott Lipanovich, who amassed the donated art works solely at his own expense and during his own volunteer time over the course of two-and-a-half years.

“We have this great building, great natural light, and abundance of flat spaces on the walls,” Lipanovich explains. “It seems only natural to create a great art collection.”

The bohemian.com has another article on Scott’s project:

All the art had to have been made by SRJC faculty and staff who were at the college from 1950 or later. As there was no budget for the project, the work had to be donated. If the artist was alive, he or she would bear the cost of framing; if the artist was not, Lipanovich invariably ended up paying for it himself.



He has also been happy to spend Friday through Sunday for nearly three years visiting artists, spending full days viewing their life's work, and coaxing donations. "We only had about seven donation-donations," Lipanovich estimates. "Usually," he smiles, "it was a pursuit."

Such pursuits normally included food and conversation, and perhaps a new friendship. Not a bad way to spend one's long weekends, actually.

"The best part of doing this was the donors," Lipanovich says, referring to the artists he met. "Spending time with the donors and just having lunch. Hanging out. The donors are great."

I have not visited the Doyle Library. The Plover Library must have been torn down in favor of the Doyle. So there’s that you-can’t-go-home-again. I wonder if you can still find the VHS tape of my graduation speech in the collection.

Oh, and Scott? Nice arms!

photo credit: Sara Sanger / Bohemian.com

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

from the diary, January 2, 1989:

"[I] read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh [by Michael Chabon], which is [a novel] about a college student who has an odd summer falling in love with a girl, Phlox, and a boy, Arthur. Not bad."

At 24 I was hoping for something more gay. I remember Mysteries being recommended by a coworker at the Santa Rosa Jr College library. The coworker was a writer; he said he admired Chabon’s prose. Mysteries is a first novel.

These days Chabon’s novels get long waiting lists at the library. Chabon lives in Berkeley, so is a neighbor. I served him once at the circulation desk and he got irritated with me because he was in a hurry and I was doing something too slow, maybe trying to make sure I had his receipts ready and he just wanted his change. Ah, our brushes with celebrity!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

from the diary, January 2, 1989:

"I finished Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance yesterday. It was good, though I’m not really sure why the main character (Phaedrus?) took everything so seriously and went mad or what all that deconstruction of Socrates was about. I’m still not sure what a Sophist is, and while I have an idea of what the author [Robert Pirsig] meant when he talked about Quality I’m not at all sure."

The copy of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was left at the house by my dad on one of his visits. I don’t think it was a gift so much as he was done with it and was leaving it. Not that he would have objected to me or my brother reading it, of course. The paperback was water- or sun-warped. It struck me as a Dad kind of book. Philosophy for the casual autodidact.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Forgotten Forest of Oz

I’m sitting down to write on Christmas Day. It’s been a long time since I quoted from my diary. In the diary I was mining it was December 1988; I’d just gotten back from three months in London, a college semester. I was gradually readjusting to being in Sebastopol, the town I grew up in. Back under Mom’s roof!

On Friday, 12/23, I “bought Eric [Shanower]’s latest [graphic novel] The Forgotten Forest of Oz.”

On Christmas Eve I wrote, “I think I’m a bit stir crazy. I have been inside all day. It’s been raining most of the day. I feel buggy. I finished catching up with my comics. … Eric’s latest is, I am pleased to say, his best so far. Considering my attitudes toward the others that might be faint praise except that I think he really did a creditable job on this one. I only groaned at one or two bits of dialog. It did have me going. Dorothy & the other familiar Oz friends were pretty much superfluous to the story.”

I didn’t leave the house yesterday either. And it wasn’t raining so hard. Ah, 25 years, you haven’t changed me. I read Eric Shanower’s prose novel The Giant Garden of Oz this year, also his collection of short stories, The Salt Sorcerer of Oz. Now I just need to find my copies of Eric’s Oz graphic novels in order to reread those.

I was sick for Christmas in ’88. “Becky called tonight [12/26]. When I told her I’d been sick, she said, ‘Oh, the stomach flu?’ … She said three other people she knows have had it.”

I called a friend from the Gay & Lesbian Student Union and got updated. While I was in London a new member named John wanted to get more involved but Janet and her lover Celeste found him abrasive and seemed to want me to ally against him. I’d been co-president before I left. My ex-co-president, Donna, was “as good as married” to Carol, Janet told me. But Janet “doesn’t think it’ll last. ‘They have to get into a fight before they make love.’”

12/28: “Eric Shanower and David Maxine came to visit today. We got into a rather silly argument about whether a woman can rape a man … We did have some fun talks. About Oz, about what we’ve been doing, about publishing Trot of Oz. I’ve been reading and editing the manuscript tonight.”

Eric & David seemed “good as married,” too. As of 2014 they’ve been together more than 26 years. “The Forgotten Forest of Oz is dedicated to David,” I noted in my diary.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

pile of reading

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
I bought an iPad Mini the week we left for Vietnam. I wanted it for its camera, mostly. And I’ve been happier with the iPad camera than with any camera I’ve owned. Imagine being able to see the photo exactly as you’re taking it, the photo as you will see it when you get home from the trip. I grew up snapping photos squinting through a viewfinder that was clearly displaced from the lens. One never knew what was going to come back from the drug store. When you opened the envelope and got your first look at the photos — your precious memories — and saw with horror the lack of focus, the washed out clothes, the cut off heads, the snaps that were entirely black, it made you want to leave the camera in the drawer next time. I taught myself how to use the iPad camera no the fly — and made a bunch of dumb mistakes. But I got better. I bought the iPad Mini for other reasons, too. I didn’t want to lug around a laptop but I wanted a computer, something I could check my email and Facebook on. I thought it would be fun to carry along an ebook library rather than stuff paperbacks into my pack. It’s been my habit on trips to bring used paperback classics, like Dickens, so if I lost a book or dropped it in a puddle it would be no big deal, easily replaced. With the iPad I could download a stack of books and the luggage would be no heavier than without. I checked out one book from the public library just to see if I could (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris), but I also zipped over to Project Gutenberg — and O! what riches to choose from. All that Dickens! But I downloaded only a couple things. I figured I really wouldn’t be reading that much. I would probably have internet access in Southeast Asia and I could download more there, right? (As insurance I did jam some old New Yorkers into the bottom of the duffel bag. No, I did not read them.) I read the David Sedaris book and enjoyed it. It’s not as good as some of his others, but it’s still fun. I started reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on the cruise ship on the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia. I read its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, back in the 80s when there was a big sales job about it being The Great American Novel. Huck Finn was okay, but the hype did it no favors, especially in regards to the supposedly anti-racist depiction Nigger Jim, who just seemed to me infantile. Tom Sawyer is good. I’ve never seen a dramatization, but I’m familiar with some of the elements — the most famous fence painting in American literature, the scary Injun Joe. I did see a live-action/cartoon hybrid on TV that continued the adventures of the main characters. I remember at one point Becky Thatcher squeezes through the lungs of some gigantic monster (or maybe our heroes have been shrunk a la Fantastic Voyage). The file I downloaded from Project Gutenberg came out a little strange in that the book is more than 900 pages. At first I thought it must be because of formatting issues, a giant font? But at some point I skipped ahead, accidentally I think, and discovered the book completely duplicated in the second half of those 900 pages. Well, that changed my expectations for the story. I haven’t yet checked to see if something similar happened with the other Gutenberg books.

The Cruising Diaries by Brontez Purnell, illustrated by Janelle Hessig
Anecdotes about queer sex, often anonymous, in all sorts of situations. In a preface Purnell calls it, “a document of a sexually precocious and mis-spent youth told in the style of anti-erotica.”

A Short History of Cambodia: from Empire to Survival by John Tully
I wanted a book that covered everything from Classic Angkor when Cambodia ruled Southeast Asia to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s nadir, and after. I’m not sure “breezy” is the right word for such a history but Tully’s prose is easy to like. Having been to Cambodia myself now I think I’m getting more from this account than I would have if I’d read it before I went.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton
With my current pile poetry-heavy and with the prose tending to the serious I wanted something easy and fun. A story! I read all Mary Norton’s Borrowers books recently so when I saw Bed-Knob and Broomstick drop down the return slot at the library, I snapped it up. I haven’t seen Disney’s movie version (which makes plural the words in the title). I’m liking the book.

Parthenon West Review issue seven
I’ve been very impressed with earlier issues. This one is good, too. It was published in 2010 and is the newest I’ve seen. According to the Parthenon West website, there is an eighth issue.

Poetry December 2010
Several years ago I read a year of Poetry and was appalled. “If Poetry were poetry I wouldn’t read poetry,” I told friends. The magazine changed editors and I’ve finally read a few of the issues edited by Christian Wiman. Big improvement! I understand Wiman is out now though.

This In Which by George Oppen
These days I want my pile to include at least one book by one poet (alongside the usual anthologies). Having finished a book by Bob Hicok I browsed my library — there are a lot of books in my library that I haven’t read. I pulled Oppen from the shelf and was quickly through the first few pages.

Juice by Renee Gladman
Another short book that I pulled from the shelf upstairs. I’m 15 pages in.

Against Forgetting: twentieth century poetry of witness edited by Carolyn Forche
The big anthology in the pile. Heavy in more than one sense. Considering the subject matter (living through bad shit), I can’t read more than a few pages at a sitting so I expect to be reading Against Forgetting for months.

There are always books hovering near the pile. Should I list it if I haven’t picked it up in weeks? If I’ve not read past the first paragraph? No. I have to draw a line!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

word of the day: rort

context: After describing various corrupt practices in the Cambodian army in the early 1970s — superior officers continuing to collect the pay of deceased soldiers (instead of asking for replacement soldiers), army personnel selling materiel to the rebels they were supposedly fighting — historian John Tully says:

These treacherous rorts were costing the treasury almost US$11 million per annum, and cost the lives of countless Khmer soldiers and civilians.

definition (dictionary.com): a dishonest scheme

also, it seems, a rowdy party

Monday, December 15, 2014

word of the day: malmsey

context:
Remembering entering San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1962, Robert Stone sees a place unreal. “[I]t was … profoundly Chinatown in no ethnic sense. Rather, the Polanski sense of a lost and terrifying cityscape; its clinky, clunky exoticism, designed to divert the tourists …” Stone calls Chinatown “so rich and strange … I would not spend another such a night though ‘twere to win a world of happy days (Richard III, act I, scene 4). It was like drowning in a vat of the strangest malmsey.” [my bold]

dictionary.com has a definition: a strong, sweet wine with a strong flavor, originally made in Greece but now made mainly in Madeira.

Apparently, Mr Stone is not the first to imagine drowning in a vat of the stuff:
George, Duke of Clarence, being allowed to choose by what death he would die, chose drowning in malmsey wine (1477).

Stone quote source: Prime Green: remembering the sixties by Robert Stone

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Questions about Bests

I have now posted the list of every year of my personal anthology project. (See: Best Poems of the Year.) In January I will post my 2014 list. December is young; who knows what poems I will approve of before the New Year comes?

I’ve wondered about the collection. I made an attempt to categorize the poems so I could answer questions about the whole. That was a project that stalled, but I’m still curious.

How many are translations? From which languages? What translator is represented by more poems than any other?

How many poems are by women? How many by Americans? How many by children? What nationality is most frequently represented?

How many are by people I know?

How many are from a single poet’s collection versus an anthology? How many poets that I first encountered in an anthology did I follow to their own books — and find more poems to love? What poet is represented by more poems than any other? By more lines?

How many are haiku? What’s the longest poem? The second longest?

From what single source did I copy out the largest number of poems? How many are from the Best American Poetry annual?

How many English-language poems pre-date the Twentieth Century? How many of the poets are currently alive? How many were alive when I copied out their poems?

How many did I find in magazines? Which magazine was the best source? How many did I find on the internet? How many did I copy from manuscript (that is, poems that were not published)?

What subjects recur? I know there is a poem about putting down the cat (Billy Collins) and one about putting down the dog (John Updike). Are there any more in that vein? How many poems feature rain? Night? Greek gods? The Christian god?

What about narrative poems versus those that aren’t interested in story? How many of the poems are in traditional form?

Do I have clear favorites? Could I pare the anthology to a Best of the Best? When I started the project I had a real suspicion of Great Poets: Do I still? Do the poems by obscure poets hold up against those by poets universally acclaimed? Do I have obvious biases? Blind spots? Is there an area I’ve neglected?

I can answer some of the questions, provisionally, at least.

The longest poem I’ve copied out is The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll. Because that poem is so long Carroll has a strong start on the competition for poet with most lines. I’ve copied out a few other Carroll poems, too, so add those on. A simple piling up of words does not win Lewis Carroll Favorite Poet. But there probably is no Favorite Poet. Carroll easily places among those I would heartily recommend. I’m sure there are Carroll poems I dislike, but is there any poet who has avoided writing a poem I dislike? I’m not that poet, that’s sure.

I know I’ve neglected pre-Twentieth Century English-language verse. When I try it I usually don’t like it. I will try it again. And, no doubt, again.

I’m going to guess that I’ve copied out more poems by Americans than by any other nationality. Maybe by every other nationality combined. A crunching of numbers would be required to confirm. I certainly have a greater access to American poetry than to any other. Add the fact that I am an American poet and would like to be regarded among them so read my peers and think it important to read my peers.

I seek out poets and read anthologies that look promising. But I also want randomness. I am ready for my next favorite poem to be blowing down the street on a sheet of paper rumpled by a footprint. I am ready for it to be by Alexander Pope on a gilt-edged page.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Best Poems of 2004

Every time I read a book of poems I stuff in the back a batch of placemarks. When I read a poem I quite like, one that I want to revisit, explore, I pop a placemark in next to it. I return to the poem a few times, reading it carefully, sometimes aloud. If after 5 readings or so I still don't want to leave the poem behind I hand copy the poem into a looseleaf notebook. By hand copying the poem I incorporate it into my body of work -- I've written it, after all. At the end of the year I read aloud all the poems I copied out in that year. This year I didn't get around to the reading until Tuesday night. Here's the list of poems:

"Mom told me to grow up and win the Nobel Prize" by Val Gerstle

"I Remember Clearly" by Imre Oravecz

"Theorem" by Walter Conrad Arensberg

"You say, 'I will come'" by Lady Otomo

"My long white hair is framed by green mountains" by Han-shan Te-ch'ing

"mountain sounds carry a chill wisdom" by Shih-Shu

"Written in the Year of the Parrot" by John Yau

"Hangover" by Jeffrey Conway

"A Week in the Life of the Ethnically Indeterminate" by Elena Georgiou

"As From a Quiver of Arrows" by Carl Phillips

"My Body" by Joan Larkin

"The Cow-Boy" by Vicente Huidobro

"Lovely Childhood" by Gottfried Benn

"People" by Hans Arp

two dinosaur haiku, "Fluxist Poem #5", "Friday", "Beautiful Cowards", and "You" by Sparrow

"Instinct" by Edith Sodergran

"Shhh", "Teeth", and "Heaven" by Billy Merrell

"I tie my Hat - I crease by Shawl", "Because I could not stop for Death -", and "Four Trees - upon a solitary Acre -" by Emily Dickinson

[The above originally appeared (and still appears) on my other blog, LoveSettlement. I am now posting it to Dare I Read because the other Best Poems of the Year posts are on Dare I Read and it seems to me nice to have them all accessible under the Best Poems of the Year tag.]

Friday, December 12, 2014

Best Poems of 1999

Amrita ….. “This morning he left as”
Suzanne R. Bowers ….. Please Don’t Wake the Dog
Cumberland Sound Eskimo song ….. Shaman’s Song
John Hollander ….. Beach Whispers
a Hopi song ….. Hopi Virgins Seduced
Langston Hughes ….. Dream Variations
Langston Hughes ….. Hope
Issa ….. four haiku
Avedik Issahakian ….. I Can See Them
Ki no Tsurayuki ….. “On a spring hillside”
from a Kinaalda Racing Song (Navajo) ….. “The breeze coming from her as she runs”
Latvian folk poem ….. “I lost / my mother”
Li Pai (Li Po) …. Pulling a Lotus Flower as a Present
Li Pai (Li Po) ….. The Sound of a Flute Coming from Yellow Crane Tower
a Mide song ….. “In the middle of the sea”
Lin Pu ….. Written While Viewing the River in Autumn
NYC Dept of Health ….. from a partial list of animals banned as pets …
Hamo Sahian ….. Unhappiness
D. A. Powell ….. [between Scott’s asshole and his mouth …]
from the Prakrit ….. 245: “He stood at her door”
from the Prakrit ….. 221: “Her back bears the prints”
from the Prakrit ….. 173: “Lovers should be gentle always”
from the Prakrit ….. 30: “The flood trembles like a woman”
from the Prakrit ….. “the sky has fallen”
from the Prakrit ….. 158: “Though the entire village burned down”
Gertrude Stein ….. Careless Water
Gertrude Stein ….. A Feather
Gertrude Stein ….. Sugar
Su Tung-p’o …. Held Up by Head Winds on the Tz’u-h-chia (#1 of 5)
Arthur Sze ….. from Before Completion: #1
Arthur Sze ….. from Before Completion: #2
Arthur Sze ….. The Silence
from the Rig Veda ….. Creation Hymn
Will Walker ….. Jesus Saith unto Them, Loose him, and let him go
Wang Wei ….. Arriving at Ba Gorge in the Morning
Yamaguchi Seishi ….. one haiku
Natan Zach ….. Here They Come

By 1999 I had been hand copying poems for a personal anthology for ten years. I’d pretty much met my goals for the project — learn what I liked, push myself to learn from what I liked, figure out why I didn’t like stuff, and get comfortable with having my own opinion. I don’t feel defensive about my quirky likes and dislikes, but part of that is because I continue to be open. I don’t say I don’t like that sort of thing and stay away from it. I stay open to every sort of thing, even if, by experience, I’ve found things I like more often here than there.

I like careful description, for instance. I like wild metaphors. I like playful language and language play. I prefer to be told strange things over expected things. I have a sympathy for awkward language and uncertainty. I am less interested in the authoritative voice — although I do like it when it is used subversively. I like humor. I like exaggeration. I like wild claims. I like melancholy. I like a certain amount of bitchiness. I like learning to like something I didn’t like at first. I like immediately connecting, but also want a distant sputter in the line. I like beauty but think ugliness can be beautiful. I like it when the poem says Yes! and No? — No! and Yes? I like liking something and spending time liking it. I like being done with disliking.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Best Poems of 1998

David Alpaugh ….. As We Watch MacNeil-Lehrer
Justin Chin ….. Bar Poem
Justin Chin ….. These Nervous Days
Barbara Drake ….. When the Airplane Stopped
Buson ….. one haiku
Elliot Fried ….. Campground
Donald Hall ….. Letter After a Year
Harry Humes ….. The Butterfly Effect
David Ignatow ….. 52: “I sink back upon the ground”
Issa ….. two haiku
Jesus ….. “A host sent his servant to invite friends to an impromptu dinner party”
Jesus ….. “Ask and receive”
Jesus ….. “If someone strikes your right cheek”
Jesus ….. “What you hear / in darkness”
Czeslaw Milosz ….. Pictures
Czeslaw Milosz ….. A Poetic State
Wislawa Szymborska ….. Elegiac Calculation
Wislawa Szymborska ….. A Moment in Troy
Wislawa Szymborska ….. No Title Required
Taigi ….. one haiku
Shinkichi Takahashi ….. Fish
John Waldman ….. The Water Month
Yang Wan-li ….. Banana Leaves
Yang Wan-li ….. In the Gorge: We Encounter Wind
Yang Wan-li ….. Napping in a Boat
Yang Wan-li ….. On the Way to T’ung-Lu
Yang Wan-li ….. Passing An-Jen by Boat
Yang Wan-li ….. Passing by Waterwheel Bay
Yang Wan-li ….. Passing South Stream Bridge on the Way Home
Yang Wan-li ….. The Pavilion Behind the Temple
Yang Wan-li ….. Walking Along the Seashore
Yuan Chung-tao ….. A Wild Crane
Yuan Chung-tao ….. from Snow at the River Pavilion on Wang Lung-hsu
Yuan Chung-tao ….. The Studio of Ten Thousand Gibbons

In yesterday’s post, Best Poems of 1997, I speculated on why I read so few poems that year. I neglected to note that there have been times I read a lot of poems, but they were poems less likely to show up in a Best collection. I’ve done stints as an editor for a magazine. You’ve gotta read a lot of poems when you’re deciding what goes in a magazine, but most of what you read you’re not going to publish — or think well of. I will say that my criteria for my personal anthology (see list above) are different from my criteria for what’s publishable. For my personal anthology I need a real personal resonance, as well as good writing. When choosing for a magazine I want something striking, something that is made well and that rewards attention. I can be impressed enough to publish without requiring a deep personal connection. In fact, over the years, that’s one of the things I’ve said to myself when rereading a poem I’ve marked for possible hand copying. “It’s really good. I would publish that. But I don’t need to hang onto it.”

There was also a time, when the internet was relatively new, and I was working intermittently, that I devoted several hours a week to poetry bulletin boards — reading and critiquing poets with a variety of skill levels and experience with poetry criticism. That business was both good and bad, but I tried to learn from it, tried to teach myself how to critique usefully — that is, without creating such bad feeling that the poet was blinded to any suggestions or advice. I tried to teach myself to teach in order to see if it would be something I could do, say, for money. Can’t say as I liked it. Not that I think I could never teach, more that I think the better model for me is one of encouraging creation, rather than working to change things that have already been made.

I had experience with the feelings around critiquing (and the effectiveness of critiques) in workshop classes in college. Despite the open nature of the bulletin boards (college workshops are more closed and sometimes not all prospective participants are allowed in), the reactions to critiques — and the quality of critiques — was pretty similar in both bulletin boards and college workshops. I’m not really a fan of the format. On the other hand, it is a way to get eyes (plus college credit?) on what you’d be doing anyway. However readers react to what you’ve written, there will always be somebody who reacts differently from how you’d thought they could. Just seeing that can be useful. Provides perspective.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Best Poems of 1997

Basho ….. eight haiku
Buson ….. four haiku
Emily Dickinson ….. “I heard a fly buzz when I died”
Tim Dlugos ….. At the Point
Tim Dlugos ….. July
Larry Eigner ….. “gutter”
Larry Eigner ….. “a puddle”
Henry Israeli ….. Four a.m. Eastern
Issa ….. three haiku
Matt Jasper ….. The Golden Rule
Dacia Maraini ….. in the palm of my right hand
Simon Mpondo ….. The Season of the Rains
Izumi Shikibu ….. “In this world”
a Yoruba song ….. Three Friends
Ray A. Young Bear ….. Our Bird Aegis

What happened? So few good poems? Did I stop reading poetry?

Yes. I don’t remember why. Burn out?

It’s not that I stopped reading poems entirely. I read more poetry in 1997 than most people in their lives, probably. But I did read a lot fewer than the year before and the year before that.

There have been periods where I haven’t written much poetry either. Part of it is discouragement over its lack of reception in the world. Why write if nobody cares?

Why copy out poems if it’s just effort? If there’s no consequence? I’ve thought about trying to turn my personal anthology into public anthologies, that is, to look for interest among publishers. There are publishers who print anthologies. I know because I read those anthologies. I haven’t ruled out the possibility, but I’m pretty equivocal about it. Would putting together a marketable anthology be a project that would work for me? For anybody else?

I come back to reading and writing poems, even in the absence of outside validation, because poetry has inner rewards — and one spends a lot of time inside. One wants to keep one’s inside healthy. The great outside world has all sorts of notions, many of them nice, many of them mercurial, many of them toxic. If you’ve found something that helps maintain your inner resources, well, it may not work all the time and in every circumstance, but you’ll probably come back to it.

The effort to get work out has not provided reliable reward. That doesn’t mean I don’t want my work out there, that I don’t want readers. I very much do. I have made successful efforts in the past, and I haven’t given up. One of the things I decided to do at Berkeley Zinefest on Saturday was to present myself as a creator, too. I didn’t feel up to renting a table all by myself, but when I stopped in front of someone who had, I started with my little book, Fact. I traded it for what the other writer/artist had done. Only one creator flipped through my book and handed it back as of no interest; some didn’t really look at what they were trading for but seemed to be doing it on principle. I hope everyone who got Fact feels it is of value. I am looking forward to giving attention to the work I got in the exchange.

There have been a few occasions where a poet has discovered that he or she has a poem on one of my Best lists and has thanked me. The list is one way to thank you, poets.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Best Poems of 1996

Chris Burden ….. The Big Wheel
Chris Burden ….. White Light/White Heat
Andre Breton ….. Choose Life
Andre Breton ….. The Deadly Helping Hand
Andre Breton ….. Ghostly Stances
Andre Breton ….. Unbreakable Fishnet
Andre Breton ….. Vigilance
Clark Coolidge ….. Brass Land I Live In
Clark Coolidge ….. Crawlway Heights
Clark Coolidge ….. Early Hours Colors
Clark Coolidge ….. In the Place of Names
Clark Coolidge ….. One of the Quitter’s Obliquities
Laurie Duggan ….. from the Ash Range: 5.1
a Hawaiian song ….. Night Births (from the Kumulipo)
Geoffrey Lehmann ….. from Ross’s Poems: 36
Geoffrey Lehmann ….. from Ross’s Poems: 57
Philip Levine ….. You Can Have It
a Maori geneaology ….. The Genealogy of the Gods from Primal Nothingness
Pablo Neruda ….. Autumn Returns
Pablo Neruda ….. XIV Every Day You Play …
Pablo Neruda ….. Lone Gentleman (a variant translation from the version copied in 1992)
Jacob Nibenegenesabe ….. from the Wishing Bone Cycle
Lance Olsen ….. Stories
a Quechua song ….. “It’s today I’m supposed”
Nicholas Sanz-Gould ….. Sad Sun
Derek Walcott ….. from A Sea-Chantey (see other excerpt copied in 1991)
Judith Wright ….. Skins

Every so often I include in my personal anthology things that aren’t presented as poems. The two Chris Burden items I photocopied from an art book. The descriptions of the art pieces fascinated me. I will also occasionally copy out very brief stories or quotations, a definition, a list, language that achieves poetry and that I think is good company for the poems.

I’m also willing to copy out more than one translation of the same poem if the versions strike me differently. When I read several Sappho books I encountered the same poems translated by different people. In the case of Sappho I don’t think I copied out the same poem in different versions. With Pablo Neruda’s Lone Gentleman, however, each version was excellent but different enough that I didn’t want to lose what either one did.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Best Poems of 1995

A. R. Ammons ….. Going Without Saying
Nechum Bronze ….. A Medieval Jewish Prayer
Robert Browning ….. Meeting at Night
Larry Eigner ….. “big wind in the treetops”
Larry Eigner ….. “steam / pipes / coil”
Larry Eigner ….. “the cat all wet”
Larry Eigner ….. “the needle getting stuck”
Larry Eigner ….. “the wind stirs up”
Larry Eigner ….. “trying to see”
Larry Eigner ….. “What’s that cooking”
Michael Fried ….. The Blue
Gerard Manley Hopkins ….. The Windhover
David Ignatow ….. Autumn
David Ignatow ….. Birds in Winter
W. B. Keckler ….. As Ararat to Ark
Li Ch’ing Chao ….. The Day of Cold Food (a variant translation from the one copied in 1993)
Li Ch’ing Chao ….. Spring Fades
Li Ch’ing Chao ….. Spring in the Women’s Quarter
excerpt from the Mayan Popul Vuh ….. The Murmur at Night
Vladimir Nabukov ….. “Only the birds are able to throw off their shadows.”
Owl Woman (Juana Manwell) ….. from Songs of Owl Woman: The Morning Star
Charles Reznikoff ….. from Testimony (1885-1890): The South (4)
Rainer Maria Rilke ….. The Leper King
Rainer Maria Rilke ….. The Site of the Fire
Shiki ….. two haiku
Izumi Shikibu ….. Night Rain
Paulus Silentiarius ….. “Take off your clothes, my love!”
Wallace Stevens ….. Anecdote of the Jar
Wallace Stevens ….. Dance of the Macabre Mice
Wallace Stevens ….. Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery
Wallace Stevens ….. Sea Surface Full of Clouds
Theodor Storm ….. At the Desk
Alfonsini Storni ….. I’m Going to Sleep
Walt Whitman ….. The Runner
Walt Whitman ….. I Stand and Look

When I read a poem I want to read again, I mark it. Before I move on from the book or magazine where I found it, I read the poem a few times. If I decide I don’t want to leave the poem behind, I hand copy it into a notebook. These are the poems I hand copied in 1995.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

What I got at Berkeley Zinefest 2014

The Solstice Submarine a 3D mini comic (with 3D glasses!) by Christopher Joel and Donna Almendrala
published by Macaque Attack
check out solsticesub.com

Blobography an art zine by Brendan Monroe
part of an exhibition presented at Heath Ceramics
check out BrendanMonroe.com

When We Were Kids a mini comic by Andy Warner
published by Irene Comics

Perpetual Nervousness #6 and #6.5, a diary zine by Maira
check out Maira’s tumblr

Self-Destruction and Self-Growth: a zine by Kristen Leckie

I Hugged This Pony Today #happiness comics by Caroline Saddul, Jason Martin and Leo Puppytime
each of the creators has a web destination: Saddul, Martin, Puppytime

Adult Contemporary a mini comic by Leo Puppytime

The Stop and Go Show #1, a mini comic by Leo Puppytime

A Simple Life, A Good Life? a zine/chapbook by Katie Habermas
Grit in Bed

Wet Reckless a book of poems by Cassandra Dallett
Manic D Press

The Cruising Diaries by Brontez Purnell, illustrated by Janelle Hessig
Gimme Action

Thanks, Berkeley Zinefest!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Best Poems of 1994

Akan song ….. Cradle Song
Akan talking drum poem ….. “I carry father, he is too heavy for me”
alta ….. “a car has pulled up outside”
Carlos Drummond de Andrade ….. from Postcards from Ouro Preto: IV: Hotel Toffolo
Anonymous from the Sanskrit ….. “Next morning”
Antler ….. Catching the Sunrise
Antler ….. Childfoot Visitation
Antler ….. Put This in Your Pipe and Smoke It!
Bhavabhuti ….. “Critics scoff”
Patrizia Cavalli ….. “Far from kingdoms”
Alex Cory ….. “The books are hardbound and would kill if dropped”
Larry Eigner ….. “Break the dogfight”
Larry Eigner ….. I will have an image
Larry Eigner ….. Islands
Larry Eigner ….. Letter for Duncan
Larry Eigner ….. Low
Larry Eigner ….. Occasionally
Larry Eigner ….. “shadowy”
Larry Eigner ….. “what time is”
Jean Follain ….. The Secret
Jean Follain ….. “She stops short at something said to her …”
Jean Follain ….. The Students’ Dog
Gajasimha ….. “First time”
Zbigniew Herbert ….. The Return of the Proconsul
Hottentot song ….. Civil War Song
Hottentot song ….. Love Song
David Ignatow ….. 6: “I want a poem that tells itself”
David Ignatow ….. 13: “Why was I born if I have to die”
David Ignatow ….. 14: “I am leaving earth with little knowledge of it”
David Ignatow ….. 52: “The world into which I was born”
Issa ….. three haiku
Linda Johnson ….. Apocalypse
Roberto Juarroz ….. “Use your own hand for a pillow”
Bob Kaufman ….. Song of the Broken Giraffe
Koyukon poem ….. riddle poem (12/J42): “like fine hair”
Mende song ….. On Wealth
Nyanja prayer ….. Prayer for Rain
Tadeusz Rozewicz ….. Leave Us Alone
Rumi ….. The Bottle Is Corked
Rumi ….. 388: “I would love to kiss you.”
Rumi ….. 446: “Today I’m out wandering, turning my skull”
Sherod Santos ….. The Garden Party
Sherod Santos ….. The Palace Hotel at 2 a.m.
Sherod Santos ….. from Three Fragments: #2
Charles Simic ….. Fear
Theognis ….. “You made a mistake in being loved too much”
Theognis ….. “My heart’s uneasy with your love.”
David Trinidad ….. What Ira Said in His Sleep
Tennessee Williams ….. Evening
Barry Yourgrau ….. Golden Years
Barry Yourgrau ….. In the Ice Age
Barry Yourgrau ….. Nursery Tale
Zulu song ….. Song of Those Growing Old

On the Dare I Read blog I react to reading. Sometimes I write about something immediately after reading it. But not usually. Usually I slip a placemark in and write out my thoughts when I get around to it. I got into the habit of multiple placemarks during this personal anthology project. If I read a poem I want to revisit, in goes the placemark. After a few readings, I decide whether I will copy out the poem. The copying is a hassle, but not a big one. Longer poems are bigger hassles. Long poems also have more space to hit wrong notes which can argue against putting up with the hassle. Yes, short poems, you have the advantage when it comes to seizing a page in my book.

Larry Eigner and David Ignatow are poets I was first put off by. Yet here they are, gobbling up pages.

Ignatow is such a sad sack and his poems so prosy that I thought him unbearable and only read a few poems before returning his book to the library. I don’t remember what got me back to him — maybe the challenge? But once I got into him, I found the humor in his depressive poems and their typical brevity made each poem/statement sharper, more piquant than similar sentiments drawn out.

Larry Eigner had a poem wrapped around the exterior walls of the Berkeley Art Museum. I didn’t like it. It didn’t say anything to me. I attended a reading to celebrate the poet partly because a mentor, Paul Mariah, was on the program. There are still many Eigner poems I don’t feel I get — or like — but I discovered settling down with one of Eigner’s books really changed the ambience. I would become absorbed, even if mystified, and move along through a new and different place. I also discovered that there were Eigner poems that I loved all by themselves.

I would also like to note Andrew Schelling’s Dropping the Bow, his collection of translations from ancient Sanskrit. Loved!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Best Poems of 1993

Carlos Drummond de Andrade ….. Motionless Faces
Carlos Drummond de Andrade ….. Siesta
Carlos Drummond de Andrade ….. Souvenir of the Ancient World
Carlos Drummond de Andrade ….. Travelling in the Family
Rae Armantrout ….. You Float
John Ash ….. Braid
John Ash ….. The Monuments
John Ash ….. A Novel
John Ash ….. Salon Pieces
John Ash ….. The Second Lecture: An over-excite man tells us about some clouds
John Ash ….. The Seventeenth Sermon
Bill Berkson ….. Ivesiana
Bill Berkson ….. Russian New Year
Linda Bierds ….. The Stillness, the Dancing
Michael Brownstein ….. War
Joseph Bruchac ….. Lady’s Slippers By Deer Pond
Augusto de Campos ….. Caracol
Lewis Carroll ….. The Hunting of the Snark
Catullus ….. poem 85: “I hate & love.”
Chinese Courtesan’s Song (Yuan Dynasty) ….. To the tune “Red Embroidered Shoes”
Clark Coolidge ….. “car parked up pocket starling”
Clark Coolidge ….. four poems: “contact back” / “green left sound bore add” / “time coal hum base” / “quasi”
Clark Coolidge …. “of”
Clark Coolidge ….. three poems: “tions” / “is so” / “an un”
Clark Coolidge ….. “tion / inertia / ity”
Clark Coolidge ….. “erything”
Robert Cording ….. Cardinal
Jean Day ….. Gas
Tim Donnelly ….. “you know the feeling”
Russell Edson ….. A Journey Through the Moonlight
Russell Edson ….. The Retirement of the Elephant
Edward Field ….. Prologue
Paul Goodman ….. Long Lines on the Left Bank
Paul Goodman ….. Oscar Williams
Jorie Graham ….. Salmon
Ronald Gross ….. Why Negroes Prefer Treatment as Human Beings
Basuki Gunawan ….. Night
William J. Harris ….. Hey Fella Would You Mind Holding This Piano A Moment
Hastipaka ….. “Rain slants steadily”
Hawaiian song ….. Song to Greet the King
Miroslav Holub ….. Alphabet
Miroslav Holub ….. A Dog in the Quarry
Miroslav Holub ….. The Fly
Miroslav Holub ….. The New House
Miroslav Holub ….. Suffering
Miroslav Holub ….. What the Heart Is Like
Ted Hughes ….. Crow’s Undersong
The Dajak of Borneo, Indonesia ….. The Creation
from Flores Island, Indonesia ….. Creation Song
from the Sumbawa of Indonesia ….. Rejection of a Lover
Gogo Ivanovski ….. Sadness and Rain
Kathleen Jamie ….. one of Katie’s poems from A Flame in Your Heart (#35): “He is 25”
Richard Jones ….. Leaving Town after the Funeral
Andrea Kelsey ….. Power Does Not Know Time
Brendan Kennelly ….. LIghtning
Kuan Tao-sheng ….. Married Love
Li Ch’ing Chao ….. The Day of Cold Food
Mei Yao Ch’en ….. An Excuse for Not Returning the Visit of a Friend
from the Middle English Bestiary ….. The Siren
Tatsuji Miyoshi ….. Great Aso
Modoc song fragment ….. Introduction: “I / the song”
Natchez story ….. The Cannibal’s Seven Sons
Pablo Neruda ….. Sexual Water
Sharon Olds ….. Summer Solstice, New York City
Pima song ….. Rain Song
Pima song ….. Mouse Song
Pima song ….. Song of the Black Tail Deer
Francis Ponge ….. Fire
Francis Ponge ….. Rain
Charles Reznikoff ….. from Autobiography, New York: V, XVII, XXVII
Charles Reznikoff ….. from Autobiography, New York: XXXV: Going West
Charles Reznikoff ….. from Autobiography: Hollywood: II
Charles Reznikoff ….. The Belly
Charles Reznikoff ….. from Kaddish: part VI
Charles Reznikoff ….. In Memoriam, S. R.
Charles Reznikoff ….. from Uriel Accosta: 30
Adrienne Rich ….. Dedications
Stephen Rodefer ….. from Pretext
Floyd Salas ….. Steve Nash, Homosexual Transient, Executed …
Ron Schreiber ….. diagnosis (4-10-86)
Su Tung P’o ….. The Terrace in the Snow
an anonymous Swiss child ….. “When the rain falls”
William Talcott ….. “One morning”
Tu Fu ….. Banquet at the Tso Family Manor
Tu Fu ….. Full Moon
Tu Fu ….. New Moon
Tu Fu ….. To Wei Pa, a Retired Scholar
Tu Fu ….. Random Pleasures (VII)
Vlada Urosevilk ….. Forbidden Zone
Paul Vangelisti ….. Event 24: John the Baptist
Julia Vinograd ….. For the Young Men Who Died of AIDS
Wang Ch’ing-hui ….. To the tune “The River is Red”
John Yau ….. Album
Yoruba song ….. Leopard
Zuni definitions ….. Moon, month

Another list of poems I have hand copied, this batch from the year 1993. As I had been doing since 1989 I read a lot of poetry and kept on hand a batch of placemarks. When I would read a poem that struck me I would slip a placemark in next to it so I could return to the poem for a reread. If after a few readings I decided I couldn’t leave the poem behind I would hand copy it.

I was attending UC Berkeley in 1993. John Ash was the visiting Holloway poet and I got into a workshop with him. As you can see by six of his poems appearing on the list, I enjoyed his writing. I don’t remember whether I told him I had copied out his poems. I probably didn’t. Kenneth Rexroth’s translations of ancient Chinese poets got me on an ancient Chinese poet kick for awhile. I looked for Ulli Beier’s Papua Pocket Poets because I’d loved some Beier translations that had appeared in another anthology. At least six of the poems on the list are Beier translations (the Yoruba, the creation songs from Indonesia).

Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark is easily the longest poem I have copied out. It fills 24 pages of lined notebook paper. It’s an amazing performance and, even considering the drudgery of the physical copying, spending the time with it necessary to get it into the notebook was a pleasure.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Best Poems of 1992

Oswald de Andrade ….. National Library
Eleanor Antin ….. A Certain Color (from Painter Poems)
Author Unknown ….. One Bright Morning …
Author Unknown ….. Up and Down the City Road …
A’yunini / Cherokee ….. The Killer
Ronald Baatz ….. These Cold Mountains
Michael Benedikt ….. The Golden Years
George Brecht ….. Six Exhibits
Karen Brodine ….. The Room Poised Outside the Window
Joaquim Cardozo ….. Elegy for Maria Alves
Jorge Carrera Andrade ….. Biography for the Use of the Birds
Lewis Carroll ….. Brother and Sister
Lewis Carroll ….. The Gardener’s Song
Lewis Carroll ….. Jabberwocky
Lewis Carroll ….. My Fairy
Lewis Carroll ….. The Walrus and the Carpenter
Alan Catlin ….. Still Life with Martini
C. P. Cavafy ….. The Afternoon Sun
C. P. Cavafy ….. Hidden Things
C. P. Cavafy ….. Kleithos’ Illness
C. P. Cavafy ….. The Next Table
C. P. Cavafy ….. On Board Ship
C. P. Cavafy ….. Two Young Men, 23 to 24 Years Old
C. P. Cavafy ….. Unfaithfulness
C. P. Cavafy ….. A Young Poet in his Twenty-fourth Year
Billy Collins ….. Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House
Billy Collins ….. Putting Down the Cat
Billy Collins ….. Walking Across the Atlantic
John Robert Columbo ….. Levitations
John Robert Columbo ….. Rabbi Huna’s Cure for Fever
Clark Coolidge ….. Movies
Eskimo …. Language Event
Eskimo ….. Vision Event I and Vision Event II
Eskimo ….. the old man’s song, about his wife
Paavo Haavikko ….. “You don’t want what you desire, says the dream.”
Andrew J. Grossman ….. one haiku
Joe Nutt ….. one haiku
Cor van den Heuvel ….. one haiku
Emily Romano ….. one haiku
Wally Swist ….. one haiku
Onitsura ….. one haiku
Basho ….. one haiku
Masahide ….. one haiku
Robert Hass ….. My Mother’s Nipples
Anselm Hollo ….. big dog
Horace ….. Venus’ Chapel
Ibykos ….. On a Man-Made Peninsula in Syracuse
Chief Joseph ….. The Surrender Speech of Chief Joseph
Kim Ch’un-su ….. The Wall
Eila Kivikk’aho ….. Recollection
Ronald Koertge ….. Diary Cows
Gail Kuenstler ….. Stagecraft: the Machinery for the Paradise
Jorge de Lima ….. The Big Mystical Circus
Jorge de Lima ….. The Bird
John Lowry ….. Situation Normal
Eeva-Liisa Manner ….. “I thought it was a letter, thrown on the porch,”
Eeva-Liisa Manner ….. “If it’s true that when I go”
William Marsh ….. Cambodia
William Marsh ….. Vietnam
Cecilia Meireles ….. The Dead Horse
Joao Cabral de Melo Neto ….. A Knife All Blade
Cesar Moro ….. Vision of Moth-eaten Pianos Falling to Pieces
Peter Morris ….. Hawaiian Shirts
Peter Morris ….. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Peter Morris ….. Zero Motivation
Pablo Neruda ….. Lone Gentleman
Ezekial Nissim ….. Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T. S.
Sharon Olds ….. First Sex
Sharon Olds ….. Ideographs
Maureen Owen ….. African Sunday
Pawnee ….. definition of the word: Risha
Ezra Pound ….. Papyrus
Miklos Radnoti ….. Autumn Begins Restlessly
Miklos Radnoti ….. parts II and IV from Postcards
A. K. Ramanujan ….. Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House
Rihaku / Li T’ai Po ….. Exile’s Letter
Pattiann Rogers ….. The Dead Never Fight Against Anything
Pattiann Rogers ….. How the Moon Becomes Itself
Pattiann Rogers ….. The Next Story
Pattiann Rogers ….. When You Watch Us Sleeping
Pentti Saarikoski ….. “Right till the last”
Pentti Saaritsa ….. “A sage old man”
Sherod Santos ….. The Evening Light Along the Sound
Sappho ….. Now I Begin
Sappho ….. Then
Sappho ….. “I said, Sappho”
Sappho ….. “You may forget but”
Sappho ….. “I thought the talented”
Sappho ….. “To an army wife, in Sardis”
Sappho ….. To Aphrodite
Sappho ….. “not even / lovely”
Sappho ….. “He seems to be a god, that man”
Sappho ….. “slick with slime”
Sappho ….. “their hearts grew chill”
Sappho ….. “it is not for me, it seems”
Sappho ….. “Love shakes my heart”
Sappho ….. two fragments
Sappho ….. “like the sweet apple”
Chief Seattle ….. “What happens to the beasts”
Semonides ….. Life and Death
Sin Tong-jip ….. Life
Gary Soto ….. In the Madness of Love
May Swenson ….. In Florida
Sara Teasdale ….. I Shall Not Care
Sara Teasdale ….. In a Restaurant
Julia Vinograd ….. Summer Murder
Caj Westerberg ….. “A dry alder leaf drifts”
Caj Westerberg ….. “I’m in a cafe”
Danielle Willis ….. The Awful Truth
from the Wintu ….. Dream Song
Xenophanes ….. The Making of Gods
Yi Un-sang ….. Songbul Temple
Rafael Zepeda ….. During Vietnam

These are the poems I hand copied in 1992. As always I read and reread each poem before deciding to commit myself not only to the effort of copying it out but to the years ahead of being faced with the choice (and I’ve lived long enough for that to be the case). By 1992 I’d settled into the project and no longer questioned it; it just seemed natural.

I raided the UC Berkeley library collection for their bound back issues of Wormwood Review, a digest-sized, saddle-stapled quarterly edited by Marvin Malone, which championed a plain-spoken, prosy poetry. I found many poems to like and copied out a few: Rafael Zepeda, Peter Morris, William Marsh, John Lowry, Ronald Baatz. I subscribed for a while and sent my own work to editor Malone. Malone made encouraging noises at first, then changed his mind. Most the haiku are from another magazine I’d subscribed to, Modern Haiku.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Best Poems of 1991

Samuel Allen ….. To Satch
John Ashbery ….. Down by the Station, Early in the Morning
John Ashbery ….. Haibun 4
John Ashbery ….. Rain Moving In
John Ashbery ….. When the Sun Went Down
Lisa Bernstein ….. After He Left Her
Richard Brautigan ….. Albion Breakfast
Richard Brautigan ….. I Live in the Twentieth Century
Richard Brautigan ….. Insane Asylum, Part 8 (from the Galilee Hitch-hiker)
Richard Brautigan ….. Information (from Crows and Mercury)
Richard Brautigan ….. We Meet. We Try. Nothing Happens, But (from Crows and Mercury)
Richard Brautigan ….. Ben (from Crows and Mercury)
Richard Brautigan ….. Molly, Part 13 (from Group Portrait Without the Lions)
Richard Brautigan ….. “Ah, Great Expectations!”, Part 14 (from Group Portrait Without the Lions)
Richard Brautigan ….. What Happened? (from Love)
Richard Brautigan ….. Nine Crows: Two Out of Sequence (from Montana/1973)
Richard Brautigan ….. Early Spring Mud Puddle at an Off Angle (from Montana/1973)
Richard Brautigan ….. Nobody Knows What the Experience Is Worth
Richard Brautigan ….. March 18, Resting in the Maytag Homage (from Section Three)
Richard Brautigan ….. A Moth in Tucson, Arizona (from Section Three)
Isabella M. Brown ….. Prayer
Charles Bukowski ….. Big Bastard with a Sword
Charles Bukowski ….. Experience
Charles Bukowski ….. Face While Shaving
Charles Bukowski ….. Farewell, Foolish Objects
Charles Bukowski ….. The New Place
Charles Bukowski ….. A Report Upon the Consumption of Myself
Raymond Carver ….. For the Record
Raymond Carver ….. Interview
Nurunnessa Choudhurry ….. The Sun Witness
Stephen Crane ….. “In the desert”
Stephen Crane ….. “Love walked alone.”
Stephen Crane ….. “If I should cast off this tattered coat,”
John Daniel ….. Smith L.J.
Birago Diop ….. Breaths
Stephen Dobyns ….. Summer Evenings
Jack Driscoll & Bill Meissner ….. The Somnambulist’s Music
Russell Edson ….. The Prophylactic
an ancient Egyptian poem ….. The Bird Catcher
Paul Engle ….. Water color
Edward Field ….. At the Coney Island Aquarium …
Edward Field from the Eskimo ….. Grandma Takes a Foster Child
Edward Field ….. Notes from a Slave Ship
Edward Field ….. Triad
Edward Field ….. Tulips and Addresses
Edward Field ….. World War II
Carolyn Forche ….. For the Stranger
Fukuda Hiroyuki ….. Praying Mantis
song of Gabon Pygmy ….. Death Rites II
Jay Griswold ….. The Insomnia of the Heart
Linda M. Hasselstrom ….. After the Storm
Anthony Hecht ….. More Light! More Light!
Michael Hettich ….. Anniversary
Emily Hiestand ….. from On Nothing
George Hitchcock ….. Villa Thermidor
song of the Hottentot ….. Song for the Sun that Disappeared Behind the Rainclouds
Antonio Jacinto ….. Monangamba
Robinson Jeffers ….. Pearl Harbor
Bob Kaufman ….. Battle Report
Carolyn Kizer ….. To Li Po from Tu Fu
Ronald Koertge ….. He
Ronald Koertge ….. Tonto
Ronald Koertge ….. The Ubiquity of the Need for Love
Laurie Kuntz ….. Coming Out
Dorianne Laux ….. Ghosts
Denise Levertov ….. Laying the Dust
Ed “foots” Lipman ….. an edited version of Poem for Rupert Weber, 85 Years Too Late
Morton Marcus ….. Watching Your Gray Eyes
Howard McCord ….. My Cow
Jo McDougall ….. Her Story
Pero Meogo ….. Cossante
W. S. Merwin ….. Separation
Frank O’Hara ….. Benjamin Franklin, Or Isadora Duncan
Frank O’Hara ….. “The brittle moment comes”
Frank O’Hara ….. Corresponding Foreignly
Frank O’Hara ….. “Dusk. Dawn. The land. An albatross thinks of Spain.”
Bern Porter ….. The Snow Queen
Miklos Radnoti ….. Foaming Sky
Adrienne Rich ….. Living Memory
Anne Sexton ….. Courage
Anne Sexton ….. Two Hands
Anne Sexton ….. Wanting to Die
Susan Sklan ….. On Passing an Old Lover’s Address
Cathy Song ….. Stray Animals
song of the Susu ….. The Sweetest Thing
May Swenson ….. Dr. Henderson
May Swenson ….. Old No. 1
Tchicaya U Tam’si ….. The Scorner (an excerpt)
Carol Tarlen ….. Prisoner No. 25
James Tate ….. Distance from Loved Ones
Sara Teasdale ….. Moon’s Ending
Lao Tsu ….. Seventy-Six
Allen Upward ….. The Milky Way (from Scented Leaves from a Chinese Jar)
Urakawa Yuriko ….. Father
Julia Vinograd ….. Street Saxophone
David Wagoner ….. The Labors of Thor
Derek Walcott ….. A Sea-Chantey (an excerpt)
C. K. Williams ….. Spit
Keith Wilson ….. The Lake Above Santos
Wang Xiao-ni ….. The Wind is Roaring

Each year I try to read the complete works of a poet or two. I read through each of Anne Sexton’s books in 1991. (More recently I reread Sexton via her Complete Poems.) I would prefer not to read a “selected.” I want the original slim volume(s) or a “complete.” But sometimes a “selected” is the completest collection available. These days there is greater access to obscure books either via the web or libraries borrowing from libraries so it’s been years since I read a “selected.”

I read a lot of anthologies. I began to get a sense of the influence of editors when I realized I was really enjoying some anthologies — and finding others of little interest. It wasn’t just the poets.

I encourage anyone interested in poetry to make their own anthology. If you love a poem you don’t have to let it go. Your choices will not be the same as the Harold Blooms or Louis Untermeyers, even if your anthology includes many of the same poets. I save poems that mean something to me, not poems that are Great by some other measure.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Best Poems of 1990

John Ashbery ….. Everyman’s Library
John Ashbery ….. Frontispiece
John Ashbery ….. Some Old Tires
John Ashbery ….. We Hesitate
David Craig Austin ….. The Gifts
Beth Bentley ….. Northern Idylls
Robert Bly ….. A Dream on the Night of First Snow
Michael Burkard ….. Hotel Tropicana
Gregory Corso ….. I Met This Guy Who Died
James Dickey ….. Sled Burial, Dream Ceremony
Stephen Dobyns ….. The Face in the Ceiling
Stephen Dobyns ….. How to Like It
Mark Doty ….. Turtle, Swan
Stephen Dunn ….. Letting the Puma Go
Martin Espada ….. Boot Camp Incantation
Martin Espada ….. The Right Hand of a Mexican Farmworker in Somerset County, Maryland
Martin Espada ….. Tiburon
Carolyn Forche ….. Because One Is Always Forgotten
Robert Frost ….. The Bearer of Evil Tidings
Robert Frost ….. an excerpt from A Fountain, A Bottle, A Donkey’s Ears, and Some Books
Robert Frost ….. A Late Walk
Robert Frost ….. “Out, out —“
Robert Frost ….. Rose Pogonias
Alice Fulton ….. Losing It
Robert Gluck ….. The Chronicle
Robert Hass ….. Tahoe in August
Paul Hoover ….. Twenty-Five
Marie Howe ….. The Good Reason of Our Forgetting
Richard Hugo ….. Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg
Richard LaFortune ….. “I have picked a bouquet for you”
Sandra McPherson ….. Centerfold Reflected in a Jet Window
William Matthews ….. Convivial
William Matthews ….. from A Happy Childhood
William Matthews ….. We Shall All Be Born Again But We Shall Not All Be Saved
William Matthews ….. Whiplash
Susan Mitchell ….. Leaves That Grow Inward
Simon Ortiz ….. from My Father’s Song
Linda Pastan ….. Caroline
Linda Pastan ….. November
Thomas Rabbitt ….. Gargoyle
Paula Rankin ….. Middle Age
Adrienne Rich ….. In the Wake of Home
Adrienne Rich ….. Yom Kippur 1984
Alberto Rios ….. The Purpose of Altar Boys
Pattiann Rogers ….. Achieving Perspective
Ron Schreiber ….. the birds of sorrow
Gary Soto ….. Song for the Pockets
William Stafford ….. Vacation
David Trinidad ….. Meet the Supremes

1990 was the second year I copied out favorite poems. The list is shorter than that of the first. Was it because I read fewer poems? It wasn’t for another couple years that I maintained in the notebook a list of the books I read that contained poems, thus had the potential to contribute a poem to the notebook, so it’s not really possible to compare quantity read to quantity copied out. Did I read more poems in 1989 or did I just read more poems I liked?

My feelings toward the poems have sometimes changed. There are many I’m glad I’ve had opportunity to reread over the years. Some poets I’ve eagerly kept up with (or tried to) — David Trinidad, Michael Burkard, Adrienne Rich.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Best Poems of 1989

Robert Adamson ….. Action Would Kill it / A Gamble
Maya Angelou ….. Still I Rise
Werner Aspenstrom ….. After a Night Frost
Werner Aspenstrom ….. The City
Werner Aspenstrom ….. two excerpts
Werner Aspenstrom ….. Fisherman’s Luck
Werner Aspenstrom ….. Icarus and Cousin Granite
Werner Aspenstrom ….. Mise en Scene
Werner Aspenstrom ….. Theology for a Ruminating Friend
Werner Aspenstrom ….. You and I and the World
Susan Baime ….. A Pleasant Interlude in Time
Manuel Bandeira ….. Brazilian Tragedy
Elizabeth Bishop ….. Cape Breton
Elizabeth Bishop ….. Electrical Storm
Elizabeth Bishop ….. The End of March
Elizabeth Bishop ….. The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop ….. Santarem
Elizabeth Bishop ….. Thunder
Elizabeth Bishop ….. Visits to St. Elizabeth’s
Elizabeth Bishop ….. A Word with You
William Blake ….. The Tiger
G. K. Chesterton ….. The Last Hero
Samuel Taylor Coleridge ….. Kubla Khan
Robert Cording ….. Going to Sea in a Sieve
Sara Crayne ….. Christina the Astonishing
Robert Crum ….. The Bat in the Bathroom
Leo Dangel ….. Gathering Strength
Walter de la Mare ….. Napolean
Joao Cabral de Melo Neto ….. from The Death and Life of a Severino
Vinicius de Moraes ….. Sonnet of Intimacy
D. L. Emblen ….. For a Student Impatient with Sophocles
Paul Goodman ….. Long Lines: Youth and Age
James Hackett ….. five haiku
Santoka ….. one haiku
Bob Boldman ….. one haiku
Jack Cain ….. one haiku
Elizabeth Searle Lamb ….. one haiku
Jim Handlin ….. one haiku
William G. Higginson ….. one haiku
Jack Kerouac ….. one haiku
Michael McClintock ….. two haiku
Marlene Mountain ….. six haiku
Alan PIzzarelli ….. two haiku
Frank K. Robinson ….. one haiku
Raymond Roseliep ….. one haiku
Martin Shea ….. one haiku
Cor van den Heuvel ….. two haiku
Anita Virgil ….. one haiku
Nicholas Virgilio ….. one haiku
John Wills ….. three haiku
Arizona Zipper ….. one haiku
Hawaiian Creation Chant ….. The Crawlers
Diana C. Hennessy ….. There, in a Light Room
James Weldon Johnson ….. The Creation: a Negro Sermon
Robert Jones ….. Pulpit Dance
Christina Kalvin ….. The Creation of the World
Hisao Kanaseki ….. Memories of Wartime China
Maxine Kumin ….. Address to the Angels
Maxine Kumin ….. Making the Connection
Maxine Kumin ….. Stopped Time in Blue and Yellow
John Lehmann ….. Tell Me Your Name
John Lehmann ….. Their Fingers Locking
James Liddy ….. Thirty-Three
Elizabeth Macklin ….. Our Fall
Maori of New Zealand ….. Chant to Io
Maori of New Zealand ….. The Six Periods of Creation
Paul Mariah ….. Poem for Cavafy
Paul Mariah ….. Quarry / Rock
Paul Mariah ….. Siring Flesh
Paul Mariah ….. Walls Breathe
William Matthews ….. Bystanders
William Matthews ….. Cows Grazing at Sunrise
William Matthews ….. New
Clayton Ball ….. Rose Petals
Melissa Fischbach ….. Two Frogs
Isa Pederson ….. (from a painting by Dufy)
Tony Scramaglia ….. “A violet was growing with pride”
James H. Montrose ….. Last Rites
James H. Montrose ….. Love Story: a found poem
Frank O’Hara ….. F. (Missive & Walk) I. #53
Frank O’Hara ….. First Dances
Frank O’Hara ….. For Grace, After a Party
Frank O’Hara ….. two excerpts
Frank O’Hara ….. The Lover
Frank O’Hara ….. Mary Desti’s Ass
Frank O’Hara ….. Poem (“I watched an armory combing its bronze bricks”)
Frank O’Hara ….. Poem (“That’s not a cross look it’s a sign of life”)
Frank O’Hara ….. Poetry
Frank O’Hara ….. Summer Breezes
Josephine Preston Peabody ….. The Enchanted Sheep-fold
Michael Pettit ….. Driving Lesson
Sylvia Plath ….. Poppies in October
Christina Rossetti ….. Somewhere or Other
Louis Simpson ….. Luminous Night
Louis Simpson ….. To the Western World
Gary Soto ….. Finding a Lucky Number
Gary Soto ….. Oranges
Mark Strand ….. Nostalgia
Paula Viale ….. Another Word on Daffodils
David Wagoner ….. The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct
David Wagoner ….. Feeding
David Wagoner ….. Peacock Display
David Wagoner ….. Sitting by a Swamp
Alice Walker ….. Did This Happen to Your Brother? Did Your Sister Throw Up a Lot?
William Carlos Williams ….. from The Descent of Winter: 10/28
William Carlos Williams ….. The Pink Locust
William Carlos Williams ….. Sonnet in Search of an Author
William Carlos Williams ….. The Sparrow
William Carlos Williams ….. This Is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams ….. The Widow’s Lament in Springtime
Yurok folk tale … “At first Wohpekumeu wanted to make the river run upstream”
Paul Zimmer ….. Lester Tells of Wanda and the Big Snow

1989 was the first year of the project. I would copy out poems I needed to see/read again. As I described in my last post (25 years of the Best Poems), I figured out what I was doing as I went along. I tried typing poems — William Blake’s The Tiger and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan are typed, a few others, too. But typewriters drove me nuts. So I turned to hand copying. If the poem was especially long or the poet’s formatting challenging I would sometimes photocopy. If I really liked a few lines but didn’t like a whole poem, I would copy out just the lines I liked. If I liked the poem except for a few lines I would cut those — though I made note each time. I stopped doing most of these things in subsequent years. If I love only a few lines I will copy those out in my diary or some other notebook. After a few years I decided I would no longer edit poems — the whole or nothing. There were a few other issues — choosing how to indicate stanza breaks from page to page, how to present a line too long to fit the page, etc. I was a little inconsistent at first.

There are poems on the list that no longer excite me. But I can still see things in them to like and understand what captured me at the time. I was on a mission — gather good poems! I was in a hurry. I was still picky. I read many poems.

A few people I know personally appear on the list. I’m always thrilled to love poems by people I know.

For the first three years I interfiled all the poems. Eventually that became unwieldy: multiple notebooks, tearing perforations. The 1989/1990/1991 collections are still interfiled. This is the first time I’ve made a complete, separate list of the 1989 poems. It’s long!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

25 years of the Best Poems

In 1989 I began copying out other people’s poems and keeping them in a loose-leaf notebook. The germ of the project was a collection of poems I put together for a Reader’s Theater class at Santa Rosa Jr. College. Reader’s Theater performs primarily non-theatrical texts as theater - poems, essays, fiction. The text in hand may feature in the performance. You might make your notebook flap like a bird while your colleague reads from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” for example. You generally don’t memorize, but you ought to practice enough that the text is there for anchor rather than crutch.

Many things about Reader’s Theater worked for me - the choosing of the texts, the collaging of them, the performance (without memorization being required), the inventiveness of minimalist staging. The class attended one competition. We didn’t win any awards - our competitors were experienced and we were just figuring things out - but it was fun and nerve-wracking.

For the final project we were in teams. For my team I proposed a piece based on my fascination with creation-of-the-world stories. Sadly, one member took ill and had to bow out. That left me and a woman who had let me put the readings together and mostly followed my directions for performance. She was game, but by the time we gave our grand performance we had had little rehearsal time. We didn’t get to perform before the rest of the class, even. I think our entire audience was the instructor. She had nice things to say, though had to note how unfinished it seemed. That’s the Creation, isn’t it?

Writing poetry you get asked who your favorite poets are. There was the vast corpus of poetry and I had read so little of it. How could I name favorites? Having read poems mostly in anthologies I knew I liked this poem or that poem, but poets? I ought to know for myself what/who I liked so I could follow up. If I loved a William Carlos Williams poem in an anthology, I could turn to his collections with a good chance I would find more to love. So in order to learn, in order to hang onto the poems that touched me and incorporate their lessons into my own work, in order to name favorites, in order to have poems to share, I decided to save poems.

At the end of the Reader’s Theater class I had a small batch of poems I really liked - a Hawaiian creation chant, a California Indian creation tale, a poem by James Weldon Johnson. They were already gathered in a notebook, so I just added to it. At first I typed up the poems. I wanted them to look professional, as though this anthology were an Anthology. But I hated typing and that quickly got in the way. The frustrations of typing overruled the need to look professional. Besides, “professional” meant typesetting in my mind. The typewriter’s product didn’t really match my fantasy. If I couldn’t do “professional” then I would go for personal. Although I try to keep my handwriting neat and readable (and mistake-free), I’m hardly a calligrapher. Over time I forgave my imperfections. One of the benefits of hand copying, I discovered, was the physical fact of writing the poems. What better way to learn from them? Sure, there’s memorization (and I promised myself I would try that), and there’s writing about a poem (and I’ve done a little of that over the years, too), but hand copying is a simple way to really concentrate on a poem. You notice when words repeat. You notice the off-rhymes, the visual patterns. You have to see - and feel - each choice of word. I also found later that when I reread the poems I was reading my own writing - it looked like I had written the poems thus I felt more ownership of them.

I enjoy reading poetry. I don’t like everything I read, but that’s no surprise. Most poems I read once and feel no pull to return. Many I read twice to make sure I get what the poet was up to. A few I mark to reread several times. If, after five or six readings I still don’t want to see the last of the poem, I copy it out. I reminded myself several times, especially in the early years, that I was copying out poems that were special to me, not the best poems by some other measure.

I have posted lists of several years worth of my personal anthology. Over the years I’ve been bothered by the claim that magazines like to make - that they publish only the “best” of what they are offered. Having worked on a few little magazines I know the claim is disingenuous - to be generous. I also decided to be amused by the titular boast of the Best American Poetry annual anthology. So when I began to post a list of what I had copied out in the previous calendar year I dubbed each “The Best Poems of the Year.” Whether the poem was written a thousand years ago or yesterday didn’t matter in the slightest. These were the “best” poems I had read, the poems that worked “best” for me. They are all, at the very least, quite good, and I am happy to have them.

When I realized this was the 25th year of my personal anthology I thought I ought to read the whole thing from the beginning. Of course, the poems I copied out in the early years are probably the poems I have read and reread more than any others so I’m not encountering surprises. There are poems I probably would not copy out today, but I still like things about them and understand why I chose to copy them out at that time. It may be that there are poems I did not copy out at the time that I would today, had I the chance, but that’s something I’ve discussed with myself over the years. It’s okay. You have to let things go. I do have permission to copy out a poem I come upon in a new context. I also have permission to discard a poem I’ve come to dislike. I would rather not do that as I wish to honor my original choices. But I have done it a couple times.

Here are the pieces that began the project, the ones that “created” it:

Hawaiian Chant ….. The Crawlers
James Weldon Johnson ….. The Creation
Maori of New Zealand ….. Chant to Io / Six Periods of Creation
Yurok of California ….. a folk tale beginning “At first Wohpekumeu wanted to make the river run upstream…”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poetry Circle at Claremont Branch, Berkeley Public Library

A new poetry program is starting up at the Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library featuring you and what you like. Drop in on the second Thursday of each month from 6:30 pm-7:50 pm starting October 9, 2014. Bring in a favorite poem to share and if you write poetry, bring one of your own too. We will be sharing poems in a reading circle. Discover new poets, hear new voices and ways of working the same old world into new words.

Poetry is not one thing. It can be wacky. It can be profound. It can be sad or ecstatic, heartening or surprising. It can make sense out of what never has. So come, participate in the friendly atmosphere, share a ready ear, read aloud (or recite), and let the words do their weave and swing. Bringing poems is not necessary — we will have plenty of poetry here to share — if you come with open hands. For questions regarding this program, call 510-981-6280.

This free program is sponsored by the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library www.berkeleylibraryfriends.org.

The Claremont Branch is located at 2940 Benvenue Ave, Berkeley CA 94705, and is open: Monday, 10:00 am-6:00 pm; Tuesday and Wednesday, 10:00 am-8:00 pm; Thursday 12 noon - 8:00 pm; and Friday and Saturday, 10:00 am-6:00 pm. For more information about this program call 510-981-6280.

Wheelchair accessible. For questions, to request a sign language interpreter or other accommodations for this event, please call (510) 981-6195 (voice) or (510) 548-1240 (TTY); at least five working days will help ensure availability. Please refrain from wearing scented products to public programs. Visit the library’s website: www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org.

(I wrote the above press release for the new poetry program at the branch library where I work. Do come.)

Here's a link to future dates: BPL

Monday, September 29, 2014

Whether it’s of any significance I don’t really know

Something happened this month. Whether it’s of any significance I don’t really know.

Most days I glance over the stats Google collects for my blog. Other than a rare comment I don’t get any other feedback. (When I share a post on Facebook I will get a couple comments there.) Blog visits have been poking along fairly consistently for years, about a thousand a month. There will be a weird spike once in a while. Such spikes tend to be some kind of phony stats boosting by other sites that are, I guess, doing the same thing to lots of other blogs in hopes of getting return visits by puzzled blog writers.

There was a big spike in the number of visits this month. 4,000+. Dunno why. Two posts I did this year on suicide seem to have suddenly been noticed by someone: “How does this even work” and ”he can shuffle off his present” … Not that either one is burning up the interwebs. Still, I hardly expected they would outdo my posts on J. Edgar Hoover or octopuses. I can’t figure out from the information Google gives me who is finding their way to those posts and why, as neither seems to be linked to by a prominent source. (Unlike my theft of the passage in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch that provides the source for “Steely Dan.”) I’m not saying those two posts have spiked my stats. It’s just that seeing unusual visit numbers hit those two posts in particular is a little surprise.

In past stats spikes the spike was sudden and faded fast, spike-like, in other words. This month the numbers have continued at the peak, more or less. Not a one day spike, but numbers that have been going on most of the month. It would be fun to know the story behind them. Has Google changed an algorithm? Has the next generation discovered me?

Friday, September 26, 2014

pile of reading

Far from the Tree: parents, children, and the search for identity by Andrew Solomon
Andrew Solomon devotes each chapter to a different category of child that presents to the parent as a person unlike them: the Autistic, the Deaf, Transgender, etc. I’m on the eighth chapter which is devoted to prodigies, music prodigies, specifically. Since Solomon himself is gay he’s more ready to notice when people he writes about are, too. Though there isn’t a chapter expressly on gay people, Andrew Solomon speaks about his own experience as a gay man (with straight parents) in the opening and closing chapters. The book is sometimes fascinating, sometimes depressing, sometimes intriguing, sometimes oddly diffuse.

Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on stage and screen to 1939 by Mark Evan Swartz
Real detail on the live version of Wizard that was the biggest stage hit of its day (1902). It was not much like the book or the MGM movie.

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
I loved George MacDonald’s fairy tales so I was looking forward to this novel. I enjoyed the first third where the North Wind is personified as a woman who picks up the little boy protagonist and carries him off to adventures. But then the North Wind goes away and the text gets preachy.

Poets of Our Time edited by F E S Finn
An anthology of English verse which was published in 1965, year of my birth. A lot more devotion to traditional prosody than in the anthologies I usually read. Not bad, though.

Sudden Dreams: new and selected poems by George Evans
“world of a thousand / eyes viewing a thousand things at once / and each thing equal”

Short: an international anthology of five centuries of short-short stories, prose poems, brief essays, and other short prose forms edited by Alan Ziegler
More like reading a poetry anthology than one of short stories. The usual anthology experience - worth the time but uneven.

Against Forgetting: twentieth-century poetry of witness edited by Carolyn Forche
I expect I will be reading this rather long anthology for a long time as I don’t see myself reading more than a few poems at a sitting. These are poems about living through terrible world events.

Mojo: the music magazine, August 2014 issue
Favorite song on the compilation CD that came with the issue: “Slowly” performed by the Haden Triplets. Pretty, folky singing.

Revenge: a story of hope by Laura Blumenfeld
This one is at my desk at work. I read in on breaks. It’s really working for me. Blumenfeld writes well and I love the way she thinks aloud and researches and debates and doubts and clings to her needs. Her father was shot in Jerusalem by a Palestinian. Father’s head was grazed by the bullet. When daughter Laura asks if he wants revenge (she does), Father is baffled by the impulse.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

“lucky and full-hearted”

A mother speaks about her daughter:

She came out to me by calling me from college … The next day I wrote her a long letter. I told her that what was most important to me was not whether she loved a man or a woman, but that she loved and was loved well — that she experience passion, and the wonderful surprise of finding that someone feels about you as strongly as you do about them, lucky and full-hearted.

I came across this quote in Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree: parents, children, and the search for identity. Andrew Solomon investigated the way parents cope with finding out their child is unlike them. The topic chapters include the Deaf, Dwarfs, Down Syndrome, and Autism. Mostly Solomon interviews parents who cope well. Still, when I came across Betty Adelson’s description of her reaction to her daughter Anna’s coming out announcement, I was awed. Those are some seriously beautiful words.

I read the passage to Kent and couldn’t help choking up (made it difficult to get the words out). He kept patting me on the shoulder and telling me it was okay. Yeah. It was totally okay.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

word of the day: realia

context:
The narrator [of the story “Verily He Is Risen” by Mikhail Shishkin] harks back to Soviet-speak when he hears a woman who might have been his schoolmate and recalls the realia of a Soviet schoolchild’s life and the kind of verse they recite. [my bolding]

definition: objects, as coins, tools, etc., used by a teacher to illustrate everyday living.
definition courtesy dictionary.com

source: Marilyn Schwartz’s introduction to her translation of Mikhail Shishkin’s short story which appears in Two Lines: world writing in translation, no. 17

I looked again at the part of the story where the “woman who might have been [the narrator’s] schoolmate” appears. The woman’s way of speaking reminds the narrator of “a girl in my grade at school [who] was the school’s best at reciting the poem about the Soviet passport and ‘I’ve disliked the oval since a child and since a child have drawn an angle,’ and lots of other poems in that vein, and therefore she performed at all the Pioneer and later Komsomol assemblies …” I don’t see where the narrator remembers any “objects … used by the teacher to illustrate everyday living” — unless the translator is referring to a “poem about the Soviet passport.” I understand the Soviet passport wasn’t so much for travel outside the Soviet Union but rather something you had to produce to prove you were allowed to be wherever it was you currently were (even if it was where you grew up). In that case the passport, at least, would be an object of “everyday living.” In the U.S. you only get a passport if you plan to leave the country. Maybe the equivalent in the U.S. would be the driver’s license which is used more frequently for identification purposes than to prove you have the state’s permission to drive.

Friday, September 05, 2014

a tub is overflowing upstairs

Are there more than two ways to talk about music? There’s the technical - talking about keys and fifths and timbre or whatever. And there’s metaphor. The jargon of the technical quickly loses me. I have no way to conjure the sound in my head. On the other hand, metaphor is fun to read and creates a feeling that I can associate with the music. In neither case do I hear the music. But at least with evocative metaphor I am intrigued and more inclined to seek the music out.

The critic who writes about pop and rock for The New Yorker is Sasha Frere-Jones. I recently read a feature of his about the band Grizzly Bear. Let’s look at his metaphors:

“The songs on [the album] ‘Yellow House’ … seem to glow from within, as though the electricity had gone out and the house were lit only by candles.”

Frere-Jones likens the playing of a particular chord in one song to “a car coughing to life, or someone rising to his feet reluctantly.”

When later in that song “the backing vocals” come in, they “are bleeding in from above, like the tub upstairs overflowing.”

Grizzly Bear’s more recent album, “Veckatimest,” Sasha-Jones calls “a sprawling water park, sending you through different sluices and dropping you from pools down into slides that give onto small lakes.”

One of the songs on that album is “a big fat ice-cream cone.”

Another “manages to sink fully into its own honey without disappearing.”

The concluding song of “Veckatimest” shows us that, “The fog has lifted and now we can see an entire city, not just a house.”

If you’re curious, the metaphor about the tub overflowing refers to the song “Knife”:



source: The New Yorker, May 11, 2009

Thursday, September 04, 2014

word of the day: besom

context: A little boy is being carried through the sky by a female personification of the North Wind. “He began to wonder whether she would hear him if he spoke. He would try.

‘Please, North Wind,’ he said. ‘what is that noise?’

From high over his head came the voice of the North Wind, answering him gently, —

‘The noise of my besom. I am the old woman that sweeps the cobwebs from the sky; only I’m busy with the floor now.’” [my bolding]

definition: a broom, especially one of brush or twigs
definition courtesy of Dictionary.com

source: At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

word of the day: roscid

context:
The Arctic Ground Squirrel lies / beneath the tundra … / temperature lower than ice … / … But every other week it shivers / into warmth and for a night, it dreams. … [D]etails of the creature’s fate must echo / the unsolved problems of our hearts. / Else why bother reading through / these words in quest of a frozen mammal’s / roscid dreams? [bolding mine]

definition: Dewy
definition courtesy the Collins English Dictionary

source: “What the Arctic Ground Squirrel Dreams,” a poem by Christopher Michel
appearing in Fourteen Hills: the San Francisco State University Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2014

I remember going camping without a tent as a kid. Usually we slept under trees but sometimes we would lay our sleeping bags under the open sky and wake up roscid. I don’t think any dreams I woke from were roscid as well. Maybe those came later?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

“that splinter of grandiosity”

Most of us would like to be more successful or more beautiful or wealthier, and most people endure episodes of low self-esteem or even self-hatred. … But we retain the startling evolutionary imperative of affection for the fact of ourselves, and with that splinter of grandiosity we redeem our flaws.

source: Far from the Tree: parents, children, and the search for identity by Andrew Solomon

Monday, September 01, 2014

What if everything you’ve been told is wrong?

Being gay is very different from a heterosexual’s experience, in which everything they see, hear, and have been told confirms their own experience. Whereas for gay men and lesbians, their experience is at odds with what they’re told.

That’s Robert H. Hopcke in an interview conducted by Mark Thompson.

source:Gay Soul: finding the heart of gay spirit and nature with sixteen writers, healers, teachers, and visionaries interviews and photographs by Mark Thompson

Sunday, August 31, 2014

what I got at SF Zine Fest 2014

Tyranny of the Muse, issue #1, written by Eddie Wright, illustrated by Jesse Balmer
plus Tyranny of the Muse stickers
Tyranny of the Muse website

Police Log Comics: comic strip interpretations of the police log of Carmel, CA, issue #2, by Owen Cook
sample Police Log Comics in color

Tortilla, issues #2 and 3*, by Jaime Crespo
The artist doesn’t seem to have a website of his own currently but here’s his Wikipedia entry: Jaime Crespo

The List by Maia Kobabe
Red Gold Sparks

Childhood, a mini-comics anthology by students at California College of the Arts
class taught by Justin Hall

Jin & Jam, no.1, by Hellen Jo
for more: Hellen Jo

paperdummy, issues #5, #6, #7, and #8, by Peter S. Conrad
paperdummy.com

Four Mission Mini-Comix: When Naked Hallway Dudes Attack!, The Thrill of Living in a Dying Empire #2, Quincy’s Terrible, Horrible, Worst-Ever Blind Date, and Do You Suffer for Your Art … Or Because of it?
Mission Mini-Comix

postcards by Lia Tin, Lauren Kawahara, Aki Neumann, Emma Judd, Shawn Eisenach, and a postcard-sized piece of original art by NubsArt

a reminder to attend the 5th annual East Bay Alternative Book and Zinefest in Berkeley on December 6.

_____
* actually Kent bought these, but I talked to Mr Crespo about Harvey Pekar and the work Mr Pekar left unpublished at his death - I would contribute to a Kickstarter to see that stuff.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“migrant and unspecified forms”

[T]he right to look, for unstructured amounts of time, at migrant and unspecified forms, and at the relation between them, without demanding that the forms have a single meaning, and without demanding that whatever significance I ascribe to these forms be defensible, explicable, or based on any evidence but my own sensations.

This is how Wayne Koestenbaum descries one’s “rights” in regard to the experience of viewing abstract art.

source: My 1980s & Other Essays by Wayne Koestenbaum

Monday, August 25, 2014

word of the day: irrefragable

context:
Over the years I [Oliver Sacks] have seen … patients who, in consequence of a right-[brain]hemisphere stroke, have lost all feeling and use of the left side [of the body]. Often they have no awareness that anything has happened, but some people are convinced that their left side belongs to someone else (“my twin brother,” “the man next to me,” even “It’s yours, Doc, who are you kidding?”). … It needs to be emphasized that such patients may be highly intelligent, lucid, and articulate — and that it is solely in reference to their odd distortions of body image that they make their surreal but irrefragable statements. [my bolding]

definition: impossible to refute
per Merriam-Webster

quote source: Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

Monday, August 18, 2014

“You don’t have to bend the whole world”

I always had hopes of being a big star … As you get older, you aim a little lower … Everybody wants to leave something behind them, some impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you left a mark on the world if you just get through it .. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy, pay your dues and enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you. [ellipses in original]

That’s Dorian Corey at the end of the documentary Paris Is Burning. Dorian Corey is a professional drag artist. Paris Is Burning focuses on the Drag Ball scene in New York City in the 80s.

source: Paris Is Burning: a queer film classic by Lucas Hilderbrand

Friday, August 08, 2014

Handwriting Rebels

A couple years back Kent & I were doing a tour of Northeastern California. We stopped in at a museum that featured gold mining equipment and Indian baskets and so on. I bought some postcards, as I am wont to do, and chatted a little with the lady behind the front counter. When I said we were from Berkeley, she said she was born in Berkeley!

Somehow we got onto the topic of education - maybe it was the ignorance of kids today, or some such evergreen - and she said she couldn’t believe schools no longer required handwriting, that is, cursive. How could you consider yourself educated if you didn’t know how to do that?

Probably nobody (older) has ever but agreed with this sentiment (not long ago my younger sister posted similarly on Facebook), so I must have surprised the museum lady when I rolled my eyes and said, “I always hated cursive. As soon as it was no longer required I stopped using it. The only time I write with cursive these days is when I apply a signature.”

Sadly, we suddenly lost our common ground!

In his book about the FBI and the Free Speech Movement Subversives, Seth Rosenfeld spends several pages on a biographical sketch of former University of California president Clark Kerr. Kerr remembered his grade school days and one of those confident predictions made by his teacher at the old one-room school:

[T]hough she insisted he learn the prevailing Palmer Method of cursive writing - unless he mastered it, she warned, he would “never amount to anything” - he clung to his block letters.

I doubt Rosenfeld interviewed Miss Elba himself so I’m guessing Mr Kerr provides the quote from memory. It stuck in his memory! He did amount to something, the little rebel.

source: Subversives: the FBI’s war on student radicals and Reagan’s rise to Power by Seth Rosenfeld