Monday, May 31, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Alan Dugan's "One used to . . . "

Untitled Poem

One used to be able to say
what Seneca said to Nero:
"However many people you kill
you can never kill your successor."
But now the joke may not
be necessarily true: we might
have done it already. So let's
remember what the poet Oppian said:
"The hunting of Dolphins is immoral
and the man who wilfully kills them
will not only not go to the gods
as a welcome sacrifice, or touch
their altars with clean hands, but will
even pollute the people under his own roof."

Tuesday Poem, a community of poets, is based in New Zealand.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Irises and Weigela

There's a stretch of irises in bloom in front of the house. They have spread from two small clumps. Some time ago I drove two friends to Concord in search of an abandoned garden they had once found and from which they had taken plants. I followed their directions though I didn't believe they would find the garden again, but somehow they spotted the obscured turn-off on to a dirt road. We bumped along and eventually found the garden. A tangle, overgrown, but thru the wild, matted growth we could see Siberian irises, fresh green spears but no bloom. It must have been early May. I had to stand on the spade to get the point into the root-cemented ground.

This is a particularly fierce strain of iris, an old strain. They spread by seed which pops from seed pods in late fall. I let them spread.

The Siberian invasion does not disturb me, but this weigela shrub, planted by the former owners, overwhelms me, heavily festooned, ongepotchket, faputzt. I'll look at it again today now that the heat spell has broken. Yesterday the temperature was in the nineties. Today in the cold I might welcome such hot lushness. You might think I was talking about people.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Miriam Levine, "Surprise"


Steam from the shower clouds the mirror
except for the lower left corner above the lit candle.

The dry corner, blue as ice and shaped like a flame,
reflects my hip and smoky taupe tile.

There's even a bit of my hand and a piece of the shower curtain
called "Disco, which has silver facets stamped in the plastic.

I'm leaving my wet body to live on the other side of the mirror--
like looking in through a hole in the second-floor window.

Where am I standing? On a ladder?
Who is that dripping and coated with steam?

She's staring--amazed.
What is she staring at?

That dry bit of mirror,
the shape of a flame.

"Surprise" was published in The Dark Opens, a collection of poems, 2008, Autumn House Press.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Tuesday Poem: "I'm Nobody!"

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!

How dreary - to be Somebody!
How public - like a Frog -
To tell one's name - the livelong June -
To an admiring Bog!

--Emily Dickinson

I never get tired of this poem! If Dickinson was told to be sparing of exclamation points, she did not obey!

Tuesday Poem is a community of poets!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Save SMU Press!

SMU, Dallas Hall (Wikipedia)

Provost Paul Ludden announced the immediate closing of SMU Press called " one of the best small publishers of literary fiction in the country."

The decision to destroy SMU Press is shocking and discredits the university. Since 1936 the press has distinguished the school, publishing books of lasting value, and more recently fiction that future generations will read long after the cheering fans at football games in the twenty-first century are dead.

The word “culture” comes from a word meaning cultivation, tillage of the soil. In cultivation of the soil and the arts, the tools must go deep. SMU Press went deep and produced rich results.

Surely everything cannot be about money! Four hundred thousand dollars, the operating budget of the press, is an insignificant sum compared to the university’s other expenditures. Surely there are other ways to save money.

In a letter to the New York Times, author Tracy Daugherty writes: "Paul W. Ludden, the provost of Southern Methodist University . . . cites budgetary challenges as his rationale, but in fact SMU is weathering the recession quite well, with one of the largest university endowments in the country. Quite simply, this is a deliberate change in the university's educational/intellectual values, and I'm writing you because I believe this change would send ripples far beyond SMU, and set a precedent with disastrous ramifications for our national literary life."

While I am an SMU author--they published my novel In Paterson--I am not under contract for a future novel. I'm writing in support of SMU Press because I admire the work they do, publishing literary fiction the trade houses do not have the courage to publish. Here is a sample:

Praise for Mrs. Somebody Somebody from the Boston Globe

Short but not sweet
In the mill city of Lowell, interwoven tales of yearning, disappointment, and betrayal
By Steve Almond | April 19, 2009
By Tracy Winn
SMU Press, 189 pp.

Boston Globe/ Katherine Rathke

There was a time not so long ago when writers could make a living crafting short stories. Those days are gone. Amid the downturn in publishing, the new mantra among literary agents and editors is: "How can we transform these stories into a novel?"

Tracy Winn has wisely (and courageously) resisted the pressure. The 10 tales gathered in her new collection, "Mrs. Somebody Somebody," offer a testament to the power of the short form. They do what all great stories must: capture their heroes and heroines in the throes of astonishing events.

I would be grateful if you would join the following writers, among others, who have written letters of support. Please e-mail your letter to Provost Paul Ludden: and copy it to Kathryn Lang, Senior Editor,

Lee K. Abbott

Ann Beattie

Madison Smart Bell

Robert Boswell

Rosellen Brown

Robert Olen Butler

Alan Cheuse

Marcia Day Childress

Ron Carlson

Robert Cohen

Lesley Epstein

Richard Ford

Laura Furman

Alyson Hagy

David Huddle

Paul Lisicky

Margot Livesey

David Madden

Jill McCorkle

A.G. Mojtabai

Kent Nelson

Naomi Shihab Nye

Leslie Pietrzyk

Richard Russo

David Slavitt

Susan Straight

Abraham Verghese

Brad Watson

Gordon Weaver

Steve Yarbrough

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tuesday Poem: "May First"

May First

When you were born, the world was too.
The yews put out chartreuse and tulips
lifted red Bordeaux in satin goblets.
A haze from sugar maples streamed

thru our bedroom-window screen. People
say newborns don't see. Don't believe it.
You always turned your head toward light.
"You must change your life," Rilke wrote.

What did he know? You woke me. Birth
transforms. Procreation flares. In Terror
I became heroic. Before my wounds
healed I fought sleep to keep you alive.

Tuesday Poem is a New Zealand-based blog that welcomes all poets.

Heartbreak House

Real estate fever seized my brain last week. I fell in love online after I saw the pictures of this 1770 house with four acres of land for $144, 900! My pulse raced and I would wake up in the middle of the night and plan: We'd take out a mortgage on our house near Boston and spend spring and summer weekends in New Hampshire near family. The house and outbuildings needed what they call "work." When I saw it, I thought, The work would kill us. It turned out someone had already made an offer.

The pictures on the agent's website did not show the atmosphere of lost promise, rotten sills, animal nests, and falling-down decay. Originally the house must have been built on acres and acres, a huge pre-revolutionary-war land grant, most of which has been sold off, a few parcels at a time. The air of sad rottenness and beauty was the New England version of the postbellum South. Hundreds of thousands dollars could bring the house back more easily than restoring a cotton planter's mansion.

What was the purpose of this little Greek revival temple? Was it used as church or a theater? Or both? Is it 19th century or a 20th century version of Greek revival?

I would guess the "bathing pavilion" was built in the 1920s.

A version of pastoral with chubby legs and feet, and shawl to keep off the chill.

The barn/garage/shed is much larger than it looks in the picture and needs to be rebuilt.

The mess in the shed.

Animal nest in the tool box.

Overgrown pool.

Garden urn atilt.

Rooms and rooms.

There are five fireplaces in the house.

I'll never go back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"She Loves Me"

Kristin Shoop Jenko and Jim Fitzpatrick

Kim Misci

Arlington Friends of the Drama presented a sparkling production of
She Loves Me, a musical based on a play by Miklos Laszlo that also inspired the films The Little Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail.

She Loves Me is a hopeful work. Perfume shop employees Georg Nowack (Jim Fitzpatrick) and Amalia Balash (Kristin Shoop Jenko) are constantly fighting at work but unaware that they have responded to each other's lonely-heart ads--they've used aliases--and become secret friends. By the end of the play they discover the truth and love triumphs. Amalia sings:

Ice cream. He brought me ice cream!
Vanilla ice cream! Imagine that!
Ice cream, and for the first time we were together without a spat!

Ilona (Ann McCoy), another shop employee, also finds love, at the library: A trip to the library has made a new girl of me.

Here's to vanilla ice cream--Sheila Rehrig made sure there was plenty at the production party-- libraries, brilliant musical director Brian Rehrig, director J. Mark Baumhardt, the crew and designers, and a cast that sang marvelously.

At the production party I asked whether I could take pictures. "We're actors!" someone answered.

left, Matthew Kossack; David Herder

Sheila Rehrig hosted the production party

left, Ann Mccoy; music director, Brian Rehrig

James Grana

Melissa Fenton

center, director J. Mark Baumhardt

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday Poem: "The End of War"

The End of War
by Dahlia Ravikovitch (1936-2005)

He came at midnight, both legs lopped off,
through his old wounds had long since healed.
He came through the third-story window--
I was struck with wonder at how he got in.
We'd lived through an age of calamity;
many had lost their closest kin.
In streets sown with shredded papers
the orphan survivors were skipping about.

I was frozen as crystal when he came.
He thawed me like pliant wax,
altered me even as the pall of night
turns into the feather of dawn,
his bold spirit translucent as mist
that streams from the morning clouds.
(Translated from the Hebrew by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfield.)

Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch was active in the peace movement. The poem with its unmistakeable historical context is an elegy, a dream poem, a vision. The dead man--I take him to be a mortally wounded soldier--comes back from the grave and the speaker in the poem comes to life. It is mysterious how an elegy can also be a resurrection. If only that were true in life. Yet daily "the pall of night/ turns into the feather of dawn."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Iliad: Metaphor

Achilles binding the wound of Patroclus.

When I heard our reading group up north was going to discuss the Iliad, I groaned: it's long and bloody and I hadn't read it since I was an undergraduate, years and years ago. But then I remembered the great scenes: the old men admiring Helen, Hector's son crying in fear when he sees his father's flashing helmet, the death of Patroclus, the death of Hector, the rage of Achilles. Maddened, he kills in a fit of blood lust and throws the dead bodies into the river Scamandros, so many bodies that the river overflows with blood.

Yet as I read I was more interested in the metaphors that were doors into a parallel world of an agricultural, sheepherding, goat-herding, people who kept their eyes on nature. I had been taught that metaphor and simile amplified the main subject, but now I appreciated the metaphors in their own right. They signified life away from the blood-soaked battlefield where warriors fought for honor.

Here are some of Homer's metaphors and similes:

Think how a goatherd off on a mountain lookout
spots a storm cloud moving down the sea . . .
bearing down beneath the rush of the West Wind
and miles away he sees it building black as pitch,
blacker, whipping the whitecaps, full hurricane fury--
the herdsman shudders to see it, drives his flocks to a cave--

. . . like swarms of bees
pouring out of a rocky hollow, burst on endless burst.
bunched in clusters seething over the first spring blooms,
dark hoards swirling into the air, this way, that way . . .

. . . as the huge flocks on flocks of winging birds, geese or cranes
or swans with their long lancing necks--circling Asian marshes
round the Cayster outflow, wheeling in all directions,
glorying in their wings--keep landing, advancing . . ."

. . . as the swarms of flies seething over the shepherds' stalls
in the first spring days when the buckets flood with milk . . .

. . . as quick as a mother
flicks a fly from her baby sleeping softly . . .

. . . like flocks of sheep in a wealthy rancher's steadings,
thousands crowding to have their white milk drained,
bleating nonstop when they hear their crying lambs . . .

. . . like a lithe black poplar
shot up tall and strong in the spreading marshy flats,
the trunk trimmed but its head a shock of branches.

. . . as a garden poppy, burst into red bloom, bends,
drooping its head to one side, weighted down
by its full seeds and a sudden spring shower . . .

I've read as far as Book Six. Tonight, reading on, I'll look for the "as" and "like," not in order to escape the bloody battles but to see how most ancient Greeks lived--tending their children and animals, the swans, cranes and geese wheeling overhead, bees and flies swarming, udders swelling with fresh milk--Greeks who had the time to see a single red poppy droop its head.