Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Epictetus’ influence


Attracted to Stoicism did I
Elide it to experience
Desire, or did I abandon it
And return to what I was
All along?  I did not keep
It up.  Desire for
You satisfied

My curiosity.
On the other hand
I have not returned
To Stoicism,
Fearing instead
The dread
Of losing you.

Sentry duty on dark nights


Coming home for weekend Liberty
At eighteen seemed intolerable.  El Toro
Was nothing like the getting away
I had planned, months of training for
A short ride home?  It wouldn’t be
Like that in Korea.  I planned
A transfer to the thirty-eighth,

But there were a few I knew
To drink with and not much else
To do even I heard at the front.
I had managed to get a long
Way from home.  I stood in a pouring
Rain at post five on the north-east corner

Beyond a rice paddy filled to over-flowing
When something changed.  I held my
M1 pointed down cloaked myself
In shadow and knew I’d be able
To see it before it saw me.  On dark nights
Still I often enter your room and wait until
I see a sign that you’re still breathing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

After watching a series on the Pacific War


These still plague me.
I’d already seen
The movies, Iwo Jima
And Wake and strove to be
There; yet when I arrived
The Korean war was winding
Down; so I never stormed

A beach or charged an enemy
Emplacement.  I feel conflicted,
Not willing to give up my books
Or the need to go down stairs
And fix Susan’s dinner.  I no
Longer wish to join an attack
And feel the disgrace.

During my time the beach
Was on the Yellow
Sea with a tide so long
It would recede past seeing.
I would watch it go and watch
Women and children
Digging in the sand for clams.

I am past the age
For re-enlistment and though
Most often wish to remain
As I am still feeling
a nagging regret.
I never purchased
My own M1 and doubt I could
Still hit the black from 500 yards.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Noticing TS Eliot in passing


The philosopher Eliot wondered if he dared
At an age when I chose to join the Marines,   
Neither the subject of modern poetry
One would think perhaps but decisively
Present in the hand that brandished the pen
Regardless of the consequences.
Perhaps it’s a matter of muscled

Stamina or the withheld strength
Of his mother.  Mine though strong
Enough for my brother hadn’t power
Enough for the reins or if she did
I never noticed behaving as though
I could choose my own course within
Limitations I didn’t always see.

And now not seventeen but eighty
I’ve no wish to eat a peach
Or wear my trousers rolled
Seeing instead a red sky
From my window and rushing
To make Susan breakfast
Before the day is fully upon her.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Imagining your smile


The trees alive with wind
Sway away and back
Rippling their leaves
The while.  I imagine
Your smile and rush
To introduce you,
Standing near me,

Unstable Manifold


I can’t generalize from me to you;   
The fog appears to me a gorgeous haze;
Another meanwhile curls and turns away
From what light seeps into his darkened room.
Is it permitted to be this bifurcated
Being, or will I rage myself apart?
I hear a plangent ringing in my ears and see

A wriggling sliding down the window pain,
Mist not rain, a wet fog shape chasing
The squirrels into their holes the birds back
Into their leaves.  I’ve got a book of Spencer
On my knees, misjudged I read, just like
The rest of us.  Why prove a thing we’ve proved
Already?  Duffy seeing his chance jumps into my lap.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014



There are drops here
I haven’t seen before.
Have you been crying,
Staining your
Beautiful dark eyes?
They’re glistening
In the morning light.

You shrug and turn
Your head.  I’ve
Never found a way
To prevent them?
I have been
Helpless before
Each onset.

I’ll reach feebly
Toward you seeking
On the way some bit
Of happiness to lay
There, hoping
To ease your
Sorrow a tiny while.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Poetry, Ambition, and being 80

Milton at an early age decided he wanted to be a poet, one who would establish Britain in poetry the same way Homer had established Greece and Virgil Rome. Poetry has never been a self-supporting enterprise, neither in Milton’s time nor in ours. Milton fortunately had a wealthy father who supported him through his MA and then six years after that at home while Milton studied. His father thought all this time (according to John Rogers of Yale) that Milton would become an Anglican priest (the only reason for getting an MA in those days), but Milton instead wanted to write a great epic poem. Writing about warfare as Homer and Virgil did would be awkward because Spenser had done that before him with the Faerie Queen. Not only that but Spenser had taken up religious themes. Spenser is out of fashion at the present time. The Faerie Queen was “hidden from the investigation of much Spenserian scholarship, with its empiricist presuppositions.” The Faerie Queen was allegory and if one assumes all allegory is bad or simplistic well then one needn’t pursue the matter further. It is true one must have annotations to get through The Faerie Queen, but one most have them to read Chaucer, Blake, or Milton himself – unless one is steeped in Christian theology and then one is likely to find Milton heretical as often as not.

The idea of a new English epic hasn’t faded; although the long poem or poetic sequence has satisfied the ambitions of most, but Hart Crane did write The Bridge. Steven Vincent Benet wrote John Brown’s Body. [Neither Benet nor his poem are considered first rate today but he won a Pulitzer for it in 1929 and a stage production of it was directed by Charles Laughton.] Ezra Pound wrote Hugh Selwyn Mauberley before he wrote the Cantos. And yet T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland is rated above these by modern critics, but then the critics are “Modern Critics” and not totally out of fashion.  They would naturally prefer a Modern Critical poem to any of the previous.

It is still not possible to become a poet unless one is subsidized, and “selling oneself” goes a long way toward becoming subsidized. Another accepted path is to become a University professor. Robert Lowell and John Berryman did that – not full time but once they had become famous they seemed able to teach as little as they liked. In my case I was subsidized in a manner of speaking by becoming an engineer in aerospace. I did pursue the writing of poetry throughout my 39 years in Douglas-through-Boeing but one was expected to come up through the ranks, pay ones dues by going to poetry conferences, learning who was who, making important contacts, or having friends who were poets or publishers or who taught poetry – not something I ever did. Still, a few poems now and again seemed pretty good. Is it really “success in the eyes of the poetic Mandarins” of one’s age that’s important, or is the writing of top quality poems? One can seek the latter, in my opinion while ignoring the former. My 39 years in Aerospace was tantamount to ignoring them anyway.

Harold Bloom once wrote that all the top-quality poets had been identified. There weren’t any unknown poets out there because a poet needed to publish or he wasn’t a poet. I’m paraphrasing but I took him to be saying something like that, and I don’t think he has a very good argument. Surely one is a poet if he is writing decent poetry whether Bloom knows him or not.

As to how well I’m writing, I count my current ambitions as beginning in November 2014. I have quite a lot of poetry from earlier years but I’m not going to go back and look at it. No poet thinks that every poem he writes is great. I certainly don’t, but one needs to keep on writing anyway, because if one is truly capable of writing the occasional fine poem, he will need the skills to do it and the only way to have those skills available is to use them continuously. Showing all the stuff I’m writing is questionable, perhaps not advisable, but perhaps because I’m 80 it serves a sort of purpose. We read that people are living longer as a result of the benefits of medical science. Perhaps the undiminished minds of intellectuals will be able to reach into greater age as well.

Earlier I wrote that I would be satisfied if I could produce 77 fine poems from here on in. I was chided a bit. Surely I could write more than that. I’m not so sure. I’ll list the poems I think might be in (or near) that category at present. One can look them up on in the months of November and December 2014 if one wants to.

Poems for consideration

“Handle of Osage Orange” 11-2-14

“Tracks” 11-23-14

“Stuff of dreams” 11-25-14

“Portents,” 11-30-14

“Waiting,” 12-3-14

“Her Smile,” 12-9-14

“Checking my back-trail,” 12-13-14

“Wives,” 12-13-14

“The Coming of Summer,” 12-16-14

Final list thus far

“The Coming of Summer,” 12-16-14

Monday, December 22, 2014

Marfa Lights


Susan was clear-headed
Looking with me as we drove
Though we saw little
Throughout the miles
To her sister, remote
From almost everything.
Ranchers came from miles

For breakfast at one of the two
Restaurants and in the evening
There was little one could do
Unless one drove to see
The lights knowing they
Wouldn’t always appear
And when they did

They seemed little more
Than headlights on a road.
We were assured there were
No roads there.  Perhaps
An inversion created a lens
I thought, but the air
Was clear and one could see

The stars to a magnitude
Of five with our
Poor eyes.  The lights
Moved where no single
Thing was known to live. 
I might have gone to
Katmandu instead.

The lights hadn’t
Brightened the night,
But Susan
With stars reflected
In her eyes
Was far above
The mountains of Nepal.

Sunday, December 21, 2014



Not that disruption was abnormal,
One product line would end, the
DC and KC-10 for example,
While another would gain
Momentum.  I was a Program
Engineer and scheduled to go
On the delivery of the last

Two DC-10s, one to Lagos
And the other to Karachi
With a side trip to Katmandu.
Susan meanwhile wanted to see
Her sister.  “Katmandu,” they
Said with envy.  “And you
Won’t have to pay a thing.”

That wouldn’t have been the case.
I didn’t have a car that would get
Her to Texas and she wouldn’t
Go there on the back of my bike;
So I bought a small Toyota
And drove her to Marfa
Where we saw the lights.

What I seem to be up to

Here I am trotting out poems every day or so. It is valid to ask, especially ask myself, what I am up to?  Yes, it is nice to still be able to write at age 80, but if that were all, I could stop after a few of the better ones and try again at age 81, 82 and so on.  My motive is a bit stronger than that.  Years ago in a course on non-dramatic Elizabethan poetry the professor took a liking to me.  It was an evening class and I was the only one there that truly loved poetry.  The rest were teachers taking the class for extra money or out of obligation.  I showed her some of my poetry and she said it was good but no better than some of the other poetry she was reading in the poetry magazines.  That startled me.  What was she telling me?  That I ought to write better than they, or merely that I didn’t seem able to write better?  If she liked what she read in the magazines, my writing as good ought to be a positive thing, but she presented it as a negative.  And I considered it a negative as well. 

I considered writing an epic, something on the order of Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.”  But I found the style I was comfortable with wasn’t suitable to the task, even if I had such a task; which I didn’t.  Robert Lowell went through something like that after Lord Weary’s Castle.  The form of those poems was rhymed iambic pentameter.  But that style was not suitable to what he wanted to do and it wouldn’t enable him to break away from Modernism.  He told William Carlos Williams  he wished he could borrow something of his style, and then did.  The result was Life Studies which is the work considered to have founded the “Confessional School” of poetry – a title none of the “Confessional” poets liked. 

Adam Kirsch proposed the title of his book, The Wounded Surgeon as a more descriptive term for what the “Confessional” poets were.  Kirsch seems perceptive.  He thinks Lowell the finest poet of the age and loves Bishop as well.  In checking him on Amazon I discovered he had published a couple of volumes of poetry but was shocked to learn that he had reverted to the traditional form of writing.  I vaguely recalled hearing of a reversionist school, wondering if their mantra was something like Frost’s, “writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net.”  My own opinion is that end-rhyme forces the poet into choosing words for his rhyme instead of being able to choose the most suitable word to use for the poet’s intention.  Certainly fine poets have used end-rhyme but in my opinion that objectifies a poem, Eliot’s “objective correlative”; which is what the Modernists (although they usually didn’t use end rhyme) wanted to do – push it out there so that it was independent of the poet. It didn’t need to mean what the poet meant.  It could take on a life of its own. 

Kirsch describes Berryman as immersing himself in woman-chasing (writing his best poetry when he was chasing or in love) and drinking a lot.  Coming from a suicidal background he didn’t have the stamina to keep it up and jumped off of the Washington Avenue Bridge at the age of 57.  Everyone I’ve read believes The Dream Songs the best thing Berryman wrote.  For Kirsch that doesn’t place him above Lowell and now that I’ve read much more of Lowell’s poetry some of it very good Kirsch may be right. 

In my own case while I don’t believe in end-rhyme unless it occurs naturally in the course of what I want to write, I do believe in internal rhyme.  I think the best poetry should be lyrical in the musical sense of that word.  Also I don’t like simple narrative, although I’m probably guilty of it from time to time.  I need an image to become a metaphor to expand the direction.  In “The Coming of summer” for example there is quite a lot of imagery which may contribute to making that poem more successful.  The poem “Retirement Locations” has but a bit in the last stanza and seems weaker as a result. 

Berryman first published “77 Dream Songs” and Kirsch considers them his best.  He subsequently in the same vein published “His Toy, His Dream, His Rest” bringing the total to 395 and collected as “The Dream Songs.”  Writing 77 strong poems if I can manage, seems worth doing.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Retirement Locations


I myself wanted to retire
Next to a great expanse
Where I could hunt
Pheasant, quail, and run
Some German Shorthaired
Pointers, perhaps
In Northern Arizona.

Now I’ve a daughter living
Near such an expanse in
Northern Utah by the
Great Salt Lake and an
Old friend living in
Northern Washington high
Up.  Do they hunt there

I wonder?  Isn’t it too cold
For pointers?  As it is
We stay near doctors,
Specialists in Susan’s
Ailments, but I’ve seen
Light coming through the
Trees at sundown,

Turning us gold, and frost
On cold mornings with
Fog changing everything.
It could be any of those
Places for all I could tell,
Having no sense of direction
I could be anywhere.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Poets dying young


Bishop, Plath and Sexton
All died young, while I am
Keeping Susan past their
Ages, frail and weak
Walking on my arm
To a succession of medical
Appointments against her will.

I’ve noticed her reluctance:
Always late, always slow to don
Her shoes and jacket, cold
In the car as I drive, but they
One can see in their biographies
Did not have someone
Like me to need them.

Thursday, December 18, 2014



Feeling ground-down I tried
To claw into any sort of light.
I couldn’t impress myself
Each time and in the off
Hours it made little sense
To seek the faintest chance
Of lightning forming

The same impression twice.
I’d sought out space
Despite being told
No one can travel past
The speed of light:
Just one more
Depressing limitation.

In seeking to count
The progressions I’d found
A row of pilings
Twisted from beginnings
Into somewhat familiar
Shapes, mussels still
Attached though long

Since dead.  If I looked
Back there was nothing
But my sandy tread,
And I knew better
Than to grasp those
Empty shells and leave
Blood-prints from here on in.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Coming of Summer


Slipping in and out of the impulse
Between solid evidence
And the light that springs
Translucently through the tree leaves
Could I perhaps hold her there
Perhaps keep her
From slipping away?

This is an interlude
Between seasons of heat.
Rain may fall and the cisterns fill
A vacuum cleaner may run down stairs,
But she it was who looked back
Once with a slight smile
Noticing me walking behind.

Such a short time it seemed
Forever before we took the
Boat out, the wind whipping
The sails and her hair,
Too close to some rocks once.
I started the Seagull to take
Us out of harm’s way.

So what of this, her spending
So much time sleeping,
Losing her recollection
Of that time and only
Me here grasping it with
The mist settling on the leaves
Before the coming of summer?



Shoving it out,
Wading into the surf
Then climbing onboard
And putting the 75-pound
Centerboard down,
That was my proper
Place and there I sat;

Sailing out near
A rock out-cropping,
Dropping the
Pulling back the Seagull
And easing over the side
Where I truly belonged.

Later we’d dock
And eat something
At the Captain’s Locker.
The Potter rocking
In clear view outside
The restaurant’s window.
Up on a ridge I watched

Ben and Duffy run up
To follow me down.
There was no place
We didn’t go, them
Running and me stopping
Now and then briefly
Before moving on.

Saturday, December 13, 2014



My first wife was afraid
To take the tiller while I changed
Sails.  My second found it a delight
To be in the storm if only
For a short time and climb
Mountains, struggling to the top
Despite the wasting’s incursions.

Both preferred to stay on shore
While I with spear and other gear
Struggled through the surf,
The first afraid, the second
Unwilling to take another’s life.
The first passed long ago.
The second struggles to read

With her one good eye.
I hoped to bend them to my
Will but abdicated the actuality.
They filled their own imaginations
With forms I never clearly knew;
Lending Susan my arm now
I’m repeatedly dazzled.

Checking my back-trail

This look wasn’t supposed to be
Into my past.  I asked up
Several poets for company
But Eliot and Pound were
Unnecessarily hard to understand
And Lowell, Plath and Sexton
Too hard to hear for their weeping.

Did I back away back then
Because of my raising
Children and a difficult wife?
Or could I see that all those
Suicides added up to a road
Not taken, at least by me
On the authority of their example?

Who now cannot write a poem?
The world is peopled with poets
Writing their way out of prison
And mental institutions
Or into congress and who
Would want such a career
Or to be called professional?

Duffy perked his head
And sharply barked.  Ben
Looked up with interest
Toward the door – probably
Nothing I said to Susan,
Not what it was before and
Nothing worth dying for.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hart Crane and other Gay poets

I did not intend to start any new study projects, just focus on poetry, read a bit of criticism, write mostly. In the course of checking my interpretation of Hart Crane’s “Legend” I found it dealt with in a Yale lecture – lecture number 13. This morning I scrolled all the way back to Lecture number one and found that the lecturer is Langdon Hammer. I checked him on Amazon and discovered he seems to have an interest in getting certain gay poets their due. He edited the American Library of American editions of Hart Crane and May Swenson. In the spring of next year he has a book coming out on James Merrill: The Amazon description of Hammer’s book is “The first biography of one of the most important poets in the second half of the twentieth century, whose life story is unparalleled in its narrative interest.

“The story of James Merrill (1926-1995) is that of a young man escaping, but inevitably reproducing, the energies and obsessions of glamorous, powerful parents (his father founded Merrill Lynch); of a gay man inventing his identity against a shifting social and sexual backdrop; and of a brilliantly gifted poet testing the redemptive potential of his art. We see how Merrill, freed from having to work for a living, made his life itself a kind of work. After Amherst and a period of adventure in Italy, he returned to the New York art world of the 1950s (he met W. H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Larry Rivers) and began publishing his poems, novels, and plays. In 1953, he fell in love with budding writer David Jackson, who remained his companion for forty years while they explored "boys and bars" in Greece and elsewhere. At the same time, they were talking to the spirits of the otherworld using a Ouija board, which became an improbable source of poetic inspiration for Merrill. In his many collections of poetry and the candid letters and diaries that enrich every page of this deliciously readable life, Merrill created a prismatic art of multiple perspectives. Holding that life and art together in a complex, evolving whole, Langdon Hammer illuminates Merrill's "chronicles of love & loss" and the remarkable personal journey they record.”

I was familiar with Hart Crane, but I haven’t read much of either May Swenson or James Merrill – can’t bring a single thing to mind – so I sent for collections of their poetry. As I mentioned in regard to the poetry of Lowell and Sexton, I agree with those who disapproved of the embarrassingly inappropriate nature of some of their poems. If that sounds like an implied censorship of sorts, so be it. Following Gadamer, no doubt I have a preconceived (prejudice) regarding what is appropriate or inappropriate in a poem. I don’t have the impression (I haven’t read him in several years) that Hart Crane crosses the (my) line. I had a problem with him for other reasons. As Langdon Hammer said in Lecture 13, Crane is difficult. I didn’t mind the difficulty but he often seemed to jumble his poetic images, references, symbols illogically – or maybe I didn’t have the patience to deconstruct all of them.

In the case of Merrill my apprehensive is about his spending the last part of his life writing spiritualistic poems sometimes using an Ouija board. I was willing to buy a used copy of his collected poems however to find out if I agreed with Hammer’s assessment of him as one of the most important poets of last half of the 20th century. I expect not to find May Swenson as challenging, but I’ll find out.

Diving with Susan


I used the disposal to swirl the odd
Bits of lettuce and onion down
The drain, Angus beef patties
Sizzled in the pan.  Upstairs
I’d arranged chairs so we
Could watch a movie.
I’d left her once leaning

Against the bulkhead swinging
Her leg, reading, eating a sandwich
In more of a swell than
I had intended.  I dived. 
The ocean bottom was
A gentle place except for me
And my spear that day

Pinioning a nice calico
Bass and an opal-eye perch.
I hurried back up fearing
She’d be sick in the swell.
She smiled as I climbed
Up over the side – everything
New to her – as her joy was to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014



Sure as some are fond of saying
I might have cancer unbeknownst
Or be struck down by a truck
Some dark night walking the dogs
But I might not, and it doesn’t
Seem I will quite yet.  I still continue
While most of the counter arguments

Have passed away.  Jay for example
Afraid in a way before his early
Onset Alzheimer’s attempted to
Argue against my anger using
A gentle abasement
Which he knew wasn’t persuasive
But was all he could manage.

“Let’s go off and fight a war”
I advised both Nick and Stone
Who demurred laughing while
I shoved off to Boot Camp
And the General Gordon to Japan
And to Korea.  Saving themselves from war
One died during the Nixon administration

From skin cancer and the other
In Northern California from lymphoma.
The cause of cancer isn’t
Known I know, but they fell away --
Didn’t believe they could climb
Or swim as far.  I was always
The first one in and one day

I dived and found myself
In a flotilla of Jelly Fish
While they back on shore
Laughed.  I laughed too
But was delighted
At being there and seeing
What they never would.

If in all this is a lesson
I can’t conceive what
Might be, they being dead.
Looking back
To shore there are
No more to follow
My example.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Her Smile


I have the trip hammer
And she the old slow clock
Which doesn’t follow
And never seems to match
My sullen patience.
She slows me down;
I catch my breath and slow-

ly hear her questioning looks
And ways – not the old ways
But what I must encourage
As something achieved
And answer at the same
Pace as her smile
And apprehension.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

On Robert Lowell


Lowell swirled is merely Lowell
But if one kaleidoscopes him
He becomes immense
Not able to keep fragments
From flying off and becoming
Small Lowells of their own.
I put my hand up to catch one

But it slipped through my fingers
Screaming out my window.
The mountains showed little effect
Between the trees and
That throbbing beat
Is my neighbors drinking beer
And drowning out one more day.

The individual nature of “startle”

I finished Tillinghast’s Damaged Grandeur, Robert Lowell’s Life and Work.  My previous impression of Lowell was based on my reading of Lord Weary’s Castle, half of Life Studies, and Ian Hamilton’s Robert Lowell, a biography.  Tillinghast would say that my impression of Lowell was typical.  Lowell’s reputation dwindled.  Tillinghast read Paul Mariani’s Lost Puritan, a Life of Robert Lowell, 1994.  His own book was published a year.  He thinks Mariani’s biography provides a much fairer representation of Lowell.   

I opened Mariani’s book this morning and read, “In the fall of 1963 while I was at Colgate, studying for my English Master’s, one of my professors suggested I might want to look at something written after Emerson, Coleridge, and Hopkins.  Since I was a practicing Catholic, and so rather an anomaly on campus, he thought I might read the poems of Robert Lowell, especially something called ‘Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket.’  I can still remember standing in the stacks of the library one dreary rainy afternoon soon afterwards and, as I read that poem, felling as if the top of my head were coming off.”

In 1962 I was working in Santa Monica on the Skybolt Program which was cancelled by Robert McNamara.  I transferred to Long Beach to work on the DC-8 and there met Lee Griffith, one of several who wasn’t going to persevere, get a PhD in English and teach literature some place.  He had an MA from Duke and had a powerful interest in poetry – more in the study of it however whereas mine was in the writing.  He introduced me to Lowell’s Lord Weary’s Castle; so I might have read “Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket” about the same time that Mariani did.  I don’t recall that the top of my head felt as though it was coming off, but I was impressed.  Lowell won the Pulitzer Prize for Lord Weary’s Castle and I thought it well earned.  It wasn’t that volume but what followed that caused my opinion of Lowell to plummet.  Mariani’s opinion apparently never plummeted; so I’ll be interested in learning how he managed to keep it up.

I can’t be sure I wasn’t a bit “startled” when I first read “Quaker Graveyard” but doubt that it was to the extent of Mariani’s startlement; which causes me to observe that Mariani would almost assuredly not feel the top of his head come off each time he read this poem but also, others coming to it with different backgrounds might feel nothing more than a little prickling of the scalp.  Given that this is, or could be, true, if this was all there was, there could never be a Harold Bloom, never be a greater “criterion” against which to evaluate individual poems.  I paused over the word “criterion” because poetry must never be held to one, it seems to me.   I don’t think Bloom has created one although as Tillinghast wrote, he may at times be rather fonder of the relationship between poets than the poems themselves.  Still the “effect” of reading a given poem must somehow be the determiner as to whether the poem will be deemed great or not.  I don’t really object to that although I’ve noticed that, as often as not, I don’t agree with Bloom’s evaluations.  So perhaps my equivalent of “startle” (although I don’t like but can’t think of an acceptable replacement word) is what I use, and perhaps the evaluation of poetry will always be an individual thing.  And then perhaps only when enough prestigious critics individually evaluate and then pronounce a poem or a poet great will it and he be more widely considered so.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Near Long Point


I should not have sailed out
Taking the boat and you
At the end of that storm,
The waves rolled huge
And the wind was stiffer
Than I expected.  I called you
Aft to take the tiller

While I shortened sail, the
Wind gale-force, forgetting
Out life preservers, trusting
In the beauty of the day,
The greater wind having moved
Further away leaving
Us in its lee.

Extraordinary Beauty


Men who are ordinary ought to beware
Those extraordinary beauties with
Beguiling eyes and depths
They can never plumb, thinking
Thoughts that exclude all of yours,
And the little looks now and then,
Your sliver of chance, you would be wise

To look beyond, but we were fashioned
With our own eyes and seek such beauty
And wish to own it – a normal sort
Of thing if it is not
Too great, but if it is then
There will be rivals
Which she may enjoy

Unless she have a wearied will
And see you somewhat the same
The name might be in love,
I’ve inscribed it so and recall
Striving with her in dreams,
Sleeping now, tired from
Her latest medical procedure.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Tragic Generation

I have been reading Richard Tillinghast’s Damaged Grandeur, Robert Lowell’s Life and Work.  I am 88/124 through his book.  Tillinghast does think Lowell wonderful and tells his readers that in many ways, but I have yet to hear how wonderful Lowell’s poetry is demonstrated by the poetry itself.  Nevertheless the book is interesting and worth reading by anyone interested in the poets of that generation.  Here is Tillinghast on Jarrell and Berryman, both of whom committed suicide:

“What a distance we are from the high claims made by Randall Jarrell forty years ago [Tillinghast published his book in 1995] in ‘The Obscurity of the Poet’ from Poetry and the Age:
    Art matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament
    and the most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives, but because
    it is life itself.  From Christ to Freud we believed that, if we know
    the truth , the truth will set us free: art is indispensable because so
    much of this truth can be learned through works of art and through
    works of art alone – for which of us could have learned from himself
    what Proust and Chekhov, Hardy and Yeats and Rilke, Shakespeare
    and Homer learned for us?
        . . . Human life without some form of poetry is not human
    life but animal existence.

“That art teaches us about life is an idea seldom heard from poets now, and never from exponents of ‘critical theory.’  From reading texts, they say, we only learn about other texts.

“The task, it seems to me, is to avoid the temptation toward despair and self-destructiveness that so damaged the lives of the ‘tragic’ generation, while at the same time taking seriously their dedication to the redemptive value of poetry.  Lowell, in an elegiac tribute to Jarrell, used the word ‘noble’ to describe his old friend.  John Berryman had his own fierce nobility, which he characteristically hid under self-satire.

“His single-minded obsession with poetry, his gift for transforming his own brilliance and his own pain into art – these enabled him to leave behind a tortured but strangely sublime and moving testament.

    Henry’s pelt was put on sundry walls
    where it did much resemble Henry and
    them persons was delighted.
    Especially his long & glowing tail
    by all them was admired, and visitors.
    They whistled: This is it!

    Golden, whilst your frozen daiquiris
    whir at midnight, gleams on you his fur
    & silky & black.
    Mission accomplished, pal.

Comment:   In regard to Tillinghast’s comment about the critics in 1995, “reading texts, they say, we only learn about other texts,” I thought of Harold Bloom.  Some place else I read recently that for Bloom the most significant aspect to poetry is the influence between a poet and the once influenced rather than the poetry of either – something like that – a rather serious condemnation.  But writing about poetry seems difficult.  I don’t think Tillinghast has been of good service to Lowell as far as I’ve read.   Tillinghast was under a severe restraint in that he had only 124 or so pages to write his comments, but even after turning often to Bidart and Gewanter edition of Robert Lowell, Collected Poems to see what Tillinghast was referring to, I wasn’t finding beauty.  Tillinghast seemed content to show that earlier readings missed Lowell’s points and that Lowell was more serious and profound than previously thought.

The quote of Jarrell’s is interesting and after reading it I ordered Poetry and the Age.  I used to have some books by and about Jarrell but seem to have gotten rid of them.  I don’t think I ever read this one.  Tillinghast is saying no one thinks this way today.  We don’t go to poetry for truth.  Today we are clear about this, but they weren’t clear in the “Tragic generation.”  The poets then kept wanting to be respected for doing their jobs well.  Instead they were ignored or marginalized and didn’t handle that very well.  After spending time off and on with most of these poets over the years I came away thinking Berryman the best of the lot with perhaps Plath being a distant second.  I think now I misjudged Lowell.  Tillinghast did “witness” to Lowell and that influenced me, but he didn’t really treat any of the poems in such a way that I could see why he appreciated them.  It was only as a result of acquiring Robert Lowell, Collected Poems and reading more of Lowell than I ever had in the past that I learned to appreciate him a wee bit more.  I still wouldn’t place him above Berryman however.

A Recurring Dream


“What are these,” they asked,
Gathering round.  “Not mine,”
I fretted, putting my hands up.
“We have heard otherwise,”
A loud fat man with the
Scraggly beard sneered
Looking back toward the others

For support.  “Who else would
Write them,” he demanded,
“If not you?”  I shrugged.
“You can’t prove it was me.”
“Oh but we can,” he said
Waving a hand and a man
Pushed a wheel barrow

Toward me.  “This is a mistake,”
I stammered, wiping the sweat
From my brow.  “I am no
Writer.  Just ask Lowell --
Doodler only, something to do
While watching commercials on TV --
Nothing more, and these,” I said

Gesturing down, “might not even
Be mine.”  “You claim to be
So patriotic while at the same
Time undermining our latest style
Of writing; what a twisted mind
You must have, you who call
Yourself an amateur.”

“Less than that,” I squirmed, grabbing
The barrow, backing away.  “A minor
Squirrel saving up for another time.
Who knows, a heavy rain might wash
It all away and I’ll be as though
I never existed while your style
Will mean everything that ever was.”

Contra Lowell


Lowell weighed two-hundred.  Three solid years
Of weights took me to only one-eighty-seven,
But aside from his modes I might
Be the stronger: less influenced
By family, no noblesse oblige
But entering the Marine Corps
While he objected conscientiously --

No doubt frightening more
But I never mastered madness
Nor drinking nor smoking incessantly
And my heart is still sound
While his gave out in a New York taxi;
Yet he to hear him was a professional
While I he would say am an amateur:

Quite right.  Writing at night
Because I like to but not needing
To push my words upon a disinterested
World or influence a coterie
Of suicidal children taking classes
Under my care.  Caring will destroy
The joy of writing for those not Lowell.

Saturday, December 6, 2014



What next it might be asked
If projects filled my mind,
But I put one metaphorical foot   
Before the next and felt my way,
Easing the kinks and cramps.
Susan’s hands spasmodically grip
My arms.  I kneaded them,

Wringing them loose,
Filling her tub with water hot
Enough to ease her through
Another evening.  I steal away
But keep my cell phone near
In case she needs some later help
Which is to say this isn’t

Of my construction.  Off to the side
I remember what I wanted,
All the tools, the usages,
Whims and Middle English cant;
So much back then was rant,
More force than inspiration.
I now render dreams of ardent

Rushing down streets
Filled with people I never know
Frantically searching for a dog
Separated as we slept,
Dead until I dreamed
Her back to life or nearly so,
Searching until I wake.



    One couldn’t know – the mouse scrolled
    And burrowed, digging out a brother.
    Taking all this time coming, inclining
    Me to consider the decades
    Scrunched and twisted into
    Stretched-out tales – no sense
    Railing at what can’t be helped.

    The light flickers on the screen.
    Nothing is perfect, not even
    Microsoft.  Imperfectly he
    Appeared hearing from just one
    Ear afraid something
    Long ago would rear
    And take the other.

Thursday, December 4, 2014



Picking our way through the brush
My dogs preceding, I listened
To a distant howling
And a bike up on Soboba Road.
The secret was to take
What no one wanted
And dive or hike there

Where we could find it.
The brush bristled
With menace; Ben paused;
Duffy got behind me.
Who would it be?
I touched the pommel and waited.
The liability of choosing

To be where we were
Was the threat of whomever
Would loom out of the depths
Or down through the fog
From the mountain.
I pulled the bone-handled
Damascus from its sheath.

It was as though a balloon
Burst or a candle was snuffed.
Whoever it was had backed away.
The wind blew down
With a hint of rain.  We stood
Where we were
And waited.

Monday, December 1, 2014



The medical appointment
Tomorrow is the last for
Several days, feeling
Longer – circling
The sky. Storm clouds
Threatening but no rain
Yet.  Will we crumple

Before we reach it
Or reaching it fail in some
New way?  I can see the
Mountain and feel the rain
That has yet to fall.
Much of it encourages
Our staggering progress,

Keeping us busy
Watching the time –
Fans circling from the
Ceiling.  I pulled back
The turkey’s skin Thursday
Sprinkled in the herbs,
Waited for a sign.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On Sexton’s “Music Swims Back to Me”

I read Tiffany Anne Tondut's "close reading." you posted. That closeness seems too heavy-handed. The poem is a slight little thing about being crazy -- not up to that level of analysis -- not that I think Tiffany is right, I don't.

Years ago I read about a woman standing in a museum looking at a famous painting. She said she wasn't sure she liked it. A museum attendant happened to hear her and said "Madam, that painting isn't on trial, you are." [or something like that.] Does any poem have that stature? I don't think so. I've heard writers say they didn't like Shakespeare's plays or Paradise Lost without suffering ridicule. But perhaps in the case of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton their positions as Women's-Movement-icons places their poetry at the same level as the painting. Anne Sexton's “Music Swims Back to Me” isn’t on trial, you are. Tiffany Anne may be of that ilk. She doesn’t say whether she thinks the poem is good or not, that seems to be assumed. But I didn’t assume it when I first read To Bedlam and Back years ago and don’t now that I have, apparently, all of Sexton’s poems.

Reading a normal poet and not an icon it would impress me to find several poems in a volume I think are good. It would be too much to expect them all to be. I recall vaguely the term “success” being used in the past. The critic thus externalizes his views and doesn’t have to say whether he liked the poem or whether he thought it good. He can say that the poem accomplishes its intent with appropriate language “successfully.” The poem is a success. There is no need to compare it to Dante’s Inferno. That approach seems weak but it would be a better approach to the poems in To Bedlam and Back.

Sexton wasn’t writing as an icon, she was at least partially, perhaps mostly doing it as therapy. She was encouraged to do that by her therapists, if memory serves me. Someone with her level of talent could produce a poem that could then be used as a point of discussion – as part of the healing process. “Music Swims Back to Me” looks as though it was written after she was released, but a subsequent therapist might have looked at it to see if Sexton has divulged anything that might aid the healing process.

Perhaps, “Where is home? Your parents both died and you had to sell their house; so where is home? Is it just where you live now? It seems more important than that in your poem. Have you been lost out on the road and looked at street signs, playing music on your radio while you did? Was this poem more than the discovery about being committed? Could you really see the sky in the institution and were there really bars? Did they really strap you in a chair? Or were these constraints poetic images of the restriction you felt at the time.

Maybe this poem was only marginally “successful” in disclosing anything to a therapist. I think it only marginally successful as a poem.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stuff of dreams


I drew in the sail
a curtain trailing
rolling till it fit
neatly in its bag
and started the engine.
It was a fair night
light chop, nothing to frighten

someone watching the stars
and the mast lights
or the darkness of land
beyond.  After we got
there who could say?
It wasn’t an important
ending it always ends

that way and for much
the same reason.
Then in its slip
it was mere fiberglass
and wood not the
stuff of stars
and unending dreams.

It was left back
there and neglected.
Slipping over the side
I would see
another point of view,
you looking about
and not finding me.

Sexton’s “Music Swims Back to Me”

I have been unfair to Sexton, thinking of poems I didn’t like. There were many I did like. Here is one such from her first volume To Bedlam and Part Way Back, 1960. At the time I read this I was under the impression, as apparently most readers were, that Sexton learned to write in a mental institution.  According to Kumin that wasn’t true. She was a poet before she got there:

Music Swims Back to Me

Wait Mister. Which way is home?
They turned the light out
and the dark is moving in the corner.
There are no sign posts in this room,
four ladies, over eighty,
in diapers every one of them.
La la la, Oh music swims back to me
and I can feel the tune they played
the night they left me
in this private institution on a hill.

Imagine it. A radio playing
and everyone here was crazy.
I like it and danced in a circle.
music pours over the sense
and in a funny way
music sees more than I.
I mean it remembers better;
remembers the first night here.
It was the strangled cold of November;
even the stars were strapped in the sky
and that moon too bright
forking through the bars to stick me
with a singing in the head.
I have forgotten all the rest.

They lock me in this chair at eight a.m.
and there are no signs to tell the way,
just the radio beating to itself
and the song that remembers
more than I. Oh, la la la,
this music swims back to me.
The night I came I danced a circle
And was not afraid.

Comment: After typing it out and thinking about it as I typed I want to change “like” to “sort of like.”  Reading it the first time the “Mister?” at the end emphasizes shockingly her lostness which struck me as very effective. But I didn’t care for her “la la la.”  I suppose that was to signify her mental breakdown and perhaps she really did sing “la la la” when she was there but it doesn’t seem up to the job in the poem. Maybe there really were four ladies over 80 in diapers but I don’t see how that adds to the poem. They could as well have been in a hospital as a mental institution.

But what about the change to first person in the last stanza? She ends the third stanza with “I have forgotten all the rest” but in the last stanza begins “they lock me in this chair at eight a.m.”  Does this signify that she is having another episode or that she is remembering the earlier episode so vividly that she still needs to ask “which way home . . . Mister?”

Sort of good but not great IMCO (in my current opinion).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A few biographical notes on Anne Sexton

The following is from the foreword to The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, written by Maxine Kumin who collaborated Sexton on a number of things:

"Though the reviewers [and not just them] were not always kind to Anne's work, honors and awards mounted piggyback on one another almost from the moment of publication in 1960 of her first book To Bedlam and Part Way Back. [I remember buying that book] The American Academy of Letters Traveling Fellowship in 1963, which she was awarded shortly after All My Pretty Ones was published and nominated for the National Book Award, was followed by a Ford Foundation grant as resident playwright at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. In 1965, Anne Sexton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in Great Britain. Live or Die won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1967. She was named Phi Beta Kappa poet at Harvard in 1968 and accorded a number of honorary doctoral degrees. . . ."

"But between the publication of new books and the bestowal of honors fell all too frequently the shadow of mental illness. One psychiatrist left. His successor at first succumbed to Sexton's charm, then terminated his treatment of her. She promptly fell downstairs and broke her hip -- on her birthday. With the next doctor her hostility grew. Intermediary psychiatrists and psychologists came and went. There seemed to be no standard for dealing with this gifted, ghosted woman. On Thorazine, she gained weight became intensely sun-sensitive, and complained that she was so overwhelmed with lassitude that she could not write. Without medication, the voices returned. As she grew increasingly dependent on alcohol, sedatives, and sleeping pills, her depressive bouts grew more frequent. Convinced that her marriage was beyond salvage, she demanded and won a divorce, only to learn that living alone created an unbearable level of anxiety. She returned to Westwood Lodge, later spent time at McLean's Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and finally went to Human Resources Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. But none of these interludes stemmed her downward course. In the spring of 1974, she took an overdose of sleeping pills and later remonstrated bitterly with me for aborting this suicide attempt. On that occasion she vowed that when she next undertook to die, she would telegraph her intent to no one. A little more than six months later, this indeed proved to be the case. . . ."

"Women poets in particular owe a debt to Anne Sexton, who broke new ground, shattered taboos, and endured a barrage of attacks along the way because of the flamboyance of her subject matter, which, twenty years later, seems far less daring. She wrote openly about menstruation, abortion, masturbation, incest, adultery, and drug addiction at a time when the proprieties embraced none of these as proper topics for poetry. Today, the remonstrances seem almost quaint. Anne delineated the problematic position of women -- the neurotic reality of the time -- though she was not able to cope in her own life with the personal trouble it created. . . ."

Comment: Having read Freud at a very early age I have never been willing to dismiss the idea that if one is raised with a standard of morality, one can not violate that standard without paying a price. Freud's answer was to dismiss the standard, overcome it with therapy. I don't know if the psychiatrists Sexton went to tried that but Kumin tells us they gave up on her -- and then she on herself -- or maybe she gave up on herself before she went to them.

Kumin tells of Sexton claiming (during the time she was producing one poem after the other, sometimes as many as four a day) to be God -- always a risky business if part of that moral standard included Sunday School teachings about Nebuchadnezzar.

Kumin's assessment is the one sentence "Anne delineated the problematic position of women -- the neurotic reality of the time -- though she was not able to cope in her own life with the personal trouble it created." I doubt that Kumin would agree with what I've written here and instead would blame it on the backward times and the verbal abuse directed at her by reviewers and others for what struck them as her excessiveness in bizarre directions. Truman once said that if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. He was speaking about politics, but the same thing would apply to any of us, and in the case of Anne Sexton how could she know she couldn't stand the heat until she had actually entered the kitchen?

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Transplant Surgeon


All of the tests, the prodding
And poking led up to this one
Seeing-all Surgeon.
He asked, checked and made
Up his own mind about it all
Before pronouncing her a
Candidate for a transplant.

Then later he said
Unfortunately there are too
Few organs and she must
Be almost dead before
She can have one --
If there is even one
Her size at the time.

On the way home we
Stopped at the Farm
House Restaurant where
She had a Chili Dog
And I a Breakfast burrito
Thinking what use
The pretense?

Better to make
Her weakness strong
Instill reserves of energetic
Defiance and magnify
My frustration into rage
And transplant

On Coyotes and Cows

    We were hiking,
    And by the dairy
    Was a coyote near some
    Cows who were grazing
    In a field.  Ben bounded
    Down after the coyote
    Who known for his cleverness

    Disappeared.  I studied the cows:
    Weren’t they afraid?  The
    Coyote had been in plain
    Sight but they never looked
    Up except when Ben dashed down.
    But perhaps the coyote wasn’t
    In their line of sight and only in ours

    Or perhaps he moved outside
    Their line of vision or being
    Small perhaps they didn’t care
    And he was bent upon a mouse. 
    Ben returned.  The coyote
    Was gone and the cows
    Continued grazing.  One night

    I was hiking with Ben and
    Duffy and saw them stare
    Into the darkness.  I shined my light
    And the field glowed with
    Scores of coyote eyes watching
    Us.  We watched back and
    There was no disappearing.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


    You’d think theoretically
    She might believe she
     Was at my mercy: not being
    Able to care for herself.
    I made her steak
    And eggs this morning –
    “Seems like I just ate,”
    She said and sounded
    Annoyed.  Of course
    The darkest theories
    Entail many possibilities
    Most of which are irrelevant,
    But the tracks blocked
    Us demonstrably.
    We parked on the road
    With cars from the casino
    Running past while down
    Below a recent rain
    Restricted even more,
    But Ben and Duffy
    Didn’t mind and
    Ran with joy
    Despite my fear.
    I treated it as
    Carefully as I could.
    Those tracks wouldn’t
    Be there always.  Everything
    Fades and washes away.

Saturday, November 22, 2014



I looked good, he said,
And Susan too – is the sort
Of thing they often say.
Am I thinking clearly   
About this: has Susan
Forgotten to take her
Medication?  I’ve set it out.

Then getting  Ben and
Duffy we drove to the river
But they set out stones
Before the entrance
To the trail.  I put on
Gloves and rolled them
Away, but they had been

There okay.  I saw
Their tracks tractor-
Deep in the sand
And wondered
If the setter of stones
Objected to the debris
Or just me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Medical Thaumaturgy


It’s a trick, isn’t it,
Making us live past
Our allotment so they
Can redeem not just our day?
And we must conform
To get their medications,
Probes, endless tests

And their “we don’t know
But perhaps and this just
Might be” and we
Without their training
Mutely sit and listen
With half our ears
Hoping to be released

And perhaps get some
Dinner at a restaurant
On our long way home.
I opened her door
And helped her out.  She
Wisely couldn’t remember
Where we’d been.

Scientific Waste

            We were of course not

            Attempting to educate,

            Do something to anyone,

            But to pique their curiosity

            So they would seek something

            From what swirled up just as

            I sought whatever it was

            They were doing and then

            (Boredom would come later),

            Do it myself.  Eliot

            Is another instance:

            Abandoning philosophy

            For poetry, or so he thought,

            And making the confusion

            Called his “Wasteland” which

            None of the highly educated

            Could understand – voicing one

            Interpretation after the other.

            Later Eliot said he was just

            Grousing at London and

            Didn’t mean any of those things.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Questions for a first cup of coffee


            How long have people been writing,

            Ten thousand years or so?  Not very

            Long anthropologically, and how

            Long have they been talking?

            Longer sure, but saying what?

            And have they gotten any smarter?

            And if some of them have

            They aren’t writing or talking

            But squirreled away in labs

            Making drones, artificial limbs

            And ships that will fly them to Mars.

            So what about the rest of us?

            Shall we go on talking and writing

            While the earth grinds us to dust?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Illusions of thanksgiving


            A dark shadow like the head

            Of a small black dog

            Moved outside the window

            Behind him who unmoved by

            My remark continued talking.       

            I crossed and looked but like

            The others it wasn’t there.

            Potatoes, ham, stories

            And pictures arrayed

            Across the afternoon

            And into night.  Susan couldn’t

            Be pried away.  “Fine,”

            She said to my objection.

            Do they think this night

            Might be the final one,

            So many celebrations

            And this the last?

            It passed again or so

            It seemed, behind me on the stairs

            And there beside me on the floor

            Awaiting my attention.

El Mirador


            How could we know

            In such a vast construction

            Where to park to abbreviate

            The long trek to the greatest extent,

            And which narrow spaces and darkened

            Pillars to pass by, which elevator

            Plodding on in our search?

            There was something in his hand,

            A needle and a vial, and with a

            Wistful and practiced eye

            He told us what it was

            He would do and how long it would take

            And when I might come back up.

            I withdrew to the depths

            Where heat had accumulated,

            And then went out over

            Causeways where the sky

            Had turned dark

            And was spinning 

            And practitioners dashed

            By me rushing away.

            Haggard and withdrawn

            She was finally released,

            And in the Jeep we too flew

            Beyond the city.  Something

            Was closing in we knew.

            Much would be suffered before

            The end of this endeavor?


            Even when I look inside,
            Or especially when I do,
            There are no clear directions.
            I skitter off fleeing
            Toward locations I
            Suspect aren’t really there.
            Oh I knew it would be chancy
            Back in those days;
            I was quick and clever:
            “Who here has a good
            Sense of direction,” I would
            Ask, and some private
            Not too shy would volunteer.
            Susan was also very good,
            But her liver now
            Won’t keep toxins
            From her blood and she
            Is like me, lacking
            A knowledge of where
            We need to go
            And how to get there.

A Civil Tongue


            Keeping a civil tongue?

            I wonder why, when

            Civilization consists

            Of impersonal rules

            That apply in the

            Aggregate but

            Are enforced on all --

            Without exception!

            And where is the

            Howling that last

            Night lulled me to sleep?

            I heard a solemn

            Sighing and saw

            A sublunary splendor

            Shining on Duffy

            In my lap and Ben

            At my feet.

            I’ve a sharp tongue

            To cut me out of



Janus Hiking


            Janus the crafty

            Looked backward watching the lion

            As I hiked too bored to do it

            On my own humming softly

            As we hiked as one these

            Moments undoing years

            Of having but one mind.

            The lion behind

            Settled down to watch

            But one of us was aware

            And smiling.

            He squatted low with ears back

            As we chuckled softly

            Fingering our Becker BK7.

            A roll of thunder

            Might have covered the thought

            Of his charge but our piercing

            Eyes both fore and aft

            Transfixed him in the rain

            Which rolled off our hat

            In rivulets.

A Fragile Hope


            What will it be like,

            Needing to hang onto God

            But too weak to grip Him

            Properly and with a mind

            To fuzzy and disorganized

            To know for sure

            What it is one has,

            If anything?  Awakening

            To a still-foggy

            Morning I should be

            Hiking and Susan should

            Be getting stronger.

            The longer we wait

            The more tenuous

            The knowledge as well

            As the undertaking.

            Our cleaning lady will care

            For certain things.

            As for the rest

            I’ll let them go and hope

            I’ve not escaped His grasp.

Our hour upon the sand


            I turned seeing the flat

            Wave darkening the brush

            And trees.  Was it rushing

            Toward us or silently

            Waiting ‘till we looked

            Away to crush our

            Simplistic pleasantness?

            An hour upon

            The sand passed.  We

            Passed into the next –

            A dried bone taken up

            With little left to rend

            But there is always

            Someone to try.

            The blood is well hidden

            And deep; whether beneath

            The leaves we crush

            Or tilting in us.

            Listen to our bleeding:

            The wind and whatever else

            Is sweeping us away.

To whom do these shadows belong?


            Perhaps a good day for a hike

            After many weeks of too much heat,

            But my blood is sluggish and Susan      

            Will need to eat later on.

            Ben and Duffy don’t understand

            Or else they do and simply wait

            To see if I’ll take up my gear.

            If we don’t hike they’ll

            At least have jerky sticks

            Which are nearly as good

            As walking through the woods’

            Dim light out of everyone’s

            Sight save those

            Who yip and howl

            At untoward interference.

            Not everyone is comfortable

            Being imposed upon

            By strange ways of living,

            Of speaking, of hunkering down

            In shadows I thought

            Belonged only to me.

Fog Warnings


       The nightly barking throbs

            Fog horn-like warnings:

            Whoever is there

            Must stay away.

            No voice too far

            To hear will

            Order it still,

            Nor would he 

            Obey it in each

            Night’s ebb and flow.

            Whoever it is

            Or not must hear his

            Sorrowful bay-like horn

            Proclaiming fog.

            It will come

            Despite his

            Rock-like teeth

            Prepared to tear the

            Imprudent, deceitful,

            Whoever brashly

            Scoffs at his warnings.

In Progress

            Lacking the certainty

            Of Milton, Wordsworth

            Or even Harold Bloom,

            I drove Susan’s Hyundai

            Toward her first appointment

            Of the day in the desert

            On Bob Hope Drive.

            Pushing her into a machine

            They gave her ear plugs

            And me as well

            Sitting by the wall.

            Then tolled a discordant

            Chime time and again

            While urging her stillness

            And the holding of breath.

            Death was ever on

            Our minds but not quite 

            Yet.  Pulling her out

            They let me help her stand

            And on my arm walk her

            Off on our next venture.

Handle of Osage Orange


            Leaving the Corps at twenty

            I could have gone back

            Or into college or law

            Enforcement.  What did

            I know but the Corps’ training?

            Looking back I would

            Not have been the same.

            Later on I was willing enough

            To fight but not as before  –

            Retired at thirty-five

            Or forty but less preparation

            For introspection and worry

            Better liked perhaps but dull.

            My knife plunged into some

            Old dried wood.  Its handle

            Of Osage orange bright

            And well-cared for

            Amidst the dried

            Wreck of a tree,

            Those parts of me.

Preferring the culture that produced Shakespeare

Consider this from Northrop Frye’s “Antique Drum”:

“The First World War discredited the view that northern, liberal, largely Protestant cultures of England and Germany were, with America, the architects of a new world. Latin and Catholic Europe began to look like a cultural as well as a political ally. The essay on Blake in The Sacred Wood is full of anti-Nordic mythology: Blake’s prophecies ‘illustrate the crankiness, the eccentricity, which frequently affects writers outside the Latin tradition.’ So although Eliot’s view of literature is ‘classical,’ his Classicism regards Latin medieval culture and Dante in particular, as the culmination of the Classical achievement. Dante’s greatness is partly a product of a time when Europe was ‘mentally more united than we can no conceive.’ At such a time literature achieves its greatest power and clarity: ‘there is an opacity, or inspissation of poetic style throughout Europe after the Renaissance.’ So Eliot explicitly prefers the culture which produced Dante to that which produced Shakespeare.”

Why pay any attention to Eliot now? As Bloom writes on page on off Modern Critical Views: T. S. Eliot, “. . . anyone adopting the profession of teaching literature in the early nineteen fifties entered a discipline virtually enslaved not only by Eliot’s insights but the entire span of his preferences and prejudices.” I was a few years behind Bloom and don’t recall an enslavement but Eliot was taken very seriously. But since that time for me was the Unabomber who believed fervently that we should return to an earlier time, a time very much like Frye says Eliot preferred. It is also indicative that (as Bloom I think writes elsewhere) Eliot was opposed to the idea of evolution. There is no “evolution.” We aren’t getting better and better we had best look back to an early perfect or at least better time and strive to return to that.

The Unabomber would have us abandon our technology and return to simpler ways of doing things. Eliot would at least have us exalt an earlier simpler time and the literature that was produced then. Literature produced later is cranky and eccentric. On the other hand evolution is still at work. Richard Leakey in one of his books predicted that Homo Sapiens wouldn’t last much longer than any other species, but he is reasoning from the past and not from ideas the products of evolution are opening up to us. How long will it be before homo sapiens is living in the Moon, Mars and elsewhere in the universe? Some humans eventually will not be subject to the damage done or about to be done to this earth.

And what is the impact of evolution upon poetry. We can’t draw any conclusions but we do know that our minds have been impacted by technology, software, information. There is now something “new under the sun.” We are dealing with matters not conceived of by Dante. We are doing things with our minds we never did before. Is the crankiness and chaos that produced Shakespeare really such a bad thing? Is it impious to predict new sorts of poetry, and poets at least as good as any who have gone before, maybe in a few hundred years, maybe sooner?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My “Big Foot” story


[written 8-28-14]

I was on a hike with my wife and at last two of my kids about 36 or 37 years ago in the Cleveland National Forest. I have a very poor sense of direction but thanks to having been trained by the USMC in maps and compass, I was (almost) always confident about where we were going. We got to one spot where the map said there was a trail, but we couldn't see one. I squatted down and could see the old hard-packed trail underneath the brush. It had grown over the trail. Then up ahead I saw someone coming toward us; so I said, "come one, I see someone coming toward us; so the trail must be open up ahead, let's crawl underneath. So we got down on our hands and knees and crawled along this over grown trail until we got to an open spot. It seemed further along than the spot where I'd seen the guy coming toward us, but when I looked I could see that the trail was overgrown further on as well.

As we stood there the others interrogated me. "Are you sure you saw some one?" "Yes!"

"What did he look like?" "I don't know I just saw his outline. . . but he could have been further away than I thought.  Let's keep going."

I got complaints from my kids who wanted to turn back, but my wife was game so on we went. We did finally come out on an (uncovered) trail but never encountered the man I saw and thought must be coming toward us; so what had I seen?  I occasionally looked for tracks on the trail as we crawled along but never saw any. Neither my kids nor my wife had seen what I saw; so my kids (regularly teased by their father) accused me of making it up. I insisted I had seen someone. Then (always ready to tease my kids) after a bit I said I had figured it out: Big Foot. He probably wasn't on the trail but crossing it. I looked up and saw him. He saw me and stopped for a moment, and we lost sight of him when we went back down onto our hands and knees. My kids scoffed, but when I insisted that I wasn't kidding about seeing someone, they did look round about more than they would on a typical hike.

So what did I see? I don't know. If it was a man, what was he doing out there? There was no trail crossing the one we were on, and the chaparral was dense. Someone could bull their way through it, but it wouldn't have been pleasant, and if a man would try it (I would have thought), he would have made a lot of noise doing it. Of course something larger would have made noise as well, or would he?
My son likes those Big-foot-hunting "reality" shows. I'm not really saying I saw a big foot. All I insist on is that I saw something or someone.

Anthropology and Becker knives

[written 8-29-14]

The predominate view among anthropologists is that homo sapiens as a species has been in existence for about 200,000 years. So what he has been doing for that period is important to us. For example, I wouldn't be going out on much of a limb to say that our ancestors for the bulk of the 190,000 years we have no recorded information about spent most of that time walking. So in choosing hiking as one of my main interests "might" have provided some benefit that I don't know about. If our bodies were design to walk and I do a lot of it, it can't hurt.

Interestingly, the dog, canis familiaris, as a species has been in existence about the same length of time. There is no evidence that he has been domesticated quite that long, but he might have been (IMHO). And we know that having a dog can increase your sense of well being and add years to your life. Did the ancestors who got along best with dogs have an evolutionary advantage over those who didn't? Very probably. Dogs helped us hunt, they guarded our campsites, they stayed back and guarded the women and old people while they "gathered" as the men took the dogs best suited for it and went out hunting.
Also, we know that there was an evolutionary advantage to growing very old because the old people could teach the young about where the water could be found, where the game herds moved to, what herbs were good for what, what unusual weather conditions meant, and how best to make things like spears and knives. Tribes with old people like that had an evolutionary advantage over the tribes that didn't.

Now it might seem that I am reaching very far in looking for a rationalization for buying so many knives, but having a lot of tools and weapons would provide another evolutionary advantage to our ancestors. We know that a big advantage occurred when the bow and arrow were developed, and any improvement in that system would provide an evolutionary advantage to those who had it. But how is that going to provide an evolutionary advantage in this day and age? There might be a slight advantage in that we who have a lot of really good knives receive from them (at least I do) a sense of well being, and after all we are behaving in a way best suited to our evolutionary forebears and their inclinations. Whether having knives will enable us to live longer in the same way that having dogs will, perhaps not, but maybe.

Receipt of the Becker BK10 and other considerations

[written 8-30-14]

I expected to like the BK10 and I do. In terms of weight it is slightly over 12 ounces. My BK7 is slightly over 13 ounces and my BK2 is slightly under 15 ounces. So for hiking the BK10 is moving in the right direction. For the hiker, lighter is better all other things being equal. As I was reminded on a hike this morning some knives just won't do. I took the Schrade SCHF10 for a hike and learned it would only stay in the sheath as long as I remained upright. I came near to taking a tumble and resolved to banish this knife/sheath combination from all future hikes. In the case of the BK10. It will fit in the one sheath I can use (for hiking) for the BK2 But I don't like the idea of just one useable sheath for the two knives; so I sent away for a "slim jim" sheath from Skystorm. It is hard to tell too much about this sheath from the small photos, but it looks nice and minimalist, boding well for being able to ride comfortably on my belt.

Skystorm will be sending my a BK7 sheath late in September. I had initially thought the BK7 would be my primary hiking knife, but it is hard for me to be sure when I haven't actually hiked with the knife/skystorm-sheath yet. It may be that the BK10 with the lighter-looking Slim Jim will be more comfortable.

The BK2 was designed to be the only knife you needed in an Armageddon-type scenario, but for other scenarios other knives are available. My emphasis is hiking; so I don't need a BK5 which is excellent around the camp; nor do I need a BK9 which is an excellent chopper. Actually, now that I have the BK10, BK2 and BK7 I don't really need any other knife, but hovering and being considered for my list is the BK17. It is 6.4 ounces, about half the weight of the BK10. My only hesitation about putting the BK17 on my list is that it is the same weight as the Ka-Bar 1250 and its ilk; which I like a lot. This is 3/4 the size of the USMC fighting knife. The blade of the Ka-Bar 1250 is 5 inches, long, a bit longer than that of the BK17. If anyone has an opinion about the relative worth of the BK17 (or 16) versus the Ka-Bar 1250 et al, I'd be interested. I've already got three of the 1250-type knives; so do I really need a BK17?
If you read any of my observations about the Schrade SCHF10 you would see that I was extremely uncomfortable with that knife. I was on the other hand instantly comfortable with the BK10. The sheaths are another story but since just about everyone else likes them, I'll say no more (at least in this note). Do I feel the same way about the Ka-Bar 1250, that is, comfortable? That is a complicated question. Having been in the Marine Corps I have a fondness for the USMC Ka-Bar fighting knife and the 1250 is a miniature version of it; so yes I like it a lot, but I have to admit that I have my doubts about it. It is so small that I wonder how it would do in an emergency. (How would the BK17 do I might wonder as well.) With the BK2, BK7 and BK10 I have no doubts. I'm completely comfortable. And if Skystorm comes through with some decent sheaths I'll be a happy man.