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.