Wednesday, December 23, 2015



    Just a few more things to tidy up,
    To Fulfill my responsibility, then
    I’ll be free to go, eighty-one
    Being a respectable age to, no
    One will be bothered if
    I do.  If I choose to
    Stay longer, pondering

    This feeling of having
    Gone on this long,
    Surviving two wives, a
    Number of relatives and
    Friends, I might look again
    For purpose, something to do
    In between reading Borges’

    Conversations and Connolly’s
    The Unquiet Grave, neither
    Of whom found purposes
    Worthy of much though they
    Moved on as long as they could
    With imposing style, and
    Enjoyed each warming day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Seeking Beauty

    Seeking Beauty           

    It has rained.  Shall I take my camera
    And dogs out when the sand is wet
    And the sky is dark?  What could I
    Gain from such a day?  What thoughts
    Could rise from the mist enshrouding
    The Mountain? If I say to myself
    There is no point going if my

    Day won’t produce beauty,
    I will doubt activity of any sort.
    I will understand why some put
    Bullets through such thinking.
    If I embrace the dread and
    Take my camera or pen
    Into the dark of such

    A day, stand as the rain
    Pours; look up until
    My eyes fill,
    If that isn’t
    Beauty, beauty
    Has probably
    Past by.


Friday, December 11, 2015

K5 on a rainy day and other considerations

Leaving Olympus I started Pentax with the K20D but always liking backup. I bought a K7. As soon as it was out of warranty something went wrong with its AF, I couldn't get the focus dot to come on, so I sent it in for repair -- back to just the K20D and needing backup I bought a K5. Once the K7 was repaired I gave the K20D to my son, but . . . I didn't really trust the K7 anymore so I bought a K5iis and gave the K7 to my son -- probably perfect after the repair but I didn't trust it. Some time passed, other things went on, the price on the K3 dropped so I bought one. I found myself using the K3 all the time until . . .

I discovered the pleasures of Samyang. I liked the Samyang 85mm, decided to add a couple of more and then ordered a Pentax-M P/K SMC 200mm F4, excellent condition (the buyer said) for $89.99. The menu page asking which focal length a manual lens had wasn't popping up automatically, so I did some research, found I could access that screen right beneath the Shake Reduction, and in a non-Samyang type lens I needed to be sure and turn off C27 which keeps the shutter from working unless a manual lens is locked in "A." Did the 200mm that was coming even have an "A" lock? I didn't know.

And then the weather report indicated that it would rain the next day (today); so I couldn't use a non-WR lens. Plus, my camera settings were getting way too complicated for me to remember. I was sure to forget, grab a camera take it on a hike some future day and discover it didn't work properly and I couldn't remember why it was set the way it was. So I decided to set one of my cameras as a rainy day only camera, not to be used for manual lenses, but which camera?

I decided it would be between the K5 and K5iis. Did the K5 even measure up anymore? I looked for a comparison and found Unexpectedly it rated the K5 as better than the K5ii. The DXOMark rating rated the K5 against several other cameras and only the Nikon 7200 beat it out:

So not only did I decide to make the K5 my rainy-day camera, reserving the K5iis and K3 for manual and AF lenses (haven't sorted out which camera to use for which), but I developed a new-found respect for the K5. It rained intermittently today. I had the K5 and the 16-85WR lens on this very dark day: see (all but one of today's photos are on page four of the Dec 2015 gallery) No camera was going to shine on a day like this one (IMHO) and in looking at the shots later on Lightroom 6 I couldn't see that the K5 or the lens did badly under these conditions.  I had the camera at ISO 400.  In retrospect I wish I'd shot some of them with ISO 800, but the apertures I was using never demanded a ridiculously low shutter speed so I left the ISO at 400.

Monday, December 7, 2015



“I’m going away,” she said,   
Looking stern and resolved.
I took her to mean on a trip
Some distance away from
Which she’d eventually
Return.  Discovering my
Mistake only after I

Awakened I wondered
At her firm resolve, her
Desire to get it over and
Be gone.  I’ve never been
Interested in travel.
She’d read of voyages
At sea, packages deals

To England, France especially
Heaven, and what that would
Mean, promised advertisements
From him who went on ahead
To prepare a place for her
As it should be perhaps,
But I see no place for me.



Sitting here in my chair
Altered by Susan’s never
Having heard the gun-fire
Nor read of those now dead –
Her road being longer and
Burgeoned with ongoing pain
And languishing dreams and

Thoughts that faded day after
Day (Duffy curls up in my lap
Now) instead.  The last light
Swirls around its coils and
Dies.   My sore eyes can’t see
Beyond the image that remains:
Her smile at some look I gave

Her ages ago, some song I sang,
The sound of crickets in the
Yard.  Would I rather spend
This time with her or accept
The force that sent her on?
It is well for all mankind the
Choice wasn’t mine to make.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

On Borges’ “False Modesty”

If as I believe something goes on in the creation of a poem that is not entirely of the poet then he does himself a disservice and makes of himself a dishonest man if he claims to have made the entire poem out of his own "ability" and volition without the aid of any external force.  Perhaps as someone implied (if I understood him correctly and can paraphrase), that it is all someplace in the poets psyche but that he doesn't have access to it except at the point of creation and then it is either produced by him while "seeming" to come from some place else or actually does come from some place else.  In either case it seems prudent not to take complete credit for the production and it wouldn't be false modesty to admit that he isn't sure where everything that made up the finished poem came from.  One thinks of Nebuchanezer looking down from a high wall and exclaiming, "see all I have made," or Shelly's "Ozymandias (no doubt inspired by the Biblical story) saying ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

This isn't to say that all poets are like this.  Perhaps some produce poetry entirely out of their own conscious intellects with nothing they need to call a "muse" or external force assisting.  Then it would indeed be false modesty for such a poet to deny that the poem comes entirely from his own ability.  I can't frankly tell what sort of poet Borges is.  I have his Selected Poems and have read a number of them.  He claimed that he worked his short stories over and over until they came out right, but he does say they started with an idea he had.  Did his poems start the same way?  And this "idea," what was it like I wonder?

Further on Borges’ “Poet’s Creed”

In thinking further about the poem “Beautiful,” I don't really believe I was being prescient, but the image of the poem, occurring a day before the San Bernardino shooting was strange enough to take note of.  And yes, I have been describing what goes on much as you say with words and images flitting through my mind.  You don't quite say that, but in my case and perhaps the cases of other poets it is more pronounced, more insistent.  The incidence of madness in poets is rather high and I've often wondered if perhaps it was caused by a misinterpreting, misusing or resisting insistence of this kind.  I acknowledge this "insistence" for what it is (or what I conceive it to be) and write.  The actual writing is as though there were an obligation or duty that was being fulfilled.  My disagreement with Borges was due to his describing the poetic process as something entirely a product of his conscious mind.

If someone argues that something goes on that is common to all mankind then that application would result in something like Freud's "unconscious" -- matters back there that we don't have access to and which may or may not become evident by future actions or beliefs -- something like R. G. Collingwood's "constellation of presuppositions" which we mistakenly assume to be truth common to all mankind but is in reality the effects of unique teachings and experiences that we have incorporated as we grow.

So then the poet:  has he become such as a result as his own constellation of presuppositions or has something a little different occurred, something that opens him up to a mental activity and forces that are not common to all mankind -- that only occur in a tiny sliver of mankind that create or become vessels of a creative activity that they cooperate with -- or that they reject or misuse at their peril.

I've been struggling through episodes of the Amazon-produced series "Hand of God" in which a corrupt judge becomes convinced that God is speaking to him through his son who is in a coma.  The voice the judge hears turns out to be accurate; so the viewer can't completely dismiss him as crazy.  Something else is going on.  Either it is a series of coincidences that allows him to pick out people guilty of the crime he is trying to solve (and punish) or there is something like what you describe -- facts in the Judge's mind that have been jumbled up and not accessible except through the (imagined) voice of his comatose son.  I say "struggling" because it is unpleasant to watch -- the judge is being "duped" by the leaders of a Charismatic-type church and we must watch their goings-on -- as well as the goings-on of other corrupt or twisted people, but I have only a few episodes left -- I want to find out what the voices mean (if the writers of the series eventually tell us).  I doubt that there will be a second season.

Borges’ “The Poet’s Creed”

Borges in his lecture "A Poet's Creed," said, "I think of myself as being essentially a reader.  As you are aware, I have ventured into writing; but I think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written.  For one reads what one likes -- yet one writes not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write."

If I am simply writing what I am able to write, then I would agree with Borges, but that hasn't been my experience.   If I am writing my best poetry then it is not I who am able, it is something else, and I write what I must write.  My "ability" is submerged or set aside -- at least that is the way it works -- or feels -- just an image or two comes to my mind and my "ability" is to not turn away from it.  Beyond that, where does it all come from?  Was it all there in my mind, jumbled up, needing to be sorted out.  That is what Susan used to tell me, and yet . . . consider the image that began my last poem, a poem written on December 1st, 2015:

    I marched a long while
    Near the edge of town,
    Looking out, having no
    Place to go and no reason to
    Stay.  I checked my weapons --
    Getting dark as it was and night
    Was when it could be --

And then the last stanza

    Their boots and the clank of
    Their gear.  I saw their gleaming
    Teeth and smiles.  I held my
    Rifle in my left hand.  They came,
    Knowing we had no steadfastness.
    Having lost my own,  I drew my
    Colt and pulled the hammer back.

If I were in truth (rather than in metaphor) to march along the edge of town, what is beyond that edge is a lot of open area, desert and mountains and the Loma Linda Medical Center that a few months ago determined that Susan could not be saved.  On the next major street over from the Medical Center,  on  Waterman a shooting took place on December 2nd that killed 14 and injured many more.   My son lives a very short distance from the facility where the shooting took place, and my grandson was working at an facility, heard the gunfire and was there when his facility was locked down.

So I was metaphorically walking post at the edge of my town a short time before the shooting took place.  Was my poem prescient, describing what was shortly to occur, a militant attack?  That doesn't seem likely; so was it mere coincidence?  Perhaps.

Had I been writing what I as able to write as Borges said, I would say it was undoubtedly a coincidence, but since I was writing what I must, I have doubts . . . sitting here thinking about them . . . waiting for the next unbidden thoughts to sound in my mind.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015



I marched a long while
Near the edge of town,
Looking out, having no
Place to go and no reason to
Stay.  I checked my weapons --
Getting dark as it was and night
Was when it could be --

Things coming down from the
Mountain or up from the desert
Sand with teeth gleaming and
A hunger we couldn’t understand,
When someone as used up as I
Would be sent to walk and watch
And stop it if he could, but if

Not, appease its hunger for
A while.  I lit a Camel and
Drew the heavy smoke into
My lungs.  This night I could
Feel it coming – not for
Me in particular but I would
Be in its way.  “Beautiful,

Beautiful,” I hummed, marching
Along, swerving from dour
Thoughts. I sought her out and
After a short time wanted to
Have her mine, thinking that
One true thing and thought
Would remind me wherever

I stopped to lean steadily on
Her beauty -- shying away always
From how she’d changed, her
Sickness ravaging.  I could
See her as she was, “beautiful
“Beautiful,” under my breath
Breathing out fire.  I heard

Their boots and the clank of
Their gear.  I saw their gleaming
Teeth and smiles.  I held my
Rifle in my left hand.  They came,
Knowing we had no steadfastness. 
Having lost my own,  I drew my
Colt and pulled the hammer back.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Night Chill


My anomalous mind one day
Concludes it has thought as much
Poetry as it could, or as much
About a certain person, or as
Much about a certain person
Given how much I know or
How much I feel,

Or how much I’ve progressed
Or degenerated in the throes
Of longing.  They have read
Everything I’ve had to say
Thinking now perhaps I’ll say
It again and again for the
Words throb in my aching

Mind waking me when the
Night is in its deepest chill;
When I’ve fought, twisting and
Turning on the floor and my dogs
Have moved away from each side
Till I rise, pull the shade and
Verify that darkness has opened wide.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Borges and suicide


“The Door to suicide is open,”
Borges wrote.  I opened my own eyes
To wonder why it wasn’t for me.
I fit the profile: old and recently
Deprived of someone I loved.
Why not rush off to where she’s
Gone?  “Theologians,” Borges

Asserted discouraged it
To him.  He was gratified
He could hardly see the
Wall close in.  In my own
Case everything opened out
Without end and here there is
Drought.  Brown prickly

Thorns lying everywhere.  I
See them well enough when
I wake.  My mouth is dry from
The taste of words I wrestled
In my sleep.  The river will
Wake one day and rush me
Toward a crushing conclusion.

Third November Dream


We had to move the heavy beam
Out through the door.  “Who can
Lift the end up over the sill”? He
Waited for an “I will,” but no one
Spoke.  “Look at you, the leader
Said, “strong arms and back.”
“I’m much too old,” I coughed

In an old and querulous voice.
“Then who,” he asked looking
About, stamping a foot.  “Hurry!
We need to get the gurneys out
Before it all comes down.”  I
Looked doubtfully at the beam,
Never having seen one so big,

But kneeled beneath it and strained
Upward.  “It’s not moving” a doctor
With a weak back observed.  I
Strained again.  “He’s not strong
Enough,” a slender-wristed male
Nurse smirked.  With all the anger
I could access, I heaved the beam

Up over the sill so the nurses and
Doctors could slide it out into the
Hall.  They rolled it to the side
And as I lay panting, rushed back
For the patients.  A gruff
Administrator said, “you’ll
Have to move.  We’ve gurneys

Coming. I could barely stand,
But stood and limped out to
The parking lot to my Jeep
Where I sat a long time
Watching the darkening skies,
“One earthquake after the other,”
I heard a woman say to her friend

As they rushed past to their cars.
“Do you think it’s global warming
Or end times,” the other asked?
I turned my key and drove out
Finding my way to the freeway
Which showed no sign of damage
And drove home.  “Don’t jump

On me,” I warned the dogs.  I’d
Been gone too long and couldn’t
Prevent it.  Taking four
Ibuprofen I stood in the shower
A long time.  I needed to feed
The dogs. I needed to sit
A long time in my lounge chair

Thinking of nothing if I could,
Doubting it.  They were done
With both of us, first Susan
Then me.  Marx would be
Proud.  Her sacrifice, my ability
To lift the beam, all those needy
People rolling past.  The dogs

Looked up from their kibble.
I knew they wanted dried chicken
Strips.  “Each according to their
Wants,” he should have said, and
What if I wanted her again
Whose shadow would never
Again grace my sleeping face?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Borges “The Telling of the Tale”


    In Borges third lecture (from his 1967-68 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) “. . . poetry . . . has fallen asunder; or rather on the one hand we have the lyrical poem and the elegy, and on the other we have the telling of a tale – we have the novel.  One is almost tempted too think of the novel as a degeneration of the epic, in spite of such writers as Joseph Conrad or Herman Melville. . .”
    “If we think of the novel and the epic, we are tempted to fall into thinking that the chief difference lies in the difference between verse and prose, in the difference between singing something and stating something.  But I think there is a greater difference.  The difference lies in the fact that the important thing about the epic is a hero – a man who is a pattern for all men.  While, as Mencken pointed out, the essence of most novels lies in the breaking down of a man, in the degeneration of character.”

    “. . . nowadays if an adventure is attempted, we know that it will end in failure. . . When we read Franz Kafka’s The Castle, we know that the man will never get inside the castle.  That is to say, we cannot really believe in happiness and in success.  And this may be one of the poverties of our time.  I suppose Kafka felt much the same when he wanted his books to be destroyed: he really wanted to write a happy and victorious book, and he felt that he could not do it.  He might have written it, of course, but people would have felt that he was not telling the truth.  Not the truth of facts but the truth of his dreams.”

    “In a way, people are hungering and thirsting for epic.  I feel that epic is one of the things that men need.  Of all places (and this may come as a kind of anticlimax, but the fact is there), it has been Hollywood that has furnished epic to the world.  All ver the globe, when people see a Western – beholding the mythology of a rider, and the desert, and justice, and the sheriff, and the shooting, and so on - I think they get the epic feeling from it, whether they know it or not.  After all, knowing the thing is not important.”

COMMENTS: I had to reread these passages.  At first I thought Borges was saying all novels describe a degeneration of character.  I thought of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  Not all novels are like that.  Who would read them if they were, and as to Kafka, I read his (unfinished) novels years ago and resolved never to read them again; although my resolve weakened and I attempted to reread The Castle but didn’t get very far.
    But Westerns as he says do, many of them, have the epic feel.  I recall in Boot Camp in 1952, after qualifying at the shooting range at Camp Matthews, we got to sit outside on the grass of a sloping knoll and watch High Noon.  Surely that movie has Borge’s “epic feeling.”  Susan loved Westerns, especially those written by Louis L’Amour.  She also loved Mysteries, but only those in the “cozy” category.  I preferred more action oriented mysteries.
    But I had to admit that while I don’t recall a degeneration of character in mystery or detective novels, they do, many of them, tend to be dark.  One of the most popular series is Michael Connelly’s “Bosch” series.  Bosch is a superb and relentless detective, but he won’t comply with bureaucratic politics and his bosses and coworkers don’t like him.  He doesn’t care.  He is driven to solve the case “for the victim” and won’t be deterred no matter what the threat.  None of Connelly’s novels have happy endings.  Borges said no one believed in happy endings: “Nowadays when people talk of a happy ending, they think of it as a mere pandering to the public, or they think it is a commercial device; they think of it as artificial.  Yet for centuries men could very sincerely believe in happiness and in victory, though they felt the essential dignity of defeat. . .”
    One of the very popular story lines in TV detective series is for the main character to be accused of a murder.  It doesn’t matter if up until this episode he has been the epitome of virtue, the evidence (because he is being framed) points to him as the guilty party; so the character is hounded by bureaucratic officials (often he has to become an outlaw to clear himself) and threatened by criminals before he manages to clear his name.  But I’ve noticed that there is no summing up at the end of these episodes.  It is enough for the writers that the “hero” is cleared.  They don’t make the bureaucrats appear and tell him that they are sorry for doubting him and so there is the “feeling” that he, like Kafka’s Joseph K retains the guilt in the minds of the bureaucrats and others.  The hero escapes punishment, but through some trick perhaps.  They continue to believe him guilty.  
    Westerns, at least the older westerns weren’t that bad.  The hero defeats the bad guys, gets the girl, and often the ranch that comes with her.  He also gets the respect of the town people.  Perhaps by then he doesn’t respect them, but they don’t continue to persecute him.  If they are respectable they are ashamed. 
    I just yesterday ran across this review: It is about Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” series.  I had never read any of the novels but decided to try one.  I downloaded the first in the series, The Godwulf Manuscript, written in 1977.  I looked up Parker before I started it.  He acquired a PhD and did his thesis in hard-boiled detective fiction.  He taught only a few years and then wrote novels full time.  I am 73% (according to Kindle) through The Godwulf Manuscript and was reminded a bit of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  The authors are academics and write about what they know.  Albee’s characters remain in academia and Connelly’s remain in his doctoral thesis.  “Why were you fired” Lieutenant Quirk asks Spenser at one point.  “Insubordination.  I specialize in it.” [or words to that effect].  At this point in the novel, no one likes Spenser except for a few sexy women.  The men want to beat him up or kill him.  Why doesn’t Connelly have Spenser try at least a little bit to get along with people?  Perhaps because he wanted to stay in the “hard boiled” genre.  Spenser I suppose becomes a hero, and according to the above review acquires a coterie of people who will help him during emergencies, but he remains, if I understand him “outside.”  He will never satisfy Borges’ requirements for the epic hero. 
    I wondered about Thomas Carlyle.  I read his Heroes and Hero Worship twice, but so long ago that I can’t relate it to Borge’s thesis about the epic hero.  Borge has made some disparaging comments about Carlyle so perhaps there is little commonality of thought here.  Borge elsewhere seems to like Ulysses as a hero, but Carlyle like Cromwell and Napoleon, “heroes” that few would admire today.   Can Ulysses be admired?  Dante after all put him in that Eighth level of Hell for his deeds as a trickster.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Second November Dream


I woke Susan at our old home.
She sprang up as young and
Energetic as when I first
Knew her – beautiful too –
No touch of any age to come.
She said, bouncing about
To a woman she had no need

Of me, meaning I thought
That I, fully as old as I am,
Couldn’t keep up; then this
Woman, someone I recognized
From TV told Susan she
Would take me if Susan were
Serious, knowing, she added

With sorrow that she never
Would – never could let me,
But Susan wasn’t listening
Whisking herself away
On one of her missions,
And I remained, dreading
What would happen next.

Sunday, November 22, 2015



Last night I finished watching the six-part British TV Drama, "River" and thought it the best thing I'd seen in ages, but I didn't trust my opinion since the main character, River, is mourning the loss of his partner, Stevie (DS Jackie Stevenson) throughout.  I checked a couple of reviews & the reviewers were a bit bothered by the "cliche" of dead people appearing as malevolent ghosts, but I don't watch that much TV and wasn't bothered.  Besides, the people who appear to detective John River aren't ghosts but manifestations of his own thinking.  They don't tell him anything he doesn't know or doesn't believe at the time.

The series ran on BBC One beginning on 13 October 2015 and on Netflix internationally on 18 November 2015.  I should watch it again to form a more balanced opinion.  I don't recall seeing the actor who plays River, Stellan Skarsgard, before, but I recall seeing Nicola Walker in "Touching Evil."  I don't think I was impressed by her acting in Touching Evil but I thought her brilliant in "River."  My impression is that she outshines Stellan Skarsgard -- maybe because she does an excellent job playing differently, but not too differently, depending upon what is going on with River at the time; whereas River is dark and brooding in the first episode and only blossoms as a character toward the end.  Stevie is fully blossomed in the first scene, riding in a car with River, singing along with a song playing on the radio "I love to love" and trying to get River, who insists he can't sing (and I gather the actor Skarsgard really can't; which detracts a little, especially because Nicola Walker is so good).

River is bent upon solving the murder of Stevie and does despite the "cliche" of his bosses boss who wants to get rid of him and has him undergo a psych evaluation figuring that will do it, but the psychologist turns out to be someone who has a special interest in patients who have dead people appear to them and doesn't think that disqualifies River from doing his job.

There are crimes beyond Stevie's murder and River solves them all, and somehow despite the evil we have seen the ending is satisfactory.  River is still crazy, but he'll go on being a brilliant detective solving crimes.  Those who doubted him doubt him no longer.  In fact they adjust to his seeing "manifests" and are okay with it.

I didn't know there were only six parts to the series when I was watching.  I thought this was but the first season of an ongoing TV series, but apparently not.  I was hoping there would be more but couldn't imagine how a season two could be written or that it could possibly be as good.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Max Beerbohm and the next ice age


    As I read through old copies of the NYROB, occasionally I am impressed enough by some reviewer’s comments to order the book he has reviewed.  Some time ago I read a review of a book about Max Beerbohm.  He is remembered today primarily because for his sketches, but according to the article which I don’t have near me at the moment, he was a very fine essayist albeit in a minor scale.  I was interested enough to order some of his essays.
    I began reading one of his very slender books of essays, but my attention wavered and I set it aside.  Yesterday I received Beerbohm’s More.  My copy was published by an agency that calls itself “Forgotten Books,” and up at the top of the cover one sees “Classic Reprint Series.”  Upon opening the book I read “1 month free reading at – By purchasing this book you are eligible for one month membership to forgottenbookscom, giving you unlimited access to our entire collection of over 700,000 titles via our web site and mobile apps.  To claim your free month visit:  Offer is valid for 45 days from date of purchase.  Terms and conditions apply.”
    That introduction seemed ironically appropriate to Beerbohm’s essay “Actors” in which, Beerbohm argues that when one criticizes an actor one perforce criticizes him, as opposed to criticizing the work of an painter or a writer.  Then after discussing the jealousy and emotional outbursts one sees actors display, Beerbohm writes “Other artists can afford to wait.  It is not only that they, as men who work not in the actual presence of the public, value praise less highly; it is also that their art will endure.  For them the immediate verdict is not irrevocable.  Time turns their rude public into a polite posterity.  But it is ‘now or never’ with the actor. . .”
    “‘Into the night go one and all.’  But the gods are not ruthless.  They have been kind to these players.  We need not weep.  In their day, these players are blest supremely.  What other artists, save singers, can match their laurels?  Their art dies with them, but I think that in the immediateness, the correctness of their fame, they are supremely recompensed.  Great writers, great painters, must needs suffer many years of insult or neglect.  Most often, when the tardy paean is sung in their honour, they are too old or too bitter to be gratified by its sound.  Nor is the paean, even if they still care to hear it, so loud and so near as to the actor. . . When Mr. Whistler puts the finishing touches to a paper-lithograph, soever exquisite, even Mr. Joseph Pennell does not clamber upon the window-sill and throw in a bouquet.  Yet may both Mr. Meredith and Mr. Whistler be accounted lucky.  Artists, not less than they, have died without honour, consoled only by the sure knowledge that their work will survive gloriously.  There work does, indeed, survive, but it is not immortal.  Even the writings of William Shakespeare will perish in the next ice-age.  The whole history of this world is but as a moment in eternity, and happy is that man whose fame is the accompaniment of his own life.  Such a man is the actor.  Do not grudge him his honours.  Do not blame him for his love of them.  Ponder my formula, ‘and, look you!  Mock him not!’”

COMMENT: Beerbohm published More in 1899 when he was, and since he was no more than 28, but if my vague recollection of the review I am too lazy to go look for is of any value, he determined at an early age that he would never be a great writer or great anything else, but he enjoyed life performing well in a minor key.  And in this article we may see him assuaging his lack of greatness by denigrating great writers by weighing them against eternity.  “Even the writings of William Shakespeare will perish in the next ice-age.”  Now, to denigrate Beerbohm in turn, I am quite sure the writings of Shakespeare will survive the next ice age.  Even Beerbohm’s comment that the actors art never survives is no longer true although some of the early films were neglected and have been lost, many have been preserved, even digitized (but probably some better form), and we may assume that preservation will outlast the next ice-age. 
    An archaeologist could quite conceivably a hundred thousand years from now might excavate a city on Mars and discover in an underground tomb a digitized copy of and read this very essay by Max Beerbohm and laugh.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Borges and “Korea, 1953”


    I wouldn’t have chosen to write the poem “Korea, 1953,” but I woke with old Korean thoughts buzzing about in my head, giving a good imitation of depression.  What I wrote didn’t match any preconceived ideas.  I strove merely to get the buzzing out of my head. 
    Then later I picked up an old copy of The New York Review of Books (1-9-14) and read Michael Greenberg’s “The Daggers of Jorge Luis Borges,” his review of Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature.  What I read so explained my poem that I wondered if I had made a mistake and written the poem after I read the article, but that wasn’t possible.  I began it last night but didn’t finish the article until this morning, and last night I got no further than,
    “Readers of Professor Borges may be taken aback, as I was when Borges jumps from the Norman Conquest of 1066 straight to the eighteenth century, bypassing Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and every other English writer for a period of seven hundred years.  The writer Borges alights upon after this leap in time is Samuel Johnson, who lamented the loss of English’s Teutonic character, believing that the language had been degraded by the Gallicisms of the French.”
    Even this, I believe was read after I wrote the poem, but perhaps not.  At the very least I hadn’t read this paragraph with understanding, nor to the end.  Greenberg goes on to write, “This invasion of Latinate words would expand the language immeasurably and come to comprise about two thirds of modern English.  But for Borges this meant the sacrifice of an austere language of precision and action in favor of one stocked with abstract, vague, and overwrought locutions – the very elements in Spanish that he struggled against in his own work.”
    Borges thereby explains the concluding portion of the poem:
    “. . . He had his
    Place amongst them now

    And could stay as long as he
    Wished and some wished he would,
    But he had anxious thoughts littering
    His system, looking at each
    Morning critically in other
    Ways than those, not letting
    Him finish at all.”

    Borges has at least provided one possible explanation for what happened to me, why I was unwilling to stay in the Marine Corps, why I even looked forward to returning home in 1953 – except one, if one is a young Marine, cannot choose to create war.  I was over there anxious to be in one, something Borges would have approved, but it was winding down, and then a truce put an end to it.  I could have stayed in, but I didn’t enlist to be in the peace-time Marine Corps.
    Years later on the C-17 Program I worked with a fellow who retired as a Captain in the Corps.  He had worked his way up the enlisted ranks and then gone to OCS.  One day we discussed what my career path might have been.  I told him that the only inducement I was offered in order to get me to stay in was the rank of Staff Sergeant.  He said that would have been excellent.  Rank was hard to get after the truce was signed in Korea.  I probably would have become a Tech Sergeant by the time “advisors” were being sent to Viet Nam in the early 60s.  I undoubtedly would have been sent over there.  In this conversation I might have benefitted from Borges “image . . . of an invented figure in his own preoccupation with the idea of an alternate self.  He sometimes spoke of a second Borges who was born the same day as the first Borges, bore his name, but was a different person.  This second Borges was an observer or spectator of the ‘real’ Borges – the profounder Borges – whom the second Borges has come to identify with a character in a movie or a play . . . .”  Except Borges was blind and Helm was sitting at a desk at Boeing speculating with a retired Marine Corps captain.  Helm had become the observer or spectator.  He was no longer “real” in the Borges sense.  But I doubt that Borges was “real” either.  Perhaps he retained more war-like convictions than I did, but perhaps because of his poor eye-sight he was never able to be in the military or fight in a war.  Perhaps if he were sitting there with the captain and me, perhaps he would have disparaged my choice.  Perhaps he would have envied the possibility of becoming a Staff Sergeant and being sent to Viet Nam as an advisor and then being in the actual fighting.  But as it was, Borges though of an age to have been in World War I, waited out the war with his family in Switzerland. 
    Greenberg writes, ‘I have felt epic poetry far more than lyric or elegy, Borges told The Paris Review in 1966, ‘perhaps . . . because I come from military stock.’  But in fact he is unexpectedly stirred by the Saxon elegies of the ninth and tenth centuries . . .”  When I joined the Marine Corps I had one uncle who had been a Marine  and another who had been in the Navy during WWII.  Later on I learned that my great-grandfather, Schyler Helm had been a Sergeant in the Illinois regiment during the Civil War.  But I wonder if there is really anyone who could not say something like that: that they came from military stock?  
    Borges admired the 1872 epic poem The Gaucho Martin Fierro.  “The rhythm of Martin Fierro was drawn from the payada, a kind of gaucho field song with a driving eight-syllable line.  The payada would provide the basis for the guitar-sun ballads known as milongas, which in turn would give way to the tango, Argentina’s most recognized artistic form.
    “Criollo, gaucho life, like that of the characters in the Saxon epics, was marked by an unassailable code of violence.  Death was never far away; nor did the gaucho – who ideally at least, lived in a cult of courage that Borges championed and admired – want to be.  This presence of death, as in the Saxon epics, provoked an elemental expression that he wished to emulate.  He strived for a warrior-like stature, or some equivalent of it, in his work, believing that it could lift us out of what he called the ‘nothingness of personality’ with its picayune neuroses and personal complaints.”  Borges sounds like George Patton here.  I wonder what he would think about PTSD.
     I wasn’t in combat, but I often find thoughts of Korea and my time there flitting through my mind.  I wonder what my thoughts would be like if I had been in combat.  And I wonder what Borges thoughts would be like if he had been in combat.
    I’ve never regretted enlisting in the Marine Corps, but then I’ve never regretted getting out after my enlistment was up and entering college.  Staying in the Corps would have resulted in the “nothingness” of raking the gravel in the front of our Quonset huts (it seemed to me at the time); whereas the literature, history and philosophy I studied seemed far more a “something.”  Did Borges regret his life?  A poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson comes to mind:

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
  Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
  And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
  When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
  Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
  And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
  And Priam's neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
  That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
  And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
  Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
  Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
  And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the medieval grace
  Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
  But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
  And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
  Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
  And kept on drinking.

On the other hand perhaps Michael Greenberg’s review didn’t do Professor Borges justice.  I ordered the book and may have another opinion later on.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Korea, 1953


He pulled his boots on
And looked outside – five
More months before his draft
Would go back – It hadn’t
Been as exciting as he
Hoped, but he was well
Used to it now.  His friends

Said his intention
Had been mad, and
Thankfully, they said,
It was no longer real –
The season of war had
Past.  The leaves had
Turned brown and the wind

Howled and blew them away –
His war-like wishes were
More staunch than he knew –
A night at the slop chute should
End in a fight.  Mornings
Though he doubted this
Was all as it should be --

Mornings and the happy looks
Of those who were due to
Return – back to the land
He had fled to look for war.
He lit a cigarette and blew
A ring no one would see.
His head ached with thoughts

Fixed in the vague fog
That eased up from the China
Sea.  He still needed to lean
And take it in.  He would,
But what of the happy looks
Of those going back?  War was
Infectious, but maybe he hadn’t

Looked back hard enough.  Maybe
There was something he’d missed
Waiting if he had the will.  His head
Ached with the beer he’d drunk. 
There was a fight but
Not with him.  He had his
Place amongst them now

And could stay as long as he
Wished and some wished he would,
But he had anxious thoughts littering
His system, looking at each
Morning critically in other
Ways than those, not letting
Him finish after all.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cold Case

He opened the bottom drawer
Of his desk and pulled out
The folder, the next one
He needed to work.
His mind veered,
Putting it off, this work
Meant little to him now.

One foot in front of the other
And none meaning a damned
Thing.  The Captain wouldn’t
See it that way, of course.
He could pull the plug, retire
But then what?  He opened it
And looked inside.  A fresh

Faced girl looked back,
Missing now for several
Months – not much he could
Do after all this time.
She’d gone off of her own
Accord the witnesses said.
Nothing done against her will,

Whatever it was.  “She was
So lucid just a short time
Before.”  He looked back
At the drawer: several more
Folders awaited.
Would there be time
To close them all?

What should he do with
This one?  “Close it out,”
His Captain would say, as
If he could – the Captain
Sitting behind his granite-
Topped desk out of touch
With everyone here.

He set the photo aside
And read “no sign of
Foul play, just one accident
After the other, medical
Mystery, inept bureaucracies,
Life and death in
The modern world.

He closed the file and
Put it in the “cold case”
Tray.  Nothing more he
Could do – maybe in a hundred
Years.  He reached down and
Took another: “man climbing
His stairs, fell to the ground,

Ambulance on the way.”
He looked out his window
At the breaking day – “cold
Again, should stay that way
A long time.”  He put the
Folder in the “Pending” tray
And closed the drawer.

Outside he turned his
Collar up and pulled his hat
Down over his eyes.  “There
Is nothing to see here folks.
Move along.”  His eyes
followed their steps, one
After the other.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

November Dream


I walked on into the large room.
She needed to finish something; so I
Went on ahead.  I stood aside not willing
To sit.  She wouldn’t find me if I did.
People stared.  I wasn’t dressed like
Them and leaned upon a hiking
Stick with a silver handle.  Then

An argument broke out among the
Seated cliques bent upon having their
Own way.  They shouted
Angrily about the seating. 
I Leaned against a wall.  She
Wasn’t coming.  A lady I knew
Casually whispered it was time I

Found a seat and handed me 
A note.  “This will be the
Third time” she said and left.
I searched the crowd.  Perhaps
She hadn’t seen me and now sat
Somewhere in their midst.
Perhaps she was in trouble

Outside.  I looked for a
Way out.  I knew I
Wouldn’t return once
The doors had closed.
Finally I was at the river
Using my hiking stick as a
Monopod to steady a new lens.

There was something in the trees
The automatic focus struggled
To make clear.  I looked up but by
Then it was gone.  What was my job
Once it had gone, to keep on looking
Or return home?  Struggling
To know which, I woke.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



When I was young
I imagined I would have
Unending ecstasy if I were
In love with a beautiful girl.
I read adventures – even
The jungle had Jane.
Getting her was everything.

One day years later
I did and it was true.
Living through
Those days kept me
Aware that she of whom
I dreamed was there
Day after day.

I am old now but not
Too to think as I did and
Know as I knew, recall
The delight I felt when
All the initial turmoil had
Subsided and she promised
Me all her remaining days.

Now with each passing
One of mine I’m further
From then, marveling
That she ever walked
There with me if she
Really did.  I open a book
And search her photo

Taped and fading.  Her
Little dog is here and
Walks along with me
Still – does he know her
As he once did or has
She worn as she wore away
Those soft forgetful days?

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Serious Thinking


It isn’t that I take society
And philosophy as unimportant.
They change too fast for me
To keep up – I’ve quit trying,
And the poets who legislated
With supreme confidence have
All been set aside.  I’ve nothing

To add – living near the end
Of the street I’ve been in
And out of nettles and the
Smoke of earlier times
Which I never saw as
Clearly as I thought.  I
Wrought nothing I would

Say of look at this,
It is where I stood and
Stand.  I’m a hiker and
Have moved on and on
Again no longer knowing
Where I’ve been or who
It was I was there with.

Thursday, November 5, 2015



Susan was it was good to find
As intent upon dogs as I, I
Discovered well into our
Marriage though I described it
Early on as an impediment
With my first who wasn’t at all.
Susan’s first dog trial trying

To walk him away from trouble
And his early death weighed
Upon us both, her especially,
Followed by Heidi who loved
Life and tennis balls chasing
Into the surf after them while
Susan watched and laughed

And Trooper who became her
Knight willing to protect her
Against anything she’d
Allow.  She had weakened
During Ginger leaving her
To me and then Sage
Who never had a chance.

She thought Duffy would be
Small enough for her waning
Time and he still is while she
Dwells nearby when we look
Up least expecting, when we
Turn at a flickering light or
Start up in the night at a sound.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Aperture Settings


Checking results later on
I saw only the dogs in focus
And sometimes just one.  It
Was then too early to achieve
More.  I had to open the aperture
Wide enough for the little
Light that dawn let creep

Over the mountain – walking
On as we did until I wanted
To try again to see if I could
Step it down from four to five
Point six or more as the
Morning wore away or when
Something was in the way

Say a coyote coming from
Some distance, who knows why,
To lie in our path – there was
No time to step down further
Rushing ahead lest
He capture Duffy
Prior to seven point one.

Lack of attention


What is at stake in this
Fading away?  The intense
Disbelief that she could
Just not be has become
Usual and expected such that
I must stop and wait before
The shock reverberates as it

Did constantly a few months
Ago, and if I can let go of her
Now what else will I let
Go with a mere change
Of focus, lack of attention
Or driving off and not being
Sure I locked the door?

Thursday, October 22, 2015



Living without reference,
Why should I now prefer
Being one thing rather than
Something else?  I feel no
Preference.  My embryo
Was inscribed with long
Life and great strength,

But why should anyone care
Now?  I pick up a deck of
Cards and deal one winning
Hand after the other. I draw
My gun and hit the ten ring
Time after time.  Why is it
Then that the target I aimed

At with the greatest care
Should now be missed?  I
Can’t distinguish it from 
Cottonwood trees crows
Fly up from forcing
Me to look and watch
Clouds obscure whatever

Will follow.  I look
Down at Ben and
Duffy.  They know.
One third of a year.
One half of lifetime
Gone.  They stop me
From missing too.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Harold Bloom’s self-disclosures

The Daemon Knows, Literary Greatness and the American Sublime.  Bloom wrote this in 2014 and 2015.  I begin to doubt he’ll write another.  Here he is on pages 136-137:

“. . . I reread and teach Moby-Dick to uncover and appreciate the sublimity and the danger of American Promethean heroism.  But several prolonged times when close to death, I have recited Whitman to myself as medicine.  I hardly recommend my personal praxis to students or readers because what works for me may not do much for another.  Unable to rise out of bed for months, desperate for self-help, chanting much out of Whitman, particularly Song of Myself and Sea-Drift and Lilacs elegies, has given me more than the illusion of consolidation and recovery.  Walt calls this ‘retrievements out of the night’ and persuades me that for once the poet is the man and I have become his poem.  Then I recall how often from 1863 through 1867 Whitman labored in the Civil War hospitals, dressing wounds, reading and writing letters, bearing little gifts, holding the maimed and sick as they died in his arms.  In itself that was secular sainthood, and Walt was a kind of American Christ.  Yet it is at one with the human and aesthetic power of his greatest poems.  If finally I value Whitman more than Melville or Emerson, Dickinson or Henry James, Wallace Stevens or Hart Crane, it must be because he has healed me and goes on helping me to get through many sleepless nights of anxiety and pain.”

Somewhere recently I read the title of an essay something to the effect of “politicians are becoming more and more open about their personal lives.  They should quit it.”  That advice should not be applied to the poet, but should it be applied to the critic?  Why does Bloom include these comments in his discussion of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville?   Perhaps because Bloom has spent so much time reading poetry, and many poets feel free to use themselves in their poetry, that he sees no reason not to as well.  Whitman is America’s great poet, Bloom argues.  He marshals his arguments, and one of them is that Whitman is a sort-of American Christ who has healed Bloom when he has (sort-of) prayed to him.  Students and readers he tells us might want to pray to someone else on Bloom’s list of great American writers.   He questions himself.  Perhaps he prefers Whitman because he has prayed to him and been healed.  Perhaps someone else might prefer praying to Melville.  Bloom doesn’t deny his Jewish heritage.  He mentions it several times, but he prays to Walt Whitman. 

I haven’t memorized any poems for fear they would interfere with my writing and so couldn’t pray to a poet even if I were inclined to.  Neither have I suffered on beds of pain, but I have felt a certain sort of anxiety – undefined, with jumbled thoughts overwhelming coherent thinking.  In my case I pick up a tablet and write.  The “working out,” the “process” is what calms me.  Whether that would work if I ever ended up on a bed of pain like Bloom’s, I don’t know – perhaps not.  Pain might drive out coherent thinking even more effectively than jumbled thoughts. 

Old man sleeping


Ahead of me in the aisle
An old man sat in one of
The store’s electric carts
Looking down at the box of
Cereal in his hand.  As I
Neared I saw he was asleep.
The box dropped to the floor.

His eyes opened and he looked
Down.  His expression didn’t
Change as he reached for it.
A store-clerk rushed to pick
It up and put it back in his hand.
At home I looked from shelf to
Shelf, pulling out a book, putting

It back.  Fearing the empty tablet
On my desk, I’d no Satan to
Portray nor white whale to spear.
Going down to the garage I lifted
Weights until my head hurt.  My
Grip was stronger than it seemed,
But she still slipped away.  I thought

Of her less and less.  I taped her
Photo in my tablet but she still
Dwindled.  The house hummed
Not unlike she did during her
Last hours, breathing out the
Air one sigh at a time.  Picking
Up my tablet I sighed and sighed.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A short history of time


In our time they knew no cure.
I looked in at her waking.
We had to drive fifty
Miles to her appointment.
In an earlier time it wouldn’t
Have been so far but would
She have lived as long?

I helped her into her car,
Covered her, gave her dark
Glasses and drove her slowly
On.  By then she wasn’t
Interested in the world. Her
Eyes closed and only
Opened when she needed

To see me. Earlier
We sat in Jo Jo’s drinking
Coffee and talking of
Everything and it was all
Delightful, full of our lives
Which lacked nothing
To keep us happy save

The arresting of time. 
Surgeons then stripped
Her away till they had
Done, telling us they could
Do no more, telling her to
Choose an ending.  When
We began we chose

To hike up above the tree
Line in order to look
Down at the long way
We had come, drinking
A bit from my thermos,
Not worrying if the sun set.
Last night lightning crackled

The dogs trembled,
Cowering near me.
Tonight clouds billow,
Thunderstorms threaten.
It is not as I wished or wanted.
Why after all this would the
Sun still wish to rise?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Should the UK welcome an EU superstate?


The first point in Cameron's list of needed agreements is the most important IMO.  I find the idea of an EU superstate alarming.  I concede that my alarm isn't entirely rational since I don't feel that same concern about Japan.  Many in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia however do.  But I am happy to see Japan modify its constitution so that it can shoulder some responsibilities that the US would otherwise have to shoulder by itself.  Japan was able to rebuild its economy, much as Europe did because the US was willing to take military responsibility for their safety.  Not that they appreciated that any more than the European nations did, but they haven't as Habermas and others have urged, engaged in anti-Americanism.  Many in Western Europe have.

It isn't fear that an EU superstate might one day declare war on the US.  They can't even protect weaker border states against Russian incursions.  And in the recent past they've shown themselves unable to deal with a Civil War.   But is there not an incipient longing after the good-old days when Germany was the most powerful nation in the world and France was its ally?  Officially no.  Every nation repudiates fascism officially, but can official repudiation alter good feelings associated with tradition?

Heidegger urged that Germany hark back to its cultural traditions and lead Western Europe benignly (at least that is the way he explained it after WWII was over) into its rightful place as leader of the world.   Germany had everything going for it, the best minds and workers in the world.  Its friends and allies, would benefit from German leadership and the resulting coalition would be wonderful.

I read enough of Heidegger at one time to believe he was (mostly) sincere.  Others at the time disagreed, but if we take cultural tradition as having any weight -- a sort of nature as opposed to nurture position, then we shouldn't be (and the Tories aren't) anxious to see a European superstate with Germany the logical leader anytime soon.  There are still people alive who remember what it was like in Germany's prewar and war heyday -- heady stuff.

I don't believe that cultural tradition is fixed for all time.  Don't the people living in Italy today trace their decent from ancient Rome and can one see any of that Rome in them today?  The same can be asked about Greece.  Time erodes cultural traditions, but it doesn't do it quickly.  It seems too soon to welcome a European superstate.

Friday, October 9, 2015



She pursued good deeds
With fine sympathy.
I stood off to one side watching.
They responded, smiling again
And again.  I needed no more
At my age.  She hummed
Her hymns and read

Her stories and devotions
Which I brought in abundance
Fearing she wouldn’t last so
Very long, and I needed to do my
Uttermost for her peace of mind.
Easing now away from many
Of those conclusions (Maimonides

Long ago declaring me able to
Pursue whatever intrigued) with
My books piled high opposing
Untoward capitulations.
The wind howled then
And now through my trees.
I’ve read with my own eyes

And heard with my
Ears frenzied sights and
Sounds whenever I
Wake or sleep, all
About me now,
Carefully watching
To catch me falling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mayakovsky and the Ballad of Reading Gaol


        "About This" is a long poem by Mayakovsky.  It appears in Herbert Marshall's 1965 book Mayakovsky.  Marshall was a committed Communist but like so many others he couldn't stomach Stalinism.  In his "Notes on About This" Marshall writes "The introduction to the poem states the theme . . .  This theme -- love -- was considered 'personal and petty' both in the early days of the Revolution and indeed right up to this death.  It was considered a 'petty-bourgeois hangover' and not a theme for poetry of social significance.  But despite Mayakovsky's own sincere attempts to 'crush under foot the throat of his very own lyrics, this theme kept hammering at his brow, however much he tried to repress it out of Party discipline.

One year later, in [his poem] "Lenin," he said:

    About this, and that I'll write in its hour,
    But now's no time for a lover and his lass
    All my ringing poetic power
    I give to you, attacking class

A major portion of "About This" is subtitled "The Ballad of Reading Gaol."  Mayakovsky was only self-imprisoned -- nothing at all like Oscar Wilde's two-years in Reading Gaol, but Marshall writes, "The editors of the 1940 edition of the Collected Works give this note to the section headed 'Ballad of Reading Gaol':  'This work of Oscar Wilde, written in prison, was taken for its association with the external conditions in which Maykovsky found himself at the time.'"

I'm not so sure about that.  Mayakovsky had his party-hack critics but he was not physically persecuted.  And no one told him he couldn't write whatever he liked.  Lenin disapproved of one of Mayakovsky's writings and said the person who published it ought to be whipped, but he never said Mayakovsky should be.

I stopped and reread Oscar Wilde's ballad.  Wilde's emphasis isn't upon his own incarceration -- well to some extent it is when he writes about the conditions and rules, but he is caught up with and catches us up in the situation of an inmate who is to be hanged.  The events leading up to as well as the actual hanging and subsequent burial have a great effect on the rest of the prisoners, but especially on Wilde, and apparently on Mayakovsky who couldn't read English but had access to, according to Marshall, an excellent translation.

Marshall quotes the two lines ending section three of Wilde's poem,

    For he who lives more lives than one,
    more deaths than one must die

Perhaps I didn't read Wilde's poem carefully enough because I didn't understand what multiple lives the condemned man lived or Wilde either for that matter.  He had a somewhat hidden life as a homosexual, but he wasn't executed for it.  The condemned man killed his wife but how was that a double life?  In regard to Mayakovsky, however, Marshall said he lived a double life in the sense of being a lover in the extreme sense -- think of Somerset Maugham's By Love Possessed -- while at the same time being a committed Communist wanting to do his best for the revolution.  Suicide is mentioned more than once in "About This," which makes no sense to me.  If Mayakovsky was feeling guilty about his excessive attraction to Lily Brik, suicide was even more objectionable in Communist terms.  That is, if a prominent Communist committed suicide it was taken as a criticism of the Revolution.  Writing poems about Love were merely hangovers of bourgeois thinking and something to be disapproved of but not condemned to the same extent that suicide was.  After all, one must doubt that Mayakovsky was the only Communist to fall in love; so there was probably an underlying sympathy for him in the party.

I couldn't help but notice that Wilde's Ballad can be read as a condemnation of prison as an acceptable alternative to execution.  The condemned man accepts his fate with equanimity.  He deserves to be executed for murdering his wife and accepts it.  The rest of the prisoner of Reading Gaol are another matter.  They are overwhelmed and tormented by what is happening.  Their suffering, according to the poem, is much worse.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Harold Bloom’s–not a simple philosophy

I had modest desires when I ordered this book by Bloom: to read his opinions about poets and poems many of which I don't care for as much as Bloom does.  Perhaps like Helen Vendler, I thought, Bloom will change my mind -- about Hart Crane especially, a poet I have never liked.  I didn't mind starting with Whitman.  I liked him when I was young but "outgrew him" or so I thought.  Perhaps Bloom would disclose beauties that would have me reading him again.  But Bloom here is demonstrating Oscar Wilde's comment to Walt Whitman that "criticism is the only civilized form of autobiography -- ending with a rather shocking bit of self-disclosure.

On page 47 of The Daemon Knows, Bloom quotes six lines from Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd,

    In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash'd palings
    Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
    With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
    With every leaf a miracle -- and from this bush in the dooryard,
    With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped laves of rich green
    A sprig with its flower I break.

Bloom then writes, "Six lines of what might be termed 'plain radiance' finds their only transitive verb in the very last word: 'break.'  Walt breaks the tally, his defining synecdoche, in the sprig of lilac he will throw upon Lincoln's funeral cortege as it slowly departs Union Station in Washington, D.C., to begin a long journey through many cities to rest at last in Springfield, Illinois.
    "Inevitable phrasing -- my criterion for the highest poetry -- is a difficult matter for criticism to expound upon, since 'inevitable' here is itself a trope dependent on aesthetic experience.  In old age, doubtless still infused by Nietzsche-as-geneaologist, I begin to believe in what might be called his poetics of pain.  He taught that memorability was heightened by suffering: a hard doctrine, but akin to Shelley's notion that the sublime persuades us to abandon easier pleasures for more difficult engagements.  In this severe vision the slavery of pleasure yields to what lies beyond the pleasure principle  Is then the inevitability -- for me, anyway -- of Walt's dooryard fronting an old farmhouse and the lilac bush so commonly growing there more of a difficult pleasure than it seems  Is my opinion that this is so an act of knowledge, and in what sense of knowing?
    "Is becoming wise an act of knowledge?  For Nietzsche, the greatest thoughts were the the greatest actions.  Thinking in and through metaphors, Shakespeare gives us persons who act with titanic self-destructiveness, incarnate sublimity:  Lear and Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello, Antony and Coriolanus.  Whitman's metaphors include what John Hollander called his 'hard ordinary words,' terms that are charged by Whitman with an accent entirely his own: among them 'drift,' 'passing,' 'vistas,' 'lilac,' leaf,' 'grass,' 'sea,' 'star,' and many more Keats, Nightingale and Shelley's skylark are not more tropological than Whitman's mockingbird and his hermit thrush.  A poet who equates his soul with the fourfold metaphor of night, death,  the mother, and the sea is thinking figuratively as fiercely as did the Hermeticists and the Kabbalists.
    "Meaning, to be human, starts as memory of a fecund variety of pain.  To inaugurate meaning, rather than merely to repeat it, you cultivate an illness that is oxymoronic, a pathos that is already play.  Falstaff and Walt meet in this arena and find words for that is alive in their hearts.  Against trauma we need Falstaff and Whitman, solar vitalists abounding in desire.  Better than Nietzsche's Zarathustra, they realize a fresh dimension to the primordial poem of mankind, because each creates a fiction of the self that becomes a poem in our eyes.  Meaning is voicing and images we voice become tropes of knowing.  'We can know only what we ourselves made made,' proclaimed Giambattista Vico, the eighteenth-century Neapolitan philosopher, and Falstaff and Walt know the selves they have forged.
    "I recall writing, long ago, that any new poem is rather like a little child who has been stationed with a large group of other small children in a playroom, where there a limited number of toys and no adult supervision whatsoever.  Those toys are the tricks, turns, and tropes of poetic language, Oscar Wilde's 'beautiful untrue things' that save the imagination from falling into 'careless habits of accuracy.'  Oscar, who worshiped and twice visited Walt during an American tour, charmingly termed criticism 'the only civilized form of autobiography.'  I have aged not, alas, into Wilde's wit but into a firm conviction that true criticism recognizes itself as a mode of memoir.
    "Poets and critics alike seek to convert opinion into knowledge, but this means opinion in the legal and not the public sense.  What is it you know when you recognize a voice?  Hart Crane's extraordinary images of voice, whether a broken tower or a vaulting bridge, undo my expectations, even after more than seventy years of reading and knowing him.  At eighty-four I lie awake at night, after  first sleep, and murmur Crane, Whitman, and Shakespeare to myself, seeking comfort through continuity, as grand voices somehow hold off the permanent darkness that gathers through it does not fall.  Frequently, I modulate to Stevens:
    'Likewise to say of the evening star,
    The most ancient light in the most ancient sky,
    That it is wholly an inner light, that it shines
    From the sleepy bosom of the real, re-creates,
    Searches a possible for its possibleness.'"

Comment:  I don't believe I've ever found comfort murmuring other poet's poetry to myself as I tried to sleep.   If poetic thoughts come to me I'll usually get up and write something -- get it out there so it isn't hounding me.  But Bloom is a critic and not a poet so he is different.  I was here reminded of a book I read ages ago, could have been a Dutch novel, about a wealthy aesthete who titillated himself with newer and more provocative pleasures, perfumes for example that he would flood his room with.  But in his case each pleasure grew old and tiresome so he would have to seek something new.  Bloom isn't like that.  He has his favorite poets and poems which he meditates on as he goes to sleep.  Perhaps when he was younger he wanted to read them all, as he seems to have done before writing the The Western Canon, published in 1994.  Now here he is 20 years later settling down with his favorites poets and poems: These that inspire in Bloom admiration for their grandeur and beauty -- and, because Bloom is more than a little bit of a philosopher, their sublimity.

Thursday, October 1, 2015



That thing I heard and turned
To tell before remembering,
What then?  She would
Have been delighted
Hearing but what now?  I
Cannot throw it out,
Cast it away as being

Of no consequence.
It would have been,
And I longed to tell her.
Did Mayakovski seek some
One he longed for as he
Rushed off before

Did Ahab keep on in the sea
Till all enrapt he told the
Great white whale all that
Burdened him?  I haven’t
Such resolve, listen merely
From time to time whispering
As though she hears me after all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Harold Bloom’s demons


At 85 Harold Bloom divined the demon:
Thinking each poet had one.  Tormented
By not knowing the source he saw the poets
Selling their souls for handfuls of beautiful
Words.  If we’re all alike, and why shouldn’t
We be, and he can’t create poetry
An external force must spring forth

Like a swan upon Leda or Mercury
Whispering occult messages 
In the poets demented ears.
Mayakovsky hid himself away
In his cell-like room until his
Mind cleared -- then when he looked out
His world was filled with glitter

Beckoning until he stepped outside,
Reached up, and grabbed some.  It
Might have been waiting there for 
Bloom too but instead he sought what
Could be turned, none of which
Contained as much gold as a poet
Needs -- pages in their books.

Saturday, September 26, 2015



Existence – you’ve taken it all
As you’ve proclaimed.  I suspected
Something of that kind out here
On the fringe of it, half in
Half out of nothing more than
A few thoughts about being –
Nothing to insist upon – not even

The knowing – the merest
Reflection only, something of
Someone else walking once with
Me near the ocean on a starry
Night holding hands.   I can no
Longer see her, but she looked
In the sea with me and shimmered.

The moon was there with us,
I’m almost sure.  Perhaps I dreamed
Or merely imagined a vague longing –
Taking her in my arms, inhaling her
Breath as I kissed her – just for that
Moment, then moving along, but
Don’t be alarmed – We left no trace.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Mayakovsky and his demon

In Mayakovsky's poem "A Man," in the subsection "The Ascension of Mayakovsky" is the following:
    "I myself am a poet.  You teach the children: 'The sun rises over the grass.'  From the love bed out from behind his hairlets rises the head of my beloved.

        She raised the arrow with her eyes.
        Wipe off your smile!
        But the heart rushes toward a bullet,
        and the throat longs for a razor.
        My grief grows
        into incoherent raving about a demon.
        He is coming for me,
         luring me to the water,
        leads me on to the edge of a roof.
        Around me is snow.
        A light snow falls.
        It whirls around and then stops still.
        And there falls.
        It whirls around and then stops still.
        And there falls
        -- again! --
        onto the ice
        a frozen emerald.
        My soul shakes.
        It's between the ice floes,
        and no way it can escape!
        That's how I'll go,
        along the banks of the Neva..
        I step forward --
        and again I'm in that place.
        I tear myself away --
        and again for nothing.

Mayakovsky eventually shot himself.  In his suicide poem found after his death the only reference to his motivation is to say "I have no other way out."  "The Man" was written in 1916-1917 and he committed suicide in 1930.  Perhaps the above section of poetry is a metaphor for the destructiveness of his relationship with Lilli.  In any case these were thoughts familiar to him.  He may well have considered suicide often before he actually did it. 

But why?  For the purpose of discussion take two poets, Geary and Helm.  Geary seemed in a triumphalist mood when he wrote "Without me perceiving  nothing would exist, not as far as I'm concerned anyway..  What is has no meaning except what I give to it. I am the meaning giver.  Just like you.  Res  Rei  Rei REM Re." 

In my case I was in a different mood.  Perhaps my grief grew into incoherent raving -- at least my mind before I wrote "Morning" was incoherent to start with.  My heart has never rushed toward a bullet.  In fact I am used to the incoherence of random ideas flitting through my mind.  I wouldn't call them raving though.  And when I sought something, I didn't give structure to all the ideas as perhaps Geary does his.  I selected something that seemed pressing and when I focused on that the rest subsided and vanished.  Am I the only one who writes this way?  I have often wondered about poets who were considered mad, or like Maykovsky commit suicide.  Perhaps they aren't on good terms with the ideas that flood their minds.  Perhaps for them writing is no solution.  Perhaps, they think, the only way to make the raving stop is to rush toward a bullet. 

I wouldn't say that I am on "good" terms with the ideas that sometimes flood my mind, but I'm a long way from finding them demonic.  Perhaps if a poet's ideas have become demonic there is indeed no other way out.

Since Maykovsky was the most beloved poet of the early Soviets they were quick to declare his suicide to be the result of his relationships with three women, especially Lilli.  Later non-soviet critics believed Mayakovsky was being hounded by the soviet police and that was the real reason he committed suicide, but neither the soviets nor the later critics were poets.  I am inclined to think Maykovski committed suicide to escape his demon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015



Thoughts flit – I can’t catch
One whole – they fragment,
Not quite understood.  I search
For a word to make them stop –
To tamp them down so I can
Rely on their reality – conclude
The imagined collection now resolved.

But, I worry: what if I chose
A different word and used
It to constrain the rest?  Would
It not create a different now?
So many nows drift by.  Sighing
I single one passing and dry
Its eyes.  Looking back I see

A smile I missed – not mine –
I cannot use it now or ever
Again.  A doleful gloom
Unrolls.  I set the sigh aside,
But feel the tumult churn as
It too slips away and I must
Settle for a morning unexplained.

Monday, September 21, 2015



Everything she did was on her way –
No stopping for her even when
Stopped – sleeping only so she could
Rise and begin again.  I watched
Her unsteady steps, not gain-
Saying .  She having deferred
Medical guess-work, not even

Needing me to drive her
To her appointments, or so
She said.  I carried her
Up the stairs and across a
Threshold conceding she could
Have done that too, she from
Whom starlight flashed when I

First took her hand, guiding her
Or so I thought, but she thought
She guided me with as much
Strength as she could spare.  She
Surged ahead, not letting herself
Be held back by my doubts. 
Who would say she should have

Gone a different way -- mounted
Up into vain medical epiphanies?  She
Listened to more advice than I could
Bear, and steadily advanced toward
Her  destination – finding it, reaching
Out – letting go – hand
Holding to the very end. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dream Seeking


I walked the aisles full
Of work and found her.
Administrators hovered,
Talking, telling her things   
Of importance. She
Caught my eye but turned
Back to hear what else they

Would say.  I walked on
Wanting to find her
Securely.  I worried
I would lose her in the
Muddle – too many
Irrelevant elements.  She
Counted on me once

More, never doubting,
But I was no confident
Finder. Too much now
Was new and unfamiliar.
I walked the aisles
No longer knowing I
Would find her again.

Saturday, September 12, 2015



I bought her book used,
Withdrawn from Marquette
University Library never
Having been checked out
In thirteen years, poetry
Not important in this
Time and place; yet for

Certain ones who strive
In language – not merely –
But see its beauty and
Through something – touch –   
Make some on a
Disconsolate page
Occasionally, it is secretly

Revered, not hidden from
Fear merely – by the foolish
Wandering off into fields
Of it for no good reason,
To Sit on grass smashed
By those rushing past
The library on their way.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dwelling upon Death (Dickinson & Vendler)


I read William James Varieties of Religious Experience at a young age and always considered myself a “healthy” rather than a “sick” soul.  But the final stages of Susan’s illness and consequent death forced me into that other realm, if not to the extent of making my soul sick at least to the dwelling upon the subject of death more than I might otherwise have done.

In a general (actuarial?) way I was heading in that direction after having arrived at the age of 80.  Even if I wasn’t physically sick it wasn’t possible that I would live another 80 and so I resolved to focus on poetry during my remaining years or as long as I had the mental energy for it.

I began adding books to focus my attention on poetry – many of these turned out to be failures, poetry and poet I still haven’t managed to take seriously.  But one poet is growing on me, Emily Dickinson, and she might be a sick soul.  I won’t swear to it.  Many of her poems are optimistic and it is perhaps only because of her illnesses and near-death experiences that she thought so much about death.  On page 121 of Dickinson, selected poems and commentaries Helen Vendler presents the following Dickinson poem:

Of Bronze – and Blaze –
The North – tonight –
So adequate – it forms –
So preconcerted with itself –
So distant – to alarms –
An Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me –
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty –
Till I take vaster attitudes –
And strut upon my stem –
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them –

My Splendors, are Menagerie –
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the centuries       
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass –
Whom none but Daisies, know –

Editors (not Emily) gave this poem the title “Aurora” and indeed it is her response to seeing the Aurora Borealis, but as I might take up any subject and find before I am done that I am writing about Susan’s death in some way, Dickinson contrasts the magnificence of the Aurora with first the puffing up of herself, strutting (if one can imagine a daisy strutting) upon her stem and her own death.  And while the allusions to the aurora might seem elusive (as they did to me upon the first several readings) the last stanza is clear enough and nicely done.  I like the lines “When I, am long ago” (although I don’t understand the comma) and “Whom none but Daisies, know –“ (and don’t understand the comma in this line either). 

Helen Vendler refers to two versions of this poem and says that Dickinson didn’t indicate a preference.  Vendler though prefers the version which reads “Whom none but Beetles – know”.   Dickinson’s publishers have preferred “Daisies” but Vendler prefers “Beetles.”  She notes that there is a dash after Beetles.  The dash indicates a pause as does a comma but the latter isn’t as grammatically acceptable.  Also, Dickinson nicknames herself Daisy in other poems.  Also, she mocks herself in this one as “strutting upon my stem.”  But I prefer Daisy.  I like the possibility of reading “Whom none but Daisies, know –“ as referring not only to the daisies that would grow above her grave but to the critics and others who might read her poems and strut upon their own stems.

So many of Dickinson’s poems are about death it is scarcely possible to open her complete poems at random without finding one.  I did that just now and found,

I died for Beauty – but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room –

He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty”, I replied
“And I – for Truth – Themself are One –
We Brethren are”, He said –

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night –
We talked between the Rooms –
Until the Moss had reached our lips –
And covered up – our names –

Helen Vendler writes about this poem as well, except unlike me she takes the “I” not to be Dickinson but to be “Beauty” itself.  Why does Vendler do this?  Vendler begins by saying Dickinson was keying off of Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn.  I’m not comfortable with this.  It isn’t Beauty who is in the tomb but someone who died for Beauty and Vendler makes no distinction.  The people who died are abandoned and replaced by Keats’ Beauty and Truth. 

Vendler says in regard to the term “fail” in the fifth line that it is used in the sense of “weaken and die”.  I don’t agree with that either.  That is, “fail” has more than the meaning “weaken and die” and I suspect Dickinson had more than that in mind.  The meanings that came first to my mind were to be “deficient” and “fall short.”  Both these people fell short but there was no end to talking about it – until the moss obliterated memory of them.  But it was the people who died that had their memories obliterated – not beauty or truth in my opinion; even though Vendler is consistent by asserting “even the highest Platonic concepts gradually disappear under the Moss.”

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Reckoning


We ran as long as we could –
Thought to thought thinking
Whether to eat this, run some
More, listen to someone different.
But being guilty we knew there
Must come a day when the
Executioner would appear.

He placed the mask over her face,
Turned on the oxygen and told us
To wait, “Just a few days”;
She must endure it.  There
Would be no reprieve.  We
Knew it.  She took it without
A whimper, and walked out

Proudly before them.  She
Threw off her mask to
Stand with an amused look.  A
Cigarette dangled from her lips;
She gave me a wink. 
“Everything’s okay,” were her
Last words.  “Everyone does it.”



We were fleeing back down
The hall to the old stairwell
Which hadn’t been maintained.
We had no choice, darkness was
Coming and there were no lights
Working In the building. “You 
Okay,” I called over my shoulder?

She groaned in response.  I took
Her hand and hurried on a bit more
Slowly.  “They can’t have blocked
Every way,” I gasped.  “They haven’t
The men.”  “How do you know they
Are men,” she said sharply?  “Listen”
I said, stopping, looking back down

The hallway.  “What?”  “I thought
“I heard feet running.”  “Might
Be the old place creaking.
Might be rain.  Might be your
Poor sense of hearing.  “Might be,”
I agreed no longer hearing the
Sound.  We found the stairwell;

I opened the door to the
Screaming sound of rusted hinges.
“Hey,” I heard behind.  We
Hurried down.  “Hold up,”
I said stopping after a few floors
Holding the rail.  She bumped
Against me grabbing my shoulder.

Some of the steps crumbled;
We kept to the side nearest
The wall and inched down
In the disappearing light.  After a
Bit we heard the door we’d used
Creak open and the sound of
Men rushing after us running

Headlong.  Someone screamed as
A stair-step gave way.  We reached
The ground floor. I slammed against
The door again and again until it
Gave.  The night became alive
With stars and a moon lighting
Our way back to our Jeep.   The rain

Washed our windows clean.  Whatever
Was coming had not reached us quite yet
I backed out, turned in a tight circle
And gingerly traversed the pot holes
And gutters filled with rain.  There
Was something coming, but we
Would run as long as we could.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pulling the Plug


He was guilty of something.
The D.A. gave me a look and
Shook her head – maybe just
Not this.  I shrugged and went
Back through the double doors –
The years were running together
No one was innocent!  Furthermore

Their guilt was worse than
Ours in this scheme of
Things.  We enforce the law,
Not them – crying as they will
Bleeding out their weakness
On their kitchen floors, their
Knives lying nearby.  She’ll

Cry it was all his fault and he’ll
Say it was hers.  We just count
The wounds and get someone to
Sop up the blood – have a beer
Or two on the way home – can’t
Even depend on family any more.
Mort’s kid was found last week

With a needle still stuck in his arm.
Danny’s wife was found dead
Drunk outside their apartment,
Danny will never confess he was
With Tina at the time.  I’ve put
My time in, time to pull the plug:   
Take my boat and dogs and drive

Some place up north where people
Are farther apart, where you can hear
Them coming, crunching up your
Walk, and if they ratchet in a round
you can hear that too.  The dogs will
Snarl and you’ll be able to see their
Outlines outside your kitchen window.