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“Beware, O wanderer, the road is walking too.”

Singing Sands


And still the waves
slip ashore,
singing their
conspiratorial whispers
between grains of sand.
The wind slides in
from the deep,
empty places,
haunted and lonely,
cold and clean
like a wet finger around
the spotless rim of a
fine crystal glass.
I’m 68 and might
drop dead at any moment.
I look at a
beautiful woman
and sigh, young again.
I know what I’ll miss.

“Clickfarming:” It’s a thing? Apparently.


On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts. The Kindle Store is officially broken. This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed […]

via Scammers Break The Kindle Store — David Gaughran

Famous Writers Writing About Not Writing


From: http://lithub.com/8-famous-writers-writing-about-not-writing/
By Emily Temple

Hey—are you writing right now? If you aren’t, and I know you aren’t, because you’re reading this sentence, it’s okay. It may seem like the phenomenon of writers constantly agonizing over not being able to write is a modern one (one of the great ironies of book Twitter is how the moment you hashbrag #amwriting you necessarily make it a lie—though let’s get real, it had probably been a lie for a while before that), but in fact, it goes back at least a century or two. Many canonical authors, whose work is now beloved by millions of readers, also wrote depressive or hand-wringing journal entries and letters about their failure to get words on the page. Writer’s block, it turns out, can (and does) happen to anyone. To prove it, I’ve pulled out a few selections from the journals and letters of a few great writers, which I hope, if you are procrastinating right now, or just in a dry spell, will make you feel feelings of solidarity and encouragement. After all, Kafka may not have written for days at a stretch—but hey, almost everyone has read at least something by him now.

Franz Kafka
(from The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1923, h/t Open Culture)

20 January. The end of writing. When will it catch me up again? In what a bad state I am going to meet F.! The clumsy thinking that immediately appears when I give up my writing, my inability to prepare for the meeting; whereas last week I could hardly shake off all the ideas it aroused in me. May I enjoy the only conceivable profit I can have from it—better sleep.

Black Flags. How badly I even read. And with what malice and weakness I observe myself. Apparently I cannot force my way into the world, but lie quietly, receive, spread out within me what I have received, and then step calmly forth.. . .

29 January. Again tried to write, virtually useless. The past two days went early to bed, about ten o’clock, something I haven’t done for a long time now. Free feeling during the day, partial satisfaction, more useful in the office, possible to speak to people—Severe pain in my knee now.

30 January. The old incapacity. Hardly ten days interrupted in my writing and already cast aside. Once again prodigious efforts stand before me. You have to dive down, as it were, and sink more rapidly than which sinks in advance of you.

7 February. Complete standstill. Unending torments.. . .

11 March. How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing. It doesn’t come off. A page now and then is successful, but I can’t keep it up, the next day I am powerless.. . .

13 March. An evening. At six o’clock lay down on the sofa. Slept until about eight. Couldn’t get up, waited for the clock to strike, and in my sleepiness missed hearing it. Got up at nine o’clock. Didn’t go home for supper, nor to Max’s either, where there was a gathering tonight. Reasons: lack of appetite, fear of getting back late in the evening; but above all the thought that I wrote nothing yesterday, that I keep getting farther and farther from it, and am in danger of losing everything I have laboriously achieved these past six months. Provided proof of this by writing one and a half wretched pages of a new story that I have already decided to discard . . . Occasionally I feel an unhappiness that almost dismembers me, and at the same time am convinced of its necessity and of the existence of a goal to which one makes one’s way by undergoing every kind of unhappiness.. . .

23 March. Incapable of writing a line.

Sylvia Plath
(from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath)

Monday, July 7 (1958): I am evidently going through a stage in beginning writing similar to my two months of hysteria in beginning teaching last fall. A sickness, frenzy of resentment at everything, but myself at the bottom. I lie wakeful at night, wake exhausted with that sense of razor-shaved nerves. I must be my own doctor. I must cure this very destructive paralysis & ruinous brooding & daydreaming. If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave—in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head. Witty or simply observant character notes come to me. But I have no idea how to begin. I shall, perhaps, just begin. I am somewhere in me sure I should write a good “book poem” a day—but that is nonsense—I go wild when I spend a day writing a bad twelve lines—as I did yesterday. My danger, partly, I think, is becoming too dependent on Ted . . . I enjoy it when Ted is off for a bit. I can build up my own inner life, my own thoughts, without his continuous “What are you thinking? What are you going to do now?” which makes me promptly & recalcitrantly stop thinking and doing. We are amazingly compatible. But I must be myself—make myself & not let myself be made by him . . . I won’t get my writing schedule from outside—it must come from within. I’ll leave off poems for a bit—finish the books I’m now in the middle of (at least five!) do German (that I can do) & write a kitchen article (for Atlantic’s Accent on Living?) a Harper’s Cambridge Student Life article—a story “The Return” & suddenly attack my novel from the middle. O for a plot.

Wednesday, July 9: Prose writing has become a phobia to me: my mind shuts & I clench. I can’t, or won’t, come clear with a plot. Must put poetry aside & begin a story tomorrow, today was useless, a wash of exhaustion after the bird. Always excuses . . . I must start outlining a story plot: obviously it takes time—I half expect to fly to the typewriter & begin. Central conflict—my life is full of it. Start there. Marriage: Courtship. Jealousy. Settings I know: try Wellesley—suburbia. Cambridge apartment: Lou Healy, Sat Eve Post style. Jealousy: sister of newlywed husband. Poor poet. Couple divided over baby: why fear? Not like other men. Suburban neighborhood. I have fragments. Vignettes. Mrs. Spaulding is a story herself. I must note backgrounds jobs against which my people can move. Plagiarism in college. Young teacher. Decision to make. Start with that: 15 to 20 pages a week. Why not? Ambivalent position. Romance involved. Campus setting. I know this. Make a page of story plots & subjects tomorrow. That’s what—a paragraph on each—style & sort. Also several on “The Return.” Use Baskin. Ho ho. Everyone here. Aaron’s cocktail party. S————, James & Joan triangle. From whose point of view? Think, Think. Study sympathy point of view—emotional center—

 

Virginia Woolf
(from A Writer’s Diary)

Friday, April 8th. 10 minutes to 11 a.m. (1921)

And I ought to be writing Jacob’s Room; and I can’t, and instead I shall write down the reason why I can’t—this diary being a kindly blankfaced old confidante. Well, you see, I’m a failure as a writer. I’m out of fashion: old: shan’t do any better: have no headpiece: the spring is everywhere: my book out (prematurely) and nipped, a damp firework. Now the solid grain of fact is that Ralph sent my book out to The Times for review without date of publication in it. Thus a short notice is scrambled through to be in “on Monday at latest,” put in an obscure place, rather scrappy, complimentary enough, but quite unintelligent. I mean by that they don’t see that I’m after something interesting. So that makes me suspect that I’m not. And thus I can’t get on with Jacob. Oh and Lytton’s book is out and takes up three columns; praise I suppose. I do not trouble to sketch this in order; or how my temper sank and sank till for half an hour I was as depressed as I ever am. I mean I thought of never writing any more—save reviews . . . What depresses me is the thought that I have ceased to interest people—at the very moment when, by the help of the press, I thought I was becoming more myself. One does not want an established reputation, such as I think I was getting, as one of our leading female novelists. I have still, of course, to gather in all the private criticism, which is the real test. When I have weighed this I shall be able to say whether I am “interesting” or obsolete. Anyhow, I feel quite alert enough to stop, if I’m obsolete. I shan’t become a machine, unless a machine for grinding articles. As I write, there rises somewhere in my head that queer and very pleasant sense of something which I want to write; my own point of view. I wonder, though, whether this feeling that I write for half a dozen instead of 1,500 will pervert this?—make me eccentric—no, I think not. But, as I said, one must face the despicable vanity which is at the root of all this niggling and haggling. I think the only prescription for me is to have a thousand interests—if one is damaged, to be able instantly to let my energy flow into Russian, or Greek, or the press, or the garden, or people, or some activity disconnected with my own writing.

 

Gustave Flaubert
(from a letter to George Sand)

You are alone and sad down there, I am the same here.

Whence come these attacks of melancholy that overwhelm one at times? They rise like a tide, one feels drowned, one has to flee. I lie prostrate. I do nothing and the tide passes.

My novel is going very badly for the moment. That fact added to the deaths of which I have heard; of Cormenin (a friend of twenty-five years’ standing), of Gavarni, and then all the rest, but that will pass. You don’t know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word. Ideas come very easily with you, incessantly, like a stream. With me it is a tiny thread of water. Hard labor at art is necessary for me before obtaining a waterfall. Ah! I certainly know THE AGONIES OF STYLE.

In short I pass my life in wearing away my heart and brain, that is the real TRUTH about your friend.

Flannery O’Connor
(from A Prayer Journal)

11/6

How can I live—how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation & maybe that is wrong anyway. But how [to] eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things—I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy. I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try—that is the point. And at every dry point, I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done & Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about the other. Perhaps I have not been thankful enough for what has gone before.

11/11

How hard it is to keep any one intention[,] any one attitude toward a piece of work[,] any one tone[,] any one anything. I find a certain peace in my soul these days that is very fine—lead us not into temptation. The story level, bah. Work, work, work. Dead God, let me work, keep me working, I want so to be able to work. If my sin is laziness I want to be able to conquer it.

 

Anne Sexton
(from A Self Portrait in Letters)

November 14, 1960

Dear Nolan:

Hello. Are you okay? I’m still here, not doing much—not writing enough, not writing good strong stuff—just coasting along with all my needles threaded, too busy worrying to sew. Worrying? Well, it is a difficult period . . . one book out, most reviews in, and the feeling that I’m a fraud, that I didn’t write the thing but that I stole it somewhere. New poems come slow . . . the fun’s gone. Or maybe it’s just now, maybe soon, maybe sooner I’ll get it back. I have about 25 pages toward a second book but some of it isn’t too good . . . I am allowing myself weaknesses that I wouldn’t have permitted a while ago. Or maybe I’m wrong . . . maybe not weak. Hell-bell! I worry obsessivly (can’t spell that one) and can’t seem to feel that I’m lousy or great . . . but both. Have a feeling that they (magazine editors) take my poems without reading or judging them . . . they were my super ego. I have a large group coming out in the Spring (I think) Hudson (some that you have seen) and they are okay I guess . . . also have a group of 6 coming out sometime soon in Partisan and they are the ones that worry me. Well, just today I made up my mind that to-hell-with-it, and that I’m not going to worry if they stink. They are a bad dream that I’ll put away. Do you think that is okay? Okay, I mean, to put away bad poems like bad dreams even when you have allowed them to be printed, revealed etc. It is all I can do.

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(from Volume II of his Notebooks)

Oct 21st, 1804—Monday night—Syracuse.—O my God! or if I dare not continue in that awful feeling! yet oh whatever is good in me, even tho’ not in the Depth, tho’ not in that which is the Universal & Perfect in us, yet oh! by all the ministering Imperfections of my Nature that were capable of subserving the Good—O why have I shunned & fled like a cowed Dog from the Thought that yesterday was my Birth Day, & that I was 32—So help me Heaven! as I looked back, & till I looked back I had imagined I was only 31—so completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month!—O Sorrow & Shame! I am not worthy to live!—Two & thirty years—& this last year above all others!—I have done nothing! No I have not even layed up any materials, any inward stores, of after action!—O no! still worse! still worse! body & mind, habit of bedrugging the feelings, & bodily movements, & habit of dreaming without distinct of rememberable . . .

 

Iris Murdoch
(from A Writer at War)

[in a 1943 letter to Frank Thompson]

Do I write? I’ve written only three poems & no prose in the last year. Just before that, I wrote quite a little prose. My father got one short story published for me in the Manchester Guardian and a selection of my letters without warning me in the New Statesman. But at the moment I’m writing nothing nor do I feel the urge to write. I’m suffering stagnation militaris. A change of air & proximity to the Germans will probably wake me up again. But the truth is I haven’t much to write about. I have a conventional mind formed along Wykhamical lines. Also I’m very little of an introvert. Only when writing to you or to my brother do I make an effort at introspection. And unless you are an introvert you do not have the vision to look into other people’s minds. And without that you cannot write as it is the fashion to write today. Mind you I think the psychological novel has had its day. Soviet authors I believe, are searching round for a new line of advance. Ehrenburg, when he tries straight fiction as opposed to satire, has gone back to a style as simple as Defoe’s. Personally, I think Tolstoy & Chekhov went as far into the minds of our fellow men as it is profitable or seemly to go. Gorki is, to me, an ideal novelist in this respect. No, if I had the ability to tell a story, I should not allow you to mar it with psychological interludes. But the truth is, Irushka, I have a very shallow mind & I’ve been skating round these last four years on the crust of it. If/when I return to England I look to you & other comrades to re-educate & rehabilitate me in some measure. What nonsense. This war should be developing my mind. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening to me. If I get through this European war I want to go to China, & then on, wherever the next phase takes place. Because this war, in which we are now engaged, may have its uneasy lulls & armistices, peace we shall NOT know until the United States of the World has been achieved. And if I get time, wandering from here to there, I may write some of the more memorable things I have seen. But about the conflicts in my own mind, not. They had far better end with the unseemly clay that bounds them.

Charged With Eternity: Quirks and Perks


A Quiver Of Quotes

fabian-struwe https://unsplash.com/photos/4cloovdyuvw

Quote: The car came to a halt by the side of the road. I opened the door and got out. It wasn’t yet completely dark, but it was no longer day. The land all around us and the hills into which the highway went winding were a deep, intense shade of yellow that I have never seen anywhere else. As if the light (though it seemed to me not so much light as pure colour) were charged with something, I didn’t know what, but it could well have been eternity.

— Roberto Bolaño, Last Evenings on Earth (translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews)

Such colloquial equivocating in that final sentence of the Quote, such seemingly disinterested prose until the final word, where—of all things that could have charged the light—Bolaño sees eternity. It is as natural in Bolaño’s prose, as it would be in another writer’s poetry.

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Claudia Nolan: Sometimes the Bright Sophistry of Earnest Souls — Vox Populi


Sometimes the bright sophistry of earnest souls of unlearned but much practiced minds shines its own light on the tangled feet of those so eager for the lie, the one that promises a job a meal a summer tan in every garage and two shiny objects for the elderly I’m sure, if there is […]

via Claudia Nolan: Sometimes the Bright Sophistry of Earnest Souls — Vox Populi

Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop


(Hi. I’m still around, just not posting much. My life lately feels like the scene in this poem. I’ve got a manuscript for another book making rounds at publishers, hat in hand. And I’m mulling, reading and writing sketches that could be one of three book ideas. One’s a murder mystery, one’s a time-travel, sci-fi love story, and the third is hard to describe. Maybe it’s a memoir by the alien who makes first contact with humans and barely escapes by nuking the east coast. You know, cheerful stuff.) 

by J.T. Knoll

Speed popping, long haul truckers stretch, yak, and
drink coffee with locals searching for pancakes or bacon
and eggs after a night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and
making whoopee at nightspots like the Tower Ballroom,
Saddlehead Sam’s, the 69 Drive-In, Barto’s Idle Hour
and the VFW. The haggard and the high class together.
No place else open. Roy Orbison belts out Candy Man
from the neon and chrome Wurlitzer. Cigarette smoke
curls around the horseshoe bar beneath a large, stuffed
deer head. Three a.m., crowd gone, fry cook leans over a
newspaper. Waitress rolls a nickel from her tip pocket
into the juke, punches in her selection, slides wearily
into a booth, puts her feet up, and lights a Pall Mall. Elvis
begins to sing. She closes her eyes and mouths the words,
Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?

“Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop” by J.T. Knoll from Others Like Us. © 39 West Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

John Samuel Tieman: Of Guns And Our Crazy Neighbor


“…So just how easy is it to arm yourself in America? I posed myself a little test. I am a Vietnam veteran. How much would it cost me to equip myself, and arm myself, as I was in Vietnam? And how long would it take me to answer that question?…”

–More

Vox Populi

I teach in Belleville, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis. Belleville is the home of James Hodgkinson, the man who opened fire on congressmen and staffers at a G. O. P. baseball practice Wednesday morning.

As I write,  Rep. Steve Scalise is in critical condition. Several others are recovering.

My university students Wednesday night were, to say the least, upset. Many expressed a certain gratitude that this is not seen as something peculiarly Midwestern or particularly partisan. Knuckle-dragging gun nut socialist hoosier, that sort of thing, that would only add more sadness to the almost unbearably painful. It’s sad enough that this is what it is, a sick man, our neighbor, caught up in a culture of violence. As near as anyone can tell, Hodgkinson just got a gun, went to Washington, and shot folks. Easy as that.

One of the people he shot wants to make it even easier…

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Waiting


A pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation,
wait while I, as usual, wait to see
what will happen today.

These things of mine,
Hopeful of attention,
Not expecting much.
It is as though I and these
things are sitting behind a card table
on Jackson Square in
New Orleans, Saturday morning,
while Jock, Buffalo and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
just over there in the next patch of shade.

Lovely and dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus, on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, with hair held back
by a leather band, plays guitar.
A guitar case is open on the worn
stones and a few coins and bills
are slowly collecting, never enough
to do more than buy one or two meals,
a share of a dive to sleep in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.

They all look like they’re barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each floated to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
at first for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to make tips from tourists,
getting thinner and gradually
realizing that love alone will
not feed the bulldog.

But oh, there are times, just
like this morning, as tourists
walk by and glance at my books
without buying, that Michelle
calls forth the soul of an angel
lost and crying to heaven,
and I feel a touch of the holy,
just for a minute, and my
heart remembers what it waits for.

Cry Havok!


 

“Horrors of War” by Peter Paul Reubens
We wake again to news too normal,
in times that wrap around us
with putrid tentacles of decay.
One day, this time,
death drove in from Illinois and
haunted a spring morning.
In another place, workday
carnage bloodied a warehouse;
Bombs and blades and bullets fly, as
humans again forget themselves,
and cannot forgive or love…
“I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street.
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night….”
From ancient times the
same scenes play out
with monotonous regularity.
The Greeks knew them all too well:
Tired dictators’ croak the same tired complaints
of shriveled old people overcome
by disorders and fears.
From pulpits and madrassas shrill
and bloody conjurers rise and call for blood.
In the dark alleys, the same legions of
militant trash cry ‘murder!’
and thrill to the flow of Evil
that gives their puny lives meaning.
The Night is gathering as in ’39…
“Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war…”

If Only


Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

Oh, to write just one poem

that would last as long as that rose

tattooed on her butt!

 

25,000 days


I’ve managed to make it through almost 25,000 days

by accidentally avoiding fatal incidents.

The first 23,756 (or so) I was rushing from one to the next,

believing, without evidence, that my presence was required.

But lately, I’ve been wondering what all the hurry was for.

At my age, I’ve become convinced that time needs to be slowed down,

and that the cheapest way to do that is to pretend

the clocks and calendars are all wrong.

The alternative — that I’m largely irrelevant, or just a mild irritant — is

too unpleasant–to consider.

My dog’s strategy is to sleep over there, twitching, dreaming,

reliving the exciting chase of a squirrel this morning.

She seldom catches one in these dreams. Neither do I.

Packing For The Trip


dc855071-4f05-4358-b9ce-f09f08c73baa_04_5_caters_invisible_bodies_artwork_08

When the sun comes up tomorrow,
it still won’t care about our little passions,
but we’ll look up, hopeful as puppies, and think it does.

Whatever the size of our apartment or tent or mansion,
we fill the available closets like we’re packing
for a long, long trip and will need all that debris.

I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite, knowing I’ll exit as
naked as the day I arrived, but cling to
my comforts and sense of ownership anyway.

My boys will someday go through what’s left,
hold up broken reading glasses or
socks with no mates, raise an eyebrow:
“Why did that crazy old man keep this?”

“I don’t know,” I’ll say from the ceiling,
already starting to dissolve from the solid world,
“But I thought I might need them someday.”

 

Upstream is a Dream


Time is a deep river with a fast current,

the past somewhere upstream.

You can try to swim against the flow,

but it’s no use. It’s exhausting, and pointless.

You can’t go there any more.

You might taste a memory,

But are soon worn out and

forced to tend to more immediate problems.

Just let the water

carry you along. It’s much easier.

You hear the shouts and cries of others.

The banks are near and sharp.

The past is out of sight and

mist hides everything downstream.

The water is white, though, and turbulent.

You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re

right on them. Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.

Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.

Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.

But always the flow is strong, and pushes down,

through unseen things into the future.


Advice, Anyone?


My alter-ego has the idea that he wants to publish a second book of poems. I’m on the fence, but he’s sure.

However, what he’s not sure about this time is whether to self-publish again or take the time and trouble to try to find an agent and/or a small press who would take it on.

A bit of investigation shows there are quite a few people promoting themselves as literary agents. There are all sorts of “poetry” magazines (not to mention websites like Spillwords), but except for the bigger names, you get the impression it’s a couple of quirky, avante guarde friends from an MFA program working out of an apartment somewhere. Who knows if they’ll help, or even be around in a couple of months?

Then there’s the time. Weeks or months just to (most likely) get a rejection letter.

I can see the appeal of self-publishing, despite the river of unedited, mediocre stuff that it promotes/enables. And the weeks it takes to promote something just to sell a few dozen copies. And the costs: $500-$1000, at least. Still, at least your little child sees the light of day. Sort of.

So, if you’ve put yourself out there and published, what did you discover? Would you do it again? If so, which way would you go?

 

Clear Vision


Carl Jung, 1875-1961
Carl Jung, 1875-1961

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

– Carl Jung

Liberty Lies In The Heart


learned-hand
Learned Hand
Judge Hand was a U.S. judge and judicial philosopher. He has been quoted more often by legal scholars and by the Supreme Court of the United States than any other lower-court judge

Judge Learned Hand

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it… 

Continue reading “Liberty Lies In The Heart”

Pea Brush


Robert Frost
by Robert Frost
1916

I walked down alone Sunday after church
To the place where John has been cutting trees
To see for myself about the birch
He said I could have to bush my peasThe sun in the new-cut narrow gap
Was hot enough for the first of May,
And stifling hot with the odor of sap
From stumps still bleeding their life away.

The frogs that were peeping a thousand shrill
Wherever the ground was low and wet,
The minute they heard my step went still
To watch me and see what I came to get.

Birch boughs enough piled everywhere!—
All fresh and sound from the recent axe.
Time someone came with cart and pair
And got them off the wild flower’s backs.

They might be good for garden things
To curl a little finger round,
The same as you seize cat’s-cradle strings,
And lift themselves up off the ground.

Small good to anything growing wild,
They were crooking many a trillium
That had budded before the boughs were piled
And since it was coming up had to come.

About This Poem

“Pea Brush” was published in Mountain Interval(Henry Holt and Company, 1916)

I Hear America Singing


For Memorial Day….

Walt Whitman, 18191892

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench,
the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

On the Night Shift


This is a short master class in creating vivid characters. Great work. 🙂

Na trioblóidí

2939238_87c60963

There is a priest in the off-license, buying two bottles of whiskey. His face is pasty and pocked with blotches. His hands tremble as he struggles valiantly to  count out his notes and coins. On his third attempt, he reaches the correct amount. Even though he has not yet had his first drink, the physical and psychological changes that come over him are instantaneous and dramatic. His posture improves from pathetic to near heroic. His hands and voice cease their trembling. He even makes a joke at his own expense to the man behind the counter. I watch as he strides out into the night. A moment ago he was sick and desperate, clinging to life and sanity with the most tenuous of holds. Now, his whiskey in hand, he is saved, buoyant with hope.

The man behind the register, in contrast to the priest, has started his evening out…

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Another Complaint About Marketers


I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.

I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.

What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?

Just once?

Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.

(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel. 
Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. .  

Still, this just proves that any good thing can be 
ruined by the venal machinations of marketers–
the modern source of most human misery
now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)

And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

 

The Cork’s Dilemma


I’m torn.
Spring is so fast, so eager.
Changes come before I’ve absorbed yesterday’s.
A minute ago, the maple was nearly bare,
thousands of tiny spinners fallen on my windshield
like sawdust under a table saw.
This morning, new leaves dance in the breeze,
awkward teenagers already, swaying to their own music,
turning the bright sunshine green.

Have I missed something important?
I wish the world had a rewind button, or at least a pause option.
But sadly, we drift along like a cork in a stream,
never knowing what’s down below, never staying anywhere.
Only able to see a blurred impression of the scene whizzing by.

So, yes, I’m torn between the ineffable beauty of now
and endless wonders around the each bend of the stream.
That makes any cork an unreliable partner.

I cannot slow the stream, but
I’ll pause on my own, breathe deeply, still my mind.
When I eat, I will really taste the food; savor the wine.
Miss no opportunity to be kind.
See the joy in another’s eyes.

I’ll watch the young leaves dance and try to
imagine the shape of the wind, feel the fingers of the invisible ocean.
And when I laugh, it will be from the soles of my feet,
and when I’m sad, I’ll not be afraid to plumb the depths.
And when I love, I will hold nothing back, even
When, as is inevitable, there is pain.

I intend to be fully alive, to observe more and better.
That’s all I can do.
That’s all any of us can do.
After all, we’ll be dead soon enough.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

Let’s Review…


Amazon: http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

I’m still around. The past couple of months have seen me busy elsewhere, but I want to reassure both of you who noticed I had been quieter. I underestimated the time it takes to market a book (and the expense, as it happens). And I had an eye operation that led to some complications that put me out of operation for a few weeks.

I’m working on a second book of poems (working title: “A Second Book of Poems”), to be out sometime in the next month or two. It may see daylight sooner, but I don’t want to jinx myself.

If anyone has actually read the first, “I Came From a Place of Fireflies” and feels the urge to write a review on Amazon, I’d appreciate it–Especially if you liked it! Reviews help boost visibility, and I hope that a few more will help encourage a publisher to take a look at the next slender volume.

Check it out here: http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

The long-delayed novel’s on deck, and I start serious work on it after the poetry. I’ve put it off long enough.

Your help is mucho mas appreciated. 🙂

Let Me Go


by Christina Georgina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
and the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
and not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
and each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
a step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.

When I am dead my dearest
sing no sad songs for me
plant thou no roses at my head
nor shady cypress tree
be the green grass above me
with showers and dewdrops wet
and if thou wilt remember
and if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not fear the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
sing on as if in pain;
and dreaming through the twilight
that doth not rise nor set,
haply I may remember,
and haply may forget.


Beasts Bounding Through Time


Bukowskiu
Charles Bukowski, 1920-1994

by Charles Bukowski

Van Gogh writing his brother for paints

Hemingway testing his shotgun

Celine going broke as a doctor of medicine

the impossibility of being human

Villon expelled from Paris for being a thief

Faulkner drunk in the gutters of his town

the impossibility of being human

Burroughs killing his wife with a gun

Mailer stabbing his

the impossibility of being human

Maupassant going mad in a rowboat

Dostoyevsky lined up against a wall to be shot

Crane off the back of a boat into the propeller

the impossibility

Sylvia with her head in the oven like a baked potato

Harry Crosby leaping into that Black Sun

Lorca murdered in the road by Spanish troops

the impossibility

Artaud sitting on a madhouse bench

Chatterton drinking rat poison

Shakespeare a plagiarist

Beethoven with a horn stuck into his head against deafness

the impossibility the impossibility

Nietzsche gone totally mad

the impossibility of being human

all too human

this breathing

in and out

out and in

these punks

these cowards

these champions

these mad dogs of glory

moving this little bit of light toward us

impossibly.

Endings


Pronounced ‘Gnosti you autvn’ , σεαυτόν γνῶθι, carved into the temple of Apollo at Delphi. In Latin, it is ‘Nosce the ipsum’. The message is the same: “Know Thyself”.

Is it possible, can a young person understand what real loss feels like?

It takes the heartbreak of puppy love; a betrayal of trust once…. or twice…or thrice; the death of a beloved grandparent, a classmate ripped from this world by being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a Friday night. Personal failure and the recovery of confidence. Or not.

If we’re not too self-centered, an awareness grows that the world is a complicated place, that people are not all good– or bad.

Time teaches the hard lessons. Losses accumulate like a negative balance in the account books, offset by the joys and happiness that are piling up, too. Life is a double-entry balance sheet. The numbers seldom lie as much as we do.

No one else can really make us happy. No one else can break us without our help. Things are beginning and ending all the time. The world was before us, and will go on long after we are gone. Even the most famous of us will be forgotten. Do you know the name of the Mongol general who fathered many of the children of conquered Russia from captives who were brought before him–in tears, or fears, or with calculating or admiring eyes–night after night? Even the descendents don’t know him.

Or the name of history’s first real musician?

We are both unique and utterly the same: the first and only us that ever was. But others like us wandered the forests of prehistory, or the markets of medieval Paris, or leapt off Viking boats with flashing steel and a roar, or cowered inside during Roman raids. Generations of our line may have labored anonymously in slavery, or murdered and plundered and raped. Yet some of them had the same nose, the same way funny little laugh as we do. The same aversion to yellow vegetables. The same taste for wine. The same eyes.

Those of us who have spent time on the downslope think about these things. Most of us are fools who haven’t learned a thing, too.

If you are young, how will you write this entry when you are my age? Will you be any wiser?

Be careful how you answer.

Final

Sailing to Byzantium


W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick,
unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Asylums as Refuge: Dispersing the Gloom


“…What I found most remarkable, is that these institutions seemed to have a kind of dignity associated to them—something I would not say is the case today.

Sadly, few Americans realise that these institutions were once monuments to civic pride, build with noble intentions by leading architects and physicians who envisioned the asylums as places of refuge, therapy, and healing.

Amen to that.”

A Quiver Of Quotes

musicophiliaI associate neurologist and author Oliver Sacks with serene-laughter. Don’t ask me to define the term. The best I can say is: look at the image of him that appears on the cover of his book Musicophilia.

I read his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat a long time ago, so I do not remember whether he employed magnificent figures of speech, or merely decent ones. But I do remember that his case-studies were not oppressive, despite the seriousness of the conditions he described. The New York Times called him the poet laureate of medicine for a reason.

After two heavy books, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House, I decided to find a fresh, uplifting voice on a similar topic. I settled for Asylum : Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitalsby photographer and architect Christopher Payne, and with an introduction…

View original post 1,315 more words

On the Verge


I’m on the verge of doing something.
You just wait and see if I don’t.
I was young, once, but excavated him recently
and found some things to admire.
He was a naive, quirky dreamer,
Not really cowed by what he didn’t know,
Below average in almost everything.
And so had to learn how to deal with frequent failure.
And endless, vast, gaping, gnawing caverns of ignorance.
But he also harbored a core of wonder, and stubbornness.
And that made all the difference.

So now I’m a burden on everyone,
cashing that Social Security check, living the dream.
I might use all this free time to
write the untold history of the doorknob, or
invent the inexpensive, irreplaceable solution to all your problems.

Oh, yes. That.
I’d make millions, billions, and buy a Greek island
Full of sun, ruins, waterfalls and nubile goddesses,
and do something really great, then.
So great.
You just watch and see if I don’t.

Now


Dancers_Sergey Sukhovey

Living in the past leads only to regrets.
Living in the future leads to worry.
Living must be embraced in the now.

The meadowlarks have returned, singing.

I may not be able to leap as high as before,
Nor run as far, or as fast….
But…
Let’s dance.

______

I’ve been away for eye surgery (all better now) and have begun working on new pieces, planning the next book and generally resuming my plan to go exploring for the next 60 years or so. Republishing this one from last year because it taps something that’s still true. 


Annie


I sleep in the bedroom of a dead woman.

She’s no trouble.

I saw her, but just once, the night we moved in.

Annie.

Maybe it was exhaustion, and even my hair ached.

But in a shaft of moonlight, just as sleep took me,

I had a brief impression of someone in lace and a gown,

Just standing there like a column of smoke.

She died in this room and they had the wake downstairs

In the front room with the tall bay windows.

 

They laid her in a grave in the old Quaker cemetery,

A private and quiet place surrounded by a brick wall. .

For 134 years  the wind

Whistles its song through the

the iron gate, and over the stones,

a song without words.

 

 

Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

IMG_2251

After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.

Continue reading “Vacation”

Time Traveler


You know the bit about the butterfly:
It flaps it’s wings on a Wednesday just after lunch and
the dinosaurs all die.

And the other bit, where you go back in time
and accidentally bump off grandpa
and POOF! You never existed.

Or just like yesterday, and you woke up,
decided on grapefruit instead of your usual vodka,
and you felt good enough to go out instead.

You time traveler, you. You did it again.
What might have happened, didn’t.
What if you eating grapefruit killed a butterfly, though?

We play a game with babies: cover and reveal.
“Where’s daddy?” Then whip away the cloth and he’s back.
Things exist that we cannot see.

We imagine we move through time because
Our brains record memories
And recall them “later”.

But that’s because we’re used to seeing
from inside the action,
where things don’t happen all at once.

In the mind of God, outside of all of this,
In the realm of pure thought,
Everything has already happened.

Past, future, now have no meaning,
nothing changes because everything all-when is,
change mere illusion depending on where you stand and watch.

Weird, isn’t it? A world where butterflies can kill dinosaurs,
Where what you see depends on where you stand,
And where traveling through time is what we all do, every day.

On Acatenango


Eruption and snowfall, April, 2017. Acatenango, Guatemala.

Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.

I awoke early.  Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see.
Continue reading “On Acatenango”

Making A Bed


 

Unmade-Bed

I know how to make a bed
While still lying in it, and
Slip out of an imaginary hole
As if I were squeezed out of a tube:
Tug, smooth—the bed is made.
And if resurrections are this easy,
Why then I believe in all of them:
Lazarus rising from his tomb,
Elijah at the vertical—
Though death, I think, has more than clever
Household hints in mind and wants
The bed made, once, and for good.

“Making a Bed” by Howard Moss from New Selected Poems. © Athenaeum, 1985.

One or Two


This isn’t an original thought. And I hope it’s a long way off.

But at the end of everything, I would be satisfied if it could be carved into my tombstone that “He wrote one or two good sentences.”

Traveling Alone


by Billy Collins
in “The Trouble With Poetry” 2005

At the hotel coffee shop that morning,
the waitress was wearing a pink uniform
with “Florence” written in script over her heart.

And the man who checked my bag
had a badge that said “Ben.”
Behind him was a long row of royal palms.

On the plane, two women poured drinks
from a cart they rolled down the narrow aisle –
“Debbie” and “Lynn” according to their winged tags.

And such was my company
as I arced from coast to coast,
and so I seldom spoke, and then only
of the coffee, the bag, the tiny bottles of vodka.
I said little more than “Thank you”
and “Can you take this from me, please?”

Yet I began to sense that all of them
were ready to open up,
to get to know me better, perhaps begin a friendship.

Florence looked irritated
as she shuffled from table to table,
but was she just hiding her need
to know about my early years –
the ball I would toss and catch in my hands
the times I hid behind my mother’s dress?

And was I so wrong in catching in Ben’s eyes
a glimmer of interest in my theories
and habits – my view of the Enlightenment,
my love of cards, the hours I tended to keep?

And what about Debbie and Lynn?
Did they not look eager to ask about my writing process,
my way of composing in the morning
by a window, which I would have admitted
if they had just had the courage to ask.

And strangely enough – I would have continued,
as they stopped pouring drinks
and the other passengers turned to listen –
the only emotion I ever feel, Debbie and Lynn,
is what the beaver must feel,
as he bears each stick to his hidden construction,

which creates the tranquil pond
and gives the mallards somewhere to paddle,
the pair of swans a place to conceal their young.

Ride the Wild Wind – Depends Optional


Hysterical. Good one, Iowa. 🙂

Lies Jack Kerouac told Me

gs1100While the rest of the blogging world tackles the A to Z challenge, Almost Iowa has thrown down one of his own. Here, then, is my entry in his My Stuff Challenge… 

Spring has arrived on the Front Range, and with temps in the 70s it’s time to pull the cover off the motorcycle and see if I can still shift gears and chew gum at the same time.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m another old guy with a crotch-rocket. Don’t look now, but it appears the Hell’s Angels were the victims of a hostile takeover by the AARP. These days Bike Week in Sturgis more closely resembles an episode of the Golden Girls than it does Sons of Anarchy. You know it’s bad when the biggest drug problem at the event is trafficking in unprescribed Flomax.

Chalk it up to brilliant marketing. They tell us the cure for a spreading…

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Well, Not Exactly


Henry James,
(1843 – 1916)

“My idea of paradise is a perfect automobile going 30 miles per hour on a smooth road to a twelfth century cathedral.”

—Henry James

Well, that’s fine, I suppose. But …. Mine would have to add a pretty girl, some wine, and talk in that twelfth century cathedral of long-held secrets, both ours and its. Nothing like a pretty girl to make me want to tell my secrets. I doubt the cathedral would be so easily overcome.

But I would talk. And be terrified after. The danger. The cathedral would probably be more stoic.

The Days Are Bees


by Pablo Neruda from Still Another Day

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
Continue reading “The Days Are Bees”

The Buffaloes Are Gone


Carl Sandburg


by Carl Sandburg

The buffaloes are gone.
And those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
Those who saw the buffaloes by thousands
and how they pawed the prairie sod into dust with their hoofs,
their great heads down pawing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the buffaloes are gone.
And the buffaloes are gone.

How To (And How Not To) Write Poetry


wisaawa-szymborskaAdvice for blocked writers and aspiring poets from a Nobel Prize winner’s newspaper column. (I’m still making more than a few of these mistakes.)
In the Polish newspaper Literary Life, Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Clare Cavanagh, translates these selections.


The following are selections from columns originally published in the Polish newspaper
Literary Life. In these columns, famed poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Translated by Clare Cavanagh, they appeared in slightly different form in our Journals section earlier this year.

To Heliodor from Przemysl: “You write, ‘I know my poems have many faults, but so what, I’m not going to stop and fix them.’ And why is that, oh Heliodor? Perhaps because you hold poetry so sacred? Or maybe you consider it insignificant? Both ways of treating poetry are mistaken, and what’s worse, they free the novice poet from the necessity of working on his verses. It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side.”

To H.O. from Poznan, a would-be translator: “The translator is obliged to be faithful not only to the text. He must also reveal the full beauty of the poetry while retaining its form and preserving as completely as possible the epoch’s spirit and style.”

To Grazyna from Starachowice: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?”

To Mr. G. Kr. of Warsaw: “You need a new pen. The one you’re using makes a lot of mistakes. It must be foreign.”

To Pegasus [sic] from Niepolomice: “You ask in rhyme if life makes cents [sic]. My dictionary answers in the negative.”

To Mr. K.K. from Bytom: “You treat free verse as a free-for-all. But poetry (whatever we may say) is, was, and will always be a game. And as every child knows, all games have rules. So why do the grown-ups forget?”

To Puszka from Radom: “Even boredom should be described with gusto. How many things are happening on a day when nothing happens?”

To Boleslaw L-k. of Warsaw: “Your existential pains come a trifle too easily. We’ve had enough despair and gloomy depths. ‘Deep thoughts,’ dear Thomas says (Mann, of course, who else), ‘should make us smile.’ Reading your own poem ‘Ocean,’ we found ourselves floundering in a shallow pond. You should think of your life as a remarkable adventure that’s happened to you. That is our only advice at present.”

To Marek, also of Warsaw: “We have a principle that all poems about spring are automatically disqualified. This topic no longer exists in poetry. It continues to thrive in life itself, of course. But these are two separate matters.”

To B.L. from the vicinity of Wroclaw: “The fear of straight speaking, the constant, painstaking efforts to metaphorize everything, the ceaseless need to prove you’re a poet in every line: these are the anxieties that beset every budding bard. But they are curable, if caught in time.”

To Zb. K. of Poznan: “You’ve managed to squeeze more lofty words into three short poems than most poets manage in a lifetime: ‘Fatherland,’ ‘truth,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘justice’: such words don’t come cheap. Real blood flows in them, which can’t be counterfeited with ink.”

To Michal in Nowy Targ: “Rilke warned young poets against large sweeping topics, since those are the most difficult and demand great artistic maturity. He counseled them to write about what they see around them, how they live each day, what’s been lost, what’s been found. He encouraged them to bring the things that surround us into their art, images from dreams, remembered objects. ‘If daily life seems impoverished to you,’ he wrote, ‘don’t blame life. You yourself are to blame. You’re just not enough of a poet to perceive its wealth.’ This advice may seem mundane and dim-witted to you. This is why we called to our defense one of the most esoteric poets in world literature—and just see how he praised so-called ordinary things!”

To Ula from Sopot: “A definition of poetry in one sentence—well. We know at least five hundred definitions, but none of them strikes us as both precise and capacious enough. Each expresses the taste of its own age. Inborn skepticism keeps us from trying our hand at our own. But we remember Carl Sandburg’s lovely aphorism: ‘Poetry is a diary kept by a sea creature who lives on land and wishes he could fly.’ Maybe he’ll actually make it one of these days?”

To L-k B-k of Slupsk: “We require more from a poet who compares himself to Icarus than the lengthy poem enclosed reveals. Mr. B-k, you fail to reckon with the fact that today’s Icarus rises above a different landscape than that of ancient times. He sees highways covered in cars and trucks, airports, runways, large cities, expansive modern ports, and other such realia. Might not a jet rush past his ear at times?”

To T.W., Krakow: “In school no time is spent, alas, on the aesthetic analysis of literary works. Central themes are stressed along with their historical context. Such knowledge is of course crucial, but it will not suffice for anyone wishing to become a good, independent reader, let alone for someone with creative ambitions. Our young correspondents are often shocked that their poem about rebuilding postwar Warsaw or the tragedy of Vietnam might not be good. They’re convinced that honorable intentions preempt form. But if you want to become a decent cobbler, it’s not enough to enthuse over human feet. You have to know your leather, your tools, pick the right pattern, and so forth. . . . It holds true for artistic creation too.”

To Mr. Br. K. of Laski: “Your poems in prose are permeated by the figure of the Great Poet who creates his remarkable works in a state of alcoholic euphoria. We might take a wild guess at whom you have in mind, but it’s not last names that concern us in the final analysis. Rather, it’s the misguided conviction that alcohol facilitates the act of writing, emboldens the imagination, sharpens wits, and performs many other useful functions in abetting the bardic spirit. My dear Mr. K., neither this poet, nor any of the others personally known to us, nor indeed any other poet has ever written anything great under the unadulterated influence of hard liquor. All good work arose in painstaking, painful sobriety, without any pleasant buzzing in the head. ‘I’ve always got ideas, but after vodka my head aches,’ Wyspianski said. If a poet drinks, it’s between one poem and the next. This is the stark reality. If alcohol promoted great poetry, then every third citizen of our nation would be a Horace at least. Thus we are forced to explode yet another legend. We hope that you will emerge unscathed from beneath the ruins.”

To E.L. in Warsaw: “Perhaps you could learn to love in prose.”

To Esko from Sieradz: “Youth really is an intriguing period in one’s life. If one adds writerly ambitions to the difficulties of youth, one must possess an exceptionally strong constitution in order to cope. Its components should include: persistence, diligence, wide reading, curiosity, observation, distance toward oneself, sensitivity to others, a critical mind, a sense of humor, and an abiding conviction that the world deserves a) to keep existing, and b) better luck than it’s had thus far. The efforts you’ve sent signal only the desire to write and none of the other virtues described above. You have your work cut out for you.”

To Kali of Lodz: “‘Why’ is the most important word in this planet’s language, and probably in that of other galaxies as well.”

To Mr. Pal-Zet of Skarysko-Kam: “The poems you’ve sent suggest that you’ve failed to perceive a key difference between poetry and prose. For example, the poem entitled ‘Here’ is merely a modest prose description of a room and the furniture it holds. In prose such descriptions perform a specific function: they set the stage for the action to come. In a moment the doors will open, someone will enter, and something will take place. In poetry the description itself must ‘take place.’ Everything becomes significant, meaningful: the choice of images, their placement, the shape they take in words. The description of an ordinary room must become before our eyes the discovery of that room, and the emotion contained by that description must be shared by the readers. Otherwise, prose will stay prose, no matter how hard you work to break your sentences into lines of verse. And what’s worse, nothing happens afterwards.”

  • Originally Published: August 29th, 2006

Writing Advice


More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com

You Can’t Learn To Write in College

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.

RAY BRADBURY

Self-doubt Can Be An Ally

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

STEVEN PRESSFIELD

 

 

You Must Read Everything

Illustration by Tina Berning
for the New York Times

You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.

SARAH MANGUSO

Jam


by Charles Bukowski
1920-94

That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
area –

I mean it can simply become
unbelievable.

last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
movement
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
evening air
engines overheated
and there was the smell of a clutch
burning out
somewhere
– it seemed to come from ahead of
me –
from that long
slow rise of
freeway

where the cars were working
from first gear
to neutral
again and again
and from neutral back to first
gear.

on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
times

I was well versed
in world
affairs.

the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
music

the classical stations
refused to come in
clearly
and when they did
it was a stale
repetition of
standard and tiresome
works.

I turned the radio
off.
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
clock-wise
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
and around
again.

I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
mad?
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
arms folded.
then I would slide down to a sitting
position
putting my head between my
legs.
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
stop
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
against their
compulsions as I
did?

then the car ahead of
me
MOVED
a foot
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
BUT
we had moved from 7 to ten
feet.

hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
worse
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
the headrest
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
whose clutch
was burning out?
we were like some
last
vast
final
dinosaur
crawling feebly home
somewhere
somehow
maybe
to
die.

The Work


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.

And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.

It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.

These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.

The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.

This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)

The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.

And so I write it down.

When Frank Died: God


Frank died. God whistled a tune. Frank looked around at the room. Nothing special, walls, mostly. Frank looked back at God. “Who the hell are you?” God stopped whistling. “God, I think, right? You guys are stilling calling me God?” Frank stared, placid. “Uh-huh.” “Any-who,” God muttered, feeling awkward. “Right,” Frank stood. “I’m going to […]

via What Happened When Frank Died: God — Flash 365

Implacable Indifference


I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.

I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.

Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear,  I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.

I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:

No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.

Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.

Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.

Then give someone else the credit for it.

This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.

Unending Love



by Rabindranath Tagore

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that springs from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another,
We have played along side millions of lovers,
Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,
the distressful tears of farewell,
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

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