Why Is He Known For A Valediction and An Ode On A Grecian Urn, But Not This?

It’s the twenty-first century, and this is the Internet. John Keats should be best known for “To a Cat”:

Cat! who has pass’d thy grand climacteric,
     How many mice and rats hast in thy days
     Destroy’d? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
     Those velvet ears – but pr’ythee do not stick
     Thy latent talons in me – and tell me all thy frays,
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick;
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists, –
     For all the wheezy asthma – and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nick’d off – and though the fists
     Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is thy fur as when the lists
     In youth thou enter’dst on glass-bottled wall.

I came across this one about a third of the way through the complete works of Keats that I’ve been reading off and on for a couple of years. It’s actually a collection of the complete works of Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, so the Keats is not the half of it. Dude died at 25 and left almost four hundred pages of poems sometimes double-stacked on a page (but sometimes “Endymion”). Me, I’ve written two poems in the last ten years (but but sold one for $100 bucks, which is a feat neither Keats nor Shelley can likely match).

I suppose I need to drag myself with a pad of paper to the coffee house in Republic one of these days (Black Lab Coffee, even though there’s a new location of Classic Rock Coffee out there, but Black Lab was there first and supports the Pregnancy Resource Center as we do). Otherwise, I am likely to hit twice Keats age with only a hundred and something pages of poetry for posterity.

Homeschooling Update: A Ink-Licking Good Poem

Last night’s poem was Anniversary by Marjorie Maddox, a poem that my beautiful wife clipped from First Things magazine and deployed this week to remind me we have a wedding anniversary coming up.

Roark, a.k.a. the Big Bopper, a.k.a. Radar Love, kept interrupting my writing to lick the part of the poem I’d already written:

Not a bad poem; a villanelle, of which I might have written one or more once upon a time. Certainly better than the poem on the other side of the page, although the boys liked it better because it was shorter, mostly.

Yesterday’s Poem and Talking Back To Eternity

So we’ve been talking about allusion in our poetry studies. I compared allusion to memes which are all the hotness these days, and how that kind of is the same thing: A “new” work refers to an older work with which you are familiar, and you get a zing from knowing what the new work means invoking the old. A little line can include a lot of meaning when you understand the meaning behind those words, the larger experience of having read the work alluded to.

I said it’s kind of like memes because when you see one of the current Smudge the cat memes:

You recognize the context of the meme: The angry woman says something, perhaps incorrectly, and the cat weighs in with the truth, which is sometimes incorrect in its own way. But you get the punchline because you’re already familiar with the joke.

A meme is nothing compared to an allusion, though, in terms of power or the amount of information shared with the reference because poems and other works (such as the Bible, something often alluded to) have a lot more density and meaning to them.

So I explained to my boys, hoping it would stick that alluding to, say, Longfellow poem in a cartoon would have more depth and staying power than a mere mash-up or meme. After all, they’re steeped in the Internet from the last couple of years (since their self-awareness and receiving the school laptops), but they have no idea what I has a bucket means.

At any rate, then I mentioned a little bit about how poems sometimes completely respond to each other. Examples include Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold and the reply The Dover Bitch by Anthony Hecht and The Passionate Shepherd To His Love by Christopher Marlowe and the reply The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Yesterday, we did a poem from Amoretti by Edmund Spenser:

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide and made my pains his prey.
Vain man (said she) that dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so, quoth I; let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame;
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
   Where, when as Death shall all the world subdue,
   Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Not exactly a reply, but more of a humorous update, today we have:

One day I sprayed her name upon the wall,
but then it got erased by blasting sand.
I tried again with neon pink in hand,
but later on they greyed my urban scrawl.
“You dope,” said she, “what are you trying to do?
Each time you paint my name, they’ll cover it,
and take away whatever little wit
you crafted there; your scratching won’t show through.”
“So what?” I said. “When I’ve used up my paint,
and both our names inside their little hearts
are blasted by the city’s cleansing men,
I’ll take some pride in knowing that the taint
of darker paints or sand-scorched building parts
are secret signs of joys that once had been.”

That’s one I wrote; it is, of course, available in Coffee House Memories.

I’m not saying that the Spenser poem influenced me, but I also have another response/update to it entitled “A Carved Tree (I)” which begins:

One day I carved her name into a tree

“A Carved Tree (II)” represents an update to the poem “A Carved Tree (I)” but not a reply or update of the original source.

Clearly, I was into sonnets and sonnet series/cycles when I was younger.

Unfortunately, that means that “O Capitan! My Captain!” will have to wait until tomorrow and not the anniversary of Lincoln’s Death. And I can mention to the boys that it appears in the movie Dead Poets Society. Although with the word Poets right in it, you would have to expect some poetry.

So poems can be a way of talking back to eternity. Memes, though, are merely talking back to today.

Homeschooling, Day 卌 卌 IIII

So on Thursday night, we did not get to the poetry until after 8pm, so I had to pick a short one for the evening.

I selected “Trees” by Joyce (a boy) Kilmer (text here).

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Quick, what movie quotes that poem?

Continue reading “Homeschooling, Day 卌 卌 IIII”

Coronaschooling, Day Something: Wherein Jethro Tull Answers William Blake

Last night’s poem was “The Tyger” by William Blake.

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The poet asks:

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Jethro Tull responds:

He who made kittens put snakes in the grass

The youngest spontaneously burst out singing this song a week or so ago; it’s on my workout playlist, which I played sometimes in the car in the Great Before when we went places such as the gym in our car. So they know the song, and I got to connect the theme from William Blake to popular culture.

Well, culture that’s popular at Nogglestead, anyway, and probably wasn’t even that popular when it came out in 1974 (although, apparently, it hit the top 20).

Coronaviraschooling: Day 8

So every day of this last week, their first at home because of the coronavirus lockdown, the boys and I (and sometimes my beautiful wife) have taken a poem and hand-copied it to keep up with our handwriting and to talk about poetry. We started with “If” by Rudyward Kipling, and apparently it’s a thing now because I’ve seen it on a couple different blogs (here and here this very week). I was going to have them do “The Gods of Copybook Headings”, but it’s pretty long–“If” took the slowest writer an hour (complaining included).

So we did a couple of shorter poems–a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, “Ozymandias” by Shelley on Friday.

Continuing the theme of Romantic poets writing about ancient Asian things, yesterday we went with “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
    The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
    Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

    A damsel with a dulcimer
    In a vision once I saw:
    It was an Abyssinian maid
    And on her dulcimer she played,
    Singing of Mount Abora.
    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,
    To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

After about an hour (including complaining), we finished. We talked about the rhyme scheme, the meter, and the way the poet uses strange contractions to make meter. I mentioned that Coleridge is best known for writing the Iron Maiden song “Rime of the Ancient Mariner“.

And then we watched the film version of the poem.

I told my beautiful wife I had just picked it up. Wherein “just” in this case means three years ago.

My wife and youngest son watched the whole thing with me; the oldest son wandered off, and when he returned, he asked what was happening, as though it was making real sense between the Olivia Newton-John numbers. We told him it would have made more sense if he hadn’t missed the animated interlude in the middle. Which was not true, but.

Today, I think we will continue our mythology unit with the 1980 Clash of the Titans.

Confession: I did select “Kubla Khan” just so we would get to watch the movie thereafter. There, I said it.

The Laddie Reckoned Himself A Poet

So whilst I was in St. Charles this weekend, I stayed at the Tru by Hilton again, mainly because of its proximity to the historic Main Street and because I can get Hilton points for staying there. Not that I pay attention to the accumulation of Hilton Points nor do I expect to use them, but I have been conditioned to accumulate points as ends in themselves.

Instead of going for a run or hitting the little fitness center room, I spent an hour or so pounding coffee in the hotel’s common area, scratching lines on my notorious legal pad. Later that evening, I was in the coffee shop listening to Janet Evra, and I scratched a couple of lines and added a little code, and I finished the poem.

Which was a great relief, as I have been working and scratching at this poem a long, long time.

How long?

A tidied version of a draft is on the cover of Coffee House Memories.

Once can find behind the lined notepad pages behind the initial lines notes taken during a meeting at the Republic Pregnancy Resource Center Happy Feet 5K committee in 2017. So, yeah, it has likely been percolating for many years.

But I am happy to have finished it. It might be only the third poem I’ve written in the last ten years (only “Springfield Panera Bread BDU” and “Canny” come to mind).

When I showed it to my beautiful wife, she said it was good. She did not roll her eyes when she said it like she did when reading my cousin’s poetry, but I’ll take what I can get these days.

In my more fatalistic moments, which are more like fatalistic minutes or hours or days rather than moments, I think this might be the last poem I ever write given the pacing over the last twenty years. In the interims between my fatalism, though, I think I should make some time to sit in coffee shops with a pad and a pen since I rather enjoyed it, especially as I actively developed this poem.

Oh, and as far as the poem itself goes, I’m not going to share it on the blog at this time. I’m going to tighten a couple turns of phrase and submit it to poetry journals for a bit and see if I can get it, you know, published. Should that route fail, gentle reader, I’ll share it here so someone other than me, my wife, and a set of editorial assistants can read it.

The Review Is In!

Well, it’s not technically a review. I entered Coffee House Memories in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards competition this year.

I did not win.

Part of the contest is the promise of brief commentary from the judge. Here’s what the judge said about Coffee House Memories:

In Coffee House Memories, a book of poetry by Brian J Noggle, we are presented with a tour of the speaker’s mind and heart, a journey that moves from immaturity to maturity to that delicate balance we strike when we look back with fondness or regret on our past selves. The title for this collection seems to this reader to be bland, missing an opportunity to more evocatively cast a tone for the collection to come. The book is broken into sections which helps the reader to navigate through the various themes and ideas that are presented throughout. The poetry here is formal, adhering to set rules and forms, but this does the subject no real service. Form is a useful tool, can be a worthwhile constraint that gives the poem shape and substance while pushing the writer into nuanced phrases and word choice that might not have been available otherwise. Here, however, the form is a kind of lockstep that forces the writer into clunky language and line. The overall design of the book is professional. It features an interior layout that is crisp and clean with text design on each page that is readable and presented soundly. It may seem minor, but getting the interior in order is an important step in getting the reader hooked! Also, the cover image for the book is straightforward and relatable.

Well, it sounds a lot like what Dr. Berry said in my poetry class at the university. I did improve upon my sonnets from that era, though.

And I got really good scores for my book design. That must be a product of years of designing technical documentation or something.

Still, I guess it’s about what I should expect. Maybe some of the lines are clunky, but the book includes some really good poems, too. You could take my word for it, gentle reader, or you could spring $.99 for a Kindle copy and see for yourself.

Book Report: The Life Expectancy of Pantyhose and The Poems of Middle Age by “Wilbur Topsail” (1993)

Book coverWell, what should I think about this book? Let’s get into what I think might be the back story of this volume: Based on a couple of Internet searches, I think this book was actually published in 1993 under a pseudonym. The “author”‘s name also appears in a review of a book entitled Navigating Infinity:

Author Michael Langthorne and Wilbur Topsail, the main character and narrator in Langthorne’s novel “Navigating Infinity,” have some things in common, but the novelist says it would be wrong to call the book autobiographical.

* * * *

The second part of the book features poems that Wilbur wrote from his childhood, through college and into adulthood.

“When you read the poems, you will see that sometimes he is venting and he is angry at his parents and then you will see the other side of him wanting to be a sexual person and wanting to have fun,” Langthorne says. “As he gets older and starts to mature, he writes poems that reflect the fact that he is an older person. You see that he has different feelings as he ages.”

That pretty much describes the poems in the book. It’s a lot of Rod McKuen territory, with the aging sex-seeker lamenting less sex and more aging. But instead of the lyricism of Rod McKuen, we’ve got more modern (and therefore lesser) free verse and a couple of prose pieces with some free-form association.

I didn’t like the book very much, thinking it less than some of the more earnest poetry by less serious “poets” like Leah Lathrom or Ronald E. Piggee. Piggee, as a matter of fact, would be contemporary to “Topsail”: both books were published in 1993, and both men would have been about the same age.

But as I got closer to the finish, I thought perhaps I should appreciate the book more if I thought of it less as a book of poetry and more as a collection of performance pieces. Back in the days when this book was fresh, I did poetry open mic nights, and a number of the St. Louis poets like Paul Stewart and Michael O’Brian did great performance pieces that, if you looked at them in their chapbooks, really weren’t much on the page. You could apply this to the Nuyorican Poets, too–I saw them when they were traveling through St. Louis at that time. Once I got that into my head, that maybe these were a product of the time, I tolerated the poems better.

Then I got to one poem, called “Generations”, that was pretty good. So I guess that redeemed the book for me.

It’s odd, a bit of double-effect going on here: The author is a little younger than I am now, but the poems are from my most fecund poetical era (captured, of course, in Coffee House Memories) in the middle 1990s. I can relate to some of the themes of aging now, but I was not very impressed, overall, with the execution. Especially the prose poem things which were a little free-association with little point aside from the free-association and the poetating.

Of course, now that I’m aware of it, perhaps I will pick the novel up if I spot it at a book sale to see what the older (still) author does with the material.

The Au Naturel Native American Way To Protect Your Garden From Pests

From The Song of Hiawatha, Chapter 13 (“Blessing the Corn Fields“):

     Once, when all the maize was planted,
Hiawatha, wise and thoughtful,
Spake and said to Minnehaha,
To his wife, the Laughing Water:
“You shall bless to-night the cornfields,
Draw a magic circle round them,
To protect them from destruction,
Blast of mildew, blight of insect,
Wagemin, the thief of cornfields,
Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear
     “In the night, when all Is silence,’
In the night, when all Is darkness,
When the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,
Shuts the doors of all the wigwams,
So that not an ear can hear you,
So that not an eye can see you,
Rise up from your bed in silence,
Lay aside your garments wholly,
Walk around the fields you planted,
Round the borders of the cornfields,
Covered by your tresses only,
Robed with darkness as a garment.
     “Thus the fields shall be more fruitful,
And the passing of your footsteps
Draw a magic circle round them,
So that neither blight nor mildew,
Neither burrowing worm nor insect,
Shall pass o’er the magic circle;
Not the dragon-fly, Kwo-ne-she,
Nor the spider, Subbekashe,
Nor the grasshopper, Pah-puk-keena;
Nor the mighty caterpillar,
Way-muk-kwana, with the bear-skin,
King of all the caterpillars!”

I’ve encouraged my beautiful wife to try this method, but to no avail. Of course, our gardens don’t have corn since it’s a little dry for corn around here in the late summer time, and she is probably right to be doubtful about native methods since my attempt to use the “three sisters” method of growing corn, beans, and squash together did nothing but leave us with a harvest of more spaghetti squash than we could eat (which, to be honest, is any).

Book Report: Little Orphant Annie and Other Poems by James Whitcomb Riley (1994)

Book coverIt took me a couple tries to get through this book. A couple years ago, I stuck it in my gym bag as my carry book, and I read it at the martial arts school before class. I even read the first poem, “Little Orphant Annie”, to my children, and they were interested in the Gobble-uns at gits you eff you don’t watch out.

But I ran into an excerpt from “A Child’s Home–Long Ago”. This particular excerpt runs six pages. Which, in retrospect, is not very long, but I’m not generally a fan of long poems (the longest in Coffee House Memories, “Homecoming ’93: A Collage”, runs five pages, but it’s narrative). The long ones that really choke me are the ones written by the Romantic poets, where it’s ten pages of landscape. Brothers and sisters, I prefer paintings that have people in them, and I sure tooting need something more than a litany of flowers if a poem is going to be more than twelve lines. The excerpt of “A Child’s Home–Long Ago” starts out landscapy, with a description of the home, and I must have abandoned it before it got to describing the children and the other people they interacted with long ago. It got better, and I made it through the poem and the book.

James Whitcomb Riley rose to infamy by penning a counterfeit Poe poem, but he managed to make do on his own as a journalist and writer. His poems make great use of the vernacular, as the refrain of “Little Orphant Annie” proves out, which makes reading the poems a little fun. He’s got a good sense of rhythm and does tell little stores in some of his poems, which makes them more engaging than mere word pictures. I ding the Romantics again because I’ve started reading Keats and Shelley, who wrote only, what, sixty or seventy years before Riley, but whose poems read much older. Or perhaps Riley’s just read that younger.

Riley, relative unknown in the 21st century, must have punched quite above his weight in the pop culture of the day, though. The title poem of this collection spawned comics in the papers and a musical play made into a movie several times. Raggedy Ann dolls, which were popular up into my childhood, were named for the poems “Little Orphant Annie” and “Raggedy Man”. Crazy. You don’t get many toys or comics named after Maya Angelou or David Clewell poems these days, ainna?

So I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a more comprehensive volume sometime. This book is a little Dover Thrift Edition, which was what we had instead of inexpensive POD and Kindle versions of classic works back in the old days. For a buck, you could get a collection of classic poems or a longer work that had fallen out of copyright. They’re still available, apparently, for just a couple bucks. Dover in the 1990s must have been the Walter J. Black of its time, with its minting money in classics and in clip art books. Like book clubs of classics, though, its main time of success must have been limited.

Reading Edna St. Vincent Millay

Back in my coffee house days (yes, those very ones which produced the poems within Coffee House Memories), I hit numerous open mike nights around town, and attendees knew what to expect from me, from sonnets to ending with the poem “An Evening Walk.” I would mix in some “covers,” where I would recite a poem by another poet or even cool prose from someone like Raymond Chandler.

But if I went to an open mike for the first time, I would do a little trick: I would perform Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Love, though for this you riddle me with darts….”

You can see what this sounds like when a proper British woman reads the poem:

That’s not how I did it, though.

I’d sign my name on the sign-up sheet, and when the MC would call it, I’d go to the stage or the microphone with slumped shoulders, clutching a set of papers shyly, and I’d warble my voice breathlessly into the microphone, “This is a, um, sonnet” as though I were suffering stage fright (which Edna St. Vincent Millay herself did–she was known to take a belt before readings). And then I would throw the papers aside, leap from the stage or in front of the mike, and shout/snarl the first ten lines like a challenge to fight Cupid waving my fist in the air. Then, I’d deliver the last two lines like an aside.

Less formally than Edna St. Vincent Millay herself would have done.

I wouldn’t need to pick up the prop papers I brought, though, as I had whatever I was going to perform memorized. Ask me someday how long it takes to recite Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at the Venice Cafe.

Good poems, good memories. Like my book!

Oh, Poems, No Less. Poems, Everybody!

So I have released my infrequently threatened/promised collection of poems.

Entitled Coffee House Memories, it contains just short of 100 poems that I wrote mostly in my college and immediately post-college life. I spent a lot of evenings at coffee houses and their attendant open mic nights.

via GIPHY

Man, I wrote a lot of sonnets, and some of them are pretty good, I still think. But some of them are a little, erm, saucy? Not bawdy, but they’re clearly about making love. So this, like John Donnelly’s Gold, is not something my children can take to school for show and tell. It’s funny; I used to perform said poems in coffee houses in front of dozens of people, but it’s been a while. I’m pretty sure I’d feel like a creepy old man reading one of them out loud now. And/or I’d blush furiously. But I’m convinced they’re good poems, so they’re in the collection.

Also in this volume:

Not included: “Springfield Panera Bread BDU”, although I did include a number of other haiku. And pantoum or two. And a couple villanelles, I thing. I did write a couple bits of free verse, but I always favored more structured forms, like the sonnet.

The book includes two chapbooks I released in the middle 1990s, Unrequited and Deep Blue Shadows. The latter is named for a poem inspired a bit by a song by the band Lillian Axe.

It might be the only poem inspired by anything by Lillian Axe.

In my defense, the book also features three poems inspired by “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” by Edmund Spenser. So clearly, my influences are varied.

At any rate, it’s available for Kindle now for 99 cents, and hopefully will be available in paperback in a week or so.

So if you’ve got a buck and a Kindle, grab one now.

In related news, I guess I still have four or five ISBNs left, so perhaps I should write something else.

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, But I’m Working On My Alibi Just In Case

For the second time this year, human body parts have been found at a location named in my poetry.

First, it was Bee Tree Park. Now, it’s Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin:

A body found floating in Okauchee Lake near Road J on Oct. 26 appears to have been missing its head, part of an arm and a foot, if a photo circulating on social media is to be believed.

Police declined to comment about the photo, but Police Chief James Wallis said, “It does appear that the body may have been in the lake for an extended period of time.”

The relevant poem: “Okauchee Light”:

Across the dark Okauchee lake, a light,
the marker for the end of someone’s dock,
is strangely lit at nearly twelve o’clock
and breaks the solid black that is the night.
From here, across the chilling April lake,
through busy bar room glass I see that glow,
but life or rooms beyond I’ll never know.
One light does not a utopia make.
Quite like your smile, that single man-made star:
Up there, on stage, you flash a smile at me,
and crinkle eyes to give the gesture weight,
but like the dock-end light, you are too far;
your glow is there for someone else to see,
and now, for me at least, it is too late.

If anything happens six miles south of Tonica, Illinois, I will probably be interviewed.

Weird that “Okauchee Light” did not appear in one of my chapbooks from the middle 1990s. It will appear in my forthcoming volume Coffeehouse Memories, due out whenever I get around to it.

It Would Have Been Less Romantic That Way

As you might know, gentle reader, I met my beautiful wife on the Internet when I posted a poem on a Usenet newsgroup (ask yer grandpa), and she liked it (fuller story here).

This is the poem I posted (and which should appear in a forthcoming volume of poetry when I get around to finishing it up.

Exploring, we discovered Bee Tree Park.
Tree branches laced like lazy fingers behind our head,
above the trail, above the naked rock,
where neon graffiti was worn to earthen tones.
The slow Mississippi whispered by.
Fingers woven like dreams and the night
before falling asleep.
Her warm palm pulsing, we paused
to watch the barges wander down
and sip the summer breeze.
Her voice murmured cooly in my ears,
she spilled her hair over my shoulder,
maple syrup dripping down my chest,
“This would be a great place to make love.”
I smiled, ruffling kisses through her hairs,
a butterfly on a field of clover,
and rustled in her ear, “We are.”

The whole scene and setup would definitely be less romantic with a severed human foot in it.

Concept: A Heavy Metal Band Whose Songs Are Kipling Poems

You know, if we had a heavy metal version of “The Hymn of Breaking Strain”, I would totally put it on my iPod for workout music. As such, we only have Leslie Fish and Julia Ecklar singing the filk version:

My goodness, how awesome would many of Kipling’s works be in heavy metal form. Just think of “If” or “The Gods of Copybook Headings” really loud. Frankly, I’m surprised Iron Maiden hasn’t already done it.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the parlor practising the power chord on a cheap acoustic guitar.

Book Report: Friendly Fireside Poems by Lloyd Carleton Shank (1957)

Book coverThis book is a nice collection of poems from the middle part of the last century. The author has a pretty good sense of rhythm, the poems have end rhymes, and they’re nice short bits of Americana with an especial Christian sensibility. They cover things like the seasons, special events like Inauguration Day (Eisenhower, probably), and holidays. They’re about being neighborly and looking to God. The kind of thing that got published in newspapers in a bygone era, but never made it to the slicks or the anthologies.

They’re better than some of the chapbooks I read, but unfortunately, they suffer in comparison to the better of Edgar Allan Poe’s work which I read concurrently. The Poe poems are fun to say aloud, whereas these are just words.

So it’s okay if you’re going deep into the poet bench, but there’s a lot of better poetry out there. On the other hand, the poems are nice and short, and I’m learning just how much aversion I have to long poems.

Book Report: Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems edited by Dorothy Price (1967)

Book coverThis book was published by Hallmark back in the day when your grandmother or great grandmother might pick up a little light book of poetry as a gift for someone and maybe take a little try at verse herself even though she left school in the eighth grade to take care of her younger siblings. And her poems were better than the stuff written by kids in the English program in college because sixth graders back then were better read than contemporary college-educated folk. But I digress.

The book is, as you might expect, a slim collection of haiku poems. They’re translated from the Japanese, so the actual 5-7-5 syllable count is off on many of them.

But they’re in the proper haiku style, where they provide an Eastern koan sort of thought designed to spur your musing or to trip your own experience with what they’re discussing instead of creating an experience for you.

However, it’s not best to sit down and read them all at once, as they’ll seem very repetitive if you do.

On the plus side, I can now say I prefer the haiku of Bosun to Basho, which will be nice and will impress anyone who earnestly asks.

Are there any haiku in the book of poetry I keep talking about publishing? Yes. And I’ll have to remember to add this one.

Book Report: Five Themes of Today by Changde Chen (2001)

Book coverThis book is an interesting proposition: It is a number of philosophical arguments presented as poems, as lyrics. Although they do not contain imagery and particularly clever turns of phrase that makes for good poetry, the line-broken and metered presentation makes for easy reading of a philosophical argument.

The main piece within the book, “On the End of Technological Civilization”, presents a mathematical argument that technology is destined to fall because, basically, in a long enough timeline, all possibilities will come true, including the fall of the civilization. I don’t buy it because every moment brings new possibilities that did not exist the moment before, so the finite infinity projected might not apply to history as it does to mathematics.

The other ‘themes’ are longer musings on the logic of love and marriage, reason and religion, the war between equality and liberty, and the dead weight of democracy. They’re followed by some shorter little riffs on more topical subjects. I found all of them engaging, but although I did not agree with much, I did enjoy the presentation of the arguments. I would have expected the bits, particularly the one on reason and religion, to be a little more informed by the Chinese perspective, but it focused on Western religion instead of the Chinese beliefs, for example.

An interesting bit about this particular volume.

This appears to be a copy inscribed by Chen to his Oxford colleague, poet Bernard O’Donoghue. The sticker indicates it was a charitable donation at some time, and fifteen or so years later it ended up in Springfield, Missouri. Man, I feel for Chen here: A personal gift of his book with an inscription put in the Goodwill pile. I remember when I saw a copy of John Donnelly’s Gold listed on Amazon by a used bookstore in Indianapolis, and I knew which copy I’d mailed off that got there. I feel you, brother.

At any rate, like I said, a good intellectual read and an interesting presentation and easily digestible presentation of the material. It led me to wonder if I could make a philosophy book completely out of bullet points or ordered lists for modern audiences to understand. Perhaps someday.