First rain

rainIn Japan, they have festivals for the cherry blossoms each spring. Here in California, it doesn’t rain for months and then, suddenly, does. So I think we need a First Rain Festival. We could have hot food and umbrella dances, boot splash puddles, green drinks, sing rain songs and recite poems about rain. And even though this poem is about 100 years old and about summer rain, it seems relevant:

Summer Rain

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

 Amy Lowell





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Clive James, master of the exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramIt’s always a thrill when someone I’ve just discovered, and therefore think must be obscure, turns out to be well known. This happened recently with Clive James, a poet, critic, and essayist whose latest book on DVD collections was recently reviewed in the NY Times.

I’ve been enjoying his Poetry Notebook 2006-2014. It’s full of lines like this in any essay about the strange idea that art should be somehow completely spontaneous, without any rigorous training in the craft of it:

“Even though nobody can expect to master, without years of practice, a performing art such as playing the piano, there will still be the wish that music itself might be composed by an ignoramous.”

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Wendell Berry

Given the incessant clamor of news, this poem seems appropriate.

The Peace Of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

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The Yacon

yaconflowerMy neighbor gave me a few Yacon rhizomes a couple of years ago, and now I have a Yacon forest. This Peruvian vegetable looks a lot like a sunflower, with long stalks and heavy green leaves, but the flowers are smaller. Underground, it grows huge tubers.

Continue reading

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Hiding the brush strokes


mad menA friend forwarded an article from Matthew Weiner  (the creator of the TV series Mad Men)  on writing. He makes the point that writers often pretend there’s little work involved in creating their final piece, but that the process is slow, full of visions and revisions, false starts, painful changes.

Anyone who has ever sat down to write is faced with the gap between what they feel is good writing and what is happening on the page at that moment. I occasionally look back at old drafts of my best poems, sometimes 12 or 19 of them, which I shove in a folder called “Prev.” I am almost always shocked by how truly awful they are. One’s taste evolves, and one’s work rarely can keep pace.

The article is worth a read, but here is my favorite quote: Continue reading

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My one day as a poetry teacher

E.-E.-Cummings-150x150In tenth grade, I convinced my teacher to let me do a unit on poetry.  I started with this poem by e. e. cummings, which is labeled simply “20” in his 100 selected poems, which I still have.

It is battered and dogeared. I was very fond of it for many years, although it has now been more years since I have opened it.


she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff I was
careful of her and (having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch (and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell) next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg.       ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning) just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good

was the first ride and believe I we was
happy to see how nice and acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens I slammed on
the Continue reading

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An exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramHow have I missed Dennis Lehane until now? I just read (according to the book jacket) his 12th book, The Drop. It’s a stunner.

It’s hard to know which sentences to quote. Here are a few. Chovka is a Chechen mob Boss. Bob is a quiet man, an underling:

“Chovka nodded. He was concentrating on his phone, texting away like a sixteen-year-old girl during school lunch. When he finished texting, he put the phone away and stared at Bob for a very long time. If Bob had to guess, he’d say the silence went on for thee minutes, maybe four. Felt like two days. Not a soul moving in that bar, not a sound but that of six men breathing. Chovka stared into Bob’s eyes and then past his eyes and over his heart and through his blood. Continue reading

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Danusha Laméris

lamerisI was so lucky to read with Danusha Laméris at the Poetry World Series last May. This is from her book, The Moons of August. If you don’t know who Temple Grandin is, her book is worth reading, too.


for Temple Grandin

She said it was because she could think like a cow.
That maybe the autism helped her understand
how to design the curved corrals
so they’d flow more easily through the gates.

The harness that held the dairy cow waiting to be milked
made sense to her. She wanted to be inside it, to feel the world
pressing away, something not a human touch. Continue reading

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Busy, busy, busy

cat's cradle3Did you ever read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle? It’s one I read in my early twenties, and certain phrases and coinages have entered my personal lexicon: your karass is basically your tribe–the people that you are destined to meet. A duprass is a karass of two very tightly bound people, and a granfalloon is a false karass, people who identify with something essentially trivial and meaningless. I think he uses the example “Hoosiers.” In the book, there is a religion, called Bokononism–you’ll have to read the book to get the full description. But “Busy, busy, busy” is what a Bokononist says when confronted with the mysterious, unfathomably complicated workings of life. Continue reading

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Chana Bloch

chana-imageYesterday I heard Chana read recent poems, most about her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She was incandescent and spoke of how a fatal disease can also be a gift, focusing the mind, the spirit, on what’s important. She mentioned that her first book started with a group of poems about her father’s death, and the irony that her career is completing itself with this new work, on contemplating her own death. I don’t have any of the new poems, “still a work in progress,” Chana says, but here is one about her father:



Theirs was the one with the noisy bedsprings.
How does a child solve a riddle like that?
—are they fighting again?

Theirs was a marriage of drums and cymbals,
a clashing-and-carping, nagging-and-clamoring
performed day in, day out.                      Continue reading

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