Are all professions deceptive?

Think_SmallThis morning Larry read me exerts form the obituary of Julian Koenig, who had a stellar career in advertising. You may have heard his daughter interview him on This American Life.

Mr. Koenig came up with the famous “Think Small” campaign that introduced the VW bug and was key to changing the way Americans think about cars. He also worked with one of the first environmental groups, renaming their original idea of  for a national education day about environmental issues, Environmental Teach In, to Earth Day. This was in 1970.

koenig“He offered a bunch of possible names–Earth Day, Ecology Day, Environment Day, E Day–but he made it quite clear that we would be idiots if we didn’t choose Earth Day,” said the group’s spokesperson. Koenig noted that his inspiration was (at least in part) thatEarth Day rhymes with birthday. Continue reading

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traveAnd here, in answer to Simone’s request, and as a bonus for poetry Monday, a video of my reading as part of the Marin County Poetry Center’s Traveling Show (don’t worry, camera work improves as it goes along).



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Monday poem

gailGail Entrekin edits an online poetry journal called Canary that focuses on poets’ “engagement with the natural world.”  If you like the poems I post, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading her excellent selection of work.  Here is a poem of Gail’s. I like its fearless exploration of aging, its unapologetic ambivalence, and especially the ending:

Before Making Love

Finally, we tell the truth: how death’s been
hovering at the door, muttering threats and banging
in the long night, how reason takes flight
like a circling falcon over its nest of flapping
fear, how you sometimes wander out into the ocean fog,
how I am so angry I cannot speak, that you
who took the vow, would drift down the beach
accept the icy water, leave me to lift the heavy boat
lock the oars, paddle the hard night, looking
for you; leave me to rake the sand,
build the park, martial the troops, while
you stand down there, your pant legs sloshing
in the water, smiling at the crows,
not helping, not helping at all
with the work of life, just because
you are leaving soon. And I don’t want Continue reading

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Gadgets, writing, and domestic tranquility

I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets–for me the Williams Sonoma or Chef’s Catalog is a kind of kitchen porn. Many of them aren’t worth the trouble, but I have two onion gadgets that really work: the onion keeper and the onion dicer.

IMG_1495The onion keeper I picked up one day in the supermarket. It’s a plastic onion-shaped container that opens in the middle with a twist. You put an open onion in it, twist it shut, and your onion is saved without smelling up the fridge.

The dicer has three sets of blades, two of which (rough dice and fine dice) can handle onions. There’s also a slicer blade, which I sometimes use for mushrooms. But it’s the onion dicing that is the real timesaver, especially when you have multiple onions to dice.

IMG_1496Set a half or a quarter of the onion flat side down on the dicer and pushed down the lid with your palm.

The machine gives a satisfying whump and you have instant, perfectly uniform chunks of onion.

IMG_1497Kitchen magic! It does for onions what my corn stripper does for corn kernels. This is a little plastic module with teeth at one edge that you run along an ear of corn to remove the kernels. Continue reading

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Brenda Hillman on Monday

Hillman_448Brenda Hillman, who so generously allowed me to audit her class last fall, has just won the Griffin Poetry Prize, a very big deal in the poetry world, for her most recent book, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.  (Her photo here was taken by Brett Hall Jones, who manages the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a poetic feat in it’s own right.)

The judges’ citation starts: “Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire concludes Brenda Hillman’s tetralogy on the four elements of classical thought. She steers wildly but ably through another day of teaching, a ceremonial equinox, the distress of bee colony collapse; space junk, political obstruction, military drones, administrative headaches, and everything in between. The ‘newt under the laurel’ and ‘the herring purring through the eelgrass’ don’t escape her arc of acuity.”

This poem is from one of her early books, Bright Existence, and it remains one of my favorites, the way it mixes the daily with the darker, ongoing undercurrent of reflection (what they call “steering wildly but ably”) and probably also because the terrain is so familiar to me:

Several Errands

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Spring cleaning

Business-man-buried-under-paper1Going through old files on my computer, trying to organize–organization, or the Platonic ideal of it, always just outside my grasp. The process is extraordinarily time consuming, good work for foggy mornings.

In the process, I found this poem of Jack Gilbert’s I copied two years ago. It beautifully articulates a world view I share, except for the “what God wants” phrase. I think I’d leave that out and just say “We enjoy our lives. Otherwise” and go on from there. It seems I’m always editing Gilbert just a tad, too bad he’s not around to argue with me:

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
Bur we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women Continue reading

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Our guvmint

Larry battingSome of you may remember that my New Year’s resolution was to read the Constitution. It’s surprisingly short and powerful. Thinking about a handful of men sitting down and conceiving a government it is awe-inspiring. What’s surprising is how few powers it gave to the newly envisioned federal government, basically the power to coin and regulate money, provide for the common defense, regulate foreign trade and immigration (including punishing piracy), set up courts, grant patents, and establish the postal service and “post roads.” Everything else was left to the states.

imagesWhen we were talking about this, Larry mentioned that Rutherford Hayes vetoed a bill proposed by Congress to appropriate 15 million dollars for Civil War widows, saying, “I see no place in the Constitution that authorizes the Federal Government to give charity.”  Hmmm, I wonder what Pogo would say about that.

In regards to the postal service here’s a conversation I had with Larry about mailing a copy of Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe to someone in Russia.

Me: “I wonder how much it costs to send a book to Russia?”

Larry: “Twelve dollars and seventy-five cents.”

Me: “That’s not too bad.”

Larry: “I wouldn’t want to compete with them.”

In other news, Larry is managing his softball team this season, and they’re in first place.


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Tung-Hui Hu

I was reading through the Copper Canyon Reader to try to find a poem for today. This was the one I liked best, an odd, off-beat love poem:

Empire of the Senseshhui

Love, the back of your
mouth is delicate as
mushrooms, caves,

or even moths that come out
at night after painting sugar
on tree bark, feathery,

blanched and translucent
from flashlights. Had I
a hundred tongues yours

would be the kindest and
most radiant: the last
time I saw anything shine

like your gums was at
a pond encircled with
cattails and coarse-tipped

grasses on which beetles
climbed, hard-shelled
and bright as hammers.

Tung-Hui Hu

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The power behind the Stones

SUB-Loewenstein-Obit-master495An influential guy you probably never heard of, Prince Rupert zu Lowenstein, had an obituary in the Times on Friday. He was born a Bavarian aristocrat (where is Bavaria anyway? does it still exist?) and left Paris on the last plane to London before the Nazis invaded, studied history at Oxford, became a financier and later the money manager for the Rolling Stones.

He got them out of a draconian contract that payed them practically nothing, convinced them to reside outside England to avoid taxes, and copyrighted that red-tongue logo. He got them to stop accepting paper bags full of cash as payment, planned their blockbuster tours, and licensed their music to advertisers.  On a more personal level he negotiated Mick Jagger’s divorce from Bianca and separation from Jerry Hall. He described himself as “combination of bank manager, psychiatrist and nanny.” Continue reading

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rosewiczWe used to have a slim Penguin paperback, Five Polish Poets, in which I first read Tadeusz Różewicz. He was 18 at the start of World War II, and with his older brother, joined the Polish resistance. His brother was captured, tortured and killed by the Gestapo, but Tadeusz survived. After the war, he published his first of many volumes of poems called Anxiety, “piercingly direct” poems with a breath-taking realism. The NY Times carried his obituary today.  Here’s a poem from the late Mr. Różewicz:


Continue reading

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