Innocents and Others

The other day at the library, the librarian came up to me and said, “I notice you’re a voracious reader, and I want to tell you about a new feature here at the library, called Your Lucky Day.” This is a  set of contemporary best sellers, set on a special shelf.  Each patron is allowed to take two books from this group out at a time.

innocents-and-others-9781501122729_hrIt was thoughtful of her, and I immediately checked out and devoured Michael Connelly’s latest thriller. I do read, or at least start, many books a week. But often it feels like a vast wasteland. Which is why it is such a delight to be thoroughly seduced by an unexpected gem of a novel. Innocents and Othersby Dana Spiotta at first seems like a book of disparate rather odd stories. But slowly the stories intermingle, build on each other and change their meaning. Together they weave a meditation on  how we communicate or fail to, how we experience visually, audibly. It’s a truly engaging, thoughtful, and intricate tapestry.   Continue reading

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wbyeatsHaving just filled out my absentee ballot for the California Primary, I can’t stop thinking about this poem, especially the first stanza. This was written during the first world war, but seems so relevant today. Certainly the worst are full of passionate intensity. And the feeling of things falling apart is very present.





Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. Continue reading

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stevensWallace Stevens is hard to miss in the landscape of contemporary American poets. He’s famous for his intricate, fanciful poems, as well as for the fact that he worked throughout his career as an insurance executive. He can seem dry and intellectual–difficult–but worth the trouble to unravel.

Two things about Stevens–apparently the other execs at Hartford Accident and Indemnity didn’t think too much of him. His boss was quoted in a recent bio: “Unless they told me he had a heart attack I never would have known he had a heart.” Berryman was kinder:

…something…something…not there in his
flourishing art…
What was it missing, then, at the man’s heart
so that he does not wound?
Continue reading

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The power of the limerick

According to Larry, reading from the paper this morning, Jan Böhmerman, a German comedian, is being prosecuted for reciting a lewd poem on late night TV lampooning Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey. Why? You can read about it.

erdoganThe event inspired British free-speech advocate Douglas Murray to host a contest with a Ł1,000  prize: “The President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Contest, the ruder the poem (limericks preferred) the better.”

Here’s Boris Johnson’s winning entry and an alternate version with the meter corrected by me: Continue reading

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A miscellany

tin manI realized that this is close to the five year anniversary of this blog. Despite typos, sloth, and various technical difficulties, I’ve managed to publish something at least once a week for this period. These last two weeks have been particularly busy, so I thought I’d include a few things from various categories, starting with a Monday poem one day late. Larry and I were talking about our friend Paul Tulley the other day–how strange it is that he’s been gone for almost 20 years. Larry mentioned that Paul once sent him an obituary for Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, with a post-it attached that said: “RUST IN PEACE.”

Poem for Paul

Lately, crows have been invading poems,
those hoi polloi birds, irascible and unashamed.
An eye for the mystic ordinary, Paul
knew the difference between crow
and raven—Most poem crows are ravens,
he might tell you, pointing out their size,
their heavy bill, their solitary strut.

While others scanned for kestrel
or for heron, Paul wondered about gulls,
their range and variations, their coziness
with all things human and the limitless,
inhuman sea. An underrated bird,
he might say.

For years in one small bedroom
where the sea could just be heard,
Paul held ongoing court for grownup
children, his beery Buddha’s smile
traveling with them,
Moscow, Moose Jaw, Lhasa,
back with an unusual rock or plastic wind-up
toy for Paul to slowly take in hand,
consider, and comment on.
His comment the reward
for the journey.

He wrote his poems on scraps
dropped in a coffee can
or sent on a card to a friend,
no copy kept, or lost
in the drifts layered
around his bed.
One of the rare ones
who knew that the writing
was everything.
What happens after
doesn’t matter. Continue reading

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LA poem

sunsetI spent the weekend in LA, drinking expensive cappuccino and eating elegant treats with potato starch utensils. LA can be so over the top, it makes Berkeley look sort of down-at-the heels provincial.

In any case, I came across this in an anthology of LA poetry:

OK, L.A., You Win

I give,
No need to ratchet up the color
its that bright spot where the sun set.
Sunset. I saw how you silhouetted
that single palm against the sky.
Your hot-pink cirrus to lavender stratus
works every time. The surge
from melon to apricot to deepest
salmon? Unnecessary.

This long day I’ve stayed
at the windows, house-sitting
in Echo Park, a hillside overlooking
a wide boulevard: morning’s
dazzle, pools of afternoon sun
the cat and I laze in, you
withdrawing the warmth
slowly. No star yet, but
I know it’s coming. Shamelessly,
you’ll hang a high white moon
bright enough
to make a life by.

Cathie Sandstrom

from Coiled Serpent

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The hornworm’s summer

hornwormIf you’ve ever raised tomatoes, you’re likely to have seen these guys. Usually, you first see a bunch of black detritus under your ravaged plants. They merge so perfectly into the tomato leaves, that it takes awhile to find them.  Stanley Kunitz was a renowned gardener as well as a poet, and wrote a  Hornworm poem in two parts, Summer and Autumn.  Here’s the summer part:

Summer Reverie

Here in caterpillar country
I learned how to survive
by pretending to be a dragon. Continue reading

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2016. beans are one of the most rewarding crops–giant beans, like the one’s from Jack and the Beanstalk–go into the ground in the fall or spring.

Soon they pop up tall and full of flowers. Then the many branched stems have many big seed pods. You have to pick them fast before they get too fat.  Then comes the shucking, parboiling, peeling, and eating. Once you’ve parboiled and peeled them, they can go into almost any dish.

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Like fried rice, for example.  2016.

But now I’ve learned you can also roast them whole in the pod with a little olive oil, salt, and spice–they come out crispy and delicious. You can eat the whole thing!

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Spring is sprung

E.-E.-Cummings-150x150I was in high school when I first discovered e.e. cummings. I thought he was terrific. He is terrific, even though though his methods are no longer novel, and his work can seem a little too precious…still, it comes from a time when queer had nothing to do with sexuality, smoking was cool, and verbal playfulness was new.

in Just-

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan          whistles


e.e. cummings

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is the only word I can think to describe this spring. Even before today’s rain, the hills were Ireland green, and the flowers, spinach, and herbs have overwhelmed the Labyrinth.  They look so good in their profusion, I’m just giving up on the labyrinth idea for the moment.


In back, the small flower area of the vegetable garden is a riot of color–with nasturtiums, geraniums, cymbidiums (should that be cymbidia?) and poppies.

2016. are eating whole meals from the fall vegetable garden, which has yielded potatoes, onions, greens galore, and bouquets grace the table:



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2016.’s been so warm, I’ve made a temporary summer office (had to take in the rug and the hammock today, of course).



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