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.


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

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 “The power behind the Stones”


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 “Różewicz”

The odd job

When my youngest child started kindergarten, I began looking for a part-time job and soon started working in Oakland as a secretary for a retired businessman. Mr. Henry Bigge (prounounced Biggie) had started a hauling business with his father and built it into a large crane and heavy equipment company. You can still see Bigge cranes around town, and there’s a street named Bigge by the airport. My children loved the name Bigge, a employer out of a fairytale, and were delighted to catch an occasional glimpse of one of the Bigge cranes.

biggeAnd it was a fairytale job, complete with what was then a state-of-the art IBM Selectric typewriter with correcting ribbon. Mr. Bigge had recently turned over management of the company to his son-in-law, but was used to going into an office every day. He had rented a two room office in downtown Oakland, and wanted a part-time secretary. I worked from 9-12 every weekday morning while my son was in school.

As for the work itself, there was almost nothing to do. By the end of the first week, I had organized all the files, and my duties consisted of typing an occasional letter, answering the usually quiet phone, and arranging lunch dates for Mr. Bigge and his buddies. But Mr. Bigge liked to hear me sitting and typing in the outer office–it was what he was used to.

At the time, I was trying to start a career as a journalist, and so I would go into work, bring Mr. Bigge the paper and coffee, and get to work on my articles. I would be happily typing away, and Mr. Bigge would be happily reading the paper. If I needed time off, I could take it. The good fairy herself couldn’t have found me a better job. During that period I wrote reviews for the Radcliffe Quarterly, had an article on recycling published by the East Bay Express, and did a review of Momix, the dance group that later became Pilobolus, among other things. I genuinely enjoyed my interactions with Mr. Bigge and his wife–more about that another time.

I worked for Mr. Bigge for over a year. After I left to take a full time job as a technical writer (I never did become a journalist), Mrs. Bigge called me and asked if I couldn’t come back. They couldn’t keep a secretary; they were all bored and wouldn’t stay. Apparently this fictional job only fit a fictional employee. But in our household, the Bigges are fondly remembered though not often mentioned.

imagesAll of this is by way of introduction to something Larry said yesterday, as we were driving along, listening to “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar,” on Radio Classics.

Continue reading “The odd job”

The Creative Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Carole Craig, who passed me the torch on this interesting string of posts by writers who write blogs.  I’ve been reading her blog and was inspired by her post.  I also took a look at Darran Anderson’s post (an Irish writer) and  Susan Lanigan’s post, all part of this intriguing meme–very different writers answering the same four questions from their unique perspective. This seems to have started in Ireland, and skipped across the pond. Here’s mine.

what am I working on?

Optimized-LabyrihnthWell, poetry as always, but it’s spring, so the garden is taking a lot of time now, especially the labyrinth which requires many hours to rein back to its original, walkable shape. I’ve been trying to reread the Russian philosopher Berdayev, who captivated me years ago–slow going, a little each day. While I never read cookbooks, I’ve been mesmerized by Judy Rogers’ techniques and recipes in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook–much more of a conversation than a straight cookbook–and have been making a bunch of them. I was devastated to learn that she died last December and I can’t simply cross the bridge and talk to her. It was like losing a new friend just as I got to know her.

I’ve been seriously considering revising and serializing a novel that’s been sitting in my drawer and posting a chapter each week in the prose section of this blog, but so far haven’t committed to that; it’s a BIG undertaking. Any support for that?

And finally, I’m preparing for a trip to St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida!) and hope to read from my book of translations, Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe: Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Gumilev, at the Stray Dog Cafe itself, whose picture graces the cover.

how does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think of my poetry as “radically accessible.” That is, straightforward, not hard to understand, and (hopefully) with profound impact. I also use a lot of humor, somewhat unusual in poetry. Continue reading “The Creative Process Blog Tour”

Korean Mums

SchuylerBecause of Mark Ford’s workshop, I have been reading his anthology The New York Poets, which includes Ashbery, O’Hara, Koch and Schuyler. This is an excellent selection of poems, with short, cogent introductions. Mark suggested I pay particular attention to James Schuyler, whom I hadn’t read at all before. I find him accessible, many short poems arising like a soap bubble of a moment–an image, carefully chosen, captured in time.

Korean mums aef11 0804In and out of mental hospitals, often living with friends, Schuyler has a series of poems from Payne Whitney that I especially like, but I chose a slightly longer one for today, because I like its arc and its deceptive simplicity. Deceptive because of the astute details: salt hay, airedale, the owls bulk “troubling the twilight,” the Korean mums themselves, and its clever line breaks. One can learn a lot from such crafted simplicity.

imagesKorean Mums

beside me in this garden
are huge and daisy-like Continue reading “Korean Mums”

What a country!

yakov2One of Yakov Smirnoff’s signature jokes is about getting off the plane in the United States and seeing on a billboard “America Loves Smirnoff,” which he follows with the line, “What a country!” But here are two excerpts from one morning’s NY Times, which Larry read to me while I made breakfast.

The combination made me grateful for such a country, in all it’s crazy diversity.

The first is about the journalist Jayson Blair, who managed to hoodwink the Times for years, plagiarizing stories and inventing interviews and facts. The first is from a new film about Mr. Blair and his career:

“But perhaps the most potent of all the films commentaries comes from the soon-to-resign executive editor on that walk, Mr. Raines, who says ‘We were dealing with a disturbed individual exhibiting sociopathic behavior, two primary traits of which are lack of empathy and a highly manipulative personality.’ Jayson Blair is now, the film reveals, working successfully as a life coach.”

The last line made me drop the knife, I was laughing so hard. And then a couple of paragraphs from David Brooks, writing about a legendary meeting of Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova, whose work I’ve translated:

berlin “Berlin and Akhmatova were from a culture that assumed that, if you want to live a decent life, you have to possess a certain intellectual scope. You have to grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgements.

“That Berlin and Akhmatova could experience that sort of life-altering conversion because they had done the reading. They were spiritually ambitious. They had the common language of literature, written by geniuses who understand us better than we understand ourselves… Continue reading “What a country!”

Fat Monday

In Saturday’s WSJ, there was an article debunking the assumption that fat is implicated in heart disease:

butter-croissant-fat-weight” ‘Saturated fat does not cause heart disease’—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine…

“The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.”

The article goes on to trace our belief in fat as deleterious to health to one man, Ancel Benjamin Keys, who forged a career based on his extremely flawed research delineating fat as a culprit in heart disease.  In fact, the shift away from meat and animal fat and to starchy carbs and sugar has been implicated in the current obesity and diabetes crisis. You can read the whole article here, and another supporting article here.

Which brings me to today’s poem, written a dozen years ago or so about my own relationship to fat–I think it was the first ode I’d ever written, inspired, of course, by Neruda’s Odes to Common Things:

In Praise of Fat

I never gave up butter, its golden taste
on the tongue as it soaks into toast,
softening and gilding each rough pocket
of grain, or graces the potato, turning that peasant
starch into a hymn of steamy flavor.
And the tomato cream sauce on the pasta,
the puff of pastry crumbing against the teeth,
the nuts and butter and sugar of Christmas.
The flavor is in the fat as the yolk is in the egg. Continue reading “Fat Monday”

Long overdue

It’s not that I haven’t been spending time in the garden, it’s that I’ve been spending so much time with gardening and chickens that I haven’t had time to write about it.  The labyrinth is once again completely overgrown.  Everything is burgeoning and needs tending. I cleared about three feet of it in as many hours. Multiple sets of lettuce, kale, sweet peas and cucumbers are in the garden, and the first crop of raspberries is just coming in. I can’t get a full view of it all, but here are a few selections:

Lagyrinth5142 Labyrinth5141 full garden vegesEven my little carnivorous plant is blooming.

Carnivorous plant Continue reading “Long overdue”

Feral Meryl at the Poetry Slam

Last night my stalwart friend and I went to the Starry Plow to see if I could get on the list of performers. I squeaked on, using the moniker “Feral Meryl,” supplied by my friend.  I recited a poem, made it to the second round, and recited another.

The first poem is x-rated, and I have to say it was perfect for the slam audience, but will leave it out here. For the second round, I recited a poem I composed for the class I took last fall, and the Wall Street Journal ran a relevant photo this morning:


You can hear it by clicking here:

I won second place and took home $30.

I think if I’d gone with “Ode to Flatulence” for my second poem, I’d have come home with first. The audience was a bit too bleary-eyed for “Democracy.”