Next week I’m heading to New York for the William Dickey Memorial Broadside Contest reading. Mark Doty will be the featured reader.  He’s a marvelous poet.  Here’s  one of my favorites of his poems.


Near evening, in Fairhaven, Massachusetts,
seventeen wild geese arrowed the ashen blue
over the Wal-Mart and the Blockbuster Video,

and I was up there, somewhere between the asphalt
and their clear dominion—not in the parking lot,
its tallowy circles just appearing,

the shopping carts shining, from above,
like little scraps of foil. Their eyes
held me there, the unfailing gaze

of those who know how to fly in formation,
wing tip to wing tip, safe, fearless.
And the convex glamour of their eyes carried

the parking lot, the wet field
troubled with muffler shops
and stoplights, the arc of highway

and its exits, one shattered farmhouse
with its failing barn… The wind
a few hundred feet above the grass

erases the mechanical noises, everything;
nothing but their breathing
and the rowing of the pinions,

and then, out of that long percussive pour
toward what they are most certain of,
comes their—question, is it? Continue reading “Migratory”

The perfect poached egg

eggI’ve tried many methods to poach eggs, but this one seems foolproof, from Julia Child via the NY Times:

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice water at hand. Punch a tiny hole in the end of the egg(s). Gently place the egg(s) into fully boiling water for 10 seconds. Transfer the egg(s) to the ice water. Crack the egg(s) into a small bowl and slide into the boiling water one at a time. Turn off the water. Remove when poached to your satisfaction (for me, about 3 minutes).


They are filling the Sunday market here, confirming spring. I decided to look for a poem about tulips for today, and came up with this. I especially like the tulip verse:

The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

tulipTo be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God’s love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow

To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
implied by
your up-ended skirt

To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other
dogs can smell it

Alicia Ostriker
from The Book of Seventy

Irish poems

824_egrennanThe Irish Times has been running a contest to select the 100 best loved Irish poems (chosen by whomever responds, I guess). You can read the results here. Not surprisingly, Yeats, Heaney, and Kavanagh populate the top ten.

But here’s a poem from a poet who wasn’t included, Eamon Grennan, perhaps because he’s lived most of his adult life in the United States. It seems like a very Irish poem to me.


When I’d walked out to the sea surfing and spuming
into meerschaum heaps of lettuce-tinted gauze,
breakers becoming light then noise, the ocean raging
and rearranging this long spit of sand like a life
at the mercy of circumstance, I saw the north wind Continue reading “Irish poems”


baabiesDo you remember the seven eggs that the silkie hen hatched? Five of those chicks turned out to be  roosters! Beautiful as they were, they had to go. In their place, I got three 3-week old hens from Craigs’ list. Their breed is Cuckoo Maran, a medium size chicken that lays deep brown eggs.  They are in the chick pen now. At least the owner says they’re hens…

And the silkie is broody again. This time, I’ve ordered female day-old chicks for her to raise–I’m not taking any chances. Continue reading “Babies”

An exemplary sentence

41K5ATQ9E5LAlthough I primarily know him as a poet, I love Adam Zagewski’s prose. Here is a snippet from his memoir of his student days in Krakow, Another Beauty,  beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh. It’s about the cleaning lady for his student apartment:

She was a magpie, a snoop. I suspected her of regularly rummaging though our things and once left a card that said “Please don’t look here” in my desk drawer. Helena took offense and didn’t speak to me for several days, and then, when her anger had subsided, she reproached me bitterly: “How could you even think such a thing? So you don’t trust me at all.” Continue reading “An exemplary sentence”

A delightful reading

images-2Last week I drove down to Stanford to hear Ellen Bryant Voigt read. I had heard of her, but not read much of her work. It was worth the long drive through the increasingly dense traffic of the Bay Area. The words that come to mind are vibrant authentic.

Here is a poem from her new book. Unlike her earlier books, these poems dispense with punctuation, but I think you will be able to decipher the poem’s sense without it:


after a week of heavy snow I want to praise my roof first
the acute angle at which it descends form the ridgepole
and second that it is black the color absorbing
all the other colors so that even now as arctic air Continue reading “A delightful reading”

Spring training

larry celebrityLarry has been waiting longingly for the baseball season to start, and today when I went in to his office to discuss breakfast, he was staring mournfully at his computer.

“I can’t figure out what A’s games are going to be on the radio,” he complained.

As there was a twitter site listed for FM 95.7, the channel that hosts the A’s game, I suggested he ask them on Twitter. A few clicks, and we were on his Twitter account and asked the question to @95.7THEGAME. Continue reading “Spring training”

Befriending Frankenstein

hoaglandI have been reading Tony Hoagland’s newest book of essays, Twenty Poems that Could Save America (published by Graywolf Press, a wonderful imprint). In his first essay, “Je Suis ein Americano: the Genius of American Diction,” he talks about the current direction of American poetry, the experimentation, the fractured language and syntax, the shifts and ruptures of trying to cobble together something fresh.  This is the final paragraph:

“American English is a great experiment in progress, and American poetry is its laboratory on a hill. Several decades ago, Tim Dlugos published a chapbook of poems with the title Je Suis ein Americano, as if making the point of this essay in brief. I suppose the mythic analog might be the story of Frankenstein’s monster. The creature we know as Frankenstein is patched together by a mad doctor, who employs a cut-and-paste method using the recycled parts of executed criminals. The monster escapes, descends from the mountain, and terrorizes the villagers. It sounds a lot like postmodernism, doesn’t it? Yet the big, interestingly fabricated fellow is trying to communicate something—maybe he just wants a hug, but he can’t make himself understood to the frightened townspeople. Their natural-enough tribal reaction is to try to kill him. In American poetry, too, the boundary between the natural and unnatural continues to shift, and American poets keep pushing the limits, searching for a creation at once wide awake and divine.”

So for today, here’s a poem by Dean Young. He plays with set phrases, awkward translations, myths, and most of all expectations. Don’t worry about making sense of it (though I think it has a delightful, deep, cumulative logic). Just revel in his surprising images and word choices, which are always fresh:

Changing Your Bulb

I disconnect the power for at least
five minutes until your bulb is cool
and no longer producing song through
small chewing devices at the end
of its beak.  Clunk goes the tipped-over
pounce-meat.  When I change your bulb,
am I really changing my own?  This concludes
these opening remarks.  Later you will be asked
to repeat them as a test of metal decay.
Now take your steel ring by any sharp
of tool at place of two gap or at least
that’s what the instructions say.
Maybe you were made in Tunisia.
I have loved you longer than my one life.
In the north, Siegfried rests after his hunt.
The new adults go into summer hibernation,
called aestivation but we are just waking.
Wing-wear: always a troublement, but there,
in the Wild Valley and Forest of the Rhine
your new bulb gets installed, acting mainly
as an exacerbation to fuzzy brain function.
I feel like I’m approaching a cliff wrapped
in an enormous kite, cheery as life insurance
and I can’t be sure if the statuary
is of rich citizens or supernatural forces. Continue reading “Befriending Frankenstein”

Ukiyo-e at the Asian Art Museum

grabhornLast week, a new show of wood block prints, scrolls and artifacts from Japan’s “floating world” opened at the Asian Art Museum. The wood block prints are from a collection donated to the museum by the widow of Robert Grabhorn, who first with his brother Edwin and later with Andrew Hoyem, ran  Grabhorn Press, the iconic letterpress print shop. This press exists now as Arion Press and the Grabhorn Institute.

In any case, the prints are worth a long, leisurely look. There are some videos of the process, too. It’s an intense, collaborative effort.  The artist draws the image, and the woodblock cutter makes a block for each color.  The papermaker makes the paper, and the printer prints a single run for each color. The blocks must match exactly to provide the perfect registration of each color into the whole.

If you can’t make it, here’s a taste. The text accompanying the prints is comprehensive, and it noted in the bathhouse image below, there are shadows of the objects on the wall, probably influenced by Western engravings:


I had never noticed that these prints are generally shadowless. Continue reading “Ukiyo-e at the Asian Art Museum”