Besmirl Brigham

This is to me a difficult pseudonym for Bess Miller (Moore) Brigham, a poet who opted to spell her name phonetically. instead of Bess Miller Brigham, she used the more colloquial “Besmilr” because it was closer to the way people spoke in Arkansas, where she mostly lived.

I found this poem, describing what happened to a poisonous water moccasin (also called cottonmouth) after a tornado, in a book of essays by Forrest Gander. The syntax and typography are a little difficult, a little tornado wracked, but the image of the snake’s fangs embedded in its own body is pretty vivid:

moccasinHeaved From the Earth

after the tornado, a dead moccasin
nailed to the pole
boards scattered across a pasture Continue reading “Besmirl Brigham”

At Squaw Valley

gayIt’s the end of June, and I’m at the poetry workshop in Squaw Valley. While I hardly ever publish long poems here, I heard one tonight that just blew me away. Evie Shockley talked about how poets use time, especially the way they use it to address race and history, and her first example was this poem by Ross Gay:


   for Don Belton

Who sits like this on the kitchen floor
at two in the morning turning over and over

the small silent body in his hands
with his eyes closed fingering the ornate

tendril of ivy cast delicately into the spoon
that came home with me eight months ago

from a potluck next door during which
the birthday boy so lush on smoke

ad drink and cake made like a baby
and slept on the floor with his thumb

in his mouth until he stumbled through my garden
to my house the next morning where I was frying up

stove top sweet potato biscuits, and making
himself at home as was his way,

after sampling one of my bricks
told me I could add some baking powder

to his and could I put on some coffee
and turn up the Nina Simone and rub, maybe,

his feet, which I did, the baking powder,
stirring it in, and I like to think, Continue reading “At Squaw Valley”


Thanks to David Juda, who has added me to his roster of online poets. In addition spoken versions of the works of great poets of the past, David is assembling a library of spoken poetry by living poets, curated by the poets themselves.  Here is my page.  This is a labor of love by David, and I’m glad to be included.


Dingbats and torsos

Screenshot 2015-06-13 13.19.34


zapfPerhaps you’ve never heard of Hermann Zapf, but you’ve probably seen the odd font called Zapf Dingbats.  That’s Hermann’s name in his eponymous font. In addition to that zany computer font, Mr. Zapf designed Palatino and Optima, two of my favorite typefaces, as well as fonts in Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic and Cherokee. His design spanned the eras of metal typesetting, phototypesetting and digital typesetting. His NY Times obituary is worth a read.

Vincent Musetto
Vincent Musetto

And on the same page in the newsprint edition was the obituary of Vincent Musetto, whose headline was, fittingly enough:

Man Who Wrote ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’ Headline Dies

Continue reading “Dingbats and torsos”

A hard rain

imageA friend asked me to show her a poem by Tony Hoagland that “hit it out of the park.”

I hope this qualifies:

Hard Rain

After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
then I understood: there’s nothin
we can’t pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers. Continue reading “A hard rain”

Two great phrases

Once in awhile, someone comes up with a phrase that really nails an experience with vivid exactness. This weekend, talking with a new friend about our mutual disgust with the tedious prose of Karl Ove Knausgård  (the author of the biographical novels collectively titled My Struggle), she came up thigh this descriptor: Frat boy Proust, which is really all one needs to say about this over-praised work. It took me at least three or four paragraphs to explain this phrase to my 12-year old niece, but I think I had moderate success. Continue reading “Two great phrases”

The exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramI picked up a novel by John D. MacDonald, and while I don’t think he’s in the same class as Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammet, he wrote a lovely description of the start of a hurricane:

“It began earlier, and in a timeless way. Flat sea baking under a tropic sun. Water temperature raised by the long summer. The still air, heated by sun and sea, rising endlessly, creating an area of low pressure to be filled by air moving in from all sides to rise in turn. Continue reading “The exemplary sentence”

Roethke for Monday

RoethkeIf you’ve never read Theodore Roethke, you have a treat in store. He has written some of the lushest poems about gardens, dirt, and decay that you’d ever want to read, a lovely villanelle and many profound, longer poems.  Today I’m posting the last two sections from “Mediations of an Old Woman,” one of the long poems. But  “My Papa’s Waltz,” “The Waking” (villanelle), “Root Cellar, and “Big Wind”are among my favorites.

from Mediations of an Old Woman


As when silt drifts and sifts down through muddy pond-water,
Settling in small beads around weed and sunken branches,
And one crab, tentative, hunches himself before moving along the bottom,
Grotesque, awkward, his extended eyes looking at nothing in particular,
Only a few bubbles loosening from the ill-matched tentacles,
The tail and smaller legs slipping and sliding slowly backward—
So the spirit tries for another life,
Another way and place in which to continue;
Or a salmon tired, moving up a shallow stream,
Nudges into a back-eddy, a sandy inlet,
Bumping against sticks and bottom-stones, then swinging
Around, back into the tiny maincurrent, the rush of brownish-white water,
So, I suppose, the spirit journeys.


I have gone into the waste lonely places
Behind the eye; the lost acres at the edge of smoky cities.
What’s beyond never crumbles like an embankment,
Explodes like a rose, or thrusts wings over the Caribbean.
There are no pursuing forms, faces on walls:
Only the motes of dust in the immaculate hallways,
The darkness of falling hair, the warning from lint and spiders,
The vines graying to a fine powder.
There is no riven tree, or lamb dropped by an eagle.

There are still times, morning and evening:
The cerulean, high in the elm,
Thin and insistent as a cicada,
And the far phoebe, singing,
The long plaintive notes floating down,
Drifting through leaves, oak and maple,
Or the whippoorwill, along the smoky ridges,
A single bird calling and calling:
A fume reminds me, drifting across wet gravel;
A cold wind comes over stones;
A flame, intense, visible,
Plays over the dry pods,
Runs fitfully along the stubble,
Moves over the field,
Without burning.
xxxxIn such times, lacking a god,
xxxxI am still happy.
Theodore Roethke