Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Full circle, with improvements

In 2007, I started this blog to find a community.  I was at the time a middle-Assistant Professor working on a critical book project and feeling keenly the absence of the kind of camaraderie and sympathy that many of us experience in graduate school--you know, that sense that we're all in this together, that we share many of the same challenges, benchmarks, and concerns.  I hadn't yet found that kind of community at my institution, and the isolation was amplified by my general sense of my professional disconnectedness.  I mean, when we leave grad school for the profession, we know a few people that we see at conferences from time to time, and we usually have a sense of who our critical peeps are, though we may know them primarily through their writings rather than personally, but there's certainly not a sense of real integration into the field's conversation yet, or at least I didn't have that sense.  Moreover, in 2007 I was recently separated from my kids' dad, living in my parents' basement, and maintaining a very limited social circulation as I contemplated the wreckage that had been my family.

It was not my best time.  I spent a lot of hours in my head, which reinforced my sense of separation from all the, well, human pleasures that attracted me to the humanities in the first place.

This blog was a crucial mooring line for me for those years.  Through this blog, I connected not only with folks who were facing some of the same challenges and changes that I was, but also with scholars who would become my friends, scholars whose work would influence me, scholars who would give me direction as I made my way into the profession.  We ain't in in alone, and perhaps counterintuitively, I have found a lovely and inspiring community in this semi-anonymous context, for which I'm deeply grateful.

My life now looks different:  I'm an Associate Prof who has been "honored" as of this year with a significant administrative appointment.  I have colleagues in my department and in the profession at large who have grown into a community much like that nostalgic one from grad school--trusted readers, sympathetic cheerleaders, sharp interlocutors.  I've remarried, a lovely partner whom I can trust with all my insecurities, and my kids are happy and well-adjusted.

And as of this morning, it appears that the book that served both as center of gravity and as emblem for all my anxieties and self-doubts, the very project that launched this blog into existence, will be published.

I've found of late that I don't have much to say on this blog.  This is in part because, you know, I'm doing pretty well after all.  And there's no narrative drama in that position.  Besides, the few things that continue to exercise me are largely unbloggable.  I considered for a while uncloaking, and making this blog into a kind of professional instrument.  But that's sounding unappealing in its sheer self-promotion.

A couple of years back, I posted this about how we plan out our time and energy.  In a New Yorker essay David Sedaris suggested that our lives are like stoves with four burners, representing family, friends, health, and work.  And you have to choose which burners to turn off for the other burners to function at full capacity.  For a long time the energy I put into this blog was an essential expenditure, because it was sustaining the general well-being of the stove.  But now that my stove has found a controlled balance, I'm less inclined to devote some of my time and energy to writing something here than stoking the other gratifying fires.

This is all to say what is already obvious:  Green Thoughts is probably fading into obsolescence.  Becoming autumnal.  And if I don't post another word here, I do want to take a moment to thank all the folks who visited and commented, who offered support and virtual hugs, who shared the wisdom of particular experience.  I'll keep reading y'all, and continue to bask in your adroit and useful words.

Circling back to silence, then, and ending where I begunne:  calls for a dance, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The intro is dead. Long live the intro.

Revision:  done, yo.  Definitely better, more persuasive, 25% longer, more articulate, and clearer framing of my book's argument than the earlier draft.  Thanks, dismissive reviewer!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cool things.

1)  Out for a run tonight, getting overtaken by a massive hailstorm, with thunder and all. 

2)  Yo-Yo Ma's recent project with Stuart Duncan, Chris Thile, and Edgar Meyer (Goat Rodeo Sessions).  So good it makes me want to, I dunno, throw over this literature horseshit and make some music.

3)  Eating meals with smart, interesting, former-students-now-friends.

4)  _Luther_ on Netflix.  (Thanks, Blue Cheese.)

5)  The library!  My institution has faculty delivery, so I don't spend a lot of time in the stacks, I confess.  I usually just request a call number and the book shows up magically in my office.  But today I went over to get a couple of books and remembered how, when you head to the actual place where books are kept, you make sweet discoveries.  The shelves next to the book you want....those shelves usually have relevant stuff that you may not have found otherwise, armed merely with your disembodied LOC number.  It's like using the actual OED or 1934 Websters rather than settling for some website.  Serendipity! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Big plans

So I'm taking the Things on a major road trip/camping adventure for a couple of weeks this summer.   We're going a long way, through very cool territory, a few states and a couple of countries.  I've been planning it all out this evening, figuring out reasonable driving portions, maximizing cool adventuring in the places we set up camp.  I'm so, so excited.  But also a little anxious.  One of the things about being a single parent is that on a trip like this all the planning falls to oneself.  If something falls through, one must recalibrate on one's own.  If catastrophe strikes (and I'm talking here about, say, car catastrophes), then one must deal with both catastrophe and kids capably.  There's no off position on the parenting switch, no opportunity to let the other guy take over for a while. 

Before we depart, I must finish my work on the big anthology thing, as it's due to the publisher July 1.  I really have only a 12-page intro to write, but seem not to be able to, you know, write it.  Why?  Because my mind is wholly occupied with re-conceiving my scholarly book's intro chapter.  I'm reminded, as I re-engage with that chapter, what a lousy reviser I am.  Lousy.  It takes me so freaking long to write it the first time.  And when I write it the first time, I've really stretched to my capacity trying to get the argument down.  I'm almost incapable of returning to the scene of the crime, as it were, to shift things around.  Indeed, after two days of trying to do just that, I've resigned myself this evening to the probability that I just have to rewrite the intro chapter from scratch.  I'll actually have an easier time incorporating my big plans for this chapter if I start over than I will if I try to shoehorn them in.  That's dispiriting.  Especially since the big trip is looming right around the corner, and will virtually shut down my sustained thinking about any project for a couple of weeks.  July is looking grim indeed. 

At least I'll go into it fueled by s'mores.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Memorial Day

Behind the banyan trees, the mansions. Behind the mansions, the
In the lagoon, a mooring of sailboats.
Wind in the rigging.
Hull-slap and groan.
                                                                Where is everybody?
The sound of people playing in their pools—well ..., there
Isn’t any; the streets
Are empty—, the moon, like a moon
Jelly, beating its slow float in the not-
Quite-dark. In the gardens of the Moorings Country Club,
The lights have come on, rice paper lanterns on which are
Printed cherry blossoms. O—this un-
Starred sky. And the smell of the star
Jasmine, the fleshy, resplendent scent
Of the gardenia. Is this where I say, I
Miss you? Where I say, Father, isn’t there anything
In this evening’s long cortege of bloom, as beautiful
                                                                      As it used to be?
Like the sound of a ghost ship drifting
Through fog—like a sweet-despicable
Imitation of mourning—a piteousness of doves is cooing in the
             banyan trees.

--Jay Hopler

Saturday, April 28, 2012

    And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,
    Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree.
    It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self-shattering power,
    And it was all aimed at me.

    What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?
    What is being? What is truth?

    Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,
    All hover and hammer,
    Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.
    It is now. It is not.                                               
    (4 May 1937)

 --Osip Mandelstam, trans. Christian Wiman

Friday, April 27, 2012

From Paradise Lost Book 3

Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heaven firstborn,
Or of the Eternal coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam'd? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity, dwelt then in thee
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
Or hear"st thou rather pure ethereal stream,
Whose fountain who shall tell? before the sun,
Before the Heavens thou wert, and at the voice
Of God, as with a mantle, didst invest
The rising world of waters dark and deep,
Won from the void and formless infinite.
Thee I re-visit now with bolder wing,
Escap'd the Stygian pool, though long detain'd
In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight
Through utter and through middle darkness borne,
With other notes than to the Orphean lyre
I sung of Chaos and eternal Night;
Taught by the heavenly Muse to venture down
The dark descent, and up to re-ascend,
Though hard and rare: Thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital lamp; but thou
Revisit'st not these eyes, that roll in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quench'd their orbs,
Or dim suffusion veil'd. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander, where the Muses haunt,
Clear spring, or shady grove, or sunny hill,
Smit with the love of sacred song; but chief
Thee, Sion, and the flowery brooks beneath,
That wash thy hallow'd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor sometimes forget
So were I equall'd with them in renown,
Thy sovran command, that Man should find grace;
Blind Thamyris, and blind Maeonides,
And Tiresias, and Phineus, prophets old:
Then feed on thoughts, that voluntary move
Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful bird
Sings darkling, and in shadiest covert hid
Tunes her nocturnal note. Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature's works to me expung'd and ras'd,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
So much the rather thou, celestial Light,
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate; there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.

--John Milton 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas;
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans totum deficit.
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
In cruce latebat sola Deitas,
At hic latet simul et Humanitas,
Ambo tamen credens atque confitens,
Peto quod petivit latro pœnitens.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor:
Deum tamen meum te confiteor.
Fac me tibi semper magis credere,
In te spem habere, te diligere.
O memoriale mortis Domini!
Panis vivus, vitam præstans homini!
Præsta meæ menti de te vívere,
Et te illi semper dulce sapere.
Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beátus tuæ gloriæ. Amen
--Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Garden Homage  
Three windows are at work here, sophisticated
spaces against the day, against the light.
The sky looks as if it has been added later
to a glimpsed world as nobody saw it.

Small gaps of awkwardness between overlapping leaves
bring their time to us, as we our time
to them. The hand alone is amazing,
the skull and the owner’s hand holding it,

together on a page for fifty years,
with the earliest smile. A rope vase
of flowers returns the angels
to the ground, that still beautiful brown.
--Medbh McGuckian 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I don't think I've posted this one yet.

From Eleven Addresses to the Lord


Sole watchman of the flying stars, guard me
against my flicker of impulse lust: teach me
to see them as sisters & daughters. Sustain
my grand endeavours: husbandship & crafting.

Forsake me not when my wild hours come;
grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams;
achieve in me patience till the thing be done,
a careful view of my achievement come.

Make me from time to time the gift of the shoulder.
When all hurt nerves whine shut away the whiskey.
Empty my heart toward Thee.
Let me pace without fear the common path of death.

Cross am I sometimes with my little daughter:
fill her eyes with tears. Forgive me, Lord.
Unite my various soul,
sole watchman of the wide & single stars.

--John Berryman

Monday, April 23, 2012

To Heaven

Good and great God, can I not think of thee
But it must straight my melancholy be?
Is it interpreted in me disease
That, laden with my sins, I seek for ease?
Oh be thou witness, that the reins dost know
And hearts of all, if I be sad for show,
And judge me after; if I dare pretend
To ought but grace or aim at other end.
As thou art all, so be thou all to me,
First, midst, and last, converted one, and three;
My faith, my hope, my love; and in this state
My judge, my witness, and my advocate.
Where have I been this while exil'd from thee?
And whither rap'd, now thou but stoop'st to me?
Dwell, dwell here still. O, being everywhere,
How can I doubt to find thee ever here?
I know my state, both full of shame and scorn,
Conceiv'd in sin, and unto labour borne,
Standing with fear, and must with horror fall,
And destin'd unto judgment, after all.
I feel my griefs too, and there scarce is ground
Upon my flesh t' inflict another wound.
Yet dare I not complain, or wish for death
With holy Paul, lest it be thought the breath
Of discontent; or that these prayers be
For weariness of life, not love of thee. 
--Ben Jonson

Saturday, April 21, 2012

To Ares

Ares—exceedingly puissant, oppressor of chariots, golden
Helmeted, savior of garrisons, powerful-spirited, strong-armed
Shield-bearer clad in bronze armor, unwearied Olympian bulwark,
Strength of the javelin, father of Victory, happy in battle,
Ally of Justic and tyrant of enemies, leader of just men,
Sceptered commander of masculine virtue, revolving your fire-bright
Orb through the midst of the sevenfold path of the planets in aether
Where, incandescent, your coursers maintain you above the third orbit—
Listen, defender of humans and giver of flourishing youth, let
Shine a propitious ray from above on the course of our lifetime,
Grant us your martial strength, to the end that I may be enabled
Once and for all to remove wretched cowardice far from my person,
Also to conquer within me the treacherous urge of my spirit;
Help me as well to control the sharp passionate temper provoking
Me to embark upon blood-chilling mayhem, and give me the courage,
Blest, to remain in the comfortable legal prescriptions of peacetime,
Thereby avoiding the conflict of foes and a violent ending.

--Homeric Hymns, trans. Daryl Hine

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Picture of little T.C.
in a Prospect of Flowers

See with what simplicity
This Nimph begins her golden daies!
In the green Grass she loves to lie,
And there with her fair Aspect tames
The Wilder flow'rs, and gives them names:
But only with the Roses playes;
                  And them does tell
What Colour best becomes them, and what Smell.

Who can foretel for what high cause
This Darling of the Gods was born!
Yet this is She whose chaster Laws
The wanton Love shall one day fear,
And, under her command severe,
See his Bow broke and Ensigns torn.
                  Happy, who can
Appease this virtuous Enemy of Man!

O then let me in time compound,
And parly with those conquering Eyes;
Ere they have try'd their force to wound,
Ere, with their glancing wheels, they drive
In Triumph over Hearts that strive,
And them that yield but more despise.
                  Let me be laid,
Where I may see thy Glories from some Shade.

Mean time, whilst every verdant thing
It self does at thy Beauty charm,
Reform the errours of the Spring;
Make that the Tulips may have share
Of sweetness, seeing they are fair;
And Roses of their thorns disarm:
                  But most procure
That Violets may a longer Age endure.

But O young beauty of the Woods,
Whom Nature courts with fruits and flow'rs,
Gather the Flow'rs, but spare the Buds;
Lest Flora angry at thy crime,
To kill her Infants in their prime,
Do quickly make th' Example Yours;
                  And, ere we see,
Nip in the blossome all our hopes and Thee.

--Andrew Marvell

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Burning Bush

Lizard’s shade turned torch, what thorns I bore
Nomadic shepherds clipped. Still,
I’ve stood, a soldier listening for the word,
Attack, a prophet praying any ember be spoken
Through me in this desert full of fugitives.
Now, I have a voice. Entered, I am lit.
Remember me for this sprouting fire,
For the lash of flaming tongues that lick
But do not swallow my leaves, my flimsy
Branches. No ash behind, I burn to bloom.
I am not consumed. I am not consumed.

 --Jericho Brown

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


If the angels came there would be no kindness they are

after all also without mercy pity they are warriors soldiers

of wing beak and sword griffins of the lord endlessly taking

sides come unto all of this world to do his bidding he has

no interest in rescue how obvious that has become he has

no interest in the seed its vanishing its chance random choice

of fate either ground cradled or ground down in the bird’s

churning belly seed is food is blood is muscle is waiting

to become flesh its own or someone else’s seed is always

fuel in the metabolic fire the apple a womb encounters

her teeth she taught herself to eat god taught her to bleed

--Leslie Harrison

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

from My Life

As for we who "love to be astonished"

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon. My father had filled an old apothecary jar with what he called "sea glass," bits of old bottles rounded and textured by the sea, so abundant on beaches. There is no solitude. It buries itself in veracity. It is as if one splashed in the water lost by one's tears. My mother had climbed into the garbage can in order to stamp down the accumulated trash, but the can was knocked off balance, and when she fell she broke her arm. She could only give a little shrug. The family had little money but plenty of food. At the circus only the elephants were greater than anything I could have imagined. The egg of Columbus, landscape and grammar. She wanted one where the playground was dirt, with grass, shaded by a tree, from which would hang a rubber tire as a swing, and when she found it she sent me. These creatures are compound and nothing they do should surprise us. I don't mind, or I won't mind, where the verb "to care" might multiply. The pilot of the little airplane had forgotten to notify the airport of his approach, so that when the lights of the plane in the night were first spotted, the air raid sirens went off, and the entire city on that coast went dark. He was taking a drink of water and the light was growing dim. My mother stood at the window watching the only lights that were visible, circling over the darkened city in search of the hidden airport. Unhappily, time seems more normative than place. Whether breathing or holding the breath, it was the same thing, driving through the tunnel from one sun to the next under a hot brown hill. She sunned the baby for sixty seconds, leaving him naked except for a blue cotton sunbonnet. At night, to close off the windows from view of the street, my grandmother pulled down the window shades, never loosening the curtains, a gauze starched too stiff to hang properly down. I sat on the windowsill singing sunny lunny teena, ding-dang-dong. Out there is an aging magician who needs a tray of ice in order to turn his bristling breath into steam. He broke the radio silence. Why would anyone find astrology interesting when it is possible to learn about astronomy. What one passes in the Plymouth. It is the wind slamming the doors. All that is nearly incommunicable to my friends. Velocity and throat verisimilitude. Were we seeing a pattern or merely an appearance of small white sailboats on the bay, floating at such a distance from the hill that they appeared to be making no progress. And for once to a country that did not speak another language. To follow the progress of ideas, or that particular line of reasoning, so full of surprises and unexpected correlations, was somehow to take a vacation. Still, you had to wonder where they had gone, since you could speak of reappearance. A blue room is always dark. Everything on the boardwalk was shooting toward the sky. It was not specific to any year, but very early. A German goldsmith covered a bit of metal with cloth in the 14th century and gave mankind its first button. It was hard to know this as politics, because it plays like the work of one person, but nothing is isolated in history--certain humans are situations. Are your fingers in the margin. Their random procedures make monuments to fate. There is something still surprising when the green emerges. The blue fox has ducked its head. The front rhyme of harmless with harmony. Where is my honey running. You cannot linger "on the lamb." You cannot determine the nature of progress until you assemble all of the relatives.

--Lyn Hejinian

Monday, April 16, 2012


Closed like confessionals, they thread
Loud noons of cities, giving back
None of the glances they absorb.
Light glossy grey, arms on a plaque,
They come to rest at any kerb:
All streets in time are visited.

Then children strewn on steps or road,
Or women coming from the shops
Past smells of different dinners, see
A wild white face that overtops
Red stretcher-blankets momently
As it is carried in and stowed,

And sense the solving emptiness
That lies just under all we do,
And for a second get it whole,
So permanent and blank and true.
The fastened doors recede. Poor soul,
They whisper at their own distress;

For borne away in deadened air
May go the sudden shut of loss
Round something nearly at an end,
And what cohered in it across
The years, the unique random blend
Of families and fashions, there

At last begin to loosen. Far
From the exchange of love to lie
Unreachable inside a room
The traffic parts to let go by
Brings closer what is left to come,
And dulls to distance all we are.

--Philip Larkin

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Never Night

You'd like it here where
it's never night, where the sun
circles, rather, until it ends
up where it started from,
east or west, rises, sinks
but doesn't ever set,
where in the summer
you never need to sleep
and all day and all night
the sky is a series of blues
you've seen only once before,
blues van Gogh painted
at the end. Where all the traffic
is fox and moose and bear,
where aspen and birch
bud and leaf all in one day,
and your sleep, when sleep
finally comes, is innocent,
spring wind through a window
left open now that spring
is passing fast and summer
won't stay here long before
the snow sweeps any green
away again and then it's always
night. You'd like that too, when
endless night falls and the moon
comes up, reads your book over
your shoulder, learns which dead
poet moves you tonight,
when any heat at all rises,
and becomes a visible thing.

--Derick Burleson

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Soul's Expression

With stammering lips and insufficient sound
I strive and struggle to deliver right
That music of my nature, day and night
With dream and thought and feeling interwound
And only answering all the senses round
With octaves of a mystic depth and height
Which step out grandly to the infinite
From the dark edges of the sensual ground.
This song of soul I struggle to outbear
Through portals of the sense, sublime and whole,
And utter all myself into the air:
But if I did it,—as the thunder-roll
Breaks its own cloud, my flesh would perish there,
Before that dread apocalypse of soul.

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Paying Attention

Outside the window, rain. Well, the sound
of rain. Why would I start this way?
Because my God prefers a preamble:
Spool of lightning, Fist of night-blooming jasmine.

My God can slice me clean open from head
to the arches of my feet, does so easily
with a swipe of His index fingernail, a clean
slice to show you the back half of me

seen from the front. He sometimes puts me
back together again. But with my front half
gone, He licks the back wall of my throat,
His tongue like sweetened gasoline.

The sound of rain against my window
is louder than expected, is my God
reminding me to pay attention. And my God
despises inattention and punishes me often

for it. He strips me of my clothes and lashes
my back with his cat-o-nine-tails. I am
quick to cry, so quick to promise humility. I am
a liar. I am weak and a liar. And I am punished.

What more can I tell you? What can I say
to explain my God? He has little tolerance
for hatred. He expects undying love
and affection. He leaves the large red

imprints of his fist against my back,
sometimes flowering on my face. He showers
me with expectations. He lifts me up
to remind of my foolish fear of heights.

--C. Dale Young
(who, it was announced this morning, received a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prayers to the Birds

Mockingbird, tanager, thrush—you liltwings,
you hopscotch-skippers—forgive us our calling,

noun-bound to be proper, to freight
your pinions with what yokes our weight

to gravity, law, numbers, other fables.
Forgive us our starry quills, our parables—

rook, raven, crow, canary, dove—
our willful migration from love

to symbol. Wind-sickles, forgive us the sins
visited on Icarus, his fathers and sons:

our conceit in zeppelin and satellite, the feast
of false hawks, false eagles. Forgive us as priests

in slums and picket lines forgive the church:
in vigilance, mining the breach—

that sky—for something that will not be owned.
Cardinal, finch—forgive us our lone

hiding behind bushes, spying you out
when we should be flying at your side, not

from pride but from humility: that soaring
force that finds its power in adoring.

--Melissa Range

Monday, April 9, 2012

Luna Moth

Pale green and pressed against the window screen,
shot through with field, you watch nighttime's corners
curl with four white eyes, your under-self unfurled
to my one room of word—kettle, counter,

knife block. Having lived one of your life's
six nights, you leave a limp silhouette where you
left off—let me be the creature circling
your sleep. I am the most benign unknown;

I do not touch. With what nights are left, plant
your wing beat in my sleep, be the only
hovering thing. If only you could teach me
survival without sustenance, unworried
love, how to find oneself at a window
one morning and think nothing of what happens next.

--Cecily Parks

Saturday, April 7, 2012


In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the read leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

--Louise Glück

Friday, April 6, 2012

Upon the Ensigns of Christ’s Crucifying: The Sponge

O sweet and bitter monuments of pain,
Bitter to Christ who all the pain endured,
But sweet to me whose death my life procured,
How shall I full express such loss, such gain?
My tongue shall be my pen, mine eyes shall rain
Tears for my ink, the place where I was cured
Shall be my book, where, having all abjured,
And calling heavens to record in that plain,
Thus plainly will I write: no sin like mine.
When I have done, do thou, Jesu divine,
Take up the tart sponge of thy Passion
And blot it forth; then be they spirit the quill,
Thy blood the ink, and with compassion
Write thus upon my soul: thy Jesu still.

--William Alabaster

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Winter, we hardly knew ye.

Yeah, it was the winter that wasn't. Hardly any snow, hardly any wintery-ness. Here's my homage, in farewell, and in anticipation of next year.
Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

From Bucolics

O boss of ashes boss of dust
you bother with what floats above
my chimney what settles to the ground
you wake the motes from sleep you make
them curtsey in a ray of sun
they hold their tiny breath as if
they're waiting for the little name
of the dance that's coming next then they
will take their places Boss if I
were smaller I would join them O
I'd cut a rug or two I'd slap
my hand against my shoe if that's
the kind of fuss you're raising Boss
you know I never know for sure
I only know you bother me
from time to time you've caught my breath
a time or two you've stirred me up
before which makes me want to tell
you Boss I wouldn't mind it if
you bothered me a little more

--Maurice Manning

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'm sensing a theme

Here's the deal: IRL I'm editing this anthology thing, which has to be delivered to the publisher early summer. So I figured, why not just mine that hard anthology for this nonce one? That might be, if only for the expediency of time's sake, the method behind this April's madness.

New Coll. Oxford MS 88 (14th century)

Louerd, þou clepedest me
And ich nagt ne ansuarede þe
Bute wordes scloe and sclepie:
‘þole yet! þole a litel!’
Bute ‘yiet’ and ‘yiet’ was endelis
And ‘þole a litel’ a long wey is.

[Modernized version]
Lord, thou called me
And I naught answered thee
But words slow and sleepy:
‘Wait yet! Wait a little!’
But ‘yet’ and ‘yet’ was endless
And ‘wait a little’ a long way is.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Another. In the same vein.

The Pursuit

LORD ! what a busy, restless thing
Hast Thou made man !
Each day and hour he is on wing,
Rests not a span ;
Then having lost the sun and light,
By clouds surpris’d,
He keeps a commerce in the night
With air disguis’d.
Hadst Thou given to this active dust
A state untir’d,
The lost son had not left the husk,
Nor home desir’d.
That was Thy secret, and it is
Thy mercy too ;
For when all fails to bring to bliss,
Then this must do.
Ah, Lord ! and what a purchase will that be,
To take us sick, that sound would not take Thee !

--Henry Vaughan

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cue the fanfare

It's time for RG's annual Poetry Month Spontaneous Anthology. My time is a bit constrained these days, but I'm hoping to post a poem a day for your enjoyment and edification. Happy reading, y'all.


IESU is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was J,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
And to the whole is I E S U.

--George Herbert

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Readers' reports

Well, my manuscript has been, since fall, and so very unexpectedly, with that very cool big UP. Finally today, both readers' reports were available.

The first reader could not enthuse enough about the project, saying various complimentary things, and indeed offering only one or two small and very do-able suggestions for enriching the book. I'm tempted to use the word "gushy," so relative-superlative-filled was this reader's response (stuff like "best X in my 30 years of working in the field," etc.) All very heady and gratifying, to be sure.

The second reader reported that s/he had stopped reading somewhere in chapter 2, unable to continue because I clearly have no idea how Equine Studies actually works, and said that there may be a good book somewhere in the project, but it will have to be substantially revised/ rethought in order to reveal that good book.

Ten years ago, that second report would have devastated me. Today, not so much, in part because I'm getting more and more to see that responses to academic writing are as subjective as responses to creative writing--and in part because I'm grateful to know what points I need to clarify and what terms I need to work through more carefully in order to ensure that my book is more persuasive and more solidly built. Seriously: I'd rather keep working and produce a stronger book.

The cool editor impressed me by hir equanimity about the whole thing: s/he asked me to think over the negative report, and to respond to its points, considering honestly whether the reader had misunderstood me or whether I ought to put some revision time in before s/he sends it out to a third reader. S/he said that s/he was inclined to put more weight on the positive review, in part because it was thorough (including having, you know, read the whole manuscript), but that I ought nevertheless to reflect on the critiques of the negative one. To be frank, the fact that this editor still wants to continue the conversation, and to send the manuscript to a third reader, is completely beyond my expectation. You may recall that I never thought this particular press would be interested in my book, because it doesn't necessarily announce itself as a Big Theoretical Book. So this is all gravy as far as I'm concerned.

Tomorrow, I'll print the negative report, and I'll start to look critically at my opening chapter to see how I can address/ clarify the points that seem problematic. I am nothing but the beneficiary here, no matter what happens: it's pretty cool that two scholars in my field have devoted serious scrutiny to my book. I'm feeling grateful. Not yet jazzed or motivated or all eye-of-the-tiger (too near the flagging end of the term for such frivolities), but grateful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


1. Just 24 hours before I take the Things to RSA, I wrote my paper. This seems to me to be an improvement over my recent "strategy," which is to write the paper on the plane or in the hotel room the night before the panel. But that course of action will prove, I suspect, more difficult with two Things to entertain.

2. For reasons that escape me, I just opened to an essay in the flagship creative writing program "journal"--a term I use loosely because that rag contains so little of practical or critical value that it really more resembles a bitchy tabloid than a serious publication. In any case, the essay was about sentences, in praise of sentences really, and how sentences can transport us. The essay's first sentence reads: "I cannot begin with essay without admitting that: I am an English teacher, and yet the one thing I loathe perhaps even more than algebra is grammar." And yes, that first sentence displays the fruits of the author's loathing. And yes, the whole freaking essay is rife with grammatical errors. The author claims that s/he's only recently come to appreciate that grammar (which s/he mystifyingly equates with "syntax") produces the rhapsodic effects s/he seeks in good literature. S/he might ponder that point a bit further....

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brought tears to my eyes.

The world is a beautiful place. I may be oversentimentalizing that sentence because I'm sick, but I stand by the principle.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Churn.

I spend most of my time balancing a cheerful focus on my many good fortunes against my achievement gland. I'm finding that balance is getting unbalanced this term, and the gland is acting up.

In part this is because (good fortune!:) I've finished my new book of poems, and now I need to begin considering what I want to happen with it, which makes me more aware of the Po Biz than I characteristically care to be. In part it's because friends, in some cases grad school buddies, of mine keep showing up on Fresh Air or on the NBA list or getting MacArthurs or some such laud--news that I register not with bitterness or even jealousy but with a consciousness of how I, you know, need to get my ass in gear.

And in part it's because I am increasingly forced to realize that I am one person. Just one. Which means that, in a 24-hour day, I actually CAN'T grade all the papers I need to return AND prepare for class AND spend two hours at the doctor's office AND build a new fence. Moreover, I CAN'T replace my burnt-out taillights, AND work on the anthology I'm editing with a quick-approaching deadline, AND write my RSA paper before I hit parent-teacher conference at noon. And, to my surprise, I CAN'T read the thesis my grad student is defending tomorrow morning AND arrange to have my dead tree cut down and carted away AND figure out why my car is leaking oil AND spend most of tomorrow doing something Awesome & Special because the Things have no school.

How can I get my ass in gear on scholarly obligations when my I may need to surrender my car to the shop? How can I turn in the anthology on deadline when there's a giant dog that keeps lurking into my unfenced yard to shit his monuments to trespass everywhere? How can I publish a manuscript when I have three theses to defend this week?

I'd like to think that many of these responsibilities are delegatable, but they're not--there's no one to delegate to. And I'd like to think that all of us who were stupid enough to go into this gig can commiserate, maybe form a kind of academic support group, but at times it just seems very isolating.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The right equipment

As some who've read this blog may know, I'm a serious nordic skier. One might be tempted to say fanatical. It's no surprise; I'm as close to biologically predetermined for it as can be imagined: I'm tall and most of my height is legs, I'm what may generously be called gangly, and I'm a distance runner who trains at at least 5200 feet every day, so I have strong legs and good lung capacity and lots of stamina. I'm sorta built for it. And if I may say so, I'm very very good.

I'm also frugal, of that "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" philosophy, and so I have for many years been using equipment I got a long time ago. I have been using the same classic skis, boots, bindings, etc., for maybe 25 years. My skate equipment is likewise over 20 years old. It has all served me very well.

Last year, I bought myself new skate skis. Last week, I splurged on new boots to go with them. And yesterday, I went and test-drove the whole kit.

The difference was jaw-dropping. Like the difference between upgrading from bald tires to snow tires. My high-performance, competition-grade new stuff is so technologically advanced over my old equipment that it improved me as a skier instantly. Whatever plateau I had reached previously got shattered. The new equipment is so responsive that I was able to ski more efficiently, which means that the energy I might have once expended on, say, turning, is now free to be used toward greater speed.

This is the point I've been trying to make to my students about the importance of having a lucid prose style. It's not merely a matter of my finicky readerly taste; it's that if your prose is laboring to be understood at the level of the sentence, then you can just do so much less at the level of your argument. Prose is a site of ideational development, and if the prose is resistant, unclear, convoluted, obstructive, then the ideas get clogged in both the writing and the reading of them. Working on developing a good prose style is the argumentative equivalent of investing in new skis: it makes you a more efficient thinker, which frees you up to think more complexly, more subtly.

Having cool ideas is like my being physiologically suited to XCskiing: it's a good start. But raw biology can only go so far and so fast; the right equipment magnifies the innate, frees up the natural to become its best.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No Fear.

I was thinking about the end of Squadratomagico's New Year's Meme (to which for some reason Blogger won't let me link), the question that wonders what fears one has overcome during the previous year. I would say that 2011 was the year I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the bomb. I've always been a risk-taking personality, with a serious penchant for adrenaline and altitude and activities that smack of precariousness. But I think 2011, probably not coincidentally the year I turned 40, was when I finally stared down the inner fears that have aided me nothing over the course of my life: what if people don't like me? what if I can't do the task I've set for myself? what if that person says something hurtful to me? what if that person does something other than I would have hoped? what if I have to say something hard and potentially hurtful to someone else? For me, these questions are way scarier than jumping out of an airplane. I don't know whether it's that I've moved chronologically into undeniable adulthood or that I've lived through more of these crises of the secret self and survived. That doesn't mean I don't register these situations in my guts, but that I refuse to valorize that clench as a legitimate response to a challenge of the soul. I've come to feel that fear is, for me, the opposite of integrity, and I no longer wish to give it a platform.