Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rhino


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Apparently the official (Latin) name for the "white" rhinoceros (which, as the photo suggests, isn't white, but it's a bit of a long story) is Ceratotherium simum, just in case someone should ask you about that today.
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Rhinoceros

Evolution left rhinoceros holding
a heavy load, freighted down with
muscle, bone, horns, and heft, all
held up by four short legs.

Rhino, you're an envoi from dinosaurs.
People are your predators, as ubiquitous
as sunlight, as shifty as shadow,
lethal and silly: grinding your horn
into powder? I like the way you stare

sadly straight down the tunnel of
history. I like that rough-hewn
stone spike you carry on your face
but would never want to own it.

Let hummingbirds be nuanced. Some
creatures need to be about as subtle
as an avalanche. Big leathery
rhino, you're one of them, and not
that your large ears will process
this word as meant, but Thanks.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friends Old and New


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I'm a piano-hack, at best, but I do especially enjoy playing the rich chords in ballads from the 30s, 40s, and early 50s--and in some Simon & Garfunkel songs (well, they are actually Simon songs), including "Old Friends." I just thought I'd mention that as a more or less irrelevant introduction to a poem.



Friends Old, Friends New


It is difficult to discuss old friends
with new ones, new ones with old ones. You feel
as if they're characters from novels whose
pages cannot be inter-collated. You didn't
write these novels. You're of them, too, but
in them both, and you may travel from each
to each. You realize you're the only go-between,
the one who knows both stories, knows who
did why to what so whereily and how with whom
it may well have concerned. As always, you seem

to be the point at which your life converges--
well, duh. But yet you yearn legitimately for
variation, for someone else to unify the narratives
of you, of yours. Maybe a new friend could befriend
an old one and then collaborate to help explain
you to you and them to them.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Site For Scrapper Poet


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(The photo is courtesy of Jamestown Community College)

Note: The Scrapper Poet's site has moved to

www.thescrapperpoet.wordpress.com

Saunter on over to Wordpress and pay a visit.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Misbehaving Animals


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Animals Misbehave

Some frogs drive by at dusk in a green car.
One of them gets out, puts a continuous-loop
broadcasting device under a fern, hits "play,"
gets back in the car, and off the frogs go
to drink and laugh at a moist cocktail lounge.
Meanwhile, I listen to a "frog" croak all night.

The gray squirrel has become so large eating
seed put out for birds that he can barely
fit into his fur. "Are you sure you're not
drinking beer" I ask him one morning. He stares
at me, keeps chewing, and finally says,
"Yes, I'm sure."

The crows have contacted a realtor and are
going to offer to buy our house. We're going
to listen to the offer, out of respect, which
crows demand. Our neighbor is trying to trap
a raccoon that's eating decorative fish. The
raccoon is a known felon. It never checks in

with its parole officer. It's also an
escape-artist. I didn't have the heart
to tell my neighbor this. Under the earth,
worms live a lovely life. I assume they
don't writhe unless we dig them up.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

On Hobbema's Painting


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(the Hobbema painting is owned by the Getty Museum now)


About Hobbema's Landscape


(Meindert Hobbema, 1638-1709)


In Hobbema's "A Wooded Landscape with Travelers
on a Path through a Hamlet," clouds, trees,
and shadows overwhelm travelers and buildings.
Even a patch of sunlight, mid-painting, might
be ominous, a precursor to thunderstorm. Villages,
hamlets, and no-account small towns live on
the edge of being devoured, one way or another.
They are beside nature's point--are one tornado,
flood, avalanche, or economic downturn away from
obliteration. I'm sure Hobbema had something else
in mind with these pigments, the tracks left by
his brush-strokes, but I do like how he knew
foliage, clouds, and shadow lord over a mere
hamlet made of brick and milled wood.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Under Fluorescence


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Under Fluorescence

I'm sitting under fluorescent lights,
waiting for the others to arrive. This
light reminds me of snow-light, denatured,
gathered from peaks around the world
and stored in these humming, nervous tubes
above my head. Topics we'll quibble about
in the meeting around this illuminated
table shall be small but intricate like
snowflakes. We'll have to wait and see
if they'll add up, if they'll reflect.



Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Those Phrases


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So far, I haven't noticed too many similarities between Barack Obama and Richard Nixon--not that I've been looking for them very hard. I did think of the two in conjunction when I heard Obama say several times, "Let me be clear." Nixon used to say, "Let me be crystal clear" or "Let me make this crystal clear." Of course, Nixon was and Obama is ambitious, bright, and politically shrewd: how do you get to be president without being so? Even Gerald Ford had to be smarter than he seemed, and he became president only because Nixon resigned.

Nixon and Obama both chose tough, hardened, bare-knuckles men as chiefs of staff--Obama's is Rahm Emanuel, and Nixon's was H.R. Haldeman. Obama's the far better orator, and at least so far, Obama seems to have none of the Nixonian paranoia or tendency toward self-destruction. I do think Obama, like most if not all politicians, has some interesting contradictions to work out, including the issue of gay and lesbian citizens and civil rights. Most politicians choose simply not to work them out but to finesse them, so this will be interesting to watch. Constitutionally, there just seems to be no good reason to treat gay and lesbian citizens differently, but then again, I'm no Constitutional scholar. Morally and ethically, I can't think of a reason to treat such citizens differently either, in terms of civil rights, etc.--the purview of politicians.


Those Phrases

To be honest, I don't know why
I'd start a sentence with "to be
honest," unless I were implying honesty
might be a new technique I was about
to try out. In all candor, I don't
have to say I don't like "in all
candor," but I don't. "I must say"
nothing. When people say, "Just let
me say . . .," to me, they've already
started saying it, so it's not a
question of my letting them. Quite
frankly, I prefer the phrase
"Somewhat frankly" because it's
more entertaining and honest. To
tell you the truth, "to tell you
the truth" is just an expression,
neither truth nor lie but a dweller
on the idiomatic frontier. Let me
be clear, or let me be obscure:
your choice! Confidentially,
and just between you and me, there
seems to be no confidentiality.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tables And Chairs In Trouble


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Cafe, Early Morning


Outside a cafe, tables and chairs
have been arrested and detained,
gathered and restrained by a cable.
Obviously, last night they'd disturbed
the peace. Chairs had shouted protest
about all the asses they must endure.
Tables had rocked and moaned, pounding
on themselves. This morning the furniture
is silent but not ashamed. Tentatively,
the manager releases and arranges first
the tables, then the chairs. One chair
squeaks. A hungover table wobbles.
Customers arrive, unaware of
last night's misdemeanors.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

"Words Crowded Together"







I was reading a book of poems by William Stafford this morning, An Oregon Message, and the opening stanzas of a poem titled "Scripture" reminded me of why I like to read poetry. Okay, I really didn't need reminding, but nonetheless, here are the lines (from p. 91 of the book):

[From "Scripture," by William Stafford]

In the dark book where words crowded together,
a land with spirits waited, and they rose and walked
every night when the book opened by candlelight--

A sacred land where the words touched the trees
and their leaves turned into fire. We carried in wherever
we went, our hidden scene; and in the sigh of snow coming down.

Monday, May 25, 2009

For Charles Epps


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For Charles Epps

(1953-1971)

What's left these 38 years after Charlie
died? The same as what was left a minute
after he died: an avalanche of absence.
I've visited the grave. I always go alone. I
let morbidity, a pettiness, arise, think
of what's under ground, including
the baseball uniform in which they put
his body. It's easy to move past small,
awful thoughts. What's left to resolve?

Everything. He ought to be alive. God
knows that as well as I. My knowledge
stops there. I don't know why he died,
only how, when, where, and with whom--
Sonny Ellis. Their death numbed,
scandalized, and scarred me, but so what?
I got to live at least 38 years more
than they. When I die, so will my grief,

and so it goes. Like an instinctive,
migratory mourner, I think of Charlie
at least four times a year and every May
and try to think of something more to say.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Would Bukowski Say?


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What Would Bukowski Say?


A fat man trying
to exercise in hot
sun walked past a
fat man sitting in
a fat American car
eating a hamburger
the size of a Pacific
atoll and sitting on
white cow-hide seats,
and one fat man nodded
at the other, knowing
each other's story
well, and about as
concerned with the word
"fat" as a rattlesnake
is with who will be
the new Secretary of
the Interior. And when
I saw this scene, I
thought of what Charles
Bukowski might say.The
last and only time
I saw Bukowski was
in Davis, California.
His face looked like
it had gone through
a cyclone full of rivets.
He drank a six-pack of
beer and read poetry,
pacing himself in each
task. Bukowski always
had interesting things
to say about almost
everything, including
a fat man in a car and
a fat man trying to exercise,
and anyway, I wish he
were still alive, writing.



Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Artistic Woman


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Artistic Woman

She did and was art. She might make and wear
a nurturing kerchief, let's say, or transform
with shears and thread an old dress into a new
shawl. Often she carried a purse full of verse.

Ears and fingers teased light with rings. Food
was not simply baked or boiled into submission.
She concocted it like magic, revealed it with
a flourish, delighted in delicious noises guests

might make while eating. She listened artistically,
wanting to seize well said words. Even with pain,
propped with a cane, she turned a walk into a
subtle scene. Envious dull ones liked to accuse

her of showing off. They were right and wrong.
Off? Not so much. Showing? Sure. For her notion
was that life, a surprise, came from darkness
like nothing, showed itself, revised itself:

a pageant, a play, a making, a day to dramatize night.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Top 50 Science Fiction Novels



The photo is of Arthur C. Clarke



I just posted on this topic over on my department's blog, but if by chance you like lists and/or are looking for a list of sci-fi novels to work through, here is one:

http://www.epic-fantasy.com/

I'd describe myself as a reader who's always dabbled in science fiction, but I'm about as far from being an expert on the subject as Pluto (which is still a planet, in my opinion) is from Mercury. However, I know quite a few people who do qualify as experts, and they tend to have strong opinions that don't mesh with the opinions of other experts. Also, the fact that list rather loosely mixes sci-fi, fantasy, and more-or-less realistic fiction that is merely speculative (like On the Beach) is no doubt a bone of contention, like the bone that goes up in the air in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Please pretend the titles are in Italics.

I don't know of any well known poets who also dabbled in sci-fi writing, but I'm sure there must be, or must have been, some. Richard Hugo wrote one genre-novel--a detective novel with a great title: Death and the Good Life. Karl Shapiro wrote a realistic novel, Edsel. As far as I know, neither writer tried more than one novel. Poet Stephen Dobyns became a bona fide writer of crime fiction.

I'll just add that a lot of sci-novels have terrific poetry-like title. I mean, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,--what a great title for a poem that would have been! In cinematic form, it became Blade Runner, but you knew that.

Anyway, the list:

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Gaming Humans



In the photo, the soccer-players seem to be ruminating on the futility of it all.

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Humans and Their Games


In golf, humans attack a tiny white ball with long
metal clubs and then walk or ride in pastures, acting
as if the attack had not occurred. A bit later, they
attack again. The ball flees from them, but it rarely
escapes. No one knows what the ball did to offend
the humans. In chess, humans move figurines around
a small board and never talk. They look like pouting
children. In bowling, people roll a large sphere
toward milk-bottles, which have been beautifully
arranged. The aim is destruction, apparently. In

soccer, people run around an enormous field arguing
about who should possess a single leather ball.
Clearly, more soccer-balls and less field constitute
one obvious solution to this prolonged frustration.
In hockey as in golf: small object, large clubs,
inexplicable anger. Ice, however, is added, and
men embrace frequently, although their attire
turns them into clumsy clowns. Now, baseball

is a game in which too much activity is considered
gauche. Standing, scratching, staring, murmuring,
yelling, signaling, spitting, waiting, eating seeds,
hiding in caves, and using tobacco are crucial to this
game and constant. There is a sense in which the
game is opposed to activity. Football, though,

is nothing less than felonious assault observed
and encouraged by thousands. Make no mistake:
in this game, men attack men. Skiing and luge
are gravity-assisted suicide. Ski-jumping is
a bad idea someone in a Nordic country once had.
It is inadvisable. Racing cars around an oval

track is loud and repetitive like the screams
of a demented man. In tennis, the net always
remains empty, and the lake around it has
dried up. Somehow, in spite of all these
absurd spectacles, we can be induced to care
who wins, after which we forget who won,
and we go back to work. The rules of these
games become our era's sacred texts.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, May 22, 2009

May I Speak To the Past, Please?




I have no doubt that the mobile phone pictured at right will soon seem obsolete or even antique. Maybe it already is the former if not the latter. The velocity of technological obsolescence seems to increase every day. As I think I've noted before, I'm opposed to these wee phones because they discriminate against us thick-fingered ones. When I attempt to hit one button, I usually hit three. It takes me all day to send a two-line text message. I feel like a bear in a sewing-class.


Phoning the Past


I telephoned the past. The number
I reached was no longer in service,
and anyway I'd wanted to reach the past,
not a number. Just as well. What would
I have said? "Hello, I used to live there"?
"Please write me a letter of recommendation
for the future"? The past is a special effect.
When I think about it, it's right beside me.
I reach for it. Then it withdraws miles and
decades instantly, and I'm left in this
lumpy present, which is always beyond
its sell-by-date and curdling into the past.
I read history, but it's a sad substitute
for what happened. So, foolishly, I phoned.
Fine. I made a mistake. That's all in the past.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Concerning Games




(The image is of a "shocked" Monopoly man; maybe he invested with Madoff)

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Not Much For Games

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I was never much for games. In "Hide and Seek,"
I was content to let the others remain in hiding. I
enjoyed the solitude. In "Tag," there seemed to be
celebrity attached to being It, so why share it?
I liked collisions in football, but they gave me
headaches. I liked playing right field in baseball
but was often tempted to keep walking--into other
fields beyond. In Monopoly, I wanted to disperse
the property equally, end the game, and go drink
hot cocoa--unaware the world cocoa-
market was probably controlled by a monopoly. In
charades, I always want to to say the answer and stop
the nonsense. I liked badminton and table-tennis--something
about an obsessive concentration on one object and
the pleasure of returning what came over the net.
"Gambling" is misnamed; it is ritualized losing.
My father played poker well, had no "tell."
I'm competitive, but I've never trusted the trait.
Survival is the only game, and is no game,
and will be lost in due time. Let the games
begin, and continue, but often without me.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Top 100 Detective Novels?



(The image is of Denzel Washington in the film-based-on-the-novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley.)


I'm double-dipping on this post, as I have posted on a related topic--on

http://upsenglish.wordpress.com/

At any rate, the following site has a list from David Lehman of the top 100 detective novels, based partly on the value of the novels themselves but also on their historical importance in the genre:

http://www.topmystery.com/lehmans100.html



Like a lot of people who, one way or another, ended up making reading central to their lives, I started reading detective fiction early. There were always a lot of paperbacks in the genre around the house, for one thing, and I also got hooked on Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes early on.

I teach a class, now and then, on detective fiction, and I've published one detective novel, Three To Get Ready--very much a first try, if you get my drift. I was so inexperienced that I didn't know I'd written a book in the sub-genre known as "police procedural" until I read a review of the book, the "police" in which are represented by a rural sheriff and his deputy.

I've always thought the detective (or "crime" or "mystery") novel had a lot in common with the sonnet, insofar as there are some strict conventions set up, and some heavy expectations--but also the expectation that one will improvise, somehow, on what's come before. In both cases, working within the conventions but also testing them and in some cases disrupting them--all part of a satisfying process, from the writer's point of view at least.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nobel Laureates in Literature

In the Spring of 1994, I taught at Uppsala University in Sweden--one of the highlights of the academic part of my career. I was what's known as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer. I taught a couple courses and had a fine time in Sweden. My grandfather came from Sweden, and his niece lived in Uppsala, so I often had dinner with her, spoke Swedish, and revisited old times. She lived--and still lives--and Murargatan--"Brick Street."

The year before, Toni Morrison had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the English Department at Uppsala had managed to have her visit while she was in Sweden to pick up the prize in Stockholm: what a great opportunity. I was sorry to have missed her visit but very glad she had visited.

If you're the sort of person who sometimes likes to base a schedule of reading on lists of one kind or another, then you may be interested in the last decade's worth (or so) of Nobel Laureates in Literature:

2008 Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio
2007 Doris Lessing
2006 Orhan Pamuk
2005 Harold Pinter
2004 Elfried Jelinek
2003 J.M. Coetzee
2002 Imre Kertesz
2001 V.S. Naipaul
2000 Gao Xingjian
1999 Gunter Grass
1998 Jose Saramago
1997 Dario Fo
1996 Wislawa Szsborska
1995 Seamus Heaney
1994 Kenaburo Oe
1993 Toni Morrison
1992 Derek Walcott
1991 Nadine Gordimer
1990 Octavio Paz

For a complete list that goes back to 1901, please see . . .

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/

Tidal Sights and Sounds


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Towards Evening
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The muted roar of tidal surge
sounds like a convergence of one
million whispers.
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Reflection of the sun's unrolled
like a ragged carpet on the surface
of the sea.
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To touch the wind with your tongue
is to taste ancient salt and conjure
braids of kelp.
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Soon the sea will say its vespers
deep inside its tidal whispers.

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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Get Some of My News from Facebook

Ashamedly, I must confess I get some of my news from facebook, including some of the unlovely kind:

"Utah State Senator Chris Buttars recently called the LGBT community 'probably the greatest threat to America...I know of' He went on to spew a series of vile insults including:

* Lesbian and gay relationships are 'abominations.
* LGBT people are moving America toward a society that has no morals.
* LGBT people will 'destroy the foundation of American society.'

Comments like this spread ignorance and fear – promoting an atmosphere of violence against LGBT Americans. They have no place in the discourse of our elected officials."

The last two lines are commentary from someone on facebook, of course, not news, per se. The same goes for "spew vile insults": that phrase is a bit of commentary, granted.

--Not sure what do about Senator Buttars' opinions and remarks, aside from instinctively to recoil from them. Not only do I not think of "the" (sic) LGBT community (I don't think there's just the one monolithic community, but what do I know?) as a threat, I think of LGBT individuals, families, friends, and communities (etc.) as a net gain, to say almost the least.

As to the rest of Butterfingers' argument, well, I'd have to know what he thinks "the foundation of American society" is. Is it tectonic plates, or am I being too literal? Is it republican (small r) democracy, petite bourgeoisie capitalism, corporate capitalism, a theocracy, or what? I'd need to know that first. Define terms and all that boring English-major stuff.

All LGBT persons have "no morals"? This can't possibly be true. This is not borne out by my experience.

When I hear "abominaton," I always think of the abominable snowman, and I get distracted, so Butterfingrs has lost me there, too. I think of Bigfoot, with a white fur-coat on, walking in the snow.

Okay, strictly for the sake of argument, trying mightily to play along with Butterfingers, I will assume for 90 seconds that "the" LGBT community poses some kind of threat. We'll call it a "threat to be named later," for the simple reason that I don't know what the threat is. For instance, let us assume that a gay couple moves into a house next door to a married (or not) straight couple. Both couples go to work, take the garbage-cans out on garbage day, mow the lawn, walk the dog, yadda yadda. So far so good? Okay. Now, in what sense is couple A a threat to couple B, let alone a threat to all straight marriages or relationships? If couple B is running a meth-house, then couple B is a greater threat to couple A, I submit to you, your honor. I've never been able to follow this "threat" argument. But I digress. I was supposed to be playing along with Butterfingers. Playing along, I will cite the following as greater "threats," in no particular order:

1. Bunions.
2. Global warming.
3. Complete financial de-regulation.
4. Insomnia.
5. Really bad reality TV shows that are really awful. Really.
6. The designated-hitter rule in baseball.
7. Anti-biotic-resistant strains of the Staph infection
8. A mis-understanding of how the semicolon is supposed to be used.
9. The Swine Flu.
10. Chronic homelessness.
11. A widening gap between rich and poor worldwide.
12. Where to store nuclear waste.
13. Chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
14. The use of the term "back order." When shops run out of something, a clerk says, "It's on back order." I'd prefer the clerk to say, "We don't have any of that stuff. Go away." The use of the term "back order" is a threat to morale.
15. Two wars.
16. Rumsfeld's religious covers to his briefing memos; they may serve to help recruit more Al Queada members than anything.
17. Dick Cheney's shotgun, espeically when he's liquored up. To be fair, anybody liquored up shoudn't wield a shotgun; this isn't personal. Johnny Walker Red and shotguns shouldn't marry. :-)
18. High cholesterol.
19. Too much salt in prepared foods.
20. A lack of appreciation for the films of Preston Sturgess.

There! I wasn't really even trying, and I came up with 20 threats that are greater than Butterfingers' (phantom, arguably) threat.! And I'm not even an expert on threats!

Senator Butterfingers, I urge you to sit down and to rearrange your priorities. Then please read Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality, Part One and a nice readable popular history called Out of the Past. Take two aspirin, and call Stephen Fry (not Hugh Laurie!) in the morning. Also, I apologize for calling you Butterfingers. It was high-schoolish of me, Senator Buttars.

Out of the Ordinary Time


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Out of the Ordinary Time
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A turquoise cable-car, yes, something
like that and not like that is tonight's
craving. I've learned not to lose sight
of basic needs (water, money). But
there's more to life than survival,
or so it seems when you're surviving,
anyway. So yes, long-haired, brown,
unamused Jesus riding a Harley
out of clouds to pay a serious visit
to pious "wealth-gospel" punks: that
would be of interest. Or a wheel-on-fire
chasing Donald Trump down an alley
in Calcutta, Shiva waiting for him
to Come to Mama. Or a furry llama
standing in mist just outside my dreams.
A seagull's scream, a shark's devotion,
some old shaggy, long-lost emotion:
these are sorts of things tonight called
to say it needed. I stood in rain. I pleaded.
Lightning sawed off a chunk of sky,
dropped it in the bay. That's
what I'm talking about.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Long-Lived Authors: Harper Lee, Karl Shapiro, Philip Roth

I was talking with another writer the other day, and he was observing that, when he was a very young writer, he often heard other youthful scribblers romanticizing such concepts as "surrendering your life to art" and "living hard and dying young [in relation to writing]."

I understand the romantic appeal of these ideas; on the other hand, in order to write, one does have to remain alive. It's just kind of the way things work.

So I want to say word in favor of writers who live, survive, thrive, and persist--who keep on truckin' and keep on keepin' on. Among them is Harper Lee, author (as you well know) of To Kill A Mockingbird. She recently turned 83. She's kept on writing, but she's chosen not to publish much. Philip Roth is still going strong at . . . age 73, I believe. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., lived into his 80s, as did Karl Shapiro (1913-2000). In fact, a posthumous edition of Karl's last poems was recently published by Texas Review Press. It's called Coda, and it shows how splendidly Shapiro kept writing poetry well into his late 70s. He never lost his eye for detail, his love for the whole lexicon, his confident voice, and his iconoclasm. He stayed funny. Bless his heart.

Stanley Kunitz lived for 100 years and wrote for most of those.

Keep writing and keep living--it's a both/and kind of thing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy Birthday (Birth-Month), Writers


Here comes June, always an ambiguous month in the Pacific Northwest. It can be as wet and cold as January, or as summery as anywhere else in the U.S. You just never know.

However, you may know what authors were born in June, at least if you care about such things and poke around the Internet. Here's a list of some of our writerly friends, some still with us, most not (except in their words, etc.) who were born in June, starting with a howl:

Allen Ginsberg
John Masefield
Ambrose Bierce (do high-schoolers still read "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"? I hope so.)
Anne Frank
Barbara Pym
Ben Jonson
Laurie Lee
Blaise Pascal (perhaps my favorite spiritual writer--and author of a book in a genre by itself, Pensees)
Lillian Hellman (if you haven't seen the film, Pentimento, I invite you to do so)
Louise Erdrich (that's what I like--someone who's at ease with both fiction and poetry)
Luigi Pirandello
Colin Wilson
Mark Van Doren
Mary McCarthy (attended school in Tacoma)
Elizabeth Bowen
Charles Kingsley
Octavia Butler (thanks for your final book, Ms. Butler, Fledgling, not to mention the other ones)
Jean Anoulih
Pierre Corneille (we bunched the difficult French-playwright names together)
Harrie Beecher Stowe
Saul Bellow
Thomas Hardy (a.k.a. Mr. Cheerful)
John Ciardi (I have fond memories of his radio-spot on NPR, called "Good Words to You," and I very much like his translation of Dante)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Small Garden


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Small Garden
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When carrots come up, they're green hairs
on Earth's loamy pate. Already, though, they're
pointing covert orange fingers toward Earth's
molten core. Carrots like cool weather. Tomato-
plants don't and therefore hunker. They hold
out for the blaze, in which they'll then sprawl
promiscuously and weigh themselves up
with serious loads of red. That said, lettuce
is the lovely one, presenting delicate textiles
of itself to sun. So goes growth in post-Edenic
gardens, fallen and common, full of manure
and worms, seedy, sketchy, weedy, kvetchy,
half-cultivated, half-rude, all vulgar. Water
and weed, heed the almanac, fill a sack or
two at harvest time: all to the good.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Poets Who Would Have Blogged


(image: Emily Dickinson, the best poet ever)
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A simple speculative question, with no falsifiable answers: Which poets from the pre-blogging era would have blogged?

Homer? Yes. Although digitally print-related, blogging has much in keeping with an oral tradition out of which Homer sprang. Same goes for Virgil, who imitated Homer in every way.

Rumi? Yes. Rumi was an expansive, garrulous sort. What's not to like about blogging?

Martial? A tough call. He loved to gossip. But he may have made fun of new-fangled things.

Dante? No. However, he may have invented an additional circle of Hell for bloggers, if need be. (The might fit in existing circles.)

Chaucer? Yes. Geoff had the gift of gab. Same goes for Shakespeare, who would have found a way to revolutionize the genre. (In my poetry class this term, we decided that a good alternative name for Shakespeare was Master Shake, performance poet.)

Li Po? Yes.

Marvell and Donne? Probably, but within small circles. One would have had to subscribe to the blog.

Samuel Johnson? Why blog when you have the human blogging-software as your best friend (Boswell)? On the other hand, Johnson was such a social, verbally combative sort that he may not have been able to resist blogging. In one draft, he would have produced a sculpted, perfect essay.

Alexander Pope? No. Blogging wouldn't be traditional enough, and it would have been great satiric fodder for him.

Basho? Absolutely. Blogging on the road with a laptop. Collaborative blogging.

Wordsworth? Yes. Many posts about childhood memories and Dorothy, and childhood memories, and memories, and Wordsworth, and Dorothy, and childhood memories, and Wordsworth. Oy.

De Quincey? Maybe late at night, after the pharmaceuticals were brought on board?

Byron? Yes. Leigh Hunt? Absolutely. A journalist at heart.

Blake? Yes, if he could bring all the funky graphics on board. Oh, my: Imagine Blakean blog-posts!

Tennyson? Not so much. Arnold, no. But he would have written a poem complaining about blogs.

Emily Dickinson? Absolutely a perfect form for her. She could communicate with the world but maintain her privacy. Her posts would have been cryptic, brief, wry, and perfect.

Whitman. Are you kidding me? Blogging was made for Walt. "Blog of Myself."

Eliot? No. Pound? No. Blogging would have too much to do with the unwashed masses for their tastes. We are the hollow bloggers, we are the stuffed bloggers. Do I dare to blog?

Williams Carlos Williams? All over it. Langston Hughes? All over it. Imagine the sheer number of emails, not to mention blog-posts, Langston would have written.

C.P. Cavafy? A tough call, but no.

Auden? Yes. Spender? No. Larkin. Hmmmm.

Yeats? Absolutely not.

Marianne Moore? Oh, yes.

Frost? No.

Irving Layton? Yes. For a variety of motives.

Neruda. Hmmm. Uh, yes.

Sandburg? Yes.

Baudelaire, yes, Brautigan, yes, Victor Hugo no. Rimbaud, yes.

Goethe? Ah, come one. Germans and technology? Yes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Something's Been Decided


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Something's Been Decided
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She told me sometimes she feels
like a short-wave radio that only
sends and doesn't receive. She
sends out good wishes, polite
inquiries, and expressions to try
to keep old friendships going.
Not much comes back, she said.
"I may have offended thoughtlessly,"
she added, "but more likely is
something's been decided. I mean,
I'm ignored because I'm ignorable."
She thanked me for stopping by.
I said, "Keep in touch." "I will,"
she said. "Will you?" We smiled.
"Send and receive," I told her.
"Let's do both."
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Mr. Cheney


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One of the latest headlines, from UPI, on the Internet is "Strategists Stymied by Cheney's Stature."
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Mr. Cheney selects interviewers who won't press him on the most basic, insoluble contradictions. He cheerfully admits that the U.S. used water-boarding, and just as cheerfully asserts that the U.S. doesn't torture. How is water-boarding not torture? According to Cheney and the "legal" memos, it isn't torture because they said so. I think I'll rely on my eyes and ears, which have witnessed the videotape of water-boarding, and on someone like Jesse Ventura, who has been water-boarded. Interviewers shouldn't let Mr. Cheney even get to the question of whether torture "works." They should just keep asking how water-boarding isn't torture. And keep asking. And keep asking. Until and unless he walks off the set--or resolves the basic contradiction.
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Mr. Cheney
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How do you unplug a former Vice President
of the U.S.A.? You don't. He is like a large
refrigerator with nothing good to offer from
inside. He turns lies into ice-cubes:
We used "enhanced interrogation techniques"
like water-boarding, which isn't torture because
we don't torture, unless you count near-drowning
as torture, along with sleep-deprivation, beatings,
and other "enhanced techniques," which is the
language of those who order torture, which saved
us from being attacked, after-torture-because-of-
torture being the logic--the logic, I tell you, so
shut up! The refrigerator opens its doors. Words
come out. The former Vice President is
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an American appliance. He runs on American power.
Hear the ice-cubes tumble from his brain to his mouth?
An ice-cube melts into a lie. The interviewer laps it up
like a dog. The refrigerator watches the dog. People
watch the refrigerator and the dog. It is a TV show.
It is a former Vice President of the U.S.A. "Children,
can you say 'above the law'?"
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

The Seventh Seal: Bergman's Light-Hearted Romp


(image: Death and a Knight play a friendly game of chess
in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal)
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As we move toward graduation-Sunday on campus, there are numerous luncheons and dinners at which members of the Board of Trustees and the faculty mingle.

At last night's dinner, I sat next to a colleague from the History department, and we discovered we both liked Ingmar Bergman's classic film, The Seventh Seal. We also discovered that we had attempted to screen the film for students--with disastrous results. Most students simply think the film is too weird. Go figure!

Many parts of it have always made me laugh, although I do recognize that the genre is not exactly MGM musical. Death and the Knight playing chess intermittently and Death's sawing a tree in which someone is perched (somehow such a Swedish thing to do) both make me laugh. Ah, that droll Scandinavian humor.

In any event, my colleague reported that when she got the film going (on DVD) for the class, a student in the back said, "Wait a second--you mean this film is both in black-and-white AND subtitles?!"

Ah, well, some class-sessions just get off to an imperfect start.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nothing To Explain


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Nothing To Explain
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A stout frailty of birds noises things up well
in gray rain this evening. They empty their
throats before feathering down to sleep
in trees and brush. Meanwhile, I climb
into a hulking steel wheeled-thing and go
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to market to secure such items as oranges,
bread, and strawberries. I don't understand
birds, nor they, me. Thus shall it always be.
Yet we may share a burst of activity at dusk,
paying homage to nothing more than having
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made it through another day. The birds
and I ended up in the same place.
There's nothing to explain.
The have feathers. I have hair.
Both get wet in rain.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sour Grapes





(image: sketch of fox and grapes, courtesy of Litscape.com)
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I've been working with another writer on a project that is not strictly about wine but related to it, so technically our project concerns sour grapes.

At the same time, I've been reading a translation of Jean de la Fontaine's fables in verse. Fontaine stole cheerfully, freely, openly, and well from Aesop and others and recast fables in verse. He was born in 1621 and died in 1695, by the way.

The edition I'm reading is from Penguin, translated by James Michie, with an introduction by Geoffrey Grigson.

Arguably the most famous fable from Fontaine (although not original to him) is the one about the tortoise and the hare. In fact, yesterday I asked a hard-working cashier if she were working too hard, and she said, "No, just steadily," and I said, "Slow and steady wins the race," and she said, "Yep, that's the way it worked with the turtle and the rabbit."

The second most famous fable (again, this is contestable) may be the one about the fox and the grapes. Because the fox can't get the grapes, he (or she) allows how he or she didn't really want them, and down the ages has come the phrase "sour grapes," except now it's applied to people who express disappointment after not getting what they want. Here's how Fontaine's fable ends, in translation:

Wasn't he wise to say they were unripe
Rather than whine and gripe?

So the point of the fable seems to be that instead of whining, the fox simply suggested that the grapes weren't ripe anyway yet and thereby kept his cool. I think our notion of "sour grapes" has drifted since then, and note that the grapes are not sour as in fermented (wine) but sour as in not yet full of enough sugar (unripe).

By the way, the illustrations for this edition are by J. J. Grandville, and they just slay me. I love sketches of animals that are fully costumed in human clothing. You get this sort of thing in Beatrix Potter books. The key is that the animals are not sentimentalized. Yes, they're personified, obviously, but they maintain their full animal-identity, and the effect is to make the costumes seem a bit much, not the animals. Perhaps my favorite animal-in-clothes sketch is in the Potter books; it is one of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, a frog. A most dignified frog.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The River Moved


(image: Tower Rock, Perry County, Missouri)
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The River Moved
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I get used to watching rivers move from up
to down. Then someone will remind me,
"The river used to be here until it moved,"
and I picture rivers walking slowly across
plains, opening another canyon for themselves,
going underground for a spell, or running into
dams--nibbled by turbines and turned into
a lake that sits and waits but never loses
its desire to find a sea. The way rivers move's
a note slowly written in cursive to time, whose
mail historians and geologists open. For instance
the famous river-boat that sank's buried on
a dry plain now because the big river moved.
"It's just a grave now," someone said. "Bones
are down there, remember. No one wants to dig."
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, May 11, 2009

Corresponding With Nostalgia


Nostalgia's a fact of life because it springs from routine, it provides an easy if illusory alternative to bothersome change, and it may be legitimately related to things that worked pretty well in our lives. Things in the past were not necessarily worse, even though our tendency is to over-estimate them (arguably).
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In my case, an example of the latter (things worked all right) would be . . . the post office. In a relatively remote mountain-town, the post-office provided one obvious link to the world at large. It provided one of the most stable routine's of the day--going to get the mail.
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I inherited my father's 1969 Ford F-100 pickup, which I am steadily refurbishing but not restoring; he purchased it new, and by 1997, when we left us, he had put fewer than 50,000 miles on it. Here's a rough guess: at least 25% of those miles were put on when he drove the truck to town to "get the mail." (We had no rural delivery, except of a newspaper or two.) The round-trip was probably around 3 miles.
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I also remember liking the musty smell of the old post office; oddly enough, my dad helped build the new post-office (which is now old), including a nice stone-facade in which he embedded venerable gold-mining implements. I also liked the highly ritualized transactions of buying stamps, getting mail-orders, opening the wee mailbox, and so on.
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One ritual that still obtains in the town is that, when someone dies--especially after a long illness and even if they have moved away--someone attaches a notice of the event to the glass doors of the post office. Email and voice-mail have yet to replace this mode of communication that precedes an official obituary.
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Post-offices still seem busy, but I suspect they're far less busy with personal correspondence, which is delivered via various incarnations of phones and computers (and phones are computers). At the same time, neuroscientists might argue (I guess) that nostalgia is a matter of electrons, too--located in the electrical wiring of our brains.
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A wee ballad, at any rate (and postal rates always go up; why, in my day, a stamp cost only . . .):
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Corresponding With Nostalgia
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The correspondence used to be
Composed of pulp and ink,
Now seems elaborate and slow,
Indeed antique, I think.
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The mail comes digitally now,
Encoded on the air.
Yes, personality persists.
And no, it itsn't fair
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To say we write robotically.
The wait and weight of post--
The palpability of what
I read, I miss the most.

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Yet now I'm totally plugged in,
Am tethered to my screens.
I send and post, receive and text.
("Text" now's a verb, it seems.)
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A letter to Nostalgia, yes:
I think that's what I'll write.
It will come back: "No such address."
Electrons are Nostalgia's site.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Edward Thomas, part two--or Ulex europæus

Since last I posted about Edward Thomas, I took a walk--or an "urban hike." A walk (or similar kind of basic exercise) has to be one of the least expensive, most effective elixirs. The body and mind say, "Hey, thanks for the walk."

Thomas liked to walk, too; more specifically, as Peter Sachs writes in the intro to the collection I'm reading, Thomas liked roads, walking them. My sense is his average distances were much longer than mine, and his roads were "country," whereas mine (at the moment) are urban/suburban. Here's part of a poem by Thomas that seems to have sprung from a walk:

[from] The Lofty Sky

by Edward Thomas

Today I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:--
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where naught deters
The desire of the the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.


Thomas seems to have wanted to get some height on this walk. The poem could be placed in tradition of "prospect" poems in which the speaker looks out over a "prospect" or a landscape. Lots of these got written in the late 18th/early 19th century, although it's hard to imagine any poetic era anywhere that didn't include such poems. You know, you take a walk, you reach a perch of some kind, you look, you see, and later you remember and write. Or maybe you write on the spot. That never worked for me.

By the way, according to the OED online, "furze" is a popular name for Ulex europæus, which is a thorny evergreen bush that has yellow flowers (according the OED) and is also called "gorse" by some. By gee, by gosh, by gorse, by golly, by gum.

Happy Mother's Day (which originated in an anti-war movement, incidentally--you knew that), and happy walking or otherwise basic-exercising, and no, you don't need find a big ol' hill. Huff, puff.

One from Edward Thomas


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The poetry of Edward Thomas (1878-1917) is often grouped with that of other World War I British poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegried Sassoon, chiefly because Thomas was killed in the war (he volunteered for the army, as he was too old to be drafted), but also because he did write a few poems when he was serving in France, before he was killed by artillery-fire.

But most of his poetry concerns rural Britain, is closely observed, and--although it deploys conventional rhyme and meter--is plainspoken. Thomas made his living chiefly as a "literary journalist"--writing reviews, editing anthologies, etc., and he was an early champion of Robert Frost's poetry. Thomas liked the way Frost had ignored a lot of conventional poetic diction and written precisely but plainly. Thomas himself first published his poetry under a pen-name. Then, after Thomas's death, Walter de la Mare put together a collection. I've been reading a relatively new paperback edition from Handsdel Books, with a nice introduction by Peter Sacks.

Here's a short poem related to May from the book:

The Cherry Trees

by Edward Thomas

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.

Did I mention that, like Frost, Thomas could be a bit glum, even before World War I came along?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Spuds







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After a three-year hiatus, I'm going to plant some potatoes. Yukon Gold is the choice, ordered (as "sets") a bit late from a Midwest nursery-company. For some reason, I like having spuds in the ground out there. Looks like we'll have lettuce, carrots, and (green) onions, too, as well as tomatoes, although the latter ripen rather late in our global niche.

I grew up hearing potatoes sometimes referred to as "spuds." According to the OED online, this slang-term for potato emerged rather late, preceded by "spud" (as noun) as referring to a variety of tools, mostly small ones used for digging but also kinds of knives. Here is an example of the potato-reference:

1860 Slang Dict. 225 In Scotland, a spud is a raw potato; and roasted spuds are those cooked in the cinders with their jackets on.


In spite of the syntax, the spuds are the ones with their jackets on, not the cinders. One whom I know well has always found the reference to "potatoes with their jackets on" most humorous; it's a reference that appears in many cook-books, and it is charming to think of spuds going to a tailor to get fitted for potato-blazers.

Spuds
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Potatoes grow out of potatoes like an
underground dynasty while the rest
of agriculture bustles above-ground
with blossoms, pods, and fruits.
Potatoes multiply themselves in sequestered
arithmetic. They send up gestures
of leaves to appease sunlight. Meanwhile,
they populate their tomb, glow inwardly,
will stand for harvest or sit tight--possess
a kind of divine patience, an honest secrecy.
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Spuds aren't glamorous, decorative,
geometric, or vibrant. They're lumpy,
plain, idiosyncratic, and common. They
get along with rocks, advise moles, ignore
frost, and huddle in carbohydrate caucuses.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom




Friday, May 8, 2009

Philo-Silly

So we have a two-day "Reading Period" between the end of classes, a weekend, and final-exams. Given the rhythms of the academic year, this "Reading Period" is more often a period in which to collapse, or take in some oxygen, get silly, or otherwise recover. I know academia looks easy, but it's a bit of a long haul from late August through end-of-May, at least for the gray matter.

I decided to get silly and write some doggerel about philosophy, in the spirit of Reading Period, and recalling certain blue-book exams I took many moons ago. Or maybe it's catterel. Cats do tend to get that look on their faces that suggests, "I'm afraid I cannot possibly consider your request, as it conflicts with my ontology."

Philo-Silly

You can't shake Zeno's hand.
Socrates: a syllogistic man.
Look for Plato in a cave--
but only ideally, you knave.
According to Aristotle,
bottle embodies Bottle.
Nietzsche was a Super guy
who went a bit cuckoo--why?
Just to spite us, Heraclitus
said change will always change us.
Enough with playing games,
said William (not Hank) James:
How do ideas work all day,
and Say affects Do in just what way?
Sartre made a kind of cafe art
out of making meaning: to start,
you say that things are just absurd.
In the Beginning, was the Word.
Marx was one classy, bearded dude
who thought the Ruling Class was rude.
Descartes thought, thus thought he was.
Cogito, ergo Doritos, Cuz.
Spinoza knows a thing called God--
the only Substance--how very odd.
Sophie and Phil went up the hill,
then took Fig Newton's gravity pill.
Be, know, think, define, and do--
philo-silly on the nutshell. Whew.


Hans Ostrom

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Plumber


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Plumber
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The plumber that summer was busy. So
many pipes seemed clogged or rusted, hence
entrusted to this fitter of tubes that transfer
effluvia and water. What was odder was
the silence of the plumber, who only sat
and smoked on breaks, would not characterize
the leaks and clogs but only fix them--with
skill firmly fitted to a will; then he would
present us, with deeply dirty hands, a bill,
which we were glad to pay, and after which
the silent plumber spoke: "I don't think
you'll have any more trouble with those
pipes," and indeed the pipes seemed to
work only too well, as if afraid the plumber
in a fit might return with a wrench in his hand.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Basketball


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Basketball
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Only ten persons are allowed on the gleaming
dance-floor at a time, though thousands may
crowd edges of the rectangle and loom in galleries.
Also, two or three jesters dresssed in stripes
may intermingle, interrupt, blow whistles,
and make humorous gestures. The ten dancers
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improvise in clothes not dissimilar to underwear.
The ritual expresses a bifurcated attitude toward
a brown sphere. One person for instance may
desire the sphere so much as to reach, jump, dive,
beg, or flail for it; may hold it close, even dance
with it. An instant later, the same person may
cast the sphere away as if it were accursed or
diseased. Clearly, the drama partly concerns love,
possession, covetousness, fear, and fickleness.
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There are two symbolic window-panes, with
hoops and nets attached to them, at either
end of the rectangle. These installations
are supplemented by line-drawings on
the dance-floor. It is all art: set-decoration,
of interest but not crucial. Often the brown
sphere falls through those hoops and nets,
and such an accident seems to affect the crowd.
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ceremonial performance much obsessed with
height and time. Indeed, a clock looms
high above the dancers, well out of reach;
a sense of haste often pervades the dance.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Biblical Capitalism?

I was on my way to a used bookstore today when I drove past a church, and it had one of those signs on which you can change the words as often as you like. It is a Presbyterian Church.

The sign read, "Capitalism/Biblical/Practical." I thought at first that the sign referred to three different worldviews or epistemologies. You know, like C, B, or P: choose one! But then I realized (correctly, I think; or if not, then my realization was a delusion) that the sign was suggesting capitalism was not just practical but supported by the Bible.

Is that theologically and historically correct? --To assert that capitalism is Biblical? I don't think it is. Isn't capitalism as we know it more or less one function of industrial society? And I don't think the words "capital" or "capitalism" appear in the Bible, in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or English. We'll leave aside, for the moment, what Jesus's attitude toward wealth seems to be in the Gospels. Is there an Aramaic equivalent to "capitalism"? Hmmmm.

Anyway, at least the sign made me wonder, and I do know that the "gospel of wealth" is popular in certain Christian circles. To which I say, "Oy," or maybe "Get thee behind me."

I expended some cash but not real capital on the following books:

A first edition of Karl Shapiro's Essay On Rime, a book-length poem about prosody. (Hey, watch the prof. party down at a used bookstore.)

Oxford Blood, a mystery novel by Antonio Fraser, widow of Harold Pinter. I once interviewed her about her book on Henry VIII's wives. It was one of my favorite interviews during my three years as a part-time "books" columnists. Pinter called her during the interview--honest, I'm not lying. He did not ask her to put me on the phone. Oh, well. One with whom I live will read the mystery first. It has already disappeared into her reading-sphere.

And Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics, by Jeremy Schaap.

I didn't find any books on Biblical, practical capitalism, but I must also admit that I did not look for any.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Rained So Hard





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Rained So Hard
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It rained so hard the roof started barking
and woke me up to a satisfactory feeling.
I got up and looked outside, saw how much
and fast water'd fallen in that prehistoric
way, where clouds bunch up, get weighty
gray with devaporated wet, set themselves
just so, separate water into individual
pearls, let go, and give them graciously
to gravitational pull. Hey, I'd have to check
with theologians and meteorologists, but
there might be molecules of perspiration
from Buddha, Moses, Jesus, the Prophet, and
Confucius, or from just plain folk, in a drop
that hits your roof or hand, and the thought
of that's satisfactory, too--is what I was
thinking in my groggy condition when
I heard that hard rendition of rain working
angles overhead. Satisfied, I went back to bed.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Poet Laureate For Tacoma

Poet and spoken-word artist Antonio Edwards is the new (and second) Poet Laureate of Tacoma. Edwards hails originally from Brooklyn and is a splendid performer of his pieces, as witnessed last Thursday night, when the announcement was made and several poets read/performed.

Edwards takes over from Bill Kupinse, who was named the first Poet Laureate of Tacoma last year (and who happens to be my colleague). It's a post sponsored by Urban Grace Church, and it is one based upon a model used in San Francisco, where a church sponsors a poet laureate. Tad Monroe, the pastor at Urban Grace, is also a poet.

The fusion of poetry, community, and spirituality that the laureate position represents and promotes is splendid--and somehow well suited to Tacoma, a bit of a counter-intuitive city that often mixes things in unexpected ways.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Novelist Rescued


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(image: Florida swamp)
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Novelist Rescued From Becoming Genius
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He got lost in his plots. Ten drafts later,
his characters went looking for him, found
him in a Florida swamp, nursed him back
to writing. "Just tell our stories, will you?"
they asked. "But I'm a genius," he explained.
"I can't just be telling stories." The characters
looked embarrassed for him. "What is it"?
he asked. "What's the matter?"
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"Well," said one of them, "that genius-test
you took? --The result turned out to be
a false-positive." "You mean . . .?" he said.
A character picked up the novelist's crest,
which had fallen. The character explained,
"You're just a story-teller. Sentences and
paragraphs--that sort of thing." The former
genius said, "This reminds me of the time
one of you showed up at an anti-war rally
costumed as Napoleon because you'd just
come from a dress-rehearsal, and then . . . ."
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom