Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Adjustment Denied


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Adjustment Denied


The man from the Building
came to adjust the Psychiatrist's
thermostat. He called the Doctor
from the Waiting Room. The electrons
of his voice spoke to those of
Voice Mail. He left a Message.
"I am from the Building. I have
come to adjust your thermostat. I
am in the Waiting Room." Beyond
the barrier of messaging, there
was no Answer. Air, however,
spoke in a constant whisper
through the ducting of the
Building, as the Doctor, so
the man from the Building guessed,
talked and listened to a Patient
in an Office which was too Cool,
too Warm, who knows?


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

A Christian Environment?



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the photo is of modern-day Damascus, to which Paul was headed
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I'm beholden to another blogger for triggering the idea for this poem, for she, too, was musing about "a Christian environment" and what different people may mean by that phrase.
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A Christian Environment


What's a Christian environment? Who loaded
that question? In the Back-When, a Christian
environment seems to have involved occupied
Pharisees (et al.) and occupying Romans.
Technically, Jesus wasn't Christian, just
as an apple tree's not an apple. (I hear
a thousand theologians running down the hill.)

Then, as now, much misery, success, poverty,
disease, wealth, pride, self-assurance, power,
doubt, heat, failure, force, cold, cruelty, and
mystery seem to have been around. The Christian
environment was hard-tilling. Ask Jesus, so
to speak. He had a go at plowing that rough

field, which harvested him. Self-confident
Christians, devout atheists, and many
others will tell you what a Christian
environment is. You don't even have to
ask them! They'll generously share. In a

dark room, one despairs of defining anything
but despair. Then air through an open window
billows shades. Sunlight, the fastest thing,
bursts through. One blinks, surprised.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, June 29, 2009

Broken Government, A New Blog Concerning

I think I've written, contributed to, and edited too many encyclopedias--at least that's my excuse for writing the title of this post in alphabetical topical fashion, although more strictly, it should begin with government.

. . .This is how old I am: I can remember a time when working-class people could afford the services of doctors and medicine. I can also remember when immigration was one of the society's virtues, even as the society didn't routinely treat immigrants virtuously.

Now immigration seems chiefly to be a way for some companies to get cheap labor (I suppose it always was) and a way for some politicians (and pundits--Lou Dobbs is obsessed with the issue--which means it must be working for his ratings) to wear out the xenophobia drum. Meanwhile, no one with power seems to want to address the issue soberly.

Add two wars, cash-bloated politics (what does it cost just to run, say, for the school board?), a one-party system in two-party drag, etc., and you seem to have quite a mess. I am, by the way, officially pessimistic about any significant changes to health-care occurring. In this area, we're the embarrassment of the industrial world. Canada, France, Sweden, and England have systems that wipe the floor with ours. Ed Schultz, radio guy, nicely parried the stuff about "waiting lines" in Canada; he just took random calls from Canadians, who said, "Nah, the system is good, and you have to wait only for things like cosmetic surgery." Cosmetic surgery: what Congress and the President will perform on our health-care system.

Like a lot of people, I'm lucky to have medical insurance and to have access to good care, but like most people, I'm aware that a slight change in circumstances could make it all vanish.

I ran across a blog that touches on one aspect of the mess--how those in military power cycle into political power, and how those in political power cycle into influence-power by working for lobbyists and "think tanks":

http://123realchange.blogspot.com/

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday's Villanelle

A Little Something That Refrains


Let's write a little something that refrains
From trying to be more than poetry.
The language moving in a poem obtains.

For language is an actor, plays and feigns,
And hopes we'll see what it wants us to see.
Let's write a little something that refrains

Itself in lyric and won't grab for gains,
But is content simply to seem and be
The language, moving. In a poem, "obtains"

Can take an object or refuse. The lanes
Of speech form labyrinths. Let's drink some tea.
Let's write a little. Something that refrains

Might well refresh. The mind's eye strains
Relentlessly, desires profundity.
The language moving in a poem obtains:

It's there like creeks and rivulets from rains.
Word-lovers lap up language happily.
Let's write a little something that refrains.
The language moving in a poem obtains.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, June 27, 2009

University of Puget Crows

Once again this summer on the campus of the University of Puget Sound, the sign is out. It's a small temporary sign beside a walkway that runs underneath tall fir trees. It says something like, "Caution--Crow Nesting Area."

The crows' nests have eggs and/or young crows in them; therefore, the parents are in dive-bomb mode.

I actually don't mind being dived at by crows. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love them, and they hate me. It's nothing personal on their part. It's just business. They find it advantageous to live around humans and other animals that leave food around, but they don't like humans. You can tell by the way they look at us.

Of course, the crows live on campus all year. Occasionally I'll try to chat one up as I walk to or from a class. Usually I say, "What are you doing?" I'm actually glad the crow can't talk back (in English) because, given the crow-personality, the bird would probably say, "What does it look like I'm doing?"

To like about crows:

1. They act like they own the place, any place. And I suppose they do.
2. They're sleek and black--"like gangster cars," as I once wrote in a poem.
3. Their eyes aren't exactly on the side of their heads, as most birds' are; they're almost moved up to the predator-position.
4. They seem to view flying as a chore. They much prefer hopping or strutting. When they do take off, they seem to be enjoying flight about as much as a man with bad knees enjoys climbing stairs. They seem almost too big to fly, but they climb into the air eventually. Once up there, they do fine, but they still don't like to work at it. They prefer to glide--a short distance, and then stop, perch, and start an argument.
5. Allegedly, they can count. (I'm not kidding, but I don't know exactly how ornithologists established this.)
6. They share information. In fact, crows in this area have an enormous convention on Whidbey Island, or so I have read. No word as to whether they where small crow name-tags. Also, in one experiment, they were shown to remember a human who wore a mask. To put the matter colloquially, in the crow community, word gets around.

I don't know what word has gotten around about me, but crows like to yell and dive at me. I haven't ever been hit by one, but I keep my head (and eyes) down, just in case. Otherwise, I'm vaguely amused by the attack. One of my former professors, the late Karl Shapiro, wasn't so lucky. A crow at a university in Chicago actually attacked him--not just one dive-bomb, but an attack. A scuffle. Karl managed to ward off the bird with his black umbrella, and then of course wrote a well crafted, humorous poem about the incident.

So there's Karl's poem, and Poe's famous raven poem, but the best poetic treatment of crows may be Ted Hughes's wonderful book-length work, titled simply Crow. It captures the spirit of crows, or what humans take to be that spirit.

In summer, the University of Puget Sound is a place where some summer school classes are offered, where high-school students and their parents take tours as they go through the painstaking process of choosing a college, where professors work on their research and writing, where organizations have their conferences (Methodists, cheerleaders), where the groundskeepers must work hard to keep the flourishing vegetation in order, and where frisbee-throwers, skate-boarders, and dog-walkers take advantage of the space.

Most of all, it becomes the University of Puget Crows, where large black birds take parenting and feathered family values seriously.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Comparative Poetry Enterprises, LLC


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(photo: legendary American car-dealer Cal Worthington)
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For as long as I can remember, I've loved the language of advertising because it doesn't make any sense; or rather it makes indirect emotional sense, if you let it do so.

Let's see, what are some of my favorite words and phrases from advertising? In no particular order. . . .

1. "Hurry!" Uh, no. I don't want to hurry. Hurry, call the number. Hurry on down--our store is closing forever. Order now and we'll include the Ginsu Slicer for free. I'd be more likely to pay attention if they said, "Hey, take your time, pal."

2. "For a limited time only." Well, of course. What would we expect--that the sale would go on into infinity? Maybe for a sale of Escher prints.

3. "While supplies last." This probably means they're worried supplies WILL last.

4. "Not sold in stores." Then there arose a store, for a while at least, in malls that featured things sold "only" on TV. That was almost paradoxical.

5. "Valid at participating stores." I think they should force non-participating stores to accept the validity, too. Just kidding.

6. "[Actor's name here] like you've never seen her before!" Okay. Since I've never seen her, only her image (at best), I think I'll be able to handle it.

7. The "because" statement. This statement often comes at the end of an advert, and is preceded by . . . nothing--except perhaps the name of the company or product. But there's no assertion, no effect that is followed by a cause. "Picklewad Insurance . . . because tradition matters." Notice they don't even say "Picklewad Insurance is an old company; therefore it is arguably a traditional company; tradition matters [in a good way]; so consider buying insurance from Picklewad." No, the "because" clause must stand alone. Fabulous.

8. "The name you trust." Who said? And maybe I trust the company's name but not the company.

9. "A 50 dollar value for only 19.99." What is meant by "value"? Who set the value? Not a neutral third-party, I bet.

10. "Money-back guarantee." As opposed to the guarantee where you don't get your money back--the non-guarantee guarantee (which happens to be the real "guarantee")?

Anyway, a poem in this spirit:

Because Comparisons Matter

Leaving aside a summer's day, what
would you like to be compared to?
A winter's night? A rhino's hoof? A
traffic jam in Athens, Toronto, or
Beijing? You tell us. At

Comparative Poetry Enterprises (CPE),
LLC, we try to satisfy the subject
of our poetry. Our philosophy is
that good market-research leads to
good poetic analogies. No disrespect
to Shakespeare, but times have changed.

The poetry-market is tough, especially
in the Analogy and Love sectors, which
have been saturated. We're CPE: dedicated
to making the right comparison for you.
Contact us for a free, no-obligation
trial-poem. You'll be glad you did!
CPE . . . where comparisons are incomparable.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Culture of Celebrity


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Here's a book I'd like to read, especially given the spectacle of the last 24 hours or so:


Framing Celebrity: New Directions in Celebrity Culture, by Su Holmes, published by Routledge in 2006.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Who Else?


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Who Else?

The famous have families, too. Leave
them to their grief, even as operatives,
lawyers, and T-shirt makers go to their
hives to get busy. Who else besides
the famous died today? Our electric
screens can't say. So we imagine
abandoned old and demented ones
dissolving into last breaths and final
hallucinations. Or we think

of soldiers, refugees, and homeless
ones who strayed so far from hope.
Others get shot, blown up, bludgeoned.
Disease and mad accidents steal others'
lives. Though the scandal of death
is always and everywhere, media explode
phosphorescently when celebrities die.
The glare blinds us momentarily. The

exhausted ritual gossip stops our ears
like beeswax. We recover, recognize
the grotesque face beneath the face
of fame, turn away, get on
with tasks. The commonplace seems
dear. The famous have families and
friends. Leave them to their
privacy if they'll have it.

Our talking screens entreat us
to come back and gaze some more. No.
Who else besides the famous died today?
In the wind, green cedars sway.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Professors Detained in Iran


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(the photo is of a mosque in Tehran)
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CBS News (online) and other outlets are reporting that about 70 Iranian professors who met with Mr. Mousavi were detained--not arrested, apparently, but detained.

How professors go from being relatively obscure and ignored to being a threat is a phenomenon that's always intrigued me. Somehow, those seen mostly as impractical eggheads suddenly become hyper-effectual--capable (suggest those in power) of getting big and dangerous things done.

True, in some activist movements in some nations, professors have participated vigorously, and professors do have an obvious connection to younger, thoughtful persons who may express skepticism toward established institutions. Still, it's hard to view professors as being as dangerous as counter-activist forces often depict them.

David Horowitz, among others, likes constantly to depict American professors as Leftists who are "politically correct." It's probably true that a majority of professors don't identify themselves as Republican, but at the same time, I don't think a majority is Leftist, either (depending upon one's definition). Many professors I've taught with have expressed firm ideas against such developments as feminism, feminist scholarship, multi-cultural interests, affirmative action, and so on. Most professors I know own homes, raise families, do volunteer-work, and so on: not exactly radical stuff. (An earlier post concerns allegedly "Liberal Professors".) Also, no one really knows what "politically correct" means anymore, if it every meant anything; it's an empty signifier, the card that's not on the three-card-monte table.

It could be that Horowitz and others have simply discovered that professors are easy to caricature, so they keep the caricature alive. If it works, keep doing it: I guess that's the cynical attitude. Also, I think people outside of academia get suspicious of professors--of new ideas, research, intellectualism, and so on. And Lord knows professors sometimes behave arrogantly and otherwise seem out of touch.

Mostly, I think, professors symbolize potential change or potential anti-establishment attitudes. They may help to create the illusion of an avant garde. But I think significant social shifts usually get going on their own and then attract the participation of some professors, who then get detained. Or arrested. Or used in propaganda skirmishes.

By the way, Mr. Mousavi now has a page on facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/mousavi1388

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sherlock Holmes In Summer


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Sherlock Holmes? In Summer?
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Usually I think of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and novels as Winter reading, but I might read some this summer. For back-up, I have not only the Baring-Gould two-volume annotated edition but also Leslie S. Klinger's three-volume annotated set from W.W. Norton. Klinger is typical of Holmes enthusiasts, insofar as he is an amateur scholar in the best sense of the word; he researches Holmes for the love of it. He is a lawyer by profession.

Another key element to Holmesian enthusiasm is that one must assume that Conan Doyle, Watson, Holmes, and pretty much anyone else who wanders by exist in the same world. The boundary between reality and fiction disappeared long ago; at least that's the way the game is played.

Holmes wasn't much for poetry or literature in general, although early on he takes a shot (figuratively) at Poe's Dupin, helping to erase that boundary I just mentioned: Fictional Holmes speaks of fictional Dupin as if the latter weren't fictional, and the game is afoot.

Nonetheless, Conan Doyle's Holmes stories appeal to readers and writers of poetry--at least to some of us--perhaps because they are so ritualized, and because Holmes is as much a driven, obsessive artist--monomaniacal--as he is the human apogee of rationalism and Enlightenment.

Although I relish dipping into the annotated editions, I still prefer the old Doubleday hardback or, in a pinch, a Penguin selected edition of some kind. Christopher Morley's introduction to the Doubleday collection remains charming.

True, with such things as Iranian society, American health-care, wars, famine (and so forth) at stake, reading Holmes becomes obviously escapist, but at the same time, maybe a person can be aware of and engaged in events and crises and, at the same time, take a breather to dip into familiar reading.

Here is a link, at any rate, to a site that is a gateway to numerous other Holmes-related sites (in case you happen to be an enthusiast, too):

http://www.sherlock-holmes.org/english.htm

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Poem by Paul Valéry



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I've been enjoying re-reading the anthology, French Symbolist Poetry, translated by C.F. MacIntyre and published by U.C. (Berkeley) Press. It features poems by Nerval, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Corbiere, Mallarme, Rimbaud, LaForgue, and Valéry. These poets were original in their own right but also influenced poetry in English, including that of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound.

One by Paul Valéry caught my eye--titled simply "Caesar." It starts this way:

Caesar, serene Caesar, your foot on all,
hard fists in your beard, and your gloomy eyes
pregnant with eagles and battles of foreseen fall,
your heart swells, feeling itself the omnipotent cause.

It ends this way:

The spacious world, beyond the immense horizon,
the Empire awaits the torch, the order, the lightning
that will turn the evening to a furious dawn.

Happily out on the water, and cradled in hazard,
a lazy fisherman is drifting and singing,
not knowing what thunder collects in the center of Caesar.


What makes this a "symbolist" poem as opposed to just a regular old poem? The striking juxtaposition of images, I think--so striking that they begin to generate surrealism without generating confusion: "hard fists in your beard," for example--this isn't a logical, "realistic" image, but it makes emotional sense. The same goes for "thunder collects at the center of Caesar." Here Caesar becomes an institution or a phenomenon, or both--but not just a leader, dictator, or man.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Neda Agha Soltan

The reasons the flow of words and images threatens repressive institutions and assist forms of liberation are obvious, I guess, but today I've been thinking also about how images become "iconic" almost too quickly, especially with the advent of global electronic communication.

For my generation of Americans, iconic images proliferated: fire-hoses and dogs released on African Americans protesting in the South; still-photos created from the Zapruder film (and "the Zapruder film" becoming an iconic phrase); Oswald photographed crying out in pain and surprise at the moment Jack Ruby guns him down; the naked child napalmed in Viet Nam; the North Viet Namese prisoner executed by a South Viet Namese officer; Bobby Kennedy dying, lying on the floor of a kitchen; Martin Luther King lying on the balcony of a motel; the student at Kent State kneeling beside her dead friend, her arms raised in a plea; and on and on.

Now the image of a woman named Neda Agha Soltan, shot and killed in Iran, has become iconic--too quickly, perhaps. One has the urge to pause and to think of her as who she was: one person, one woman, with friends and family, one consciousness, an endlessly rich web of memories, ideas, images, emotions. A life, one life--not an "icon." Neda Agha Soltan.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Catholic Worker Movement Is 75


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The Catholic Worker Movement, which Dorothy Day (photo above) helped to found, is 75 years old this year. Day's fine autobiography, The Long Loneliness, sheds light on the movement's origins. There is also a nice biographical film about Day and the movement, featuring Martin Sheen.

A link to the CWM's web site:

http://www.catholicworker.org/#

Still Life With Fish and Other Stuff


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Chardin's Still Life With Fish


In Jean-Siméon Chardin's "Still
Life with Fish, Vegetables, Gougères,
Pots, and Cruets," the paint becomes
Plexiglass because it seals off odors
I seek. Or should I say "aromas"--odors
that are formally attired? Chardin's

manipulation of pigment teases me
with an imaginary robust stench of
a French kitchen, dead cool slimy fish
hanging over vegetables and such.
Chardin invites me to the unstill
kitchen, then closes the glass door

firmly, and I'm left with an inedible,
unsniffable scene. Well done, monsieur,
to taunt the nose of an olfactory voyeur
in the deep-freeze of an art gallery.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Skype


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Skype

Skype flies out of language
like the blade of a Viking ax but describes the hyper-
civilized act of talking to an image of someone talking
to your image as you talk and see your image. Like
any new gadget, it makes life easier and more complex
and soon seems necessary. It lends a drop of adrenaline
to the bloodstream, then joins technology's long
gray line of applications that coils back to stone
and bronze and iron. Maybe I'll skype

someone in Sweden, descendant of a Viking rower
to whom the carved boat's bow seemed magical
as it sliced open a path on a gray sea that's
now virtually visible from globally positioned
satellites, wee aluminum moons dropped off by
rockets into the orbiting traffic of junk that
pongs and pings our digital signals, scalps
our privacy, and surveils our sociality.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Book of Iranian Poetry


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If recent or not-so-recent events in Iran have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about that republic and that part of the world, you might be interested in A History of Modern Iran, by Ervand Abrahamian (Cambridge University Press, 2008). And of particular interest to poets and readers of poetry is Belonging: New Poetry By Iranians Around the World, edited with an introduction by Niloufar Talebi. (There is a site for the latter book on facebook, incidentally.) It was published in 2008, too--by North Atlantic Books.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time Imbibed



(Image: courtesy Discovery Channel/Discovery.com)
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The Time-Drunk


"I got out of bed last night to go to the bathroom, and I started walking backwards. Strange things happen when you get old." --Passenger on the Amtrak Cascade train

"Beyond a black hole's gravitational border -- or event horizon -- neither matter nor light can escape." --Discovery.com



He got drunk on time, toxed with sips
of minutes, gulps of years, binges of
decades. Now he staggers down alleys
of memory behind Chronology's moist
row of pubs, saloons, clubs, and dives.

A lifelong drinker of time, he knows
how drunk he is but not where. Surfaces
bump him, rough him up. Gravity trips
him using cobblestones and curbs. He
finds a door he thinks he recognizes,

enters a noise, finds the bar, orders
a wee timetail. The one behind the bar
refuses, judges, speaks the savage,
polite words, "You've already had enough.
I can pour you a coup of coffee, though,

or call you The Cab." He assumes
the false dignity of a confronted
tippler. He mumbles, "The Cab." Waiting,
he negotiates. To the one behind
the bar, he says, "Come on. One more?"


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Celebrity Author


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Celebrity Author

I think I know what the celebrity-author was
thinking: Get me out of here. He wore
fame like a hair-shirt. The thing is, the money
is great, adulation's like liquor, and it's nice
to be thought a genius. So there he was, and
there we were. Nonetheless,

he squirms and fidgets. He goes on too long
and comments on his commenting like a daft
monarch. He doesn't like other people's wit
because it shows everybody's witty and fame
is, alas, more arbitrary than not. Of course,

we'd all trade places with him in the Land
of Hypothetica, especially because we'll never
have to. He won the lottery, he's a good writer,
and there's a wider justice in his fame. Still,

he itches and scratches, poses and opines,
tries to say shocking things, grins guiltily,
reminds us of his fame and wit and money
at certain intervals, and suspects what he
knows to be true: that we, too, can't wait
for the evening to be over.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Subjunctive Mood


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Subjunctive Mood

Subjunctive means below the junction
of fact and fact, not quite up here
where things occur. It's a mood, and
I have always loved it, as it were.
It's contrary to fact, like fiction--
speculative, like poetry. "If I were
you," we say, "I'd visit Nebraska or
Tangiers," and for a brief counter-
factual moment, we're the other person
in Nebraska or Tangiers, and then we're
back here, offering advice in the
subjunctive mood, being grammatically
correct and ignored. If I were someone
else, I could still say, "If I were
someone else," ad infinitum, so to
speak, into subjunctive infinity,
the ultra-vast space of grammar.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Images From Iran


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The site www.boston.com is carrying some amazing photographs of events in Iran. I was especially transfixed by photos #12 and #17 and have posted a thumbnail version of #17 above, but it's far more impressive on the site. The photo is from the Associated Press. There's so much to "read" in these images.

According to the original caption, the photo above is of governmental "security" men attacking a protester with clubs while other protesters rush in to try to protect the man on the ground.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Poetry From Iran

Early in my college years, I corresponded briefly with an American woman my age who was living in Iran because her father worked there. If I recall correctly, the letters had to go through a general "APO" address first, and then on to Tehran. Not many years thereafter came the overthrow of the Shah and then what was known as "the hostage crisis." I was teaching in Germany when the hostages were released and flown to an air force base near Wiesbaden, across the Rhine from Mainz, where I was living.

Now it seems another revolution in Iran may be under way, although speculation seems to be outstripping knowledge, to say the least. And you know you are in a post-modern era when Twitter.com becomes a main conduit of information. Away from the television and radio, I found my thoughts turning to the poets in Iran. There must be thousand and thousands of them, and the Persian tradition of poetry is rich vast. The famous poet Rumi, who was apparently known as Jelaluddin Balkhi, was Persian, although he was born in Afghanistan, not in the region now known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. From The Essential Rumi, edited by Coleman Barks, I learned that Rumi's birthday is September 30, 1207. Eight-hundred years (plus) later, Rumi's poetry is as popular as ever, as well it should be.

At this moment, some of the poets must be out in the streets, some must be in rooms writing in response to events, and many must be engaged in both activities.

Here is a link to a nice site for Iranian poetry:

http://www.iranian.com

/Arts/poetry.html


On it I found a fine poem called "Four Things To Know" (great title) by a poet named Sasan Seifikar. I'll provide the opening in lines. For all four things to know, please visit the site. (Poets in Iran, be well.)



from Four things to know

Inspired by a poem from Attar

by Sasan Seifikar

If I had to reduce everything I know to four things
I would choose the following empowering insights
The first is this: do not worry about your stomach or money
But be concerned for your mind and heart, before it is too late

Heavy Metal Monk

I ran across a video from Reuters that features Cesare Bonizzi, an Italian friar and former missionary to Africa who performs Heavy Metal. No fooling! He records under the name Fratello Metallo. Here is a link to the video:

http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=87126

The video put in mind William Everson, the poet and member, peripherally at least, of the Beat Generation. Everson was also known as Brother Antoninus, for he was a lay monk in the Catholic church for quite some time (I forget which order he belonged to). Everson defrocked himself--literally and figuratively--during a poetry reading at U.C. Davis in the late 1960s. He took his monk's robe off during the reading and announced he was not going to be a monk anymore. Also, Everson very much liked the music of Janis Joplin--more blues and rock than heavy metal, certainly, but in the same primal vein that appeals, apparently, to Fratello Metallo. Everson's books include Man-Fate and The Residual Years. Everson was also a master printer of books and a well known conscientious objector during the Second World War, as was William Stafford.

Slam Poetry: Capsule History


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I ran across a pithy history of Slam Poetry, the more or less competitive version of what's known as Spoken Word nowadays. Here is a link to the timeline:

http://www.slampapi.com/new_site/background/slam_timeline.htm


This history credits Marc Kelly Smith, a construction-worker in Chicago, with starting the Slam movement.

Smith now hosts poetry-shows on both Sirius and Xm radio (as the image above advertises).

If Slam Poetry is like other developments, movements, or "schools" in literary and poetic history, then its origins are no doubt in dispute. Nonetheless, let the words be spoken.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bread, Oranges, Cadillac's Fin


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At Least I Left Bread and Oranges

At first I didn't think I'd be in
this poem, which set out to accumulate
words representing images neutrally--
blue conifer-hills, black flies pulsing
on a deer's bone, rocking red box
of a medics' truck, mineral-grin of
a Cadillac's fin. . . . The truth is

I didn't have another poem to go to,
so I visited this one. You came in
and discovered me sitting on the old
green couch. --And now there you go,
out the door, slam, and I can't
blame you, but I promise to be gone
by the time that you return, and
I did buy bread and oranges. They
are sitting on the counter.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day Lily, China, Chinese


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My second twitter-poem [136 characters + the hash-tag #tl] concerns weather, China, Chinese (language), and the day lily. I don't know what a hash-tag is.


How many weathers are there in China, what is the Chinese word for the seventh day of the week, and what should we ask about a day lily?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley on Youtube

Thanks to film-maker Joe LaSac, Emily Dickinson and Elvis Presley are now on Youtube, as dramatized by actors and imagined in a poem--and by a fine film-maker. Take a look!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naa3oK4zWxQ

My First Twitter-Poem


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I gather the Twitter phenomenon has led to the verb, "to tweet," which I guess means to post a message on Twitter. As everyone knows (I was among the last to learn this), a twitter-post (the noun must be "tweet") is limited to 140 characters.

Someone had the great idea of establishing a Twitter identity/site that features poems limited to 140 characters. The link is . . .

http://twitter.com/twitlaureate



I found the new poetic form to be irresistible. Here is my first attempt:

One hundred forty characters: a small town of letters, no mayor, no stop-lights, one grocery store, two bars. One fire truck--has flat tire.

There's so much to like about this form (not necessarily about my poem, I grant). It demands compression, and while you're composing, Twitter counts the characters for you, so you are writing and revising at the same time, as well as serving the muse, Arithmetic. I'm Matsuo Basho would not only have blogged but would have also tweeted or twittered or twicked or tweeted.

Because I'm as old as dirt (see dirt in robin's mouth above), I associate "tweet" with the song, "Rockin' Robin," in which "all the little birdies on Jay-Bird Street love to hear the robin go tweet, tweet, tweet." That song usually made me laugh.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Invisible Book


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(the photo is a still from a cinematic version of The Invisible Man, but I forget which one--obviously a pretty cool one, though)
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The Invisible Book

He recently published an invisible book,
which sold quite well, although the figures
on that were invisible, too, so he was just
going on instinct. Every bookstore he entered
carried the book in a space between two other
books--sometimes mis-categorized, but so what?

Fond Implements was the title of the book,
and still is. It is a novel. You may acquire it
simply by pretending to hold a book in your hands
and read it. Start, if you will, with your own
imagined first sentence of Fond Implements
and continue imagining sentences for the equivalent
of 232 pages or so. I found the book to be
an excellent read. I highly recommend it.
A used copy is perfectly acceptable, of course.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Things I Heard Last Wednesday


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Like almost all writers of poetry, fiction, and drama (etc.), I write down what people say. I'm especially drawn to statements or questions I hear as I pass by people who are talking, so that in a sense I'm getting the quotation out of context. At other times, I simply write down things people say to me. For example, I might ask a worker in a grocery store a question about where an item might be found, and the response strikes me as not just informational but evocative, so later I write it down. Sometimes more writing springs from such notes; sometimes, not. The lists make up a kind of "pre-writing": raw material. But they can have their own appeal, too.


Things I Heard Last Wednesday

I did not want to take that out of my bank.
I wouldn't go outside with short bangs even
on Halloween.
I'll take a comparison to Lucille Ball as
a compliment any day.
The more your head is in the sink, the better.
You can't be cold.
They have a scholarship for schizophrenics.
I've never driven anything nice before.
Nutrition is near Produce but off to the left.
The archive belongs to the family, but
it's held by the company.
That doesn't mean he didn't call.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cuba


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I remember a day during what is now known as "the Cuban Missile Crisis" when my father came home from work, mentioned something about the crisis, and had a very unusual, ashen look on his face. The look told me what I "needed" to know--at age 8 (roughly): this was serious stuff. Leap forward these many years later, and this morning's newspaper (wow, a newspaper that still exists) reports on two longtime Cuban spies being arrested. Well, fair enough; if someone spies for another nation, he or she must be ready to be arrested. But I do wonder what "intelligence" they gathered that is or was dangerous. I don't mean to excuse espionage, but sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be easier to turn over almost as much information as a country like Cuba wanted. What, exactly, is such a country going to do with it? Doubtlessly, I'm naive, but I figure Cuba already knows where our military installations are (one is next door) and who its "enemies" are in Florida and elsewhere. To me, Cuba seems chiefly to be a small, impoverished island nation.
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Cuba

I've never been to Cuba, but I know several who
have. As a lad, I thought I'd be incinerated with
everyone because Kruschev and Kennedy almost got
us killed over nothing. Fidel's so tired, he's
traded in fatigues for peejays. The sun's rays
radiate Caribbean rocks. Let the last Cold-War
ice-cube melt. Pronounce the word as Coo-buh,
play some gin rummy while sipping rummed cola
in a folding chair. Let history's belly hang
out over tops of proletarian bluejeans and
garish tourist-shorts. Close Guantanamo, twice.
Focus on poverty and hurricanes in both
nations. That is to say, prioritize.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Stolen Photos


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His Photos Were Not His

The temporary celebrity wasn't celibate. He
deleted from "his" hard drive photos of himself
and others frolicking in "privacy." Digital
piracy ensued. A Dickensian clerk at the local
rag-and-computer-parts recycling shop recognized
the fellow and reconstituted images from the
celeb's impersonal computer, sold them, and
they enjoyed a viral notoriety on screens
around our sad and rocky globe. The celeb

and his publicist met the media and were
quoted. The clerk got fired and paid a
fine. There is no line. No one owns anything:
prophets have murmured this news to us over
the eras. Now the Internet has made their
knowledge common. Intellectual property
and private photos languish in the
Oxymoronic Lounge, sipping mocktails next to
an irrelevant highway. The celeb should have
hammered the hard drive with a sledge, but
paparazzi would have clicked a thousand images
of that, so there you go, and so it goes.


Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kay Ryan In Second Term as U.S. Poet Laureate


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Kay Ryan is serving a second consecutive term as U.S. Poet Laureate. The position used to be known as the Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress.

Ryan's books include The Niagra River (2005), Say Uncle (2000), and Elephant Rocks (1996).

Ryan was born in San Jose, California, and she taught for many years at the College of Marin.

Here is a link to more information:

http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2009/09-073.html

Shakespeare in Seattle


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A production of Shakespeare's MacBeth--actually it's Shakespeare's play as revised by the Bard's self-proclaimed son--will run from June 12 through June 27th at the Magnuson Park Theater in Seattle. For information about this unusual production, please follow the link:

http://macbeth.dramatech.net/about.htm


The castle pictured is in Scotland, not the Pacific Northwest, in case you wondering.

Picnic At Emily Dickinson's House


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(Logo: Emily Dickinson Museum)
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If you should find yourself in the vicinity of Amherst, Massachusetts, next weekend, you might want to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum, where a poetry picnic will occur on Saturday, June 13, from noon to 2:00 p.m. As the Museum's web site notes, two houses linked with Dickinson have been preserved: the homestead and her brother, Austin's, house, which is called the Evergreens. Here is a link to the site:


http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Arthur Symons' Poem On June


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Arthur Symons (1865-1945) may be best known for his short but influential book, The Symbolist Movement In Literature, which affected the work of Yeats and Eliot, among others. He was a poet as well as a critic, however. And he obviously knew a thing or two about hats.

Here is a poem from his book, Silhouettes (1892). Obviously, it's romantic, perhaps too sweet for some, and not surprisingly, it's been set to music; and yes, it rhymes "June" with "moon." Nice ending, though.

In The Fountain Court

The fountain murmuring of sleep,
A drowsy tune;
The flickering green of leaves that keep
The light of June.
Peace, through a slumbering afternoon,
The peace of June,
A waiting ghost, in the blue sky,
The white curved moon;
June, hushed and breathless, waits, and I
Wait too, with June.
Come, through the lingering afternoon,
Soon, love, come soon.


by Arthur Symons

Thomas Mann's Birthday


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Thomas Mann, German writer and philanthropist, was born on June 6 (1875). His novels aren't the easiest to read; they include Death In Venice, Doktor Faustus, and The Magic Mountain. The latter is my favorite by him. It's protagonist is Hans Castorp. Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929 but probably not on June 6th. He died in 1955.

Reciprocity


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According to the OED online, here is what "eavesdrop" means (not a surprising definition):

"To stand within the ‘eavesdrop’ of a house in order to listen to secrets; hence, to listen secretly to private conversation."

The earliest quoted example in the OED is from 1606, in case anyone asks or happens to be eavesdropping when you are discussing the word.
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Reciprocity


A man stepped out of a cafe,
holding a telephone-wafer
to one ear. I assumed he
left so as to be polite,
to secure a less fully
public space, and/or to
align the wafer with a
floating satellite. I
was already outside.

"In life," he said to
someone--and to anyone
within earshot, including
me, "there is a concept
called, 'reciprocity.'"

He paused to listen before
defining the term for his
intended interlocutor. Before
I began seriously to eavesdrop,
I left him to his conversation.

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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Harper Lee Turned 83



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Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, turned 83 in late April.

To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960. It was memorably adapted to the cinema in 1962 (the image to the left is from the film), starring Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, and Mary Badham, among others.

The book remains Harper Lee's only published novel.

Here is a link to "her" web site:

http://www.harperlee.com/contact.htm

Sandra Bullock portrayed Lee in a film about Truman Capote (a lifelong friend of Lee's) and his book, In Cold Blood. The film is called Infamous but is the less famous cinematic version of the story, with Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Capote (in Capote) being the better known one. Toby Jones plays Capote in Infamous, which also features Daniel Craig.


Here is a link to more information about Infamous:

http://movies.about.com/od/everywordistrue/a/infamussb100606.htm

Friday, June 5, 2009

Night of the Open Mic


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When someone puts a microphone on a person, is the person "miked up"? I think so. But then if you participate in an event where anyone can come to the microphone and read, are you part of an "open-mic" night? Mike v. mic. The sound v. the spelling. Hmmmm.


Night of the Open Mic

I grew up in an era when voices
were wrapped in the rough velvet
of booze and cigarettes. Low purring
voices brought me news, commercial-
breaks, station-identifications,
travelogues, and live reports
through microphones, which were
large like the heads of sci-fi
insects. Now

everyone is miked-up. People speak
small ugly truths inadvertently during
commercial-break when a mic
is left open. Talk-show hosts are
their own guests and soak in their
logghorea. Men and women speak
into their lapels, their wrists, their
personal computers, their phones,
lamp-shades, and autos. The aural

symbols strummed out by
our vocal chords are broad-corded
and re-cast. Every phoneme is caught
like a metal filing on a magnet. Singers'
voices are bent into tune. Sound is synced
with virtual image effectually. Few listen
carefully--a dying, folksy art. But
every little sound is heard and horded.
The mic is always open in this age,
this long night. Whenever you speak,

you speak into a mic. Not just
wires but the air itself is tapped,
sounds distilled and bottled
into essence, evidence, and confession.
How close to the microphone should
I get?
Such a quaint question. No
worries. The microphone is
always close to you; and open.
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Hans Ostrom

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Old Seagull


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Old Seagull

One old white seagull prowled wet grass
near brick buildings, looking for worms.
It walked arthritically and seemed chilled.

A lone, hunched seagull is a dignified
defeat, a sign of how hopeless hope is.
Was the bird's eyesight still good enough

to see worms? Did the bird ache? Do
seagulls fly back to the beach to die,
or do they get stranded on a street,

eaten by a crow or a raccoon? The
seagull was a general in exile,
a feathered Napoleon on Elba.

It was a heroic nun, a white flag
hanging from a wall of a blasted fort.
The gull seemed to know everything.

It kept its routine of life.
Walking past, I admired the bird,
which ignored me, which I admired.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Why To Study Creative Writing

An allegedly positive follow-up to my previous post is . . . why might one take a creative-writing course--in the community, informally (a writing-group), at a college, or at an M.F.A. program?

Let's try for ten reasons--no particular order:

1. Structure: sometimes it's good for artists to learn within a structure of some kind. It provides some discipline, some routine, etc. It brings tradition on board, in a good way. When someone takes a ballet class, he or she is doing something specific that day but also joining a long, long tradition. What's not to like? Same goes for creative writing.
2. It saves time. You can learn about all sorts of moves to make and mistakes to avoid in a hurry. I borrow this argument from Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town.
3.You get to "test" your work with a real audience. You will get varying responses. You will have to sort them out. No need, usually, automatically to dismiss people's reactions to your work--or to take them to heart. Consider them.
4. You get to meet other writers--at whatever level of expertise. Misery and creativity sometimes love company.
5. You get to look at, to study (if you will) literature from a different angle--the angle of the ones who produce it.
6. Imitation. An ancient idea, going back at least 2,000 years but really much further. To learn how to do X, you practice by imitating an example of X produced by someone else. Read a sonnet, write a sonnet. Look at Quintillian's program for the liberal arts, way back when. It involved reading and then imitating good writing.
7. Stretch. Often in a creative-writing class (of whatever kind), you'll be pushed, usually not rudely, to try something in your writing you might not otherwise try. It's kind of like going to a yoga class and stretching a tendon you thought would never stretch. It's a way to experiment.
8. "Give it a try." If you never "thought of" yourself as a writer but you think you'd like to try it, a class might be the place to do so. Often in my introductory poetry class (e.g.) I'll get a senior majoring in business, and she (for example) will find out she can write good poetry. What a nice discovery.
9. Make connections. Whatever one's interests are, it's often nice to share them with a community.
10. You get to represent--in writing (as opposed to in conversation, painting, or repression--something, anything, important to you: ideas, experiences, whatever. You get to share the representation with others to see how it goes. To see if it does what you wanted it to do.

For every one of the 10, there's also a good reason NOT to take a creative-writing class. Much depends at what stage you are in as a writer, and on where you are in your life. Maybe you don't need structure. Maybe you already have learned the basics and saved time, maybe you're at a point where you just need to put backside in chair and write. Maybe your experience in the class isn't productive. Whatever.

It's not an either/or situation. Studying creative writing in a group or a class can be just the ticket. It can also be not right for someone at a particular time. This avoidance of dumb binary-thinking is another reason to dismiss the lame, simple-minded thinking about "abolishing" creative writing classes. Why not keep all the options open?

Creative-Writing Under Almost-Attack


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Periodically, someone dusts off the old argument against teaching creative writing (especially in any kind of academic setting) and launches it like a rusted scud missile that lands harmlessly in a dry field. (Thanks to Fran for alerting me to this most recent harmless launch.)

This time it's Louis Menard in (gasp!) The New Yorker. I teach creative writing, so I think I'm supposed to be offended, but I can't quite muster offense. I'll make myself a candidate for the New Yorker's "block that metaphor" feature by saying that the "attack" isn't even rusted-scud material but more like that of a wet noodle, or a glob of wet noodles. Ouch, not the wet noodles again. Oh, stop. Oh, not the New Yorker.

How quickly can I summarize the argument (but fairly, too)? Let me try. Creative writing as a subject is bad because students can't teach students, writers can't teach students, teachers can't teach students, "genius" and "talent" can't be taught, some writers who have taught creative writing later disavowed it, some writers-in-residence are just louts pocketing cash, Somebody or Some Place Famous (Iowa) said it can't be taught (but will cash your tuition check), there are too many programs, if you write poems "for tenure," you've been compromised, the products of creative-writing classes are derivative, and I think that's about it.

I'll make this easy. Substitute the words "music," "reading," "painting," "dance," or "sculpting" for "creative writing" and then ask the same question. I don't believe I've ever heard an argument against teaching such things in an academic setting (or other settings).

Second, creative writing is, more than a little, another way to study literature and reading. It demystifies those parts of writing that can be demystified, and that makes for better readers. It is also a humbling process. Try to write a sonnet, for example. Or a successful five-page short story. Setting aside the question of how well you do, you will have deepened your appreciation for sonnets and short stories--and also, perhaps, cleared away a lot of rubbish about "artistes." Creative writing is--this will come as a huge surprise to dancers--a lot of damned hard work.

As to the "if you write poems 'for tenure', you've been compromised" argument: please. Not another wet noodle! When have writers not been compromised--by the State they live in (as in nation-state), by agents (if they're novelists), by publishers (who are now owned by multi-national corporations, which care deeply about literature), by their own tattered souls, etc.? Academia is no picnic, but it's no more corrupting to poets than fussy, misguided editors or having to work in a factory to make a living or growing up in poverty or growing up in wealth.

As to the "derivative" argument--all art is derivative, even when it sets out not to be. Creative-writing classes neither accelerate nor retard that process. Look at how derivative poetry was in any era--Renaissance, 18th century, Victorian (to settle on England). If you reach past the famous poets and the Norton anthologies to what was being written and published in general, you will say, "Gee, this all sounds the same." Well, of course it does. That's what happens with art. And then a breakthrough of sorts happens, or technology changes, or the tectonic plates of history shift, and "new" art arises.

Oh, and the article comes with the standard black-and-white photo of Robert Frost at Bread Loaf or wherever. Old photograph, old argument.

Social scientists would probably have a better shot than I or anyone who's closely involved with the topic at explaining what's going on, but what may be going on is that, as usual, Americans, including allegedly literate, "cultivated" (whatever) ones are habitually ambivalent toward academia in general, teaching in particular, art in general, and writing in particular. Get all four in the same room, and there's just too much to despise. The bile rises, and some clever fellow like Menard launches an almost-attack and suggests the teaching of creative writing be abolished. Enter Seinfeld. Yadda. (Yawn.) Yadda. Or in this case Yaddo. Yaddo.

Dang, and I was going to post a poem--by me or someone else. Much more interesting, even if it had been one of mine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Writers Born in June


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(The photo is of John Edgar Wideman)
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Other writers who have or had birthdays in June: Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries), William Styron, Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), John Edgar Wideman, and Maurice Sendak.

Poets Born In June


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The photo is of Alfred Lord Tennyson. I wonder if anyone called him "Al." I'm thinking not.

Anyway, Tennyson was born in June, as were poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Judith Wright (Australian), and William Campbell (Canadian). I'm sure each was tempted at least one to rhyme "June" with "moon"; it's just an occupational hazard.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

August Kleinzahler Wins Awards

Poet August Kleinzahler has won awards recently from the Lannan Foundation and the National Book Critics Circle for his poetry, which appears in such books as Sleeping It off in Rapid City and The Strange Hours Travelers Keep. Here is a link to a good article about Kleinzahler; the article appears on SF Gate, the online home of The San Francisco Chronicle:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/06/02/DDKU17RF3B.DTL

Digital Technology


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(photo courtesy of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell--in connection with a lecture by Prof. Stine Grodal, Boston University, on “The Nanotechnology Label Across Communities: Categorizing a New Field.”)
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Digital Equipment

This digital equipment changes daily, rearranging
how technology's pointillism delivers the itsy-bits
which represent what's seen and heard. Our calls
are screened. Our screens are called something
different and become much bigger or much smaller,
as if designers were torn between an impulse
toward sky and one toward earthly atoms:
storm-large screens vs. nano-invisibility.

Among the demotic, consuming herd, I buy
what I must to keep within mooing-distance
of what's new. True, I could have been happy
with tubular black-and-white TV and stone-heavy
phones forever. It's all magic to me. I liked
the charcoal of Old TV, the clumsy heft of phones
bolted to walls. I sit beside a Heraclitan

river of research, development, manufacturing,
and marketing. Periodically, I reach and pick
something from the surface of mass-production.
I learn its basic applications without enthusiasm.
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Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, June 1, 2009

Poetry-Dust-up at Oxford University


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Something of a scandal has erupted at Oxford University over the appointment--and subsequent rapid resignation--of Ruth Padel as an Oxford professor poetry. Apparently Padel had some involvement with eroding the candidacy of Derek Walcott for the same position. The story raises lots of persistent questions about "writer-in-residence" positions, tensions between "the artist" and higher education, writers who are in residence vs. writers who teach (or professors who write), gender, race, and sexual harassment--just to name a few topics left in the wake of the story. Here is a link (and thanks to Dr. Dolen for the heads-up on this story--see Dr. Dolen's Divinations" on the blog-roll):

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/weekinreview/31orr.html