Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Falling Leaves," by Nazim Hikmet

A video/reading (about one minute)of "Falling Leaves," a poem (in translation) by Nazim Hikmet, Turkish writer.

falling leaves

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading by Arthur Vogelsang

Here is a link to Arthur Vogelsang's reading of several poems:

Arthur Vogelsang

A Reading of "Lullaby," by W.H. Auden

After I read "Lullaby," by W.H. Auden, many years ago, I suspected that it would become one of my favorite poems over the long haul, not just a well liked poem of the moment.

Here is a link to a reading (with images of the text) of it on Youtube:



I recently had the pleasure of reading Smoke and Thunder: Collected Poems by Jim Chandler. It's one of the best collections of contemporary poetry I've read in a long time, partly because it presents such a unified (but nonetheless complex) voice, vision, and perspective on experience.

Chandler is a son, so to speak, of both the South and the West, having spent some time in his youth in Pomona, California, and now making Tennessee his home. The book will remind many readers of Bukowski's work insofar as the world of the poems is populated by liquor, tobacco, coffee, hard luck, hard work, self-destruction, resilience, and defiance.

The poems themselves, however, speak from their own regional, personal, and existential space; this is not an imitation of Bukowski, by any means. Chandler's style is characterized by short-lined, explosive, pugnacious narrative poems that have great forward momentum but that can stop at any moment for a surprising reflection or a satisfying detour.

And several poems are expressly meditative, like "the anger of man," a poem about the poet's own relationship with rage but also about that emotion as something connected deeply to the male American's working-class experience. Such moments of self-reflection are not rare in the book, but they are often startling, as in "crazy dave," a poem concerning the almost automatic ways in which racism is passed along but also concerning how it can be defused by maturity and good old-fashioned intelligence; of course, Chandler doesn't say this in so many words. A poet, he lets the poem do the talking.

Many poems feature Chandler wrestling--sometimes violently, often genially--with a variety of demons most of us will recognize. In this way, the book functions as a whole, a narrative about persons and people whose first instinct, being an instinct, is to live impulsively, to keep moving and living hard--but whose complexity of character intrudes to suggest, "You know, you might want to slow down occasionally." This is never a self-indulgent book, however. The poems are too quick, firmly focused, rooted in imagery, and outward looking for that.

Chandler's "Western-ness" may come out most vividly when he expresses suspicions about the State, as in the poem about Elian Gonzalez. The poems asks us to focus on the almost Kafka-esque detail of federal agents swooping in to remove the child--and then giving him play-dough. Like many a good political poem, this one shifts the debate away from the debate, so to speak (should the the boy have been returned to his father or not?) and toward behavior: how the boy is removed, how he's treated. Details.

Chandler's "Southern-ness" comes through the poems in a variety of ways. --In places and situations many are set; in the poet's intimate knowledge of good-old-boy culture; in is dealing with God, religion, family, and history, for example.

By his own admission, Chandler has sometimes been a two-fisted drinker; he's also a two-fisted poet, full of surprises, including the ones he's experienced. Chandler has found a style that works well, suits his material, and wears extremely well over the course of a book. The book is published by 1st Books Library, and it includes an introduction by Carter Monroe.

Smoke and Thunder

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tacoma's New Poet Laureate to Read

Tammy Robacker, Tacoma's new Poet Laureate, will give her first official reading in June:

More info

Monday, June 21, 2010

Carter Monroe Reads a Poem

Here is a link to a reading by Carter Monroe of one of his poems, good one--nice details, and a wonderful "turn" at the end:

Carter Monroe

Rank Stranger Press

Here is a link to Rank Stranger Press, presided over by Carter Monroe and Jim Chandler; the press publishes a wide variety of poetry and short fiction in both chapbook and "big" book formats. And here is a link to a performance of the song that gave the press its name:

Bob Dylan recorded it, too, in his inimitable style:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Carter Monroe's THE NEW LOST BLUES

I just finished reading Carter Monroe's The New Lost Blues: Selected Poems 1999-2005, and it's splendid. It's a book well known in the small-press community but should be even more widely known and, one hopes, headed for a second printing. The influence of the Beats and the Black Mountain School is here, but that's not saying much as Monroe has obviously absorbed that influence and moved on to forge his own style. Many poems in the early part of the book are narrative in different ways, personal but never insular, and all guided by a firm but flexible, funny but also often coldly incisive voice.

These poems represent much from the author's world in North Carolina and elsewhere but just as much about the U.S. in the early 21st century. Other poems are more palpably jazz-influenced, and Monroe clearly knows the music and musicians there, and is no dabbler. A third kind of poem is shorter, more experimental, such as the Ra Postcards. Through it all runs a disciplined but highly inventive maturity, always a strong voice, a keen eye for detail, falsehood, self-deception, absurdity, and despair, and always a fine sense of form and line. This really is a substantial achievement, a book for readers of poetry to savor, and a book for poets to learn from and, if they're not careful, envy.

The New Lost Blues Selected Poems 1999-2005

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jim Chandler, Poet, Fiction-Writer, Essayist

I'm waiting for Jim Chandler's book of poems, Smoke and Thunder, to arrive from, but I've already read several of his narrative poems, and they're terrific. Jim lives in Tennessee and has collaborated on many literary projects with the inimitable Carter Monroe. A link to Jim's site:

Jim Chandler

Smoke and Thunder

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bad-Boyfriend Poem Redux

Last year sometime I posted a video of Thadra Sheridan's reading her poem, "Bad Boyfriend," and apparently the post was popular. To be clear this is not a bad "boyfriend poem"; it is a good poem, and a good reading of it, about a bad boyfriend.

Link to Sheridan

Anyone out there know of any good "bad-girlfriend" poems--that aren't reflexively and predictably misogynist? Gotta be a good poem.


Short piece on purple:



Please check out a new blog from a friend and colleague of mine:


Book of Poems by Tim Peeler

A link to Checking Out, a book of poems by Tim Peeler:

Checking Out

An Interview With Carter Monroe

Tim Peeler's interview with Carter Monroe, about poetry, of course:


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Carter Monroe's Spicer Series

Thanks to a blog called 9th Street Laboratories, I recently read Carter Monroe's "Spicer Series," a group of poems for and, in multiple ways, inspired by Jack Spicer, who was affiliated with the Beat Movement. For more on Spicer (1925-1965), please see . . .

Carter Monroe is a poet, essayist, and editor who lives in eastern North Carolina. His knowledge of 20th and 21st century American poetry is vast and incisive, the product of inquisitive, disciplined eclecticism. I think the Spicer series is terrific, a deft fusion of lyricism, imagery, and philosophy. I hope you like it, too; here is a link to it as well as to a photo of Mr. Monroe:

Spicer Series by Carter Monroe

Writers on the Storm: Stories, Observations, and Essays

The New Lost Blues Selected Poems 1999-2005

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jellyfish (poem)

Jellyfish, Commencement Bay

(for K.W.)

At an edge of Commencement Bay,
an array of jellyfish has patterned
its position near charcoal stumps
of old pilings. We could look at
sailboats, tankers, a para-glider,
a volcano, an island, two mountain-
ranges, or each other—no:

jellyfish transfix. At first they
look like ladled dollops of brown
butter floating atop bay-soup.

Then they suggest small veils
cast off by tiny mermaid brides
now on honeymoons. We lean
over a deck-railing, large mammals
with heavy heads that pretend
to know; who mumble things
about jellyfish-stings. Fascination
defeats knowledge easily.

They’re neither fish nor jelly. Do
they swim or float? Yes. Strings
that originate inside them orient
languidly toward land as if to tune
in to a broadcast from sand. Do
jellyfish communicate? Doubtful—
probably too evolved for that.
Everything’s composed of water,
light, oxygen, and byproducts:
what else is there to know?

Simple and surreal, jellyfish are
beautiful mucous, buoyant
membrane. Comatosely alert
and illumined, their shifting
forms respond to smallest
liquid undulations at an edge
of Commencement Bay.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Poetry Book By Chris Mansel

A person whose judgment I trust, Carter Monroe, highly recommends a book of poems by Chris Mansel that I intend to read. It is The Ashes of Thoreau, and it is available for free download . . . here.

University of Puget Crows, Redux

On facebook, a comment I made about crows turned into a thread of comments, unexpectedly, so I thought I'd better re-post the tale of attack-crows on a college campus--posted in June of last year:

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; or maybe it is. It seems like 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 wear 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 11, 2010

More Store Signs

So I went to Seattle to have some dinner with family members visiting, and once again I got mildly obsessed with store-signs.

"Crate and Barrel." You'd think this was a store that sold crates and barrels and other containers, but no. What the hell?

"Tommy Bahama." I just don't believe that "Bahama" is Tommy's last name, so I don't go into the store. Plus Tommy won't even be there.

"Banana Republic." Can you get bananas or other produce in there? No! Again: what the hell?

"QFC." A supermarket chain in the Seattle Area. But when the letters cease to mean anything, I say it's time to rename the chain. Quite Forcefully Chic? Quit Focusing on Cosmetics? Quibble Feebly, Charles?

I think we need a National Renaming Month. If "banana" is in the title, pal, I better see some bananas. Know what I'm saying?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Milk Thing

Not long ago, inspired by another blogger, I posted about how writers often like to listen to strangers' conversations, a practice that sometimes qualifies as eavesdropping, although for genuine eavesdropping, please consult the Federal Government and its zany, madcap warrant-less wiretapping program.

I noted in the post that if, for example, you just happen to be walking by people on the street and they say something interesting, then surely that is serendipity, not eavesdropping.

Yesterday, as I was carrying bags of stuff out of a grocery store (an old-fashioned term I prefer to "supermarket," where I never find "super" to be sold), I passed by two younger men, nicely dressed (on a break from work?), smoking. One of them said to the other, "But have you tried the milk thing?" Other man: "No. What is that?" First man: "That's where you try to drink a whole gallon of milk in under and hour." Second man, matter-of-factly, "Oh. No, I haven't."

Part of the pleasure associated with serendipitous listening (in addition, sometimes, to getting an idea for a poem or story) is the impossible task of filling in the context. Was this part of that vast area of behavior related to seemingly pointless male competitions? Was it a remedy for something--I mean something besides thirst or calcium deficiency? Was it a counter-protest aimed at those who think fewer cattle should exist? Was it a kind of training for a secret mission that would require the commandos to drink great quantities of liquid in a short span? I shall never know, probably.

But I'm not going to try the milk thing.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nazim Hikmet

It's a real gift to be able to read a poet's work (albeit in translation) after visiting his or her country. It's not that one gains a lot, or even much, knowledge of the place with merely one visit, but even getting a basic sense of a country's physical presence and different social behaviors helps with reading poetry.

So it is with Nazim Hikmet's poetry after I visited Istanbul, where he grew up. His life was not easy, as his early affiliation with socialist principles and communism didn't mesh with Turkish government in the 1930s, when he was arrested and imprisoned. Even after getting out of prison, he was harassed and threatened. Eventually he spent many years in exile.

He's credited with loosening up Turkish poetry, pretty much introducing free verse, writing long discursive, colloquial poems.

For as much grief as he suffered on account of politics, his poetry remained optimistic, buoyant, funny, and quick. The volume I'm reading is Poems of Nazim Hikment, translated by Blasing and Konuk, with a forward by Carolyn Forsche. It's published by Persea Books.

Here is an excerpt from a poem called "Regarding Art":

Sometimes I, too, tell the ah's
of my heart one by one
like the blood-red beads
of a ruby rosary strung
on strands of golden hair!

But my
poetry's muse
takes to the air
on wings made of steel
like the I-beams
of my suspension bridges!

--by Nazim Hikmet

I saw many middle-aged and older men in Istanbul who carried ruby rosaries; it's just that sort of small detail that enhances a reading of poetry in ways that aren't quantifiable.

Poems of Nazim Hikmet, Revised and Expanded Edition

Beyond the Walls: Selected Poems

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bill Hotchkiss, 1936-2010

Bill Hotchkiss died on May 8. He was an accomplished, prolific writer of poetry and novels and spent almost his whole life in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada (near Grass Valley, where he went to high school), with some stints in the foothills near Mount Shasta. He was probably more personally immersed in the Sierra Nevada than even John Muir or Gary Snyder.

Many of Bill's poetry books were published by presses he operated, first Blue Oak Press and then Castle Peak Editions. He published other writers through these presses. Climb to the High Country, however, was published by W.W. Norton, as was what is probably is best achievement in the novel-form, Medicine Calf, an historical novel based on the life of James Beckwourth, a "mountain man" of both African American and Native American heritage. A pass through the Sierra Nevada mountains is named after him.

Bill had a gift for writing narrative poetry that reflected his fierce love of the wilderness.

He also wrote several novels in the "western" genre but focused not on cowboys and gunslingers but mountain explorers and Native Americans.

To a degree, Bill did the impossible: He taught for 50 years at a community college (Sierra College, in Rocklin) but still managed to be a prolific writer. He was still on the faculty of Sierra College--the Nevada County branch--when he died. For several years, he team-taught a course with his brother, Dick Hotchkiss, who is a master ceramicist.

I took literature courses from Bill at Sierra before I moved on to U.C. Davis. They were terrific courses, and Bill liked to heap on the reading. He read drafts of several early poems I wrote. We kept in contact over the years; we last exchanged emails a few months ago.

Bill earned a B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon.

Bill also served as the literary executor of William Everson (Brother Antoninus), who was, peripherally, part of the Beat Movement. Both Everson and Hotchkiss viewed themselves as the literary "children" of Robinson Jeffers.

So raise a glass of wine--I think he preferred red--to Bill Hotchkiss, teacher, poet, novelist, publisher, editor, and advocate for the wilderness.

Some books by Bill:

Medicine Calf

Pawnee Medicine (American Indians (Dell))

Who drinks the wine

The Graces of Fire and Other Poems


Climb to the High Country: Poems

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bowing In Istanbul

Bowing In Istanbul

Toward the end of a visit
to Istanbul, I roamed a neighborhood.
I found myself starting to bow
slightly to older men I met. Some
were sitting outside shops, weary.
Some were playing games of chance.
Others sat in the park or walked
thoughtfully. Several men
ignored me, as well they might: Think
of the legion of strangers who have
passed through Istanbul, thinking
they were somebody, practicing
gestures. Some men put a hand
over the heart in response.
Others simply nodded. One man
with a sun-browned, wrinkled, noble
face who walked slowly near the park
carrying prayer beads, interpreted
my gesture as genuine respect,
as it was intended. His old
eyes flashed. He said,
“Aleichem Salam,” though I’d said
nothing except to bow. It was
a crucial, transitory moment
in Istanbul, in Istanbul . . .

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom