Thursday, December 31, 2009

Skål: Swedish New Year

I spent one New Year's Eve in Kiruna, a mining city north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden. At the time, some of the miners would drive big and old American cars around the ice-packed streets, but that was quite a while ago. Many Sami (people whose ancestors were indigenous to that part of Sweden) live there, and among their artistic traditions is the engraving of pewter. More about New Year's in Sweden:

Swedish New Year

New Year's Poetry has a nice feature on "New Year" poems, including the most famous one--by Robert Burns.

Link to New Year poems

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The blogger Library Love Fest has a nice review of Dolen Perkins-Valdez's novel, Wench, just out from HarperCollins/Amistad Press.

Review of Wench

Dolen is a friend and colleague, and I'll post something myself on the novel soon. In the meantime . . . get a copy of this fine novel!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mark Halliday Reads "Scale"

Here is a video of poet and professor Mark Halliday reading his poem, "Scale," which I heard/saw him read on our campus and which I admire a lot:

Mark Halliday reads

Bad-Boyfriend Poem

I found this poem by Thadra Sheridan--delivered well by her on Def Poetry Jam--amusing and nicely crafted:

"Bad Boyfriend" Video

This Mess Proceeds

This Mess Proceeds

wash/wish goes the traffic. rain.
tacoma's not too bright today, but
let's face it: no city's a genius.
look carefully, and you'll see
nobody's got it figured out, life
i mean: how we all dress, stand,
talk, sit, wait. especially poignant--
how we pretend to know.

pups for sale in the window, christmas
day: is that okay? televisions mumbling
sub-sonically behind what they cast
into rooms. the sun's in a hurry to
set: that's a lie in multiple ways,
but if it feels good to say, say
it: no one will be misled or get
their feelings hurt, even the
astronomer who lives next door.
december, decemberish, wash/wish
goes the traffic. this mess proceeds.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, December 25, 2009

Video of Richard Hugo

Here is a link to a crisp video of Richard Hugo as he discusses the advantage of not knowing much, in a factual sense, about a subject (in this case, a town) you're approaching in your capacity as poet:

Richard Hugo video

Hagios Press

Here is a link to a Canadian publisher of poetry and fiction, Hagios Press, in Saskatchewan:

The Fathering Squad

The Fathering Squad

so we face the fathering squad--
against the wall of life, executed
repeatedly, starting at birth,
for crimes we'll commit against
fathers' ideas of what we shoulda
oughtta have turned out to be or
not to be, no question about
it. then, fascinating,

we become maybe fathers ourselves
but, if lucky, realize in time we
shouldn't oughtta join the fathering
squad or at the very least refuse
to fire and instead, what a concept,
help the offspring spring on into
life. ready, aim, love.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom


I've been reading and re-reading the book of poems, White Light Primitive, by Andrew Stubbs, a Canadian poet, professor, and scholar. The book was published this year--by Hagios Press.

It's one of the more memorable, impressive books of poems I've read for some time, made all the more pleasurable because I know Andy. We taught at Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, many, many moons ago.

Some of the poems concern his father's experience in World War II. Others concern--well, this is where one wants simply to say, "Read the poems." The quality of perception, phrasing, imagery, and thought makes all the difference, regardless of the "subjects" or "ideas" Andy approaches. How life actually occurs to the mind and lodges in memory is, to some degree, a fascination of the book. There comparisons to Alan Dugan, Wallace Stevens, Eli Mandel, and other poets to be made. But the genius of these poems may well lie in the individuality of perception and in the spare language that manages to be rich, always enough, never minimalist in a mannered way. For example, here's the opening of a poem called "fire and ice":

winter adding to itself, details
of the dead fill the back
yards, smell of
pine breathing snow
in swimming pools. followed by
april melt, local
river flood, now think
back in time from
open sky, july
heat, plan on

doing . . .

White Light Primitive is one of those books that induce the reader to say, simply, "Thanks."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shelter In The Cold

We went to a rewarding Christmas Eve religious service at a place called Nativity House. It's a daytime shelter for those living on the streets or otherwise in impoverishment. The people can drop in during the day, get coffee and soup, read books, play cards, and create art. --Or just hang out and stay warm, converse.

Those attending the service were chiefly members of a Jesuit parish, or affiliated with Nativity House (serving on the board), or just knowledgeable about what NH does. (It's been in Tacoma for 30 years.) A few drop-in regulars attended, too, and one played guitar.

Presiding were a Lutheran minister and a Catholic priest. The latter is Fr. Bill Bischel, known as Father Bix locally. He routinely gets arrested when he chains himself to a gate at (for example) the Bangor, Washington, nuclear submarine base. Bix's argument, among others, is that any nuclear weapon violates international law because it produces indiscriminate killing. He goes to trial again soon.

But that was not the purpose of this evening's Christmas service. Rather the purpose was, aside from the obvious, to consider those without shelter--no room at the inn, and all that.

The service featured many lovely "mistakes," owing to two ministers presiding (both pushing 80) and other factors. Also helping to preside were both Lutheran and Jesuit volunteers--men and women who had graduated from college and wanted to volunteer for a year. One of them told us, "I'm not a Lutheran, but I'm a Lutheran volunteer because I wanted to work with the homeless."

In place of the eucharistic bread was hard-tack; in place of the wine was cranberry juice. "The wine has been transformed into cranberry juice," observed Father Bix, calmly.

In that spirit, if you will, Nativity House never proselytizes or preaches. It provides the space, the warmth, the food, and the clothes. That is all. That is enough, almost. Too much need, not quite enough material and good will. As we wait for a better system, so to speak, we do some semblance of what we can.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry in Yemen

Because more people visit the abode in late December and early January, one tends to tidy up. Tidying up has resulted in more clear space on the top of the mission-style desk that hosts the laptop--and that now has room for . . . a globe. Since childhood, I've been enchanted by globes, and perhaps you have, too.

A recent spin of the globe reminded me that Yemen lies south of Saudi Arabia, possesses a long coast on the Gulf of Aden, and is east of Ethiopia and north of Somalia. It is also a land of poets, as described by (among others) Steven C. Caton, who writes of poetry as a cultural [meaning everyday?] practice in a Yemeni tribe:

Book on Yemeni Poetry

Greetings to Yemeni poets.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Before Katrina


Before Katrina

What size, what color, how many?
said the New Orleans T-shirt merchant.

Say, buddy, jus' a minute, jus'
a minute,
said the inebriated man
on Canal Street, his life misplaced
behind his eyes somewhere. Talk to you
for a minute? he said.

Now I'm back behind gauze
of hotel drapery looking
at charcoal silhouettes of
financial towers. I gave
the boozy man some money,
and to the street-vendor,
I said big, blue, and one.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Food Poetry

Here is a link to a site featuring poems about food, including "To A Goose," by Robert Southey. The goose, deducing that it was being viewed as food, probably had mixed feelings about the "tribute." Southey's not much read now, even though he was Poet Laureate of England. He is among the British Romantic generation, of course, that includes Byron and Wordsworth. Southey's best known now as the creator of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," which is also partly about food.

Food Poems

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poet Laureate of Alabama

Sue Walker is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, serving her second term. She's a fine poet, and she's an editor and the publisher at Negative Capability Press in Mobile, Alabama:

NC Press

In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that Sue published an essay I wrote about Karl Shapiro--in a special collection of essays about him. John Updike contributed to the volume, among many others.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Orson Welles' Favorite Poet?

According to this source, at least, Robert Graves was Orson Welles' favorite poet.

New Chilean Poets

When North Americans and Europeans think of Chilean poets, they probably still think largely of Pablo Neruda and/or Gabriela Mistral. (Interestingly, both "Pablo Neruda" and "Gabriela Mistral" were pseudonyms.) Here is a link to a collection of four more recent Chilean poets; the collection was published at Arizona State University Press:

Chilean poets

Chocolate, O Chocolate

Today I saw someone who seemed deeply satisfied with a piece of chocolate, so I thought it might be time to post the poem, "Chocolate," again--first posted a year ago.



After the moon has set but before sunrise,
sweet breezes issue from dark brown corridors
of a warm, fronded forest. This is the hour of
chocolate, when the mind is weary of merely
thinking and wants to dance with ancient
instincts, to self-induce a swoon by
indulging in lore from forbidden precincts.


Inside cacao beans lies a secret
that survives translations of growth
and harvest, roast and grind, concoction
and confectionery concatenation. After
tasting chocolate, tongues transmit
the news by nerve-line, enzyme,
and bloodstream to mahogany-lined private
clubs in the brain. There receptors
luxuriate on divans and thrill
at the arrival of tropical gossip.
After the messages from chocolate
arrive, brown damask draperies vibrate,
and pleased devotees purr pleasurably.


My darling, I wouldn't choose
between chocolates and flowers,
so I brought both. Let me put
the latter in a vase as you open
and taste the former. Yes, I agree:
chocolate is film noir watched
by taste buds in the mouth's
art-house theater. Barbarously

suave, chocolate is an unabashedly
debauched foodstuff--cad and coquette
of cacao. Darling, you're making
those noises you make when you eat
chocolate--the secret language of
satisfaction, the patter of pleasure,
your mumbled homage to this,
the moment of chocolate.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Canadian Federation of Poets

Here is a link to the site of the Canadian Federation of Poets:

Canadian Poets

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Looking For A Good Cafe In Tacoma?

If you live in, are passing through, or plan to visit Tacoma, and if you're looking for good independent cafes, then look no further than a recent post by A Scribble or a Sonnet:

Coffee In Tacoma

Translation of a Poem by Erik Gustaf Geijer

Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783-1847) was a Swedish writer, historian, and professor. He grew up in Varmland and attended Uppsala University. Here is a link to more information about him:


A while ago I took a shot at translating one of his lyric poems.

Salongen och Skogen

By Erik Gustaf Geijer

Stojande verld, du mig plågar!
Hvar fines stillhet? Dit vill jag vandra.
På allt havad hjertat frågar
Ej får du svar af dig sjelf, ej af andra.

Hellre I skogen jag vankar.
Aftonens flägt genom kronorna susar
Men mina stilla tankar
Hör jag ändå, fastän skogen brusar.

Polite Society Versus The Woods

(translated by Hans Ostrom)

Noisy world, you plague me!
Where is there stillness? I’ll go there.
An old heart must not ask
Hard questions of itself or of another.

I’d much rather wander in woods
Than watch days get devoured by official fervor.
My languorous thoughts long
For a forest, listen for its steady murmur.

(translation Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Napoleon Read Poetry

If a busy general and dictator like Napoleon could find time to read poetry, surely we can, too. True, most of the information concerning the Napmeister's reading focuses on his time in exile, sans army. Maybe when he was posing for some of those portraits, he was reaching for a wee chapbook of poems stuck in his jacket. Anyway, here is a link to more information about what he was looking for in the way of poetry:


Learning Curve Records

A link to Learning Curve Records, Minneapolis:


Now I have to find out exactly what kind of music "post-Punk" is. I'm pretty sure it involves electric guitars, but that's about as far as I've gotten.

Rip Rap and Cold Mountain

It is one of those relatively rare days in the Puget Sound region when the sunlight is extremely bright and temperature almost extremely low. We started at 21 degrees this morning, but if you're sitting inside looking out, you might be tricked into thinking the view is from late Spring.

In honor of the crisp imagery and low temperatures, as well as the Pacific Northwest, I'll mention one of my favorite books by Gary Snyder: Rip Rap and Cold Mountain Poems. Snyder is a native of the Pacific Northwest, of course, and attended Reed College, as well as serving as a fire-lookout in the Cascades. The Cold Mountain Poems are translations of work by the Chinese poet Han Shan. Snyder studied Asian Languages and Literature at U.C. Berkeley.

A link to the book:

Rip Rap

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Poet Derrick C. Brown

Some performance poets came to campus, and the students especially liked the work, performance, energy, and humor of Derrick C. Brown. Here's a link to a video of him reading with a back-up band:

Link to Brown

William Kloefkorn: Nebraska's Poet Laureate

Thee position of State Poet in Nebraska carries a lifetime appointment, and William Kloefkorn holds occupies the post now. For more information about him and his several books of poetry, please use the . . .


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Poetry-Blog Rankings

I found a site that ranks poetry-blogs. So far, so good. I don't know who does the ranking or what the criteria are, but no doubt the system makes more sense than the Electoral College and the Bowl Championship Series system:

Do other nations like to rank things as much as Americans?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Balloonist's Final Entry

I thought I'd posted this poem long ago, but apparently not. It appeared first in the Spoon River Quarterly.

Balloonist's Log, Final Entry

The field of our day lay ordinarily
before us. Gravity and practice

tethered our thoughts
to checklists. Helium

swelled fabric beyond wrinkled
rainbow to painted light-bulb. Up--

and foreheads; then hats and coiffures,
quickly pigment on the landscape. Cheers

littered the wind. We thought
we knew the limits. But late

in the day the continent of air between
field and cloud shrank to an urgent isthmus.

The causes were final and cited
accurately. In the meantime,

we bartered in good faith with Earth,
starting with sandbags, moving through provisions,

ending with camera, compass, and hope.
Rapid descent reduced the gondola and us to ballast.

By the time the trees and rocks were close enough
to name, choice had changed to fate

at a predictable rate.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

December Poem

Here is a link to a wry poem, "December Substitute," by Ken Nesbitt:


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wisconsin's Poet Laureate

Marilyn L. Taylor is the Poet Laureate of Wisconsin, and here is a link to her Web page:

Her term runs through 2010.

Carol Muske-Dukes

Mary Beth Barber of the California Arts Council wrote to inform me that Carol Muske-Dukes is the new Poet Laureate of California. Thanks to Mary Beth, congratulations to Carol, and a pleasant evening to Ina Coolbrith.

Al Young, California's Poet Laureate

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, Al Young is California's Poet Laureate. (Excellent choice, California!). Here is a link to more information about that:

Ina Coolbrith, in addition to possessing a terrific name, was California's first Poet Laureate. With raw immodesty, I must mention that a poem of mine once won an Ina Coolbrith Award. I drove from Davis to Berkeley to pick it up (the award, not the poem) and to eat dinner, which, to college student, was a most welcome aspect of the award.

So here's to Ina and Al.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Minnesota's Poet Laureate

I have known relatives in Minnesota, so I'm sure they're aware that the venerable Robert Bly is the Poet Laureate of that state. His holding such an established governmental post might have been unthinkable in the 1960s and 1970s, partly because he wrote, read, published, and spoke so fiercely and constantly against war.

But now the decision to give him the honor seems perfect--but not without a hitch, it seems. Apparently Governor Tim Pawlenty (whose last name seems like a lovely three-syllable way of saying "plenty") vetoed, not the appointment of Bly itself, but the position of Poet Laureate, which the legislature had re-established. Pawlenty was quoted as opining,

"Even though we have a state 'folklorist,' I also have concern this will lead to calls for other similar positions. We could also see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter."

Apparently the governor intended this argument to be one opposed to the Poet Laureate position, but it is more easily interpreted as an argument in favor. How splendid to have a state mime, a state dancer, and a state potter! These are the sorts of positions that would improve one's view of government. And how amusing to see journalists attempting to interview the state mime!

Anyway, the governor relented, or had his veto over-ridden or rode hard and put away wet, or something.

The first Poet Laureate of Minnesota was Margarette Ball Dickson, I have learned.

More information:


How many votes does it take to get elected governor of Minnesota? Puh-lenty!

Poet Laureate of Kentucky

I haven't spent a lot of time in Kentucky. I think I paused in Louisville's airport once, and I seem to remember (or remember the illusion) that when I attended a convention in Cincinnati, I crossed a bridge in a suburb and took up momentary residence in Kentucky. But I carried no letters of transit, alas.

In addition, my parents' eclectic bookshelf contained a novel called The Kentucky Rifle, which was well suited to my reading interests at one point.

All of which is an irrelevant introduction to the fact that Gurney Norman is the Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and apparently among the 50 stately (or statish) entities in the U.S., 4 are commonwealths, not states. What's the difference? I'll need to get back to you on that one.

Here is a link to an article about Gurney Norman's appointment some 5-6 months ago:

Gurney Norman

Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

It seems Chuck Berry's recording of "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" appeared in 1956, but I recall hearing it on a 75 rpm in the early 1960s. My father's second job then was tending bar at night, and sometimes he came home with 75's that had been removed from the juke box. That's how I first heard "Folsom Prison Blues," an excellent formative song for a young lad.

There's immense wit and joy in some early rock-n-roll songs, and Berry's song's an excellent example of this. There's also a lot more than meets the ear in the lyrics.

Anyway, here's a link to a video that captures a performance of the song by Robert Cray, with Mr. Berry and Keith Richards assisting. All of the verses still make me laugh. A bonus is the sub-titles.


And here is a link to an audio recording of the original:


Not long ago, Sun Records released a compilation of old cast-off recordings featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley goofing around in the Sun Records studio [which one may still see as it was in Memphis], and over the course of several cuts, they mess around with "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," and it's clear the song is one they wished they'd written. As Mr. Berry did in the original recording, they pronounce "Milo" [Venus de Milo, or 'Milo Venus,' in the song] "Marlo." Charming. "Milo Venus was a beautiful lass./ She had the world in the palms of her hands./She lost both her arms in a 'rasslin' match/To get a brown-eyed handsome man--she fought and won herself a brown-eyed handsome man."

South Dakota's Poet Laureate

If anyone asks you today who South Dakota's Poet Laureate is, you'll be ready with the right answer: David Allan Evans.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time. I'll be standing in line at a cafe, and a complete stranger will come up and ask me who the Poet Laureate of Iceland is. I usually stall for time and say, "You know, I think there may be an interim Laureate in Iceland."

South Dakota's first Poet Laureate was appointed in 1937. His name? Charles "Badger" Clark. What a great nickname, assuming that wasn't his given middle name. T.S. Eliot had at least two nicknames--"Possum" or "Old Possum" and "tse tse," as in fly--given to him by Pound, I think. I'm giving the nod to "Badger" in this contest.

For more information about South Dakota's Laureate-situation, please follow the . . .


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flirting With Permanence

The blogger invited a poem concerning the topic of her blog: flirting. So I flirted with the idea and came up with a poem, and you should, too, of course.

Flirting With Permanence

You may consider flirting to be like the whisper
of butterfly wings in a flower’s ear or the light
touch of infinite possibility when skin brushes
skin. I’ve been sent to remind you, when the

time comes, to flirt with your long-space
companion, your spouse, the main squizzle,
that one to whom you plighted all the troth
you could muster, lo these many groovitudinous

moons ago. After many a season,
the faithful swan still flirts. Sure, anybody
can play at romance with strangers and
newly-mets in an amateur’s hour

of quips and blinking, glances
and sinking sight-lines. More’s required
of those who would flirt with them whom
they know, with those what’s seen practically

every flirtational tactic--all the plays and their
variations under the bodacious sun. Yes:
how to make eyes and otherwise surprise
a long-loved lover? That’s the question,

and if you’re a crafty pro-amateur, you
know the answer and flirt all right already
with the belle or beau you first flirted with
longtemps ageau. To tease pleasingly

a person you permanently love summons
a certain sagacious whimsy from you—
when the time comes, as I say,
and after it's stayed.

Copyright Hans Ostrom 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Five Fine Functions

Five Fine Functions

Genetic coding.
Mutual attraction.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reflections From Mississippi

Patricia Neely-Dorsey writes from Mississippi to inform us that her book of poems, Reflections of Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems, has been published. It is available from . . .

And the native of Tupelo also maintains the blog . . .

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Poetry, Technology, and Florida's Poet Laureate

The position of Poet Laureate in Florida comes with bad news and good news. The bad news is that it is an unpaid position. The good news is that there is no limit to the term.

Dr. Edmund Skellings is the Poet Laureate of Florida, and his biography is rare. Teaching at different Florida universities, he has offered such traditional courses as those in Shakespeare and Understanding Poetry, but at the same time, he was genuinely a pioneer in technology and the arts & humanities. For some details,including titles of Skellings' works, please see the . . .

Skellings Link

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Essay on Pakastani Literature

Here is a link to an interesting essay Jahane Rumi on contemporary Pakastani literature:

Jamaican Writer Geoffrey Philp Wins Award

Fellow blogger Poéfrika has posted news about a prize going to Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp:

Poet Laureate of North Dakota

Larry Woiwode is the poet laureate of North Dakota. He is also a novelist. Here is a link to more information:

Accra, Ghana; and Belo Horizonte, Brazil

According to data accompanying the "Vistors' Map" of the blog, computers in Accra, Ghana, and Belo Horizonte, Brazil, have passed by Poet's Musings.

Accra is on the coast of Ghana. Here is one photo from there--of Kwame Nkrumah Park:

And here is a photo of a place in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which is situated in eastern Brazil and the metropolitan area of which includes approximately 6 million people:

Winter's Mixed Results

Winter's Mixed Results

Snow to rain and back to snow
again. Then comes just cold,
which freezes slush and snow
and mud. At last we're slowed
down and up, our feet and wheels
and winged chariots set back
to sluggish paces, in some cases
even stopped by frozen slop
of slush and snow and mud.

This weather lurks beneath
the mean temperature. We're
put in a mercury-mood--heavy,
gray, not quite solid, depressed
by cold. After thaw, abrasive
rains scour streets. Hard wind
mutters under eaves, in
gaps between urban structures.
We escape again into feverish
bustling and maniacal toil, into
a flow of routine we hold, dear.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, November 23, 2009

On "Howl"

I still teach Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (as opposed to someone else's "Howl?) in most poetry-writing and modern/contemporary American poetry courses I offer. It's a great example of a protest poem, and of "prophetic" poetic rhetoric going at least as far back as the Hebrew Bible. At the same time, it is squarely (not in the Beat sense of the term) in the tradition of Whitman and Jeffers, in the context of American poetry.

Not without its problems? Of course. As bad as Ginsberg and compatriots may have had it in the 1950s, others had it worse, so occasionally students, with good reason, ask, "Was it really all that bad?" Also, it is a dense poem. It asks patience. But that can be a good time.

I also like to teach the poem as one that gives the effect of a spontaneous "rant" but that is actually carefully crafted. And of course it is a crucial poem in the context of gay and lesbian literature.

I would cease teaching it if students seemed disengaged from it, but they still seem to find a purchase or two in the poem. They like to discuss it, critique it, and learn from it, at least on my campus.

In any event, here is a link to an interesting spectrum of views, from poets and others, on "Howl"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November Poems by Hood and Plath

Here is a poem by 19th century British poet Thomas Hood about November and called "November." I found it in November--on a site called, not November, but, of all places. In this poem, Hood seems to play Dr. No.


by Thomas Hood

No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--

No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!

No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No park--no ring--no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

I feel as though I should go watch an episode of "Yes, Minister," now.

Then I found an odd video "of" Sylvia Plath reading "November Graveyard"; the video actually does that strange and clumsy thing of taking a still photo and making the mouth seem to move. A bit gauche and unsettling. The poem interests me in a way that most of Plath's poems interest me: for its use of sound. With reason, many readers focus on the less than cheerful subjects and outlooks in her poems, but I've always thought her to be masterful with sound, too. The link to the . . .


Poems By Don Mattera

Following up on the previous post . . ., here is a link to four poems (which I enjoyed a lot) by Don Mattera, South African poet:

Mattera poems

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New South African Poets

I ran across the site, Poets On Fire, which represents a group devoted to poetry, poetry readings, spoken-word events, and so on, across the UK. A relatively recent post mentions a reading (last month) that featured four South African poets I had not heard of:

Keorapetse Kgositsile, Lebo Mashile, Don Mattera and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.

Now I will look for some poems by these writers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Neruda's "If You Forget Me"

I enjoyed this video-dramatization of Pablo Neruda's "If You Forget Me," and I hope you do, too:

And I'm sure you have probably seen the film, Il Postino, which features Neruda as a character, played by Phillipe Noiret.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Carl Sagan on Voyager

The late Carl Sagan was so passionately rational about discoveries in space that he seemed sometimes to be speaking prose-poems, as in this short video about some of Voyager's discoveries as it moved on through the solar system:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Canadian Women Poets

Here is a link to some information about Canadian Women Poets:

The Link

Wendy Francisco and Dog-Lovers

We had a genuine dog-lover over for dinner the other evening, and the next day she sent along a link to the following video that presents a song ("God and Dog") by Wendy Francisco, with illustrations,that gives equal time to dog-lovers (given my last post on cats), and that, for poets, treats "frailty" as a three-syllable word--because in the context, it needs to behave as a three-syllable word:

Wendy Francisco on God and Dog

How To Be A Cat

In honor of our cat, who is now sitting in front of the television screen and staring at me in a patient but accusatory way, I am re-posting a poem from about a year and a half ago:

How To Be A Cat

Be the noble curator of your excellence, for
fate made you perfect. In all things, be precise:
standing, sitting, staring, walking, sniffing, eating,
sleeping, killing. Never look in mirrors,
which are windows for the insecure. Sleep
in a variety of comfortable places, which
were created for you alone. Make acquaintances,
never friends. The latter tend to cling.

All phenomena are potential enemies. Therefore,
stare, listen, listen, stare, sniff, stare, listen, sniff,
hide, stare, and listen. Never perform tricks. Leave
those to dogs, who need to be wanted and want
to be liked. Talk as necessary, but never just
to chit-chat. Crack the whip of feline fury as
you wish. Keep the blades of your four feet sharp
and retracted like long-held resentments. Let
your soul's motor idle and strum the taut cord
of your body. No one owns you.

God made you and likes you best. In a world
that's dubious, you are certain. You never
make mistakes. You are entitled to what
you want; otherwise, why would you want it?
No matter what else you may be undertaking,
never be reticent to stop and groom yourself,
for you are superb, and self-maintenance
doubles as self-admiration. You are a cat,
a form of beauty that enters stealthily,
naps, and agrees to be admired. You
are a cat. Everything is as it should be.

Hans Ostrom
Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Anthology of Modern Turkish Poetry

Here is a link . . . information about EDA: An Anthology of Modern Turkish Poetry, published in 2004.

Tennessee's Poet Laureate

Margaret Britton Vaughn is Tennessee's Poet Laureate. Here is a link to an article about her and her work.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poets Laureate In the Southwest?

As far as I have been able to determine, the Southwest of the United States is not excessively friendly to the idea of having a state poet laureate. Apparently, no such position exists in either Arizona or New Mexico.

In Texas, however, Karla Kay Morton is the state's poet laureate, and here is a link to more information about her and her writing.

Alaska's State Writer

Alaska's official State Writer is not the newly published Sarah Palin but Nancy Lord. The position seems to be similar to that of Poet Laureate, but maybe it's not a bad idea to open up such an office to other kinds of writers.

At any rate, here is a link to more information about Nancy Lord.

Race & Pedagogy Conference: Next Fall

The second national Race & Pedagogy Conference will take place on my campus next fall--on October 28, 29, 30.

Here is a link to more information.

If you are a K-12 or college teacher, a person otherwise involved in education, a scholar working in the area of race & pedagogy (and related issues), or are simply interested in the topic, please keep the conference in mind. A "Call for Papers" will go out soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Link To A Great Poetry Site

A librarian-friend sent along the following link to the U.S. Library of Congress's poetry site, which is extensive and most satisfactorily browsable:


Monday, November 9, 2009

Gathering Image

The other day some students and I visited the art gallery on campus, viewed the paintings, and then found a perch and began writing--or writing toward--an eckphrastic poem, or a poem concerned with another art-form besides poetry. The title of the exhibit was "Gathering Image, Fugitive Form," and the paintings & drawings that were featured occupied a fascinating position between the abstract and the representational. There was a series of paintings focused on the image of tree limbs.

Liminal Limbs

How tree limbs form patterns
and each branch follows its
own precise, crooked line
of work: such shaping is
the fruit of species and
individual, accident and
cell-division, weather
and vegetative whim. Whatever
the outcome of bark, branch,
and twig back-grounded by
sky, a painter comes along
and lets the branches suggest
an outcome on canvas, a tale
in pigment about color
and line, a story the tall tree
is alleged to have told. So
we turn from the canvas and
look through a gallery's
window at branches, which
wind shakes and bends.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Saturday, November 7, 2009

They Say About a Poem

They Say About A Poem

Technically a poem ought to have words
in it although a blank page beneath a
title's mighty inviting, a bit like a
snowy meadow after a day filled with
looking at city crowds. They say
about a poem that a poem should show,
not tell, and be, not mean, but others
think a poem should tow, not sell,
and, really, how can a poem that is
not be, and why can't it mean while
it's being? From poems people crave
imagery, they say, they say about
a poem, but actually all
the imagery's in their heads, put there

by literacy's reflexive response to
letters applied to a surface such
as paper or a surface such as plastic
or indeed an ear's membrane. Should
a poem have conflict? Opinions about
that bicker. I know a poem that featured
many quiet rooms where you could go to get
away from all that conflict in plays,
life, novels, factories, politics,
and movies--where you could listen

to a clock chime and watch the weird
butler straighten ancient paintings
on the walls of your personality, but
I guess that, too, is a conflict.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Professor Irwin Corey, Performance Poet

I saw comedian Professor Irwin Corey often on TV when I was growing up, and I instantly took to his schtick, which was to parody the speech of politicians, scientists, and academics. His riffs are not just mocking blather, however; they're intricately timed and worded. Now that I'm a professor, I find his act even funnier. Here is a link to a recent (2008) video of Professor Corey doing his thing (and please note his hands are part of the act):

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bob Dylan's Favorite Poets

The site,, includes a long essay on Bob Dylan and poetry. The essay claims that a debate about whether Dylan is a poet has "raged" for a long time. I don't think it's raged very much, and I don't think there's much of a debate, although I wouldn't care to rage about the question. He writes and records ballads, among other things, and ballads are poems. Of course, everyone has an opportunity to argue about how good the ballads (etc.) are--as popular songs or as poems or as both. But that's a separate question.

The essay mentions scholar Christopher Ricks, of course, who has written extensively in support of treating Dylan's work as poetry. A paragraph from the essay:

"Christopher Ricks, who has also penned books about T. S. Eliot and John Keats, argues that Dylan's lyrics not only qualify as poetry, but that Dylan is among the finest poets of all time, on the same level as Milton, Keats, and Tennyson. He points to Dylan's mastery of rhymes that are often startling and perfectly judged."

Also, the essay notes that among Dylan's favorite poets are Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Woody Guthrie. Dylan is also said to like Smokey Robinson as a poet.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Henry David Thoreau's Favorite Song

According to author Caroline Mosley, in an article cited on, Henry David Thoreau's favorite popular song was "Tom Bowling," with lyrics by Charles Dibdin. Factoring in time-travel (a form of transcendentalism, arguably), I might have guessed that HDT would have leaned in Bob Dylan's direction. Here are the "Tom Bowling" lyrics:

Tom Bowling

by Charles Dibdin

Here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling
The darling of the crew;
No more he'll hear the tempest howling
For death has broach'd him to.
His form was of the manliest beauty,
His heart was kind and soft,
Faithful, below he did his duty,
But now he's gone aloft.
Tom never from his word departed,
His virtues were so rare,
His friends were many, and true-hearted,
His Poll was kind and fair;
And then he'd sing so blithe and jolly,
Ah, many's the time and oft!
But mirth has turn'd to melancholy,
For Tom is gone aloft.
Yet shall poor Tom find pleasant weather,
When He, who all commands,
Shall give, to call life's crew together,
The word to pipe all hands.
Thus Death, who kinds and tars despatches,
In vain Tom's life has doff'd,
For, though his body's under hatches
His soul has gone aloft.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Epistemology: A Poem

(image: Rene Descartes)
Epistemology: A Poem

I never needed to prove whether an exterior
world existed. It proved itself to me, casually.
I get hungry, e.g., and the exterior world has
food, for which you work in the world. When
you work all day for minimum wage, or more,
the world exists. Could it all be an illusion?

Actually, no. And even if philosophers can't
disprove the illusion, that's their problem,
and they'll react to a fire-alarm and otherwise
live in the world, which contains their
arguments in exteriorish books and computers,
so as they say, let's get real. But could we

simply be brains in vats? I'm guessing no
because that's too many vats and too much
vat-maintenance, and besides, even if all this
were a vat-trick, we'd live as if it weren't,
digging in dirt and pondering vat-riddles,
so as they say, let's get real. This It

we experience mixes the real, our illusions,
and realillusion. If you don't think the
exterior world exists, good for you! I hope
your non-existent exterior world includes
farmers, fire-fighters, dentists, door-hangers,
masons, and . . . magicians, of course.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

William Shatner Reads A Found Poem By Sarah Palin

This may sound like a Zen koan (at best), but perhaps the best way to understand the confluence of American politics, entertainment, art, and absurdity is not to try to understand it all, grasshopper. More specifically, let me suggest that you meditate on William Shatner's rendering of Sarah Palin's resignation-speech as a poem--on the Tonight Show, with backup from a stand-up base and bongo-drums. Oh, yeah. Unfortunately, you will have to try to ignore the brief annoying advertisement (only seconds long) that precedes the video.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chimamanda Adichie On Writing

Here is a link to a "TED" video (via Youtube) in which Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adiche discusses her development as a writer and explores the topic of "The Danger of a Single Story":

Thursday, October 29, 2009

National Gallery of Writing

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) opened its online National Gallery of Writing on October 20, 2009. The gallery features writing in a wide variety of genres. Writers who are 13 years old and above may submit their work, and they may also open a “local” gallery on the site. Teachers at middle schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and other settings may also encourage their students to submit some writing. For more information, please follow the link:

Ballad: Love Needed, Not In Demand

Ballad: Love Needed, Not In Demand

I talked with Love the other day.
She's been unemployed.
When she offers expertise,
People get annoyed.

"It's nothing new," Love said to me.
"The times, they come and go.
It is a Hater's Market now.
Meanness runs the show."

In reply, I just observed
Love seemed necessary.
"I'm not in demand," Love said.
"But needed? Oh, yes--very."

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Reading of a cummings Poem

Here is a link to a video of an unpretentious reading of "next to of course god america" by e.e. cummings, a poem that's a fine parody of mind-numbing, fatuous political speech:

The poem is read by Dr. Ron Holzschuh.

Monday, October 26, 2009



To a duck, a waddle
is a way to go. To
a pig, thick slop
is a medium to know.
To a snake, the ground
is the highest kind of low.
To a frog, the moonlight
might just seem a Godly glow.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Monty Python's Youtube Channel

Monty Python has a Youtube Channel, something a correspondent from San Diego will enjoy on this momentous October 22nd. When you arrive at the channel, you encounter video of Eric Idle and some droll responses to comments left on the Channel's site:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Words and Definitions From the Mensa Challenge

A correspondent from California pointed me to some of the results from the Washington Post's annual Mensa word-challenge, and many of these results will appeal to lovers of word-play in general and poets in particular:

"The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus : A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido : All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Kerouac's Gravesite

I just watched an intriguing short video featuring Allen Ginsberg talking to Bob Dylan at Jack Kerouac's gravesite. "Talking to Bob Dylan" is a fair description, as Mr. Dylan doesn't have much to say, although he does suggest that he prefers to be buried in an unmarked grave-after he dies, of course. The link:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Some Off-Beat Movies

I'm hard-pressed to define what "off-beat" means in figurative terms, so I'll just roll along and say that here are ten of my favorite off-beat movies, in no particular order:

1. Two-Lane Blacktop (w/ James Taylor and Warren Oates)
2.Vanishing Point (w Barry Newman and Cleavon Little)
3. The Las Vegas Story (Victor Mature, with a song and an appearance by Hoagy Carmichael)
4. Slackers
5. The Brother From Another Planet (Joe Morton stars, if memory serves)
6. Harold and Maude
7. Fitzcarraldo (directed by Werner Herzog, starring Klaus Kinski, although Mick Jagger starred originally, but the production lasted too long.
8.Harry and Tonto (Art Carney, with cat; Carney won an Oscar)
9. My Life As A Dog (Swedish)
10. Sullivan's Travels (written by Preston

I will add only that I saw Cleavon Little play opposite Jackie Gleason in a stage-version of Sly Fox in San Francisco, in the late 1970s. It was great to watch two fine professional actors, with perfect timing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Phantom Pantoum

The poet and blogger Minerva often tosses out poetic challenges on her blog:

No long ago she challenged writers to try a pantoum, so I took the challenge.

Phantom Pantoum

From the reeds of memory's marsh,
The phantom pantoum speaks itself.
It isn't owned by anyone.
It is composed of gathered sounds.

The phantom pantoum speaks, itself
An act of filling up a page or pause.
It is composed of gathered sounds.
It is a thing that's said and made.

An act of filling up a page or pause
May satisfy the phantom pantoum.
It is a thing that's said and made
But not one, maybe, that's heard or seen.

"May satisfy the phantom pantoum":
That is not a bold assertion,
Nor one, maybe, that's heard and seen.
The phantom pantoum's like a dream.

Hans Ostrom, Copyright 2009

Poets From Nevada

Poet Donald Revell, who has published several books with Wesleyan University Press, as well as books with other presses, lives in Las Vegas, although he was born in the Bronx. He also edits the Colorado Review.

Kirk Robertson
is a native of Los Angeles but has lived in Nevada since 1976. He writes and publishes poetry and is involved with a small press.

Poet Adrian Louis is a native of Nevada but now teaches in the University of Minnesota system.

For more information about Nevada and poetry, please use the link:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Retired Oracle

Retired Oracle

Even oracles retire, weary of working
for the future, fed up with telling the truth,
a nasty business. The job-titles embarrass:
soothsayer, psychic, fortune-teller, card-reader,
prophet, futurist, wizard.
Leaving the cave,

cubicle, or sound-stage for the last time,
the oracle welcomes a future of telling lies,
claiming ignorance, and getting things wrong.
"Things wrong": what a laugh, thinks the oracle--
things are either wrong or going there. That's

the truth. Some people need an oracle to tell them
so. Home at last, the oracle dreams of reading history,
for who can predict the past? Books on shelves
promise to tell the truth. The oracle looks
at the volumes and needs to believe them.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sonnet In A Bar

Sonnet In A Bar

I sat beside a sonnet in a bar.
The sonnet looked done in. I bought a round.
The sonnet sipped its rye and said, "Too far.
"I've come too far and lived too long. The sound
Of iambs thumping drives me mad.
And yet if someone called me up on stage,
I'd sing the syllables, and I'd look glad."
"What must a sonnet be?" I asked. "A page,"
The sonnet said, "a one-page hunk of verse.
If you're a poet, then I'm going to scream."
I bought another round. "It is a curse
To be a lyric-form that people deem
Enduring but others try to kill for good.
And--oh: the rhyme I think you'll want is "hood."

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Critic: A Poem


She prefers poetry that arrives already branded
with authority, stamped with approval. Literature
is her business, and business abhors an accident,
such as a wilderness crying in a voice, or
a great poem left anonymously on someone's doorstep.
Anthologies aren't orphanages, she thinks; they're
consolidations, portable museums. In

photographs of her, bookshelves rise behind her
like battalions, she will not smile, and she looks
ready to retaliate with one swift blow
of erudition should you express an opinion. Her
criticism is like cold storage. It isn't poetry.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eberhart's "The Groundhog" Read

Here is a link to a nice reading, by one Tom O'Bedlam of Youtube's Spoken Verses Channel, of Richard Eberhart's "The Groundhog":

I got lucky and was able to see/hear Eberhart read at U.C. Davis in the late 1970s. The venue was a large science-classroom in which the theater-like rows of seats rose steeply. I sat toward the back, so I was looking down on Eberhart even as I looked up to him as a poet. He was an exceedingly cheerful gentleman that day.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Poets Born in Mississippi

In grammar school, in California, we used to spell "Mississippi" out loud and very quickly, so that it became a song. I gather the ideas was to make the quasi-song a mnemonic device. Em-eye-ESS-ess-EYE-ess-ess-EYE-p-p-EYE.

What poets were born in Mississippi? I'm glad you asked.

Among them are . . .

Al Young
Brooks Haxton
Etheridge Knight
G.E. Patterson
Natasha Trethewey

Follow the link to more information about Mississippi and poetry:

Poet Kofi Anyidoho Reading

Here is a link to a Youtube video of poet Kofi Anyidoho:

Anyidoho is a Ghanaian poet and also a professor of literature at the University of Ghana. His books include Ancestral Logic and Caribbean Blues (1992).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blacking Out In Florida

Blacking Out In Florida

"Utility to Pay $25 Million For Blackout in Florida"
--New York Times, October 9, 2009, p. A-15

I read of "a record penalty
for violating the rules of the electricity
grid" and think of the vast distance
between me and my society because
I don't know what the rules
of the electricity grid are,
what they stand for, who made them,
who the Grid-Enforcers are, and what
the phrase "substantial, wide-ranging
and specific reliability enhancement
measures" means, for the phrase is
insubstantial, diffuse, general,
un-enhanced, unreliable, and
unmeasurable. Also, I think $25
million dollars are too much to pay
just to black out in Florida, and what
is the utility, I must ask, of blacking
out in that particular state?

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Poets Born In Ohio

There certainly are a lot of poets who were born in Ohio, among them . . .

Rita Dove
Hart Crane
Richard Howard (his book of criticism, Alone With America, is a favorite of mine)
Kenneth Koch (inventive, funny poet; his send-up of W.C. Williams' "This Is Just To Say" is hilarious)
Mary Oliver (American Primitive is my favorite book of hers)
David Wagoner (prolific poet, former editor of Poetry Northwest)
Jill Bialosky

For a longer list, please follow the link:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Labor Breaks You

Labor Breaks

Labor breaks you. When you're young,
you roll through it, your muscles
and bones handling any kind of shit
labor throws your way. Labor stays
young forever while you age, though.

It laughs with you when you're young,
sure. It hits the bars and runs around
town watching you go after what you think
you want. It gets you up in the morning after
nearly no sleep--no problem, you're young.

Then one day you're not young and labor
hasn't aged a day, and it grins and shrugs
as if to say, "Nothing personal," and it
starts to hit you with the tools of your trade,
and you know then the work you do will break you.

Copyright 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ten Recommended Canadian Poets

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), on which I watch news from Vancouver and CFL football, bravely and/or blithely provided its list of top ten (living) Canadian poets a while ago. One can only imagine the cacophony of questions and exclamations such a list engendered. Actually, one cannot only imagine because there are 27 comments on the story, to be found at . . .

What are the criteria? Whose list? How can you leave off [ ]? And so forth.

With the cacophony and caveats in mind, then, here's the list (one point being . . . read some poems by these writers if you haven't already):

Don McKay
Ken Babstock
Mary Dalton
Dionne Brand
Don Domanski
David McGimsey
Skydancer Louise Bernice Halfe
Jeremy Dodds
Erin Moure [accent on the last e]
Sheri-D Wilson

Thanks for the list, CBC.

Poets Born in Pennsylvania

What poets were born in Pennsylvania? I'm glad you asked. My answer will be most incomplete, but it's a start. In no particular order . . . :

Gerald Stern
Robin Becker
J.D. McClatchy
Karen J. Weyant, also known
in the blogo-sphere as The Scrapper Poet
(see link at right)

W.D. Snodgrass
H.D. [Hilda Doolittle]
W.S. Di Piero
Wallace Stevens
Julia Kasdorf
Ron Silliman

Here is a link to more information about Pennsylvania, poetry, and poets:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nelson Mandela's Favorite Folktales

We are entering a variety of annual gift-bestowing days ahead, and I ran across a book written for children ages 9-12 (and thus for adults of any age) that might serve well as a literary gift. It is . . .

Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007), illustrated.

Unamused By Autumn

Unamused by Autumn

I don't like Fall, which poets
call "Autumn," anymore. Enough
with the leaves already. Fall's
a short road from Summer to Winter.

In the U.S., the autumnal holidays
have seen better ways: Children
trick-or-treating need body-guards
to protect them from real monsters,
and at Thanksgiving, highways
and airports congeal like cold gravy.

People called hunters shoot
lots of animals in Fall. I'm not
sure how sporting it is anymore,
what with the laser-sights, the
scopes more refined than Galileo's.
Concussions occur in football games

while spectators text-message
people on other continents. Like
a leaf, the letter n would fall
off autumn if it weren't for
the florid adjective, autumnal,
which never made me laugh.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, October 1, 2009

James Brown, Luciano Pavarotti, and Globalization

"Globalization" sounds nice, but I'm not confident about defining it, except to allude to the fact that everything human is even more connected than it used to be, but that's pretty weak.

I did, however, find a blessed, campy, surreal, and wonderful product of globalization: James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti singing together on stage. Of course, there is the customary problem of any "popular" performer singing with Pavarotti. The latter's voice hits the former's like a tsunami hitting a pond. Nonetheless, Brown hangs in there with a great deal of funk, soul, and charm, and the violinists even get down with their bad selves. Here is a link to a Youtube video of the event:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Thing Is Certain

One Thing Is Certain

One thing is certain--or is it two? Here
comes a snow-plow pushing letters into words
into phrases into sentences and snow on
and ice forth. Soon a large drift
of meaning looms beside the road.

Minds drive by on their way to
the ski-resort. One thing is certain--
or is it zero? At least something
exists--substance, not the greatest
name to attach to a thing that seems
to have preceded perception and
naming, but as Old Spinoza knows,

a semi-infinite number of pieces fly
off Substance and just beg to be numbered
and named--stars and socks, allergies
and anthems. Certain things are one.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Irving Layton Reads

Here is a link to an interesting video, the voice-over of which features Irving Layton reading some poems, and the images and "story" of which concern bringing wine to Irving Layton:

Layton, of course, was a renowned, enormously successful Canadian poet who possessed a robust personality. He was a friend of Leonard Cohen's. Layton died in 2006 at the age of 93.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Weary Blues

One of the most enduring poems from the Harlem Renaissance is Langston Hughes's "The Weary Blues," which is not in blues form (as some of Hughes's poems are), but is rather a meditation on the blues--especially in a Harlem context, and more specifically Lenox Avenue.

I found a most appealing visual and aural "rendition" of the poem on Youtube. It is from Four Seasons Productions. I looked for but did not find the name of the reader, who does a terrific job. Many thanks to him.

I hope you enjoy it. It includes images of music's and culture's dear friend, Cab Calloway.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Radio Station K-E-G-O

Broadcasting From K-E-G-O

It’s just her, broadcasting
to herself with one watt
of power, pretending
to interview an Other,
playing requests
she called in to herself,
breaking for news about her life,
weather she enjoys, sports
that delight her, honors
due to her. This
is solipsism radio,
from a studio of Self,
on the narcissistic network.
For your own sake, tune out.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ideas for Poems--In Threes

The poetry-class generated some great ideas for poems today, so I thought I'd pass them along. The basic framework was to think of three topics about which you haven't written that are in a broad category, such as "nature". So the first question to answer is, therefore, "What are three 'things' [topics, places, creatures, phenomena] 'in' nature about which you haven't yet written a poem but would like to write a poem about?"

(My answers were potato-bugs, gooseberries, and mold).

Next: Three people (you haven't written a poem about but might like to). Answers ranged from "my brother" to "my step-grandmother" to a celebrity, etc.

Next: Three things you take advantage of. This idea from a student turned out to be especially good because some people interpreted it in a somewhat negative way ("I take advantage of audiences"--this from an actor) while others took it as more neutral or positive ("I take advantage of how close I live to X, Y, and Z.")

Next: Three tasks, chores, or activities you especially did NOT like as a child/adolescent. (One of my answers was "killing chickens.")

Next: Three mysterious things that have happened to you (and about which you haven't yet written a poem).

Next: If you were to write an homage-poem about a well known dead actor, artist, musician, writer, athlete, et al., who would be three of the candidates, so to speak?
Answers ranged from Greta Garbo and Cary Grant to Heath Ledger and Beethoven--and Siegfried Sassoon.

So: 6 X 3 = 18, if memory serves. Eighteen starting-places for potential poems. Nice.

And thanks to the students.

Small Door-Poem

Here is a small door-poem, as opposed to a small-door poem.

Door Poem

Some doors are made of wood,
and some of fear.
Inside, you hear
the knocking, wonder: Should

I open up to what I cannot see?
Outside, you knock,
don't try the lock,
think: What, who, might greet me?

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Robert W. Service and the Oakland Raiders

Canadian vagabond and poet Robert W. Service wrote popular narrative verse, the most famous of which may be "The Cremation of Sam McGhee." His work is not terribly welcome in academic circles, but I don't imagine the spirit of Service, wherever it is, cares much. His collected poems from G.P. Putnam still sell well; in fact, I just bought a copy. Service's is a special talent, involving a genius for rousing rhythm, song-like rhyme, and narrative drive. Service was an entertainer and a teller of tales: nothing to sneeze at.

If you happen to be an Oakland Raider [American football]fan, you will likely be suffering from depression (the team has been on the skids), but you will likely also be aware of a Service-like poem written by Steve Sabol, a producer of films and video concerning football, and narrated by the deep-voiced announcer John Facenda.

I'm a life-long Raiders fan--but by accident. Because I grew up in a canyon of the High Sierra in pre-cable-TV days, our household's TV received the signal of only one channel well. The channel happened to be an NBC affiliate, and NBC broadcast games of the fledgling American Football League, of which the Raiders were a member. So I started watching the Raiders and getting intrigued by how quirky they were, and how obsessively single-minded their owner, Al Davis, was.

At any rate, the style of Robert W. Service meets the substance, such as it is, of Steve Sabol's poem in this video from Youtube (oh, and incidentally, the Raiders somehow found a way to win today)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Black Mountain School

the photo is of Robert Duncan
* has a nice concise overview of the Black Mountain School, a phrase in which "school" functions literally (there was a school on the premises) and figuratively (a school or loosely related type of poetry arose from some who taught and/or studied there). Here is a brief excerpt from the brief overview:

"Black Mountain College, located in a collection of church buildings in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was an educational experiment that lasted from 1933 to 1956. It was one of the first schools to stress the importance of teaching creative arts and that, in combination with technical and analytical skills, the arts are essential to human understanding. The group of influential poets who studied, taught, or were associated with the school included Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Charles Olson. Though these poets' work was remarkably different, they shared creative philosophies that came to be known as "projective verse."

And here is a link to the rest of the description:

I think the only poet from the Black Mountain School whom I saw/heard read in person was Robert Duncan, at U.C. Davis. But like e alot of poeo;e I've read and taught poems by Levertov, Olson, and Creeley often. My favorite of Olson's is "That Thing Was Moving," was is, in part, about a town dump. I rather like Creeley's often almost-imageless poems that seem like compact thought-maps, almost always crisply phrased.

Friday, September 18, 2009




Do you wonder what people are doing Elsewhere?
If you do, then so do I. I'm here, which is
Elsewhere to you, who are Elsewhere, too, to me.

I know what people are doing here. Sometimes
it makes me cry. I hold out hope, therefore,
for Elsewhere. I don't know why. I imagine

other, better, things; breathe easily; sigh.
Elsewhere;s where we need to meet, I think,
to ask us why we cannot ever get along

right here, where good will seems to die.
Maybe Elsewhere is the place in which our
better selves might resettle to repair

the damage done by tawdry instincts
by and by. I think of Elsewhere, I see,
as a place amenable to possibility.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why Poets Do Well In Any Economy

Poets do well in any economy because no economy has ever been especially good for poets. "The economy is bad?" poets ask. "Well, I'll be darned."

Pick any allegedly extra-active poetic period--the Beat period in the U.S., for example. The economy was riding high after World War II, the Beats were changing poetry, and President Eisenhower was on the golf course. Good times, except for the examples cited in Ginsberg's Howl. Okay, so there were a lot of examples.

By the way, this was back when Republicans behaved as adults; can you imagine the general in charge of D-Day wasting energy and being rude by yelling at someone, a la Rep. Joe Wilson, who is a guest in his professional house? Republicans need to ask themselves, "What would Eisenhower do?" Answer: Pass pragmatic, effective health-care reform, stop going to the well of hate-speech, and not behave like a "jackass," President Obama's term for Kanye West's behavior at one of those awards shows so central to the betterment of humanity. West should have asked what No-Drama Obama would have done (not been at the awards show in the first place).

But back to those Beats. Did they do anything to harm the good economy? No. Did they help? Of course! They filled coffee houses and bars, and they started at least one venerable small business, City Lights Books. When the economy turned sour soon thereafter, you didn't hear poets complaining, partly because they were complaining about other things, such as racism.

At any rate, here is a list of reasons why poets do well in any economy:

1. Poets are used to not getting paid much, if anything, for their poetry. In an odd way, then, they are recession-proof, and they've always had to have a day-job, or a night-job, or two jobs.

2. Poets, unlike many novelists and all pundits, are frugal with words. Poets Know Frugal.

3. Poets tend to be generous with money. If you meet one at a cafe or a bar and buy a copy of his/her chapbook or ask him/her to sign a copy, the poet will be so ecstatic that he or she will buy you several rounds of libations.

4. Poets can smell rotten metaphors right away. So when Reagan's team used "trickle-down economics," all poets knew right away that this wasn't good, especially for those being trickled upon. "The Patriot Act." Poets know the Patriot Act was mis-named and has created not a single patriot. Poets can tip you off to mischievous political speech, regardless of party-affiliation.

5. Almost all poets know enough about what they don't know to stay away from economics, and in a bad economy, the last thing we need is more economists, and in a good economy, we don't need any economists to tell us it's good.

An exception to this rule is Ezra Pound, who, like Ron Paul, got obsessed with the gold-standard and got immersed in especially awful anti-Semitism. He also made radio broadcasts on behalf of Mussolini because he thought fascism had good economic solutions. Because the U.S. was at war with Italy, Pound got arrested and eventually ended up in a mental hospital in Baltimore. After a while, he was allowed to leave and to live out his days in Italy.

A lesson is: Italy is great, but stay away from economics, poets! It is a dismal "science", not a legendary art.

6. Poets often read and write so carefully that they pay attention to syllables, not just words. Note E-CON-o-my. Bernie Madoff and bankers who operated as loan-sharks put the CON in economy, and the regulators did nothing more than say "O, my." Result: Disaster. Poets saw this coming. It was a syllable-thing.

7. You can trust poets at least to do no harm to the economy. True, Wallace Stevens worked in insurance, and James Dickey worked in New York advertising, but neither absconded with funds, ran Ponzi schemes, or cheated shareholders (as far as I know). James Merrill, of the Merrill in Merrill Lynch (by relation), did not get involved in the business and spent a lot of time writing long poems.

8. Poets are highly employable because they're usually socially flexible. Not in every case, but in most cases. There may be times, however, when a manager will notice that a poet is writing a poem on the job (in both senses of that phrase).

9. As Percy Shelley noted, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Most people focus on the "legislators" part of that quotation. Poets focus on the "unacknowledged" part. Unacknowledged is good. I wish Re. Joe Wilson and Senators Baucus and Grassley would go unacknowledged for a while.

10. Almost all poets have consumed their share of coffee, tea, and/or wine--the kind of basic stuff upon which economies have relied for thousands of years. We do our part.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rhode Island's Poet Laureate

Here is a link to a nice article by Annie-Laurie Hogan about Rhode Island's Poet Laureate, Lisa Silverberg Starr:

Being from the geographically massive state of California, I would have been tempted--in high school, let's say--to wonder if poets from Rhode Island had to write small poems like haiku. Luckily, I graduated from high school, and many, many moons ago, I moved to a geographically modest state (in spite of features like Puget Sound and volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier), Washington.

Congratulations and good luck to Lisa Starr, and here's a tip of the cursor to Rhode Island and that fascinating figure, Roger Williams.

The Services of Poetry Are Always Needed

On a local-government site for Pennsylvania (in this case "local" seems to mean "state"), I found the following interesting item:

"Position History:
Position established 1993. The first and only state poet laureate, Sam Hazon, was appointed May 24, 1993 by Gov. Bob Casey. On May 1, 2003, Hazon was notified by an aide to Gov. Ed Rendell that his "services were no longer needed." Rendell's decision to remove Hazon from office effectively terminated the position of Pennsylvania poet laureate. For more information, see the October 10, 2004 article 'It's Official: Every Poet is a State Poet' in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette."

It turns out Mr Hazo was more than well-deserving of the post; see part of his bibliography below. To Governor Rendell, I would simply say, "Sir, the services of poets and poetry are always needed; look around you, sir!"

I haven't tracked down the Post Gazette article yet, but I wonder if it was Rendell's idea to make every poet the state poet--and therefore give none of them special responsibilities, funds for broadening interest in poetry, or a wee office in which to work. Consider all the well paid hacks that are on any state-governors staff, and consider what small percentage of one hack's salary would be needed to maintain the poet-laureate post, and, if you're a friend of poetry, you might manage a chortle--and then immediately start wondering about that word, "chortle."

So lift a glass or a pen to Samuel Hazo. May the road rise to meet Mr. Rendell, but may he also experience a Damascus-like vision on that road in which he realizes the services poetry may provide.

Mr. Hazo's bibliography below is courtesy of . . .

• Stills. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1998.
• The Wanton Summer Air. New York: North Point Press, 1982.
• Inscripts. Athens: Ohio UP, 1975.
• The Color of Reluctance. Story, WY: Dooryard Press, 1986.
• Solos. First produced at the Carnegie Lecture Hall, Pittsburgh, 1994.
• Until I’m Not Here Anymore. First produced at the Fulton Theatre, Pittsburgh, 1992.

• Just Once. Pittsburgh: Autumn House Press, 2002.
• Listen with the Eye. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1964.
• Blood Rights. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1968.
• The Past Won’t Stay Behind You. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1993.
• As They Sail. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1999.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Poet Laureate of the Netherlands

Here is some slightly belated news from the world of poetry in the Netherlands; the item is quoted from the site, Poetry International:

"On 28 January, on the eve of the National Day of Poetry of the Netherlands and Flanders, it was announced that 35-year-old Ramsey Nasr had won the public vote to become Dichter des Vaderlands – the title bestowed to the Dutch equivalent of Poet Laureate. Ramsey Nasr is a poet, author, actor and director. His first collection of poems 27 Poems and No Song was published in 2000. In 2005, he was city poet for Antwerp in Belgium."

Congratulations to Mr. Nasr. Now I must track down some of his poems.

Until I read this item, I hadn't realized the word for "poet" is exactly the same in Dutch and German.

The Curse of Wealth?

The Curse of Wealth?

Hear the penniless man howl
when you tell him wealth's a curse.
"Then curse me," he'll say, and
there's no argument good enough
to silence his derision. Still,

there was that rich man--he
just died--who seemed to drag
an invisible bag behind him,
full of capital, a father's
ambitions for his sons, blunt
and sharp weapons of politics,
all of it weighing so much, too much.

There was a family compound, also
a family-machinery that melted laws.
Amidst it all, the man was cursed
with living long, knowing secrets
and sin, and staying married to
noblesse oblige. He's elsewhere

now. Maybe God will have treated
him as just another soul relieved
of life, as someone blessedly
obscure. The penniless man scoffs
at such notions of tragedy and
theology, as well he might. Still,

the rich and public man knew misery,
a special kind, a gilded curse.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom