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