Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"After Listening to Music From Duke Ellington's Orchestra"

A few frozen pleasantries to begin--
then some roots cultivated in reverse,
starting with tendrils down deep,
ending where taproot meets trunk-tree.
Posterity. What do you mean? I told you
I might call. I told you in the Fall!

All I had was a pair of deuces. (This is
one of those stories.) Next thing
nobody knows, I'm on top of a brass casino,
which I own, watching hawks glisten as
they glide. Now everyone's showing up,
all black limos and white surfboards;
and robodots and king snakes, the red
and the black. If music isn't from God,
it soon will be. And the filigree.

You just knew we had to get muddy
and moody, and Jesus Muhammad Moses
Mary and the Buddha-man: here come

visions of a visage, Ellington's,
carved in black and tan marble.
Time never stops playing,
so why should he?

hans ostrom 204

"Inside Your Poem"

Climb inside your poem. Cool as a cave
it is. Cool and luminous. Invisible
aromatic tapestries hang
from curved beams carved out of marble.
On the ceiling, images roll, shift, crash,
and recombine like the surface of surf.

Yes, and the lustrous bodies of dancers
in there--the music, the spring-water,
the food! In muted sectors elsewhere
in your poem, stone shelves carry books,
many of them full of poetry that, outside
your poem, has never been seen. Your
poem contains rare verse! Write

your way deep into cavernous
passages. Draw on the walls.
Listen and sing. Dream and tell.

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Of the Socks"

Someone's wearing the socks I almost bought.
I wonder how they're doing.

Does he, or someone, launder them well?
Have they been separated in the sock-drawer,
bound to unfamiliar others?

Yes, of course, I totally agree
that it is lunacy

to dwell on items not purchased,
to conjure a rival. Honest, I promise
to ponder critical issues later.

Sometimes, you know, socks
are listed under "accessories."
Preposterous. I think

I will call the fellow now.
I'm calling him. He's answering

wearing only those socks.
It's disgusting. I characterize
him as a fool. Oh, yes,

I characterize freely. He demands
to know who I am. I hang up.

I'm wearing a business suit.
I feel authoritative in it.
Except I'm barefoot.

hans ostrom 2014

"Have You?"

"Have you," she asked, "done enough
to counteract severe effects of USA's
vicious racism?" Springing from reflex,

responses came to mind, including
more than enough, more than others,
stock words and phrases like they,
them, how long . . .; and a litany
of all the troubles he, personally,
had seen. And other ba-bah-blahs.

A striking thought then came to his mind.
Why not look at the evidence?
He did so.

Finally, he answered:
"Apparently not," he said.
"Welcome back to the struggle,"
she said. "Consistency is key. Go
light on excuses and rationalizations.
Listen as a good ally will. Inform
yourself. Get in shape."

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"The Long Haul," Hans Ostrom

Black truck hauling a white load.
Black train freighting a line of white boxcars.
Black barge moving heaps of beige garbage.
Black man holding up the weight of a white man killing him.

Getting on with it.
Carrying the carrying.
The white loads stay heavy, press down.
Inert weight, the freight is thought-free,
obtuse as iron and bereft of irony.

Where the black highway runs into blue water,
the black truck will dump its load at last
and roll lightly up the coast.

When the black train reaches the dusty depot,
it will wail like a monstrous saxophone,
then cut loose all those white cars, goodbye.

And after the black barge negotiates treachery
and sidles up to a wharf,
it will wait for a crane to take away
the accumulation
and then it will rise in the water.

Black notes behind bars
carry beat and tune
across white pages.

And the black notes, lifting from white charts,
shall swarm in air and, hitting white stones
hard and sweetly with the sound,
will turn them into beach sand.

White surrenders, exhausted from being White.
The White Queen and King had grown weary
of a polluted game. A humility blossoms
like an apple orchard. Milk is poured out
on black loamy soil. Comes the sound of weeping.

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Big Laughter, Small Towns," Hans Ostrom

The very big laughter,
in very small towns
around the world:
it springs, blooms, booms.
Cackling and crackling and thunder.

It needs to make too much of too little,
of nothing sometimes.

Big cities outlaw open laughter,
which is inefficient and free,
not a commodity.

In little out 'the way places,
which are litter left behind,
there's never enough that's funny.
Which is funny.

The very big laughter
in very small towns
might be accompanied
by stomping of boots
on boards, washed clothes
pinned to the wind, and a combo
of broken conveyances.

If you pass through,
laugh, too; not at.

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Langston Hughes and the Poetry of a Dream Legally Deferred," by Hans Ostrom

Law and Society Conference
Humboldt University, Berlin
July 2007

Hans Ostrom
University of Puget Sound

"Langston Hughes and the Poetry of a Dream Legally Deferred"

Assigned to Session: Race in Multi-Racial America 2432, July 26, 2:30-4:15; Law Faculty Building, Unter Den Linden, Room 139A.

Brief background: Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a prolific African American writer and a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance (circa 1920-1930). He is best known now as a poet, more specifically as a “blues poet,” and especially for a few widely anthologized poems. However, Hughes was actually one of the most versatile American authors of the 20th century, publishing novels, short stories, essays, nonfiction books (including two autobiographies), libretti, plays, a screenplay, and so on.
Throughout his career, Hughes remained alert to chronic and acute political issues, including racism as manifested in lynching, Jim Crow Laws, and segregation, but also including international issues such as colonialism, specifically Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. For the Baltimore Afro American newspaper, Hughes covered the Spanish Civil War, and in the 1930s, he was greatly attracted to Marxist interpretations of social ills. He joined the John Reed Club, traveled to and wrote about Russia, and wrote many Marxist-influenced poems. One result of this activity was his being called before one of Joseph McCarthy’s committees, where Hughes read a statement about his own political views and answered questions but refused to talk about anyone else. His poem, “Un-American Investigators,” published in the 1960s, concerns this experience.

Focus of topic: This paper focuses on Hughes’s virtually unique capacity as a poet not merely to address broadly defined political and social questions but to represent in poetry highly specific political, social, and legal issues—even specific legal cases. Literary historians, critics, and theorists have long debated the extent to which literary writers may, can, and should be “political.” Some scholars almost reflexively argue that political literature equals propagandistic literature; others argue that all literature is political, just as “the personal” is “the political”; and many take positions somewhere between these extremes.

Thesis: My thesis here is that Hughes moved well beyond such basic questions as whether political literature was propagandistic literature and decided early on that to be a citizen-poet well versed (pun intended) in politics was the right thing for him to do. He was comfortable producing literary works (not just journalism or opinion pieces) about specific political and legal questions. Further, I suggest that Hughes’s work provides a distinctive, if not unique, nexus at which literary critics, political scientists, and political theorists might converge, but that as we consider or approach this nexus, we will perceive some complicated and complicating questions.

Two of Hughes’s most famous poems confront race in broad terms. One is “Theme for English B,” which deliberately complicates the relationship between and African American student and a white teacher, unveiling numerous hidden power-relationships, among other things. “Harlem” asks the famous question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” That is, what happens when a whole people, namely African Americans, are suppressed in the political process and oppressed economically? He goes on to speculate: “Does it [the dream] dry up/like a raisin in the sun?”—thereby providing the title for Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play, Raisin in the Sun. Hughes also asks, “Or does it explode?”—thereby prefiguring the “race riots” of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s in the U.S. In any event, these poems take a broad view; they are memorable works that deserve anthologizing, but they do not represent Hughes’s more specifically attentive approach to politics. Let me now discuss poems that fit into the latter category. (All of these poems may be found in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (CP), edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel (New York: Knopf, 1994); however, the definitive edition of Hughes’s poetry and the rest of his oeuvre is now considered to be the complete works published by the University of Missouri Press.).

“The Mitchell Case” (pp. 568-69 of CP) concerns the case, Mitchell v. United States, et al. The first African American member of the Democratic Party elected to the U.S. Congress (representing a district in Illinois), Arthur Weigs Mitchell traveled by train in 1937 from Chicago to Arkansas. Because of Jim Crow Laws, he was forced to move from first-class accommodations to a segregated car. He sued a variety of officials connected to the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company, the Illinois Central Railway Company, and the Pullman Company. (The latter respondent in the suit is a bit ironic because the Pullman Company employed so many African Americans and was also a strongly unionized company, something Hughes appreciated.) Mitchell lost in the lower courts but prevailed at the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Charles Hughes wrote the majority opinion in 313 U.S. 80, No. 577. In the poem Hughes lauds the decision but notes that very few African Americans have the means to sue and to file appeals. In 1941, when he wrote the poem, Hughes therefore saw the case as a good one as far as it went, but he saw the need for a much more widespread approach to desegregation. A further irony is that Mitchell had defended President Roosevelt’s appointment of Hugo F. Black, who had once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. Mitchell’s defense was based on pragmatic grounds; he believed Black “is a good man and a true liberal. His Klan membership was a mistake which was rectified” (as quoted in the Baltimore Afro American, October 16, 1937), page one. Hughes also wrote about Angelo Herndon, who case Herndon v. Lowry, was heard by the Supreme Court 301 U.S. 342 (1937). See Works Cited below. I will provide a copy of the poem for those attending the panel.

“Restrictive Covenants” (CP 361), published in 1949, specifically addressed neighborhood covenants that prevented African Americans from renting or buying homes in certain areas, especially in the North, where Jim Crow Laws were supposed not to exist. Related poems are “Little Song on Housing” and “Slum Dreams.”

“Governor Fires Dean (CP 572). As I mention in my book, A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia (2002), the poem “reacts to Georgia Governor Eugen Talmadge’s dismissal in 1942 of a Georgia educator, Walter Cocking (a professor at the University of Georgia), who headed a group that advocated training rural teachers in a racially integrated setting” (147). In response to Tallmadge’s action, the president of the University resigned, and the Board of Regents overturned the decision. Tallmadge fired Cocking again.
In response to the infamous arrest and trials of the Scottsboro Boys (1931-1933), Hughes wrote the poem “Scottsboro” and the play, Scottsboro Limited. In the poem (CP 142), Hughes seizes on the seven young men as symbolic figures, referring in the poem to Christ, John Brown, Moses, Nat Turner, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi. To Hughes, obviously, the Scottsboro trials represented (or should represent) a kind of political and legal earthquake, one effect of which should be to force Americans to re-examine not just the legal system but also deeply held, reflexive attitudes toward Black men, white women, and sexual stereotypes connected to race. Ironically, when Hughes visited the boys when they were incarcerated, but they seemed mostly confused by his visit. Please see political scientist’s William Haltom’s article, “The Scottsboro Boys” in A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia (344-45). Haltom notes that “[t]he Supreme Court of the United States saved the seven from execution in the landmark case Powell v. Alabama (1932).” I will provide a copy of this poem to those attending the panel.

“Dear Mr. President” (CP, 271) is a poem written as a “letter” from a fictional African American soldier training in Alabama. The letter points out that while the soldier is, in 1943), preparing to serve in the armed forces and, probably, to fight against the army of racist Adolph Hitler, he must daily endure the consequences of Jim Crow Laws. Segregation in the armed forces was not ended until 1948, by Harry Truman. Almost a decade earlier, in 1934, Hughes had published “Ballad of Roosevelt,” in which Hughes depicts African Americans as “A-waitin’ on Roosevelt”—that is, awaiting relief from the Great Depression, relief that is already reaching white Americans. Hughes saw the New Deal as primarily a New Deal for white Americans. I will provide a copy of this poem to those attending the panel.

Hughes wrote many other poems in a similar vein: poems that take on specific legal, political, or social issues. Such poems offer several opportunities for political science and literary criticism to converge, opportunities I will phrase as questions:

1. How well did Hughes understand the issues involved? How sophisticated is his political analysis—particularly when it must fit into the compressed form of poetry?

2. Is poetry focused on specific political, legal, or social issues necessarily propaganda? Throughout the 1930s, Hughes wrote plainly Marxist influenced poetry that embraced the ideal of an international labor-revolution. “One More ‘S’ in the U.S.A.,” for example, obviously suggests that, politically, the U.S. would do well to be more lie the U.S.S.R. (Hughes ultimately changed his view of the U.S.S.R, and especially of Stalin, and he eventually supported U.S. involvement in World War II, in part because of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and Hitler’s racist stance. Hughes even wrote poems urging people to buy “war bonds.”) Such poems are easy targets for the charge that they are propaganda, not literature, and the tendency has been for readers of Hughes to proceed to lump all his political poetry into this category. A more fair and more productive approach might be to view Hughes as a writer who, almost from the beginning, was politically alert, who went through many political phases (the attraction to Marxism being one), but who wrote many political poems that aren’t necessarily propaganda.

3. The question(s) of audience(s). To whom and for whom did Hughes write these poems? Some appeared in African American newspapers and were obviously directed primarily at a black audience that did not necessarily read a great deal of literature. But Hughes later published the poems in books that would be read by a multiracial literary audience. Obviously, many of the poems would appeal to “white liberals,” of whom Hughes could be suspicious—whites who opposed segregation and embraced desegregation, for instance. How (if at all) might the poems be used not just in college literature classes but in college political science classes? To what extent might poems be used as data? We might note that in the poem regarding the Mitchell case, Hughes adopts a working-class, “folk” persona, concedes that Mitchell’s victory in the Supreme Court is a reason for at least a minor celebration, but then takes the firm position that, because so few African Americans can afford to pursue legal action, the Mitchell victory may be Pyrrhic.

4. The question of language/genre. Arguably, lyric poetry might be one of the least accommodating genres with regard to specific issues of politics, society, and law. It is a highly compressed form, and as Hughes deployed it, it often required adherence to schemes of meter and rhyme. Poetry often works by means of suggestion, deliberate ambiguity, metaphor, and analogy—language that might, at first glance, certainly—seem to locate itself at some distance from the language of social science. However, by the same token, might lyric poetry on specific issues in some cases compress arguments in ways that might be useful to students and at least interesting (as novelties, if nothing else) to political scientists?

5. Contemporary interfaces of poetry and politics and intersectionality. To what extent do contemporary poets address specific political issues? For example, how specific is current anti-war (or pro-war) poetry? Does it take on specific questions, such as the evidence (or lack thereof) of weapons of mass destruction? To what extent do some Hip Hop lyrics take on specific questions of law, society, and race?

Certainly, Hughes’s political poetry adds to the cultural record of political, social, and legal transition—in the U.S. with regard to race but also globally with regard to socialism and capitalism, colonialism and post-colonialism, and Negritude and the African Diaspora. More than that, however, it implicitly argues for the presence of “the citizen poet,” who not only takes political stances but studies specific issues and, most importantly, lets his or her art direct itself to such issues. Such poetry also places itself—for better or worse—in the sphere of political scientists, who will probably have to take a counterintuitive attitude if and when they decide to perceive such “political poetry” of “a dream deferred” as worthy of study, as data. Similarly, literary critics, even those informed by such politically oriented theoretical positions as Marxist, feminist, or critical-race theory, may have to overcome conventional notions of propaganda “versus” art when they interpret poems such as those mentioned here—poems that recall, mark, and document legal questions in a society; poems that deliberately enter a political sphere. Ironically, such critics may have to turn their gaze from contemporary and modern poetry sometimes and look at examples of political poets from ancient Persia, Greek, and Rome, and from Europe in the medieval period through the Romantic period.

Works Cited
William Haltom, “Herndon v. Lowry” and “Scottsboro Boys, The,” in A
Langston Hughes Encyclopedia (2002), 159-160; 343-345;

Hans Ostrom, A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002).
Sole author except for @ 8 entries. See such entries as “Jim Crow Laws,”
which contains a checklist of numerous works by Hughes linked to Jim Crow Laws;
Marxism; Poetics; Politics; Roosevelt, Franklin Delano.

Rampersad, Arnold and David Roessel, eds. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
(New York: Knopf, 1994). One volume, 708 pages.

Copyright 2007/2014 Hans Ostrom

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"The Fiddler," by Lola Ridge

"Apocryphal Couples"

Attila and Heidi Hun are making an RV run
from East to West.
Captain and Margo Ahab peddle pleasure-crafts
on the Gulf Coast.
Gregor and Donnie Mendel enjoy amateur
entomology in their spare time.
Sisyphus performs the boulder-roll
at Cirque de Absurd in Vegas,
where his girlfriend, Missyphus,
deals blackjack.
Matsuo and Yoshi Basho run
a very successful outdoor-adventure
business in Colorado and Chile.
Pancho and Vivienne Villa
just signed with a cable network
to do their own Reality Revolutionary
show. Exciting!Huck Finn
sells insurance for a firm
owned by Jim X in Chicago,
which he finds to be a might cold.
He and Becky Thatcher
have been seeing each other.

hans ostrom 2014

"Sonnet on Approaching Italy," by Hans Ostrom

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"No Greatest Country"

Nobody lives in "the greatest country in the world,"
which is a phrase, not a nation.
Nobody and Plato's hologram.

Wouldn't a good nation cherish its skeptics,
partly because politicians and other
propagandists don't?

No one's more patriotic than a dictator:
fallacious reasoning, sure, but
nonetheless worthy of a cautionary pause.

Often I listen to a voice in me
that recoils from appeals to patriotism
because they feel like extortion.

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Fall Sticks in the Craw," by Hans Ostrom

Fall sticks in the craw like the n
in autumn.
It's the season of anxiety attacks,
ritual remarks about leaves and
crisp air, unholy holidays:

Halloween's become an anomalous
Thanksgiving a clot of travel and a
ghastly food-orgy.

The cafes start serving
goddamned pumpkin-milkshakes
they still
call "coffee-drinks."

I shouldn't be so negative.
Or I should be
more negative: indecision in
post-equinox days.

True, it's a good time
to get food
to people who have little,
so that's an opportunity.

"The Dog Ate the Eucharist," by Hans Ostrom

Bob reported that a dog
had gotten into the parish kitchen
and eaten the eucharist-bread
that some members of the parish
had baked, special.

The incident caused some alarm
and may have raised theological questions.

One imagines Jesus
liked dogs, which
do right by poor folks,
for instance.

Of course, Bob wanted
to know whose dog it was.

hans ostrom 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Jet Mesh Piety," by Hans Ostrom

eat jet mesh torture titanium
sputum bomb narcotic venture
diablo diablo marble
cock monument founding fodder
napalm rape scorch truth
lacerate rain birther denier
two-way radioactivity prison
for profit arrest race excuse
blast joke smug supremacy
handler a good citizen is
a surveilled citizen a
notwithstanding militia drive
hate lynch beat quiche white wine
burn bomb
lie flag diablo diablo

how long, how long? shit slogan
teeth monster informant
invade under cover infiltrate
threat-level sizzle children
scream laugh joke shiv spike
puke piety spit gooooooooooood
god market share percentage
dow jones up on news of hell
vomit poison oil remain upbeat
a good citizen thank our men
and women in uniform yeah-right
thank them how? flesh kill grin
suck murder waste policy foreign
domestic crisis domestic violence
domesticity loathe diablo
gotta keep on through it all gotta
keep on gotta. gotta

hans ostrom 2014

"Big Ol' Teeth," by Hans Ostrom

Several decades old, he finds it hard to believe
that a dentist proposes braces for his teeth,
to make money, of course, but technically
to close up those gaps, the ones that apparently
terrify strangers (but not children or animals)
when he smiles, laughs, or snarls. For fun,

he attributes his big, relaxed teeth
and the enormous smile (quite vulgar, actually)
to a Viking heritage. He wonders if it's
a berserker's grin. Important detail:

he hadn't asked the dentist about braces,
and the teeth are in good shape. Typical.
He has always received unbidden advice
about his teeth and everything else.
(The general heading for filing
such advice is, What the fuck
is wrong with people?)

One of his aunts had teeth
behind her wisdom teeth.
He suspects something atavistic
lurks in his DNA. Sabre-tooth
cat? Hyena? Shark?

War, famine, poverty, racism, etc.
go on, so he's not about to spend
excess thought on his teeth, which
work fine, fantastic omnivore-tools.

"Do you floss with rope?" a pretty girl
once asked him at a college party.
Not a bad joke. Apparently his big ol'
teeth transfixed her, for she stared.
Her teeth were suburban straight and white,
as all Americans are supposed to be, right?

He provided deep background. "My parents
asked the dentist when I was ten if I should
have braces. But the dentist said my tongue
is too big and would just push the teeth
out again, and the gaps would come back."

"Really?" she said, attempting to look
inside his mouth, as if he were about
to run in the Derby. She was thinking
about his tongue. He was, too,
in a roundabout way.

hans ostrom 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

"Recent Musical Scores," by Hans Ostrom

And from our sports and arts desk . . .,
the following recent musical scores:

Beethoven 5, Debussy 3; Buddy Guy, 18, over
Eric Clapton's 4, Bessie Smith outdistancing
Barbara Streisand, 283 to 146; Beyonce

tied with Clara Smith, 102-102; Bill Monroe 98,
Hank Williams, Sr., 83; and finally Charles Ives
edging Benjamin Britten, 31-30, in a very
close match.

hans ostrom 2014

"Piano Ready to Roll," by Hans Ostrom

A piano's lacquered
surface serrates light
from outside, turns it into
a gothic, cubist
of a keyboard
that looks
a bit like a bar-code.

As music, that image
might be from Monk
or Ives, James P. Johnson or maybe
as phrased by Rubenstein. Anyway,
it's all invented and then
rearranged. By all I mean all.

And look, they bolted
this piano to a frame with three
big wheels. That's some serious
industrial-revolution nonsense.

So roll that lovely hunk of thumps,
shadows, and singing strings into
a misplaced bay where your
emotions go sometimes into exile.

hans ostrom 2014

Everyday Speech #3--The 'S' Word in the U.S.

The 'S' word--shit: virtually ubiquitous in U.S. talk. (The rest of the world observes, "We knew all along you were full of it!")

I was reminded of the ubiquity when Carter Monroe, poet, publisher, novelist, and sage, sent me the following list:

Good as shit
Bad as shit
tasty as shit [most amusing]
fast as shit
slow as shit
hard as shit
soft as shit
funny as shit
mad as shit
interesting as shit
boring as shit
smart as shit
stupid as shit

Then there's "I'm tired of this shit" or the working person's generalized complaint, often muttered with a sigh, "Well, . . . shit."

And the universal exclamation of praise: "Great shit!"

And the universal exclamation of dissatisfaction: "Shitty!"

If not an empty signifier, it is at least word that will wear any disguise.

True, other cultures like their shit-words, but most probably don't deploy it as variously as the U.S.

In the 1970s, one heard, "Man, that's some good shit," in re: some of the worst marijuana in the history of humankind. Stems and seeds, as we used to say, back when people apparently smoked stems and seeds. Or so I've heard.

Of course, Freud might have observed something about childhood development and literal shit when examining such a list, and Americans are known for their arrested development (eternal teen-agers, is the rap on us), but there's just no way to prove that kind of speculation. I think it has more to do with Americans' predilection for efficiency in *some* areas of speech, with American coarseness (which even "refined" people like to flaunt so as to project another dimension to their image, or so they think.

When I or anyone else made a hash of something on the construction-job, my father, boss, would occasionally say, "That looks like a mad woman shit." Fantastically colorful expression, so to speak. I don't know why it had to be gendered. That inclination to depict women as mad, perhaps: Sandra Gilbert and others have written about that.

Even when my brothers and I were young lads, the Old Man's parenting style was end mischief as quickly as possible, usually with a direct order: "Knock that shit off" = stop what you're doing. Or "Don't be such a shit-head" or "Don't act like a shit-head to your brother." I responded well to such directives because they were clear, uncluttered, and I didn't get the feeling I was being trained in a broader sense, although "Don't act like a shit-head to [in this case] your brother" does implicitly look forward to shit-head-less days.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Galway Kinnell

Sad to see that poet Galway Kinnell died.

I remember seeing/hearing him read at U.C. Davis in the late 1970s. It was in a relatively small classroom in Olson Hall, next to Sproul.

I recall he read a poem about not being with his mother when she died. A kind of Freudian poem, for lack of a better description, that was not rare in those days, as Freud's influence hadn't waned quite yet.

I also recall a poem in which the speaker tries to talk someone out of suicide, or at least thoughts of suicide. After he read the poem, Kinnell said, "I have to admit, it wouldn't convince me, either."

Self-deprecating, at least at that reading, and the broad, craggy face and what used to be called "an unruly shock of hair."

Fine free-verse poet.

"Conscience and Remorse," by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Friday, October 31, 2014

Revising Titles of Poems

Today I'll be working with the poets on the titles of the poems they've written this term. Here are some of the options I'll offer:

1. If the tile of your poem is long, try a title that is one word. Shapiro: "Nebraska." Langston Hughes: "Harlem."
2. Start with a participle or gerund--an "ing" word. James Wright: "Lying in a Hammock . . ."
3. Make the title a complete sentence: "Jack Eats Plastic"
4. Theme: so old-fashioned! "Of the Unfairness of Stomach Aches."
5. Allusion. "A Bird Eats my Liver"--allusion to Prometheus. "Something's Gaining On Me"--allusion to a statement by Satchel Paige.
6. Adjective plus noun: so simple! "Red Shoes." "White Folks."
7. A word or phrase from a language other than English: might sound pretentious, might not.
8. A title that springs from a word or phrase in the last 3 lines. This works uncannily well.

hans ostrom 2014

"Deader than hell . . ." Everyday Speech #2

"[It] killed him deader than hell." I heard my uncle say this when I was about 15 and changing tires on a dump trunk. He was talking about a fellow who had crawled under a dump truck to remove the jack when the jack failed, and the dump-truck crushed the man. "It killed him deader than hell," my uncle said, finishing the cautionary tale.

So: degrees of death, as if you could be just slightly dead or all the way up to deader than hell. Great vernacular touch there.

I heard it said by many men of my parents' generation. I never heard a woman say it.

I've corresponded with a poet- and publisher-friend in North Carolina who remembers hearing the same phrase, so it's apparently not regional. (My uncle was a native of Indiana, where he drove a car for a boot-legger, among other things, before moving to California to run heavy equipment, etc.)

Probably, it's not a phrase that will survive the Boomer generation, a few of whom might still say it.

A similar but more widespread phrase was, of course, "deader than door-nail," which I never liked because door nails are inanimate. I did, however, like the rhythm and alliteration.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everyday Speech #1

So this begins, I hope, a series in which I simply record things/sentences/phrases/words that a) I used to hear people say a lot and b) I hear people say a lot. Sometimes its "say" and "write" both, but mostly say. I got the idea when I was reading Philip Whalen's collected poems. He has a series of poems titled "Native Speech," and he records what he was hearing in the 1950s and 1960s and thereabouts.

Of course, this project (that's grandiose) will and should not be confused with something systematic or orderly.


"Well, whaddya know?" I heard this one a lot growing up, less in my 20s, and so on. You can hear a lot in 1940s movies. A version is "Well, whaddya know about that?" The latter has a rhythmic lilt to it. And of course whaddya = what do you


"She's a fox." It means, she's sexy/she's beautiful/she's both. Virtually ubiquitous in late 1970s California. Heard much less after 1985, in my opinion. Gendered, I think; that is, it was said of woman by men and women, but not so much of men by anyone. I don't remember hearing gay acquaintances saying it of man, for example.


"I know, right?" Seemingly ubiquitous now, at least in my world. I haven't investigated the origin, if there is one. An older version would be, "You bet!" Or "Damn right!" Or "Right on!" Except I think "I know, right?" is more laconic, even slightly ironic, and not usually excited or overly sympathetic. I quite like it, for some reason. I believe a still-current African American version or counterpart is "All right? Mmm-Hmmn!" Heard more from Black women than Black men? I don't know.

Well, that's three or four. If you want to suggest any, go for it. I wonder if "go for it" is going out of fashion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Inspector," by Hans Ostrom

I don't think you're doing it the way
you're supposed to do it
(according to the specifications)
but who am I to say? And

if you're getting it done,
in this way of yours you use--
well, it's still getting done.
There is a right way and a

wrong way but at the same time
there are many ways. It isn't
logical I suppose as I have
phrased things. Anyway, consider

a mild objection almost to have
been raised. By me.
This is my job.
Sincerely, The Inspector.

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Hinge Collection," by Hans Ostrom

Of course, this is just part
of my collection of hinges.

But it may give you some idea
of the variety and kinds of
of their ubiquity, of the
range of their design.

Also, you will likely note that,
unattached to anything
and without box, door, or shutter,
hinges become absurd.

Sometimes I think they
look like awful jewelry
or modestly successful
instruments of annoyance.
I hate them so, my hinges.

hans ostrom 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Planet to People," by Hans Ostrom

"Well," said the planet
to the people living on it,
"apparently you will do what
you will do. But there is
this: remember that you
are not required for me
to survive, whereas
to persist, you need me.
Consider this a statement
of practicality, not one
of theory or art, politics,
religion, or science."

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"To the Moon," Charlotte Smith

"Art for Something's Sake," by Hans Ostrom

Pater (Walt) wrote that all art
constantly aspires to the condition of music.

Some art, I think, aspires
to the condition of a sandwich
and a cup of coffee; some,

to the condition of
a large home in Bel Aire, California,
and you have to like that second e.

You know, some music
is not in great condition.
The same can be said of some artists.

Can art aspire?

I wonder if anyone called Pater "Walt."
I hope so. Because "Walt"

is musical, in its own way.
It's a beat. All art can
use another beat.

hans ostrom 2014

"People Are Terrible, No Exceptions," by Hans Ostrom

There are days when you'd settle
for running into just one person
who is at least less annoying
than you have become to yourself;
--and when even that is apparently
too much to ask.

So you go home loathing everyone.

Grudgingly, you think well enough
of yourself to get through the evening.
You observe your own quirky, tiresome,
reclusive behaviors.

You have no clue who
you really are or what
"really are" even means.
You have no interest
in finding a clue.

With disgust, then, you go to bed.
Sleep gives you desperately needed
respite from thinking of people
and your ego--that Self who's
just like everybody else.

hans ostrom 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Have You About Had It?" by Hans Ostrom

You may have thought you were somebody.
Somebody like a joiner of wood or of metal pipes;
Like a CEO or a president;
A tribal elder; a teacher; a preacher; a shop steward.
Pillar of the community!
Maybe you thought you were a performer,
An artist; a critic—setter of tastes;
Or a citizen, oh yes—the authorities
Definitely want to know what you think.

Fool, you have been little more than an ox.
Ox, you have been little more than a fool.
You have been in harness, hauling the loads
Of shit that needs doing. You’ve been
Having your body and spirit broken,
Is what you’ve been up to. Boulders
Receive more respect than you. You’re
Worn out. You’ve been had. You’ve
About had it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Early One Morning,: by Edward Thomas

"Surreal Cat," by Hans Ostrom

Once upon a whatever,
as aluminum homes and nature
flew by where my windows
used to be, what with the tornado
and all,

there was a surreal cat.
Yep, that's what I have to report.

The color of her coat
depended greatly on
the nature of the magazine
one's eyeballs were reading to one.

"I think surrealism is bullshit,"
Margo said. "I think it is life
itself," replied Joe. Neither
one of them existed.

Things fall apart. That's
not necessarily terrible. Things
stay together--not necessarily
good. As to the falcon, the falconer,
and the goddamned gyres, who knows?
Seriously, Yeats can be
a real pain in the ass sometimes.

We at the Surreal Cat Corporation
appreciate your refraining
from talk of apocalypse.

"The Shame-Drain," by Hans Ostrom

Damn it, more than few people
among our seven or is it eight billion
need something like one of those drains
they put in patients after surgery,
except that in this case
the thing would be attached to the psyche--
a shame drain.

Hell, no wonder so many people
drown in and under the sheer tidal volume
of shame laid on them in their lives.
They slog through heavy shame
on their way to getting shamed again.
They breathe in particulate shame.
And yelled shaming hammers at their ears.

Drain that shame. It belongs to someone else.
Siphon that swamp, get out that bad water,
hateful slop, and wet air
that's got you slumped over, mumbling
things, loathing yourself.

hans ostrom 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Youth Isn't Wasted on the Youth," by Hans Ostrom

Youth's not wasted on the youth. They
seem to know just what to do with it.

Autumn, which they call Fall, generates
fine light that shines on the longest
hair most college women will have in
their lives; or the shortest. College men

have more friends now than they will
later, after work, ambition, and lore
deliver betrayal and failure.

Youth is interested in itself. Sure, it's
part echo, part narcissism. But it's also
bursting with sympathy and verve.
Eyes bright, smiles broad.

Young people know they know they're young
and would laugh big to be asked to think
otherwise. Old people over-think.

They whittle dry adages, and their shirts
look weird untucked: young, you can make
that look work. Young people

don't waste any time. Or they waste
a lot of time because of that luscious
youthful languor, which I kind of recall.
Anyway, it's early October, which is a country
for old men and every kind of people. Youth
is a team to cheer for; that's all.

hans ostrom

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"After You Speak," by Edward Thomas

"Quietude of Minnows," by Hans Ostrom

Minnows, floating like flexible
galvanized nails, bunch their crowd
tightly in shadow, then disband
and dart. Clouds of starlings come
to mind. Quietude, sure, if only
I knew what that meant. I take it
to mean the opposite of noisetude,
so you can see I don't take it seriously.

For thoughts are imperialists and may
invade one another at any time. No reason,
then, to go out of your way to confuse
yourself and others. Or is there?

We need less reflection:
difficult to argue that. Of course
the sound of fighter-jets will intrude
noisetudinally (coordinates, please) and seem
to shake the surface of the lake
(to ask if there's been a goddamned mistake)
because we are at war again always, and the
joint-base is just down the road, right? In

other news, the Greed Opera is coming to town,
colleges have become pimps for loan-sharks,
Black folks remain under siege in some cities, decades
of that shit. And now somebody walks out from
the back of this poem carrying a gun,
a flashlight. I want to move but I can't. I

can sing, though, sort of, so I croakingly
melodize something about poets and minnows in their
schools, and I keep an eye on that gun,
and the Son of God is nowhere in sight.

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Chihuly Glass," by Hans Ostrom

Stuck to a steel frame, pieces
of former fluid seem to float
like tadpoles
like kelp globes
like lily pads
like figures in foam atop a German beer.

Lick them; they are lollipops.
Mock them; they are bugs.
Cheer them; they are art.
Laugh: they are funny shapes.

Orange yellow blue curls
and tails and blotches and blobs
brought out from fire,
confused dough, vibrant mud.

Dear Light: the glass-artist
likes to invite you in
for a cup of mad tea
because hey you came
all the way from the sun.

hans ostrom 2014
Dale Chihuly

"A Sort of Song," by William Carlos Williams

Monday, September 29, 2014

"American Poetry Managerial Decision," by Hans Ostrom

"And now out of the dugout strides the pitching coach, Cotton Mather. He signals for the closer, Emily Dickinson."

"That's right, Chuck, Manager Frederick Douglass has decided to remove starting pitcher Walt Whitman  and take his chances with the diminutive right-hander."

"Well, Juan, Walt had  very little control tonight, and his line-count was way up there. I think it's  good move, Juan."

"Me, too, Chuck. I mean, you have to like Whitman's swagger, the way he sings himself, but it's hard to argue with Douglass's move. Dickinson has been in these situations before!"

"You  bet, Juan--and here's Emily throwing her warm-up tosses to catcher Henry "The Hammer" James.  Her lines get there in a hurry, but she also has that uncanny ability to take a little something off the rhyme. She keeps the other team off-balance!"

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Of Rock and Roll," by Hans Ostrom

Straight-ahead, drive-it-through
rock n roll: sure, I understood it.
It was and is a loco-motive, a choo-choo train.
Noisy. Fun. I liked it.

R&B: well, to me
it seemed to be an octopus-shaped
alien ship covered in purple velvet,
wielding hammers, rolling out
blues in rhythms, landing here
to deliver the news about love
and work and sex and being
Black in Whiteville and being White
in Whiteville and desperately needing
the news. R&R never quite

did the same thing for me. It's probably
about more than taste or eras.
R&R, for all its value, seemed
like a filtration process; rhythm-and-
blues did not seem that. Seemed
a vast cultivation.

hans ostrom

"Recruiting More Students and Colleagues of Color at Liberal Arts Colleges: The Ten Essentials," by Hans Ostrom

(These are some remarks I'll give today for a panel on institutional change at the 3rd national Race and Pedagogy Conference, which is happening now where I teach, at the University of Puget Sound.  This successful conference is the brain-child of Professor Dexter Gordon, Director of African American Studies and the Race and Pedagogy Initiative,  and Professor Grace Livingston, who teaches in the program (as do I) and many, many collaborators.)

My main point of reference for this discussion is the University of Puget Sound, where I’ve taught for many years, but the discussion is really about the liberal arts college, as a model of higher education in general, and diversity, not about Puget Sound per se. 

I think that over the past decade and especially in recent years, the discussion about liberal arts colleges and diversity has shifted.  I’ve observed a change in the terms of the argument for diversity, from a kind of “it’s something we ought to do/it’s our obligation” to “it’s a matter of survival.”  In other words, the demographics have caught up with liberal arts colleges, which haven’t adjusted quickly enough.

So one organizing principle of my ten essentials, which I’ll distribute in a moment, is that a sense of obligation, progressive notions, public relations, and so on, aren’t enough to push the change that needs to occur.

A second organizing principle is that liberal arts colleges probably have to be more self-critical as they re-examine their assumptions, their ways of doing things, how they are perceived, and the rhetoric they use to describe themselves.  [refer to the Whitman example].

Third and last, I’d like to say that some good things came of the old model, which by and large sprang from a sense of noblesse oblige.  Real changes in co-curricular programs, curricula, defining academic and administrative positions, supporting conferences like this have occurred over the last few decades at many if not most liberal arts colleges. But that way of doing things has probably yielded all it can yield, so that now some long-delayed fundamental change must occur.  With that, . . . here is the list:

1.            Think of diversity as a necessity, not just  “a good thing.”

2.            The Board of Trustees/Regents (etc.) must regard diversity as a necessity.

3.            Find out who in the institution opposes diversity, and why, and be prepared to persuade them otherwise or move ahead without them.

4.            Find out what students and parents of color, colleagues of color, and the local community really think about your college and diversity.

5.            Spend the money.

6.            Consider the degree to which the college’s rhetoric about itself is exclusive or insular.

7.            Stop rejecting “vocation-speak”; employment after college should be of primary concern to liberal arts colleges, and it's connected to the concerns of all prospective college-students and it's of special concern arguably, to students from a variety of ethnic minorities.  (Recall that at least 5 of the original 7 liberal arts were what we might call vocational: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, and geometry, the other 2 being music and astronomy.)

8.            Achieve  a critical mass of students and colleagues of color ASAP.  What constitutes a critical mass? The students and colleagues of color, among others, will let you know. Until then, carry on.

9.            Find out in what venues and circumstances students and colleagues of color are most likely to be alienated and respond accordingly.

10.          What are you willing to change about the “liberal arts college” paradigm?

Hans Ostrom, Professor of African American Studies and English, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington USA

Some Sources:

[the list of the original 7 liberal arts can be found on numerous sites online]

“The Most Economically Diverse Liberal Arts Colleges,” The Upshot, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014.

David Leonhardt, “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class, Poor,” New York Times,  Sept. 8, 2014.

Katherine McClelland and Carol J. Auster, “Public Platitudes and Hidden Tensions: Racial Climates at Predominantly White Liberal Arts Colleges,”  Journal of Higher Education Vol. 61, No. 6, Nov. - Dec., 1990. 607-642.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"He Is Not a Random Man," by Hans Ostrom

A headline mumbled to me,
"Random man pricked with syringe,
told 'Welcome to the HIV club.'"
He's going to be okay, the man,
because of immediate medical attention.

Except that a headline writer
tried to turn him into a random man.

He is not a random man. He is
the man he is, none other. He
may have been randomly pricked.
But random pricking does not

a random man make.

2014 hans ostrom

Samuel Johnson on Patronage

Monday, September 22, 2014

"Practice Safe Poetry," by Hans Ostrom

How well do you know
the words you're using in poems?
How many other poets have used them?
How many of those poets are infected?

Practice safe writing. Do you know
the proper way to put a condom
on your cursor--or someone else's?
How clean are your pens?

When reading poems in public,
consider wearing a helmet
and safety glasses.

Be aware of your surroundings.
Check for enforcers sent from
various Schools of Poetry. Never

get between an ambitious poet
and a prize or a high poetic office.

Get your poems tested!

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Chekhov's Pistol," by Hans Ostrom

In this play I play
the role of William Shakespeare,
who is inside one of his sonnets on stage.
"I" stand in the glass cube (the sonnet),
on the walls

of which the words from the sonnet
appear. "I" shout the words
in random order. "I" strike
the words, curse, and stomp.

Someone pretending to care
comes and lets me out of the
cube. "I" introduce myself
as Bill S., an actor-playwright.
"Hi, Bill!" everyone shouts.
The set shifts.

I'm pushed under a kitchen
table: yep, an American play.
I fall asleep and snore and am
kicked by actors who are
drawing on their experience,
expressing truth, blah blah.

The American playwright
is in the audience, and under
orders from his management,
he acts like he's drunk,
bellicose, and talented.

No longer "I," "I" get out
from under the table and "kill"
all the characters with
a Renaissance sword--
revenge and all that shit.

Now Chekhov comes on stage
with a pistol and shoots me dead.
Dude, it is very cool. The actor's
from Sweden.

hans ostrom 2014

"We're Very Agreeable," by Hans Ostrom

How lovely of us to help
others keep us under surveillance
with devices we have solemnly,
enthusiastically purchased. A
good citizen is an informed citizen.

Some of us stand in line and ready
to trample each other to get mitts
on the new stuff. We're eager
to help states and corporations
know where we are and what
we're up to. Lovingly we tap

our devices with finger and thumbs.
We message, instantly! We opine.
We stay in touch. We stay in range.

hans ostrom 2014

"Mere Dissolution," by Hans Ostrom

Too tired to attend
the Entropy Conference in Antwerp,
Professor A.P. Ledlox stayed home.

He sipped cryptic broth
and fell apart emotionally.

He stared out the window
at an alleged landscape
(smears of gray and brown).

Oh, for a whiff of
a young woman's neck, oh
for a swim in an alpine lake, oh
for chrissakes shut up, he
told himself: It's

dissolution, mine. Yearning
will not halt or decorate it.

hans ostro 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Prizes," by Hans Ostrom

Paradigm-shift 327.B.3 (revised)
stipulates that anyone expressing
or harboring interest in winning
prestigious prizes, awards, honors,
etc., shall receive it or them. Oscars,
Nobels, National Book Awards,
Pulitzers, Grammies, Laureates,
Man Booker Prizes, Woman Booker
Prizes, Dude Booger Prizes, etc.

After a brief period of mass-elation,
everyone will become unenthusiastic
about such crap. Total devaluation
of such prizes will ensue (the process
began long ago, truth to tell).

Whether more important matters
shall occupy us . . . shall remain
something else to hope for.

At least celebrity will come
to look like a deflated soccer-ball
withering on a dry lake-bed.

hans ostrom

"Anatomy of a Common Misfit," by Hans Ostrom

Sometimes he observes
neighbors, how they drive cars,
converse with each other, walk,
stand, live; and it seems to him

they're really comfortable
with these tasks of living.

He feels awkward by comparison;
and he compares. He feels
not comfortable.

He wishes he had sought
special training in his 20s,
not on the tasks themselves
(he knows how to do them,
and he does them)
but in the being-comfortable
part. Comfort with what
is alleged to be routine.

Now he can't change,
even if he wanted to.
The most he can do
is pretend to have
adapted properly. And
that's not so bad. He'll
leave genuine easy
living to the neighbors,
whom he waves at
in terribly awkward ways,
for example.

He belongs to a demotic
species--the Common Misfit.

hans ostrom 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tim Earley

Tim Earley is a fine contemporary poet. Here is a link to some of his work:

link to book

Friday, September 12, 2014

Diversity and Liberal Arts Colleges

A link to a piece about (the lack of) diversity, including economic diversity, at Whitman College. Implicitly the piece touches on a problem most liberal arts colleges now face.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"To a Child Dancing in the Wind," by W.B. Yeats

"The Cabin at Lavezolla Creek," by Hans Ostrom

When we built the Jones cabin
up Lavezolla Creek, summer,
Sierra Nevada, we left home
in the loaded pickup and worked
ten-hour days. The droning drive
in the '69 Ford F-100
took an hour one way.

The Old Man was nearing 60 years
then. At noon he'd take a cat-nap
on the plywood sub-floor, his silver
lunch-bucket the pillow, his hat
over his eyes. Snored. I remember
something like pity arising in me.
Now I'm sixty, the Old Man's been dead
a long time, and I ended up with
the green Ford pickup, which people
think is "cool." The recall

of bright summer, big conifers,
the quick creek, and work to make
you bone tired seems now like
something that will disappear soon,
like a butterfly or pine-pollen
floating in lustrous air. These tributary
memories that shape our maps
of ourselves disappear as we do.
No one will remember that the Old Man
and I were the crew.

hans ostrom 2014

Monday, September 8, 2014

"The Difference Between Despair and Fear," by Hans Ostrom

"Images Coalesce," by Hans Ostrom

I have come to believe
(note somber rhetoric)
that when the images
don't coalesce (there
is a chrome fender in
manzanita, a desire in me
to seem clever, billions
of objects and animals,
blue fabric, scalded flesh,
nothing, hydro-electric
dams, nothing, no connection,
and "surrealism" is no excuse,
shut up) we need to
let them be art.

The images coalesce
because to see patterns
has been drilled into us.
Capitalize. The images
coalesce because
our brains evolved,
along with much of what's
on the surface, and our
brains change what's here,
manufacturing patterns.
(Incidentally, who am I?
No, I mean really, who
am I?) The brain is
at home, that is.

hans ostrom 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Welcome to the Middle Class," by Hans Ostrom

To those concerned:
Welcome to the Middle Class.

Feel free to make as many
distinctions as you can
about things and people,
politics, art, food, animals,
and nothing. Feel free.

If you don't have an opinion,
make one up. We will assist!

Always spend more than you make.

Never relax, not really,
especially when you have
scheduled relaxation,
which is also competitive.

Cultivate a certain sensibility.
Keep score. Strive.

hans ostrom 2014

"Silver Glide," by Hans Ostrom

In the silver car
you're driving, where
did you get it, we snake
gracefully on a highway
that follows the curves
of hills near the sea,
hills embroidered with lights,
lights lining streets
and avenues. And the sense
of the sea in the dark.

And yes I know tomorrow
the car will be stolen,
you will blame me even
though you are my alibi,
and I will sit on a hot
sidewalk, staring
into sunlit murk of mist
and smog. But tonight it
is, will be, and was good,
a silver ride, a generous
glide through oblivion.

hans ostrom 2014

"Blues Talk," by Hans Ostrom

Blues talk, blues and talk, the need
to feel something, something real,
the want to break something,
to break what's learned by rote, take
the parts and heal them together
one time with the sacred and the frivolous
itch to play:

such is the incubatory campaign
that elected 12 bars
and gave jazz a lasting victory.

And you, you, you will want
to spend time with music made
by people with a freed inmate's
attitude, a worker's not a warden's,
and surely, surely not a guard's.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven," by W.B. Yeats

"Jane Austen Has a Headache," by Hans Ostrom

Jane Austen has a headache
from watching all those god-damned
adaptations of her books.
Film's too easy. Life is heavier
and slower than film, not pretty.
Life smells of chamber-pots,
rotten violets, horse-farts,
men's wigs, and mildew.

Obviously, thinks Jane's headache,
the main actors come from the new
aristocracy: celebrity. Off-camera,
they must be insufferable and stupid.

They don't know about Jane Austen,
her world, the smells and diseases,
the lovely cage of womanhood.
They don't know her headache.

They simulate the houses of her world.
They use industry-standard makeup,
lighting, and costumes. If the headache
weren't so bad, Jane Austen might be

hans ostrom

"Timidity," by Hans Ostrom

The systems fear timidity more than courage.
Timidity's a unique form of resistance:
not calculated, forced, or feigned.
Thus it must be broken, is the logic.

Demonized. Degraded. Turned into terror.
Timidity's the bravery of instinct.

The systems need people to cast off
less useful responses, leaving the ones
that help extract the most value.
Thus timidity must be turned into fear
or numb surrender.  One someone says,
"Don't be shy," consider it an order
and respond accordingly.

hans ostrom 2014

"Sociopaths," by Hans Ostrom

I've encountered quite a few sociopaths.
Some were famous poets. Some were
academics. Some both.

One sociopath patted me on the back,
just below the right shoulder, three times.
There was no sense of connection. The
interaction let me know I could be a tree;
his hand, a chainsaw.

Another sociopath grabbed my ass
(the right cheek) at a large crowded
wake. He could have been massaging dough.
(He had a cooking show.)

One of these two sociopaths is dead,
and the other might as well be.
Every so often, I wake from
a malformed nightmare. Something
about hands fashioned from metal,
eyes from ivory. I am not recognized.

hans ostrom 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Jesus and the Condominium," by Hans Ostrom

Somewhere in the United States, someone
is trying to sell Jesus a share
in a condominium-scheme. Christ
is told He may vacation anywhere
in the world using a complicated
point-system. First He must pay
a lot of money to participate
in the point-system. Did

a counterpart to the verb, "to vacation,"
exist in Aramaic? Jesus is trying
to remember. He thinks it's a miracle
that people fall
for such scams. Christ notes

that sales-eyes are not on the sparrow,
and sales-affections lie not
with the poor. After he says

"No" the seventh time, he adds,
"I live in Heaven for free
and come here to Hell only
on business.Therefore this package
is not for me."

hans ostrom 2014

"Opinions," by Hans Ostrom

Opinions, the styrofoam peanuts
of human discourse, proliferate;
are almost weightless; annoy
so much they wither us. The more

opinions most people hear or read,
well, the more they think they
should cultivate their own. A few
respond another way. They constrain

their points of view, refuse to argue,
wait for evidence but rarely
trust it. They're just fine with
saying "I don't know." Terrifying words.

Sometimes I place the word "opinion"
next to the word "onion." It is fun
to look at them side by side. Always
I prefer "onion" to "opinion."

hans ostrom 2014

"Out Fairly Far," by Hans Ostrom

We're fairly far out now, well
past the harbor. We float on darkness,
look back to diminished city lights.
Stars gain candle-power. The sea

makes more sounds than we can
listen to. None of us knows
why we're out here, not really.
All of us fell short of

our dreams for ourselves. The
dramas of our lives are small
but exhaust us still. There is no
captain. We take turns at the helm.

hans ostrom 2014

Friday, August 8, 2014

Found Poem: "Rates"

Of course,
the closer you are to your
the higher
the rates will be.

Hans Ostrom 2014

Hans Ostrom's Big List of Things to Write Poetry About

(or . . . About Which to Write Poetry; or Fiction, for that matter)

1. Say, "I can't believe I've never written a poem about [         ]" and then fill in the blank as you wish.
2. Real birds, closely observed.
3. Real human gestures, closely observed.
4. Imaginary human gestures.
5. Odors, stenches, smells, aromas.
6. Your own feet.
7. Imagine the lines on one of your palms are from a map. Of what?
8. About that time when you were excluded from a group.
9. About that time you had a hand in excluding someone else from a group.
10. Guilt.
11. Joy, the real ecstatic stuff.
12. Thinking, the process off. "Watch" yourself think.
13. War, if you've been to war.
14. War, if you haven't been to war.
15. A piece of art. Any piece of art. This would be an ekphrastic poem.
16. Work. Such as a specific job you held/hold.
17. A specific place in a big city; medium-sized city; town; small town.
18. A scene as seen by someone else.  Or as experienced by someone else. Perhaps even in their spoken or interior voice.
19. Cursing, curse-words.
20. Toys. Old toys. Imaginary toys.
21. A specific plant, closely observed.  Weed, flower, vegetable, shrub.
23. Something seen through a different lens: microscope, telescope, some kind of window.
24. Dancing of some kind.
25. A quiet place in a big building.
26. A noisy place in a big building
27. Hair.
28. Fashion.
29. An ethical dilemma.
30. Money. Actual money (coins, bills, checks, virtual money). Concerns about money. Desires connected to money.
31. An imaginary room or space that you "add" to an abode you once lived in.  Let's say you lived in a one-bedroom apartment or a two-bedroom shack.  Add one room or space and write about it.
32. An unusual experience with an animal.
33. Insects. Arachnids.
34. Rain.
35. Snow.
36. Illness.
37. People in power. A person in power.
38. An engine or motor of some kind.
39. Words you like, dislike, misuse, use too much, never use.
40. Reactions, responses, free-associations connect to the number "40" or the word, "Forty."
41. Learning to do something.
42. Forgetting how to do something.
43. Cooking.
44. Eating.
45. Copulation.
46. Other people, working.
47. Other people, worshipping.
48. Bones.
49. Dreams, as in nightmares.
50. Ambition.
51. Candy.
52. Playing a musical instrument.
53. Hypocrisy--yours, preferably; or someone else's.
54. Serendipity, an example thereof in your life.
55. Make several words out of  letters from the word, "serendipity," and start a poem using those words.
56. Write a poem that is one long, well shaped sentence.
57. A list-poem.
58. A how-to poem: how to fall in love, how to cook an egg, how to listen to an old person, etc.
59. Expedience.
60. The way a politician talks.
61. Your handwriting.
62. A childhood friend.
63. A childhood imaginary friend.
64. An amphibian.
65. A reptile.
66. Some aspect of science or medicine.
67. Some aspect of technology.
68. Conversations you hate to have with yourself.
69. Weight-gain.
70. Weight-loss.
71. Something you've read.
72. An homage-poem about someone or some event.
73. Jealousy.
74. Rage.
75. Envy.
76. Gluttony.
77. Privilege.
78. Tastes--beverages and food.
79. A quality of light.
80. Education.
81. Hate.
82. Confusion.
83. Something you regard as dull: the topic of life insurance, technical manuals, advice, shit other people seem to like a lot, etc.
84. How not-special you are.
85. How special you are. You can be sarcastic, of course.
86. High school athletics.
87. High school mean-ness.
88. High school: the physical landscape of it.
89. Yourself in 5 years.
91. Metal.
92. Wood.
93. Rocks.
94. Breathing.
95. An absurd situation.
96. Poverty.
97. A law.
98. A rule.
99. Rhythm.
100. Awkwardness of any kind.
101. Mathematics.
102. Religion.
103. Philosophy. A philosophical quotation.
104. Suburbia.
105. A proportionally accurate map of the world (you might be surprised).
106. Geology.
107. Economics.
108. Plastic.
109. Underwear.
110. Violence.
111. Redemption.
112. Weather.
113. Climate.
114. A mask.
115. A road.
116. A woman.
117. A man.
118. A trans-gender person.
119. Processed food.
120. Ice.
121. What's in a bathroom.  Specifics.
122. Your skin.
123. A time-piece.
124. Something you enjoy touching.
125. A letter to someone you will never meet.
126. A text-message to God.
127. A text-message from God.
128. Your own birth--make something up.
129. Punctuation.
130. Various oils.
131. A place that "disappeared": such as a field on which people built something.
132. A creek.
133. A culvert.
134. A tunnel.
135. A small pond.
136. Tools.
137. Pretentiousness.
138. Pigs.
139. Snakes.
140. Smoking.
141. A very hot day.
142. Noses.
143. Tiny creatures, such as fleas and mites.
144. Dusk.
145. Getting up early.
146. An apology.
147. Belts, scarves, ties--accessories.
148. Listening to the radio.
149. Not listening to the radio.
150. The physical qualities of some kind of computer.
151. A town you visited precisely once.
156. Air.
157. Washing clothes.
158. Something you are good at.
159. Drums.
160. Wires.
161. Death.
162. An old movie.
163. An awful cafe.
164. A form of spirituality not your own.
165. Zeno's Paradox.
166. Something in a museum.
167. Mirages.
168. Annoyances.
169. Dizziness.
170. Working out.
171. Not working out.
172. Dependence.
173. Independence.
174. A coastline.
175. A concept you may not understand, such as relativity or the horizon.
176. Fixing something. Repairs.
177. Shoes.
178. Something hand-made.
179. Something mass-produced.
180. Advertising.
181. The language of finance and investing, as applied to something else, such as sex.
182. Breasts.
183. Genitalia.
184. Something weirdly comic.
185. The oldest person you know.
186. Guns and ammo.
187. Yoga--whether you practice it or not.
188. Feces. Like dog-shit.
189. Stairs.
190. A piece of public sculpture.
191. A recipe.
192. Video games.
193. Astronomy.
194. Astrology.
195. A chore, a task, a routine.
196. Language itself, my dear.
197. Alchemy.
198. Bullshit, figuratively.
199. Bullshit, literally.
200. Farming.
201. Ranching.
202. Commercial fishing.
203. Vegetables.
204. Hiking.
205. Mobility via wheel-chair or crutches.
206. An impairment.
207. A gift.
208. Lessons you didn't like: music lessons, swimming lessons, etc.
209. An invented lesson.
210. The concept of "zero."
211. Something you think "belongs" to you.
212. An official form of some kind.
213. Any two or more of the above in combination, such as "a gift" and "a chore."
214. Why the joker is, in fact, not wild.
215. A game.
216. Phrases like "You're welcome" or "Make yourself at home."

--Hans Ostrom, 2014

"Love Not In Demand," by Hans Ostrom

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"I Wonder What Your Latitude Is Tonight," by Hans Ostrom

I'm going in another direction.
But I might see you when
the Earth turns around.

The blood on my hands
(not mine by the way)
turned into foaming rainbows.

I'm now riding through the "sky":
it is so mild. And I wonder what
your latitude is tonight.

hans ostrom 2014

"Sierra Buttes," by Hans Ostrom

The Sierra Buttes
are what Cubism
had wanted to be:
a multi-planed,
sui generis impro-
vization, a force
of nature admired
as an object d'arte.

Up were the plates
thrust in the patient
geological crash.
Then came the mother
tongue, ice, which

ultimately withdrew
(think how slowly),
leaving this grand
stone assemblage,
this blue-jazz
diorite peak
with no peak,
instead a bulbous

Every different angle
invents a new Buttes
(plurality in the
singularity of the
plural singular),
each resulting in

an entirely different
understanding of
"the Sierra Buttes."
Standing in the town
of Sierra City,
one notices that
looking up
creates in humans
uncomfortable planes
for the head and the

neck. And it is
no wonder that people
who live in
Sierra City and other
small mountain-towns
around our
geological globe
tend to
develop highly original
designs for calamity,
have crafted
grand existential comedies--
forces of life
that may never
be shaped into art.

For there is no answer
to the mountain,
there is no solution
to how the Sierra Buttes
human endeavor,
or so think humans
(this is drama
on our scale)
as they consider
the mountain the

hans ostrom 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"The Wind Sprang Up at Four O'Clock," by T.S. Eliot

"Economics," by Hans Ostrom

Why do I have to share?
You don't have to share, if
you're opposed to sharing.
Why would I want to share?
You would want to share
because you are able to do so
and because
sharing expresses the proper
of your will and your empathy.

. . .No one leads
a completely individual life.
Eventually everyone
needs someone, wants
others. There
sharing begins.. . .

hans ostrom

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Fin," by Hans Ostrom

I grew a fin.
It helps me swim.

The wife of many years
divorced me. She
thought the issue of a fin
was insurmountable.

I had to learn
to sleep on
my side or belly.
Also, clothes:
you can imagine.

I don't care.
got something.
I have a fin.

hans ostrom 2014