Archive for June, 2011

Actually, You Need a Dog

We were talking about puppies.

Elsa said, “Too much work.”

But Adrian looked up and said,

“Actually, you need a dog.”



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Emma and Dorthea

Here are Emma and Dorthea, playing in the garden.


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American Sentences

Allen Ginsberg, inspired by Haiku, invented American Sentences:  one sentence, 17 syllables long.  There is a web site for American Sentences at   Ginsberg also wrote a poem consisting of all sentences – admonitions, really – of various lengths, that starts this way:

 Cosmopolitan Greetings

 Stand up against governments, against God.
Stay irresponsible.
Say only what we know & imagine.
Absolutes are Coercion.
Change is absolute.
Ordinary mind includes eternal perceptions.
Observe what’s vivid.
Notice what you notice.
Catch yourself thinking…etc.

Since I’m so used to writing Haiku, it is actually difficult for me to write a 17 syllable sentence.  That sounds ridiculous but the 5/7/5 rhythm of Haiku breaks the words into small groupings that are easier to conceptualize as one line.  One 17 syllable sentence is, well, a mouthful. 

 Here is an early attempt:

I need a dog to kill the rabbits, but then I couldn’t watch them play.

 Or, more recently:

Front yard garden can be planted in twenty minutes, weeded in ten.

 How about:

When the roofers started banging away, the cat took a flying leap.

Minot will be wiped off the face of the map from the flooding Souris.

“I’m sure they won’t eat all the dog food,” Big Dog said to the little one.

Ginsberg came up with American Sentences long before Tweets became popular.  Still, they read a little like newspaper headlines.  Long headlines.  I think I’ll stick to Haikus because they are more flexible; they lend themselves more readily to more than one thought.  And the lines can rhyme.


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Desire Path

A desire path is the shortest distance between two points.  There is no shortcut through this lovely small garden in Washington DC. 

          Desire Path

 The path works a square,

but I cut across,

a schooner at sea,

where the only paths

are made by the wind,

in pact with the moon

and the whims of the waves.

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The Anthologist

Amy Gerstler’s introduction to the 2010 Best American Poetry anthology references a book called The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker.  How did I miss this book when it came out in 2009?  Well, I did, so I got a copy from the library.  Gerstler references the book because she felt kinship with the book’s main character, Paul Chowder, who also selected poems for an anthology and now must write the introduction.  Chowder’s girlfriend leaves and his publisher abuses him, but still he dithers and instead of writing the introduction, takes the reader on a spin through poetic history, the history of rhyme’s demise and a theory of the four beat line.   His anthology is called “Only Rhyme.”

In addition to providing some great leads on anthologies, such as The Poet’s Tongue by W. H. Auden and John Garrett, which is wending its way to me from England for only $14.49, Nicholson includes advice for poets, a sweet love story – between him and the missing girlfriend Roz – and he resurrects a few rhyming poets who are largely forgotten, such as the Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne, the American Vachel Lindsay, and Chowder/Nicholson’s favorite, Sara Teasdale.

The book is funny, too.  Here is what Paul Chowder says in response to his fourth grade teacher’s introduction of free verse.

“What does she mean it doesn’t have to rhyme?  It does have to rhyme!  It’s got to rhyme because rhyme is poetry.  Where did Little Miss Muffet sit?  Did she sit on a cushion?  Did she sit on a love seat?  No, she sat on a tuffet.”

I enjoyed the advice to poets, especially the point that Gerstler also quotes, that a poet must “Put it down, work on it, finish it.  If you don’t get on it now, somebody else will do something similar, and when you crack open next year’s Best American Poetry and see it under somebody elses’ name, you’ll hate yourself.”  Indeed.

At the end of the book, Chowder gives a Master Class during a poetry conference, and in response to a question about how he initiates a poem, he replies, “Well, I’ll tell you how.  I ask a simple question.  I ask myself:  What was the very best moment of your day?”  This moment “…will leap up and hover there in front of me, saying I am – I am the best moment of the day.”  And that is exactly what he will write a poem about.

Sort of like one of my Haiku moments.

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Stone Mail

Give a friend a stone.

When she feels the surface,

she will sense your message. 

The idea of stone mail came to me first from the movie Departures (see Pages: Movies No One Sees).  The stone in the photo has the advantage of both texture and visual appeal.  You cannot touch the stone, but you can imagine how it feels.  What is the message you sense?

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Dad at 100

My father was born in 1911.  He would have been 100 today.  His gifts to me were his kindness and generosity.  This poem was published in Artella in 2004

For Dad, Who Died on June 18, 1984

What’s it like, this memory?

Like little fishes swimming

through gauze openings

that thicken over time.

They are there, in my dreams,

in my reverie,

moving in and out of the weave.

Just there, reminding me.

A ship is down,

sitting on the ocean floor.

A ship should sail

but fishes swim

through these portholes.

Walk this deck with me once again.

Fill me with wisdom before we feel the tilt

as the ship



the surface.

Let me taste your spirit; it will sustain me.

I turn back and something scaly slides past my cheeks:

the fishes who remind me.

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