Archive for July, 2012

In Lieu of Grass

The lacy white Queen,

happy with too little rain,

pops up in our lawns.






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Sinclair Lewis

About halfway between Minneapolis and Fargo, just off I-94, is the town of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, hometown of Sinclair Lewis and the setting for his novel, Mainstreet.  In 1930, Lewis became the first American novelist awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Only ten Americans have won this prize and you’d think that Sauk Centre (yes, it’s spelled that way) would be happy to celebrate their hometown hero. 

His home is open in the summer and there is a small museum attached to the Visitor’s Center that is just off the freeway.  We talked to the woman who volunteers at the Visitor Center.  She is quite knowledgeable about Lewis’ life, work and loves.  She suggested that Sauk Centre city officials don’t know what an opportunity they have to attract visitors to come to Sauk Centre and learn about Sinclair Lewis…and stay in the historic Palmer House Hotel and eat downtown and hike the Lake Wobegon Trail. 

Well, the life and times of Sauk Centre perhaps have not changed much since Lewis used the town to explore the futility of trying to change stubborn, well, Scandanavians mostly.  The lady at the Visitor’s Center just wants the city to pay for a sign that can be seen from the freeway and would direct more traffic into town. 

She seemed the feisty type who will continue to bring the possibilities to the attention of the city fathers, but it’s sad that other than English majors, most Americans don’t care about their literary heritage.  Where, for instance, is the bus tour to take people from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport to Sauk Centre?  It’s at the Mall of America, that’s where.

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Dot and Emma Get Ready To Do a Rain Dance

The girls are ready to try anything.  Here they are standing in the straw that is our back lawn while I ponder advice to water or it will die (we are way beyond the “it’s just dormant” stage) or to take our chances and re-seed next spring if we have to.  Of course, that brings images of winter mud run-offs sliding into the window well, which would be really ugly.  Maybe Dot and Emma’s magic will work.

Meanwhile, I have scoured my Haiku diaries for rain and found some luscious entries.


Rain wakes me. Falling

out of balance with the world

on the waiting lawn.


Thunder rumbled in

bringing the morning along,

a gray and green wet.


What kind of rain came?

Misty rain..sprinkles. Steady,

pick up the pace rain.


 Rain fell for hours.

Gentle soaking rain, seeping

into summer’s dry.

UPDATE:  Wednesday morning, 6:10 a.m., woke to thunder.  Rain followed for about 30 minutes.  The girls’ Rain Dance worked!  Thanks, ladies.


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101 on Monday

This draught is getting me down.  Seriously, it’s like Arizona here in Wisconsin:  hot days, cool nights, lots of wind and NO RAIN!  The problem is that draught begets draught, so this is it for a long while, it seems.  I need to cool down, so I returned to my Haiku diary from 2008 for inspiration.

Here’s a favorite entry for January:

Eight!  It’s eight degrees,

five inches of snow coming.

Forgot to Migrate!

Oh, this is cool, from January 17:

Ice-blue sky painted

green-tea and lemon colors

by muted sun rays.

By February of 2008 we’d had 80″ of snow.  Here’s an entry for February 20:

Air filled with ice-clicks:

piccolo percussion sound

as iced branches dance. 

On March 3rd we’d had 91.5″ of snow and some rain:

Rain took down snow banks

melting like ice cream in sun

running off a cone.

Finally, on March 23rd:

Regressed to snow-world.

One-hundred inches this year.

That’s a lot of snow!



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The Best American Poetry 2011, Part 5

Rapid City, SD, the City of Presidents

Here is the final post about some of the poems in The Best American Poetry 2011

Mary Jo Thompson learned that form, in her case the sonnet, gave her “messy material” a container, and some detachment.  She wrote poems, not rants.

Both Rachel Wetzsteon and Richard Wilbur wrote a poem that is a series of haiku verses where the first and third lines rhyme.  Each stanza in Westzsteon’s “Time Pieces” is preceeded with a type of time – sleep time, give it time, etc. – which is a kind of riddle that the haiku verse answers.  Wilbur says that the rhyming haiku form in  “Ecclesiastes II:I”  “…offers both fluency and emphasis.”

C. K. Williams uses an essay by the poet Basho as a springboard for his poem, “”A Hundred Bones.”  Basho writes about himself as a “windswept spirit” and then refers to that spirit in the third person – it – and ends with:  “The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore it hangs on to it more or less blindly.”

The last poem in the book is “Cycladic Idyll:  An Apologia” by Stephen Yenser, a meditation on time spent in Greece, fostered by the poet James Merrill.  Here is a line I want to use to write a poem:

“And then remind yourself of what he wrote, that truth shoots out from the

          same root as tree not because it is steadfast but because it keeps

          branching and can be pruned.”


Finally, the editor of the BAM 2011 is Kevin Young, whose 2011 book, Ardency, I just took out of the library.  It tells the story of the Africans who mutinied aboard the slave ship Amistad.  Young’s book tells the story in the voice of the African interpreter for the rebels and in the letters from the captives to John Quincy Adams and others.  It concludes with a libretto chanted by Cinque, the rebel leader. 

For now I have only paged through the book and read sections, but it is history in epic poem and song.  Now that I have finished BAM 2011 I can immerse myself in it.  Even the cover illustration is wonderful.  It is a series of silhouettes of black men, three across and four down that are taken from A History of the Amistad Captives by John Warner Barber in 1840.  While these are likely from a phrenological study of the captives – the idea that the shape of the skull determines mental ability and character – the silhouettes each reveal a unique person, which is what phrenology should have been about in the first place.



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The Best American Poetry 2011, Part 4

Here we go with N through S, as I am working my way through The Best American Poetry 2011.    This batch generates some great prompts for writing and a few very good lines. 

The first good line is from “Pillow Talk” by Jeni Olin who writes about caring for the painter Larry Rivers, who died in 2002:  “…I’m a widowchild who needs sunblock / against your blinding legacy….”  She was young, he was old.

My response to “Cogitatio Mortis” by Eric Pankey is, “WTF??”  “On the river, the ache-song of a slow thaw. /  Each stone, anchored, measures the same hour.”   Jane Hirshfield says this about Pankey’s poems: “…they unbridle us into a freshened and metamorphic wordscape. The soundcraft is superb, the modes of investigation by turns lyrical, surreal, meditative, allegorical, direct-speaking, and allusive.” 

In “Postcards from her Alternate Life,” Catherine Pierce gives us a great prompt.  Of course, the message on the postcard is not “wish you were here.”

Robert Pinsky’s description of “Horn” is as good or better than the poem.  He says that any genuine work in an art is unique and a collaboration of all the people who have touched the artist’s life.  Another good prompt:  gather a few people over time and look for the connections.

Katha Pollitt’s “Angels” is another great prompt.  She pulls from a southern tradition that angels enter your car to protect you while you are gone.  But this raises many questions such as what do they do while you run into the store?  And where are they while you are at home? 

Another great line is in Gretchen Stark Pratt’s “To My Father on the Anniversary of His Death.”  “…If you decide to come the roots / Of my house will stop weeping…”  She mentions Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions as the source for the beginning of an earlier poem.  Can you say, “Prompt”?

James Richardson writes aphorisms and ten second essays, which is another good prompt.  He says they are like eating Doritos®.  You can’t stop.  The poem is titled, “Even More Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays from Vectors 3.0.”  Here are two that spoke to me:

                # 8. What is more yours than what always holds you back?

                #18. You have two kinds of secrets.  The ones only you know.  The ones only you don’t.

I like Anne Marie Rooney’s “What my heart is turning.”  It is a passionate celebration of her heart/life.

Mary Ruefle’s poem “Provenance” is fine, but I’m really excited to learn about her erasure books (poems created by eliminating text).   She posts samples of her 19th century vintage erasure books on her website at  The site links to Wave Books at where you can pull up a page from a book and do your own erasure poem and print or email it.  Another wonderful prompt!

David St. John’s “Ghost Aurora” addresses the poetic calling, luring “…the phantom out of the dark, until she lifts us into the space of song.”

Patricia Smith’s celebration of Motown music earns her the “Motown Crown,” in fifteen sonnets.  The last line repeats in the first line of the next sonnet.  She uses a lot of rhyme, either aaaaaa or bcabca or…it just depends. 

Finally, Bianca Stone writes “Pantoum for the Imperceptible.”  I like pantoums, which are poems in which the second and fourth lines of a stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next stanza.  It is tricky to come up with lines that make sense throughout the poem.  The result can be a bit like the poetry prompt exercise where someone writes two lines, covers the first and hands the page to the next person:  messy!  When I write pantoums, I also feel like I cheated somehow.  Rather than writing something truly ”lyrical, surreal and meditative,” I just cheat and repeat.

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The Best American Poetry 2011, Part 3

I am working my way through The Best American Poetry 2011.  I started with poems I’d like to have written, then commented on interesting poems.  Today I sense a bit of the snarky critic.  Perhaps it’s the heat.

Major Jackson says his poems from Holding Company are full of “lyric density…associative leaps..dialogic language…”  He sees “lyric as the melodic use of language;”  “…each poem an improvised moment of insinuation and linguistic discovery;” “an utterance that unfolds in the syntactic cathedral that is a poem.”  FYI, the suffix “-ic” is used to form an adjective from a noun.  Possibly also as in egotistic?

 “Notebooks” by Allison Joseph is about notebooks.  She says she likes to write about concrete things.  In this batch of poems that’s a relief because the next one, by L. S. Klatt, “Andrew Wyeth, Painter, Dies at 91,” has lines like “A giant squid rises out of a hayfield” in it, which the author describes as “severe and bizarre imagery.” 

I love snow which is perhaps why I like “Snow” by James Longenbach.  He lives in Rochester, NY where it snows a lot.  His inspiration is an Italian poet, Umberto Saba, who writes, “Snow that falls from above and covers us.”  Longenbach ends with “Snow that covers us from above/Cover us more deeply/Cover the rooftops/Cover the sea.”  Beautiful.

“The Complaint against Roney Laswell’s Rooster” by Maurice Manning is his attempt at lyric poetry.  He set out rules: six line stanzas with five word lines, etc.  He is trying to attain the freedom of lyric, because he thinks he is too tied to narrative.  What makes it successful it the form.  And there is a story, too…we just don’t know how it will end.

Paul Muldoon, the Irishman who is poetry editor of The New Yorker, writes that his poem “The Side Project” is the last of a series of long poems, “…in which, like the members of the circus taking on different roles, the same ninety end-words have run the changes on a range of emotionally charged themes.” 

According to a November 16, 2010 review by Jeremy Noel-Todd in The Telegraph, these poems began “…with The Annals of Chile (1994), a book that used the same extended sequence of 90 different rhyme-sounds across two long poems.”

I read Muldoon’s Moy Sand and Gravel, which is full of very creative uses of rhyme and imaginary words.*  In “The Side Project,” some rhyme pairs are ordinary:  clover and over; adjourn/return.  Then there are open/gibbon; slobbers/gulper; and unbitten/button.    But these are a mystery:  clover-field/fellatio; pig-grease/carpet-baggers. 

Muldoon is worth a month or two of blog posts so I will end with this for now.

*My post on May 21, 2011, titled “Anniversary,” includes a poem that was inspired by reading MoySand and Gravel.

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