To have and to hold

You can have everything as long as you keep your eyes shut. I’ve been practicing this with horses, with hats, with consumer electronics, with money, with vacations, with specialty cheeses, with weapons of mass destruction. I hear them gather, humming & purposeful, like sex toys or the avatars of deities in which I don’t fully believe.

I start the way an oyster does, mulling over a mustard seed of lust. But it isn’t a seed, is it? It’s a worry bead, a tumor: its growth is by simple addition, & contains no taint of metamorphosis. I conjure, I cadger, I cajole these prodigies of the pituitary gland into being my body doubles & starring in the movie of my life while I sleep.


For Read Write Poem (an ambiguous image prompt)

Sea asters

The asters said: We blossom not for each other but for the thief. She had fallen in love with a horse, as young women will do, while I polished a mirror for looking at the stars. The sand flies were terrible that year; the whelks & mussel shells would go uncollected for days. Hoof prints appeared every morning coming out of the ocean.

Have you ever tried to have sex on a beach? Between the salt & the sand & the suntan oil it’s a recipe for rashes… & then there’s the question of what to do with the used condoms and all the empty beer cans. But something about the vast indifference of the ocean excited us, made us yearn for our own, measely throb & release. I remember lying spent among the beach grass & the sea rocket with the Milky Way spread out above us, & hearing the drumbeat of hooves over the hush of the surf. “Did you hear that?” “Hear what?” I thought about the mirror back home in its wrappings, how thousands of random, back-&-forth motions could excavate a perfect trap for light.

A Week of Ups and Downs With Via Negativa

The morning dawns, now comes the test:
‘Twas on last night. How bout the rest?
It’s on in morning, down at night.
It seems to take turns taking flight.
And just when I get used to this
It takes another nasty twist.
Now on at midnight gone at noon.
The blog has now reversed its tune.
Last night (or was it morning then?)
I snuck a blog peek once again.
Lo and behold, it was back up
But this alone can’t fill my cup.
All day I checked to see just when
The blog would go back down again.
Did Pennsylvania’s main electric
Power source go all dyspeptic?

Hey! Maybe there’ll be some relief.
My tale, once met with disbelief,
Was verified by other fans
Who crept more shyly from the stands.
GoDaddy, was this group to blame?
Could they have messed up domain name?
It seems it wasn’t fault of Dad
So Dave then wrote WebHostingPad
Who promised to redress the glitch.
In just one day they’d do the fix.
I think it’s holding. Wow! That’s good!
But still I tend to knock on wood.
I’m praying that it will not fail
And soon perhaps I can exhale.
I’m positively all off track
Till Negativa’s truly back.

—Joan Ryan


Thanks to Joan for the light verse, which she self-deprecatingly calls “bloggerel” (though I beg to differ: true doggerel’s distinguishing feature is that its author intends it to be serious poetry). I am also indebted to her for insisting that I had a problem, finally prompting me to post a query on Facebook and ask if anyone else was getting “server not found” messages when they tried to visit Thanks to everyone who responded there. With fifty percent reporting problems accessing the site, I knew the problem wasn’t with Joan’s ISP, as I had originally thought/hoped.

GoDaddy is where the domain is registered, and WebHostingPad is where the site resides. Once I felt fairly sure the problem was with the latter and contacted tech support, they responded almost immediately: “I apologize; there was an error with the DNS settings for your domain name.” I liked the personal touch, and the fact that the fellow knew how to deploy a semicolon. Joan’s fingers are still crossed, she says, but I feel fairly certain the problem has been resolved.


The dark night (2)

What are you listening for, who
already know everything I have
to say? You are nothing but
a tourist of the night.
What appears empty to you
is in fact a fully inhabited tenement.
Your inscrutable fruit is far
more pungent than you can know,
who do not risk becoming
someone else’s morsel.
Who cooks for you?


Response to last night’s post. (In bird guides, the barred owl’s call is usually described as sounding like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”)

The dark night

I am listening for an owl that doesn’t call.
It’s as taciturn as the coyotes whose presence here
we mainly infer from footprints.
Night ripens on the boughs, its blue-black fruit
an antidote to the 24-hour Wal-Mart of the soul
in which I sink.

SEO for poetry, poems, poets

This entry is part 5 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology


I don’t spend much time looking at site stats. Oh, I glance at them pretty often, but I rarely pore over them to see which posts are the most popular, who’s arriving from where, and the like. Only yesterday did it even occur to me to see what kind of statistics my blog host offers, and I’ve been with them since last March. Otherwise, I rely exclusively on the very minimal statistics provided by a WordPress plugin identical to what’s used on Its main virtue as far as I’m concerned is that it doesn’t slow load-times down at all, since it doesn’t require the installation of javascript. But I also like the fact that it doesn’t tempt me to waste time looking at lots of additional information of marginal utility, as I used to do when I relied on

That said, my vanity was piqued earlier today when I took a rare, detailed look at the most popular searches that led people to my blog. Via Negativa is now the #1 result in Google for penis poetry, #2 for penis poems, #8 for penis poem, and #3 for poems about penis. (You might have to turn “safe search” off to verify these results at home.) In the non-phallic category, Via Negativa comes in at #8 for poems about movies, #1 for viking nicknames, #1 for balm of Gilead tree, and #3 for raccoon sex.

There’s a depressingly clear pattern emerging from all these inadvertently search engine-optimized (SEO) posts. All include the search term right in the title of the post: “The penis poems.” “Poems about movies.” Viking nicknames.” “Felling the balm of Gilead.” “Hot raccoon sex.”

The SEO experts are right: if you want Google juice, pander to the bots with titles only a robot could love. For example, if you want to blog a poem about giving birth, title the post “poem about giving birth,” and save the actual title for the next line. (You could always enclose it in h1 or h2 tags, if you still want to make sure it’s indexed.) I mean, I’m probably not going to change my ways anytime soon, but don’t let my stick-in-the-mud example deter you from deploying titles like the one I used for this post. (If there’s one thing guaranteed to get lots of searches, it’s a blog post about SEO.)

But please keep things in perspective. Even my most Google-friendly poems have yet to garner more than a couple thousand page views total in the 17 months since I started using stats. Blogging poetry may be a much better way to reach audiences than through traditional publication in print journals, but that’s relative: poetry blogs will still never attract a fraction of the readership of, say, knitting blogs, mommy blogs, or (lord help us) political opinion blogs. And sadly, it seems that only a vanishingly small percentage of those who go online every day in search of information about the human male sex organs say to themselves, “Hey! I wonder if there are any really good poems about it?”


In every bowl there’s a howl hidden,
a cracked moon, a watery shiver.
In every glass a palace,
in every pot a broth, a salt,
in every beaker a shriek of frantic molecules:
words that alight in the mind
just before sleep, like birds
coming to roost in that copse
that feeds the wild wood
& its one good bowl.

Advice for Prospective Troglodytes (video)

Video link.

It’s International Rock-Flipping Day, so I thought I’d try making a poetry video with footage of the underside of rocks, shot this afternoon in the woods above my house. The poem is a couple of years old, and may be found at my online collection Shadow Cabinet.

UPDATE: Here’s the complete list of bloggers who participated in IRFD this year.

Wanderin’ Weeta
The Natural Capital
Fertanish Chatter
Roundrock Journal
Just Playin’ Around
What It’s like on the Inside
Growing with Science
Yips and Howls
Rock, Paper, Lizard
Outside My Window
The dog geek
Dave Ingram’s Natural History Blog
Unplug Your Kids
ORCA: Observar, Recordar, Crecer y Aprender
Will Rees Fine Woodworking …
The Marvelous in Nature
Pohangina Pete
Ontario Wanderer
Bare Baby Feet
The Homefront Lines
Crazy Maize World
Dr. Omed’s Tent Show Revival

And don’t forget to check the Flickr group, too.

Incantation against McMansion-dwellers

We didn’t get as many submissions of curses for the qarrtsiluni Words of Power issue as I would’ve liked, though we did get a few, and we’ll be running them soon. Here’s a kind of curse I imagine gets muttered a lot these days.

A plague on your unrealestate!
A descent of tent caterpillars, a fleet of mosquitos.
May the neighbors pit-roast goats & ululate.
May the farmer on the far hill
spread liquid manure during your dinner parties.
May termites decimate the fake Tudor half-beams
on your misbegotten horror-scene of a house,
may your drywall get dry rot,
may your lawn turn wild every full moon
& seed the subdivision with beggar-ticks.
May the INS arrest you in broad daylight
for employing undocumented workers
to blow from dawn to dusk
your goddamned leaves.
May you be forced to rake.