Odes to Tools public reading — April 10

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Odes to Tools poetry reading flyer

Download the flyer [PDF]

As the flyer says, I’m doing a reading and multimedia presentation in support of Odes to Tools on Saturday, April 10 at 3:30 p.m. at Webster’s Bookstore Café, 128 South Allen Street, State College, PA. Webster’s was an obvious choice for a reading since they’ve always been very supportive of local authors and performers, and they have a great poetry selection with a regular turn-over. Not only do a majority of the books in my poetry collection come from Webster’s, but I also buy almost all the coffee I drink there. So my own poems owe their inception to Webster’s in more ways than one.

If you’re from anywhere in central Pennsylvania, I hope you’ll consider attending. I’ll be projecting texts of the poems I read onto a screen for those who like to follow along, and also showing a few of my videopoems — that’s the multimedia part. I’m planning to bring along examples of some of the tools that may be less familiar to people, which should help keep things fairly entertaining. In between poems I’ll talk about how the book grew out of blogging and online publishing, which will I hope provide enough of an excuse for me to expand beyond just the tool odes.

If you do live in the area and would like to help spread the word, I’d be grateful. Know of any community bulletin boards or other likely spots where you can post things without getting us into trouble? Please feel free to print out copies of the above flyer on a color printer and post them, or hand them out. You can assure anyone who asks that the reading will not last longer than an hour (not counting questions and book signings, if any), and that they will not be bored. I am a fairly dynamic public speaker, and I do not mumble, intone, or indulge in literary in-jokes. I try to introduce my poems with the general reader in mind.

If you can’t attend the reading, you can still help by suggesting content you think I should include. “Poems and poem-like things” is the most populous category here at Via Negativa, with 664 posts so far, most of which I’ve long since forgotten about. By sheer chance, I just discovered a poem called “Hollow” that would be perfect for the reading, because it helps tie the tool odes into where I live. So if you’ve been reading for a while and happen to remember other obvious (or not so obvious) candidates for inclusion, do let me know, and if you’ve read the book or the series, let me know which are your favorites; I won’t have time to read them all. Any other suggestions for how I should conduct the reading would be welcome, as well.

Finally, if you know how to play the musical saw, or know someone in the area who does, please get in touch.

Spring and all

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

tree in one of the last snowdrifts

Were it not for the high winds in February, the snow would be gone now. Instead, foot-deep drifts still rot in the sun.

first coltsfoot

Otherwise, it’s turning out to be an early spring. Thirty feet from the nearest snowdrift, the first wildflower — a coltsfoot — was out this afternoon, its rays seemingly taking their cues from the sun’s glittering reflection in the adjacent ditch.

eastern comma butterfly

Up on the ridgetop, the first butterflies had emerged from wherever they spent the winter — presumably under loose flaps of bark, or in hollow logs — and were sunbathing in the middle of the old woods road. I had the rare pleasure of witnessing a fight between a Compton’s tortoiseshell an eastern comma and a mourning cloak, though I wasn’t quick enough to capture it on film. I’m not sure what they were fighting about. There seemed to be plenty of dead leaves and bare twigs to go around.

Mourning cloak

I thought of the other insect life that must be stirring all around us, the buds swelling, the seeds beginning to sprout. Tomorrow will bring more arrivals and emergences, I’m sure, and by the end of the week — if the weather predictions are correct — the first spring orgies should be breaking out among the local garter snakes and wood frogs. It all happens so fast. Part of me is still wishing I’d gotten one more sled run in.

Woodrat Podcast 10: John Miedema on Slow Reading

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Slow Reading cover
John Miedema talks about his book Slow Reading and the practice and experience of reading in general. Some of the questions he addresses include:

Is the length of a book an indication of profundity?

Are books mind-altering substances?

Which kinds of writing work better in print and which work better on the web?

How do you reconcile technophilia with bibliophilia?

Can slow reading flow from slow writing?

Should we persist in trying to make the web more print-like?

How should we read newspapers and magazines?

Is it possible to read too much?

Do slow readers make better citizens?

Is speed-reading on the web changing the way we think?

Does information overload matter?

How can readers get beyond being passive consumers of information or tourists of the reading experience?

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia, by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence)

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Acorn Barnacle

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Semibalanus balanoides

Imagine being plankton:
small & adrift, little more
than head & rudder & a single eye,
food for whales.
Then one day the barnacle larva
grows a two-piece carapace
& is consumed by a sudden
sense of purpose.
Now it has working legs
& the power to swim wherever
it wants, but what it wants
is to find a spot where
it will never have to swim again.
Acutely sensitive feelers sample
every hard surface for evidence
of others of its kind, & in so doing,
deposit the same sign.
It tries out each potential anchorage
by standing on its head,
& if satisfied, secretes
from the base of its antennae
one of the hardest cements
known to science. Imagine
making that kind of commitment.
But only now,
attatched by the forehead
to rock or reef or oil tanker hull,
can it embark upon the final stage
of metamorphosis, become an adult
& build its ridged turret.

Two years later, packed among
its companions-for-life,
it reaches sexual maturity.
Though lacking a heart, it wields
in proportion to body size
the world’s largest penis,
which is also disposable
& re-grows every winter for
a new orgy. They enter each other
with the sureness of blind fingers
reading Braille, opercula open,
able to accommodate
as many as six at a time.
The mating season over,
each broods a clutch of fertilized eggs
within its shell until they hatch
& for a little while thereafter,
giving what we can only call live birth.
And all the while, the feathery appendages
that sprouted where legs used to be
keep up a delicate stroking
of the ocean current —
the barnacle’s first & probably
greatest love, inescapable,
full of the taste of distance
& the savory plankton.

(Thanks to Creature Cast for the inspiration)

The Silent Banjo

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 26 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


The silent banjo leans against the wall
like a movie gangster, casual, coiled,
ready for some chin music.

The silent banjo may or may not
be in tune—& in what tuning, who knows?
To some, this makes it alluring.
Its neck is straight, like a mute swan
culled by a marksman.

The silent banjo is silent because
it has seen too much.

The silent banjo is silent because
no one remembers how to listen.

Approach the silent banjo as you would
any other apocryphon:
brandishing the one true book of matches
& saying in your best Hollywood voice,
The jig is up.

Purple Sea Urchin

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Bestiary


Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

The urchin uses its spines as feet; for it rests its weight on these, and then moving shifts from place to place.
Aristotle, The History of Animals

Spines have more uses
than one would think.
Sure, they defend against sea otters
and the voracious stars.
Ball-jointed, they swivel to catch
pieces of floating algae
for the shorter, two-
fingered pedicellines to convey
to the bottom-scraping mouth
& its five sharp pyramids.

They are digging bars.
A purple urchin can excavate
a hollow into solid rock.
If it starts too young, it may become stuck,
entombed. Some never dig at all,
& wander slow as time
through the kelp forest.

The spines sharpen a kind of vision, too,
like squinting eyelids
bringing into focus
the images collected by the pedicellines
& the tube feet, which are furred
with light-sensitive molecules.
The more numerous a sea urchin’s spines,
the sharper its vision — & yet
it has no brain.
It is all brain.
And it lacks eyes because it is all eye,
revolving in its self-made socket
for as long as a century,
risking death from the removal
of a single spine,
unable ever to shut.

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote…

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Direct link to video.

April is the coolest month, y’all. (T.S. who?)


Suddenly I am a little ashamed of my ladybug poem. I just read someone else’s poems about the same, invasive species, and they are so, so moving. They came at the end of one of the more gripping books of poetry I’ve ever read — I mean, I couldn’t put it down — and now I see these utterly familiar insects in a new light. But this is what poetry does, isn’t it?

I bought the book this morning at Webster’s Bookstore Café in State College, Pennsylvania (which incidentally now stocks Odes to Tools) and it’s one of 30 poetry books I’ll be blogging about here next month, one a day, for (Inter-)National Poetry Month. Originally I thought I’d focus on chapbooks, but I’ve decided to broaden it to any poetry book, including a few that I’ve read at least once before. But probably no Collected Works, because each book will still need to be short enough to read (or re-read) in an hour or two and then review or write a creative response to.

NaPoWriMo — National Poetry Writing Month — has really caught on among online poets, and that’s great, but I’m already writing at least one poem a day, if you count my brief Morning Porch entries as poems (they’re usually pretty close). What I don’t do enough of is blog about the poetry books I read, so for me it’s going to be NaPoReMo. I’m going to try to keep the selection as varied as possible to increase the chances of including something that will appeal to almost everyone who reads here, not just fellow hardcore poetry fans. I even picked up a book of baseball poetry today.

So I’ve just finished all the book-buying I intend to do in preparation, but I do want to repeat the offer I made a few days ago on Facebook: if you’re the author of a book of poetry and you’d like me to consider it for inclusion as one of the 30, feel free to mail me a review copy. I’ll probably send a copy of Odes to Tools in exchange, so you’ll get something out of it one way or the other.

One other thing I’ll be doing for National Poetry Month is a reading and multimedia presentation in support of Odes to Tools. I’ll have more information about that in another post, but please mark your calendars: it’ll be at 3:30 pm on Saturday, April 10, at the aforementioned Webster’s Bookstore Cafe in downtown State College. Come for the books, stay for the great coffee. I like to think of it as a pilgrimage.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

old man winter heading out

Spring is definitely underway now, even as Old Man Winter is still shuffling slowly toward the exit. I heard tundra swans almost as soon as I went out on the porch this morning, and when the swans stopped flying over around mid-morning, it was time for the “V”s of migrant Canada geese. I even saw a lone seagull.

I walked around the field, checking out the networks of vole burrows emerging from the melting snowpack. Down by the barn, the bluebirds were inspecting a battered old nesting box, and a few hours later, the first song sparrow returned. This was actually the first year in a couple of decades that song sparrows didn’t over-winter, and the mornings have seemed unnaturally silent as a result.

cut hair

When the temperature hit 60 degrees this afternoon, I felt a sudden compulsion to cut my hair. It had been a year and a half since my last self-administered haircut. It’s nice to be able to do it outside, without a shirt on, leaning over the porch rail.


I documented the results mainly with Facebook in mind, but since I don’t feel up to a real blog post tonight, I thought I might as well inflict it on y’all, too. (Yes, I wear deeply unfashionable glasses and clothes from Wal-Mart.) I was somewhat repulsed by the emergence of my bare scalp from underneath all that graying hair. There were some blood spots and other unsightly blotches of the sort that I tend to identify with — you know — old people. It looked raw, like a patch of ground just liberated from the snow.

Woodrat Podcast 9: Ren Powell, A Poet’s Way in Norway

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Ren (Katherine) Powell talks about how living in Norway and translating Norwegian poets, and also a Yemeni poet, have shaped her own growth as a writer

Ren Powell

Included in the conversation are readings of four poems by Odveig Klyve, two by Mansur Rajih, and three of Ren’s own poems, “It Wasn’t the Flu,” “Spring Heralds,” and “Losing My Religion.” See Ren’s website for links to more of her poems online, and Anima Poetics for her Flash animations.

Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

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