Speaking of __

This entry is part 17 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


Let us lower our voices, said the woman next to me at the bus station; but I know what you are speaking of. Hammock strings have a way of recoiling. Is that when we can no longer lie in it? Then we might go indoors to make the meal, call the children in, unfold the blankets against the night’s chill. Even so there will always be that one place you’ll want to keep setting at the table, the room that will become a shrine. You’ll never catalogue the growing things on that stretch of roadway, how many pieces of glass were rendered from the kuatro kantos bottle; what restraints might multiply in the hands of another. I am sorry too. Resemblance does not often matter. Money? Sex? It could have been a simple thing, the chrome of a radio dial sticking out of a jacket pocket. I listened this morning to stories of refugees trying to cross the Sahara; a woman’s sobs woke me from sleep. From over the ridge, a patrolman’s amplified voice, his words unintelligible. There are places in the world where a blue jay does his best impression of a red-tailed hawk, and then departs. Something like wings scissors in the sunlight. Oh my poor poor sweetheart, moans the woman in the desert, over and over again; I could not even bury him.

Luisa A. Igloria

In response to today’s Morning Porch entry.

High-rent times (2010 quote-o-rama)

Hide your kids, hide your wife & hide your husband, ’cause they rapin’ everybody out here. The rent is too damn high. They got together & swore a pact with the devil. This is a big fuckin’ deal! To the passenger who just called me a motherfucker: fuck you. The rent is too damn high. You touch my junk & I’m going to have you arrested. The gentleman is correct in sitting down. I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies — the rent is too damn high. I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you. Just avoid holding it that way. You know, I’d like my life back — the rent is too damn high. Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line & not cross it. I was a big supporter of waterboarding. It’s a double rainbow all the way! America today begins to turn back to God. Peaceful Muslims, please refudiate. In the Ground Zero Mosque of the soul, dude, you have no Quran, because the rent is too damn high.

“Soon the old year must join…”

This entry is part 16 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


Soon the old year must join
its dwindling thread to a new
coil of days.

The daylight hours cast
their sheen on sheets of crackling ice,
while oblivious to the dueting wrens,

the chickadee darts through
the lilac. The sun, too, is blurred
by a kind of viscous film so that I think,

Give me fire, or give me water.
Tell me you love me, or tell me more.
And on those days when neither will suffice,

give me coffee and soup— two
of the things my grandmother used to say
should always be served scalding hot.

Luisa A. Igloria

In response to today’s Morning Porch entry.

Via Negativa’s high points of 2010

2010 was a good year for Via Negativa and its sister sites. Just after the New Year, I got a package in the mail from Phoenicia Publishing which turned out to include a proof of Odes to Tools, first published here as a series beginning in August 2008. I called up the publisher, my friend (and qarrtsiluni co-editor) Beth Adams, to express my surprise and pleasure, and our phone conversation became the first edition of my new Woodrat Podcast. Odes to Tools thus became — as it says in the sidebar here — Via Negativa’s first book-spawn. It has garnered a bunch of favorable reviews, and has sold — Beth tells me — a few hundred copies. And the podcast has turned into an enjoyable if time-consuming addition to the mix, which has won new fans for Via Negativa and given me an excuse to harass friends and family and ask question of people I admire.

For (Inter-)National Poetry Month in April, I read and blogged about a poetry book a day, an exercise in close reading and creative reviewing. It went so well, I’m hoping to do it again in 2011.

Like a lot of bloggers, I’m continually thinking up new series and features, and always I have to ask myself: should this be part of Via Negativa, off in its own blog, or something in between? The mass adoption of Facebook has made this a little easier, though: my Facebook wall has become an aggregator for links to all my web publishing activity, taking the pressure off of Via Negativa to fill that role. Nevertheless, this year I added a top bar with links to my four major personal sites, blog network-style, and stats show a steady trickle of visitors from one site to another. The Morning Porch is now my most widely read blog, even though most of its readers catch it on Twitter or Facebook and rarely if ever visit the actual website. Its recent adoption as a daily writing prompt by one of my favorite poets, Luisa Igloria, has added another dimension to what was already, I think, a fairly unusual experiment in literary microblogging, now in its fourth year.

Moving Poems continues to win fans for videopoetry and related genres, and this year I added a news and discussion blog as well, optimistically titled Moving Poems forum, though most of the time I’m the only one posting. I’m delighted, though, that I can still find enough good videos to keep the main site going without too much trouble, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know a number of poets and filmmakers along the way. I have yet to resort to posting my own videopoetry on the site, aside from a couple videos I made for other people’s poems. Somehow, I feel I’d have a harder time turning down submissions to the site if I were publishing my own stuff there.

I must admit, however, there is a sense in which these other sites, not to mention intramural features such as the podcast and Smorgasblog, serve as distractions from my real task. How about original content at Via Negativa? What were my most successful posts of the past year?

This is the sort of question that most bloggers tend to answer in terms of hits or page views, or sometimes by the number of comments and pingbacks — reflecting, I think, a strong tendency in American society to treat popularity as a direct index of significance. Vox populi, vox dei. So here are the 10 most popular posts from 2010 based on the number of page views:

Only one of those (“Banjo vs. guitar”) was in the “Poems and poem-like things” category, which accounted for 109 of my posts in 2010.

Then here are the 10 most popular posts based on the number of comments each received (in parentheses):

Again, only one (“Notes toward a taxonomy of sadness”) is from my most-used category aside from Smorgasblog. Clearly, if I want to be more popular, I should write fewer poems and more “How to” posts.

Well, fuck that. I blog to please myself first and foremost, which is why I don’t have any “top posts” widget in the sidebar (which would quickly skew the results in any case, as even more people would visit those posts). Instead, every few months I go through the archives and select the best three to seven posts per month, based mostly on my own subjective evaluations, but influenced by laudatory reactions from people I respect — and, yes, sometimes by comment numbers, too. These are added to the Greatest Hits category, accessible via a link in the menu bar. You can browse through the category at your leisure; I have it set to display 15 posts per page to minimize clicking. But for the convenience of those who do read Via Negativa for the poetry, here are all the poems and poem-like things in the Greatest Hits category for 2010, in order of publication:

A huge thank you to all who have visited here in the past year. It means more to me than I can say.

“The streets are lined with garbage bins…”

This entry is part 15 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


The streets are lined with garbage bins,
their mouths overflowing with the spoils

of winter feasting and discarded
hulls of wants and needs— orange rinds

and discolored tea bags among crumpled
strips of tinfoil, pale gold-tinted bottles

that housed juices gathered from the vine.
The trucks are late, they have not come

for a day and a half and we are anxious
because we know the hungers always

start up again almost as soon
as they are filled. Oh teach me

to temper my restlessness awhile, to sit
and drink my coffee without moving

from this little pool of sunlight growing
in the window, even when the clouds

have shifted. Feathery contrails outline
a wedge of blue. On a high branch,

three mourning doves sit facing the sunrise.
See how the middle one preens its wings.

Luisa A. Igloria

In response to today’s Morning Porch entry.


In the comments over at The Morning Porch (where Luisa first posted her response, as usual), I commented:

Wow, that was quick! (Or did you already have it half-written when my post appeared?) A really fine meditation. This time of year always prompts me to reflect on consumption and waste.

And Luisa responded:

No, Dave— I always try to respond to each post new and without premeditation, trying to keep my mind limber and not dwell too much or too long or agonize over things. I’m trying to develop a better receptivity to the things that present themselves as occasions for poetry. Thanks therefore, once again. Visits to The Morning Porch are helping me immensely.

Blogging in English class

This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology


Watch at YouTube.

If the writers’ workshop, popular at most colleges, married online technologies, and they had a ninth-grade daughter, it would be Mr. Stephens’s English class.

Thus begins this funky and wonderful video application to Google for some free Chrome OS notebook computers. “Mr. Stephens” is my friend and fellow blogging enthusiast Peter of Slow Reads, who two years ago guest-blogged a post for this series about teaching grammer on Twitter. (He now uses the Twitter-like microblog service for schools, Edmodo, instead.) The video mentions the multi-user blog community he set up using WordPress, inko.us, as well as a plethora of other websites and online applications he’s adapted for high school use.

But just as important as the online tools are the freedom Peter allows his students and the respect he shows them. “To the extent possible, I’d like to run the classroom like a writer’s workshop,” he says.

They are the writers. They make choices. The more I can treat them like writers, the more effective they’re gonna be as writers and the more love they’re gonna have as writers. If they are always told what to write, whom to write to, and what genre to write in, they’re not gonna feel like writers.

To me, blogging is all about exploring this kind of freedom, and I’m glad Peter is able to bring that into the normally restictive environment of a public school classroom. I’ve always admired his willingness to learn new technologies; as the first lines of the video suggest, I think he’s actually ahead of most university writing teachers in this regard. In his blog post about the application to Google, he mentions that he bought and learned how to use iMovie for the sole purpose of making this video — his first. Do watch it.

Memento Mori

This entry is part 14 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


It begins as a thread,
a voice lost above the descant of water.

We stop what we are doing in the kitchen
and lean toward the window, look out
where frozen trees rasp in the wind.

A wingbeat carrying
the gathered sound of a hundred things.

I think of a song I once heard about
a dictator, and the man he made to scrape
the strings of a fiddle with his fingernails.

Last night’s icicles
glint like daggers from the eaves.

One for each tiny hair that prickles on your nape:
count them if you can, then sing along— bodies in the river,
bodies sighing under a blanket of grass.

Luisa A. Igloria

(for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre; and for all who have gone missing, or have suffered and perished, from any form of state or political repression)

In response to today’s Morning Porch entry.



It might be useful, this heart-shaped hole: flying squirrels could use it to get out of the weather. In warmer months, spiders could spin webs in it. Caterpillars could pupate in it.

birch leaf in ice

A true desert is difficult to maintain. Some scrap of life or impertinent piece of flotsam always shows up to mar the perfect bleakness. Your only option is to keep narrowing your field of vision, until at last you are all alone with your demons.

“Up and down the street, the neighbors…”

This entry is part 13 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


Up and down the street, the neighbors
are clearing away the snow and ice.

Late risers, from upstairs windows we
admired the powdered roofs and sidewalks,

the rows of gentle hills atop
parked cars. Now we pick up

the shovel and go outside. The trees
still wear their pelts of white,

but today the world begins
to smudge and color at the corners.

Two ravens veer low over the trees,
pursued by a pair of crows.

Between gusts of wind,
the burble of a Carolina wren.

Luisa A. Igloria

In response to today’s Morning Porch entry. It’s interesting what this collaboration is doing to our shared geographies! The blizzard missed us here in Central Pennsylvania, and I’m not sure how many ravens are found in Luisa’s neck of the woods. But there’s no reason why poems that take the natural world for their subject should be held to a stricter standard of nonfictional reportage than other poetry. In the world of these poems, Luisa and I live on the same street.

Incidentally, Luisa is blogging most actively these days at The Lizard Meanders on blipfoto.


Four Morning Porch poems

This entry is part 12 of 95 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2010-11


Luisa is writing responses to my Morning Porch tweets faster than I can post them, so to clear the backlog and bring us up to the present, I thought I’d better publish four together. With each of these, her date of compostion is the same as mine, so to simplify things I’ve kept only the former and hotlinked it to the Morning Porchism that prompted it. Click through to see how she has built upon my original words and images. The latter two are 80 or 90 percent Igloria (we haven’t gotten any appreciable snowfall so far today, for example). —Dave


White with rime,
the cattails’ broken blades—

Under the springhouse eaves,
an empty phoebe nest—

Two juncos come, wings
fluttering like prayer flags—

As if to let us know the world
has not forsaken us completely—



There’s one cold note in the air
and its blues have found me again—

Too late to pull up the remaining stalks
of summer’s last tomato plants, tamped

hard into the ground. Now thistles
shrivel in a brittle wreath,

and the rose is ravished by the wind;
it spreads a shroud over the porch

and litters it with cryptic asterisks,
with carets, with upended tarots.

What shall I do with you,
yellowed gingko leaf;

with these tickets of faded red,
torn from the geranium?



Season of red and gold,
season of evergreen and silver.

Season of honey and clove,
season of lit tapers.

Throw more wood on the fire
that it might burn more fiercely.

The wheel is still turning, my love;
but know that it returns.

A few flakes float through the air.
A gray squirrel wanders through the lilac branches.



How easy to lose oneself to silence in this
sifting of white upon white that’s fallen
all night long. The wind soughs,

and all the branches nod their white-
capped heads. The neighbor swings open
his gate to take the dog for a walk—

Away now, at the end the street, the yellow
of his parka and the flash of golden fur
make an orb of jaunty noise against the snow.

High overhead, the half moon bends its big right ear.


Luisa A. Igloria