This entry is part 43 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Breakfast of weak morning light, trickle of coffee. Steam from heat vents along the street. Tendrils of hunger. Gently I push them down, move them to the back. I say Later, later. And it’s later, and I’m still saying Later, though the sun is high and the clouds now move across the sky, puffs of mousse on a Magritte platter. One of them looks like a young hare: white on white, hunched around its hunger. Another’s corded like the shell on which the goddess floated, like foam on the skin of water. Meanwhile my insides are gnawing on the leaf of impatience. Its veins are green and have no dressing; and butter does not always make everything better. What do I want, what do I need? Later, I tell myself, later. There’s plenty of work, the hours full of obligation. But I know I am not virtuous: I am always my hunger.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

You need a thneed

This year, I will pay more than $400 for web hosting, domain registration, photo hosting at Flickr, and video hosting at Vimeo, to say nothing of the occasional gadget and software purchases… all for Via Negativa and its sister sites (The Morning Porch, Moving Poems, Woodrat photohaiku, Shadow Cabinet, Spoil, etc.). And I live on an extremely limited income. How limited? Let’s just say that I haven’t made enough to pay income tax in years.

Direct begging is one approach, and I haven’t ruled that out yet. But I like giving people something for their money. So may I introduce to you (drumroll please) the Via Negativa swag store at

All wu, no woo doggy t-shirt

The Chinese character wu (Japanese mu) has been the sort-of logo for Via Negativa and the Via Negativa blog cluster for some time now. (I grabbed a public-domain image from the Wikimedia Commons; that’s not my calligraphy.) This is the wu of the Daoist ideal, wu wei, and in Chan/Zen Buddhist circles, it was Zhaozhou’s famously ambiguous answer to a koan: Does a dog have buddha-nature or not?

Long before The Morning Porch, in the early years of this blog I had an almost daily cartoon — possibly the world’s least action-packed comic — called Words on the Street. Today I dug out the original drawing, rescanned it, and re-created a number of the cartoons at high enough resolution to reproduce on shirts and mugs.

Some of my best friends are invisible

I’ve made nine of my personal favorite WotS cartoons available on items at the new storefront. I was fairly conservative about what I put them on, but if you want them on other CafePress offerings, just let me know. The fuller range of items for the wu/woo design will give you an idea of what’s possible. (I’m hoping to pull together a print-on-demand book from the new/old Words on the Street cartoons, too, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish it in time for holiday shopping.)

I’ve added a mark-up of just 10% to everything at the store, so I’m probably not going to get rich, unless this blog has a lot more fans than I think. But it was blast working on these designs, and if all that happens is a few Via Negativa readers get a good chuckle, that’s still a good outcome as far as I’m concerned.

Insulated beer can holder

In slightly less-commercial Via Negativa-related news, I guess I should mention, for the benefit of anyone who didn’t see my link on Facebook, that my collection Breakdown: Banjo Poems will be coming out from my favorite chapbook publisher, Seven Kitchens Press, in May. First drafts of all those poems originally appeared right here, so thanks to everyone who left comments and offered encouragement.

Postcard from the Labyrinth

This entry is part 42 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Ang mga sinulid ng ulan, tinatahi ang
pira-pirasong damit ng agam-agam.

(Threads of rain are stitching
uncertainty’s tattered garments.)

And at dusk, the filigreed trees, the light that turns everything briefly to gold; and in the bright-dark shimmer, the houses and trees; lamp posts, the cobbled walk edging the park, oil-glazed puddles of water like wax melted down in votives. Oh such honey trapped in a clear glass bell: and like a clapper, the bee’s bright wing to beat and beat against it. You know I would follow the thread from its tangled beginnings, wind it around and around my wrist. When darkness falls, I know I’m not the only one here. Rain fine as mist, faint as silver. Fleeter bodies than mine, hidden amid the trees. My tongue-tied ones, your heartbeats flush the air.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

On the sense of danger or foreboding, the prickling

This entry is part 41 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


underneath the skin: who was it that first taught
you to always prepare for the inevitable? So much

for cautious optimism— elegy being the reason
all poems and songs, the different ways we try
to harbor what glimmers before it flutters away,

are beautiful in their brave but measured embrace of
this world. The bird with green-blue feathers bobbed
his tiny head from side to side, perched on the rim

of a tin cup half-filled with water. The small
brass bells with bits of orange ribbon still
tinkle, brushed gently by a finger. And why

do I still gasp, going under the first shock
and spray from a cold shower, or breaking
the film on the pool to try the dead-man’s-float?

Through the skeletal trees, a car engine backfires
several times; but that is not the sound of distant
shots across the water. On the first floor of

the local mall is an old watch-maker. His wall
is full of cuckoo clocks whose doors open and close
on the hour: in one of them, a child comes out with her

bag of crumbs. A girl meets her beau under a linden
tree. Then they sit, facing the sunset. Only the bird
comes back as a bird, who knows the song of time.

– for Picasso, my daughter
Julia’s conure, who will be
sorely missed


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Do poetry videos reach larger audiences than poems on the page?

In her most recent Friday Video/Filmpoem post at Rubies in Crystal, featuring Glenn-emlyn Richards’ animation of a poem by Eleanor Rees called “Saltwater,” Brenda Clews describes a recent attempt to turn an audience on to videopoetry:

I treated a group to a series of video/film poems, only a few, because they tired very quickly — poetry is demanding enough on the page, let alone strung at you in a video where you can’t slow down, re-read, consider before moving on – but someone said, the one with the woman, the drawing, the ocean, that one was my favourite. In unison, they all agreed.

I commented that I was struck by her claim that video/filmpoems are actually more demanding than poems on the page. So many people make the opposite claim, especially about animated poems. Here, for example, is how the folks at Motion Poems promote their efforts to potential donors at

Contemporary poetry is a mystery to most casual readers: they rarely read it, and would have a hard time discovering great new poetry on their own. We think that’s a shame! So…

MOTIONPOEMS subverts that paradigm by giving casual readers a new way to discover poetry … as short films! That way, they can be distributed virally and on YouTube, in social networks, in classrooms, and in broadcast and film media. [ellipses original]

In close to three years of sharing videos, animated and otherwise, at Moving Poems, I’ve seen steady traffic but nothing to suggest I’m reaching very far beyond the existing fan base for poetry. The most popular videos tend to be those for Latin American poets, in particular Vicente Huidobro and Julia de Burgos. This makes sense: poetry is actually fairly popular in the Spanish-speaking world.

Of course, I do suck at promotion. With the names of poets included in the post titles at Moving Poems, and a reasonably good PageRank, the site is practically guaranteed to land in the first page of Google results for most poets I include. So O.K., I’m drawing in people who are already interested in poetry. But since I don’t use tags to describe the contents of the poems — something I’m reluctant to do on the grounds that it reduces a poem to the sum of its ostensible subjects — it’s very unlikely that, for example, someone interested in the Liverpudlian waterfront would land on my post of “Saltwater” (or Brenda’s, or Glenn-emlyn’s original upload at Vimeo), unless they did some very creative Google video search.

So yeah, doing things like using more descriptive tags could bring more traffic… but would that really enlarge the audience for poetry, or just disappoint more people looking for, you know, information? The question remains: Is mere conversion to the film or video medium enough to overcome the general reluctance of English-language readers to challenge themselves?

On YouTube and Vimeo, the most popular poetry videos in English tend to be either those for poets who are already popular (relatively speaking), such as Billy Collins and Rumi, or for videos that make a simple point extremely well and go viral as a result, such as a kinetic text animation for a spoken-word piece by Taylor Mali about people’s reluctance to express firm opinions, or Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman’s powerful statement on “How to Be Alone.”

I do think there’s an extent to which online poems in whatever form are helping to create a larger audience for poetry among those who have always kind of liked poems and/or enjoy an intellectual challenge, but may not be in the habit of sitting down to read poetry books and journals. That’s been my experience over the years with a number of sites, most notably this one, where I think one key to success has been my pattern of interspersing poems with other, more popular kinds of content (photos, personal or nature essays, brief polemics, etc.). This is the kind of thing blogs are good at: People come for the other stuff, develop an interest in the author, and eventually start reading the poems, too.

But if I ever thought that making and posting videopoems would enlarge the fan base for poetry here, I lost that illusion a long time ago. My videopoems usually average around 100 views — one quarter of what a poem in text form gets. That’s not as skewed as it sounds, since Vimeo only logs views from people who watch all the way to the end, and I don’t of course have comparable statistics for people who read a poem all the way through. The actual number of thorough readers may not be much more than 100 per poem. But the evidence so far does not suggest that Via Negativa visitors are more likely to take in a poem just because I’ve envideoed it.

So while I fervently hope that the animators at Motion Poems and similar projects are successful in bringing new audiences to poetry, I do tend to agree with Brenda that more elliptical or experimental film/videopoets will have to work at least as hard as traditional page-poets to reach an audience in the Anglophone world.

Hot Lyric

This entry is part 40 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Reading a poem by Di Piero, …the best
of love is enthusiasm’s/ intense abandon,
a voice/ in song that preys on no one/ and is
unconscious of its joy
, I have to stop and think
hard to remember: when was the last time I
felt such rust-colored joy, ruddy as the copper-
clad teakettle brought quick to the boil,
singing its head off atop the stove?


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 35 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


Pre-school, we clung to knots
in a long, thick rope
& made our way across the college campus,
orderly as a centipede.
Of our routes or destinations I recall
nothing, I have learned & forgotten
whole languages since then, but
that sense of my place
as node on a travelling rhizome
has stayed with me: I can still feel,
like the final consonant of some forbidden word
the tongue can almost taste,
that fibrous knot.

Ghazal of the Transcendental

This entry is part 39 of 63 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2011


Why can’t the Buddha vacuum underneath the sofa?
Because he has no attachments. ~ Kaspalita Thompson


One of the neighbors has a new statue of the Buddha, plunked down in her garden.
Perhaps she got it at a Black Friday sale, camped out all night, came home singing.

The Buddha teaches that we want to work free of delusion and suffering
in order to ascend, like the wren in the lilac, full-throated, singing.

I don’t know too many intimate details about his life but I do know
the Buddha was not a woman doing chores all day, much less singing.

Suffering is a pain in the ass, in the neck, in the heart mostly; since I
suffer knowing my children’s hurts, will I never know that lithe, joyous singing?

So the sacred verses speak of attachment and illusion. I know, but with all due
respect, it’s hard to feel detached when you nick yourself shaving (not singing).

Perhaps in the wilderness, in solitude, there might not be the struggle that comes of engagement: but even then, there is the noise the mind makes in its own singing.

The Buddha can’t vacuum underneath my sofa. Or under the beds. Or do the dishes.
I know, I know. If I were to detach from these tasks, they’d be easy as singing.

And one must sing rather than drone, don’t you think? Even in the bramble, that’s
what the birds are saying: the richer the song, the more complex the singing.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

The authentic world


Everyone seems to be welding, fixing things, making things in small dim workshops or outside on the dusty, potholed streets. We drive past an open shed, dark, full of big carcases hanging on hooks; past a man in a green and yellow dragon suit striding along the street, clutching the dragon’s head while his own head hangs between hunched shoulders as if depressed.