Blogosphere blessings

Linda at The Task at Hand — one of my favorite destinations for creative nonfiction — wrote a post last Sunday titled “A Blogosphere Blessing,” in which she compared the welcoming links and comments of readers and fellow bloggers back when she started blogging to the house-warming parties of her youth in the American Midwest. With that in mind, I’d like to take a little time today to welcome some new (or newly returned) bloggers to the virtual neighborhood.

1. Ann E. Michael’s eponymous blog: “Poetry, nature, and speculative philosophical musings”

Pennsylvania poet Ann Michael began blogging back in September, so she’s not quite brand new, but she’s taken to it like the proverbial duck to water with thought-provoking, gracefully written posts on just the sort of topics likely to be of most interest to Via Negativa readers. A typical Ann E. Michael blog post might have her comparing Martin Buber, C. S. Lewis and Emily Dickinson, weighing the benefits of Lawn vs. meadow, and a doe, or musing on the appeal of the Christmas carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

I’m not a good singer myself, but I can sing this carol. The range works for most of us.

But that wasn’t what struck me this morning as the music surrounded me in my car en route to work. What I noticed—felt, in my marrow—is the sense of yearning in this carol. There is something particularly human in the minor-key longing for release, relief, joy, escape, liberty, union with a beloved other, desire that is both physical and spiritual, the yearning for renewal. Not hope but the desire, the longing for hope.

2. bint batutta: “crossing cultures”

From the About page:

My name is Ayesha, and I’m a translator and writer. I used to blog here. I was born in India and grew up in Britain, and I currently live in Bahrain.

Friends gave me the nickname Bint Battuta (after Ibn Battuta) because I used to travel a lot. These days my journeys take a different form. I love to read, and explore ideas. I’m particularly interested in history, and the spaces where cultures meet.

Since its rebirth on December 1, bint batutta has been a real cabinet of curiosities, with posts on the jalboot, the “Afghan” cameleers of Australia, the use of the Arabic script in Africa for languages other than Arabic, and more.

3. VidPoFilm: “the Poetics of Video and Film Poetry”

I love videopoetry and film-poetry, but I tend to have a hard time explaining why. My own site Moving Poems is therefore mainly a glorified links blog, an embedded video being a fancy kind of link. Brenda Clews goes much more in depth at VidPoFilm. And while my site is set up to focus on the poets, Brenda’s spotlight is square on the films/videos themselves. Here she is for instance on a film called Ground, by Ginnetta Correlli for a haiku series by Scottish artist (and film-poem maker) Alastair Cook:

This is a surreal filmpoem; it has a European art film feel to it. Like when watching an Almodóvar, forget logic, for a rational approach to understanding won’t reveal anything. As you seek to embrace the meaning of the film, you find mindfulness here like a Zen koan.

You can’t quite put it together. Rather, feel the deep angst the film produces. That’s where the film is unfolding in your consciousness as a message, a predicament, a riddler of the paradoxes of life.

VidPoFilm also has monthly group shows for online videopoets to share their favorite creations, theoretical commentary and more.

4. 如 (thus) 是: “¡Ay, quién podrá sanarme!”

Seon Joon is an American Buddhist nun in Korea who has been keeping a photoblog, from this shore, for several years now (and before that, blogged at a now-defunct site called Ditch the Raft). She just graduated from a four-year Buddhist seminary, which meant she’d have a little more time to blog — thus thus, which seems to be more a place for literary writings so far. Her “small stones” for the January river of stones writing challenge rank among the best I’ve seen:

Loud voices mask the night’s quiet. Where the lamplight ends the dark is present, pressing, patient, animal-like, before words.
(Jan. 3)

The sun slips away, like a face disappearing under dark velvet blankets. The temperature falls. I shiver, pull my hat down close.
(Jan. 9)

Winter rain, cold, hard, quiet, steady all day. Inside, behind curtains, I want the rain’s impassive clarity: only fall straight.
(Jan. 19)

Overnight, the world accumulates a white rime. 4 a.m. I float in the faint glow reflected over and over between snow and clouds.
(Jan. 25)

[updated to add] 5. A year of Mt. Tamalpais: “dreaming in the shadows of the Sleeping Maiden”
See my review here.

Please stop by these sites today or this weekend and join me in welcoming them to the blogosphere.


Via Negativa and its sister sites are also on the receiving end of some serious blessings from information technology architect, blogger and slow-reading expert John Miedema. John just released a major new version of his popular OpenBook WordPress plugin, which provides a convenient way for book reviewers to pull in a book-cover image, author, and other book data from Open Library (a site which I’ve used extensively during my April poetry-book-a-day marathons, due to its wealth of links and the ease with which one can add books not already in its database). Openbook 3.2 includes a number of new features, among them a donate button on the settings page of one’s WordPress dashboard. Many authors of free plugins include such buttons, as well they should. But John decided to have his button support something other than his own efforts.

If you click the new button on the settings page it will take you to a new page on the OpenBook support wiki, “Pay it Forward for Literacy.” On that page I recommend supporting the literary website, Via Negativa. Dave Bonta is a poet and editor from Pennsylvania. He maintains four excellent sites that I have followed for years. He is also a writer and editor of Qarrtsiluni, a literary magazine. Countless volunteer hours have generated an enthusiastic following. You can support hosting and domain registration costs and keep these great literary sites going.

To say I’m honored by this wouldn’t begin to describe it. Flabbergasted is more like it. I mean, wow. As the son of an academic reference librarian (who continues to read and believe in my work — thanks, Dad!) I am especially pleased to have the support of such a progressive, cutting-edge thinker in the world of library science. I feel — what’s the word? — blessed.

Ghazal Par Amour

This entry is part 34 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


“…Who shall give a lover any law?”
~ Chaucer, “The Knight’s Tale” (Canterbury Tales)

The squeals up in a tree are of a squirrel
fighting off a suitor; perhaps a paramour?

The usage of this word, Middle English,
the 1800s, is for the sake of love, par amour.

I like the entry in Webster’s 1913 Dictionary:
lit, by or with love, from the Fr. par amour.

Such beautiful words: when did they turn
illicit, derogatory? Stripped of armor,

title, role, various defenses— beneath the flesh
is the heart’s taut muscle, matched to any matador.

Songs of courtly love all aim at the impossible:
the beloved out of reach, the hapless troubadour.

In Spanish, querida means dearest one. When did it come
to signify poor fallen dove, secret paramour?

Wong Kar-wai’s film has neighbors thinking the lonely journalist
and the secretary from the shipping company are paramours.

The screen’s painted in tones of broody red, shades of jazz
in the background. The message: love story with no guarantor.

The man whispered the secret that he could not share
in a hollow in a tree, and covered it with mud: nevermore.

Is it my voice you hear in your head, when you first rise?
I loved her first ere thou, wrote Chaucer, for par amour.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Beach Glass

This entry is part 11 of 29 in the series Conversari


Among the cobbles of a shingle beach,
one thumb-sized stone draws
your beachcomber’s eye, too pure a blue
to be granite, opaque but somehow
promising translucence.

A wave clatters up & wets
your ankles. You grab for the stone,
now glistening—clearly glass
& once a shard, despite the loss
of all sharp edges &
its transformation from fragment
to a whole small world.
It has turned & turned in the bay’s
watery gullet, that precipitous gizzard
full of ersatz teeth.
What smaller, softer things
has it ground down as it spun?

It dries in your hand now & the light
goes out of it. Eager to show the children,
you pop it in your mouth
& it is a gem again while the saliva lasts.

It rides home in your pocket,
a hard candy that never melts
& takes days to lose
its taste of salted sun.

Prompted by this conversation.

See the response by Rachel Rawlins, “Shoulder.”

The eagle has landed on Reddit

Last weekend, I suddenly started getting a flurry of notifications from Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site which I use mainly to store the photos I post here. Out of the blue, people were favoriting a 2007 photo of a golden eagle with talons outspread.

eagle talons

It was part of an annotated set of photos of a golden eagle that had been trapped, fitted with a radio transmitter, and released on our property (see my blog post at the Plummer’s Hollow site and my mother’s much more thorough column).

I clicked through to the Flickr stats page, which I rarely remember to look at. Here’s what I saw:

Reddit viewer attention spans

Wherever people were coming from, they clearly weren’t taking the time to browse through the whole set. I scanned down to the list of referring sites and saw that the aggregator site Reddit was the culprit. Someone had posted the link to the pics section, and it had gotten enough up-votes to briefly land on the Reddit front page. This resulted in a highly amusing and somewhat revealing comment thread there, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first, for the uninitiated: what’s Reddit? A recent article at Slate should get you up to speed.

Reddit has become the most exciting place on the Web in the last few months, the center of an earnest yet jokey brand of cultural and political activism. … [W]hile Digg is all but dead today, Reddit not only survived the social media shift but has thrived in the age of tweets. Reddit’s traffic has exploded over the last few years—in 2011, visits doubled, and in December the site recorded 2 billion pageviews. It did so by turning inward, and by becoming more than just a place that amasses links to outside sites. On most days, the most popular posts on Reddit consist of stuff that Redditors themselves created or captured to share with other Redditors: image macros, animated gifs, pictures of cats, extremely geeky cartoons, weird Photoshop memes, and Facebook found art. There’s a lot more substantive stuff, too, including two discussion forums that I find consistently fascinating.
The Great and Powerful Reddit: How the site went from a second-tier aggregator to the Web’s unstoppable force,” by Farhad Manjoo

So this is a loose-knit online “community” of mostly progressive and/or libertarian, politically active geeks. What would they make of the photo?

Some shared links to other photos and videos of eagles, and many focused on the hunting or killing potential of the talons. “I’m certain plenty of eagles are capable of killing humans,” said a user called wackyninja. “Considering a Golden Eagle will prey on small deer, I’d say that yes, they could kill a human,” AdmiralSkippy agreed. (Golden eagles have been known to take, or attempt to take, very large prey indeed.) “Here’s a picture of batman riding a shark while holding a lightsaber,” cheetahlip chimed in.

“That is a beautiful fucking bird,” opined bang_Noir. Some other Redditors got into a somewhat arcane discussion of what it might be like to have an eagle land on one’s arm. Bigcitycrows, apparently a falconer, wrote:

If you ever want to know what it feels like to have a bald eagle land on your arm, put on the thickest glove you can find, then gently rest your car door closed on your forearm through the glove. Again SLOWLY and lightly push the door. It feels weird and far-off, because it’s through the padding, but a painful increase in pressure. If you want to know what it feels like to have a golden eagle lose her footing and hold on for dear life trying to regain it, swing the door closed.

A number of other comments amused me for one reason or another:

“That Owl, Looks surprisingly happy.” Reply: “Which is why that picture is so goddamned creepy.”

“I’m still impressed they can catch prey so well. I never had any luck with those talon thingys at the arcade.”

“That is such a marvellous bird. The head is pure design win.”

“Polly want a small furry mammal?”

“You’re on the front page way more often than should be possible.”

“Talons be with you.”

“I really am surprised that all other birds just haven’t committed suicide knowing they might be compared to an eagle at some point. All kinds of eagles are friggin’ monsters!”

“So long as they don’t figure out how to use door handles, we’re safe.”

“And here I was, just scared of bears. (looks up)”

“What a cutie :)”

“I guess I’ve never seen an up-close image of an eagle or something because I just stared at this shit for 20 minutes.”

“Damn nature! You scary!”

“Where is your god now?”

“That’s some straight up gangster shit”

“I handled birds of prey like this once for high school conservation club. Birds are incredibly intimidating at first, but once they trust you, they’re all like, ‘Yo.'”

“I saw Golden Eagle and instantly thought of Angry Birds”

Fear and awe mingled readily with humor, which is as it should be, I think. I was a little disappointed by how many people seem to see the world exclusively through the lens of Hollywood and video games, but on the other hand there was no shortage of commenters who clearly knew something about birds, dinosaurs, or both. One definitely gets the impression of overlap between nature-nerdism and general geekery.

I’m grateful to the Redditors for linking to the photo (more than once, apparently) and providing such amusing commentary. But as a blogger, it’s not the kind of audience I’m looking for. Judging from the stats, a vanishingly small percentage of viewers took the time to look at any of the other photos in the set. None of them left comments there — if they had anything to say, in the usual social-media pattern they went back to where they found the link and commented there.

Still, it’s kind of nice to know that that many people can still be moved by the site of a wild creature. I’d like to think it stirs something primal in the human breast.


This entry is part 33 of 73 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Winter 2011-12


In this creased picture, I am one of a half dozen
school girls in navy blue skirts and white blouses
with Peter Pan collars, whose mothers sang us to sleep
with Que sera, sera. Skin thinner than papyrus,
blotchy with hives and more restless than the others,
I pressed my forehead against the cool of windows
lashed with rain, the steady run of water from the roof,
as they coaxed bright floss through the eye of a needle
and eased squares of cloth over embroidery hoops.
Who knew how many children would pass through our
narrow hips and where they might be headed? No sign
swung from the ceiling of the sky, and when the eye-
shaped gap eased shut in the clouds, only the wind,
unstitched, came to shadow our heels at bedtime.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


Jot or tittle?
Eye or eye-drop?
Hole or window?

Make yourself

What is it?
How many legs does it have?
Is it woody or chitinous?

You are a cat.
No, not you—
you are nothing like a cat!
Help us find the cat.

What would you tell time?
What would you read to books?

Invent a ceremony for
the successful failure of an exam.

Demonstrate molting.

Organ Meats: A Primer

This entry is part 9 of 29 in the series Conversari


Pennsylvania Dutch used to celebrate Thanksgiving
not with a turkey but the stuffed
stomach of a hog.

When eating smalahove—Norwegian sheep’s head—
the ear & eye must be consumed while still piping hot,
before their abundant fat starts to congeal.

Belgians prefer their cow tongues warm
and their pig tongues cold
with a vinaigrette.

Testicles are among the most versatile of foods,
delicious sautéed & sauced,
fricasseed, battered & deep-fried, put in pies,
poached or roasted.
The penis, or pizzle, is mostly
just fed to dogs.

According to the Talmud, tractate Berachoth,
the spleen is the seat not of anger or melancholy
but laughter. The Greeks roast it
over an open fire: splinantero.

Eating humble pie originally meant
eating a meat pie made with umbles,
originally numbles: those glistening parts
in which no one takes much pride.

Sweetbreads, which are offal,
should not be confused
with sweetmeats, which are mere confections.

I hate your guts, we say
to someone so detested
even their innocent viscera seem repulsive.

The lungs when put
to culinary use
are called lights.


Updated 1/25/12 to add a new sixth stanza, prompted by a comment from rr, as well as a new eighth stanza.

Rachel’s photographic response: “Brain.”