Within all the morning and dined at home, my mind being so troubled that I could not mind nor do anything till I spoke with the Comptroller to whom the lodgings belong. In the afternoon, to ease my mind, I went to the Cockpit all alone, and there saw a very fine play called “The Tamer Tamed;” very well acted.
That being done, I went to Mr. Crew’s, where I had left my boy, and so with him and Mr. Moore (who would go a little way with me home, as he will always do) to the Hercules Pillars to drink, where we did read over the King’s declaration in matters of religion, which is come out to-day, which is very well penned, I think to the satisfaction of most people.
So home, where I am told Mr. Davis’s people have broken open the bolt of my chamber door that goes upon the leads, which I went up to see and did find it so, which did still trouble me more and more. And so I sent for Griffith, and got him to search their house to see what the meaning of it might be, but can learn nothing to-night. But I am a little pleased that I have found this out.
I hear nothing yet of my Lord, whether he be gone for the Queen from the Downs or no; but I believe he is, and that he is now upon coming back again.

Within my mind
a mind I long to tame—
a left boy, a little Hercules,
the king of ham.
I find trouble
and learn nothing.
But I am a little
pleased at this nothing,
my no that is no.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 30 October 1660.

Chance: Six More From a Tarot

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Chance: A Poetic Tarot



Pick a combination
for the locked door:
two colors, a cloud,
the skeleton of a fish.


I do not believe
the yellow signs that point,
shut, or flap in the wind.
Everything is a detour.


My love cut me a star
from the green
side of a fruit then
laid it on my tongue.


When he says memento,
I think of the hull
of a seahorse sleeping
in a pill box.


The man by the ATM argues
with the red-haired woman.
She smokes and smokes,
refusing his embrace.


In the yard, I parse
the grass free
of other adjectives
except green.


In response to Via Negativa: Partisan.


I up early, it being my Lord Mayor’s day, (Sir Richd. Browne), and neglecting my office I went to the Wardrobe, where I met my Lady Sandwich and all the children; and after drinking of some strange and incomparable good clarett of Mr. Rumball’s he and Mr. Townsend did take us, and set the young Lords at one Mr. Nevill’s, a draper in Paul’s churchyard; and my Lady and my Lady Pickering and I to one Mr. Isaacson’s, a linendraper at the Key in Cheapside; where there was a company of fine ladies, and we were very civilly treated, and had a very good place to see the pageants, which were many, and I believe good, for such kind of things, but in themselves but poor and absurd. After the ladies were placed I took Mr. Townsend and Isaacson to the next door, a tavern, and did spend 5s. upon them. The show being done, we got as far as Paul’s with much ado, where I left my Lady in the coach, and went on foot with my Lady Pickering to her lodging, which was a poor one in Blackfryars, where she never invited me to go in at all, which methought was very strange for her to do.
So home, where I was told how my Lady Davis is now come to our next lodgings, and has locked up the leads door from me, which puts me into so great a disquiet that I went to bed, and could not sleep till morning at it.

In the war of good and evil
I pick one side:
the pageants, the show.
Poor thought is a locked door,
a quiet morning.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 29 October 1660.

Chance: Six More From a Tarot

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Chance: A Poetic Tarot



Thicknesses of vines
here stand for the years—
trees have rings but time
is complicated.


The well collects rain.
The rain collects tears.
In a cloisonné vase no bigger
than my nail, I gather my own.


He lined his closet
with pictures I drew:
an animal with a limp,
a feather, a rotary phone.


Last night I twined
a length of yarn
around my wrist.


In the kettle, water boiled
to a pitch. I poured some
into a cup with a small
tumble of leaves.


I tell the wind, Let me rest.
Let me take some ease.
Hammock me in your arms
for a change.


In response to Via Negativa: Peace Process.

Shackleton’s Banjo (videopoem)

This entry is part 3 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


Watch on YouTube

My tenth banjo videopoem is for one of my favorite texts from the collection. It was prompted by a story on the BBC (which also, incidentally, spawned an effort to manufacture replicas of Shackleton’s banjo for sale in the UK).

The footage is from a silent, color documentary of Admiral Byrd’s 1939-1941 expedition to Antarctica, filmed by unspecified cameramen for the National Archives and Records Administration. There was a great deal of footage that could’ve worked with this poem: seal hunts on the ice, lots of shots of icebergs and other maritime and Antarctic scenery, even scruffy guys clowning around in close quarters. But after much agonizing I decided to stick with penguins, because penguins and banjos just seem like complementary concepts.

For the soundtrack, I blended an atmospheric, experimental piece called “Arctic core samples” by someone who goes by the name of admiral bellybutton on SoundCloud with a digitally altered version of my brother Steve playing “Shady Grove” on clawhammer banjo. Usually finding the right music is the most time-consuming part of making a videopoem, but this time I found it immediately with “arctic” as my only search term on SoundCloud. “Arctic core samples” was made in response to a weekly prompt for the experimental music group Disquiet Junto. The instructions were simple: “Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it.” Admiral bellybutton says:

For some unknown reason, my brain thought of scientists taking core samples from glaciers and ice shelves. So, I sampled ice in four different glasses to create the bed. Then I took discrete samples from ice in a wine glass as it melted (a longitudinal study?).

The samples for the bed were processed through paul stretch. The longitudinal samples were put in chronological order (meltiest to most frozen) and then routed through Guitar Rig’s Ice reverb. All mixed in Reaper.

I then thought of making a time-lapse video of icicles melting on my roof. vimeo.com/admiralbellybutton/icelapse


In a comment on my last videopoem, British poet Dick Jones writes, “I have yet to venture into video poetry. Could you point me in the right direction?” My response: I guess my list of free online resources would be the best place to start. I’ve been doing these banjo videopoems exclusively with found footage, and also using the quite primitive video editing software on my machine, Windows Movie Maker, which I believe is slightly less advanced than iMovie if you have a Mac, or Quicktime. I use Audacity, which is free to download, for audio mixing. I have a somewhat pricey microphone, a Zoom H2, for recording my readings, though the first three were done just with the microphone on a Logitech webcam, and I thought they were adequate, if not terrific. (I’ll re-record them eventually.)

I don’t think these videos actually sell many books; that’s not the point, for me. The point is they represent a new form of creative endeavor involving poetry, and they’re a blast to make!

Peace process

(Lord’s day). There came some pills and plaister this morning from Dr. Williams for my wife.
I to Westminster Abbey, where with much difficulty, going round by the cloysters, I got in; this day being a great day for the consecrating of five Bishopps, which was done after sermon; but I could not get into Henry the Seventh’s chappell. So I went to my Lord’s, where I dined with my Lady, and my young Lord, and Mr. Sidney, who was sent for from Twickenham to see my Lord Mayor’s show to-morrow. Mr. Child did also dine with us.
After dinner to White Hall chappell; my Lady and my Lady Jemimah and I up to the King’s closet (who is now gone to meet the Queen). So meeting with one Mr. Hill, that did know my Lady, he did take us into the King’s closet, and there we did stay all service-time, which I did think a great honour.
We went home to my Lord’s lodgings afterwards, and there I parted with my Lady and went home, where I did find my wife pretty well after her physic. So to bed.

Ill will
in the hall on the hill.
Take us into the closet all.
Ice went home to a well.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 28 October 1660.

Chance: Six From a Tarot

This entry is part 1 of 13 in the series Chance: A Poetic Tarot



The yeast did not bloom
and the dough did not rise,
or the fire did not fix
the current in the air—


The hills were blue
and then they were fire
for when we lay upon them
their ice caps melted—


The hummingbirds must live
on the nectar of stones—
Have you seen ruby or green
tendrils marking their throats?


And the child stirred coals
to life in the grate,
then left food in the bowl
which the cat then ate—


Years later, the letter
arrived at the wrong address,
so the woman in the window waited
till she could sigh no more—


A man emerged from exile
of many years to marvel at the stars:
for each one hung above, he tucked
its twin into a sleeve of water—


In response to Via Negativa: Gambler.

That everything has use beyond its given life,

that all the different parts of the animal provide
for sustenance or strength, so we must wear its skins,
smoke its flesh, drink its blood to honor what it gave;

and we’ve been taught
the mouth of the world opens,
hungry for all that happens
to fall in its path;

and there is talk
to take the measure of things,
to bluster and cajole,
or make us brave;

and we might pause
to supplicate and pray,
fashion words for love as well
as talk that circulates as useless currency

and sometimes it is difficult to tell
which one is which, and that is why we braid
lengths and lengths of stories by touch while we lie
in the dark, awaiting what we cannot know.


In response to Via Negativa: Reed.


In London and Westminster all this day paying of money and buying of things for my house.
In my going I went by chance by my new Lord Mayor’s house (Sir Richard Browne), by Goldsmith’s Hall, which is now fitting, and indeed is a very pretty house.
In coming back I called at Paul’s Churchyard and bought Alsted’s Encyclopaedia, which cost me 38s.
Home and to bed, my wife being much troubled with her old pain.

In and in, paying
and buying, I go.
Chance is a pretty church—
an encyclopedia, which cost me
much pain.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 27 October 1660.


My father and Dr. Thomas Pepys dined at my house, the last of whom I did almost fox with Margate ale. My father is mightily pleased with my ordering of my house. I did give him money to pay several bills.
After that I to Westminster to White Hall, where I saw the Duke de Soissons go from his audience with a very great deal of state: his own coach all red velvet covered with gold lace, and drawn by six barbes, and attended by twenty pages very rich in clothes.
To Westminster Hall, and bought, among other books, one of the Life of our Queen, which I read at home to my wife; but it was so sillily writ, that we did nothing but laugh at it: among other things it is dedicated to that paragon of virtue and beauty, the Duchess of Albemarle.
Great talk as if the Duke of York do now own the marriage between him and the Chancellor’s daughter.

At the last house
I saw the duke go from his audience,
his coach all velvet.

Gold pages
in other books I read—
nothing but talk.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 26 October 1660.