Saturday. At home all the morning. In the afternoon to White Hall, where my Lord and Lady were gone to kiss the Queene’s hand.
To Westminster Hall, where I met with Tom Doling, and we two took Mrs. Lane to the alehouse, where I made her angry with commending of Tom Newton and her new sweetheart to be both too good for her, so that we parted with much anger, which made Tom and me good sport. So home to write letters by the post, and so to bed.

Sat all afternoon on the hand
I took to the alehouse,
where I made her and her sweetheart part
and go home to write.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 3 November 1660.

Chance: Six More From a Tarot

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Chance: A Poetic Tarot



Dear mannequin,
you wear your red-
sashed burlap tunic
with aplomb.


What time is it
when the soul
calls out in its
loudest voice?


Dear honeyed
skein of years,
dear seasons
of salt and fog.


We pass from one
encumbrance to another
while the radio
plays a waltz.


And all night,
bonfires burn
like sacrifices laid
along the road.


The wheel that turns
is not on anyone’s
side: beer and goat meat
today, burnt toast tomorrow.


In response to Via Negativa: Book of Martyrs.

A few good reasons to use Twitter

  1. It’s superficial. Surfaces are beautiful and necessary, especially to us primates with our extreme reliance on vision.
  2. Chaucer Doth Tweet.

  3. Enforced concision has a way of sorting the sheep from the goats where writers and humorists are concerned.
  4. Continue reading “A few good reasons to use Twitter”

Book of Martyrs

Office. Then dined at home, and by chance Mr. Holliard called at dinner time and dined with me, with whom I had great discourse concerning the cure of the King’s evil, which he do deny altogether any effect at all.
In the afternoon I went forth and saw some silver bosses put upon my new Bible, which cost me 6s. 6d. the making, and 7s. 6d. the silver, which, with 9s. 6d. the book, comes in all to 1l. 3s. 6d. From thence with Mr. Cooke that made them, and Mr. Stephens the silversmith to the tavern, and did give them a pint of wine. So to White Hall, where when I came I saw the boats going very thick to Lambeth, and all the stairs to be full of people. I was told the Queen was a-coming; so I got a sculler for sixpence to carry me thither and back again, but I could not get to see the Queen; so come back, and to my Lord’s, where he was come; and I supt with him, he being very merry, telling merry stories of the country mayors, how they entertained the King all the way as he come along; and how the country gentlewomen did hold up their heads to be kissed by the King, not taking his hand to kiss as they should do. I took leave of my Lord and Lady, and so took coach at White Hall and carried Mr. Childe as far as the Strand, and myself got as far as Ludgate by all the bonfires, but with a great deal of trouble; and there the coachman desired that I would release him, for he durst not go further for the fires. So he would have had a shilling or 6d. for bringing of me so far; but I had but 3d. about me and did give him it. In Paul’s church-yard I called at Kirton’s, and there they had got a mass book for me, which I bought and cost me twelve shillings; and, when I came home, sat up late and read in it with great pleasure to my wife, to hear that she was long ago so well acquainted with. So to bed.
I observed this night very few bonfires in the City, not above three in all London, for the Queen’s coming; whereby I guess that (as I believed before) her coming do please but very few.

A great evil I saw:
a book comes
to give stairs to people,
but they hold up their heads
to be kissed, not to kiss.
And so bonfires
desire the book
and read it with pleasure
to that long night, the city.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 2 November 1660.

Chance: Six More From a Tarot

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Chance: A Poetic Tarot



“The memory of the wicked
shall rot”
— I come to collect
chaff and ash, splinters doubled
from being waterlogged.


A little bell made
of moneybags tied around
your neck: Abogado
de campanilla.


When you grow up, do not seek
to be a lawyer, soldier, governor,
doctor, king. Grow something
real with your hands.


How many cubits to the east?
What depth the wall-posts and what
height the beams? Do not forget
hallways of branching dreams.


I kissed the ground
and touched my forehead
to the dust then rose
and gathered up belongings.


Happy the cricket
on the window-ledge:
everything dark but for
one bar of fallen light.


In response to Via Negativa: L'esprit d'escalier.

Poem Beginning With a Typo by Nicelle Davis

I would rather stable myself in the eye
than hazard the high saddle of the nose
or wander across the shoulder blade’s
desolate salt. I would rather wallow
in the vitreous humor than smother
under the belly button’s lint.
And oh, the keening of the wind
as it passes over the bottle mouth of the ear!
Bodies are treacherous & prone
to spells of heat. Keep me as
the apple of the eye, cool & crisp.


In a recent post at her blog, California poet Nicelle Davis used the phrase “I would rather stable myself in the eye,” which struck me as so poetically correct that I couldn’t imagine what “stable” might be a typo for, and had to click through from Feedly to find out (“stab,” of course). I hope she doesn’t mind my drawing attention to what I’m sure was some device’s autocorrect mistake.

L’esprit d’escalier

This morning Sir W. Pen and I were mounted early, and had very merry discourse all the way, he being very good company.
We came to Sir W. Batten’s, where he lives like a prince, and we were made very welcome. Among other things he showed us my Lady’s closet, where was great store of rarities; as also a chair, which he calls King Harry’s chair, where he that sits down is catched with two irons, that come round about him, which makes good sport. Here dined with us two or three more country gentle men; among the rest Mr. Christmas, my old school-fellow, with whom I had much talk. He did remember that I was a great Roundhead when I was a boy, and I was much afraid that he would have remembered the words that I said the day the King was beheaded (that, were I to preach upon him, my text should be “The memory of the wicked shall rot”); but I found afterwards that he did go away from school before that time.
He did make us good sport in imitating Mr. Case, Ash, and Nye, the ministers, which he did very well, but a deadly drinker he is, and grown exceeding fat. From his house to an ale-house near the church, where we sat and drank and were merry, and so we mounted for London again, Sir W. Batten with us. We called at Bow and drank there, and took leave of Mr. Johnson of Blackwall, who dined with us and rode with us thus far.
So home by moonlight, it being about 9 o’clock before we got home.

I batten like a mad king
on remembered words.
My text should be: “The memory
of the wicked shall rot.”
After I go, I make sport
in imitating the dead,
grown fat on moonlight.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 1 November 1660.

Catskin Banjo (videopoem)

This entry is part 1 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


Watch on YouTube

A semi-narrative videopoem using footage and music from the documentary And So They Live (1940) by John Ferno and Julian Roffman and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. I first tried to make a banjo videopoem with footage from this documentary three years ago, but chose the wrong poem (“Banjo Proverbs”) — it didn’t work. Even for this one, I felt compelled to minimize the amount of screen time devoted to the banjo player, Richard Berry, in part because the banjo he’s playing is not the kind of homemade catskin banjo described in the text. But I wanted to use the film somehow for at least one of the Breakdown videos. Its subjects deserve better than the treatment they got with the original narration, which stresses their supposedly extreme ignorance, poverty, malnutrition and disease. One suspects the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, named after the founder of General Motors, of ulterior motives in seeking to cast subsistence economies not dependent upon the automobile as the essence of deprivation. It does, however, show that the use of the banjo as a marker for hillbilly backwardness long predates the 1972 movie Deliverance.

I am indebted to the graphic artist and collector of American roots music R. Crumb for identifying the banjoist in the film. Also, it’s worth noting that my friend Marc Neys, A.K.A. Swoon, independently discovered And So They Live in the Prelinger Archives, and has used snippets of it in two of his videopoems: Odds and Ends, featuring a text by Joseph Harker, and The Pioneer Wife Speaks in Tongues, featuring a text by the wonderful Donna Vorreyer. As Marc put it, the documentary contains “some great looking shots but a typical and very patronizing narration.”

Chance: Six More From a Tarot

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Chance: A Poetic Tarot



Ivory sheen, coiled snake
bone in her hair: not whimsy,
not curio nor afterthought. En-
jambed, but not embellishment.


Blight on matter
as soon as kissed
by air: so therefore,
love, unpetal me.


Folded in my teacup,
swung over the brink.
But here you are, here
you are, here you are.


Calaveras: sockets
full of marigolds,
tongues and frosted
window teeth of sugar.


Me and me and me,
I and I— Go lie
amid a populace
of bees.


What spirits hide, unseen
within the fern? And so
we bend our heads: Your pardon
please as we pass through.


In response to Via Negativa: Homunculus.

News junkie

Office day. Much troubled all this morning in my mind about the business of my walk on the leads. I spoke of it to the Comptroller and the rest of the principal officers, who are all unwilling to meddle in anything that may anger my Lady Davis. And so I am fain to give over for the time that she do continue therein.
Dined at home, and after dinner to Westminster Hall, where I met with Billing the quaker at Mrs. Michell’s shop, who is still of the former opinion he was of against the clergymen of all sorts, and a cunning fellow I find him to be. Home, and there I had news that Sir W. Pen is resolved to ride to Sir W. Batten’s country house to-morrow, and would have me go with him, so I sat up late, getting together my things to ride in, and was fain to cut an old pair of boots to make leathers for those I was to wear.
This month I conclude with my mind very heavy for the loss of the leads, as also for the greatness of my late expenses, insomuch that I do not think that I have above 150l. clear money in the world, but I have, I bless God, a great deal of good household stuff.
I hear to-day that the Queen is landed at Dover, and will be here on Friday next, November 2nd.
My wife has been so ill of late of her old pain that I have not known her this fortnight almost, which is a pain to me.

A troll in anger, I quake
at the news:
the heavy loss,
the greatness of the world.
But I hear the land and
her old pain that I have
not known.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 31 October 1660.