April Diary: premature encapsulation

This entry is part 1 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April I see you have arrived a day early wearing your gauze of showers and I have mistakenly put black pepper in my cereal instead of salt

Dear April I want to write to you each day of you about poetry and where it comes from and I don’t want to bother about whether I am writing proper prose nonfiction because time is short — your time, our time — and anyway it seems weird to get too prosey about poetry (sorry, scholars)

Dear April since we’re getting started early here’s something I posted just last night:

my poor extremities born the same day as the rest of me yet so much colder

am I always going to extremes because ambiguity is work

come to think of it my feet were born first

I had gone to extreme lengths not to leave home

but is that why I think best on my feet

April Diary 2: talking frogs and brush strokes

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 2 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April should I turn autocorrect back on or risk orthographic anarchy

for isn’t this what writing and publishing have become: apps instead of editors

search engine web crawlers are our most attentive readers and social media algorithms our most merciless critics

dear April I am typing this on my porch listening to the morning chorus and thinking about Ki no Tsurayuki’s 10th-century Preface to the first great imperial anthology of Japanese poetry the Kokinshu

We hear the bush warbler singing in the flowers or the voice of the frogs that live in the water and know that among all living creatures there is not one that does not have its song

(tr. Burton Watson, From the Country of Eight Islands)

that holistic vision in which humans are just one of a myriad sort of beings that have in common a fundamental drive toward song-making seen first and foremost as a spontaneous expression of joy

because to be natural is to be spontaneous in the Sino-Japanese conception of things. culture is therefore identified closely with constraint, such as the rules governing song/poetry

and since birds etc. also sing that means they also have culture (which many scientists would now agree with)

none of which has kept modern Japanese from wrecking the natural environment both at home and abroad, ancient forests of Borneo dating back to the Mesozoic logged flat to make disposable chopsticks and wrapping paper

the endless and beautifully tasteful packaging required by the cult of kirei — cleanliness and beauty

last night my phone glowed in the darkness like a florescent tombstone as I listened to the spring peepers all three of them making the loudest poem they could

night vision is incompatible with reading and it bothers me that i have to choose between gazing into the actual darkness and gazing at a printed or digital page

using night vision for revision is also impossible unless one can work entirely in one’s head like an oral poet

but light text on a dark background strains the eyes, most texts use dark fonts on a light background so in a sense the act of reading almost always entails parsing the darkness

on the 29th day of the twelfth month in 1308 the Japanese monk Nanpo Jomyo, having predicted that he would die on that very day a year earlier, picked up his ink brush for the last time wrote the following poem and allegedly croaked on the spot:

To hell with the wind!
Confound the rain!
I recognize no Buddha.
A blow like a stroke of lightning—
the world turns on its hinge.

tr. Yoel Hoffmann, Japanese Death Poems

say what you will about Hoffman’s translation it’s a hell of a lot less wooden than this one I just found on the web:

I rebuke the wind and revile the rain,
I do not know the Buddhas and patriarchs;
My single activity turns in the twinkling of an eye,
Swifter even than a lightning flash.

tr. Isshu Miura and Ruth F Sasaki, Zen Dust

a lightning flash illuminates the night for a second or two but who would risk such a potentially destructive vision

i like that he went out cursing though

I don’t know about frogs but for sure birds like crows know how to curse

April Diary 3: stag beetle, wolf spider and fly

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 3 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April when I open my laptop this morning Poetry Daily which i have set as my home page has a poem by George Szirtes called Stag Beetle

beginning with a rhyming quatrain and switching into prose like an inside-out haibun but it works because whatever Szirtes writes tends to work because the man’s a genius and I say this based on years of reading his blog and social media posts — probably the most prominent poet I know to regularly share rough drafts online as Luisa and I do

I love love love poems that evoke the lives of other beings a la Francis Ponge who’s kind of the gold standard for that but there are many more and “Stag Beetle” is a great new addition to that corpus—

When propped up at 45 degrees it suggested a renaissance nightmare, the perfect rejection of humanism, but now, in my palm it simply sat like a philosophical problem.

I’ve met George socially a couple of times but it’s not surprising in a country as small as the UK that we have friends in common and let’s be honest sometimes the poetry scene in the US and Canada feels pretty small and familial as well

albeit a mafiosa family riven with rivalries some of them pretty bitter but the family will take care of you if you take care of it (and I don’t)

so I open my inbox and am happy to see that my friend Patricia aka PF Anderson is once again doing NaPoWriMo, kicking it off with a narrative poem about domestic violence and refugees called Imagine

I subscribe to Patricia’s blog Rosefire Rising for just that reason seeing her poems appear in my inbox every day in April I don’t do this for many poets but hers is a valuable voice of witness and the sort of poet all too often overlooked in our culture that tries to pigeonhole people: someone highly educated in the craft but employed in an unrelated field, who has to be extremely disciplined about setting aside time to write and rarely has any time left over to send work out

but at least there’s blogging

the next poem in my inbox is from another old blogger Risa Denenberg — Cul-de-sac at Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY also a narrative poem and beautifully done

one of the unique things about this periodical is the editor’s note at the end of each poem, just a sentence or two by Christine Klocek-Lim saying what she loves about it

Editor’s note: This poem lures the reader inside the narrative with calm imagery and the speaker’s quiet lawn rebellion until halfway through, when everything crystallizes into a sharp, piercing moment of clarity.

this is a feature I haven’t seen anywhere else but it gives the magazine such a down-home feel

and I admire how she embraces the informality of social media in her editorial style and how she recognizes the utility of blog software for releasing content DAILY

and her capitalization of DAILY suggests maybe a bit of frustration with other poetry editors who persist in releasing periodic content dumps because they can’t break themselves of a print-based scarcity mentality despite the fact that blog software has been with us for 20 years and every other sort of magazine understands how to release content in the digital age </rant>

two emails up it’s the latest daily offering from Rattle and this time I don’t know the poet one Jackie Bartley an evocation of a mother, with the sort of deep empathy one looks to poetry for

Rattle‘s thing is to include a short statement from the author instead of a bio at the end and I am all for this — it reflects an editorial focus on what would be of most interest to the reader rather than what serves the writer

so today Jackie Bartley writes

The hum of my mother’s Singer as the bobbin filled was as soothing as a Tantric chant, a single note resonating with and giving rise to layers of sound. I still relish that sensation: sound and sense in synchrony; word and idea unwound and rewound to form a poem, a compact and tightly layered version of story or state of mind.

my final poem of the morning before i head out for a hike is Luisa’s latest at Via Negativa which went up overnight: Binuro which I love because pickled foods fermenting in underground darkness is extremely my thing

the poem works as a lyrical definition of the title I think based on three minutes of web searching binuro

yesterday found me reading under an umbrella to protect the book from graupel

then i noticed what the poem was saying

i’m being cagey about the author because i ended up finding the poems not to my taste

the term high-brow nonsense poetry came to mind

i will give it another try though at some point

today i’m sitting in the woods on another mountain, on a haiku-collecting mission but this is my lunch break

it’s warmed up to where the flies can buzz and that’s important for two reasons:

  1. there’s a lean and hungry-looking wolf spider prowling the leaves around my feet
  2. i’m re-reading Charles Simic

and flies are to Simic as angels are to Blake

Simic at least in his early books is so full of genuine wisdom, one feels, even if the precise lessons may be hard to articulate

they’re quite like Sufi teaching stories in that regard

so they bear re-reading every few years which is why I’ve been filling in the missing titles in my collection, including this one, Charon’s Cosmology, his third with Braziller after Dismantling the Silence and Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk (yes i’m reading them in order)

such ugly covers! such beautiful paper, binding and printing! truly a pleasure to open, in part so i no longer have to look at that ugly-ass cover

even though i’ve never owned this book i remember parts of nearly every poem

but which parts? maybe only the most obvious ones i think obsessively re-reading “The Elders”

which does begin “I go to great troubles” so perhaps I should

and then wouldn’t you know it I’m joined by another reader

an open book with a housefly on it snd the beginning of Charles Simic’s poem “The Elders”

April Diary 4: immersion

This entry is part 4 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April where were you today it was inclement in a distinctly wintry fashion

i was mostly indoors on my day of rest immersed in poetry, writing it reading it reading about it

except for a lunch break on which i indulged another guiltier pleasure: some nihilistic comedy on YouTube

i find it oddly restorative

it occurred to me as i was assembling the Poetry Blog Digest that butchers get a hell of a bad rap

that’s a comedy thought rather than a poetry thought but could work in either

anyway after all that i felt nearly drained of words so i went for a walk in the woods

i stopped at the biggest of the ephemeral woodland pools at the top of the mountain as i usually do and stared into its murky shallows

i find it oddly restorative

the sun set with little fanfare between storm clouds and a rose of grief blossomed in my chest

i remembered this morning in the trash burner how the flames had danced together so deliriously and then… just embers and ashes

returning across the field I saw the new(ish) moon through a hole in the clouds

April Diary 5: Dutchman’s breeches, sorcery, glutes

This entry is part 5 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April today a fat porcupine led me to an early-blooming patch of Dutchman’s breeches so it was a very good day

also i climbed a new-to-me mountain and met a lot of fantastic trees and rocks

(i’m not even kidding, i still get genuinely excited by cool-looking trees and rocks)

i’ve read maybe six poems today; mostly i was walking and snapping photos

the walk did generate some haiku but i thought maybe for once i’d hold them back and, i don’t know, maybe even submit them somewhere

as an inveterate online self-publisher i feel a little dirty even admitting that

during bouts of insomnia i’ve been reading a tome about Viking-age sorcery and last night I was struck by some of the translations of Sami magic specialists:

Types of Magic-Workers

according to Neil Price

  • one who harms by sorcery
  • one who harms and cures by sorcery
  • one who cures with the help of conjurations
  • one who performs wonders
  • one who bewitches people’s sight
  • one who knows a thing or two
  • one who creates illusions
  • one who whispers
  • one who dreams

The book by the way is The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

Neil Price is a brilliant historical anthropologist but if you’re not up on Viking studies this text wouldn’t be the best way in

you still have to just start with Egil’s Saga and have your mind blown

(Snorri’s Egil Skallagrimson is for my money the most compelling portrayal of a poet in all of world literature. poet and part-troll. but really more of a gangsta rapper, let’s be honest)

ever since I decided that boredom was no longer my enemy it simply vanished (tweet from yesterday)

can’t decide which sounds better, “gluteus maximus” or “butt muscle” (tweet from today)

April Diary 6: freedom, haiku, and Roscoe Holcomb

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 6 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April to read Japanese haiku is to become enmeshed in a centuries-old matrix of allusions and traditions

as a modern free-verse poet i find the reliance on stereotyped images from the natural world somewhat stifling, and am glad we don’t have any equivalent tradition

it leaves us free to invent our own traditions, though who knows how stifling that might prove for future generations, should there be any kind of poetry in the far grimmer times that lie ahead

or so at least i wrote at 4:00 in the morning after reading Ozawa Minoru for a while, his Well-Versed: Exploring Modern Japanese Haiku which does present a very broad cross-section of styles and approaches

it’s an invaluable addition to the literature on haiku in English. i like the author’s down-to-earth style of literary analysis. I’ll share a couple of examples in a moment. i have two major frustrations with the book. one is that they included a literal translation and a Romanization of the Japanese but not the original. and this would’ve been a big help because my second frustration is that the main translations while workmanlike are sprawling messes. i usually end up attempting my own which is why i’m only halfway through despite having started it months ago.

i wrote down a couple of my efforts to share here. but first the translator Janine Beichman’s versions

after pondering this for a while i came up with

bindweed flower —
surely there must be
some electric current?

how about:

‘Stand up, bow,
take a seat!’ Green leaves
stirred by the wind

or even if we follow Beichman otherwise, surely “wind blowing” would’ve been a better second line

i don’t think it sounds stilted or excessively telegraphic to imitate in English the subject and verb tense indeterminacy, even if we can’t also for example leave it open whether we mean singular or plural nearly as easily. but this is all of a piece with the brevity: leaving as much to the reader’s imagination as possible after first drawing them into a particular time, place and mood

a haiku is an engine for reverie

from this perspective books like Ozawa’s might seem superfluous but of course in many cases the brevity can only work because of a shared cultural understanding which we lack, not to mention contextualizing with relevant natural history or literary information for a contemporary urban Japanese audience

(my photos don’t include the bio of each poet at the bottom of the page which collectively paint a scene of incredible richness and complexity)

Fay Aoyagi’s blog Blue Willow Haiku World is a much better way into modern Japanese haiku though. she’s an excellent bilingual haiku poet in her own right and I almost never have any thought of improving her translations. also she always shares the original text. here’s today’s haiku

listening to Roscoe Holcomb on the way home from my big biweekly shopping trip. that high lonesome sound. i love how on tracks like “Little Birdie” he sings at dirge speed against a fast banjo with an effect familiar from black metal, slow high-pitched vocals over blast beats. it’s the hillbilly way

o bookmark traveling from book to book — with most of my collection bought second hand what pages have you lain between and with whom

in today’s mail two books i’m really excited about but i’ll tell you about them tomorrow

DaveBonta.com tagline possibilities

  • mildly experimental poet
  • crow-botherer
  • poetry wallah
  • cock-eyed pessimist
  • game changer
  • troll farmer
  • non-fungible poet

April Diary 7: wolfish

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 7 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April your daffodils are as late as I’ve ever seen them

their yellow buds ease open like swimmers dipping a toe into the cold and the wet

I’m sitting on the ridgetop and as i wrote that last line two deer came up behind me caught my scent and bolted, bounding down the steep, rocky slope toward I-99

Dear April today is a moss and lichen day, the tree trunks dark with rain under heavy skies and the gray-green sleeves of their upper limbs

It’s almost axiomatic i think that any place where you have a close encounter with a charismatic creature becomes forever marked by your memory of its presence. approaching this stone seat where i had a brief staring contest with a coyote a month ago, i noticed a somewhat wolfish piece of old lichen-encrusted pine

earlier, standing in the kitchen i’d started humming that song “the bare necessities” from Disney’s original animation of the jungle book and a few lines of a new bear poem came to me:

as for the bare necessities
Balu I am still looking

I have been unbearable
to some but like you

I am a sluggard
I go to the fancy ants

my tongue works far
harder than my teeth

yeah I thought i’d just throw in a fun little riff on a Bible quote there because I have an imaginary audience of fellow KJV nerds. oh hell yeah

Dear April I read one poem in the course of half an hour sitting in the woods. is that good or bad? Charon’s Cosmology still

there aren’t too many poets so brilliant that a practiced reader can’t anticipate where a poem is going from one line to the next but Simic is one of them

there are natural landscapes like that, so full of surprise that even a practiced hiker can’t imagine what’s around the next bend. we call such places old growth if they’re forest

if we truly pay attention they confound every effort at an easy narrative

there’s nowhere i’m really going with this thought but feel free to expand upon it at your leisure

but there is a terrifying arbitrariness to our choice of narratives isn’t there

what does this mean in the age of the novel and the TV script that it might not have meant in the age of the ballad and the epic, i wonder. in slower times people might’ve had more time to think their own thoughts but history suggests that many if not most of those thoughts, especially where war was concerned, were utter dogshit

in a time of war we are reminded of the immense destructive power of official narratives, our propaganda more insidious than Russia’s because, at least in its liberal version, so few members of the professional/managerial class even recognize it as propaganda

and so we are being memed and emoted into a war that could end nearly all life on earth

Dear April there was a raccoon on my Mom’s back porch late this afternoon when i got back from my walk and at first we were excited because, you know, not really all that many raccoons up here

but then we noticed how skinny and how scroungy her fur and she seemed to have a limp no wait she’s staggering oh hell poor thing must be rabid

and our neighbor came over with a shotgun because all i have are rifles and a shotgun is the right tool for this grim but necessary job but the raccoon had disappeared probably under my house

Dear April i won’t lie: seeing that raccoon stagger felt like a haiku moment

poets are monsters

I don’t want to end on such a dark note so let me instead leave you with a haiku by a living master of the art, John Stevenson

this is from his 2004 collection with Red Moon Press quiet enough (one of the two books that came yesterday from bookshop.org)

leaves budding
a little girl
spinning in her dress

John Stephenson

such a pure, perfect, timeless moment. with that is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-metaphor frisson I get so often with Buson

April Diary 9: sapsuckers, beginner’s mind, and Phoebe Giannisi

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 8 of 31 in the series April Diary


a day of bright sun and sudden showers

a day for Louisiana waterthrushes and yellow-bellied sapsuckers

I wrote a haiku about the former, posting it from the trail, and texted my birder brother about the latter

i’m picturing one of those 16th-century fonts where lower-case S’s look like F’s

I had one rule for this diary: to compose and post it entirely on the phone and I broke that rule on April 1, more fool me

what is it about poets and the need to set arbitrary rules which we honor mainly in the breach

the point of the rule was to enforce brevity (I type very slowly and poorly on it) but perhaps my laziness will serve the same function

is it a diary or zuihitsu though really

as British poet Cheryl Moskovitz put it

Zuihitsu is neither prose poem nor essay although it can sometimes resemble both. To ‘follow the brush’ suggests a certain not-knowing of what will happen, that whatever might result from the process will be down to discovery rather than plan. There is a strong sense in zuihitsu writing that the creation of order depends on disorder. Zuihitsu demands as its starting point, juxtapositions, fragments, contradictions, random materials and pieces of varying lengths.

so should I take Sei Shonagon for my guardian spirit, or the monk Kenkō, author of Essays in Idleness?

What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realise I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts that have entered my head.

Donald Keene, Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō

that’s how the grumpy old priest begins

the equally curmudgeonly Shonagon began her Pillow Book like this (in Ivan Morris’ classic translation):

In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish clouds trail over them.

she goes on to say that in summer is it the nights, in autumn the evenings and in winter the early mornings that are most beautiful

and i’m thinking that might be true in central Pennsylvania too

back at the end of March I attended a reading at Penn State Altoona by a couple of friends who teach there, both of whom had new books to launch: Todd Davis (Coffin Honey) and Erin Murphy (Taxonomies)

they both read very well and each is at the top of their game – so far so good. but should i stay for the rest of the reading, an open mike that i knew would be dominated by students with little more than one or two poetry classes under their belts? yikes i thought but i did stick around anyway

and actually it was kind of awesome. for one thing nobody hogged the mike. the audience was large but respectful and the work they shared had plenty of surprise

it occurred to me that listening to beginner poets is an exercise in recognition: recognizing what is salvageable, what is already brilliant, how true poetry and the received wisdom of the tribe are sometimes interchangeable. recognizing true insights no matter how encumbered by cliche

recognizing one’s own best moments with Beginner’s Mind

it’s also always valuable for those of us who have been immersed in poetry for most of our lives to get these periodic reminders of how newcomers to the craft might perceive it

most male birds aside from ducks lack penises, so copulation consists of what ornithologists refer to as a cloacal kiss

without the distraction of any kind of penetration one can see clearly that sex is at base a form of communication and perhaps its quintessence: a making in the sense of the Greek poeisis. DNA not unlike computer code to which it is often compared has the power to bring things about, like a sorcerer’s spell

the sapsuckers were certainly noisy about it too with that weird vuvuzela-like sound they make

here’s how the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website describes yellow-bellied sapsucker sounds:

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s signature call is a scratchy, nasal mewing that is often repeated. They also have a squealing call, a repeated quee-ah, quee-ah, that’s territorial and often heard in breeding season. And they make a waa call when disturbed or to alert others to danger.

Other Sounds

Like other sapsuckers, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s drumming is slower and more irregular than other woodpeckers. Its stuttering cadence can sound like somebody tapping out morse code. In addition to trees with good resonance, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also drum on metal surfaces—like street signs or chimney flashing—to amplify their territorial messages. Most drumming is done by males during breeding season.

a stuttering cadence suggests code or language because I suppose our ears are trained to recognize speech-like patterns, even in inanimate things like thunder or or the wind

i imagine birds hear a lot of sounds as potential birdsong, including human voices

i’m working my way through Greek poet Phoebe Giannisi’s book Cicada as translated by Brian Sneeden. the three epigraphs at the very front of the book are by J. Henri Fabre, Plato, and Basho so i figured the book would kick ass and it mostly does

like much of the poetry i read (and nearly everything i write) these are minimalist poems without a fixed narrator. according to the publisher’s description

Giannisi is a poet internationally known for her idiosyncratic ecopoetics, her poetic multimedia works and performances, and most of all, her brilliant vision glowing at the borders of language, voice, place, and memory.

i particularly like how she envisions ecdysis as an act of giving birth to oneself (not sure that image would’ve occurred to a male poet) but let me share instead the opening poem both because it is short and because it sort of fits with what i’ve been talking about:


Inside these articulations
the beginnings of language
outside of yes and no
inside only the I want
the soul with the body meeting
in all the openly
meteoric leaves
and now, see:
one of them falls slowly
to the earth

Phoebe Giannisi

more davebonta.com tagline possibilities

  • mouth-breather, poet
  • son of Bruce
  • fairly good egg
  • #amwriting #butpoetrysonobodyreadsit
  • young codger

April Diary 8: talking mushrooms, Utnapishtim, dead poet society

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 9 of 31 in the series April Diary


8:30 am. Dear April this is pushing the definition of “showers” rather far don’t you think? But we need the rain and I probably need to give my walking muscles a rest… at least until mid afternoon

Previous research has suggested that fungi conduct electrical impulses through long, underground filamentous structures called hyphae – similar to how nerve cells transmit information in humans.

It has even shown that the firing rate of these impulses increases when the hyphae of wood-digesting fungi come into contact with wooden blocks, raising the possibility that fungi use this electrical “language” to share information about food or injury with distant parts of themselves, or with hyphae-connected partners such as trees.

But do these trains of electrical activity have anything in common with human language?

Mushrooms communicate with each other using up to 50 ‘words’, scientist claims

half an hour before I saw this article in my Twitter feed believe it or not I had just been wondering whether fungal communication could be considered a language, and thinking how vital it is regardless for anyone trying to write ecopoetry to grapple with the role of fungi in an ecosystem

“the interpretation as language seems somewhat overenthusiastic” says University of Exeter professor Dan Bebber about the new research. what an absolutely classic British put-down

whether language can exist without the sort of consciousness that members of the animal kingdom possess seems more a question for philosophers than for scientists

but “hey, let’s ask a philosopher about this!” is about as common a reaction as “let’s send a poet into space!” — something that would’ve seemed dead obvious under any past civilization, but, you know…

fungi are not just algae farmers (forming lichens) and essential partners for most plants (forming the wood-wide web) they are also the planet’s main engines (along with some bacteria) for fermentation, digestion, and decomposition

and you can’t have composition without decomposition. for one thing there’d be no room

last night as I was heading for bed an amusing concept for a sci-fi novel occurred to me: organisms in the human microbiome become sentient and start going on strike, demanding that everyone eat as much as physically possible

don’t think i’ll ever write a novel but if i do, it would probably start out as satire and just get successively stranger with each chapter until eventually it switches to cuneiform and the reader hurls it across the room in disgust

and now the sun is shining through the pouring rain

April why are you torturing me

speaking of cuneiform I did some quality wool-gathering earlier while sitting on the porch watching the rain come down. here’s the seedy fleece:

introducing Utnapishtim Press: distilling the world’s great literature onto clay tablets before everything goes kabloobie!

Utnapishtim Press makes essential collectibles for any cultured survivalist — priceless artifacts of human civilization that could survive for millions of years and delight alien archaeologists

porcelain isn’t indestructible but manufactured in sufficient quantities and spread around the globe, the chances are good that something would survive

its major project would be an open-ended, multilingual Book of Life with a poem for every known species with whom we’ve shared the planet

a decentralized network of potter-printers could work independently, downloading whichever portions of the vast, Creative Commons-licensed corpus would be appropriate to their bioregion

this is one of those big ideas i can’t quite seem to banish despite my commitment to dilettantism. i ain’t no Utnapishtim (Babylonian Moses) and if human civilization is going to collapse under the weight of our greed, hubris and brutality, maybe we need to just let all of it go. let decomposition take place… so completely new compositions can arise

after all such total erasure of cultures is nothing new, even without genocide. “oral literature” sounds oxymoronic with the way literocentrism is baked right into the word literature, but at least 99% of all works of oral literature that have ever existed are lost. whole languages are winking out all over the globe under the pressure of colonial, consumerist monoculture

so why would poets want to contribute to that monoculture by in effect creating a new canon in the form of a potential new sacred text, spread in differing versions all over the globe? just what the world fucking needs

I finally got out for a walk around 3:00 when the rain slackened into mist with occasional sprinkles. Other than when i scramble up a steep slope, it’s no trouble to hike with an umbrella. that makes it much easier to stop and jot down thoughts

though today nothing much came and i suspect that’s because i have only so much creative energy in a given day and i’d already shot it on two erasure poems not to mention all the B.S. above

a fellow former student of my original poetry mentor, Jack McManis, happened across my 2004 blog post about him and emailed me with some of his own recollections. he took a couple of Jack’s classes back during the period when I was regularly hanging out in his office as a high school student. i asked permission to quote from the email:

Jack got assigned — against his will — to teach a freshman English comp course in 1980. By luck of the draw, I ended up in his section. As a rebellion, he threw out all of the required BS essays freshmen were supposed to write and let us write whatever we wanted. I’ll never forget him saying “Writing is writing.” So I turned in poetry, short stories, rants about things that bothered me, song lyrics. 

I got an A, and took his poetry writing class after that.

He loved one of my poems I submitted in the poetry class. It was about the shallowness of my classmates. At first they didn’t get it, but he had me read it a couple of times. And he asked the class questions. As people got it, it made some folks angry and others uncomfortable. He was delighted. I was proud. And scared. He labeled it as “powerful.”

He had me submit it to the Central PA Festival of the Arts (or something like that), where he was a judge along with two other people. He recused himself from voting since he knew me. He later told me one judge said it was shit. The other judge said it should win first place. He worked out a compromise and I got an honorable mention.

He made a great impression on me, as here I am 40 years later thinking about him and writing to you.

Chuck Hall

my friends who are teachers will appreciate that sentiment i’m sure. though it does seem like a bygone era indeed when professors could actually get away with letting students feel uncomfortable in class. the horror!

here are some lines by Jack (from my original post; go there for more samples of his work)

So the twenties, time of the great gestures! And whose
were greater than yours, St. Slapstick? You who spun truth
in crazy pantomime, though it’s half-past mayhem, time for me
to return to the missing persons bureau of the eighties, before
the onrushing manifest planet spill me in the whistlestop dark,
my keepsakes scattered in cinders, let me spin off the rods
not in mourning but laughing far down in my bones, tickled
by you, old holy pie thrower!

Jack McManis, from “Child of the Twenties in the Eighties”

four decades on and i think we can still say Amen to that!

April Diary 10: on not following myself

This entry is part 10 of 31 in the series April Diary


yesterday for the first time I tracked myself on one of those hiking apps which is a weird experience. the app was already on my phone so i thought what the hell. i wanted to verify that the distances i thought i was walking were accurate and they were. but!

it was somehow very distracting, like even though my phone was in my pocket i couldn’t stop thinking about my progress on a virtual map

until the actual world around me began to seem abstract, even a little unreal

but i thought i’d do it again today just so i could measure the alternate-day version of the hike when i go up the other ridge from the bottom, though the distance is bound to be within a tenth of a mile of the other route

halfway down the hollow i noticed i somehow hadn’t the gotten the app working properly and as it was too late to go back i shut it off. immediately i felt a huge wave of relief.

i walk for pleasure, inspiration and healing—to feel connected with the cosmos. everyone who’s into fitness claims their ultimate goal is to feel good but they’ve got some mighty strange ideas about how to get there

a few hours later i got a message from my cellphone carrier that i was almost out of data so it’s a good thing i fucked up today’s attempt to follow myself

questions that popped into my head while walking down the hollow:

how have the past 9+ years of making erasure poems changed the way i write?

how have the past 9+ years of making erasure poems changed the way i read?

i guess i thought if i wrote them down like that i’d have answers by this time. but it’s getting late and my brain is barely working. I’ll have to come back to this — and no doubt i will but it’s funny how i had so much to say about erasure poetry during the first couple of years of the Pepys Diary project when i really didn’t know what i was doing stylistically, but ever since i kind of figured out where i was going with it i don’t think i’ve written another thing, other than the occasional response to someone’s comment or question

another day of intermittent showers, even colder than yesterday

i sat in the sun against a tree and read fewer than 10 pages (Charon’s Cosmology again) before the dark clouds came up and a cold wind began to blow so i packed up and walked a mile and a half along the ridge through several very brief showers to the bench without wifi by which point the sun was shining again

so there i am sitting in the sun, gazing across the valley toward the other mountain disappearing into rain as I drink my sassafras tea

six crows fly over emitting duck-like calls: fish crows! (confirmed by comparing with audio from an online library). my brother the birder who lives in town later tells me he’s seen them along the river near the bottom of the mountain so i guess the species is moving into our area now, like black vultures before them and Carolina wrens before that — southern species moving north. next it’ll be Carolina chickadees i suppose

between showers
six fish crows
and the sun

made a somewhat experimental photo haiga out of that one since earlier in the day i’d posted a more standard haiga for a somewhat experimental haiku. i get bored of doing things the same way all the time

Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

Mark 9:50

happened across this quote, which i must’ve read more than once but somehow never paid attention to, whilst coming the Bible for quotes about peace that might fit on a gravestone or memorial marker (my dad, who died last September, was a peace scholar). don’t think we’ll use this one but as general advice it’s kind of perfect

the good ol’ KJV may not be the most reliable translation of the Bible but it is for sure the most poetic

Dear April yesterday i walked through a three-minute sleet storm. today it was graupel. the weather is becoming more opaque