April Diary 11: you may already be obsolete

This entry is part 11 of 31 in the series April Diary


on the porch reading Elaine Equi (from near the end of her New and Selected which i just retrieved from the bottom of a pile) and i’m brushing goddamn snowflakes off the pages

i love Equi’s wit and regular nods toward surrealism, mainly at the level of metaphor but sometimes going further. she’s an absolute master of the craft. I was nudged to re-read the book by my online attendance of a reading she gave in a North Jersey bookshop last month

(she read a bit too quickly i thought but i was charmed by her Chicago Italian accent and now i can’t help reading the poems in that accent (in my head, not out loud—i’m a terrible mimic))

“Trenton Local” captures the pleasure and wonder of seeing the world from a train window as a series of brief, vivid tableaux—something i also love

that poem and a couple more until my tea is done and it’s time to compose an entry for the Morning Porch, which naturally comes out sounding a bit like Equi

and i am completely unconflicted about that kind of influence on my work

(saying ‘my work’ sounds a little off though. it’s play)

Dear April do your worst. it’s my day of rest. i’ll probably end up taking a walk anyway but who knows

glancing at Facebook on my laptop during a break in composing an erasure poem (i take lots of breaks; they help me come back to the text with fresh eyes) i click on a 2016 article from LitHub shared by novelist and poet Rachel Dacus: The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It: On James Lackington’s Temple of the Muses, “The Cheapest Bookstore in the World”

One of 11 children, [James] Lackington was apprenticed to a cobbler as a boy. He had no formal education, but at an early age he recognized the value of books, and he and his friends scoured the markets for cheap editions of poetry, plays, and classical literature in translation in order to teach themselves to read and expand their understanding of the world. Later, as a shoemaker, he moved to London with his wife, Nancy, and years later in his memoirs he describes how, upon arriving in the city, he spent their last half-crown on a book of poems, Edward Young’s Night Thoughts: “For had I bought a dinner, we should have eaten it tomorrow, and the pleasure would have been soon over, but should we live fifty years longer, we shall have the Night Thoughts to feast upon.” Shortly thereafter, in 1774, Lackington was able to rent his own shop, and he began selling both shoes and books together.

of course it took someone born in poverty who loved reading for its own sake to realize that there was a huge need for affordable books to fill the shelves of a growing middle class:

The standard practice was for booksellers to buy large quantities of remaindered titles and then destroy as many as three-quarters of the books in order to drive up prices. But Lackington bought huge lots—sometimes entire libraries—and then drastically reduced the prices of all the books in order to sell them at high volume. In this way he kept books in circulation, made them affordable to a wider range of buyers, and turned a substantial profit all at the same time. […]

By 1794, he had amassed a large enough inventory to move into a massive shop on Finsbury Square with his partner Robert Allen. He named the shop The Temple of the Muses, and above the entrance a plaque boldly announced: Cheapest Bookstore in the World. The Temple of the Muses became a tourist attraction, and this was Lackington’s fourth innovation: the sheer size of his bookstore—a spectacle that dwarfed all other bookshops of the time—made it a destination in itself. With a shop front 140 feet long, the cavernous lobby featured a circular counter with space for a mail coach and six horses to pass through. Above this counter, a staircase led up to “lounging rooms” where patrons could read beneath galleries lined with book-filled shelves, four floors in all. The higher patrons climbed, the cheaper and more tattered the books became. The poet John Keats spent many hours reading for free in the lounging rooms, and it was here that he met his first publishers, Taylor and Hessy, who worked in the shop.

never heard of this guy until now but he’s my new hero. i love the idea of Keats hanging out in the equivalent of Barnes and Noble but of course this was long before free public libraries were a thing

as for Edward Young, he seems as keen on the YOLO philosophy as any modern social media influencer. i can see why his stuff would resonate with an ambitious young businessman in late 18th-century London:

Of man’s miraculous mistakes, this bears
The palm, “That all men are about to live,”
For ever on the brink of being born:
All pay themselves the compliment to think
They, one day, shall not drivel; and their pride
On this reversion takes up ready praise;
At least, their own; their future selves applauds;
How excellent that life they ne’er will lead?

Edward Young, “The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality

because it was my day of rest i decided to work insanely hard and make a videopoem in addition to the blog roundup and an erasure poem

this was the first videopoem i’ve made in months and i’m afraid it’s not at all sophisticated, just a single stationary shot with a haibun cobbled together from spare parts i found in my files (the haiku is from last week)

i did get out for a quick, four-mile walk after supper to enjoy as much of the late-in-the-day ridgetop sunshine as possible after a very cold and gloomy day

i also just needed to warm the hell up after a sedentary day

it was the opposite of my usual slow contemplative ramble but who cares—it’s my day of rest

i’m told that most members of Gen Z, at least here in the US, don’t like or even get irony, which freaks me out. we Gen Xers are all about irony

but it’s a great example of why that literary immortality writers are taught to strive for is such a complete will o’ the wisp: if your writing leans heavily on irony for its effect, congratulations, you may already be obsolete

April Diary 12: flowers in hell

This entry is part 12 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April it’s been a day spent largely in my head a commodious place since i haven’t stuffed it full of facts or indeed much of anything with a practical use

walking down the mountain i was thinking about something the Norwegian poet Rolf Jacobsen once said: “In an age of tiredness” he said “I write for the half-tired”

there’s definitely a class angle to the accessibility vs. difficulty debate (which for many of us is also an internal debate) though here in the chronically overworked US, sleep deprivation cuts across class lines. it’s more inescapable though for those near or below the federal poverty line. for members of the professional-managerial class it can be a bit more volitional

the point is as an insomniac i am intimately acquainted with all the ways that sleep deprivation can interfere with concentration and aesthetic appreciation, to say nothing of the mind’s overall speed and ability to function

with my strong preference for shorter lines and stanzas and for direct, more colloquial diction perhaps i too write for the half-tired

i do not believe in ever writing down to people which is i’m afraid how some on either side of the debate perceive accessibility. but
(insert winter wren trill here—i’m close to the stream)
gnarly or unfamiliar ideas can be presented in ways that invite a reader in and experimental language can be presented in a way that’s fun—see Christian Bök’s Eunoia or pretty much anything by Gary Barwin

it’s the cliquishness and austere aesthetics of a lot of avant-garde work that turns people off. if you doubt that people without college educations can appreciate difficult art, i’d invite you to consider the extreme metal underground, where in many genres complexity of composition is fetishized by the still largely working-class fan base. i believe the same was true of bebop in its day. you don’t need an expensively educated elite to have sophistication in the arts

all that said, there’s no denying the deep anti-intellectualism of anglo-american culture. what poetry does do well commercially tends to be pretty straight-forward fare, whether prosy free verse, rap- and Beat-influenced spoken word, or artistically arranged motivational poster copy

it’s quite a late spring. the first round-leafed hepaticas are finally fully out in Plummer’s Hollow after just a few hours of warmer sunshine this morning. now it’s clouding over again

i tell myself i don’t need any more hepatica photos but it isn’t a matter of need

first hepaticas
will the circle be

that haiku came a bit too easily. hope i’m not unconsciously plagiarizing someone!

also the first stinking Benjamin is out of the ground, green blade stained with mud

the best vistas must now contain something dissonant, tacky or even garish or else risk becoming cliché

bright red roof
the devil is just a hard
working cook

(is that even a haiku?)

(does it matter?)

no one ever talks about how Africa is giving birth to a new sea

also, two of the greatest poets i ever knew never published a book. one stopped writing altogether i suspect. brilliant but troubled. how fortunate must of us are to be neither

i say i’m talking to myself but i’m not — in the same way you say you’re talking to god but you’re not

(maybe that’s why i’ve begun to resist capitalizing i)

no ideology can ever be a perfect map to reality. i feel this is something that poets and physicists should intuitively grasp and it always bothers me when they don’t

places are the best mnemonics. they’re irreplaceable that way

when global corporate monoculture eliminates the last corner of local quirk and the same suite of hardy invasive species grows everywhere, what will happen to memory?

i suppose everyone will be on THC by then so it will be a moot question

i sometimes get really angry when i hear about texts or speech intended to be private, for a single person’s eyes/ears and ephemeral being nevertheless recorded and eventually shared. if this angers you too, prepare to be outraged when you find out how all the classic Zen ko’ans came to be

the collected ko’ans of masters such as Yunmen and Linji are unique gems of world literature and i’m so glad we have them. but a significant part of their opacity is down to us not knowing every intimate detail of the master-student relationships that gave rise to them. at their origin in other words while still conundrums intended to lead to breakthroughs they weren’t necessarily quite as mysterious as they seem today

mystery like many products of fermentation gets better with age

April shower
that heavenly odor
rising from old leaves

i really love how the flat thin soles of my shoes let me feel the smallest contours of the earth

trail running is a strange subculture of exercise freaks but they make some good products

but i wanna say to anyone who does like to run through the woods: imagine if you slowed down and got to know the trees and flowers so well that you began to see the natural world less as a passive environment to discover yourself in and more as an endlessly fascinating series of unique neighborhoods to lose yourself in—likely the way you already imagine cities. imagine walking at one mile per hour and feeling it’s much too fast.

imagine there’s a heaven and you’re in it
it’s easy if you try
but it’s also possibly a pointless exercise in privilege
hell isn’t exactly beneath us but we do manage to keep it out of sight most of the time
above us only the vacuum of space

which puts me in mind of Issa’s famous haiku

in the midst of it all
with hell yawning under us
gazing at flowers

that’s my version but you should try your own

yo no naka wa
世 の 中 は
world’s midst as-for
jigoku no ue no
地獄 の 上 の
hell’s on-top-of’s
hanami kana
花 見 哉
flower viewing!

all of which has me reaching for Baudelaire

he sits right next to Basho on my bookshelf

Time and nature sluice away our lives.
A virus eats the heart out of our sides,
digs in and multiplies on our lost blood.
Charles Baudelaire, from Flowers of Evil (Robert Lowell translation)

so. much. more. metal.

April Diary 14: cardinal, coyote, owl

This entry is part 13 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April there’s a cardinal nesting beneath my bedroom window

she’s sitting on three speckled eggs

our first hot day. sitting on a bench in the woods where i swear the same two or three bluebottle flies keep landing on me no matter how many i kill. no wonder people used to believe in spontaneous generation

the Zang Di book has already proved its utility as a flyswatter. well done Zephyr Press

Stir-fried pork and asparagus is a starting point for poetry.

Zang Di (tr. Eleanor Goodman)

i like this guy. his mind moves in interesting ways

this too in the middle of a well-used trail is language

coyote calling cards

hypothesis (clears throat): the invention of symbolic language by humans was essential to make up for the lost richness of meaning our more distant ancestors accessed through their noses

there’s a profusion of trailing arbutus blooms this year like nothing we’ve seen here in 52 years. not sure why. though i do have some hypotheses…

it’s maybe a bit unusual in the modern world to know exactly where you’ll someday be buried. i noticed today a porcupine has been littering the ground all around with spruce twigs (they’re messy eaters)

my future gravesite
old puffball
blowing smoke

barred owl calling up in the woods, just one disapproving-sounding who! at a time

for years, my ex heard me talking about bard owls and wondered what made them so poetic

sitting just inside the edge of the woods is a completely different experience from sitting on my front porch less than 100 feet away. a more vulnerable experience, especially after dark. a humbler experience

(when did humility stop being a virtue asks the old crank)

the porch offers the remove of civilization. a roof blocks most of the sky—it’s no wonder suburbanites long ago ditched porches for back decks

April Diary 13: wildflowery

This entry is part 14 of 31 in the series April Diary


out on a spring wildflower-gazing expedition southeast of here with my Mom all day. we saw twinleaf, cut-leaved toothwort, trout lilies, hillsides covered with Dutchman’s breeches and spring beauties, and more hepatica than I’ve ever seen in one place before

a surprisingly large, intact stand of eastern hemlocks included stumps that were still alive at least a decade after they were cut, kept on life support by their adjacent relatives, continuing to grow scar tissue over the amputations year after year

we talked about life and death, family and friends, the state of the planet etc. on a gorgeous (and WARM) day

it’s undoubtedly good for my poetry to take a day off from it now and then. i might have enough brain power left to bang out an erasure poem before i go to sleep but it isn’t looking good, and i’ve abandoned another poem i’ve been working on off and on for the past two days because while it was highly clever it lacked any original insight, and while i’m sure i could still get it into decent shape i know it would never spark joy. so following Marie Kondo’s advice I am throwing it out

in today’s mail a new translation of a new-to-me contemporary Chinese poet, Zang Di: The Roots of Wisdom. it looks great. here’s part of the publisher’s description:

Zang Di (臧棣) is widely acknowledged as one of the leading poets and literary critics of his generation. In this new bilingual collection of his work, The Roots of Wisdom, he uses rich, emotional language to explore the natural world, including his beloved Weiming Lake at Peking University — his “Walden.” The lake has been a muse for him for more than 30 years. While Zang Di’s detailed observations often begin in nature, they go on to unearth insights into human psychology, relationships, contemporary life, and the mysteries of language.

Zang Di maintains a prolific writing practice (he composes one poem each day), and his unique style draws not only from nature but also from his extensive reading of Chinese and Western literature, and his travels through several continents.

here’s how the title poem concludes:

The wind arrives, and its casualness is conflicted; in the name of white clouds
are traces of those wild geese you like. People’s words fly, with no concern for direction.
The rain departs, and the vastness is lonely not paltry.
Your tears are rainbowed bandages.
These tangled things are again and again the apex of emptiness,
but they still plant their roots deep in a life of poetry.

overall, Zang Di’s poetry appears to have a higher density of abstractions than i’m used to, but with just enough concrete imagery to give me something to sink my teeth into, i hope

April Diary 15: all my best friends are books

This entry is part 15 of 31 in the series April Diary


sitting on the porch first thing in the morning going back and forth between Phoebe Giannisi and Zang Di: two cerebral humanist ecopoets both born in 1964

both reward slow reading are often tongue in cheek and discuss ideas in a very concrete, embodied way

they have different concepts of what’s most primal though: for Giannisi it’s smell or touch; for Zang Di it’s taste

both translators Brian Sneeden and Eleanor Goodman are highly regarded by their peers. imagine pouring so much selfless effort into a product that in the end may garner three or four glowing reviews and fewer than 500 sales i’m guessing. heroes

i now want to buy every contemporary Chinese poet translated for Zephyr Press not all at once but as i finish the previous one (though that means a lot more money on shipping)

though my previous such book was from those wacko hipsters at Ugly Duckling Presse, I name him me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan a young Sichuanese Muslim poet whose work really took off in China after she topped herself in 2010, sigh. in her lifetime just two self-published collections drawn from her blog

hi my name is Dave and i’m a bookaholic

here’s a short poem by Ma Yan:


The butterflies climb against the wind,
they hobble on the cable.
Sunlight in mid-spring and
roadside trees smothered in dust
say hello to each other.
In this heavy Beijing,
the thick smell of oxygen,
the TV sign happens to cut out
like thunder at noon.

I name him me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan, translated by Stephen Nashef

this is a perfect haiku pairing:

John Stevenson, from quiet enough

the problem with people who want to be poets i find is that they want to have written poems more than they want to write them. they are in love with the idea of being someone who loves to write

some of these people end up committing literal plagiarism. others limit themselves to passing off commonplace ideas, conventional wisdom and other such calcified thoughts as their own original insights

all of these people need to be encouraged. there’s too much good poetry getting published these days—one simply cannot read it all. it’s appalling

also i love me a good plagiarism scandal, although it’s a little sad when you know the plagiarist and had thought well of her. still, i stand with Ira Lightman all the way. he’s a genuine hero for exposing so many cases of well-published, reputable poets committing plagiarism. it raises so many questions about originality and why it matters (or doesn’t matter if you’re an idiot). and why the hell some people want so badly to have written that they can’t be bothered to write

Dear April when the high finally blew in late this afternoon, I was four-fifths of the way through my walk and drinking my tea up at the vernal pools. Great timing, as it turned out, because I suddenly found myself writing a poem that was neither a haiku-like thing nor an erasure poem. i know, i’m shocked too. the germ of it was a childhood memory, actually: a rare moment of pure happiness such as one has maybe a half dozen times in the course of an ordinary life.

of course, that was only the germ. it sprouted into something different and a bit darker i’m afraid:

pine trees say
a sigh can be happy

and the sky is bluest
in a mountain pool

between the parentheses
of salamander embryos

birds fly

one falling maple blossom
sends a shock wave

in this universe it’s easier
to talk to the dead

this blogging thing could become a habit. i’d better be careful

April Diary 16: deer trails

This entry is part 16 of 31 in the series April Diary


the thing about erasure poetry is you don’t get a blank page to stare at

but if you keep looking ideas will emerge like deer trails in the woods, some petering out after a few dozen yards, others leading you to things you never would’ve seen otherwise

today’s raw material for erasure was short and relatively lacking in concrete imagery so my choices seemed few. interestingly for a process that might appear to be pretty far removed from anything confessional, it was only when I allowed myself to express some emotional honesty that it turned into something like a poem. or at least something good enough to blog

finished Charon’s Cosmology so it’s on to Simic’s next title with Braziller, Classic Ballroom Dances (1980)

this is one i don’t think i’ve read more than once before, and a long time ago at that—the least familiar of Simic’s early books. that’s what a difference it makes never to have owned it

on this current Simic binge i’m paying attention to how and how often he writes about the natural world. a lot of straightforward ecopoetry bores me after a while but the people mixing in surrealism often don’t appear to have much to say. when Simic writes specifically about nature he does appear very much to have seen or heard what he’s writing about, and there’s usually a point of view being expressed. and he uses language from natural history in poems that aren’t strictly speaking about nature, such as “Species” in Charon’s Cosmology — not prominently but it’s part of the mix

Peaceful Kingdom

The bird who watches me
from the branch of an apple tree
in bloom.

A black bird
for whom a strange man
gathers rocks
in the ruts of the road.


And among the willow trees:
before water made up its mind
to be water.

My sister says if I drink
of that water I will die . . .
That’s why the heart beats:
to waken the water.
Charles Simic, from Classic Ballroom Dances

i have strong feelings about the whole peaceable kingdom thing a purely colonialist ideal of a tamed and sanitized nature devoid of wildness but Simic’s deceptively simple poem exposes the violence and danger that always lurk just beyond the frame. and also the possibility…

the ending reminds me a bit of the way the legendary blues pianist Jimmy Yancey would always switch from whatever key he was in to B flat for the last few notes of a piece: less dissonance than wildness, an opening toward something other

i used to spend a lot more time in the woods after dark. but some time last summer i got tired of being snorted at by deer, squeaked at by weasels, chittered at by flying squirrels and once even run into by a fox (i think). the night creatures need time without what must be the incredible stress of having humans close by

so i still go for walks at night sometimes but i don’t sit out in the woods nearly as often after dark and mostly stick the porch

just as i finish that sentence the barred owl says who! as in who do you think you are

(which is slightly unfair because they are the friendliest of owls)

I don’t like to write about poetry i don’t like so i guess i won’t, other than to say that whether or not a book has been widely hyped seems to have little relation to whether i’ll end up liking it, except insofar as the hype is based mainly on what the poems say rather than how they say it. i don’t care if we align 100% ideologically, if your poetry is too didactic i will stop reading

such a serene experience taking a leak in the nearly full moonlight

gray rat of a cloud get away from my moon

a dove cries out in its sleep

April Diary 17: comfort creatures

This entry is part 17 of 31 in the series April Diary


when burnout threatens, go for a walk

i used to fight this but little else works

“but it’s raining and blowing!”

and people are dying preventable deaths all over the world. get a grip. comfort is the enemy whether as a driver of economic exploitation and war, or at the personal level as a destroyer of health and a thief of joy

hepaticas tossing in the wind catch my eye. i kneel down to watch them then snap a photo, feeling sure there’s a haiku in there somewhere

and there is

how am i supposed to sit on something so beautiful?

but there’s a break in the rain so i’d better take it

and just enough time to read one Zang Di poem before more raindrops come. sure wish i hadn’t forgotten my goddamn umbrella

the poem happens to include something about comfort:

According to psychology,
every kind of comfort is a compromise:
otherwise everything you get is counterfeit.

Zang Di, “Everything is Riddles Series”


driving home from a dinner party i have a hard time staying on the road, not because i had too much to drink (one cocktail) but because the full moon is right there hanging over the ridge and i keep wanting to turn my head and look

it’s the best kind of discomfort

wanting to feel
the moon on my skin
blossoming pear

April Diary 18: cruelest month, new Rumi, carpe noctem

This entry is part 18 of 31 in the series April Diary


cold but clearing at mid-morning, Easter Sunday for many but not all Christians

not really reminiscing about the Easters of my vaguely Protestant childhood, but…

my parents gave me a kite most years because i think they enjoyed watching me run madly back and forth across the field, trying yet again to fly a kite in mountaintop winds because maybe this time would be different and it never was

so while other kids were being indoctrinated about Christ on the cross or bitter herbs and matzot, yours truly was learning hard but necessary truths about frustration, disappointment and the ultimate futility of existence

all in all a vital lesson internalized down to the level of muscle memory

but what i’m really thinking about this morning is how Poetry Month serves a more than secular function for some of us. like easter and passover it’s this annual opportunity to reconnect with our deepest motivations for reading and writing poetry, to recommit or adopt new practices

and yes it can be the cruelest month especially in years like this when we keep lurching from summery to wintry weather and a brutal war in the Ukraine is sending food prices through the roof and brutal sanctions are starving tens of thousands in Afghanistan

last night when i opened my laptop after midnight Poetry Daily was showcasing a new Rumi translation by a poet named Haleh Liza Gafori and i ordered that book immediately. PD handled the Rumi translation situation fairly diplomatically i think which is important because you don’t want to alienate misinformed fans of Coleman Barks’ BS, just convince them that this translation is even better. here’s the top blurb for Gold

Translating a 13th-century Persian poet whose work is deeply rooted in Islamic theology and Qur’anic language, infused with mystical vision, and laced with heretical imagery, is not a project for the faint of heart. Many of Rumi’s recent English translators or “para-translators,” have no knowledge of Persian, the work’s cultural context, or Islam. Many speakers of modern Persian lack the literary gifts to craft English poems of equivalent power. Despite all this, the core luminosity of Rumi’s work has shone through. It gives me great pleasure, and relief, to say that I think Haleh Liza Gafori’s translations are the closest an English translator has come to bringing it all together. . . . Gold is a perfect introduction to the illuminations in Rumi’s work, or an important addition to your Rumi bookshelf.

Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., Hyperallergic

got into the groove and banged out my 100th erasure for the year and then went on to Pepys’ entry for Easter Sunday 1669 which was on the 11th (doing my best to catch up before the dairy ends on May 31)

and in light of it being international haiku poetry day as declared by the Haiku Foundation i thought i’d see if there were any haiku in that entry… and got five of ’em including a couple that may actually be, you know, good

Jim Kacian was kind enough to include my recent haibun video in the online HaikuLife festival he pulls together each year

took the time to watch a few of the others but i ran up against my usual bêtes noires, generic-sounding classical/newage piano or acoustic guitar accompaniments to still images and overly fancy fonts. some great haiku there nevertheless. i was especially struck by this video by someone called Aztec Christ for its unconventionality (and pleased that my own video followed it in the lineup):

and the video following mine takes the interesting and effective approach of using a jazz-inflected ambient soundtrack for a series of very good haiku about various jazz musicians and singers by Tony Piccini:

and i suppose i should share an example of the sort of soundtrack i don’t like which i think i can do without going too badly negative because i do have great admiration for the haiku — Debbie Strange is a modern master. and i’m sure my musical tastes are a bit of an outlier among haiku people. but since Debbie’s text is on-screen i can simply listen to it with the sound off and enjoy it that way:

at risk of pointing out the obvious, I think it’s fair to say that one’s aesthetic preferences shape one’s ability to perceive haiku moments. Aztec Christ’s willingness to go dark and weird results in “a provocative and unusual gathering” as Kacian puts it. Debbie Strange’s love of gorgeous imagery keeps her in a more conventional place, though her keen eye and black-and-white design aesthetic keep cliche at bay. my favorite of hers here:

frosty pasture
a small boy admires
the cow pies

Shawna Lemay’s latest blog post A Day is a Bowl, or, How and Why I’m Reading Poetry Now really lays out the case for poetry. but i particularly enjoyed this description of her reading habits:

I read a poem that arrives in my email, I read a poem on Twitter, I read a poem in the morning from a book that calls to me from my bookshelf while I have my first cup of coffee. I peel an orange and remember that poem about oranges and go searching for it, often finding three other poems in the meantime. I sit in the backyard, and remember Charles Wright. I see a painting by Vermeer and look at the Zagajewski poem. This poet leads me to that poet. I read a line I underlined in one book which takes me to a line I underlined and circled in another book. I dog-ear one poem and then another. Some days I read all the dogeared poems. Sometimes I turn to a page I’ve forgotten.

that all sounds very very familiar

had a great time reading the poetry blogs and pulling the digest together, but as the weather this afternoon turned increasingly fine, i began to feel chained to my desk. managed to keep nose to grindstone until supper after which i bolted out for a two hour fast walk getting back a half hour after sunset. i don’t usually enjoy walking more than two miles an hour but it seems to be my new sunday pattern. besides, tomorrow’s forecast looks pretty dire so carpe diem, i said to myself. or carpe noctem as the case may be

cold spring night
a small moth flutters past
in search of sap

April Diary 19: onion snow

This entry is part 19 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April forget drunken sailors, what shall we do with a poet who can barely use a pen?

trying to write bananas on a shopping list my hand gets lost in some kind of 70s folk-rock song going na na, na na na na. i add an s and squint at the result: it might be right. fortunately it’s a nearly illegible scrawl so who can tell

weird to lose that muscle memory though

(again with the muscle memory)

(i do keep a pocket notebook in my pack for when my phone poops out)

an email from Black Lawrence Press with the subject line 50% Off All Poetry Titles! got my attention pretty quick. i wish more publishers would put their money where their mouth is about poetry month. shared the good news on Twitter and ordered three books including two i’d been meaning to get for a while, Shanna Compton’s Creature Sounds Fade and Kristy Bowen’s sex & violence, plus [ G A T E S ] by Sahir Muradi

got a notice that a book i was really excited about had arrived at the post office box (no we don’t get delivery up here) so i thought i’d walk in town for it. it was sleeting but the forecast said snow. i can dress for snow i thought

don’t know why i don’t walk into town more often, it’s a little over two miles away and Tyrone is nothing if not photogenic. i don’t even mean that ironically

the I-99 overpasses are something of a feature. LIFE’S A BLUR says the graffiti. especially from the interstate, yes

i don’t have to go to the big city for a dose of urban bleakness

i was a bit shocked to see some graffiti promoting a website that preaches violent fascist revolution. a sign of the times?

i don’t know what they did to the surface of the sidewalk on the 10th Street bridge but i think i got a contact high

it started snowing pretty hard while i was in the post office

you might think given my usual snobbishness about cliched images that i would resist the temptation to take lots of photos of blossoming trees in the snow

you’d be wrong

snow on cherry blossoms beside Reliance Bank

but the snow wasn’t the only thing making the town seem a bit surreal…

as long as we have public librarians who do quietly subversive things like commission a painting of the Lorax on the sidewalk, i tend to think we’ll be OK as a society

the new country core shop at the end of the street has slightly terrifying window displays

then there’s the salvage yard…

honesty compels me to admit that i removed some racist graffiti from this image in processing — not to try to whitewash the town’s image but because if i left an n-word in, that’s all the photo would be about, inevitably, and i just wanted to focus on the aesthetic contrast here. that said i did keep a version of the photo with the hateful word intact for documentary purposes. like, this is America. Childish Gambino got it right

BUT a single (? let’s hope) hate-filled individual not only doesn’t represent Tyrone, s/he doesn’t even represent local street artists as the adjacent overpass demonstrates. shout out to these kids whoever they are

one appears to be a fan of Gardner’s ice cream parlor

a freight came along

the advice to be sic [sic] is certainly intriguing. are there pro-Covid radicals or is this just an old-school Satanist i wonder

the fun thing about walking up the mountain while it’s snowing hard is that it gets prettier as you climb. which does kind of seem like what should happen when you climb a mountain doesn’t it

i do worry about all the wildflowers and especially the flowering fruit trees of course. above is part of our trillium patch

these are not supposed to be white trilliums, they’re wake-robins. who probably wish they could go back to sleep

i never get tired of looking at snow on hemlocks though

there was one hepatica blossom still just visible, one exposed purple petal like an outstretched tongue

some black cohosh sprouts weren’t looking too happy

but damn the hollow was purty

the witch hazels are probably feeling pretty smug about their whole blooming-in-November deal

i tried drinking my tea on the one bench along the hollow road but my umbrella wasn’t really up to the task and my primary mission was to get the mail home dry and in one piece

as long a winter as we had, there weren’t more than half a dozen snows this pretty

so i’m not entirely crazy to celebrate the beauty of it, destructive as it is

a hen turkey trotted across the road in front of me and all i got was this lousy photo

i tend to forget this forsythia is here even though it’s right across from my house—when not in bloom it just kind of blends into the woods’ edge

a photo so obligatory i sighed as i took it. poor downcast daffodils

all in all a classic onion snow. and not a surprise because the poetry bloggers i follow who live out west got it last week. looks as if we’ve gotten about five inches now

if i’d brought a larger umbrella and worn my snow boots i could’ve stayed out longer but i was happy to get home and start the book i’d hiked in town for

Italian poet Elisa Biagini’s first collection translated in full

it’s a trip

at around four in the afternoon i sometimes feel a rush of happiness and i think that’s because four o’clock was when we got home from school after walking up the mountain

today i was happy like that so i made some decaf coffee and processed all these photos because why waste a good mood on just feeling good and i admit i’m not as free of the American obsession with productivity as i might like to think

after supper i finished the erasure poem i’d been working on. the second stanza is distinctly Simic-esque. wasn’t quite sure what tied the three stanzas together until i hit on the post title: Unseasonable

my Moving Poems co-blogger Marie Craven just reminded me of this video featuring the wonderful Australian spoken-word poet Caroline Reid

Reid calls it

A playful fusion of poetry, visual art and film in which a reflective middle-aged poet discovers that life’s interruptions to writing poetry are the very substance from which poems emerge.


(Marie is planning to share more of Reid’s work on Moving Poems so keep an eye out for that)

April Diary 20: balancing on one foot, waiting for Armageddon

This entry is part 20 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April the headline in the local paper reads WINTER SPRINGS A SURPRISE and i wonder whether there’s a course they all take in journalism school, Bad Puns 101

we got a LOT of snow. Mom measured nine inches at one spot in the field. but as wet as it was and as quickly as it began to subside it was hard to tell

last night it occurred to me that after i lost my pot belly and before i got bifocals there was like a six month period when i actually had a clear view of my junk while taking a leak

thank you for coming to my Netflix comedy special

this morning for some reason i was remembering how i used to advertise poetry readings in the late 80s and early 90s by putting flyers in unexpected places all around Penn State’s main campus, and how a grad student in mathematics once showed up out of sheer curiosity — “I’d never heard of such a thing!”

people from the sciences generally seemed like a more attentive audience than the literature people for some reason

back when blogging was still new and exciting, for a few years poetry bloggers like me regularly attracted such non-traditional audiences as well. but relatively few poets took advantage of that. most assume that the only people who want to read poetry are other poets and act accordingly. i remember how surprised i was the first time i heard someone refer to other poets as her tribe. i dunno, i’ve just never felt that way. i used to belong to a pretty convivial group of bloggers all of whom liked poetry i think but most were more readers than writers of it. it was only after that group went quiet that i started the poetry blog digest. i had resisted turning Via Negativa into just a poetry blog for years, but in the end i felt that if i didn’t specialize i wouldn’t be able to retain even the small audience the site had

this April Diary exercise feels like a throwback to those early years of writing whatever pops into my head. and it may well be the sort of blogging i’ll go back to when i’m done with Pepys

losing weight and getting in better shape has had a few unexpected consequences. my favorite is that i am much better at balancing on one foot. i revel in that every morning when i put on my socks

a snowflake insinuating itself under my umbrella lands on the page of my open book: that brief moment before its star vanishes into a wet spot

snow squall erasing my own tracks as i sit watching

now i know how Pepys’ Diary feels

walking back along the ridgetop i’m impressed by the way the storm plastered snow on both sides of tree trunks giving them a distinctly calligraphic appearance

the world feels really precarious these days. global weirding is in full effect and i wonder just how bad and widespread famine will become as more and more crops fail around the world on top of the situation with grain exports from Russia and Ukraine

meanwhile the drumbeat for direct military action against Russia grows deafening as Taibbi’s latest essay on Substack makes clear. anyone attempting to challenge the dominant narrative gets shut out of mainstream commentary altogether, even more thoroughly than in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq in 2003. for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall nuclear annihilation seems like a real possibility

it’s essential for any working poet to understand how propaganda works, how dominant narratives are crafted and how they become dominant, in part by ridiculing or simply ignoring or deplatforming anyone who challenges them

the invisibility of dissidents in this society parallels the invisibility of poets and i would argue both derive from a common source: our very but not exclusively American intolerance of any nuance plus a general discomfort with hard truths e.g. about death and suffering

finished Cicada. here’s a stanza i liked:

Our dream gathered
and spit us out polished
in the night
without tears
without the depth of touch
the morning couldn’t find space
to bring its light
across to the other side
on the riverbank stones
one by one
open their eyes

Phoebe Giannisi translated by Brian Sneeden