Rurality bites

Thinking about why I prefer living in a conservative rural area so much more than a liberal university town. Partly of course because I grew up out here and it’s what I’m used to. Partly because places dominated by transients struggle to retain any real community feeling. And partly because I’d rather be teased, taken seriously or ignored than condescended to. Which is to say, I suppose, that I’m more comfortable with normie discourse than with discourse discourse.

It undoubtedly helps that I’m in Appalachia, where loners and weirdos tend to be more accepted than elsewhere. Ocasionally even celebrated if you’re weird enough. People around here still talk about Bicycle Harry 30 years after his death. He was rarely parted from his bicycle, they say.

***

There is a difference between a walk and a hike. A lot of people don’t know this. But if you have to pack a meal, it’s a hike.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dinosaurs from watching trailers to “Jurassic” movies, it’s that they had many gleaming teeth and enjoyed showing them off. Not unlike Hollywood executives.

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If we keep having wet years it won’t be long before Pennsylvania and the whole mid-Atlantic region turns into rainforest. Trees are already growing faster due to all the extra CO2. State parks in Pennsylvania now routinely spray BT for black flies. But if the trade-off for more biting insects is more trees and more lushness, I guess I’ll take it. There’s a distinct possibility that if I live another three decades, which seems eminently doable, I’ll get to see the equivalent of another half-century of growth… on whatever trees, shrubs and vines survive the extinction and climate change gauntlet.

***

Revisting an Elaine Equi poem I screenshot and tweeted back in May called “Phantom Anthem,” I do a web search [no, I’m not being coy; I don’t actually use Google anymore, and it’s too hard to verb Duck Duck Go] and find a metalcore album of the same name by a band I hadn’t heard of, August Burns Red. Very different from the poem, but so far very good. (For the uninitiated, metalcore = metal + hardcore. Which basically means that the lyrics are shouty rather than growly or screechy.)

*

Listening to Sepultura’s classic album Beneath the Remains and trying to remember how extreme and cutting-edge it sounded back in 1989. Now it’s pretty much the Beach Boys for me, warm nostalgic glow, head bobbing mostly in homage to lost energy and outrage. (May 23)

***

I refuse to watch another movie or TV show about Vikings until someone does an adaptation of Egil’s Saga. What the hell is wrong with Hollywood? Who doesn’t want to watch a movie about an ugly, drunken poet who was also a warrior/mass-murderer and possibly part-werewolf?

It would be the ultimate poetry film, if one could figure out how to convey the complexities of skaldic verse in English without a ton of footnotes. (Maybe there could be an interactive version of the movie with footnotes! LOL)

***

I’m 56 and have lived in the woods nearly all my life. This was my first good bobcat sighting. Even the hunters’ trail cams rarely pick them up—that’s how stealthy they are. Been hearing occasional bobcat screams, though, so we knew they were around.

Of course I went for my phone, as stealthily as I could. And of course the cat saw the movement immediately, turned and ran back up into the woods. The fact that it was a juvenile was especially welcome news: they’re actually raising families in Plummer’s Hollow! Or at least within a few miles of it. (Bobcat territories are not small.)

***

I still remember being SO EXCITED about the release of WordPress 3.0, poring over all the new features, digging into the code. 6.0 was released this morning [May 25] and I can barely be arsed to read the summary screen after I update. Sigh.

“Select text across multiple blocks and edit it all at once” is a feature I’ve been jonesing for, though. And sure enough, the blog digest is much easier to compile now (because you can’t paste more than one paragraph into a quote without converting it into an ordinary text block, which then needed to be converted into quotation paragraph by paragraph, until this latest update). Thank you, WordPress volunteers.

***

What might’ve been a haiku moment—a dog catching a frisbee at the park—becomes instead a page-long, William Carlos Williams-influenced lyric poem. Which is fine, of course, but reflects a very different view of the audience—passive recipients rather than co-creators of a vision—plus the standard, post-Romantic centering of the poet’s own experience rather than focusing on whatever is at hand. I’d argue further that William Carlos Williams, Lorine Niedecker, and the other Objectivists were actually closer to the spirit of Japanese versifying in that regard (focusing on the world in front of them), though still continuing to compose as solitary individuals rather than as co-collaborators.

I don’t mean to dump on this poet; just using his fine poem as a springboard for some thoughts, as one does. I’d best be careful, though: a friend on Facebook complained about the shoddy print job and cheap paper on a 2006 book of poetry from Penguin and a couple of commenters jumped down his throat for possibly making the poet feel bad, if/when he discovers the post. Yes, poets can be fragile creatures, but jesus.

This, incidentally, is why I moved away from doing poetry reviews: I would like to be critical when I feel that’s warranted, but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that among the small-but-possibly-growing contingent of people who read poetry for pleasure. So for example I won’t be saying much more than this about Victoria Chang’s new book, The Trees Witness Everything, although I actually love the poetry in it, because I think her framing of it as Japanese verse forms is unfortunate. (Though it’s very cool that that was a jumping-off point for her.)

***

I seem to have caught up to the point at which I began recycling tweets into blog posts at the end of May, so this concludes my encore presentations (to borrow a favorite phrase from NPR’s late, lamented show Car Talk).

April Diary 26: where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees

This entry is part 26 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

Dear April i can’t tell you what a thrill it’s been for me to listen from the morning porch to hermit thrush song, that most ethereal sound: imagine a woodwind made of crystal and inhabited by the ghost of a bell and you might get the idea

(i will never fully forgive TS Eliot for mischaracterizing hermit thrush song in “The Wasteland” which i see someone has written a paper on though as a non-academic it’s off limits to me. the quote is

Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

TS Eliot, “The Wasteland,” lines 356-358

which he justifies with a quote from the great ornithologist Frank Chapman in a note:

357. This is Turdus aonalaschkae pallasii, the hermit-thrush which I have heard in Quebec County. Chapman says (Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America) “it is most at home in secluded woodland and thickety retreats… Its notes are not remarkable for variety or volume, but in purity and sweetness of tone and exquisite modulation they are unequalled.” Its “water-dripping song” is justly celebrated.

but nobody but Eliot himself seems to have called it that)

they’ve never nested up here as far as we know despite occasionally attempting to set up territories as this one seems to be doing. the last time it happened, in 2020 up around the vernal ponds, i watched wood thrushes chasing him, and Mark and I thought maybe the limiting factor for us isn’t that we’re too low in elevation (1600 feet) for hermit thrushes but that we’re not high enough to exclude wood thrushes which out-compete their cousins

anyway Mark first heard this one on the 16th so he’s a persistent bugger. if our theory is correct, we may eventually get them nesting up here if wood thrush numbers continue to decline. so i should be careful what i wish for because i love wood thrushes too


putting Ripple Effect back on the shelf this morning i noticed i had another collection by Elaine Equi, 2013’s Sentences and Rain and i have absolutely no idea where it came from. must’ve picked it up secondhand somewhere

well so much for reducing the height of my current reads pile. but that’s a high-quality problem indeed. Ripple Effect was from 2007 and i was just thinking i should get one of her more recent books

i really dig the title poem:

Equi is certainly in that age-old tradition of the wise jester


well i just lost a fuck-ton of writing here because the WordPress iPhone app froze. i guess if i want to keep composing on my phone i’d better compose in Notes and paste it into the app when it’s done (i have been doing that to some extent already but not today obviously)


i stopped the car in Sinking Valley today on my way back from the Amish garden center to take a photo of our not-so-impressive mountain and captured what appears to be a UFO


putting up a deer fence, you do need to think like a deer. where they can push in, where they might be tempted to leap. if i were ever to move out west where they have mule deer instead of whitetails i’d have to start learning that stuff all over again. this is the kind of local knowledge one gathers over time. to the extent that old people can be said to be wise it’s because of stuff like this (not generally because of their politics, lord knows)

working in the garden after supper i can hear our neighbors out in theirs, a quarter mile away. well mainly the shrieks of their twin grandchildren, who are four years old and love living in the woods

there’s something really special about not only living where you grew up, but seeing and hearing other kids grow up there too. to use an old-fashioned phrase, it gladdens the heart

so i got the fence all moved and patched together and well as they say, a thing of beauty is a joy forever

also today i shot a brief video of a black rat snake pretending to be a rattlesnake which took me back to the first time i saw that, also on the powerline right-of-way, at the age of 12 or so and i thought it was a rattler ran all the way back to the house and either Mom or my older brother Steve went back with me and it was just a black snake being a jerk:

watch on Vimeo

April Diary 24: dueling banjos, a roomier Rumi, and some moving art

This entry is part 24 of 31 in the series April Diary

 

Dear April whippoorwills are back. two of them like dueling banjos out here as i cool down from puttering in the garden and going for the usual hike and puttering in the garden before that and going in town etc.

whipoorwhipoorwhipoor is what i’m hearing of their inane battle for vocal supremacy. once upon a time people in places as far-flung as Greenland and Yemen used to settle disputes with song contests though so i guess dueling banjos is better than an actual duel ya know?

this morning on the porch i finished my re-read of Elaine Equi’s Ripple Effect: New and Selected Poems as part of my never-ending quest to keep the current reading pile to a reasonable height. it was as always a blast. Equi is such a fun poet. why aren’t more poets fun?

actually poked some seeds in the soil today. and it felt as futile and ridiculous as ever. it’s a good thing i like being wrong

but whilst hoeing openings in the straw mulch i wrecked a nest of field mice — didn’t hurt any i don’t think but they were still blind and pretty helpless scattering in random directions. i scooped one out of the path and it just lay on the straw trembling. i laid a bit more straw on top of it to give it a fighting chance until i left and mama could come back and move her babies

that was part of my excuse for heading out on a mid-afternoon walk. also i wanted the openings to dry out a little before i stuck seeds in

the new Rumi arrived so i tucked it into my pack

Dear April there are few sights in nature more entertaining than the sight of a wild turkey fleeing at a fast trot. it makes me think the cretaceous period would’ve been equally full of humorously dorky creatures that would also eat you

i did get to see wood frog tadpoles—the doomed ones in the too-small pools that always dry out too soon. they appeared to be feeding on the remains of the egg masses. it quickly became too disturbing to watch, all that teeming and thrashing of tails

i do not care for teeming. in fact i don’t hold with it. it may be natural but that doesn’t mean i have to like it. the buddha was right, life is suffering

don’t mind me i’ll probably go back to being a Daoist tomorrow

anyway so i get to the bench and take out the book and realize why it was so cheap on eBay

so i got a review copy of a New York Review book. seems kinda collectible, right? except for one problem

the entire introduction is missing

do publishers really send out review copies before the introduction is finished? might this in fact be an earlier author proof?

the translation by Haleh Liza Gafori seems absolutely credible in every way, it’s a Rumi that actually reads like a medieval Sufi, translated in modern poetry as good or better than anything out there, as such an enduringly popular poet surely deserves

after reading a dozen or so Rumi poems with great satisfaction at their beauty and power i realized i just wasn’t in the mood for what he was selling actually

so this book probably won’t go on the current reading pile just yet. but it’ll be on the shelf when the mood strikes

i wish i could be more like my mom and methodically read every new book i get plus many many more from the library but i’ll never be half the reader she is. few people today are, i suspect

insert punditry here re: what it might mean for a literate culture to slowly lose its great readers and lovers of books, might we in fact now be post-literate etc. ad nauseum

my relationship with books may not be entirely healthy at least if you accept the once common belief that greed is harmful to the soul. i like owning books even though or perhaps because i can’t really afford to buy them. the problem is with most of the haiku i read, the presses are so small and the entire scene so invisible to academic poets, huge university libraries like Penn State’s don’t acquire them. a lot of the other small-press stuff i read would be a bit easier to get on inter-library loan, but not all of it…

like an addict i clearly have my excuses all lined up

i think i found a winter wren nesting spot down in the hollow but i’m not sure yet. i’ll keep an eye on it

also while waiting for a train to clear our crossing i took some pictures because people don’t believe me when i tell them i can see traveling urban art galleries at the end of our lane

late in the afternoon i paused to admire this massive old wild grapevine, which seemed pretty damn big when i was a kid 50 years ago:

there’s probably a haiku in there. hmm…

brown thrasher
back for another spring
ancient grapevine

but even when this loop of vine dies as long as there’s forest here this individual will go on, sprouting roots as needed and adapting to the ever-changing forest conditions over the course of who knows how long? i don’t think there’s any way to date them. they could go back 8000 years. it seems just barely possible

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

Link roundup: Unbalanced exchanges, extroverted tyrants, and biology’s dark matter

Poetry Daily: “Engagement,” by Adam Sol
I admire how the title and the last line take this political poem to a higher plane.

The explosion will exceed the necessity of the occasion.
The exchange of fire will be unbalanced.
The response will be disproportionate.
The reporter is factually incorrect, theoretically misinformed, morally reprehensible.

LancasterOnline.com: “Where have all the bats gone?”
An update on white-nose syndrome in Pennsylvania (and throughout the east). It seems that while colony-living bats in North America are all going to become endangered if not extinct, the more solitary bats will probably be fine.

The Christian Science Monitor: “Reports: Lax oversight, ‘greed’ preceded Japan nuclear crisis”
No real surprise here, but sad nonetheless.

I am: A Twitter Poem by Pär Thörn
Not a set text, but a constantly updating scroll of new Twitter posts beginning with the words “I am” — rather mesmerizing to watch. Here’s a sample I just collected before it disappeared back into the ether:

i am truly blessed
I am nothing to be played with
I am excited to start.
I am so glad he will get voted
i am on i post something den dipset
I am crazy.

NewScientist: “Biology’s ‘dark matter’ hints at fourth domain of life”

The facts are that there is lots of genetic diversity, and unquestionably most of it is unknown to us. It’s legitimate to consider that there’s genuinely new stuff out there.

The Australian: “Japan syndrome shows why we need WikiLeaks”

Unfortunately, all this information, including the original cables, was released only this week, through The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian newspapers in Britain. If publicised earlier it might have increased public pressure on the Japanese government to do more to ensure the safety of reactors.

But without WikiLeaks most of it probably never would have seen the light of day. One of the justifications governments use for not releasing information is to avoid “unnecessary” fears.

Allen B. Downey: “The Tyranny of the Extroverts”
An old essay that an Identi.ca contact just linked to on his status.net microblog. (Side note for all you Twitter fanboys and girls: This is what you can do on a federated microblogging system, subscribe to someone on one service while using another service. Pretty nifty, eh?) It links to another, similar piece from the Atlantic, but this one’s more quotable, e.g.:

If “interpersonal skills” really means skills, then I can’t object, but I’m afraid that in the wrong hands it means something more like “interpersonal style”, and in particular it means the style of extroverts. I have the same concern about “communication skills.” People have different styles; if my style isn’t the same as yours, does that mean I lack skills?

As for teamwork, well, I’m sure there are some problems that are best solved with collaborative, active learning, but I am equally sure that there are problems you can’t solve with your mouth open.

America.gov: “Japan Proves Truly ‘A Friend Indeed’ After Hurricane Katrina
Now it’s our turn.

Poetry Daily: Two Poems by Elaine Equi
There is a right way to write didactic poems, and Equi shows how.

Work to abolish
the most abject poverty of all—

that of knowing
only one world.