Monday, January 30, 2006

The Unknown Artist

This from the NYT today.

Museum Campaigns for Donne Portrait

The National Portrait Gallery in London has begun an appeal to raise money to buy a portrait of John Donne (1572-1631) as a young man. The painting, by an unknown artist, captures the poet whose lines include "no man is an island," "for whom the bell tolls" and "go, and catch a falling star." It was bequeathed by Donne to Robert Kerr, an ancestor of Lord Lothian, and remained in a family collection until it re-emerged in 1961, the museum said. With six months to buy the painting, currently on loan, the gallery is seeking £1.65 million ($2.95 million), and on Thursday received £206,000 ($367,000) toward its goal from the Art Fund, the leading British art charity. The gallery said that if it succeeded in buying the painting, the work would "become the focus of a new display in its Tudor Gallery alongside portraits of Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton, creating the most important group of early British author portraiture." LAWRENCE VAN GELDER

For some reason I thought this was funny...

It is going to be a challenge to get around and make comments and also to link this week. It is turning out to be an opportunity to make do, cheerfully.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Corridor of Death

Bernard-Henri Levy said in an interview on Charlie Rose the other night when talking about his new book American Vertigo that Americans are barbaric in our use of the death penalty. He visited Death Row in an American prison. When describing Death Row he called it the corridor of death.

I find language when it gets bent like this to be inspirational.

The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq was talking about blood and treasure.

The National Geographic guy was talking about deep ancestry.

As tomorrow I return to the world of full time work, albeit only a temp job, I am feeling this transition as a small death.

I wrote a poem on Easter Sunday a couple of years ago called “The Big Death” after having just come from sitting and listening to a dharma talk about rebirth. It was unusually beautiful here that year and there was an Easter egg hunt in progress at the near-by park where I used to hang out and wait for my yoga class to start.

I’m not sitting at that center anymore and my yoga teacher stopped teaching on the weekends and I feel both those things as small deaths too. The most challenging part with all these changes has been not rushing to fill the spaces left.

Being open and aware enough to let what comes next unfold before me.

In the meantime I wish all a healthy and Happy Lunar New Year! May the fire dog be your guide to adventures in living fully.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

In the Middle of the Dream

In May I am going to lead a discussion on Political Correctness and Right Speech with my Women’s Circle. I am looking forward to a lively, insightful and illuminating discussion as the women in my group are amazingly thoughtful and intelligent.

In this morning’s column by Maureen Dowd I found the following paragraph.

“Ballantine announced it would no longer ship two memoirs by Nasdijj, supposedly an inspiring Native American writer from the Southwest who said that as a child, he was "hungry, raped, beaten, whipped, and forced at every opportunity to work in the fields." The L.A. Weekly learned that Nasdijj was really Timothy Barrus, a white middle-class man from Michigan who had written gay porn.”

The original story is found here in this wonderful article in the L.A. Weekly with a follow-up developing in the blogosphere today.

The truth is that I have been extremely frustrated at times in the way that the publishing system for poetry here in the States functions and have myself bitterly said something along the lines of… if only I could play the “ethnic card”.

So, I do understand the impulse here.

Still, I find the whole story horrifying.

The obsessive desire for recognition, the excessive appetite of an audience that drives the market for more and more shocking memoir and the fascination (and guilt) about cultures that got here long before us… all the factors that go into making this unfolding drama raise fascinating questions about us as writers and us as readers.

I look forward to thinking about this all in depth in the months to come.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Sakyong

Boy, today was a difficult one in which to keep my equanimity.

I didn’t get the job I was excited about earlier in the week after an intense second interview with nine members of the firm. It was between me and one other person so I was close enough to taste it.

Pesky attachment to outcomes! The root of so much suffering.

Tonight the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche the head of the Shambhala movement is here in Portland giving a talk from his new book. I saw him a few years ago. He’s funny. I like him. Oh well.

The Sakyong is big on the idea of windhorses and when I think of him I think of them.

I start a temp job on Monday that pays enough to get by on and not much else. It will do for now and right now is all that matters.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Leavertov Poem

I like to mix in a poem by someone else when I read my poems in public. I have a featured reading coming up in mid March and one of the poems I am considering using is the following because reading one’s work is all about breathing. Plus... it pleases the yogi in me.

The Breathing

An absolute
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.

Denise Levertov

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Wet Movie and a Few Near Relatives

I’ve discovered that the Chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi)
that I keep trying to photograph across the street is related to the ground cherry in Iowa and the cape gooseberry in New Zealand. Cool! I enjoyed this extraordinary photo of the filigree here at the UBC botanical gardens. If I were going to try to paint these things, I would surely use a model like this.

I watched the 2001Monsoon Wedding yesterday and although I thought it uneven and off to a slow start by the end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I found myself missing my nose stud by the end of it though. Sigh.

Monday, January 23, 2006

One Deep Breath

From the NYTs
Published: January 22, 2006

The Bright Clear Skies of Glorious Spring
Only the politicians
Can doze off.
[signed] The common people

…This short comic poem called a senryou, parallel to a haiku, appeared at the bottom of a page in a Japanese newspaper in 2001. Television cameras had captured lawmakers asleep on their Parliament benches at the height of an economic crisis. The Lenos and Lettermans of another culture might have "built it up into a massive comedy routine," said Jessica Milner Davis, editor of "Understanding Humor in Japan," a book of essays to be published next month by Wayne State University Press. But the Japanese permitted themselves only this tiny sly comment in a clearly signaled form, lest they break the conventions of politeness…

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Some senryu skirt the line between haiku and senryu. The following senryu by Shūji Terayama copies the haiku structure faithfully, down to a blatantly obvious kigo, but on closer inspection is absurd in its content:

Hide and seek
Count to three
Winter comes

Terayama, who wrote about playing hide-and-go-seek in the graveyard as a child, thought of himself as the odd-guy out, the one who was always "it" in hide-and-go-seek. Indeed, the original haiku included the theme "oni" (the "it" in Japanese is a demon, though in some parts a very young child forced to play "it" was called a "sea slug" (namako)). To him, seeing a game of hide-and-go seek, or recalling it as it grew cold would be a chilling experience. Terayama might also have recalled opening his eyes and finding himself all alone, feeling the cold more intensely than he did a minute before among other children. Either way, any genuinely personal experience would be haiku and not senryu in the classic sense. If you think Terayama's poem uses a child's game to express in hyperbolic metaphor how, in retrospect, life is short, and nothing more, then this would indeed work as a senryu. Otherwise, it is a bona fide haiku.

Much modern haiku is more similar to senryu than to traditional Japanese haiku. Most English haiku and senryū poets no longer adhere to the 5-7-5 syllable form, which is suitable for the Japanese language, but which may lead English poets to produce over-long and sometimes stilted poems. Many modern haijin (haiku/senryu poets) use the "one deep breath" rule: take a deep breath and you should be able to read the poem aloud.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

No Direction Home

For some reason I think Bob Dylan is looping with high priority in the collective unconscious. I woke up thinking the phrase no direction home and it went through my mind as I was taking a photo this morning. Later my fellow blogger David Matthews asked me to proof his most recent entry about Woody Allen and Dylan on Memo from the Fringes.

I am often interested in the working of time of things and there are lantern flowers that have been decaying across the street from my place for a few months now. The flowers are becoming filigreed and each shows one orange seed.

Every time since Christmas when we have had a break in the rain long enough to have natural light to get a shot I’ve taken pictures of them. The one I took today is the first to even come close to the beauty I am seeing with my eyes.

And speaking of beauty check out my most honorable brother in law’s photos of Galiano Island here and these remarkable photos I stumbled across while googling no direction home.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Rather Textured Picture

I enjoy listening to other people’s nomenclature. On last night’s Charlie Rose the former acting CIA director John McLaughlin used the term “A rather textured picture” when describing a situation that could be interpreted in any number of ways. Such delicate spin! Not like the more descriptive "Clean Skins" to describe fingerprints that are not on record anywhere. That I'll be using in a poem someday.

In looking up the proper spelling of Mr. McLaughlin’s name I came across this delightful article in The Onion. The mention of the NSA is rather interesting considering the article was posted in August of 2004. Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2006

I’ll Take Those Odds

Yesterday I had a job interview (rescheduled from Tuesday) with an architectural firm that inexplicably took most of the day. I guess it was all the preparation both in trying to present as relaxed an aspect as possible, which involved an intense morning workout on my Nordic Track, prepping by doing internet research, and then of course the physical preparation, curling my hair, the endless wait for the late bus…

I thought it went fairly well, but wasn’t sure.

The field of uncertainty is broad and ripe with capacity.

A few hours ago they called and and said they wanted me in next week for a second interview.

I was curious about what the statistics are for hiring at this stage and came up with the below from a career help website.

“Do pat yourself on the back for being called for a second interview. While some career experts say your chances are 1 in 4 to get the job at this point, others say you have as much as a 50 percent chance. Even with the field narrowing, it's important to distinguish yourself and ensure that you stand out above your competition.”

I’ll take those odds.

After the interview, and the rushing to the mailbox place to get a thank you card in the last mail pick-up, I went up to a friend’s house for a yoga date.

I’ve never done this before. Sure, I’ve dragged anyone that would consider the possibility to my classes with me, and I have recently gone with this friend to her studio for a few classes but this was just the two of us and our mats sequencing ourselves a practice while her two cats hung out in the kitchen an laughed at us.

We were both a little tentative. She was excited because she hasn’t been able to motivate herself to do a home practice on her own recently and while I am what Andrew calls a “Yoga Bunny” and practice on my own, to some degree every day (It so helps with those long sitting meditation sessions), I tend to isolate. This gets me out of the house and costs us nothing but time.

I am really looking forward to going through some of the sequences in Yoga Journal with her. They are fun to read but difficult to do on one's own. This will be an adventure for us both, I suspect.

Everything changes; it is just one big old world in flux out there.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The What and The How

I love the Google Banner today. I very much enjoy this MLK holiday as it comes when we all need one and they play those marvelous speeches all day.

I've read two interesting articles on our eating habits recently. One called Fear Factor in the February 06 issue of Yoga Journal and a review called Eat and Run in the January 16th issue of The New Yorker.

The basic premise of both articles I think is that there is too much information and (most of it contradictory) about what we "should" be eating and why.

"We are a notably unhealthy people obsessed with the idea of eating healthily."

Research show that 19 percent of American meals consist of food is eaten in cars.

The U.S. weight loss market was worth $46.3 billion last year.

After a wonderful recap of fat, how it used to be looked on a sign of abundance and good things Steven Shapin in The New Yorker makes the remarkably clear statement about the elephant in the room about fat that "It's hard to avoid the conclusion that fat becomes ugly when the poor become fat."

The elephant is Class.

He goes on to say, "Whatever objections the early moderns had to corpulence were as much moral as they were strictly medical. People who gorged themselves gave a visible sign of poor self-control; what mattered was their flawed character, not their mortality risk. Gluttony was a vice before obesity was a disease."

…"Historical and cultural variability in such things are also facts of the matter, but we are snagged in the ropes of our own culture, and to be told that things once were, and ought to be, otherwise is of little help to fat people living in the here and now."

I love that sentence! Just love it.

He goes on to talk about the fact that many of us eat alone. Certainly this is the heart of the problem for me, and most of the folks I know who struggle with moderation in portion control and grazing.

"The meal defined the when, the what, the how and the how long and the how much. You adjusted your consumption to those who were eating with you. You didn't have exactly what you wanted, exactly when you wanted it, and exactly how much you might want.'"

This is a key for me. The three times I have been on vacation where all the meals are varied, fresh and provided buffet style, but you are required to eat with others, I have made healthy moderate choices and thoroughly enjoyed eating and didn't even think of snacking. I was active of course as they were all three; beach vacations with an abundance of sun and swimming. I lost weight.

I need to learn how to recreate that environment at home. Shapin ends with. "The individualization of eating has done much to cut us free of dietary limits. We eat alone and get fat together."

The idea that growing up, external limits were placed on our consumption and we never actually learned how to moderate our intake and be less judgmental about food makes a great deal of sense to me.

We beat ourselves up, many of us, for not knowing how to do something we've never been taught!

I am going to go this year with the approach called "Enlightened Hedonism" where one eats satisfying food in smaller portions and dispenses with calculations of guilt, sacrifice and indulgence. This is the idea behind Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate and Fear Food by Michelle Stacey.

That should free up lots of energy I can use for other things like standing on my head and going for long walks with the camera, and encouraging myself eat more meals with others.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Visible Record

“Poetry is the visible record of invisible desire.”

Frederico Garcia Lorca said the above when he was still a young man.

About six months ago when I discovered I had been laid off from my very nice job in a seniority bump, Andrew suggested that a good use of my time would be to study Lorca. (He loves to tell me what to do.)

You can find a nice home grown translation of a poem here Morpheme Tales: Translation: Garc�a Lorca's Arbole, arbole...

We used his book credits at Powell’s and bought Lorca A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton and Federico Garcia Lorca A Life by Ian Gibson. We sat on the porch and read bits out loud to each other, and compared detail.

I sip biographies of poets like an inspirational potion. I do this with the huge Anna Akhmatova Poet and Prophet by Roberta Reeder. My eyes glaze over and my mind goes numb when I try to read serious academic treatments but the writing about the lives, usually written by folks steeped in poetic tradition I find useful.

Once I received a lovely fan e-mail from the niece of a famous poet about a couple of poems I had published on a Middle Eastern website. She started off by saying “I see you are a follower of Semiotics…” and went on in much academic detail to describe my poems.

I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about! I had to go out and get one of those wonderful Introducing Study guides. You know, the ones that have the cartoons?

This propensity for my eyes to glaze over, (it also happens when I am reading detail about photographic technique) is why I stay away from the poetry critique sites on the web. I have about zero tolerance for folks trying to show off how much they know and watching some of my closest friends get involved in emotional debates about lame feet and a change from the iambic to the trochaic drives me around the bend.

Yes of course we need to know the rules before we start breaking them! But how many rules are there and who the heck is in charge here anyway? If I can’t absorb what I need to know by reading the very best poetry written again and again than I am afraid I’m never going to learn.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Notes on Abundance

Andrew was making dinner over here a little while ago and I asked him what I should blog about today and he said “abundance”. He likes to cook at my place because I do all the washing up.

We have both been practicing a needs based frugality lately that has some benefits. It certainly limits ones choices and simplifies decision-making. The upcoming Poetry Downtown series, good poets, can’t go. The Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on his new book tour; can’t go.

I used to be a practicing Financial Planner before I jumped off the deep end into a life in the arts, a life sustained by my spiritual practices, sitting Zazen and yoga,

I focused my Financial Planning practice in the area of “socially responsible” investing, though I did good old common sense investing too, but because I lived in the woo woo Bay Area I had to learn as much as I could about and along the prosperity/abundance/visualization continuum.

My own take on this stuff based on experience is that affirmations don’t work. I was so relieved when my Zen teacher’s teacher Joko Beck said as much. But I do believe that what we think matters, and if nothing else, thinking pleasant thoughts more often than not makes one a lot more fun to be around.

We do seem to create a big portion of our reality, I was struck by reading in Into the Light how much of the practical advice she gives on focus is a direct transfer from Buddhist meditation practices. Kind of like meditation light but hey, whatever gets one closer to the present moment is just fine by me.

I may be cutting coupons and making choices based on finding value but the reality is, I have one heck of a rich life, for which I am most grateful. Now if we could only send some of our rain to Australia where I hear they can use it…

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More audacious, More exciting

I lived in San Francisco for twenty years and I often miss it. On days like today when I read something like the following I really miss it.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Jack Hirschman, a prolific Beat Generation poet known for decades of social activism, has been selected as San Francisco's new poet laureate, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Hirschman, 72, was set to accept the post at a ceremony at City Hall on Thursday. Shortly afterward, he planned to read poetry on the steps of the State Building in San Francisco as part of a demonstration against the death penalty.

The appointment surprised some political observers because Hirschman supported Newsom's chief opponent -- Green Party member Matt Gonzalez -- in the city's mayoral race in 2003.

Newsom said he wanted an outspoken poet laureate and that Hirschman's vocal activism made him a perfect pick for the slot.

''I want that position to be more audacious, more exciting, to shake things up,'' Newsom said. ''I want someone who will challenge the status quo.''

As part of the unpaid position, Hirschman will be required to deliver an inaugural address on the state of poetry in San Francisco and work on poetry programs in the community.

Of two blogs who reference Jack Kirschman recently one is this single focus one on Charles Olson and the other this marvelous find Got Sophia

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I still feel a bit strange posting my own poems here on the blog, not because, like a neophyte I am worried about others stealing them (heck if someone can get my poems published without sleeping with someone, more power to them, I sometimes cynically think…) but just because I am awkward with this particular medium. Banging around into walls and all that…

I am, however, shameless about showing my photos. Here is a link to some Winter Photos in an album format. If you’ve been looking at the blog for a time you might recognize a few old friends but more than a few of the shots are newly published.

I hope you enjoy looking at them half as much as I enjoyed taking them.


Monday, January 09, 2006

If Thou Be Such

"To the Reader, if thou be such, I make thee my patron, and dedicate the piece to thee.. . .Fare thee well, and fall to. Read."

The above is a book dedication by Ben Jonson in 1631 as noted in the second part of yesterday’s delightful William Safire column in The New York Times.

Even up to three years ago I used to have fantasies about the dedication and acknowledgement pages of my upcoming book of poems published by a prestigious publisher.

That was before I realized the poetry publishing system is the States is rigged and the market for it is abysmal.

Lately I have become aware of a number of reasons to be grateful that I have labored in total obscurity all these years. One of which is that I was saved the embarrassment of having made a complete fool of myself on my dedication page.

It is kind of like waiting to have one’s first tattoo until well after the fact of it might make a difference in one’s personal life.

With all the small accumulation of humiliations one accrues by the work of gravity on an aging body it is nice to know that there are some embarrassments we can avoid.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Egrets, Mezzotints and a Dream Magazine

I couldn’t think of anything specific to write about today so I thought I make a few links.

We have a fabulous public library here in Portland and lately I have been hanging out in the magazine room reading Outdoor Photographer. In the February 2006 issue with a moose on the cover I was totally transfixed by a photo of a Great Egret from Louisiana taken by George D. Lepp. This is a link to another image of what I think is the same bird. I kept thinking about this image for days, so much so that last night I actually bought a copy of the magazine just so I could look at it some more.

This afternoon Andrew and I went down to the Portland Art Museum on the streetcar to find some creative inspiration, We loved, both of us the Out of the Darkness: Contemporary Mezzotints exhibit. (It is the last special exhibit when you scroll down.) Andrew thought it soothing and I was enamored of the still lives. Gave me some ideas for some photos I might be able to take inside on these gloomy days.

And I was looking at this website wistfully at the new high production value yoga magazine called Matrika Yoga. They print poetry but I wonder if any of it is contemporary. I wrote a poem for my now former yoga teacher that she loved and put on her website. I tell you it was very difficult to get the mood, and tone right but I would certainly consider the challenge again to be published in something as lovely as this magazine appears to be. I wonder if one would get a contributor copy???


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Almost Epiphany

Andrew plays chess often, both in person and online. Since I have known him he has haunted the chess aisle at Powell’s Books and at our main library where the strategy books are conveniently located near the poetry section.

He has introduced me to the world of chess. I’ve been with him to a couple of overheated tournaments, to the Portland Chess Club and have watched a Bulgarian (?) grand master play simultaneous games in a coffeehouse.

The other day he suggested I might want to think about taking photos of a tournament. Last night I picked up the December 12th, issue of The New Yorker and read this marvelous long article called Your Move by Tom Mueller, a freelancer living in Italy.

The engaging article is about chess programs and what happens when they play each other. It goes into the players and top programmers in the current world of chess and is full of a wide international cast of brilliant nerdy guys, intrigue and bad blood and a Sheik from the United Arab Emirates to help with some financing.

There was a point in a match between Hydra and Shredder where neither the programmers, nor the grand master consultants along for the ride knew what the programs were doing and why.

It turns out the chess programs are being creative.

“Experienced human players rely on subconscious faculties known variously as pattern recognition, visualization, and aesthetic sense. All are forms of educated guesswork—aids to making choices when certainty through exhaustive calculation is impossible—and may be summed up in a word: intuition.”

I am reading also the new children’s book The King in the Window by Adam Gopnik in which he is determined to prove the value of thinking over believing in response to what C.S. Lewis proposed in The Chronicles of Narnia.

In a rather delightful and preposterous dining out scene between the 12 year old protagonist Oliver and the dry but most witty old woman Mrs. Pearson, after proposing to proceed on instinct, this stern injunction is set forth…

“Craft, strategy, cunning tactics: thought. That is all that allows good to triumph. Renounce reason and you’re lost. Rely on your ‘inner sense,’ and you will make a mess of everything. Thinking is your only hope. Start thinking now and never stop. Outwit the evildoer! Learn to tell the difference between sound argument and slippery rhetoric. Discriminate between the Received Idea and the Enduring Truth…Think, and if you can’t think, read…it is your only hope.”

(Relating this all to poetry… thinking, intuition and hard won craft mixed with talent and output make a great poet. Wanting to believe one is; having people tell one; one is, is not enough.)

The book starts with the prize in an Epiphany cake.

Here on the night before the festival, those three wise men are almost where they need to be.

And that just might be a low ceiling hotel conference room full of chess nerds and a bunch of computer equipment.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Whitbread Award

Christopher Logue won the poetry category of Britain's Whitbread Book Awards today for ''Cold Calls,'' a modern reworking of Homer's ''Iliad''.

You can find a review here and an interesting interview here.

In my book the man gets a thousand bonus points for believing reading one's work well in public is important.


Monday, January 02, 2006


I’ve been thinking about amnesia lately, that old story line, thinking about writing something with that premise. The inspiration came for this beautifully clear but haunting prose poem of Tomas Tranströmer’s from The Half-Finished Heaven translated by Robert Bly.

The Name

I got sleepy while driving and pulled in under a tree at the side of the road. Rolled up in the backseat and went to sleep. How long? Hours. Darkness had come.

All of a sudden I was awake, and didn’t know who I was. I’m fully conscious, but that doesn’t help. Where am I? WHO am I? I am something that has just woken up in a backseat, throwing itself around in a panic like a cat in a gunnysack. Who am I?

After a long while my life comes back to me. My name comes to me like an angel. Outside the castle walls there is a trumpet blast (as in the Leonora Overture) and the footsteps that will save me come quickly down the long staircase. It’s me coming! It’s me.

But it is impossible to forget the fifteen-second battle in the hell of nothingness, a few feet from a major highway where the cars slip past with their lights on.


p.s. you might want to check out how another Tranströmer poem inspired another blogger this last fall here at MoonOver Pittsburgh

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Flying Solo

We hope you all had a festive and cheerful turning of the year.

Andrew has decided that, at least for now, he would like this blog to be all about me. He feels our voices are so different that those that might drop by to read me would be disconcerted by his conservative fervor and stridency, and those looking for his somewhat sharp perspective and bold opinion-giving might find my tentative and less articulate posts, a miss.

I very much like the mix, it works for us, albeit at times contentiously, in the real world as friends. Friends we remain.

If he does decide to continue writing blog posts we will create a new one and link it to this one so that you can still follow the convoluted trail we leave after all our reading, thinking and conversation.

This last six-months, with his featured reading at Borders and his chapbook preparation and publication, things here at The Knot have been focused on him.

Maybe it is time for me to step out from the shadows and flex my muscles at expressing opinions and sharing observations and favorite links about this rich mess we find ourselves living in.

Who knows how often I'll be able to post?

Stand by and stay tuned! The adventure continues.