Jumat, 12 Desember 2008


I don't watch T.V. I just don't. But I do like movies. And I like reading movie reviews. Wendy and Lucy is on my want-to-see list.

Kamis, 11 Desember 2008

Fun with Fire

I am working on another long poem, this one involving Olivier Messiaen, Paris, and birdsong. A fire seemed necessary. A colorful fire. So I added one of these pine cones, which came from my grandpa's.

Selasa, 09 Desember 2008

Under the Tree

This morning, Tommy closed his bedroom door (rare) as I walked by. He's eight! He can have a little privacy! I walked by without commenting. Then he hustled out, asked for some pipe cleaners (I had pipe cleaners! I can't believe I had pipe cleaners!), some tin foil, paper clips, and a rubber band. Then he hustled back in, closed the door, and emerged before the walk to the bus stop with a fine grin. Today after school he wrapped something, and I found this under the tree. What joy! It is fun to watch him experience the pleasure of making something to share.

Kamis, 04 Desember 2008

I Have Done So


Beethoven, Wordsworth and Fulton are getting along quite well now. We are all having tea at the kitchen table, though they have asked me to light a fire. We have had such a fine day together, I am inclined to indulge them.

Senin, 01 Desember 2008

What I'm Working On

It is approaching bus stop time and I have made little progress on a poem I started working on last Wednesday. There is a lot going on in it, and that accounts for much of my difficulty. I am trying to squeeze Beethoven, Wordsworth, and Robert Fulton into one poem and they are not fitting so well. I work on one part, which then requires some alteration to another part. It is like trying to carry too much laundry up from the basement. I can't see the steps, socks are falling out, and I'm bumping into walls. I stoop to pick up one sock and then a wash cloth falls off the top. I press my chin into a towel to hold everything in place but then I can't see where I am going. So it is with this poem. I add some historical detail and some other historical detail comes tumbling off like an errant sock.

Editorial note: It has been a week since I've posted, and a lint trap was featured prominently in the last posting. Maybe I should set aside Beethoven and Wordsworth and Robert Fulton and work on laundry.

Senin, 24 November 2008

The Lint Trap

I went for a walk today and realized, truly, how much I needed a walk. Sometimes I start walking and do not want to stop. It's like Forest Gump when he started running. I just don't want to stop walking. I went to the post office and the library, and I meant to walk in the little patch of woods behind the library. But somehow I came out of the library with a backpack full of books and a head full of thoughts. My mind had begun wandering far enough that I felt the need to catch up with it or at least keep pace with it and I forgot about the patch of woods until I got home and realized I was not ready to be home. I wanted to be in a patch of woods watching birds, but somehow there I was on my front porch with a key in my hand. The walk was not sufficient. I came home and the lint trap in my head was still full. Walking is the best way to empty it, but sometimes one must walk a very long way.

Minggu, 23 November 2008

7 things you never knew about me

Produced for Fyshbowl free comic anthology, given away in Dublin as part of Free Comics Day Oct 2008!

Selasa, 18 November 2008

Margaret Atwood

I heard Margaret Atwood talk last night at the Wharton Center. She was funny, but her talk went something like this:

My talk this evening was titled "A Precision of Language," but that's not really what I will be talking about....I could talk about my childhood (insert a few funny stories to engage audience). I could talk about why I decided to become a writer (insert another witty story to engage audience). I could talk about my first reading, which I gave in a department store near the mens' socks (pause for laughter). Mention a few other witty things one could discuss and insert a few more anecdotes to charm the audience. Then launch into a full discussion to promote latest book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

I enjoyed the talk but couldn't help assuming that she uses this format for many lectures, inserting the lengthy description/discussion of whatever her latest book is.

Kamis, 06 November 2008

Warm Spell

Bill Holm's poem, "Warm Spell," seems utterly appropriate for this week.

Warm Spell

A long November warm spell;
all the blizzards still asleep.
Bees hum unbelieving
around still blooming flowers.
Leaves, piled in compost heaps,
move around uneasily.
The dried branch bends down
in warm wind,
inviting them home again.

People who haven't spoken in years
smile and greet each other in the street.
Relatives forget old quarrels
over family heirlooms.
The town atheist admits that God exists;
and the town drunk drinks coffee on his porch.
The Lutheran minister forgets
St. Paul and the furrows
vanish from around his mouth.
Children are conceived in the open air
under willow trees by the river.

Like the life in the body,
this cannot last, so everyone
wastes time joyfully,
not even remembering
the old wounds they gave their spirit.
The old man on the stoop
in front of the beer joint
remembers his first lover,
and his toes begin dancing
around inside his shoes.

Rabu, 05 November 2008

This Morning, These Poems

I woke to sunshine, eggs and hash browns prepared by Thad, news of change, and five poems in the NEWSPAPER! William Carolos Williams wrote, "It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." Today we get poetry in the news! News in our poems!

Senin, 03 November 2008


I have just ordered this, by Paul Hunter. (I don't think we are related, but I might feel we are after I spend more time with his work.)

Senin, 27 Oktober 2008


Five days before Halloween, we carved pumpkins. This was risky, considering our greedy population of squirrels. I peeked inside the gaping mouth of one of them this morning, looking for a chipmunk curled up beside the unlit candle. No chipmunk. Maybe we'll capture one when the candle is lit and glowing like a well-stoked wood stove. Here is my magic tractor, which runs on roasted pumpkin seeds, not gasoline.

Rabu, 15 Oktober 2008

This Day

I am baking muffins, and when they are done I will scoop them out of their little compartments and deliver them to relatives who have already begun their day. I am eager to get there and be among them. And when I come home I have this to look forward to:
Blue Lash, by James Armstrong. Published by Milkweed.

Selasa, 14 Oktober 2008


Ahab had his whale. I have my endless succession of lost car keys. My last big search was in June. It ended well, but there are hours I will not recover. Today's search lasted much longer. It consumed me. I had even decided the key must be locked inside the car. I googled instructions about how to break into automobiles. I did not have a rubber triangular door stop, which seems to be highly recommended, so I substituted a variety of rubber spatulas, grouped into something that resembled a triangular rubber door stop. This did not work. I could not break into my car. Part of it was a hesitation to do harm. Mostly, I think, it was incompetence. But the key is back. It was on the kitchen floor hidden behind a door. I am exhausted. I thought only of the key for six hours. I was supposed to drive my son and his friend back from soccer practice. I could not do this. I had to ride my bike to soccer practice and ask the father of another child to take responsibility for my child and for the other child and for his child. I have had enough. Tomorrow I am buying spare keys. 17 spare keys.

Jumat, 10 Oktober 2008

Pigeons and Spotted Owls

I am reading Superdove, by Courtney Humphries, which is all about pigeons. So this sign in Golden Gate Park seemed particularly relevant when I saw it. Humphries acknowledges that no one can agree on the proper relationship between pigeons and people in cities, and her additional notes at the back of the book mention a proposed thousand dollar fine for feeding pigeons in New York City.

There were other interesting things in S.F. too. The Japanese Tea Garden, City Lights Book Store (with a whole floor devoted to poetry), Britex (four floors of fabric), and then, across the Golden Gate Bridge, miles of hiking in Marin County...and a SPOTTED OWL in Muir Woods that flew low 20 feet off the trail and landed in a redwood within easy sight.

Selasa, 07 Oktober 2008

In Memory, In Love

Photo by Doug Vasey

May 6, 1905 - September 26, 2008

My grandpa was not a man of great commotion. He was not hurried or dramatic. He was wise and capable, he loved reading about history and engineering, and he had an extraordinary mind. You sensed, when you were in his presence, that you were with someone rare and exceptional. I think all sorts of people could comprehend this. His grandchildren certainly did. He gave us an orchard to play in, a pasture to roam, work to do that made us feel trusted and important, and patience -- endless patience, along with an early introduction to diplomacy. When I served him soapy bathwater in a Dixie cup and called it lemonade, he couldn’t keep his lips from puckering, but he managed to nod his head and say, “well, say, that’s interesting. Thank you. Thank you very much.” One day I picked wild grapes in the orchard. They were small and tart and nearly juiceless. I spent a good portion of the afternoon crushing them on the picnic table where we spread birdseed, filling considerably less than a Dixie cup with sour juice mixed with a few seeds the squirrels didn’t want. I didn’t think about adding sugar or water. I rushed out to the orchard, following the chug of the tractor so I could flag down my grandpa and present my gift. He stopped -- interruptions were just something else to take in stride -- and accepted my cup with characteristic appreciation, “well say, that’s awfully nice of you.” This show of trust came just a year or so after the bathwater trick, and still he was willing to give me another chance. Again his lips puckered, and again he shared thanks and managed some comment about the color of the juice, the amount of work it must have taken. Not only was he diplomatic, he was unflappable. I remember summer afternoons, days I spent playing Flinch with my grandma and climbing trees. Grandpa spent a lot of those days trying to fix equipment – the sprayer, the tractor…something he was depending on for that day’s work that broke down just when he was counting on it to get a job done. He’d spend a whole morning tinkering with it, and he’d come in for lunch and sit down and still he wouldn’t complain. He’d thank my grandma for the cinnamon apples or the fried apples or the baked apples, and he’d watch her hustle around the kitchen, and I’d watch him watching her, and that was an early introduction to what love looked like in someone’s eyes. We all learned a lot about love from him, and from them, and from the place they shared with us.

Selasa, 23 September 2008

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis is in town. MSU Jazz Studies Director Rodney Whitaker led a talk at the Wharton Center with him last night. Marsalis was cool and funny, of course, but he was also serious about what it takes to be an artist, what it means to be a jazz artist, what jazz means to this country, and just exactly how children should be supported as they begin to explore our musical language. That man knows how to connect with a crowd.

Minggu, 21 September 2008

The Writing Life, The Divided Life, The Mental Subcontinent

This morning, after blueberry pancakes and coffee, I sat down with The New York Times Magazine and read David Gessner's article, Those Who Write, Teach. Yes, it was about the old divide between academia and art, but one could substitute "teaching" with any job that distracts one from pursuing his art. It's worthwhile reading for those who have struggled with this issue. As Gessner says, "It's hard to throw your whole self into something when that self has another job."

Sabtu, 13 September 2008

Hurricanes, Books

I read this several years ago, before Katrina and certainly before Ike. Maybe it is time to read it again.

I also saw Tom Piazza's new book, City of Refuge, at Schuler's today. Here is what Richard Ford said about it: “People ask me when will Katrina begin to inform our art, when will imagination become essential to tell what the raw facts can't. Well, here's an answer: now. CITY OF REFUGE speaks eloquently into that silence.” Maybe I should read this too.

"So many books, so little time."

New Dimensions

OOOOHHHH....Higgs Particles are all very interesting, but an extra dimension? This could solve a lot of problems: roads will become less congested, air traffic control will become easier. Can we use jet packs? Is it a new frontier? Let's not conquer this one. Let's just let it tantalize us forever.

Brain Green's Op-Ed piece in Friday's New York Times was great. My concerns about the Large Hadron Collider have been quelled. I am reassured that Switzerland will not be swallowed, and I am spending my afternoon with a tape measure, staring at the kitchen table, waiting for the new dimension to reveal itself to me. Tomorrow I will casually mention that my table is 40" wide, 45" long, 30" tall, and 6 3/4" quimoogle. Yes. Quimoogle is the new dimension. I have just named it. For an English major, this is enough.

Rabu, 10 September 2008

Poem Puzzles

It's the second week of what I now call fall, defined entirely by the start of school. I have settled into a routine, which I am now breaking, so one must question whether I can call it a routine if, after 7 days, I am interrupting it. I've been walking Tommy to the bus stop, walking home in the morning sunshine (or rain), sitting down at the kitchen table, and working on poetry. I feel like I am making some progress on poems I started over the summer. When I am working on a poem, I feel such a sense of absorption, and I am aware of a logic and a rhythm to the process. It's like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, though I suppose there is sometimes more than one solution to each poem puzzle. I can feel when lines are fitting together, and I can feel when I need to reshape and reconfigure. I always think that I know when I've put the final piece in, but sometimes I have "false closure," and then I come back to the poem puzzle and take a few pieces out and build different pieces to replace them. When I am done with a jigsaw puzzle, I like to run my hands over it. When I am done with a poem, I read it aloud to myself, which is like running my hands over a puzzle. Last August, when I was hiking along the ridge trail in Nordhouse Dunes, I loved looking at the trees, which were all shaped by the wind. They had distinctive growth patterns and similar twists. I notice that with puzzles. Each 500-piece, 1,000-piece puzzle tends to have one shape that is repeated, with some variation, in many of the pieces. So it is with poems. Something in our work becomes our voice.

Selasa, 26 Agustus 2008


I want this. My cousin's son introduced me to it last night, and though I only tried it once, and only went about 4 feet, I think I'm hooked. The deck pivots and there are casters, so everything seems to swivel and tilt. It feels different than a skateboard...but similar too. There must be very good bearings in there because it felt smooth, at least for the four feet that I traveled.


I do like his REAL last track, "Oh You," much better than "Let Me Be Your Gigolo." And everybody likes to end with something good. "Oh You" also is a much more poignant message of love.

Greg Brown

I was listening to Greg Brown's Milk of the Moon the other day and wishing I could reorganize his song list. I always start that disc on track four, "Smell of Coffee," and play the loop, finishing up with track three, "Let Me Be Your Gigolo." I had arranged some poems into a collection (an order) for a chapbook, and I'm looking forward to spending more time with that this fall. So my head has that emotional, narrative arc in mind and I suppose I bring that sensibility to Brown's work. I can't help wanting to tinker with it. Here is how "Smell of Coffee" begins:

Bouffant hairdo, ne'er-do-well
Warm the car up, perfume smell
Work is there when love is gone
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn

Pheasant clucking, ice cold dew
Backseat shotgun, frosty slough
Chevy coughing, let's move on
Smell of coffee, crack of dawn

Clearly, the lyrics alone say "Morning," which is a good place to start something. But more than that, the rhythm and pacing of this song is a good introduction to the CD. I'm not ready for "Let Me Be Your Gigolo" on the third track. As the third track, it's a little jarring. But by the end, I'm sufficiently loosened up for it. Greg Brown will do that for you. He just sort of kneads away with his voice and his guitar.

Senin, 25 Agustus 2008

Rabu, 20 Agustus 2008

People are chattering about school but summer hasn't retreated yet. Here are more pictures from Nordhouse Dunes to remind you that it is still August. We had stretches of the beach to ourselves, but I loved peering in at other encampments and creations. Somebody built this:

Senin, 18 Agustus 2008

Beach Boat

On Thursday, we went to Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area near Manistee. We camped and had a great hike along the ridge trail into Nordhouse Lake and over to Lake Michigan. On our beach walk, we discovered this fine boat.

Here is the bow and the crow's nest.

Here is a closer look at the crow's nest.

Here is the wheel.

And here is the captain.


I buy old copies of the The New Yorker at the library for 25 cents. This brings me great pleasure -- more satisfaction, in fact, than finding an old beer can (10 cents here in Michigan) on a walk in the woods. Some of the pleasure comes from the irregularity of it. I don't always know if I'll find a copy in the stack. Last week, I found the July 28 (2008!) issue, which included an article by Jonah Lehrer about what happens inside the brain when people have an insight, and why good ideas come to us when they do. What he learned from two cognitive neuroscientists, Mark Jung-Beeman at Northwestern University and John Kounios at Drexel University, is consistent with what many writers know: if you're waiting for an epiphany, you need to let your mind wander.

Here is a summary from the article: "The insight process, as sketched by Jung-Beeman and Kounios, is a delicate mental balancing act. At first, the brain lavishes the scarce resource of attention on a single problem. But, once the brain is sufficiently focussed, the cortex needs to relax in order to seek out the more remote assocation in the right hemisphere, which will provide the insight....As Jung-Beeman and Kounios see it, the insight process is an act of cognitive deliberation -- the brain must be focused on the task at hand -- transformed by accidental, serendipitous connections. We must concentrate on letting the mind wander."

Here is the article.

Rabu, 13 Agustus 2008


My head is full of good things. My stomach only has coffee and a croissant and a fresh peach from the farmers market in it, so it will need something else soon. But my head is stocked with fine pictures.

Tommy took his boat collection up to the cottage. Here is one I started to make about 20 years ago. My dad and Tommy finished it last summer, adding a keel and a rudder, and my mom made the sail.

There were loon babies this year on the lake. Here is one of them, accompanied by a parent. I have tremolos and yodels in my head too.

This is a favorite spot...a pond surrounded by a spongy bog. The spongy part is solid enough to walk on and has some good hummocks to bounce on.

And here is a boy with his head in the clouds.

We had a good week which included a trip down the Au Sable and a wedding in Harbor Springs. My dear old friend Maureen got married on Saturday. It was a beautiful celebration. Among other fine things -- her sister's broad smile, her mom's pleasure, the grand tents in the field, the tomato salad with basil and chevre, the late evening Lebanese Mazza --was her brother's toast. A toast is really its own literary genre, distinct from the essay or the poem, and the artful side of the tribute or the wish is sometimes neglected. Too many are bland or generic or sappy. Tom's was funny and poignant and meaningful. It was art.

Minggu, 03 Agustus 2008

A Day at the Beach

Today we went to Saugatuck Dunes State Park, a day-use (no camping) park that gives you a walk in the woods before you get to the lake. We took towels and books and a shovel and castle molds and a bucket and iced tea. We even took a beach umbrella. Here is what I saw when I looked up.
Here is what I saw when I looked down (on the trail to the beach)...Indian Pipes!

Sabtu, 02 Agustus 2008

County Fair

Just got back from the Ingham County Fair. It was the last day, so the draft horses were gone, kids who had been there all week were napping in the stalls, and the just-hatched chicks were getting used to the world.

Selasa, 29 Juli 2008

Always on my Mind

It wasn't so long ago that I wrote "Goodbye to the Unicycle" (see post from May 21, 2008), but on Sunday I saw this in the New York Times. Surely I could ride a unicycle down the sidewalk if others can ride one down a mountain. I can't put this to rest.

Senin, 28 Juli 2008


We went berry hunting, but we were just a little early. We only picked this much, which turned out to be about 1 1/3 cups. Enough for a batch of muffins. There will be more berries, and more picking, in a couple of weeks.

Into the River

The Road Goes On Forever

Here is my favorite place to run. Thad likes it too.
Here is my favorite two-track. It's a hot stretch, but the lake feels great when you get back.

Senin, 21 Juli 2008

More Interlochen Pictures

More practice rooms...


I had a trip to Interlochen last weekend. Tommy and I left early Friday morning and came back yesterday. It's a special place full of little stone practice huts scattered in the woods, along with many cabins, fire rings, clotheslines, red socks, blue socks, and music...such great music floating around. We stayed in a small cabin which Interlochen lodging staffers had described as "rustic" and "musty." I suppose it was both, but it felt luxurious when it rained on Saturday afternoon. My friend Karin is teaching there this summer, and it was good to see her and sip coffee together in the morning by the lake. We heard the Interlochen Symphony Band and the World Youth Wind Symphony in a combined program which included Frank Ticheli's arrangement of Shenandoah and David Maslanka's Mother Earth. Those were probably the highlights of the concert for me. It's just so great to think of a whole group of kids learning Shenandoah and carrying that music inside them forever. Maslanka's music is wonderful and distinctive, and such a natural fit for Interlochen. We also saw the Golden Dragon Acrobats. As I watched them juggle tables with their feet, twist into previously unknown configurations, and leap, flip and fly, I drifted into a fuzzy place and wondered if I was watching eels or octopuses or a new Pixar animation film. They were amazing.

We drove a little out of the way on the way up so we could stop at Crystal Mountain and try the alpine slide. It's similar to a tobaggon run, but it's made out of molded platic, pieced together in sections. It was certainly fun, but a little too much like a theme park. There are two slides which twist down the slope side-by-side, about three feet apart, for 1,600 feet. The three feet between the tracks is filled with sick looking grass, which, guessing by the chemical odor which hung in the air, must be doused regularly with herbicide to keep the weeds down. On his last ride down, Tommy ran over a chipmunk. He admitted this with a mixture of embarrassment and disgust, hands shoved in his pockets. Someone else overheard him and said, "Oh! I hit it first!" She was screeching with laughter, and then her whole family was screeching with laughter, and I could only think of the blue-tongued mango vole in Carl Hiaasen's Native Tongue. The alpine slide would fit right in the Amazing Kingdom. I'm sure it is dismantled in the winter. Maybe somebody in Florida would like it. I think I like Crystal Mountain much better in January.

Senin, 14 Juli 2008

Monday Thoughts

Today I sorted through a few old boxes of papers I needed to sort through. I threw out a satisfying amount of things in those old boxes. I returned library books, and I sat down at the kitchen table to pay bills, reply to invitations that had been sitting on the dining room table, and make reservations at various places. On Sunday I did laundry and weeded and worked on a poem. The weeding and the work on the poem were very similar. Both amounted to a great deal of editing. I had beautiful things that had to come out. These things are hard to pull, but as I yanked wild geraniums in the garden I gained a certain resolve to slash excessive passages in the poem.

Last Thursday, Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane and Richard Ford appeared together at the Pasant Theatre at Wharton Center for "A Michigan Author Homecoming." Thad and I went, and it was a fine conversation to hear. Harrison was uproarious and irreverent, Ford was earnest, thoughtful and funny, and McGuane was a great storyteller. People were sitting in the aisles, and when the three walked out on stage together there was this really visceral moment of shared appreciation and a great swell of applause. It was electric.

I'm off to the park with Tommy now.