Selasa, 15 Desember 2009


O.K. One more: a short film adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's "Mumu." The palette of colors is beautiful...muted but rich. Again, thanks to Karin for hooking me on Russian animation....

Senin, 14 Desember 2009

Russian Animation

My friend Karin has a history of posting links to wonderful Russian animation films. Her latest link ("The Insects' Christmas," made in 1913) led me on a search to find more treasures. Here is one that is magic. Magic. Thank you, Karin!

Jumat, 11 Desember 2009

A Visit to Hazel Ridge Farm

Tommy and I had a special outing after school yesterday. I picked him up and we went directly to Hazel Ridge Farm, home of Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen and Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, for a holiday open house. Gijsbert has illustrated many children's books and Tommy has always liked his work, and always wanted to visit the farm.

The workshop is a wonderful place, full of bookshelves and windows and paint and bits of our natural world. We also walked most of their 40-acre farm, a blend of prairie, ponds, woods, and gardens. Here is the little cabin pictured in Kelly of Hazel Ridge:

Sabtu, 05 Desember 2009


We have our first cold weather of the season. The skim ice is forming on the ponds in Woldumar, but it is not too cold to climb trees.

Woldumar is a beautiful place, with a nice mix of habitat -- wetlands, hardwoods, ponds, and old fields. Bluebirds like the fields, and we saw about five! I took several pictures, but this is probably the best:

Kamis, 03 Desember 2009

Ken Burns

Last night I heard Ken Burns speak at the Wharton Center. His prepared portion of the evening was really polished, in a rather too polished sort of way, but the Q&A was (naturally) more spontaneous, revealing, and invigorating. He's invigorating because his enthusiasm for his work is visceral and contagious, and his interest in and love for this world is so pure. He has such fiery ambition, he has a record of relentless achievement, and yet he has this great gentleness about him, this calm sort of spirituality that pervades his work. He has defined his work (or others have defined his work...the attribution is sketchy in my head) as "emotional archeology." That's a wonderful description, and it was great to hear him talk about it last night.

Selasa, 24 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving


I still have not seen "Glee," the new Fox television series that everyone seems to love. I don't generally watch television, which is why, I suppose, I have not seen "Glee." And I do not generally trust public opinion about television. But something about the dialogue about "Glee" is different -- maybe because "Glee" is different -- and I really want to settle down with a bowl of popcorn and turn on the T.V.

Sunday's New York Times featured an article (a "mashup") by Charles Isherwood about Barbara Cook and "Glee." Here is an excerpt:

"The process by which a gifted singer evolves into a real artist is probably impossible to delineate clearly. It may well be a mystery even to the artists themselves and probably has much to do with age and endurance and learning not to escape into music or stand outside it, judging the performance as they give it, but to live more fully in it. Great singers fold into their songs the scars that life's inevitable setbacks leave upon everyone (and the satisfactions too) without turning singing into raw, formless confessional."

One could substitute "poet" for "singer" and "poems" for "songs" and it would still make good sense.

Kamis, 19 November 2009

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Last year, I bought Lawrence Ferlinghett's Poetry as Insurgent Art at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. It's full of statements that feel like aphorisms, some of which seem a little too simple. But they are fun to read, and the book is the sort of thing one can pick up and consume quickly in one sitting, or, as I sometimes do, pick up and browse one or two pages at a time. Last night, unable to commit to a new book, I read it all again. It's also been several days (oh let's not count) since I've started a new poem, and so I feel restless and unsatisfied. Ferlinghetti's book is the just the thing for these times. Here are some highlights, all quoted directly from the book:

Your language must sing, with or without rhyme, to justify it being in the typography of poetry.

Your life is your poetry. If you have no heart, you'll write heartless poems.

Can you imagine Shelley attending a poetry workshop?

Pursue the White Whale but don't harpoon it. Catch its song instead.

Write short poems in the voice of birds.

And this, from the section titled, "What is Poetry?"

It is private solitude made public.

Jumat, 13 November 2009

Mini Fuzzy-haired Troll - Free pattern

I made these for our school's Christmas Bazaar last year - they're quick, easy and fun to make.

Some mohair yarn for the hair
Plain yarn for the body
Black yarn to embroider the features
3.5mm hook
A wire pet brush to make the hair fuzzy

ch = chain
st = stitch or stitches
sc = single crochet (US), double crochet (UK)
dc = double crochet (US), treble crochet (UK)
ss = slip stitch
tog = together
FO = fasten off

Special stitch instructions:
3 dc popcorn stitch: Work 3 dc into 1 sc, remove hook from working loop, push through both loops of first dc and pull working loop through.
3 dc bobble stitch: Work first part of dc 3 times into 1 stitch, leaving 4 loops on hook, pull through all 4.
This troll is made in rounds. Do not join rounds, use a stitch marker to mark the start of a round - a small piece of different coloured yarn placed under the stitch at the start of the round will do.

Mohair yarn:
Round 1: Ch 2, work 6 sc into 1st ch - 6 sc.Round 2: 2 sc in each sc around - 12 sc.Round 3: [2sc in next sc, sc in next sc] 6 times – 18 sc.
Plain yarn:
Round 4 – 5: (2 rounds) Sc in each sc around – 18 sc.
Round 6: To make ears: Sc in next 4 sc, 3dc popcorn stitch into next sc, sc in next 8sc, 3dc popcorn stitch into next sc, sc in next4 sc – 18 sc
Round 7: Sc in each sc around – 18 sc
Round 8: [Sc 2 tog, sc in next sc] 6 times – 12 sc.
Round 9: Sc in each sc around – 12 sc
Round 10: To make arms: Work sc in each sc around until you get to the sc under the first ear then make arm as follows: ss into sc, ch7, 3dc bobble stitch into 3rd ch from hook, ss into next 4 ch, ss back into original sc. Work sc in next 5 sc, make the other arm, sc in each sc until the end of the round - 12st.
Round 11: Sc in each sc around – 12 sc (you sc into the first ss used to make each arm).
Round 12: Sc in each sc around – 12 sc.
Round 13: [2sc in next sc, sc in next 3 sc] 3 times - 15sc.
Round 14: Sc in each sc around – 15 sc.
Round 15: [2sc in next sc, sc in next 4 sc] 3 times - 18sc.
Round 16: Sc in each sc around – 18 sc.
Round 17: To make feet: Find the stitch in the front middle of your troll. Then count back 4 stitches before that (not including the middle stitch) and mark this stitch. Work sc in each sc around until you get to the marked stitch. Make toes: [3dc popcorn stitch] 3 times, sc in next 3 sc, [3dc popcorn stitch] 3 times, sc in each sc around to the end of the round.
Now stuff your troll and embroider the eyes and mouth with black yarn.
Round 18: [Sc 2 tog, sc in next sc] 6 times – 12 sc.
Round 19: [Sc 2 tog] 6 times – 6 sc. FO.
Complete stuffing and sew up hole neatly.
Use the wire brush on the mohair to make it fuzzy, and your troll is now complete!

Kamis, 05 November 2009

Memphis or Nebraska

I started my morning with a walk and I came home to a sunny kitchen, which spurred me, somehow, to clear old newspapers from the table. I can't do this without flipping through each section and making sure I didn't miss something good. "Something good" often means something from Verlyn Klinkenborg, who often contributes a short editorial at the back of section A in The New York Times. I found one of his pieces in Monday's paper. Most of his editorials concern "The Rural Life," but Monday's is titled "Memphis" and falls into the miscellaneous category. It begins with this statement, "If I had to name the best short story in the form of a song lyric, I suspect the winner would be Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee," first released as a B-side in 1959."

This might be my first disagreement with Verlyn Klinkenbourg. Berry's lyrics reveal a desperate man, and they are sad and haunting. But in the genre of the two-minute song (give or take), the 10 songs on Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska tell some of the finest, and saddest, tales. It's hard to pick a favorite among them. "Highway Patrolman," "Used Cars," "Open all Night," "My Father's House, " "Reason to Believe"....these songs straddle hopelessness and hope so deftly that one can sink into a deep meditative funk during one listening.

I listened to Nebraska over and over in my senior year of high school, and despite the violence, loneliness and despair depicted on that album, I did not depart for the badlands with a sawed off .410 or mess with the gamblin' commission in Atlantic City. I smiled at customers when I scooped their ice cream and I headed off to college with a sunny take on life. I think this will be a useful memory to keep in mind in the years ahead, when Tom will, most likely, slink off to his room to sink into that deep, ruminative space we all sometimes need when we listen to music. And I think I'll always feel fiercely loyal to Bruce Springsteen and Nebraska.

Senin, 02 November 2009

Minggu, 01 November 2009

West Branch

Coffee and eggs and good news! The fall/winter issue of West Branch is out, featuring my poem, "Isle Royle, 1928," AND two poems by my friend, Karin Gottshall, "Operative" and "Household Gods."

Rabu, 21 Oktober 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Yesterday's New York Times included an excellent piece by David Brooks, Where the Wild Things Are. In this he discusses the competing views of conduct and character, using Spike Jonze's new film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are to explore the differences. It is such a thoughtful analysis of behavior, willpower, weakness and virtue. "There is no easy way to command all the wild things jostling inside," he writes. "But it is possible to achieve momentary harmony through creative work. Max has all the Wild Things at peace when he is immersed in building a fort or when he is giving another his complete attention..."

I am nearing the end of another month of a (modified) poetry collaboration with my friend Karin, and am keenly aware that my "momentary harmony" is achieved when I'm working on a poem. This time around we've only committed to sending each other three poems each week for the month of October. It's a nice pace, and it's a lot of fun to find her poems in my inbox.

David Brooks is always worth reading. So is Where the Wild Things Are.

Selasa, 13 Oktober 2009

New York

New York, how do I love thee? Let me count the (10) ways.

The Carousal in Central Park. It’s like riding a lollipop stuck into a cloud.

The Brooklyn Bridge foot path. I hummed all the way across.

The Savoy. Intimate.

Cinnamon Raisin Twists at Amy’s Bread. Perfect.

Lobster rolls at Mary’s Fish Camp. Greenwich Village.

The Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library. Sunshine slanting in across those great tables...

Bryant Park. Boules and coffee.

The elf owl in the display case at the Museum of Natural History. Smaller than my hand.

Astor Court (Chinese Scholar's Garden) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Elegance and Serenity.

The Strand. Oh, the Strand!

Selasa, 22 September 2009

The Whippet--Dogs: series of 48 no. 10 (circa 1934-1939) Gallaher Ltd.

Whippet 9--Mills Cigarettes, Dogs, a series of 25 (circa 1957-1958)

Whippet 49--Wills's Cigarettes, DOGS a series of 50 (circa 1934-1939)

Whippet 50--Hignett's Cigarettes, Dogs a series of 50 (circa 1933-1939)

Whippet 27--Chairman Cigarettes, DOGS: A series of 50 (circa 1922-1927) R.J. Lea Ltd

Time Magazine, April 29, 1928

ITALY: Whippets

Romans have thrilled to all manner of races--chariot races, horse races, automobile races, airplane races. But last week Romans saw their first whippet (dog)races. Six of the fleetest whippets raced were owned by the Contessa Dentice Di Frasso, once Miss Dorothy Taylor of Manhattan. Present were the U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. Henry Prather Fletcher.

CH Manorley Maori -- "Best Dogs of Their Breed" Card #13 of 50

CH Manorley Maori

Information about CH Manorley Maori, DOB: 4/25/1902, can be found in The Whippet Archives.

CH Manorley Maori -- Ogden's Polo Brand Cigarettes Card #13 of 50

Senin, 21 September 2009

What I'm Reading

City of Thieves, by David Benioff. Oh, it's good. Russia. Winter. Leningrad, circa World War II. It's quite a story.

And Tommy is reading this:

Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda Leopard, by Patrick O'Brian. My parents got this in London at Heywood Hill. Patrick O'Brian won the Heywood Hill Literary Prize several years ago. Pretty neat.

Caesar was O'Brian's first novel. He wrote it when he was 14 and it was published when he was 15! In 1999, O'Brian wrote a Forward for the book, which appears in the edition Tommy has. Here is the final paragraph of that:

"It may seem absurd and pretentious, above all apropos of this piece of juvenilia, to say that writers, once they have experienced this intense delight, live fully only when they are writing fast, at the top of their being: the rest of the time only the lacklustre shell of the man is present, often ill-tempered (deprived of his drug), rarely good company."

Selasa, 15 September 2009

Flora the Elephant

I've finally finished my first pattern to go in my Etsy shop. She's a cute little elephant that I'd made a couple of times before so I knew I'd be able to recreate her. Having two little boys means I don't usually make things wearing pink dresses, but I do love elephants and it's fun to combine them together. I love the shape of her head and I think she looks very shy.

Sabtu, 12 September 2009

Poetry and Movies

I’ve had a strange concentration of Japanese culture in the last month or so. Yes, Tommy and I saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo, but I also recently read Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, mostly set in a bourgeois building in an upscale neighborhood in Paris. The concierge in that building is fascinated by Japanese culture, reads Tolstoy, listens to Mozart, and shares a kindred spirit and a wonderful friendship with a new resident, the wealthy Japanese filmmaker Kakuro Ozu. Last week, I rented Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. I have not seen that yet. I was going to watch it last night, but the evening was too nice to sit in a dark basement, so I walked up to Wells Hall to see Departures, presented by the East Lansing Film Society. This was directed by Yojiro Takita and won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

If you haven’t seen the film but intend to do so, skip on ahead to the next paragraph but don’t read anymore of this one. I’m heading straight to the end of the film here. It’s the endings, in part, that differentiate so many films from so many poems. (Among other things, of course. Cinematography. Popcorn. Soundtracks.) Is it fair to compare two genres? Maybe not, but I can’t stop considering the differences. That scene at the end of the film, in which Daigo is kneeling beside his dead father, preparing the body for departure, is incredibly sentimental. On my walk home last night, I kept thinking how this sort of sentimentality works in a film, but wrecks a poem. I knew when Daigo was trying to unclench his father’s hand what was inside the fist. There was this sudden swell of knowledge, which maybe every viewer felt and registered as a private knowledge. But when the stone drops out of the fist, it is not a surprise. We know it’s coming. And that is one difference between a film and a poem.

A film can still be good even when it is predictable and sentimental, but a poem must surprise the reader. There are so many ways of describing what a poem is, or what a poem does. Yeats said a finished poem makes a sound like the click of the lid on a perfectly made box. I read a review of Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist in Thursday’s New York Times. Here are the last three sentences of that: “An essay, he says, is a glass of water. But if a few drops of that water fall on a hot frying pan and sizzle? Then you have a poem.”

I think, in a good poem, one cannot read the first half of it and figure out what happens in the second half. If there is a clenched fist in a poem, one cannot guess what is inside it. If one can guess what is inside the clenched fist, the poem has probably failed. I’m not saying a poem has to end with fireworks…or even sizzle. Fireworks can be pretty predictable. But when a poem clicks shut it ought to leave the reader feeling a little… unbalanced. Poetry is not yoga. It’s not intended to relax us or help us sleep well. It’s also, usually, not terribly cathartic. Which means it often stops short of making us cry. The thing with poems is, they will often make you ache without delivering, or inducing, the full relief of tears. Films are good for tears, and that is why I’d classify most films as entertainment. Poems, like much of life, leave us aching.

Minggu, 06 September 2009

Dream Spirit

Here is my latest creature.

She is a Dream Spirit, she herds the dreams that float through the air to make sure that each dream gets to the right dreamer. Not just for humans, either. Animals and, who knows, maybe even plants dream, and she has to make sure that dreams do not go astray.

I made her using one my favourite yarns, an alpaca mix. She's a simple shape (using the same basic pattern as my Rock Spirit) that I enjoyed embellishing with various scraps of fuzzy yarns to make her 'whiskers' and then I gave her curved horns/ears. I got a kind of witchy/shaman vibe from her when she was finished and then I could see what she was.

Here's her relative, the Rock Spirit:

Sabtu, 05 September 2009

Goodbye Summer

Kettlecorn at the farmer's market, peaches, bouquets of zinnias and snapdragons, scent of basil, clarity of sunshine, last swim... it all feels unbearably poignant. If we are lucky, we have 80 or 90 or maybe 100 summers, 80 or 90 or maybe 100 autumns. I remember standing outside with my grandma on a spring day when she said this of spring. Of all the numbers out there in this world, 80, 90 and 100 are not big numbers.

I have worked on a few poems this summer, but it is not a productive time of year for me, generally. I feel the long absence of writing and am excited to return to my work.

Jumat, 21 Agustus 2009


Here's my latest creature - a Yubbla. These are creatures that live in mossy areas around the roots of trees and rocks. They hop around, eating bugs and fungi, their horns giving them a good defence against any predators. They are very friendly and should be encouraged into gardens, as they are great at eating up pests such as slugs.

I got the idea for him back in the spring when I was looking at some very knobbly trees in Petworth Park.

It made me think of a creature that was faintly frog-like with bulgy eyes and big, round haunches. I drew a quick sketch and added in horns since they seemed to fit. Then I got busy making other things and didn't think any more about it.

Recently I started to make another creature using the green mohair but the shape was wrong. I looked at what I'd done and realised it would make the perfect body for my Yubbla. I found the old sketch and even though I tried out a few different ideas, it ended up looking pretty similar, although I did add a tail to make it less froggy. When it was finished I found it very endearing. There's something about the positioning of the eyes that means they seem to foloowing you around, but in a puppy way, not a creepy way.

This Yubbla is now up for sale in my Etsy shop.

Selasa, 18 Agustus 2009


Finally! A few days of heat and languor, sunshine and swimming.

We introduced Gibson to the Au Sable. I settled him, gently, into a still, shallow spot by the bank, but he squirmed away and scampered right out. Hopefully this will change. He preferred walking in the woods and resting on the cool concrete of the porch. It is a fine porch, with a view of the lake and a little wood stove waiting for cool fall mornings. I set up a table in the path of a breeze and carved two stamps. The little brown job is supposed to be a wood thrush.

The kingfisher is a bit more recognizable.

I used this book for a reference, which I brought home from my grandpa's house last fall. It was published by the National Geographic Society in 1927.