Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sunday 17 December 2006

It is winter at the lake. Across from the lake, on a fence post, is a hawk. A tan and white hawk. Here on the beach, a white goose. Frost in the grass. The runners have gloves on. Who knew a winter light could be this warm, this golden? The sun has just come over the cloud ring and is giving some small warmth back.

The poem as testimony. Yannis Ritsos sees the poem as a testimony to the world, the experience of the poet, the struggle to understand. Yannis Ritsos is Greece’s most widely translated poet. He has written 93 books of poetry. On top of these there are 9 books of fiction and 11 translations. He spent 12 years in exile and prison. He was an actor, a dancer and composer. He won every possible award outside of the Nobel.

Consider Ritsos' poem “The Third One.” Ritsos offers two kinds of people, those who speak and those who listen. Seers and hearers. And then, to these he adds the third ones , engrossed in the world, deep in the working world. These are the poets , so deeply involved in the world that it takes all their time and energy to live it. The third ones care only to engage in the world and transcribe it to those on the surface. Great poetry is an articulation of a life fully lived. It is not the story of life, but life itself. “The three of them sat before the window looking at the sea. / One talked about the sea. The second listened. The third / neither spoke nor listened; he was deep in the sea; he floated.” The poet is willing to drown for this kind of contact.

Barbara and Larry came back after months away. They came bearing ideas for "poetry instigations" at the lake. Words on t-shirts on groups of people in a meadow such as this, with something or someone directing them, moving them into new meanings, perhaps an algorithm. Magnetic poetry with live humans as the tiles. I tell them it has been done with cows. Nathan Banks painted words on the sides of 60 cows in a field and photgraphed them as they moved about making phrases. It has been done with sheep as well. Oversized magnetic poetry has also been done. My brother called to tell me about his experience with it in Harvard Square this year. But it has not been done here a the lake. It has not been done with live humans here. Whatever you want, I will support it. Plan it and I will assist.

Barbara raised an idea to market and sell poetry, to take poetry to the public sector. She suggested selling statistics about renowned poets in a pack of cards in the candy aisle. Larry pointed out that while this might work with baseball, it wouldn't work with poetry. “People actually care about baseball players,” he explained. After a pause, he added, “but we’re going to change all of that.” Barbara and I relaxed our gazes.

I entertained a visitor then who admitted to me that, “Poetry and me have a disconnect.” I read a poem to her. I read Glyn Maxwell’s “Stargazing,” to which she replied, “Now that I like. That's got a narrative quality. I can see about that kind of poem.”

The cold is amuck underfoot. Seeping up through my feet. I have received no calls of pardon. The day of poetry goes on. It is 4:18pm. Cold feet and legs, tense muscles from standing all day. Need to bend and wiggle from time to time, to keep from getting stiff. I’m in a muck pool. The grass around my desk has been tamped down, my cuffs are muddied 8” up from my heels. Need more serious shoes on a day like this, hiking boots. What did the prisoners at the work camps do on the Siberian front when forced to stand and work in the wet weather? They succumbed. They weakened. They grew ill. The exposure took its toll.

And now, the light is taking its primitive stance, silhouetting the landscape, cutting us off, allowing us into the spaces between objects. And now the noises of the world are surging up and I can hear the whisper and chatter of runners, their sniffles, the gravel underfoot, the dogs’ tags, the motors trailing off. There is no wind. The lake and the sky are spreading peach shapes against one another. The ducks have moved away. The squirrels are silent in their trees. A long engine purrs. And now an aggravated quack from a farther shore. Toenails from a dog on the pavement. A circle of coots out on the lake.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday 10 December 2006

[Barthes, Le Grain de la voix]

I made a helicopter out of the feathers I found in Sherwood today. So many feathers! An angel must have crashed. I attached each gray quill to the end of a bare branch of my tulip tree. I used wet willow leaves to tie them on. Each of the lower branches jutted up into feathered fingers. If a tree could fly, this one would spin and whir and shoot up to the heavens.

"You could call this the "lyric escape"--something that poets have always indulged in, creating their own illusions to live by and denying the darkening plain of the 'real' world." (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Poetry As News," July 16, 2000)

Shakespeare speaks of escape. Of naming. The way the poet makes home. Is this sort of creating, this sort of escape, not in fact how we make landscape, make landscape our own? How we squat and inhabit space?

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.



Moody clouds on the southern horizon. Blue sky above. My meadow had its first winter cut this week. The shredded leaves left behind are becoming part of the earth already, sifting down through the grass. Just two bodies, besides mine, on the 4-mile walk to Green Lake today. Coming and going from rooming houses along Aurora. The greens this time of year along Aurora are filled with light, with yellow, with light. Electricity. Things are bright within.


9:31am. 5 walkers, 5 runners and 1 dog pass in this one minute. 11 bodies move past my desk.


Thanks to Paul and Mara I have sought, found and ingested Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Poetry as News" column from the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. I have spent the last few days on the 1998-2001 entries. I find the column, in part, overly critical. In places it could dig deeper. Perhaps there was a line limit. Why lash out with the small space you're given? A line of praise would engage the reader just as well. But then the column is fairly informative and, at times, even provoking. And Ferlinghetti does, and this is of utmost importance, introduce a number of new poets. He opens his readers to the modern Greek poet, C. P. Cavafy. He reopens readers to Brecht, Brecht the poet. He encourages us to see the films of James Broughton. And he shares with us Ko Un, the unofficial poet of Korea. He tells the story of Ko Un's visit to City Lights, relates how he and Un traded poems and Sum-e brush drawings. And do you know what Ferlinghetti drew for Un? He drew the Ouroborous, the oldest mystical symbol in the world. The serpent swallowing its own tail. A circle. Green Lake.

From "Maternal Grandfather" by Ko Un

Look, if you sweep the yard well
the yard will laugh.
If the yard laughs,
the fence will laugh.
Even the morning-glories
blossoming on the fence will laugh.

-Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé with the late Kim Young-Moo


All day I have been reading Cavafy to my visitors, "Waiting for the Barbarians" and "Che Fece…Il Gran Refiuto."

"Waiting for the Barbarians." When you are told poetry can do nothing, when you are told poetry doesn't matter, read this poem and talk again about what matters. What matters is thought and action. In every instance. Thought and action.

"Che Fece…Il Gran Refiuto." Words borrowed from Dante's Inferno. They translate to "Who made… the Great Refusal." The entire quote from the passage in Inferno reads "Che fece per vilta il gran refiuto," or "Who made, because of cowardice, the great refusal." Cavafy suggests that in life there are great Yeses and great Nos, that we must have the courage to make these choices, to face adversity and to act with morality. A morality we can seek and find nowhere but inside ourselves. Perhaps it is born in us? Those who have the great Yes when the great Yes is called for cannot help but draw upon it. Those who lack it can neither create it nor apologize for its absence.

3:40pm – mid-afternoon counter. 4 walkers pass and one child in a stroller pass in this one minute. 5 bodies move past my desk.


Cindy and Shawn took me away for tea to Green Lake Espresso, two blocks away. Something warm. Anything warm. The day has been full of rain and wind. Few visitors come in such weather. Good friends come in such weather.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sunday 3 December 2006

It's clear, 34°F, with a N wind at 10 mph. Blue and white powder mountains, south and west, closing us into winter's seat. Ah glory! The first clear day in a month, the first clear day after setting a record for the wettest November since 1933. Fifteen point three three inches fell in November. And now that it is bright, everyone has come out to celebrate. The circle is full once again.

I tried to watch 8½ [Fellini] again last night, but fell asleep at 2am, before it was over. I should have started earlier. Fellini portrays home, this is home, a most magnificent idea of what home can be, in the memory. In a wonderful dream sequence, he presents home as a white towel, the towel you were caught up in after you wriggled and ran from your mother. The warm white towel she caught you in after dipping you in the warm bath. That towelsheet that stretched like a blanket around you and bundled you upstairs to the room with all those children jumping in their beds begging for a goodnight kiss.

Terry Gilliam points out 8½ as a film that conveys "the essence of cinema," a film that couples camera and actor in a dance of life and creativity. "Most people want to think life has got some structure, form and that you can distinguish the past from the future, and the present. I don't think it's true, I think Fellini admits to that and allows all of these things to enter into the process." Nostalgia, perhaps it is the inability to distinguish past from future, how both ends of your life feel together, all mixed up in today. Saudade.

This is the first of many weeks I am at liberty to write, wish to write. My hands are again able to work a pen. My paper, dry, to receive the ink. I have a fresh set of poets today. Dahlia Ravikovitch, Amy Lowell, Wallace Steven, Thomas Transtromer, Major Jackson, Klaus Hoeke, W.H. Auden, Richard Hugo, Dunya Mikhail and Mary Oliver. As I offer these treasures to my public, as they are handed back to me, as we discuss their value, a theme emerges. The struggle between sacred and profane, the tension between order and chaos, between freedom and servitude, East and West.


Two weeks ago, Stefan brought a Russian poem to share with me. This time, a poem by Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov. Stefan read first in Russian, then in English, as he did with the Pushkin before. I was grateful for this, as was Susan, who was also receiving the news here in The Theatre of the Tulip Trees, here beside the lake.

Now, two weeks later, as I share Amy Lowell's "Venetian Glass" with my visitors, I am drawn to compare it with the Lermontov poem Stefan brought. Both poems present a little sailboat upon a vast sea. For one, the tempest beckons. For the other, bells call it home.


M. YU. LERMONTOV (1814-1841)

The Sail

The sail is whitening alone
In blue obscurity of sea:
What did it leave in country own?
What does it want so far to see.

The wind is strong, the mast is creaking,
The wave is playing with the wave ...
But not a fortune is it seeking,
Nor from this fortune is its way.

By it a stream is bright as azure,
By beams of sun it's warmed and blessed
But it is seeking gales as treasure,
As if the tempests give a rest.

Translated from Russian by Yevgeny Bonver, 1990


AMY LOWELL (1874-1925)

Venetian Glass

from "A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass"

As one who sails upon a wide, blue sea
Far out of sight of land, his mind intent
Upon the sailing of his little boat,
On tightening ropes and shaping fair his course,
Hears suddenly, across the restless sea,
The rhythmic striking of some towered clock,
And wakes from thoughtless idleness to time:
Time, the slow pulse which beats eternity!
So through the vacancy of busy life
At intervals you cross my path and bring
The deep solemnity of passing years.
For you I have shed bitter tears, for you
I have relinquished that for which my heart
Cried out in selfish longing. And to-night
Having just left you, I can say: "'T is well.
Thank God that I have known a soul so true,
So nobly just, so worthy to be loved!"

What drives Lermontov's boat? What directs it through the sea? Is it God, a godlike figure, that treasured gale, that tempest offering "rest" from obscurity? The divine is surely evidenced in Lermontov's poem, "by beams of sun it's warmed and blessed." The sail, "whitening alone," seems blessed, seems directed by a compassionate God.

Ah, but the sailboat on the horizon, the symbol of freedom! It turns out to be, in Lowell's poem, a lost sheep, a prodigal son of the sea, shaping an errant course through a vacant life, wasting time and resources.

The sea, as it is in much of our literature, is a Godless lawless place. Uncaring. Nature may rise up to swallow us at any moment. Uneven in temper, now raging, now sleeping. Who would venture into such a world but the sailor as hero, adventurer and pirate? Who would dare go but the loner and emigre who has nothing to lose?

The sea, in presenting itself as escape, constitutes a shirking of duties, and yet we need the sea and the sailboat upon it to broker new territories, to trade and transport goods. The sea fills our imaginations with fear and hope. No, we cannot do without the sea.

For Lowell, the little sailboat does idle work, drifts and glides, a sleeping mind on a selfish course. The bells, "Thank God," wake the idiot sailor with their "rhythmic striking," calling the sailor back to the path, to "the deep solemnity of passing years," to meaning and nobility. To faith and family, to our own noble history.

The ordering of the public by the ringing of bells was started by the Benedictine monks in the 6th century. Bells once marked the beginning and end of all daily activity, meals, prayer, work and sleep. Once Captain Clock took over, the sun and the moon fell to the side. No more would our stomach direct us to hunger or thirst. No more would a miracle or instances of beauty motivate our reverence. The chiming of the bell would give us cause to eat and pray, wake and work.

In an act of what Jay Gritths (author of Pip, Pip: A Sideways Look at Time, Flamingo, 1999) would call "articulate vandalism," we see in Lowell's "Venetian Glass," "the slow pulse which beats eternity" pull the sailor from a wide, blue sea through time to the soulful life. "Thank God," you say? No, no, thank Captain Clock.


I am wearing a blue artist's beret borrowed from the PCC lost & found. I am wearing fingerless pullback mittens. It is not raining. It is cool and humid, but not raining and not expected to rain. I am able to work, with my own hands, the pen, to write and turn pages. The ink is happy to go where I tell it to go and the corners of my pages do not tear away.

This is week 31 of my project. 30 more weeks until its completion in July 2007. With 21 weeks of Sundays already completed, with 21 weeks already of searching for home, surely I have determined something? What work have I achieved in my goal to play poet, to place the poet on the path to the spirit, the spiritual home, how have I involved the public in the poet's search for things?

Last week there was a breakthrough in Sherwood. I was able to step back and watch poetry work its magic. The dialogue I began carried on without me. I was no longer necessary for the conversation. This is the goal. To throw a stone that will send an idea, a line, a circle spreading, perpetuating, greeting and crossing the other circles. This is a major milestone. Real progress in the work we must do to bring poets into the world, bring their voices to the public.

All by itself, poetry in the forest drew in the eyes and bodies and minds of the Circlers. The visitors. The wanderers. Charged with an idea. A thought. A new path.

I sensed something last week. Something close to, dare I say it, home. Just a feeling. But a growing feeling. Despite my wishes not to have this be my home. Green Lake was simply the right place, the most public place in Seattle. The obvious place to reach an audience. It was never home. Only platform, stage, conduit.

No, I sensed something real last week, as friends visited. As we huddled in the rain and snow, making our small circles, passing food and hot drinks, making laughter about things we'd experienced.

Understanding the trees, the way the rain moves through wind, the way temperature and moisture make snow.

What do we know about home, the search for home? Home and the flight? Mary Oliver tells us the world is calling to us. If we can learn to see the world, hear it and sense it, we will learn our place in the world, our place "in the family of things." And that place, that very knowing, is what situates us, places us.

Knowing can fix a wanderer, call a body, no matter where it wanders, home. Because the body is home. Must be home. The connected you, the familiar you, the communal you, tied to the world, to the place you are, the place you were born, the places you will go. The bodies around you, by which I mean the ones who affect you, the ones who drive your diet and thoughts, those who form myth, the ones who wake and sleep beside you, they are also home. They are all home.

Recognizing your place is the most significant step in the search for home. The rest is all longing and yearning, calling out for answers.

What motivates you? Security, reward, beauty? The question why? The question who? What depresses you? The knowledge that things change, the knowledge that things do not change? What calls to you? Things you understand, things you do not understand? Where do you spend your time? On yourself, on others?


1. Think of a new ritual and enact it.
2. Sing the names of every person you know.
3. Sketch two things every day.
4. Walk backwards up a flight of stairs.
5. Stay up all night. Experience the next day sleep-deprived.
6. Take out a piece of paper. Hold a pen above it. Think of one perfect sentence.
7. Stand in line at the post office with nothing to distract you.
8. Walk until your legs hurt.
9. Sit on a bench in a busy museum. Wait for an unobstructed view of your favorite piece. Savor it.
10. Walk into a dark room at night. Wait for your eyes to adjust. Spend time moving around the room.

There are no yellow leaves in the grass today. Nothing red has been left. The grass is scattered with brown now. The field daisies are tattered.


Paul gave me a pin that says "poetry." It is the Japanese figure for poetry. It means "word temple". He suggests that, in the future, our news and history must be carried through poetry. We simply do not have time to ingest everything, to tell everything. Poetry can be, must be, relied upon to bring whole histories in verse.

Paul recited from memory Lawrence Ferlinghtetti’s poem 15, "Where beauty stands and waits with gravity to start her death defying leap and he, a little Charlie Chaplan man, who may or may not catch her fair eternal form, spread eagle in the empty air of existence…" from A Coney Island of the Mind

Sunday 26 November 2006


Two hours of sleep last night. Catching up on things. Not enough. Never enough. So many things. Where will they take me? When? I am walking now in the cold rain to the lake. It is Sunday again. 7:30 a.m. I realize I have the wrong jacket on. This jacket is not waterproof, only a windbreak and orange. We were expecting snow. I would have preferred snow. I have a down jacket and long johns underneath. Hat. Gloves. Boots today. The rain is soaking right through my orange windbreaker.

I notice, by chance, two of the signs I posted last week. Part of the history I am building. The signs are part of my compliment project. I am taping short phrases to signposts. Things such as, "You are extraordinary." "I appreciate you." "You really are beautiful." "Thank you for being you." Whenever I see one, I can't help but smile. I don't know if anyone else has seen them. Is anyone else smiling? I shall call this project "Aurora, With Compliments."


As I pace in and out of my forest, the page I hold to my chin soaks through. My hands are cold, too cold to turn these rain-glued pages. I can barely separate them, one from the other, with these fat red hands. The rain pickles my top page, soaks into its grain. One page begins to read through the next.

I give in, tear a page from my book and mop up the pools on my desk with it. I smooth it onto the wood, pull it across the wet surface, drag with it a taffy line of rainwater. A page from my print out. A page from an old anthology. With each wet page, I walk into Sherwood, and smooth it onto a trunk. The south sides of the trees are dark with water and bright green with moss beneath. The trunks hold the pages well.

It is 1pm. The forest is papered in poetry. 15 poems on 10 trees. As you look into Sherwood, you see rectangles on the trees. The white squares are drawing people in. At noon, I walked to PCC for something hot to eat. When I came back, Sherwood was peopled with lively men and women reading the trees. What a sight!

Clinton stopped by with a copy of Voyaging on a Small Income by Annie Hall. His gift foretells good things. Sailing friends come to visit on his heels. Hayley and Fiona, Leslie and Bob. Keelboat friends from the UDub. Hayley didn't waste any time. She pulled out a camping stove and began frying some bacon, then boiled water for hot chocolate. She set her stove up on the forest floor. We held our umbrellas over her, listening to the sizzle and bubble of warm things, things to fuel an afternoon.

At 2pm, the wind clocked around to the north and the rain began lashing the path. A rare and violent storm! It grew noticeably colder. Then… it began to snow.

After the bacon and cheese sandwiches, after the hot chocolate, after baklava, we paced the water's edge, shielding ourselves from the wind and snow with our umbrellas, waiting for the sign to end this poetry session. At 3pm, I conceded to a short day. Due to the icy roads, due to the imminent snow storm, I will close my poetry desk early, just this once.

But 15 people came to the poetry desk today. 15 people stopped to talk. On a day like today, that is something!


Lawrence Ferlinghetti, beat poet and owner and publisher of City Lights in San Francisco, calls out to the poets in his Populist Manifesto No. 1

Poets, come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holed-up too long
in your closed worlds.

It is not that the public has abandoned us, dear poet, but we have abandoned the public. Show me a poet. Show me a poet! Look under a tree. Behind a rock. In the middle of a pool. Is that a poet on the shore? On the horizon?

Poetry isn’t a secret society,
It isn’t a temple either.
Secret words & chants won’t do any longer.

Have we denied ourselves the possibility and potential of communication? A word given directly? Emotion, sensation, directed from pen to ear to heart to mind to body?

All you poet’s poets writing poetry
about poetry,

Academia isn't so far to travel, but the war, the street outside, the office, the boatyard, the telelvision.. these places are further. Today's poet, fed up with the world, sits toying with her words by dim candlelight in her den, masturbating her mind, massaging her notebook with words that do few any good and are fit only for the stapled zine that no reads but its contributors.

Clear your throat and speak up,
Poetry is dead, long live poetry
with terrible eyes and buffalo strength.

The buffalo has patience, patience and strength.

Poetry the common carrier
for the transportation of the public
to higher places
than other wheels can carry it.

This is what Paul too says, a Green Lake Circler, all news, all of the information we are storing up, everything meaningful that has happened, that must be remembered, everything that leads the way to our knowing, to the future by way of the past, must come to us by way of poetry. There is no other way.

Poetry still falls from the skies
into our streets still open.
They haven’t put up the barricades, yet,
the streets still alive with faces,
lovely men & women still walking there,
still lovely creatures everywhere,
in the eyes of all the secret of all
still buried there,
Whitman’s wild children still sleeping there,
Awake and walk in the open air.

This is Ferlinghetti’s message to you, dear poet. Go back out to the street. Go back where you started. You will see, upon standing for an hour or two, the lovely creatures still there. This is your subject. And audience. This is your image and ear.