November

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There’s nothing left but overall
Remnants of what had once been fall;
Even where a week before
A leaf or two blew through the door
The dwindling days have turned to soot
The little traveling underfoot.
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Snow will follow soon enough
Careening through the unmown scruff
Of jimson weed and bush clover,
Nothing apt to be covered over
With just a midday’s squall—but soon
Winter will stay the afternoon.
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Then who will afterward remember
The few days readied since September?—
The ghostly sighs of thimbleweed,
The bony knuckles of the reed,
Whole fields of startled hair turned white
Before the year end’s stricken flight.
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I wouldn’t ask but that I know
It’s not just seasons come and go.
When ice gives way to watercress
And all of April’s loveliness,
Remember, though the days are few,
November has its flowers too.
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Pussy Willow Branch (Reduced)·
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by me | January 8 2018

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    This is my first audio recording using my new YETI microphone. My reading of the poem is just okay, but then I’m never satisfied that way. Best that I never hear myself. The poem itself is one I started not in November of last year but the year before, with a haiku. I finally devoted the time to finishing it.

On Poetic Neglect

  • This article was written in response to an article by Vermont’s poet laureate.  I submitted my response to the Valley News this evening but who knows whether they’ll publish it. It willfully and disdainfully exceeds their 350 word limit (as regards letters to the editor). If link rot sets in, let me know.

On Poetic Neglect

Having just read Chard de Niord I can’t help remarking that this is yet another “it’s not me, it’s you” article by a contemporary poet. He establishes his thesis from the get-go writing that it’s not anything “toxic that’s overcoming them: It’s neglect.” Who’s neglect? Well, obviously, the problem is the reading public. Who else is going to “neglect” poets? He then writes that 99 percent of his incoming freshmen couldn’t name a single contemporary poet.

Mr. de Niord’s comments could have been taken straight from my own article at Poemshape, called Let Poetry Die; written for the Wall Street Journal several years ago. What Mr. de Niord left out is that 99 percent of his students could probably name a poet who wasn’t a contemporary. How about Mother Goose? Shakespeare? Keats? Frost? Eliot? Or even William Carlos Williams? If they didn’t know the names, they could probably recognize their poems. They can in my experience.

Mr. de Niord goes further, noting that “very few Americans outside the minuscule poetry community… read and write poetry as a secret discipline.” This is self-exculpatory and circular. In other words, the implication is that if Americans were reading and writing more poetry, then contemporary poems would be more popular. On the contrary, it’s possible that many more Americans are reading poetry than Mr. de Niord’s reasoning would suggest—they’re just not that into contemporary poetry. Mother Goose and Shel Silverstein continue to sell quite well, as do the Modernists, the Romantics and Shakespeare.

Mr. de Niord then writes: “I often see fright, shame, and even disdain on people’s faces when I tell them I’m a poet” Speaking for myself (being a poet too), when I tell others I’m a poet I’m usually met with warmth and interest and sometimes, in the interest of full disclosure, pity—but never shame or fright. Is it my debonair good looks, my wit, my insouciant flair?

But Mr. de Niord isn’t done blaming the victim. He writes that “schoolchildren, as well as high school students, often feel stupid during their first, second, and third encounters with poetry.”

For the record, my own experience (and that of my peers) was generally the opposite. By our third encounter we had all but confirmed our suspicion: contemporary poets were fools. If we let the instructor conclude that he was the smart one in the room, it was because we knew who buttered our parsnips.

The most telling rhetorical question in Mr. de Niords’ article though, is the following: “So what to make of the marginal status of poetry in America, where so many crave poetry for its essential, memorable expression[?]” The question is its own answer. It’s precisely the “memorable expression” that is missing from contemporary poetry. To combatively paraphrase another obscure poet: The fault, dear Brutus is not in our audience, but in ourselves, that we are neglected.

It’s not the readership who has neglected contemporary poetry, but the poet who has neglected the reader. Who knew, after a stultifying generation of Victorian metrical poetry, the 20th century would inaugurate a stultifying century of naval-gazing free verse? Is it possible that contemporary poets aren’t read because they’re just not that good?

I recently exchanged email with a freshly minted graduate student who told me that his instructor wouldn’t allow him to write poems with rhyme (or presumably meter). Is it any wonder the contemporary audience doesn’t look to contemporary poets for memorable language or the memorable expression? When is the last time readers turned to a contemporary poet knowing they could find a passage like this?

By June our brook’s run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)–

At least in some academic quarters, the poetics of the last hundred years has apparently turned into an orthodoxy rivaling a religious creed. It’s high time contemporary poets stopped blaming their audience and maybe it’s high time aspiring poets stopped thinking they need to go to school to write poetry. Was William Carlos Williams sitting in a workshop when he wrote The Red Wheelbarrow? As Mr. de Niord pointed out, he was too busy being a doctor.

There’s plenty of poetry being read. It’s just not “contemporary” poetry. My own blog, which primarily examines traditional poetry, has had almost two and half million visits from readers around the world. Readers are fascinated by the memorably expressed poems of the Elizabethans, Romantics and Modernists.

And it’s long past time poets blamed a “utilitarian, capitalist culture” (among other excuses). Mr de Niord might be interested to know that I engage, every day, in wonderful conversations about The Red Wheelbarrow, Hamlet, and the meaning of Ozymandias. I’ve even done so on an airplane. The first is by a modernist, the second an Elizabethan and the third a Romantic. Maybe contemporary poets simply lack the talent to write memorable verse?—or are too ossified by orthodoxy? At the very least, they might evince a little interest in the kind of poetry Americans are reading instead of equating a disinterest in contemporary verse with a general neglect of poetry.

upinVermont • June 3rd 2016

The Annotated Country Western Shakespearean Love Sonnet

  • A recently discovered sonnet by Billy Shaksper. An annotation has been included to help English speakers with the Country Western dialect.

Baby, your eyes ain’t nothin’ like the sun;
My coon-dog’s tongue is redder than your lips;
One boob’s still ‘tryin’ but the other’s done;
Ain’t double-wides wreck traffic like your hips.
I seen the kinda’ gal that men call meek,
Well-mannered, mild, but you? Hell no you’re not.
Skunked beer spilled on a lime-green shag don’t reek
Near half so bad. Your breath? — like eau-de-rot.
But sugar-plum I’d sell my gun, I’d kick
The dog and turn my Mama out the door;
I swear, so help me, never drink a lick
‘Cause I got you and don’t need nothin’ more.
···Man never writ nor loved if this ain’t true:
···Ain’t been no man so lucky lovin’ you.

1. Baby dear, honey, lover , a term of endearment. The term was applied to both men and women during the country western era. Much scholarly debate has examined the infantilizing endearment in this highly paternalistic culture. 2. ain’t a contraction for am not, is not, are not, has not, and have not in the country western vernacular. This archaic but very common contraction could indicate both the singular or plural verb form (see ain’t). 3. coon-dog  Coon dogs were bred to hunt raccoons and other small animals. These coon hounds were trained to chase animals up trees to ease hunting while drunk. A favorite companion for men known as “rednecks” (see CoonDawgs.com). 4. boob breast, female mammary gland. Most country western men were noted boob-men (see Dolly Parton). 5. double-wide There is some uncertainty surrounding this passage’s meaning. Some scholars suspect textual corruption. The Shaksperian scholar B. Vickers has offered the most convincing explanation: double-wide being a reference to the twin, “double”, gluteal muscles of a woman’s rear-end, the gluteal muscles being a group of three muscles which make up the buttocks: the gluteus maximus muscle, gluteus medius muscle and gluteus minimus muscle (see Cultural History of ButtocksThe female buttocks have been a symbol of fertility and beauty since early human history…). 6.Hell  Believed by scholars to refer to an absence of beer, barbecued ribs and ESPN. 7. skunked beer spoiled beer having a sulfurous taste. Scholars debate the type of beer country westerners preferred, some finding evidence for Coors Lite, others Bud Lite. 8. lime green shag  a type of thick wall-to-wall carpeting, often  accompanied by faux wood paneling, The lime green color was preferred for its ability to blend well with any possible stain, including vomit and affairs with the neighbor’s wife (see rugstudio.com).  9. eau-de-rot an offensive perfume 10. I’d sell my gun a prized possession and status symbol among country westerners, often associated with the phrase: “my cold, dead fingers” 11. kick the dog the country western male’s love for his dog was second only to his gun 12. Mama mother, third in line after guns and dogs, though some scholars place country western Mamas after pick-up trucks, football and beer. 13. Ain’t been no man so lucky lovin’ you. The double negatives in the concluding couplet have frequently called the meaning of the final couplet into question. If what he says isn’t true, then no man ever ‘wrote’, and yet the assertion is a palpable falsehood. (See, Vendler, Sonnets.)

The authorship question: There are some who assert the Sonnet could not have been by the uneducated Billy Shaksper, but by Eddy Oxfrord, the son of a well-heeled rancher who matriculated from a local community college. Most Shakspereans reject the attribution out of hand, noting that Eddy Oxford died in a freak bowling accident some years before the sonnet was published. Eddy’s defenders claim the sonnet was actually written a decade earlier, and was only published when the risk of embarrassment to the Oxford family was minimal. Few, if any scholars take the Oxfordians seriously. Oxfordians respond by accusing Shaksperians of conspiring to conceal the truth in order to preserve their socio-academic status. Shakspereans respond by calling Oxdordians idiots and morons.  The noted scholar Gary Taylor claims the sonnet is actually by Tommy Middletown and is said to have wept upon reading the poem. Donald W. Foster fed the sonnet to Shaxicon and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.  Other attributions include Franky Bacon, and Lizzy, the era’s most popular, country western stripper and drag-Queen, respectively.

pick up

On the Subject of Truth, Tulips and Happy Endings

  • I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been working on a novel that takes place in Vermont. Anyone who wishes to read it, in progress, is welcome to E-Mail me. The novel will have some poetry in it, some fables and whatever else makes a good story. For lack of anything better, I’ve posted this first fable. I wrote it this morning. Eventually it might make its way into the novel. I’m not an artist, nothing like my wife, but I’ve thrown in my drawings for the fun of it. Edit: I shamed my wife into giving me one quick drawing. Enjoy.

A Fable on the Subject of Truth, Tulips and Happy Endings

There was once a well-respected Soothsayer who lived by a brook. He fished in the brook and every morning returned with something to eat. Every day children, old wives, girls and young men visited him seeking advice and notions of the future. The soothsayer always told the truth and what the soothsayer foretold always came true. As a small matter, fortune telling is an idle thing; but the future is devilish and full of trickery.

Children, among the wisest fortune seekers, forget what they’re told, but the soothsayer’s reputation spread and those with the least forethought were the most eager to foresee. The soothsayer had two visitors. The first was a young man in search of a wife. The second was personage of very great importance.

The young man came to the soothsayer first and was told a very peculiar fortune. The soothsayer said: You must be willing. You must find the tulip that blossoms at the bottom of the lake. You must pay no mind to anything else. You must pull it up by the roots. You must not let go. If you do as I tell you, your wife will fall out of the sky and into your arms.

The young man left as despondent as he came. Such a ridiculous fortune could not possibly come true.

The second visitor was a very important mayor of a very important town. He came to the soothsayer seeking advice. He said to the soothsayer: I am assured that few personages of equal importance have come to you. The Soothsayer, who was fishing at the moment, assured him that no one like the mayor had ever visited. The mayor, who was naturally complimented by the soothsayer’s remark, at once troubled the soothsayer for a fortune.

The soothsayer said: There will be a very great rain storm. The waters will flood your village until only the weathercocks, at the very tops of your houses, stand above water. The portly mayor’s face turned red and his eyes bulged. ‘When,’ he sputtered, ‘when will this terrible storm arrive?’ The soothsayer tossed his hook back into the brook and answered: in four weeks and two days.

The mayor hurried back to his town and, having considered the problem thoroughly, immediately announced that the village, built in a comfortable valley beside a gurgling brook, must be moved to the top of the hill. Now it just so happened that there was already someone living atop the hill – a beautiful girl with a tidy garden.

When the the mayor and the townspeople came to her, she would not let them touch her garden, especially because the garden was where her favorite tulip bloomed every spring. A horrible argument ensued but the girl, hands on her hips, stood her ground. So did the indignant tulip.

This piqued the mayor because the tulip was exactly where he wished to build himself a statue. He decided that once he had saved the townspeople, they would see the wisdom in building him a fine statue. In the meantime the mayor ordered that the town, with its cobblestone streets and crowded little houses built one next to the other so that each leaned on the other, be built around the girl’s shed and garden.

He also order that a great wall be built around the town. By means of the wall, the town would be protected by the great flood. The crafty stone masons built the wall as tightly as the hull of a boat. By the fourth week and the first day, the town was finished and the one gate through the watertight wall was shut. The girl and the tulip paid no mind to any of it.

On the fourth week and the second day, the terrible storm began, but a very strange thing happened. The gurgling brook merrily carried the rain away but, in the town atop the hill, there was nowhere for the water to go. The town, with its high walls, turned into a great big bathtub. Since the wall was just as high as the topmost roof, the town filled with water until only the weathercocks were dry – just as the soothsayer had foretold. Outwitting the future is a devilish and tricky thing.

The tulip thought it a very strange thing to be at the bottom of a lake, but once the sun came out and its light filtered gaily to the very bottom, the tulip blossomed. There is a time for tulips to blossom and the affairs of men and weather are of very little concern to tulips.

It just so happened that the young man, in search of just such a tulip, had come looking for the girl who knew a thing or two about tulips. Imagine his surprise when he found, not a girl, a garden, or a tulip, but the walls of a town. Taking off his boots, he climbed the wall; and imagine his surprise when he saw a lake fall of weathercocks, one after the other, drying in the noonday sun.

Could the girl, the garden, and the tulip be at the bottom of the lake?

He took off his socks and dove into the water. He swam to the very middle and dove straight downward. He passed the girl who was floating upward, like the townspeople, as surprised as anyone to be at the bottom of a lake. The girl was beautiful but the soothsayer had told him to pay no mind to anything but the tulip. The young man swam to the tulip. He pulled and the harder he pulled, the harder the tulip’s roots clung to the earth.

He pulled and he pulled. One by one the roots let go until, all at once – and all but for one little root with which the indignant tulip refused to let go – the water began to pour out of the hole that was left behind. But this was of little concern to the tulip. A mighty struggle ensued. The tulip clung to its patch of earth with its one root as the young man clung to the tulip for dear life. Down went the water. Down went one townsman after another, then the horses, then the carriages, then houses and all in the great big whoosh of a whirlpool.

The tulip was never so indignant, all the while thinking the young man was trying to pull it up. But all he was trying to do was save himself.

Finally, everything but the town’s walls and the girl had been swept into the hole. At the last minute, the young man put the tulip back into the hole, like a cork in the drain of a tub, and caught the girl just before she also fell into the hole. It was as if she had fallen out of the sky for, indeed, she had been floating above him the whole time. The girl looked at the young man and the young man looked at the girl, and they fell in love, and in just a little while they were married. The young man decided that as long as one is willing, wonderful things can happen in the most unexpected ways.

He and his wife took down the walls. They made a fence around the tulip – who had entirely forgotten the whole affair – and lived happily in their shed next to the garden.