Commentary Journal

Random Thoughts On Poetry

  • Poetry is the simplest form, and the most difficult.  I like the irony of that, even if it isn’t true.  A man with a limp and a seersucker suit once told me that a novel is an undisciplined short story, a short story just a poem run amok.  I toured the Jack Daniels distillery a long time ago, a pilgrimage of sorts, and learned how they stack mountains of maple timbers ten feet high, burn the timbers into charcoal, and drip the whiskey through ten foot columns of that charcoal–drip, drip, drip–a long slow process.  From there, it is collected and stored in toasted and charred barrels for four years at ambient temperature–as the seasons change the whiskey expands and contracts into the wood, mellowing and gaining flavor.  Distillation.  That’s what makes a poem–sometimes it happens through dozens of drafts, sometimes it simmers in soul and arrives mostly formed.
  • I find myself impatient for the arrival of poems, but almost fatally patient once they appear.  My favorite dates back to 1992 and through dozens of tweakings, two major re-writes, and eighteen drafts is not more than a shadow of the image in my head.  I suppose that might seem lazy, and I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t suck it up and either write a hundred more drafts until it’s perfect or just say “that’s it, I’m done–it’s good enough.”
  • Whitman published six different versions of his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, in his lifetime–not only adding poems as he wrote them, but altering the form of the book and re-writing older poems to reflect his growing, changing sensibilities.
  • I’ve been fascinated with translations of ancient Greek and, to a lesser extent, Chinese poetry of late, after pulling a small book by Kenneth Rexroth on the way out the door to watch an invitational swim meet.  Poetry lends itself perfectly to those all-day affairs, with so many distractions.  If I take a novel I end up reading the same pages over and over again–with poetry, that’s exactly how I want to read it: once straight through to get the sound of it, a couple more times (if it strikes me) to get the what and why, and a few more for the how.  That Rexroth book stuck with me, so I read more, took another look at Sappho, and from there began scouring the Internet.  It’s interesting to see the influence of that work in my own stuff–the Greek, in particular, is matter-of-fact and unpretentious.  Verse was such a ubiquitous presence in the lives of those who had the time and ability to write in that culture–I appreciate the wealth of both subtle poignancies and simple truths in small moments.
  • I don’t ever expect to write a great poem.  I write poems because I like poetry and writing, and because it is important to me to see and appreciate those small moments–tonight at dinner, in a rush to get it on the table so all four of us can eat together and still get to our various evening obligations, all four of us moving as if choreographed, plating salad, stirring the sauce, cutting bread, filling glasses of water, scooping the ravioli from it’s simmering: a dance and a poem both in form and function.

Q: What do you hear, Starbuck?

Q:  What do you hear, Starbuck?

A: ???

Yes, this is a quiz.  Answer in the comments section.



Is America Ready For Sikh Captain America?


A rare, positive article from, the gloomiest corner of the interwebs–would America accept a Sikh Captain America?  We might, as long as he has muscles and the right shoes.  The article also contains the link to the related video.


The Year The Monarch Didn’t Appear


Despite a plethora of butterfly-friendly plants in our gardens, including a nice stand of native, wild milkweed, I saw one (1) Monarch on our .75 acre lot this year, down from a disappointing half dozen the year before.  As recently as five years ago it was not uncommon to see a dozen at a time.  We found no sign of cocoons or Monarch caterpillars on our plants.  I’m having a difficult time getting my mind around a future with no Monarchs, they’re so ingrained in my childhood memories.

Monarch butterflies, along with most varieties of wild bees, face imminent collapse–a scary prospect, considering that most of the food we eat at some point relies on insects pollinating plants in order to grow.

You can help here:

Quote Uncategorized

Best Damn Quotes #2 Walter Sobchak

“Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

–Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski, by Joel and Ethan Coen, played by John Goodman


My Poetry Poetry

Hey Babe I Think About All The Miles


Hey Babe I think about all the miles
And the dishes and the diapers and dolls
And the I’ll cook and you can do the dishes
And the hours days months years decades—
Damn, Babe, decades!  And I don’t want
To tell you I’ll grow old with you, or I’ll never
Leave you or, jesus, I see little goddamn stars
And rainbows and think of you and I sure as Hell
How sure is hell, though?—shit!—
Don’t give a damn about the flower I give you
When, what I really want, right at that moment,
Sitting across the table from your mom and your pop,
Is to light you on fire in a hurricane, laugh, and sing.


Pennsylvanian? Support House Bills 1621 and 1622: Draft Your Personal Letter to Your Representative

Tired of UPMC spending millions of “non-profit” funds trying to run other companies out of businees and secure a monoply for themselves?  This will help.


“Earlier this year UPMC (formerly known as University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) announced that it would not renew its current hospital and provider contracts with Highmark when they expire. The reason? Highmark, which serves the 29 counties of Western Pennsylvania as Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, is acquiring the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS), UPMC’s rival hospital network. UPMC says it can’t be expected to do business with a direct competitor, although UPMC itself operates both a health care system and its own health plan….”


Don’t Let Hollywood & Big Business Control The Internet!

Tell W3C: We don’t want the Hollyweb!

“Hollywood is at it again. Its latest ploy to take over the Web? Use its influence at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to weave Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) into HTML5 — in other words, into the very fabric of the Web. Millions of Internet users came together to defeat SOPA/PIPA, but now Big Media moguls are going through non-governmental channels to try to sneak digital restrictions into every interaction we have online. Giants like Netflix, Google, Microsoft, and the BBC are all rallying behind this disastrous proposal, which flies in the face of the W3C’s mission to “lead the World Wide Web to its full potential.”



Photo I Like

A Photo I Like (for no good reason at all, except that I can) #1

I have saved hundreds of photos over the years–thank the sneaky gods for terrabites-wide external hard drives–because there are thousands, actually, even though I do occasionally do some house cleaning.  In these dark and busy days–all sorts of meetings this week, NaNoWriMo sucking time hungrily, and I’ve got a cold that manifests itself worst at night, keeping me awake coughing when I should be sleeping–the time seems right to share some.

In fact, here is one now:

john brown2

This photo is called “John Brown2”–if he’s the Sheriff, I’m wondering if, every time I plant a seed, he’ll say “kill if before it grows?”  Just a thought.


Where I Live: Indiana, PA


Coming up on the beginning of the holiday season, our town kicks things off with the annual “It’s a Wonderful Night In Indiana, PA” light up festival–there will be a parade, the mayor will wave from his car, and the marching band playing Christmas songs; next up is a bonfire, hot cocoa and all sorts of fun stuff for the brats–er–kids. Oh, and Santa’s coming, too.  In honor of all that, and because I don’t feel like writing anything more thoughtful, here’s a few more things about the town I call home.

The New York Times likes our museum.

Really Famous People Were Born Here…like Edward Abbey

And This Guy, Too.  He would never have let the government shut down.

Our Football Team Rocks…and Not Just Because They Usually Win


The Basketball Team is Even BETTER


We even pimp our “wonderful life” on the official town website!

We have our own university, but it’s name confuses people.

It’s a pretty university, too.

The IUP Journalism department has a blog.  Unlike this one, it’s good.

It’s a pretty cool place to live–something this prodigal son never thought he’d say.

You’d be hard put to find a better sandwich.

But we still need someone to open a decent micro-brewery.

It’s pretty here–I grew up in this neighborhood.