Monday, September 1, 2008

Always the Beautiful Answer - Prose Poem Primer

Poet Peter Klappert's Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors, Six Gallery Press,Pittsburgh, PA, 2008.

My friend Peter Klappert sends a copy of his new book plus Ruth Kempher's Always the Beautiful Answer: A Prose Poem Primer (the anthology was first published in 1999 and is now back in print). RK begins with a definition...

PROSE, n. 1. Speech or writing without metrical structure: distinguished from verse. 2. Commonplace or tedious discourse.

POEM, n. 1. A Composition in verse, characterized by the imaginative treatment of experience and a condensed use of language that is more vivid and intense than ordinary prose... any composition characterized by intensity and beauty of language or thought: a prose poem.

Age 19 serving in the U.S. Navy (LST 914) in the combat zone in Korea (c. 1952), I began writing... something... and reading everything I could find in the ship's library. In fact, I was ship's librarian... anyway Ruth Kempher includes Carl Sandburg's Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry, which I read then and haven't much looked at since. Now it all comes back... vividly, stuff that helped tease me into wanting to write. Sandburg's definitions of poetry include:

1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

2. Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.

3. Poetry is the report of a nuance between two moments, when people say, 'Listen!' and 'Did you see it?' 'Did you hear it? What was it?'

Anthology includes Charles Baudelaire's "The Stranger," "The Soup and the Clouds" and the editor's note, "The prose poem began as a conscious form in nineteenth century France, pioneered by Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire. The form represented a kind of reaction against the strict poetic dictates of the French Academy...

And Michael Hathaway's tribute / "Ode to Grandpa Hathaway," poet and editor I knew in the mid-1960s when I was teaching at Cornell and serving on Prof. William Hathaway's magazine, EPOCH. Michael Hathaway's poem meets / satisfies all 3 of Carl Sandburg's definitions.

Anyway, I send thanks to Peter Klappert, whose new book Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors, I turn to next. Then to play his CD / Library of Congress Podcast,"The Poet and the Poem."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wisdom through excess

“It takes several lives to make one person.” I believe that and that we are also, all of us, phoenixes rising, or so it seems, from the ashes of our old selves. The rise and fall of the phoenix. Phoenix. Pheonix. Phoenix.

“The soul is a vast domain," wrote Arthur Schnitzler. "So many contradictions find room in us… We try our best to maintain order in ourselves, but this order is really just synthetic. Our natural condition is chaos.”

I think of that as I come across reviews of an earlier book. “Four Incarnations is named for four distinct periods in Sward’s writing career… shaped by four marriages and four dramatic changes…”

Friends ask, “Does it get easier… does getting divorced and getting divorced again… does it get easier, the second or third time around?”


In the 60s and 70s I took pride in being called a wild man, a crazy. Experimented and bought into the Romantic notion that to carouse, to indulge, to choose excess over order would help me as a writer. Excess. I'm thinking of Blake who suggested that the way to wisdom is through excess. I'm pro-Blake, but I'm re-thinking excess. These days I’m paying more attention to Ben Franklin and less to Blake. “Early to bed, early to rise...” In truth that's what works. That, for me at least, is what furthers the writing.

It's late in the game, but these are the confessions of a much-married man.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Why do you write?

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize Lecture, 2006... 

In his Nobel Lecture, Pamuk provides a fairly comprehensive reply to the question, "Why do you write?" 

"Why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write. I write because I can't do normal work as other people do. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can partake of real life only by changing it. I write because I want others, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. 

"I write because I love the smell of paper, pen and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten.. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all life's beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but--as in a dream--can't quite get to. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy."

The New Yorker, Dec. 25, 2006. Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Men have breast tissue, too! Later... #2

Medical Clinic

Procedure is for "US BREAST UNILAT... lump or mass in breast. Clinical data:
lump at 9 o'clock about 8 mm-1 cm size, cystic..." 

" 9 o'clock"? Can't help thinking of World War II movies, gunnery specialists, air force pilots and sailors locating the enemy's position. 

So there's the waiting, then these two procedures, imaging of where I'd have breasts if I had breasts. Thinking of re-reading Philip Roth's novel, "Breast." Maybe there'd be something there for me. A fan of his, but that's not a favorite book. I like Patriarchy, the one about his father, nonfiction, actually... 

So awaiting the second procedure, another imaging, I pick up a copy of an old New Yorker, Dec. 25, 2006, and the page I open to is Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Lecture titled "My Father's Suitcase," 2006. Usually I browse magazines before reading, but this time I plunge right in... 

A good long wait so I'm able to read Pamuk's Lecture in its entirety. I'm a 75-year-old writer, Jesus Christ! And what's the point? You wanna read my poetry? Yes or no? Don't even think. Just say what comes to mind. Do I want to read my poetry? No, actually. True, I wanna read it out loud to an audience. That I enjoy. And I wanna write new stuff... but do I want to go back and read it off the page for pleasure? Hell, no. 

Orhan Pamuk's Lecture is about himself and his father... and the suitcase full of writing his father left him. It's a meditation on the life of a writer. So here I am with my breast tissue and a whole bunch of questions, not the least of which has to do with mortality. It's the kind of thing that would stay in people's minds. "Oh, he's the man with the breasts."  That they'd remember, the biographical detail. Okay, I'm no better than anyone else. That's probably what I'd remember too. Better than someone's poems. Most peoples' poems.

But Pamuk gets it right: "Societies, tribes, and peoples grow more intelligent, richer, and more advanced as they pay attention to the troubled words of their authors--and, as we all know, the burning of books and the denigration of writers are both signs that dark and improvident times are upon us.

"But literature is never just a national concern. The writer who shuts himself up in a room and goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature's eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people's stories, and to tell other people's stories as if they were his own, for that is what literature is."

"Men have breast tissue, too."

Mammogram - "Men have breast tissue, too."

August 7, 2008

Inflammatory breast cancer

"Men have breast tissue, too," said my doctor, a woman. And I got this little cyst or lump or something. So there I am today in Radiology, the only man in the waiting room. I don't know if the thing is benign or not, but the muzak they're playing is positively toxic. Hell, for me, would be an eternity of canned music. One tinny, one cloned musical cyst after another. Suspiciously benign music. Lumpy music made up of... I hate being here...

Women over 40 get these things, mammograms, every year, says the technician. Only one man in 500 gets breast cancer? Is that what she said? Or only one man in 500 gets to get a mammogram? Better my male breast tissue than my nuts. X-ray technican holds and squeezes my "whatever" into position so she can shoot the first of four x-rays. She sticks little "nipple dots" ("nipple markers") on the places where the little cyst(s) might be hanging out. I put my arm up, first the left arm, then (later) the right and lean into this contraption, we shift around, struggling, plump technician and I... together we try to produce enough of something to be squeezed into immobility and x-rayed. What the fuck! And I don't mind her squeezing me. It's an odd way to spend your morning. We do a little dance. She leads, I follow... it's all about getting my breast tissue into position. It's a struggle... we finally get it done.

Then the wait for... we need to find out if she needs to do it again, if the first set of x-rays don't work out. So I wait. Lying down. Sitting up. Dressing. Preparing to leave. Then simply waiting. Room has a pink orchid, possibly real. But stiff and unlife like. It wears a label: And there's a can of Suave, "fights sweat... 24-hour protection."

And a copy of the Ladies Home Journal. What am I gonna do? My mother used to read this thing and I did too... years ago the Journal actually published some decent fiction. This issue offers "125 Beauty Boosters." It's for women. "Can This Marriage Be Saved? The Case of the Boring Husband." And, to round things out, "Sizzling Summer Cookouts!" plus, just what we all need, "Fatal Drug Side Effects (What Your Doctor Isn't Telling You.)"

Still waiting. One pink wall and three cream-colored walls and x-ray room itself is the size of a prison cell. Pink gowns...

X-ray machine has a name, the manufacturer? " Lorad - M-IV" it says on the glass (?) shield to protect technician as she shot those images. Yeah, how am I going to know where I am if I don't write these things down? catalog... it's a way of paying attention. A kind of writer's x-ray?

I read somewhere that men, aeons ago, were equipped to suckle their young. That's why we still got nipples.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Keepers - Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac

In an emergency:

[Karl Menninger] often said that it would help anyone "to be getting three square meals a day and to know that there is opportunity ahead—things to be done, land to be turned, things to build." Once, when someone asked him what to do if a person feels he is about to have a nervous breakdown, Menninger replied, "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something for them."

* * *
This blog is something of a journal and one thing I do with my journals is use them, in part, as scrapbooks. What follows are some recent additions, excerpts from Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac:

It's the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). His first important book was the collection of short stories In Our Time (1925), and he followed that with The Sun Also Rises (1926) and the book that most critics consider to be his greatest novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929).

Hemingway said, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

* * *
It's the birthday of the man known as the "dean of American psychiatry," Karl Menninger, (books by this author) born in Topeka, Kansas (1893). His ideas about mental illnesses and how to treat them were revolutionary for his time—and many of the approaches he advocated and developed became instituted in modern psychiatric treatment centers.

Menninger built on some of the foundations that Freud had established, and some of his achievements rest in explaining Freud to the general population through magazine articles, books, and letters. But he also diverged in many ways from the founder of psychoanalysis. Where Freud believed in treating individuals through set therapy sessions, the Harvard-educated Menninger advocated a total immersion experience to help mentally ill individuals get well. He-co-founded with his father and brother, who were also medical doctors, the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. It was inspired partially by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, which Karl's father had visited many years prior and had come home to report, "I have been to the Mayos, and I have seen a great thing."

The Menninger Clinic started in a farmhouse with only 13 beds for patients. At first, local citizens sued to stop the opening of a "maniac ward" near them. The clinic expanded greatly and eventually grew to 39 buildings on 430 acres—and to a staff of 900 people.

In addition to disagreeing with Freud on the best approach to therapy, Menninger had differing notions as to what caused mental illness. While Freud attributed mental illness largely to conflicts within a person's mind, Menninger thought that societal influences played a large role in an individual's mental health. He believed strongly that mental sickness often came about because of a lack of parental love during childhood.

Also, he thought that criminal behavior was often a stage of mental sickness and that it should be treated accordingly. He was a lifelong advocate for prison reform, believing the current system did nothing to help stop antisocial behavior. He told Congress in 1971: "I sometimes feel as if I would like to scream out to the American public that they are squirting gasoline on the fire. The prison system is now manufacturing offenders, it is increasing the amount of transgression, it is multiplying crimes, it is compounding evil."

[Karl Menninger] often said that it would help anyone "to be getting three square meals a day and to know that there is opportunity ahead—things to be done, land to be turned, things to build." Once, when someone asked him what to do if a person feels he is about to have a nervous breakdown, Menninger replied, "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something for them."

He wrote more than a dozen books, including several best sellers. His works include The Human Mind (1930), Love Against Hate (1959), Man Against Himself (1956), Whatever Became of Sin? (1988), and The Crime of Punishment (1968).

* * *

Cormac McCarthy wrote in All the Pretty Horses: "They ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eucalyptus--California Fires Rage On

Santa Cruz weekly "Good Times," runs cover story, "Eupocalypse Now, California FIRES rage on, so why are eucalyptus trees still the city's most protected menace?"

Ron Oliver, Fire Chief, is quoted as saying, "Eucalyptus are more dangerous because of the resins and oils, so they burn hotter than other trees. But in Santa Cruz they've been declared a heritage tree so we can't do much."

How do you define a "heritage tree"? Well, it "has a trunk with a circumference of 44 inches (approximately 14 inches in diameter or more), measured at 54 inches above existing grade..."

Why this arbitrary designation? Why this "circumference of 44 inches"? One of the city's arborists swears it's true: 44 inches was the waist size of the mayor of Santa Cruz at the time the heritage tree ordinance was written.

Fact: "Hummingbird nests are lost at a rate of 50 percent in eucalyptus, as opposed to 10 percent in native trees."

"Species diversity drops among the trees by about 70 percent, according to bird experts at Point Reyes Observatory."

For more, see the Good Times, July 24, 2008. GTWEEKLY.COM

Solid, well-researched article by Good Times News Editor, Chris J. Magyar, who quotes our neighbor David Zicarelli, "I have no sympathy for people who think of them as natural here. I've never met anyone who actually has these trees on their property who wants to save them. They're all people who look at them from afar. I like to call that sentimental environmentalism."

And, later in the story, a neighbor nods and remarks, 'After the atomic apocalypse, there will be nothing but cockroaches and eucalyptus."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sonoma Book Festival, Sat., Sept. 20 - Santa Rosa

P.O. Box 159
Santa Rosa, CA 95402


Electronic Art Available 707-527-5412

The ninth annual Sonoma County Book Festival is scheduled for Saturday, September 20, 2008, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. It is the oldest general interest book festival in Northern California.

The square will be transformed with the white canopies of more than 70 booths, showcasing writers, independent booksellers, publishers and other literary exhibitors. Over 60 authors from the Bay Area and across the country read from their published works and participate in discussion panels and workshops.

Admission is free and includes readings, panels, and activities for all ages. Among the broad range of topics and genres represented are mystery, thriller, nonfiction, debut fiction, poetry, self-help, travel, children’s and teen/young adult.

For a full list of authors, panels, and other information visit


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pill-Popping Pets, S.S.R.I.'s for dogs

Home-Alone Dogs. -- 42% of American dogs sleep in the same beds as their owners...

Excerpted from James Vlahos' Pill-Popping Pets in NY Times Magazine, 7.13.08.

Lead: "Americans are spending millions on mood-altering drugs for their cats and dogs. Is it because we've driven them mad?"

1. Dogs too suffer from separation anxiety and compulsive disorders like hours and hours of tail-chasing.
2. More than 20% of American dogs are overweight.
Slentrol, approved by the FDA in 2007 is the country's first canine anti-obesity medication.
4. Aging dogs can become absent-minded ("where did I put the dog dish?").
Anipryl "treats cognitive dysfunction" to help absent-minded dogs remember...
5. "For lonely dogs with separation anxiety, Eli Lilly brought to market its own drug
Reconcile last year. The only difference between it and Prozac is that Reconcile is chewable and tastes like beef."

6. Dogs develop mental illnesses "that eerily resemble human ones and respond to the same medications."
7. "Marketers have a new name for the age-old tendency to view animals as furry versions of ourselves:
'humanization,' a trend that is fueling the explosive growth of the pet industry and the rise of modern pet pharma.
8. Americans forked over $49 billion for pet products and services last year, up $11.5 billion from 2003; other than consumer electronics, pet products are the fastest-growing retail segment...
9. The market expansion is being driven both by more pets and by more spending per pet, esp. by affluent baby boomers whose children have graduated from college..." the fastest growing category is health care, with treatments formerly reserved for people--root canals, chemotherapy, liposction, mood pills--being administered to pets.
10."...77 percent of dog owners and 52 percent of cat owners gave their animals some sort of medication in 2006, both up by at least 25 percentage points from 2004. 'Owners want their pets to be more like little well-behaved children.'"

11. Darwin's theory is that evolutionary continuity applies not just to bodies but to brains. "The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind," Darwin wrote.
12. "In laboratory experiments and field observations, practitioners have presented evidence of analogical reasoning by apes, counting by rats
and the capacity of pigeons to distinguish the paintings of Picasso from those of Monet."
13. "Prozac, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.), prolongs the effects of that neurotransmitter to reduce impulsivity, stabilize moods and lower anxiety, [Dr. Nicholas] Dodman says. He is friends with the noted Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, and they once compared the drugs they employ to treat violent people and animals. 'You superimpose my portfolio on top of his, and it's the same thing,' Dodman says."
14. "There is evidence that animals experience auditory and visual hallucinations and can temporarily enter deluded states in which they attack... 'By engaging in and winning aggressive encounters, dominant animals drive up serotonin levels and gain in composure...' Prozac can boost the effects of the neurotransmitter.
15. "Archaeologists and geneticists estimate that the domestication of wolves (Canis lupus) into dogs began at least 15,000 years ago." See Jack Page's book "Dogs: A Natural History."

16. "Many dogs, 42 percent, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association) now sleep in the same beds as their owners.
Extreme attachment to people is one of the defining traits of dogs."
17. "Extreme attachment, unfortunately, also causes some dogs extreme suffering when deprived of their owners' company...
an estimated 14 percent or more of American dogs have separation anxiety. The problem signs include home and self-destruction; prolonged whining, barking or drooling; or simply standing by the front door all day in a lonely, panting vigil. ('Nannycam'-type video recorders have captured all of the above.).
18. "...more than half the dogs on the drug [Reconcile] experienced short-term side effects, including lethargy, depression and loss of appetite."
19. "Modern owners are increasingly trying to 'sterilize' pet ownership [Dr. Dunbar says] ... trying to pharmacologically control dogs so that they don't act like dogs. 'What people want is a pet that is on par with a TiVo, that its activity, play and affection are on demand,' he says, 'Then, when they're done, they want to turn it off.'"
20. "Training is basically about forming a relationship, but for some people, that interactive process is now giving the dog a pill." [Dunbar]

21. "Long before Prozac, Paxil and the like were taken by people, they were tested for safety and efficacy in legions of laboratory creature. You can plausibly argue--and Dodman and others do--that humans are in fact using animal drugs."
a. German shepherds tend to tail-chase,
b. Doberman pinschers tend to suck their flanks
c. Cocker spaniels may have genetic underpinings for what looks like psychotic rage...

23. "...the causes of mood disorders and obsessions in humans and our pets aren't so different--faulty genetics, dreary environments..." [Dodman]

24. "All of the behavioral issues that we have created in ourselves, we are now creating in our pets because they live in the same unhealthy environments that we do... that's why there is a market for these drugs."
[unnamed pharmaceutical company executive]

25. The healthiest dogs in America today belong to homeless men and women, says the "dog whisperer." They're well enough behaved so they can move about without leashes, they get plenty of exercise, forage for food... and, in short, unlike the druggies, they're allowed to be dogs.


"Americans are spending millions on mood-altering drugs for their cats and dogs. Is it because we've driven them mad?"

Pill-Popping Pets, by James Vlahos, NY Times Mag. 7.13.08


father's day image from NY Times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Brain fitness class, neuron

Structure of typical neuron... image from Wikipedia.

Taking a Brain Fitness class. Notes from first three hours... learned that MRIs show "Islands of Inactivity" in the brains of those fried by marijuana.

Twelve or so students show up and, when asked why we are taking the class, one woman says she'd had a brain aneurism (sp?) and wanted "to find out what's left." Another had had electric shock therapy... others, like myself, were having problems remembering names. Insomnia can mess with the brain... poor diet, booze, drugs, trauma... all of us, for whatever reason, sensing some slippage. A loose connection of two...

Learned that there are as many brain cells (billions!) as there are visible (?) stars in the galaxy. That some dendrites are very long. Several inches... That giraffes, so said the instructor, have brain cells that are 6 to 8 feet long and that every cell in the brain is replaced every 7 or 8 years. So you have, so speak, a different brain now than you did eight years ago when George Bush first became President.

Talked to 81 year old man who lives in a Senior Trailer park. "There are funerals every day... they're going like flies... they're going like dying is going out of style."

Just as continents eons ago were once joined in a solid mass, for example, Australia and South America; China, Alaska and North America, so too were our brains once more of a piece, so said the instructor. "You generate new brain cells all the time... right up to the minute you die, you're generating new brain cells." And brain cells travel to where they are needed. The brain of a musician is different from the brain of an athlete. But if an athlete seeks to become a musician, the brain cells begin to accommodate. There's something called brain plasticity... instructor says, Until your last breath your mind can change.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Melancholy, Baron Wormser


by Baron Wormser*

Weakness—the pale succumbing to loneliness,
Refusing to admit anyone else, indulging
The blue perquisites of adolescence
Long past their sensible deliquescence.

He knew it but went on drinking and regretting,
Not calling his friends and regretting,
Making scenes over nothing and regretting.
It helped to make him despise himself,

Which was, he sensed, what he wanted. He was
Then, in his oblique way, at ease to wander
The city's brazen or quiet streets, conjuring
Random lives and how the slim arc
Of emotion was pulverized. Back home, he put
On some Monk, lay down, half-cried.

"Melancholy" by Baron Wormser, from Scattered Chapters: New and Selected Poems. © Sarabande Books, 2008. Reprinted here with permission of the poet.

*Wormser has received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize along with fellowships from Bread Loaf, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2000 he was writer in residence at the University of South Dakota. For eight years he led the Frost Place Seminar at the Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

L.A. Times, Tassajara, Big Sur fires...

[photo from L.A. Times]

Retired English teacher, I pride myself on an ability to recognize an author's style... Frost, Eliot, Pound... Hemingway, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth... yeah, I'm of another generation. So tonight, reading L.A. Times for news of the Tassajara, Big Sur fires... I'm startled to recognize the voice of a particular reporter, the author of a feature titled "Tempest in the Treetops," L.A. Times, Tues., Sept. 17, 2002. The subtitle to that Column One, front page feature has some bearing on today's calamity: "Some prize the blue gum eucalyptus for its beauty and scent, while others see a messy fire hazard. Battles are being waged across California."

I've read other pieces by that reporter, but had no idea who had written the following until I came across the lines,

"Hours before sunrise, the 20 remaining monks still meditate and chant.

"Buddhist tenets say that all things are impermanent, and fire can be a great teacher in that," said Alec Henderson, a former defense attorney from Los Angeles who forswore material wealth to take up the Zen creed of "one robe, one bowl."

Henderson left Wednesday with the task of safekeeping Ginger, the monastery dog. Now he's holding his breath, along with thousands of Zen followers and former Tassajara guests, hoping the monastery emerges intact.

But if the flames prove too tough to defeat, the monks plan to retreat along with the Forest Service firefighters.

"We won't risk anybody to save the buildings," said Devin Patel, a bearded 28-year-old who serves as the monastery's fire marshal.

"The buildings can burn, but you can't actually burn down Tassajara. Fire can never touch Tassajara's heart."

And then, somehow, I knew without looking who had written it, The L.A. Times feature writer, Eric Bailey. And, not far from Tassajara, ourselves living near a eucalyptus grove with the ever-present danger of Urban Wildfire, as opposed to forest fire, I somehow took heart in the Buddhist tenet that "all things are impermanent, and fire can be a great teacher in that." It's the first time in days that I felt uplifted, odd to say... almost inspired by something I read in a newspaper. One takes something away from the poems one reads, from fiction and nonfiction... Jesus, maybe it was the context and our own situation re: Urban wildfire... the risk... of loss... home and... all that's in it. And yet, and yet... [reading this over, retired English teacher, I'd mark it up... awful, awful writing... oh, fuck it! I'm just trying to make a point.]

Anyway, excerpting more from Eric Bailey's 6.27.08 story:

"...By Wednesday, flames were just three miles to the west. The sheriff ordered an evacuation, but a skeleton crew was allowed to stay.

They cut branches, raked leaves and laid out fire hose. They triple-checked the two big pumps that can be used to draw water from the 50,000-gallon swimming pool and the riffles of Tassajara Creek.

As ash fell from the sky, Mako Voelkel, the monastery's tenzo, or cook, was cutting fire breaks as well as vegetables.

"I'm feeling pretty good about it," she said. "We're prepared."

She and the others were working from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., with time off only for meals.

Fires hit the monastery twice in the last three decades. In 1977 and 1999, flames burned all around the complex. Each time, the losses were kept relatively minor, thanks to the firefighting monks and professional crews from the U.S. Forest Service.

That's auspicious: With its remote locale, the monastery can't get fire insurance.

David Zimmerman, Tassajara director, expects a rerun. The monks will don yellow, flame-resistant fire jackets and yellow helmets with protective shrouds and will work to stamp out spot fires. Everyone, he said, feels "happy and honored to be here right now."

Late Friday, help arrived. A Forest Service strike team pulled in, along with a 30-man crew of firefighting inmates. They'll be fed out of the monastery kitchen.

Hours before sunrise, the 20 remaining monks still meditate and chant.

"Buddhist tenets say that all things are impermanent, and fire can be a great teacher in that," said Alec Henderson, a former defense attorney from Los Angeles who forswore material wealth to take up the Zen creed of "one robe, one bowl."

Henderson left Wednesday with the task of safekeeping Ginger, the monastery dog. Now he's holding his breath, along with thousands of Zen followers and former Tassajara guests, hoping the monastery emerges intact.

But if the flames prove too tough to defeat, the monks plan to retreat along with the Forest Service firefighters.

"We won't risk anybody to save the buildings," said Devin Patel, a bearded 28-year-old who serves as the monastery's fire marshal.

"The buildings can burn, but you can't actually burn down Tassajara. Fire can never touch Tassajara's heart."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Killer Of Killer Trees Out On A Limb, Eucalyptus Worship vs. Urban Wildfire

Eucalyptus Worship versus Urban Wildfire. See Mike Neff's Web Del Sol / The Potomac / a journal of poetry and poetics (Washington, D.C.) for more on this story.

The issue: 1) we and our neighbors live near a grove of blue gum eucalyptus, AKA "gasoline trees"; 2) summer is now upon us and so, too, is the risk of urban wildfire; 3) after 20 years of debate, the issue is still unresolved.

Now, following the "Martin Fire," our neighbors and friends in Bonny Doon are moving back into their homes, i.e., those lucky enough to still have a home!

The story:

So there was the headline, “The killer of killer trees is out on a limb in Santa Cruz... with a lead, “Robert Sward, 68, of Santa Cruz, doesn’t look, sound or act like a tree murderer.”

The paper, The Sacramento Bee, after a few kind words about my poetry (“his verse, more lovely than any weed tree...”) went on, “One might suppose Robert would obey the city ordinance that protects ‘heritage trees.’ Instead, he flings it down and dances upon it.”

Yes, much as I love Santa Cruz, I’ve been at war with the city fathers, the majority of whom defend all trees no matter where they came from or what idiot planted them in the wrong hemisphere because only God can make a tree. [I'm paraphrasing here from a feature on blue gum eucs in Audubon Magazine.]

“These so-called progressives speak in a way that would delight Lewis Carroll,” I am quoted as saying. “A local version of the Duchess recently told me, ‘Diseased or not, two blue gum eucs constitute a grove... and the tree you removed was a member of a grove.’ All that was missing from our exchange was a queen to declare, ‘Off with his head!’”

The blue gum eucalyptus—or ‘gasoline tree,’ as firefighters call it—is an invasive exotic from Australia that evolved with fire. Fire doesn’t kill blue gums. Instead, it clears out the competition and opens their seed pods.

Soon after murdering a tree, I stood before Santa Cruz City Council, our lawyer present, facing a $9000.fine. For what? Removing one euc and lopping off a few branches from another.

The grove in question, the four or five shallow-rooted, fire-prone monsters endangering our home, is situated on our property, property on which we pay taxes. Our property, our trees, our taxes.

It all started in 1991 with the Oakland Hills/Berkeley fire which killed 20 people and caused more than $5 billion damage. Fire officials determined the blue gum euc was a key cause of that tragedy and also the fire storm that later struck Australia. Australia, where the shallow-rooted, unstable gasoline trees are also known as ‘widow-makers.’ Why? Because of their tendency to drop heavy branches or fall over without warning.

After reading about the Oakland Hills fire, I did a little research. What I learned was that eucs are the original burn baby burn trees. A little lightning, a careless smoker, a kid with a firecracker, that’s all it takes.

Hearing of our plight, which we share with hundreds of other Californians, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page feature, “Tempest in the Treetops... Some prize the blue gum eucalyptus for its beauty and scent, while others see a messy fire hazard. Battles are being waged across California.”

“After a decade of unsuccessfully fighting City Hall for permission to ax his grove, Sward—a poet, retired college professor and avowed environmentalist—resorted to a botanical form of civil disobedience. He hired a tree cutter to take them out.

“Scarcely had the buzz of the chain saw kicked up when city parks inspectors—‘tree police,’ as some locals call them—stepped in, halted the cutting and hit Sward with fines initially totaling $9,000.”

Maybe I should have known better when, in 1985, I moved here and learned that the most popular film ever shown in Santa Cruz was The King of Hearts, starring Alan Bates. In World War I, as a German army retreats, they booby-trap the whole town to explode. The locals flee and a gaggle of cheerful lunatics escape the asylum and take over.

Again, I love Santa Cruz. I love the people... so much so that prior to the 1991 Oakland Hills fire I might have been persuaded to strip naked, join hands with my friends, encircle and protect a euc tree—see photo above!

But then, after what I learned, innocent no more, I tasted the true nature of the tree.

Yes, I was once politically correct. A stoned out of his mind innocent. Yes, yes, and holier than thou. That was in the days before political correctness became a force that would determine the outcome of elections. That was back before I became “an enemy of the people.” That is, an enemy of the blue gum euc. Fucking trees.

You don’t run for office, certainly not in this arena, unless you’re PC and pro-euc. Hence the power of those who would fine us $9,000.

That, in brief, is the story. True, City Council later reduced the fine to $1500., which our lawyer suggested we pay.

“All of which has Santa Cruz’s tree-killing poet [and his neighbors] bewildered,” says the L.A. Times. Yes, it’s true. I am bewildered.

“Sward doesn’t see the sense of it: These are his trees. This is his danger.

“’There are people in Santa Cruz, Sward said, ‘who believe the blue gum euc is more important than human life.’” And that’s not an exaggeration. An esteemed arbortist who himself works for the city told me, “There are people on Santa Cruz City Council who wouldn’t move a eucalyptus if it were lying across the body of a small child.”

Anyway, the blue gum eucs are still there. The grove overhanging our home is still there. The politically correct are still in charge. Nice people, well-intentioned. And so it is we, and thousands of other Californians, face another year with our homes and our lives, and our children’s lives, still at risk.

We're talking here about urban wild fires. "Okay, so what would constitute an emergency whereby we could chop 'em down?" I once asked a politically saavy fire chief. "Well, the trees would actually have to be on fire. Then you could remove 'em!" he replied.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Beverly Hills, 90210

[I have my daughter Hannah Sward's permission to run this brief excerpt from a work in progress, Diary of a Non-Starlet]

"On the Set of Beverly Hills, 90210”

Author’s note: Chloe is an L.A.-based, aspiring 22 year old actress with a Master of Dramatic Arts degree working as a TV and movie extra -- and stripper -- while she waits to break into the Hollywood scene. What follows is the opening section of a book titled Diary of a Non-Starlet. A work of fiction, the book begins January 3, 1997.

January 3 - Breaking in

Some people do this for a living. They’re the ones with portable lawn chairs, a small wardrobe they carry around everywhere on hangers and a cellular phone to make endless calls about the next day’s work. Some even have a call-in service that they pay for and that guarantees them five days of work each week as an extra. They’re the “professionals.” The average day is eight to twelve hours on the set. The first eight hours pays $50. for non-union and $100. for union members. Anything after that is overtime.

Naturally, everyone tries to get into the union and not only for the money. Union members get treated with a tad more respect. Union members are one rung up from the bottom.

For example, on some shows non-union extras get paper bag lunches while union members are allowed to walk over to the catering truck and eat whatever and whenever they want. There’s always a professional chef on hand, pancakes, grilled rosemary chicken… you name it!

When it happens to be a big cattle call, it feels quite barbaric. I feel kind of embarrassed ambling over to the catering truck in front of all the other extras. Like I’m some princess. Sometimes some famished soul asks me to bring back a hot roast beef sandwich. I hate it. If I were to say no, it’s like I’m some sort of Nazi. And if I say yes, I feel like some sort of spy smuggling contraband over the border.

Most of us haven’t given up hope of one day becoming what we went to school and trained for – to find paying work as actors and actresses with lines.

They don’t say ‘Extras’ when they call you, they just say, ‘Background.’ It sounds harsh, but really that’s all you are. And so you go where you’re told. You become what you are called, “Background.”

Mr. Megaphone picks up his instrument. “Background,” he bellows, and everyone puts down their books, magazines, junk food, etc., climbs out of their lawn chairs, and mope over to the designated spot. My habit of making the best of every situation doesn’t apply to this lousy job and I hate the happy nerds, the enthusiastic extras who jump up and try to look as if they’re having a good time.

Yet here I am . . . but what’s the appeal?

I get to read and write and there’s lots of leisure time and I don’t mind getting paid for that, even if it’s only $100. I’d rather do this than wait tables . . . so I’m doing this while waiting for a chance to act, which is what makes this extra work somehow endurable.

And it’s a continual process. You may land one acting job, but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be another and so you still have to do something in between . . . jobs in between jobs to pay your rent.

[sample... more to come...]

(copyright (c) 2008, Hannah Sward)


Hannah Sward lives in Los Angeles and is a recent graduate of Antioch University. Another sample of her writing, "Starving," may be found in Alimentum, The Literature of Food, Issue 4, 2007. Hannah's stories have appeared in a number of online publications.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sleeping Homeless Princess

Gloria Alford's piece, The Jaded Princess, appears above (at the top). The original, Gloria's inspiration (hers is consciously modeled after the jade burial suit of Chinese Princess Tou Wan, Han Dynasty, 140 B.C.), appears below.

Now for something completely different.

Moving from Emily Gould, Gawker and the NY Times (yesterday's posting) to something closer to home. We're re-visiting Gloria Alford's sculpture The Jaded Princess, now on display at Santa Cruz’ Museum of Art and History. She's part of the museum-wide MAH exhibit, Ying: Inspired by the Art and History of China, scheduled to end July 1. After that date the oft-exhibited Princess will be technically homeless.

At the opening, Paul Figueroa, the Museum’s Executive Director, spoke of the "breath-taking impact" of Gloria's Jaded Princess, which, "as a replica of an historical artifact transferred to the contemporary immediately sets the 'tone' for the gallery."

Following a showing at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, the director, June Braucht, wrote, “A lot of excitement left the Museum when we returned your exhibition. I really hated to see it leave.The show was one of the very few ‘modern’ shows we’ve had that was as popular with the conservatives as it was with the more avant garde enthusiasts. All comments were favorable as is evidenced in your guest book.”

Earlier, exhibited in a show titled Technology and Art, Metro San Jose wrote, “The show could begin and end with Gloria Alford’s The Jaded Princess and have said it all. Lying in state in her Plexiglas coffin, the figure, constructed of meticulously wired, jade-green computer rchips and soldered lead, replete with a scalloped headdress of round chips the color of tarnished bronze, calls to mind Buddhist temple sculpture, medieval church monuments and mummies—icons of a culture’s revered elite, studied by anthroplogists for insight into past practices...”

Sarah Handler, author of Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture, writes, “Mirroring the famous burial suit of the Chinese princess Tou Wan, constructed of pieces of jade which, like a great cathedral, took a generation to carve, Gloria Alford suits her princess out in a stunning coat of computer chips. Using lifeless chips, she brings face and body alive in serene beauty. With the electricity of creation, she resurrects the princess for our time. Inspired by the second-century B.C.E. jade suit, she transforms a Chinese tradition into an original and imaginative work of art.”

The Princess draws rave reviews and, retired English teacher, I've been lazy. I'm the composer of business letters, self-appointed agent. So I keep promising I'll write on my wife's behalf, approach some likely venues, curators, directors... "What about the National Museum of Women in the Arts?" I ask. "Or that Computer Museum in Palo Alto? Or the Tech Museum in San Jose? Or Google, say? Or Intel? Sun? Oracle? Microsoft... Bill and Melinda Gates?"

We think of loaning the piece with a footnote that it could be purchased. I dunno. Other things get in the way. Even now. Here I am working on my blog. The show ends June 30. I'm gonna make some coffee. I'm gonna write some letters.

Gloria's piece appears above (at the top). The original, Gloria's inspiration (hers is consciously modeled after the jade burial suit of Chinese Princess Tou Wan, Han Dynasty, 140 B.C.), appears below.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Exposed, Emily Gould

Blog-Post Confidential

Emily Gould feature in NY Times Magazine, 5.25.08

Sit down with the Sunday Times planning on skimming, racing through the news, week in review, book section, etc., and getting on to The Day. Stuff that needs to get done. My To Do list. Instead, get caught up with Emily Gould's "Blog-Post Confidential" feature. Then see how, for me at least, it connects with panic attacks, depression and, strange as it may sound, soul-retrieval. I haven't forgotten what this blog, drswardscureformelancholia, is about, and skirt the issue as I may, it's there. As is the idea of a cure, namely, that the cure for melancholia (dramatic and implausible as that may sound) is to be found in the recovery of...

If psychology is the study of the soul, psyche (soul or spirit) - ology (the study of), some think the "answer," if there is an answer, is in the recovery of what has been lost. Speaking from experience, zombie-days, zombie-hood, well, I've been writing about that in the new book*. And the intersection between zombie-hood and what, for want of a better term, I call "soul retrieval." There's at least one book on the subject, a book titled "Soul Retrieval." So, I'm not the first and there's nothing original in what I'm suggesting. Anyway, back to the Sunday Times. I highlight a couple items from Emily Gould's "Exposed."

1. "I think most people who maintain blogs are doing it for some of the same reasons I do: they like the idea that there's a place where a record of their existence is kept...

2. "But because we were so busy, we continued to I.M. most of the time, even when we were sitting right next to each other. Soon it stopped seeming weird to me when one of us would type a joke and the other one would type 'Hahahahahaha' in lieu of actually laughing.

3. "I was initially put off by Julia' naked attention-whoring--'Attention is my drug,' she often confessed.

4. "A week later, I found myself lying on the floor of the bathroom in the Gawker office... felled by a panic attack that put me out of commission for the rest of the day.

Famous for 15 people

5. "Whenever I left this comfort zone, I would be seized by one of my irrational, heart-pounding meltdowns, which I would studiously conceal from my fellow subway passengers or pedestrians. The panic attacks were about a desire to be invisible, but if I showed any sign of having one, everyone would pay attention to me."

* Sample of work on the subject appears now in Bear Flag Republic, Prose Poems and Poetics from California, edited by Christopher Buckley and Gary Young. Four of my poems in this anthology, including "A Face to Sadden God" -- with a section which begins, "There are three parts to the human soul..."

Saturday, May 24, 2008



Take #1

Braided blonde hair
white and pink barrettes
Bette Davis gorgeous
I hug her
dreamy daughter with no make-up
silver skull and crossbones
three or four others in each ear
rings in her navel
rings on her thumbs
gentle moonchild
“pal” she announces
to “Porno for Pyros”
formerly the group “Jane’s Addiction”
“Nothing’s Shocking”
with Perry Farrell
Dave Navarro on guitar
and Stephen Perkins
on drums
Ain’t No Right they sing.
“What are you,
some kind of groupy?” I ask.
She says nothing.
Just turns up the volume.
Been Caught Stealing
they sing.

I hold her
Wet ‘n’ Wild lip gloss
diamond stud earrings
and glitter on her cheeks

Wan, she’s looking wan
my dancing daughter

Hannah Davi –a new name–
walk-on in the movie Day Of Atonement
with Christopher Walken

And a part in a Levitz Furniture ad
(“it’s work”)
and a part in an MCI commercial
(“Best Friends”)
breaking in
Brotherhood Of Justice

a Swiss Alps bar-maid
(“classic blonde Gretel”)
in a Folger’s Coffee commercial

“Grunge is in,” she says
visiting Santa Cruz,
“any Goodwills around?”

* * *

“crowning” says the doctor

“Hannah” says her mother
“the name means ‘grace’”

Two-year-old drooling
as I toss her into space
and back
she falls
and back
into space again

Flawless teeth and perfect smile
one blue eye slightly larger than the other
her three-thousand miles away mother
still present as
two as one
two breathing together
we three breathe again as one
Hannah O Hannah

(Reprinted from The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press, 2004,
and Four Incarnations, Coffee House Press, 1991)

Friday, May 23, 2008



Her third eye is strawberry jam

has a little iris in it

her eyelids

are red

she's sleepy

and the milk

has gone down

the wrong way.

I've just had breakfast

with the smallest person in the world.

(Reprinted from The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press, 2004,
and Four Incarnations, Coffee House Press, 1991)

One critic dismissed the HANNAH poem above as "sentimental." Sentimentality is said to be the exaggeration of feeling, feeling for its own sake. But what if you really feel it and feel it in the way the images and tone, etc., suggest you feel it?

There's another kind of exaggeration: opting for easy irony, an irony that will impress people though you may or may not really feel what you're setting down on the page. You'll get more attention in a writers' workshop with irony than you will with, dare I say it? honesty, saying what you're really feeling.

Above all else in a writers' workshop you want to be "cool." The inner circle of most workshops is made up of people you can count on to be "cool." Cooler than you, cooler than me, cooler than thou.

At the Iowa Writers' Workshop sentimentality was to be avoided at all costs. We were taught to be _anything_ but sentimental. Irony was OK because if you were ironic you couldn't be held accountable for anything you might have been feeling. That is, no one could accuse you of being sentimental and, if they were to accuse you of being sentimental, you could always say, "No, no, I was just being ironic. Surely you're not taking me seriously!"

If there's irony, you can more easily defend yourself. Further, the use of irony implies there's another level, maybe several levels, of meaning. We all want to write poems with more than one level of meaning.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Uncle Dog: The Poet at 9

Photo by Lynn Lundstrum Swanger

Kai is serving here as place holder. He has the attitude and manner of famed *Uncle Dog, though not the "mongrelness" of that legendary animal, a nine-year-old's vision of a Chicago garbage man's dog.

Uncle Dog was the first animal I ever saw who seemed to have some sense of purpose, dignity, pride, and self-regard. Fuck the human species. This Heinz 57 mutt refused to cringe or bark, or in any way even acknowledge other dogs. ‘Uncle Dog.’ He was the one who rode around with the once-weekly garbage man. This was Chicago back in the mid-1940s, and we lived on the second floor of a two-flat apartment. Rent: $65. a month. And the best of it was our back porch where I hung out with animals. But never my favorite, the garbage man's dog, dog of dogs!

I think of him now in our age of "companion animals," "designer dogs," a time when 69 million American households have dogs--73.9 million dogs! Dogs. Dogs. 39 billion dollars a year goes for the care and feeding of American pets.

Anyway, more than any family member or school teacher or, for that matter, yoga instructor... it was Uncle Dog who taught me the importance of carriage and self-regard. Self-respect. We’d gotten dogs from that notorious Cook County prison (c. 1940), the Chicago Humane Society and, no fault of their own, those canines were a sorry lot. Three hungry days in a cage and, broken-spirited... either they were“selected” by some dog-lover or were gassed. That's where we got some real "suspects," canines picked up off the street... dogs without street smarts, without credentials, without license. without class ...victims of human self-regard, the ruling class, "human exceptionalism."

Uncle Dog. The mongrel prince of princes. Dog of dogs.

In 1957 at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop I wrote the thing. And, surprise! it got accepted by the Chicago Review. Then the Chicago Review Anthology, Hayden Carruth’s The Voice That is Great Within Us, David Swanger's The Poem as Process, and some others. And, in low moments, needing publication to nourish my ego, to do for me whatever needs doing... needing inspiration, a voice from the past... no barking, no, speaking rather...

I can hear him now: Woof, woof! Woof fuckin' woof!


I did not want to be old Mr.
Garbage man, but uncle dog
who rode sitting beside him.

Uncle dog had always looked
to me to be truck-strong
wise-eyed, a cur-like Ford

Of a dog. I did not want
to be Mr. Garbage man because
all he had was cans to do.

Uncle dog sat there me-beside-him
emptying nothing. Barely even
looking from garbage side to side:

Like rich people in the backseats
of chauffeur-cars, only shaggy
in an unwagging tall-scrawny way.

Uncle dog belonged any just where
he sat, but old Mr. Garbage man
had to stop at everysingle can.

I thought. I did not want to be Mr.
Everybody calls them that first.
A dog is said, Dog! Or by name.

I would rather be called Rover
than Mr. And sit like a tough
smart mongrel beside a garbage man.

Uncle dog always went to places
unconcerned, without no hurry.
Independent like some leashless

Toot. Honorable among scavenger
can-picking dogs. And with a bitch
at every other can. And meat:

His for the barking. Oh, I wanted
to be uncle dog--sharp, high fox-
eared, cur-Ford truck-faced

With his pick of the bones.
A doing, truckman's dog
and not a simple child-dog

Nor friend to man, but an uncle
travelling, and to himself--
and a bitch at every second can.

(from Four Incarnations, Coffee House Press, 1991 and The Collected Poems,
Black Moss Press, 2006, Literary Press Group, distributor.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

2008 Santa Cruz Film Festival, Kerouac, Big Sur...

Fri., May 9, World Premier of ONE FAST MOVE OR I'M GONE: KEROUAC'S BIG SUR, A DOCUMENTARY by Curt Worden, Del Mar Theater. Hundreds of people turn out, $20. a ticket, standing room only... our little town, pop. 56,000, with two, three film festivals a year.

Headline in Metro Santa Cruz: On the Rocks, The Santa Cruz Film Festival opens with Jack Kerouac's Big Sur breakdown.

Based on Kerouac's 1962 book, Big Sur, the film, with extraordinary footage of Big Sur, the scene around Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin near Bixby Canyon... Kerouac's agent, Sterling Lord; poet Michael McClure; Ferlinghetti; Carolyn Cassady; Patti Smith... all making an appearance. One of the finest documentaries I've seen... and Santa Cruz, situated half way between San Francisco and Big Sur, draws an enthusiastic audience, average age, I would guess, early 40s... scattering of younger people, scattering of folks in their 70s and older...

Metro SC says, "The Big Sur trip was a farewell to the three-cornered love [Kerouac] had for the Cassadys. Neither Jack nor Neal would make it out of the 1960s alive. Ultimately, poet Gregory Corso's judgment of Big Sur seems the sanest: 'He needs help.'"

Press Release:

Welcome to the 2008 Santa Cruz Film Festival

The Santa Cruz Film Festival is a growing international festival that fosters cross cultural exchange by screening independent films and producing multi-disciplined art events throughout the year.
Since the inaugural year (honored by The Downtown Business Assoc. as the Cultural Event of the Year) our programming has championed voices and stories that are often left out of mainstream cinema. We have presented films from 5 continents.

The Santa Cruz Film Festival presents nine days of non-stop, truly independent film screenings from May 9-17, 2008. Venues include: The Del Mar, The Rio Theatre, The Museum of Art and History, The Regal Riverfront Twin, Community TV, and the Cayuga Vault.

This year the Festival will present over 140 films from 26 countries, 17 World Premieres, and 4 US Premieres The fest will screen 41 Documentaries, 76 Narratives, 15 Animation, 21 Experimental, 43 Student 22 Local Grown, and 12 - 18 years of age films all of which will be in consideration for SCFF’s Audience Awards. The Jury winning documentary will receive a World Premier on Link TV.

Our community is reflected in our programming. 20% of our films are internationally produced, 10% are locally produced, and approximately 50% are produced or directed by women. 15%-20% are programmed for a GLBT audience. 10%-15% are by or about Latinos. 10% are youth-produced (under 18 years of age) including by students at high schools in Watsonville, Aptos, Scotts Valley, and Santa Cruz.

According to the Santa Cruz County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the SCFF has brought 1 million dollars to Santa Cruz County businesses since its inception in 2001. Over 23% of festival attendees come from outside of the county. The festival promotes Santa Cruz globally, while contributing to the economy and enhancing the collective cultural awareness locally.

The Santa Cruz Film Festival strives to engage in cultural and artistic diplomacy.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came To Canada in Vietnam War Era

A Migration of Poets

Mail brings copy of new anthology Crossing Lines - Poets Who Came To Canada in the Vietnam Era, Seraphim Editions, Canada.

Edited by Massachusetts-born poet Allan Briesmaster and L.A. -born Steven Michael Berzensky (Mick Burrs), Crossing Lines includes the work of 76 men and women who grew up in the U.S. and then immigrated to Canada in the Vietnam War era (1965-75).

As noted in the Preface (A Migration of Poets), “…thousands of American women also emigrated during the historic period of upheaval and change in both countries… about a third of our Crossing Lines poets are women.”

And, as the editors point out, “Although the Vietnam war and the Draft and anti-war protests were prominent in the news of the time, individual circumstances differed greatly, even among those wishing to avoid ‘crossing the line’ into military service. These varied circumstances are in plain view in some of the poems here as well as in the contributors’ bios. At least two of the poets (Kolos, Sward) actually served in the U.S. armed forces” [I served in the combat zone in U.S. Navy during the Korean War and, exempt from the draft, came to serve as Poet in Residence at the University of Victoria (1969 - 1972) before moving to Toronto].

Apart from the draft, many came to Canada seeking opportunity or a fresh start; many were university students or, like myself, teachers…

Judging by their poetry, many contributors seem to have had little involvement with the politics of the day, or even with the counter-culture… they write instead of their feelings and experiences in making the transition—loneliness, a sense of separation, a lowering of expectations, the difficulty of finding work… and some write of going back as more difficult than leaving.

What did these people contribute to Canada? The editors observe, “One quality that characterizes this particular immigrant group is a dynamic individualism, a widely acknowledged American trait which they each brought undeclared across the border, prodding them to contribute something distinctive to Canada’s culture."

Press Release (see below)

Representing the Best of Small Press

P.O. Box 3471, Stn. C. Hamilton ON L8H 7M1
Voice: 905-545-5274 Fax: 905-545-5208 E-mail:

May 2008

Anthology Reflects America’s Loss, Canada’s Gain

Seraphim Editions ( is proud to publish Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era, an unprecedented 256-page, 76-poet anthology of poetry by men and women who grew up in the United States and emigrated to Canada during the years 1965-75.

Some of the poets came north to avoid crossing the line into military service; a few came after completing their stint; and still others, who were exempt from the Draft, chose Canada for a fresh start in life, many of them as students and teachers. Individual histories, literary careers, and writing styles differ widely, but all were fundamentally affected by their change of country.

Crossing Lines explores numerous themes related both to the turbulent decade 1965-75 and to our own time: including personal responses to the Vietnam War itself, reflections on war in general and war today, thoughts on leaving home and familiar places, memoirs of arrival and a new beginning, and, above all, a longing for peace. Many of these writers have achieved great literary distinction, and as a group they represent a cultural phenomenon which has been insufficiently recognized both in Canada and the U.S.

Publisher Maureen Whyte notes: “This book reveals some of the voices which helped to shape the styles and themes of Canadian poetry in the late 20th Century and beyond. I am very excited to contribute such an important addition to Canada’s literary legacy.” The moving and outspoken poems collected here will interest students and lovers of poetry on both sides of the border, and will be uniquely valuable to Canadian Studies programs, and to historians.

Founded in 1995, Seraphim Editions publishes the works of established and emerging writers from across Canada.

For more information about Crossing Lines and upcoming readings in Canada and the U.S., or to arrange an interview with editors Allan Briesmaster or Steven Michael Berzensky, please contact Trudi at The Book Band,


Maureen Whyte, Publisher
Seraphim Editions
238 Emerald Street North
Hamilton, Ontario
Canada L8L 5K8

Telephone: 905-525-5509
Facsimile: 905-525-0332

Monday, May 5, 2008

Paul Blackburn, Re-visited

Paul Blackburn about to lift rock... mid-1960s, probably in vicinity of Aspen, Colorado.

Link to Jerry Rothenberg and more on Paul Blackburn...

With thanks to University of Pennsylvania Professor Al Filreis...

Nearly half a century after Paul Blackburn read these lines [see below] aloud in one of our kitchen colloquies, the lines are fresh as ever. I can still hear his voice. And, certainly, Paul was an influence on the work I was doing then, Kissing the Dancer, Cornell Univ. Press, 1964, and now, God is in the Cracks, Black Moss Press, 2006.

As for generosity of spirit, Paul was the first poet I met who seemed to have that quality and, 50 years later, he’s still pretty much at the top of the list. Yeah, and to Paul’s name I’d add perhaps two or three others.

Paul Blackburn’s 1954 “statement” of poetics was published in The Parallel Voyages, Sun-Gemini Press, 1987.
Please see The Parallel Voyages for correct formatting.

“My poetry may not be typically American, or at least in matter, not
solely so: but I think it does make use of certain techniques which, even
when not invented by American poets, find their particular exponents
there in contemporary letters, from Pound & Doctor Williams, to younger
writers like Paul Carroll or Duncan or Creeley.

"Techniques of juxtaposition.
Techniques of speech rhythms,
sometimes very intense,
sometimes developed slowly, as
one would have
conversation with a friend.

"Personally, I affirm two things:
the possibility of warmth & contact
in the human relationship :
as juxtaposed against the materialistic pig of a technological world,
where relationships are only ‘useful’ i.e., exploited, either
psychologically or materially.

"...the possibility of s o n g
within that world: which is like saying ‘yes’ to sunlight.

"On the matter of song: I believe there must be a return toward the
musical structure of poetry, just as there must be, for certain people at
least, a return to warmth within a relationship.

"However impractical that may seem in a society controlled in some of its
most intimate aspects by monstrous, which are totally irresponsible,
corporations, organized for the greatest gain of the most profit: and whose
natural growth, like that of any organism, is toward monopoly,
self-support, self-completion, self-
and eventually self-competition and self-destruction.

"In a world that is so quickly losing its individuals, it can only be the
individuals who persist, who can work any change of direction, i.e. control
the machines, or destroy them.

"Machines can be very beneficent as means

"to a better
(materially better)
life, as either
democratizing or socializing agents.
But as a means to control for the limited number of men who now own them,

"(but the president or general manager of the corporation
really owns nothing but his own salary (and his power) so that
even the controlling minds of these gigantic corporate machines
are irresponsible. That is, not subject to the effects
of their own decisions)

the personnel, the individuals
are replaceable, all the way to the top. The machine, the organisation, has
itself created the position and will function without the individual, has,
in that sense created the person to fill the ‘p o s i t i o n’
and its own needs) so that
when, in these upper reaches, the ‘organisation’ the machine itself
becomes master, it can only mean disaster, global and particular.

"I do not claim that a greater frequency of rhyme than is now made use of
in American poetry will, in time, set things right.

"Only that if a man could sing the poems his poets write

— and could understand them — and if

"the poets would sing something from their guts, rather than
the queasy contents of same,
then that man would stand a better
chance, of being a whole man, than
him who stands or sits and says but ‘Yes’ all day.

"Enough man to stand where it is necessary to take a stand.

"To give
and man enough to receive, LOVE,
when he finds it offered.

"To take the sun and the goods of the earth, while it lasts.
and to
fight in whatever way he can
the monstrous machines that try, and will try, to

"o b l i t e r a t e him, for

$1 more."


[See preceding April 28 post for more on Paul Blackburn].

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jerome Rothenberg webcast, Paul Blackburn...

Poet / Translator Paul Blackburn

re: Jerry Rothenberg webcast - University of Pennsylvania - Writers House Fellows Program

Invited to email question(s) for Jerry Rothenberg April 29 webcast, I think of my old friend Paul Blackburn, poet and translator who died in 1971 at age 44.  Given Rothenberg's work with Ethnopoetics, I recall Blackburn introducing, opening up a whole new world of poetry... reading aloud for me his translations from Spanish of the medieval epic Poema del Mio Cid, of the poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca, Octavio Paz and the short stories of Julio Cortazar. Paul at the time (mid-1960s) was Cortazar's literary agent in the U.S.

Question: "Paul Blackburn was a dear and valued friend. I knew him in New York in the 1960s and it was Paul who introduced me and other writers to Julio Cortazar, Garcia Lorca, Octavio Paz... and Proven├žal poetry. To what extent did Paul Blackburn influence you and your work with Ethnopoetics?"

Rothenberg's moving response is now online--one can tap into the Writers House archives for his reply--but two points in particular stand out: 1) that Paul Blackburn, born the same year as Robert Creeley, "is the equal of Creeley as a poet," 2) and that Paul is something of a "lost poet," one who died young and did not put himself forward as Creeley had done, commenting and serving as spokesman for the Black Mountain School, for example. Paul chose not to align himself, or to allow others to align him with, the Black Mountain School or any other school. 

Clayton Eshleman writes of Blackburn, "Many, not just a few, but many poets alive today are beholden to him for a basic artistic kindness, for readings, yes, and for advice, but more humanly for a kind of comradeship that very few poets are willing to give." The readings he organized were the direct progenitors to the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery.

As beneficiary of Paul's generosity, as someone who spent time with him and read (thanks to Paul) at St. Mark's Church on the Bowery, I feel this need to pay my respects... make some long overdue acknowledgment...

Wikipedia's entry on Paul Blackburn notes that he "played an important part in the poetry community, particularly in New York, where he helped fledgling poets develop and provided emotional support and opportunities to read for both unknown and established writers in the various reading series with which he was involved. He organized readings that offered work from the Beats, the New York School, the Deep Image Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets. But he was, let us say, an Independent. A non-aligned poet. Living in New York, organizing readings, etc., he was passionately involved and, like Creeley and others, at the center of the 1960s literary scene. But he was also his own man.  

As poetry editor of The Nation he published a wide range of poets and, in the mid-60s, he directed workshops at the Aspen Writers' Conference.


In his book, AVATARS! my friend Bruce Damer defines the term, "Avatars are digital representations of yourself on the Internet that enable you to explore virtual worlds..." J.J. Webb created this particular avatar for use with the animated poetry presentations he's doing with some of my recent work for Blues Cruzio Cafe. "Beau Blue Presents - Contemporary Poetry - Animations"