Thursday, February 28, 2008

Heart, Aphrodite, Valentine, Buttocks

My friend, the Urban Dictionary

This post comes courtesy the Urban Dictionary. When I'm feelin' blue, as I am now following a three-day, time-wasting disaster with the NEA $25,000. Creative Writing Fellowship debacle--three days trying unsuccessfully to download the application form--I turn not to drink but to the (online) Urban Dictionary. Solace. The heart went out of me. I lost heart. I gave up. What did I lose actually? My heart. My fucking heart. So, Urban Dictionary to the rest-cue, sorry, rescue!

The weekend's coming up and I want my heart back.

Heart: "The familiar double-lobed heart symbol seen on Valentine's Day cards and candy was inspired by the shape of the human female buttocks as seen from the rear. The twin lobes of the stylized version correspond roughly to the paired auricles and ventricles (chambers) of the anatomical heart... The ancient Greeks and Romans originated the link between human female anatomy and the heart shape. The Greeks associated beauty with the curves of the human female behind. The Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, was beautiful all over, but was unique in that her buttocks were especially beautiful. Her shapely rounded hemispheres were so appreciated by the Greeks that they built a special temple Aphrodite Kallipygos, which literally meant, 'Goddess with the Beautiful Buttocks.' This was probably the only religious building in the world that was dedicated to buttock worship... Valentine's Day-type heart symbols first became popular in 15th Century Europe as a suit designation on playing cards. It is possible that the Renaissance fondness for classical literature and history brought forth the Greek interest in the female buttocks shape, which also mirrors the basic outline of female breasts."

And when I turned 60, I turned to Strunk & White's Elements of Style... see "Turning 60," p.213-214, The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press. I'm a fucking retired English teacher. What else would I do?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

NEA $25,000. Creative Writing Fellowship

Funding Opportunity Number, 2008NEA03LFCW

Funding Opportunity Number, 2008NEA03LFCW

"Before you apply through for the first time," says the NEA Application Calendar, "you must be registered. Register with

* It is a multi-step process.
* Takes time; allow a few days.
* Must be completed before you can submit your application."

This year it wasn't simply a matter of not getting the grant (which is usually the case, though I've had some good luck in the past), but of trying and trying, and not even getting the application. Three days on the computer, locating the Funding Opportunity Number, 2008NEA03LFCW, downloading latest Adobe Reader and other software to "read" the application (pot of gold at end of rainbow), getting e-Authentication User ID, returning to the website, selecting "Home," going back to the ORC eAuthentication main page, selecting the blue "Credential Check" button, entering the User ID and password. Then my password gets rejected, then my User name gets rejected, then I start the process all over again... then my Safari browser crashes...

Back to the ORC e-authentication help desk... four hours, five hours... and I've written software user manuals for a living, I thought I knew how to do this stuff. Grow fascinated with the stupefying process, forget even why I'm doing it... more and more investment of time, figure "I can't quit now..."

I imagine Franz Kafka putting in for a writing fellowship... Kafka at I call my friend David, more skillful and versatile with handling himself online... He too is stymied, but knows another person, a fellow poet, who has managed to download and complete the application.

"You're 74 years old," says my wife. "They're not going to give it to you anyway. They want younger people."

"But if it's this hard to get an application," I say, "the odds are fewer people will apply. Therefore, I'll have a better chance."

NEA Day 3 - she brews an espresso, suggests phoning for hard copy application, which I do. Get directed, then re-directed back to the very place on the website where I've spent all these hours... "Look, sir, they're no longer providing hard copy application forms," says a lady on the other end of the line.

Back to work. And I have just the poem, "Woof Fuckin' Woof," one of the new ones I've been seeking to set aside time to complete.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Poetry Workshop(s) #2, Professionalization

With Roy Mash, Events Coordinator
for Marin Poetry Center.

The Professionalization of Poetry - Thurs., Feb. 21, 7:30 PM - Falkirk Cultural Center, San Rafael.
Panelists include Becky Foust (above), David Alpaugh (top right) and myself.

Given the topic, The Professionalization of Poetry, David Alpaugh begins by turning to Wikipedia for a definition of Professionalization:

"Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation transforms itself into a true 'profession of the highest integrity and competence.' This process tends to involve establishing acceptable qualifications, a professional body or association to oversee the conduct of members of the profession and some degree of demarcation of the qualified from unqualified amateurs. This creates 'a hierarchical divide between the knowledge-authorities in the professions and a deferential citizenry.' This demarcation is often termed 'occupational closure', as it means that the profession then becomes closed to entry from outsiders, amateurs and the unqualified: a stratified occupation 'defined by professional demarcation and grade.' The origin of this process is said to have been with guilds during the Middle Ages, when they fought for exclusive rights to practice their trades as journeymen, and to engage unpaid apprentices.

"Professions also possess power, prestige, high income, high status and privileges; their members soon come to comprise an elite class of people, cut off to some extent from the common people, and occupying an elevated station in society: 'a narrow elite...a hierarchical social system: a system of ranked orders and classes.'
The professionalization process tends to establish the group norms of conduct and qualification of members of a profession and tends also to insist that members of the profession achieve 'conformity to the norm' and abide more or less strictly with the established procedures and any agreed code of conduct, which is policed by professional bodies, for 'accreditation assures conformity to general expectations of the profession.'

[from Wikipedia]

- Someone at the Poetry Center later commented on our panel, "Rebecca Foust was thorough in her objections and rebuttals (like the lawyer that she is); Robert Sward gave a sweet, scruffy flavor to the event as someone who's been around the poetry scene for 50 years..." okay, but still trying to figure out what "scruffy" means... physical appearance? Presentation?

- The crux of the matter is this, that writing workshops end up teaching poets to write poems that will pass muster in the workshop, the little "hot house..." writing poems to please the other students. More than anything else... it's insecurity, that's a constant in every workshop I've sat in on, taught, been a student in... too often that's the emotion than overrides all others... so, out of fear, so it seems to me, people too often are too willing to write to please. Love me, love my poem. Love me, love my poem.

- For me, the best thing about the three years I spent in Iowa City – I was later invited back to teach -
was the importance of poetry... that there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t writing or somehow interacting with others who were doing the same. And I had plenty of insecurity. I just didn't sign on to the prevailing aesthetic, Brooks & Warren, John Crowe Ransom, the New Criticism... this was half a century ago. Shit!

- I’m old enough (older than John McCain!) to have heard Robert Frost at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (c. 1960) say calling oneself a poet was a form of arrogance. Frost said a seat companion on a train once asked him what he did for a living. Frost answered saying he was a farmer.

- Never call yourself a poet, he said. That’s for other people to do. One has to earn the designation. You’re a poet for other reasons than the fact you've earned an MFA.

- But what do I know? I’ve been writing and publishing since 1957... I have doubts... I know at some level I haven't changed since I began scribbling aboard LST 914 during the Korean War. I'm a wannabe. Wannabe. Wannabe. Wannabe. Fine. I don't give a fuck. As long as I can go on writing.

[more to come...]


David Alpaugh’s essay “The Professionalization of Poetry” was serialized in the Jan/Feb and March/April 2003 issues of Poets & Writers Magazine and drew hundreds of emails and wide discussion on the Internet. Alpaugh's fiction, drama, and criticism have appeared in more than a hundred literary journals and anthologies. His first collection, Counterpoint, won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize from Story Line Press, and his chapbooks have been published by Coracle Books and Pudding House. One of the Bay Area's most popular featured readers, he has taught at the University of California Berkeley Extension and hosts a monthly reading series at Valona Delicatessen in Crockett. His second collection Heavy Lifting appeared earlier this year from Alehouse Press. "The Professionalization of Poetry" is available on-line at Huston Poetry Review.

Rebecca Foust, a former activist and grassroots political organizer for students with learning disorders, is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry in Warren Wilson’s low residency program. Her book about raising a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, Dark Card, won the 2007 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Award (Texas Review Press), and her full length manuscript was a finalist in three national book competitions, including Poetry’s 2007 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. Also in 2007, Foust’s poetry won two Pushcart nominations and several other awards and distinctions, appearing in Atlanta Review, JAMA, Margie, 2007 Marin Poetry Center Anthology, North American Review, Nimrod International Journal and many other reviews.

Robert Sward has taught at Cornell University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and UC Santa Cruz. A Fulbright scholar and Guggenheim Fellow, he was chosen by Lucille Clifton to receive a Villa Montalvo Literary Arts Award. His many books include "Four Incarnations" (Coffee House Press); "Heavenly Sex," "The Collected Poems," and "God is in the Cracks" (Black Moss Press). "The Collected" and "God is in the Cracks" are now in their second printing.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Art & History of China, MAH - Feb. 23 - June 29

Museum of Art & History
@ the McPherson Center
705 Front Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Museum Wide Exhibition:
*Ying: Inspired by the Art and History of China,
February 23 – June 29, 2008

Just returned from opening / reception and dinner-banquet at Italian restaurant with local and visiting artists from China, including Yao Chong-wei, Standing Deputy-director of Chengde Art Academy, and Huo Weing Ging / Liuaimin, Member of China's National Photographer's Association. They're the ones I spoke with--through an interpreter.

Images above include 1) "Man Smoking Pipe (Ancestral painting), Qing Dynasty, official poster for the exhibit, 2) Gloria Alford's "The Jaded Princess," and 3) Yao Chong-wei with photographer and "Successful calligraphy and painting person " Huo Weing Ging / Liuaimin... the opening for the show draws hundreds of people...

Museum's Executive Director, Paul Figueroa, speaks 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."

According to the museum's website, "the third-floor features Santa Cruz artists inspired by the art and history of China. The featured artists include Gloria Alford, Wallace Boss, Dana Eaton, Sara Friedlander, Coeleen Kiebert, Mattie Leeds, Joel Magen, Victoria May and Gary Snider." Find myself particularly struck (anew!) by G's "Jaded Princess," Sara Friedlander's photographs, Coeleen Kiebert's sculptural pieces and Mattie Leeds, a potter whose work has to be seen to be believed. Trying to find a link to Mattie's work.

One work in the show sets forth the Six Principles of Chinese painting

The Six principles of Chinese painting were established by Xie He (also known as Hsieh Ho), a writer, art historian and critic in 6th century China. He is most famous for his "Six points to consider when judging a painting" (绘画六法, Pinyin:Huìhuà Liùfǎ), taken from the preface to hsRecord of the Classification of Old Painters (古画品录; Pinyin: Gǔhuà Pǐnlù). Keep in mind that this was written circa 550 A.D. and refers to "old" and "ancient" practices.

The six elements that define a painting are:
1) "Spirit Resonance," or vitality, and seems to translate to the nervous energy transmitted from the artist into the work. The overall energy of a work of art. Xie He said that without Spirit Resonance, there was no need to look further.

2) "Bone Method," or the way of using the brush. This refers not only to texture and brush stroke, but to the close link between handwriting and personality. In his day, the art of calligraphy was inseparable from painting.

3) "Correspondence to the Object," or the depicting of form, which would include shape and line.

4) "Suitability to Type," or the application of color, including layers, value and tone.

5) "Division and Planning," or placing and arrangement, corresponding to composition, space and depth.

6) "Transmission by Copying," or the copying of models, not only from life but also the works of antiquity.

[from Wikipedia]

*In 2006, Susan Hillhouse, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, was invited to China to lecture and curate exhibitions in both Qufu and Chengde. While in Chengde, she visited the studios of a group of artists. The concept of this exhibition resulted from her insightful visit and blends with our goal to intersect art and history. The influence of China on California’s historical landscape is an integral part of this region’s history. This museum wide presentation opens a new path of discovery through contemporary artists from China, the Bay area and Santa Cruz deepening our understanding of Santa Cruz County’s many cultural heritages."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Do poetry workshops do anyone any good? Iowa...

(University of Iowa campus, Iowa City)

Are MFA Programs Killing Poetry? Do poetry workshops do anyone any good?

Serving on a panel, The Professionalization of Poetry, with David Alpaugh, drawing on David’s essays in the Jan/Feb and Mar/April 2003 issues of Poets & Writers Magazine. Others on our panel include Michelle Bitting, MFA candidate at Pacific University, Oregon; and Rebecca Foust, winner of two Pushcart nominations.

Marin Poetry Center, Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission, San Rafael, CA. Thurs., 7:30 PM, Feb. 21.

Topics for panelists:

1. Do poetry workshops do anyone any good?
2. Are MFA programs killing poetry?

3. Would those who choose poetry as a "career path" benefit by getting a "real job"?

4. Is the poetry publishing scene a scam?

Starting with #1, the answer is, Yes... for me personally. Why? Well, need to back up for a moment.

I began writing while serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. A landing ship (LST 914, too small to warrant a name), large as a football field, lots of space, lots of privacy, lots of time to wander around in our bare feet... very casual duty... early 50s, McCarthy era, but we were something of a hippie ship, so, with access to a typewriter, a library (I was ship’s librarian), I got to read (Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Melville, Carl Sandburg) and write.

I was 18, just of high school, and thought what I wrote deserved a larger audience. At the very least I wanted feedback from other writers, teachers, perhaps an editor... I had never seen a poetry magazine, had no idea there was such a thing, though I’d grown up in Chicago, home of Poetry. Our little ship had a subscription to Time Magazine and that’s the one magazine I read and that’s where I sent my first packet of poems. A playful editor responded with a rejection note in rhyming couplets. I took this as encouragement and, in truth, am still pro-Time.

My first experience with a poetry workshop was at the University of Iowa, which I attended with the G.I. Bill and a fellowship, courtesy Paul Engle, the Director. Engle had taken over from Karl Seashore who, as David Alpaugh notes in his essay, helped start the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1936-- ).

John Berryman and Robert Lowell had taught there shortly before I arrived. W.D. Snodgrass, a graduate, had won the Pulitzer Prize for Heart’s Needle. Philip Levine, Donald Justice, Robert Mezey, Henri Coulette... they were the ones who sat in judgment on the poems presented and set the standard which, at that time (1956-58), was formal formal formal.

In my poem “Iowa Writers’ Workshop—1958” (Collected Poems, p. 76-77) I refer to them as "the four crows."

“...Ours is an age of light. Our crows*
Reflect the age, Eisenhower-Nixon
Colored stripes, rainbow solids, blacks & whites.

"Ruffling their wings, Mezey, Coulette, Levine
Refuse to vote. [i.e., comment on a poem under discussion]

“Page four, 'Apologies to William S.'
Apologies, our third sonnet...”
And those who teach, who write
And teach, the man at hand, apologize
For themselves, and themselves at hand.

[later – same poem]

“...One has written
Nothing new, and it is inconceivable
That one would, or will ever write again.

“...Page one. Walled-in glances at the author.
And then the author disappears,
The poem anonymous.
Voice. Voices. There are voices about it:
Anonymous. The self. A sonnet’s self...

“The room is filled with it. It is a bird.
It sits beside us and extends
Its wings. Mezey hits it with his elbow.
The bird shrieks and sprawls
Upon the floor. We surrender

"We surrender to its death. The poem breathes,
Becomes its author and departs.
We all depart. And watch
The green walls take our seats. Apologies.
Brooks & Warren. DuPont. Edsel & Ford.”

The four *crows? At the time (c. 1958) I was researching and writing poems about birds, "The Apteryx," "The Dodo..." as for the crow, one has only to turn to Wikipedia...

"Corvids and man

"Certain species have been considered pests; the Common Raven, Australian Raven and Carrion Crow have all been known to kill weak lambs as well as eating freshly dead corpses probably killed by other means...

"Crows make a wide variety of calls or vocalizations. Whether the crows' system of communication constitutes a language is a topic of debate... Crows have also been observed to respond to calls of other species; this behavior is presumably learned because it varies regionally. Crows' vocalizations are complex and poorly understood. Some of the many vocalizations that crows make are a "caw", usually echoed back and forth between birds, a series of "caws" in discrete units, counting out numbers, [sounds like poetry to me!] a long caw followed by a series of short caws (usually made when a bird takes off from a perch), an echo-like "eh-aw" sound... These vocalizations vary by species, and within each species vary regionally. In many species, the pattern and number of the numerical vocalizations have been observed to change in response to events in the surroundings (i.e. arrival or departure of [other] crows).

"As a group, the crows show remarkable examples of intelligence, and Aesop's fables of The Crow and the Pitcher shows that humans have long viewed the crow as an intelligent animal. Crows and ravens often score very highly on intelligence tests. Certain species top the avian IQ scale. Crows in the northwestern U.S. show modest linguistic capabilities and the ability to relay information over great distances, live in complex, hierarchic societies involving hundreds of individuals with various "occupations", and have an intense rivalry with the area's less socially advanced ravens.

"...Crows will engage in a kind of mid-air jousting, or air-"chicken" to establish pecking order..."

Crows, poetry workshops and pecking order...

I’ve studied in and led poetry workshops since 1956. In fact, in 1968 I happily returned to Iowa to teach. Some of my best friends—and worst enemies—have been poets. The pie is small. The rivalry is huge. And I compete. But it’s not so much the rewards as the fact other people care about writing, that my writing benefits, I find, from association—positive or negative—with other writers.

Crows, poetry workshops and pecking order... I edit a feature for Web Del Sol / Perihelion. It’s called Writers’ Friendship and has to do with the relationship / what it’s like for one writer to sustain a friendship with another. Lola Haskins, a fine poet who teaches Computer Science at the University of Florida writes:

"For example, when I meet some poets, I get the feeling that they’re sizing me up to see if I’m any threat. If the verdict is that I’m not, then they relax. If they decide otherwise, they clam up and start looking over my shoulder for someone more useful to talk to. Sometimes, it goes much farther than this, perhaps even to the point of paranoia. For instance, ...a few years ago, when two poets came to my town to teach in the writing program, I thought, great, more poets, and bought their books. But not only have they not been polite to me--without ever exchanging more than ten words total with me in all the years since they’ve come, they put me down to their students on a regular basis. So why are they doing this? I’ve decided it’s because they’re protecting English, which they see as their territory. It seems such a pity, but I know it’s not an isolated case. I’ve heard other stories like that, where certain writers seem to have peed on their four corners, to make sure interlopers are aware that only they, the purveyors of urine, and their students are welcome within their borders. And if someone tries to cross that line, he or she finds out what that odd odor means and, to mix a metaphor, in spades."

So, back to the original question, Do poetry workshops do anyone any good?

Is there value in hanging out with some of the best teachers and writers in the country? Iowa may have been a mixed blessing for me--in the late 50s with my ragged verse--but it was, overall, very much a blessing. The community of writers, the contagious passion for writing and for poetry itself... overall, speaking for myself, the answer is yes yes yes.

David Alpaugh's Professionalization of Poetry

Thursday, February 14, 2008

There's Always A Little Darkness, Victoria, B.C.-L.A.

The last time I got into a punch-throwing fight with someone was in Victoria, B.C. The first time (in Victoria) was with Robin Skelton, a colleague at the University, but that was no contest. That was another country and another story. Around the same time, however, I got into a fight with visual artist Patrick McCarthy. I lost, sonofabitch! That also occurred in Victoria, B.C. A beautiful city but, as they say, there's always a little darkness. I've been privileged to live in several Edens, San Miguel de Allende; Taos, New Mexico; Victoria, B.C.; Santa Cruz... Edens all, but each with their share of darkness. Time out... excuse me. Brief tangent: What have I learned in this life? 1) There's always a little darkness; 2) seven-eighths of everything is invisible; 3) children and money, children and money... and in that order, that's what's important. Children, children. Money, money. For starters...

Anyway, Patrick McCarthy: after Victoria, he started an art gallery (The Patrick McCarthy Gallery) in Los Angeles, and we somehow became friends. There were children involved, his daughter and mine, and he behaved like a gentleman. And he also put together this collage (see above). It's a variation on Four Incarnations, my Coffee House Press book. Four images, four incarnations. Also, excerpts from four (?) poems, one titled Turning 60; another, Prayer For My Mother, provided the phrase, "O murdering heaven..." The other lines are mine, but I don't know where they come from. So how can I be sure they're mine? Well, in fact, I think most are from those two poems, Turning 60 and Prayer For My Mother.

Anyway, the collage is here because, in my mind, it helps bridge the gap, the movement from 14-15 years in Canada to the U.S. And now Patrick is a friend. I've even written a poem for his daughter, Dante Paradiso, Actress (p. 150, The Collected). His daughter, like mine, was born in Canada (both are Canadian citizens) and his, like mine, now lives in Los Angeles. Excerpt from the Dante Paradiso poem:

"...I love L.A. traffic because it means
a whole lot of other people are here too." [she says]

She's half way into the intersection
waiting to make a left turn

Four lanes of oncoming DeVilles.
'L.A.'s famous for this. I love
how huge it is,' she says,

'seeing strangers I'll never see again. And the restaurants...
and the guys...

'I should have been born here.
Anyway, I corrected the problem...'"

Writing this I send email to my daughter who replies:


"Interesting that you should ask about Canada. Yes, I feel I have
a foot in both countries. Last night I had many dreams about the
[Toronto] Island. I dreamt that I went back to visit Irina and the Island
was totally invaded with people from the city. It was no longer
'island' life. There was a bridge connecting the city to the
island and houses, hundreds of houses, were being built..."

And, in my mind, there's a psychic bridge connecting the two countries. The Canadian "Island," however, picking up on the image in my daughter's dream, is becoming more and more like L.A.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Canadian or American? Saul Bellow, Chicago and the University of Victoria

Jack Foley, in his Introduction to The Collected Poems, calls me "in truth, a citizen, at heart, of both countries. At once a Canadian and American poet, one with a foot in both worlds, Sward also inhabits an enormous in-between," he writes.

As an epigraph to his Intro, Jack quotes Saul Bellow saying to me, "You don't look like a Canadian." I was setting up recording equipment in Saul Bellow's office at the University of Victoria. He was Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence, and I was interviewing him for Quill & Quire, a national trade publication for Canada's book industry. Bellow had recently won the Nobel Prize and The Dean's December was his first book following that announcement. The Dean's December was getting negative reviews and Bellow speaks about the novel's reception. (Note: This 1982 interview appears on my website, - Click on Poems and scroll down for Interviews.)

Anyway, there we were, two Chicagoans. Bellow, though born in Montreal, looked "Chicagoan." He had that look. And, for myself, I suppose I hadn't lost the "Chicago look" either. But did he mean Jewish? Or did he mean something else?

Although gone so many years from the States, at that moment I wanted nothing more in life than to go back to the U.S. Seeing Bellow made me homesick.

My wife once asked, "What was it like anyway, teaching at the University of Victoria?"

"Well, I remember the first faculty party,
September, 1969. I found myself talking to this portly, red-faced, jowly, steak-and-kidney pie academic. Head of the University's freshman English program. He asked what I thought of Victoria. 'Provincial, quiet, friendly... clean... and, strangely, every home I've seen so far has a well-tended flower garden." No accident, either, Victoria being home to the famous Butchart Gardens.

He seemed pleased to hear I'd been living in New England--writing at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

"My family moved here from New England, too," he said. "We left because of the Revolution."

What? At first I thought he was saying he too was a new arrival. Maybe someone who, in 1969, in the midst of the Vietnam era, had grown fed up with Nixon, and decided America was on the brink of revolution. There were some at the time who thought that way.

"What do you mean, Revolution?" I asked.

"The American Revolution. My ancestors left America after the Boston Tea Party. We're United Empire Loyalists."

Suddenly America seemed really very far away.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Toronto Island - Vancouver Island, Lotus Land

Book tour coming up and I'll be re-visiting both Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island and the Toronto Islands (see last posting). I lived 14 - 15 years in Canada, the entire time on one or the other of these two islands. They're beautiful and seductive places... Poets Sean Virgo and Susan Musgrave were among the first people I met in Victoria (I arrived in 1969 to teach at UVic). Born and raised in Chicago, I had no idea what "Lotus Land" meant... but that's how they described Victoria. Turned out they were right. And it was the 1970s and I partook, consuming... lotus to the left of me, lotus to the right... lotus, lotus all around.

Term comes from the land of the lotus eaters in The Odyssey, where people ate lotus flowers and 'A single taste of this native fruit made my soldiers forget everything they had ever known; where they were from, where they were going, everything.' A contributor to the online Urban Dictionary writes, 'It is in reference to Vancouver's laid back attitude and prominent drug culture (especially the large scale use and acceptance of marijuana).'

"Hey, I'm going to Lotus Land."

I'm old and uncool... but... just writing this puts me back in the time.

Then, when you want to leave, that's when the fun begins. I'd come to the University of Victoria to give a 45-minute poetry reading. Also to visit and teach a couple classes. The 45-minute reading turned into a job offer, a good job offer. I accepted. Lots of money, for me anyway. Plus moving expenses. I arrived with the idea of staying one academic year. Then got re-hired and stayed another year. Then got promoted to Assistant Professor and hired to stay two more years. Bought a house on Saint David Street. My daughter was born.

Ten years after the 45 minute reading I was still there. Along the way the Department decided my poetry was incomprehensible and, further, that my teaching "controversial." They objected to my holding classes at my home. Left the University. Started building the publishing house, Soft Press ("The spirit in man is soft. It can go anywhere." It was William Stafford who gave us the name for the press and we, in turn, published his book, In the Clock of Reason.

Then, in 1979, on to another Island. An archipelago. The Toronto Islands. A sometimes sub-zero lotus land. Surrounded by water. Above high tide, well, not always. Isolated from other significant land masses. Yes. The Toronto Islands met the definition. And, like Vancouver Island, very very hard to leave once you got there. Islands. Proceed with caution.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Igloo Party Sat. Night Drinking Toronto

Saturday Night Igloo Feb., East of Yonge St., Toronto
/ Old brewery area... St. Paul Street...

I started thinking about leaving Toronto one evening with my ex-, minus 30 degrees, asthma kicking in and I stopped breathing. There's a rhyme there, somehow, breathing and leaving... now, 23 years later, on OK terms with my ex-, she just relayed these igloo .jpgs so I can see what life is like for her and her mate in good old Toronto. Igloo images arrive and I don't want to say how I'm about to leave for the University to go swimming in that outdoor Olympic size pool, sun shining... I'm 74 years old and every day I say a prayer thanking God I'm living where I'm living. And again I say the prayer. It's a simple prayer. It goes like this: Thank God!

But Toronto was OK. My then-wife and I and our children lived on the Toronto Islands, a Lake Ontario archipelago made up of 15 separate islands, including Ward's Island, Algonquin Island, Centre Island, Muggs (the bird sanctuary), Snug (the Royal Canadian Yacht Club), and Donut, where, in the early 80s we used to skate lugging bottles of wine... and rum... and beer...

The place was sometimes called 'the Coney Island of Canada...' 'Canada's Lido,' or so said Charles Dudley Warner, 19th Century American humorist. Other people from the States lived there, writers, painters, book and magazine editors, CBC broadcasters, teachers... eccentrics, including some who never left the Islands, though it was only 15 minutes by ferry to downtown Toronto. Many of us commuted--via ferry--to and from The City. "Sounds romantic," says a friend, listening as I read aloud.

We lived there for five years (1979-1985), didn't own a car (none allowed), rode bicycles, walked and took the ferry... subways and streetcars in The City. Total population: 750 people, when we were there. A Peaceable Kingdom. Well, with the usual thing that comes with a close-knit, small townish gossipy community. But it was a community. That got me.

My book, The Toronto Islands, an Illustrated History, (ISBN 0-919567-22-3) was published by Dreadnaught in 1983. Lots of media stuff, lots of coverage... book became a bestseller. Lots of great photographs. Well, good luck finding a copy! Now out of print...

Researching The Toronto Islands, I discovered that America actually invaded Upper Canada and "impregnable" Gibraltar Point (fortified around 1793 to withstand a siege from the Americans) was one of the casualties of the War of 1812... in 1813, sixteen American ships entered Toronto Harbour and "behaved in a manner no self-respecting Canadian mentions in public." So I learned... "my country" had invaded Canada! Had attacked the very Island where we lived.

It was in retaliation for the American burning of York--and, yes, destruction of the blockhouse on Gibraltar Point (part of the Toronto Islands) that the British fleet sailed up the Potomac and burned the American capital. To cover up the damage wrought by smoke and fire, the Americans simply whitewashed the President's residence, from which it derives its present name, the White House.

So, the White House is white because of American military action on Toronto Island during the War of 1812.

There's a drawing by Owen Staples circa 1914 that shows the arrival of the American fleet prior to the capture of York. It's reproduced in The Toronto Islands. "Call your publisher," says G., thumbing through the pages, "get 'em to republish the book!"

The Toronto Island Community

Where was I? Oh, that igloo in the city, just walking distance from Yonge Street. Yeah. Seems like another lifetime. And the Island was really cold!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mort Marcus' "Striking Through the Masks, A Literary Memoir"

Santa Cruz, CA - Mort Marcus' "Striking Through the Masks, A Literary Memoir" arrives...

[Thurs., March 13, 7 PM Book launch reading for Mort’s latest... Readers and performers include California poet laureate Al Young, Deng Ming-Dao, Ellen Bass, Geoffrey Dunn, James D. Houston, Jean Wakasuki Houston, Sandy Lydon, George Ow, Jr., Cheryl Anderson with the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus and Cantiamo. Holy Cross Parish Hall, 170 High St., Santa Cruz. Free. Co-sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz]

For more on Mort Marcus,

For more on Poetry Santa Cruz

In the 20 years I've known him, as personal friend and colleague at Cabrillo College, as co-host of KUSP's Poetry Show (the longest running poetry radio program in the U.S.), as author of ten volumes of poetry, as film reviewer and as Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year, Mort Marcus has impressed me as a gifted and extraordinarily generous person, an enthusiast, at once sharp, discerning and unusually open to a wide range of poets and styles.

Mort is one of the reasons why I feel at home here. Something about Santa Cruz makes it possible for a writer or, indeed, any artist, to feel supported, sustained... true, the place is sometimes beyond tolerant. Great! It makes up for all those other places where generosity of spirit is in short supply.

There's a difference between solitude and isolation. You can't write without solitude, so it seems to me. But it's what you feel when you emerge from your "cave" that makes the difference... it's possible to emerge and realize no one gives a good goddamn what you've been up to. And it's also possible to emerge and re-enter the community, so to speak. It's the couple hundred member Poetry Santa Cruz... a group that organizes readings, lots of readings, runs a lively website and does all it can to get the word out... and then the people who actually turn out, the local bookstores (Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Capitola Book Cafe) that sponsor readings, the Museum of Art and History, another venue... plus a multitude, it seems, of 5 - 10 member writing groups, which meet to critique member's work. And the standard, generally speaking, is pretty high.

I came here in 1985 after 14 years in Canada. Twenty-three years later... Santa Cruz is home. And, one way and another, with his KUSP Poetry Show, his teaching, his bringing in writers from around the country, Mort helped create what most writers here feel... which is to say sustained... in a loose-knit, but still strong and supportive writing community. This sounds a little over the top, a little Better Business Bureau... I dunno, I been around, I've learned to know when I'm in a hell hole, a hell hole for me anyway, and when there's something else to emerge into... "Many beautiful people with much light" is how Baba Ram Dass described another community I lived in... in Canada... the description applies as well to Santa Cruz.

A few years ago I interviewed Mort for Caesura, Sept. 2004, the 25th Anniversary Issue of a magazine published by Poetry Center San Jose.

Imagination and the Shape-Shifting Beast:
An Interview with Morton Marcus (excerpted from 4,400 word interview)

[Begins with a little background - Q/A follows]

The Britannica Yearbook said of When People Could Fly that in Marcus “the prose poem found a marvelous godfather,” and Publisher’s Weekly called the book “unerring” in its “vital retellings of our myths.” Regarding the same book, critic Peter Johnson said that “Marcus is writing some of the best prose poems being published today” and “his sensibility and poetics will continue to influence...the next generation,” while poet Vern Rutsala wrote that the book “strikes me as a major contribution to our lives and to our literature.”

Marcus taught English and Film at Cabrillo College for thirty years, until his retirement in 1998. His sixteen-part televison history of film, Movie Milestones, has been shown on many cable television stations, and is the main visual source of film history at the AFTRS, the Australian national film school. He has been a longtime co-host of KUSP radio’s “The Poetry Show” and is the co-host of the film review television show “CinemaScene” on the AT &T Broadband network in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and San Jose. He also leads a film discussion group at Santa Cruz’s Nickelodeon theater on the first and third Saturday of every month. He has curated film series at various museums and has taken part in several panels on literature and film at the John Steinbeck Center.

Interview (brief excerpt)

1. ROBERT: Mort, what do you mean by plain style?

MORTON MARCUS: To me, plain style is clear style: clarity of expression that is always conversational in essence and tone. It is never ornate or pursues verbal pyrotechnics. Although I've used many approaches in my poems over the years, for the most part I've presented them with an austere clarity, almost a simplicity of grammar and vocabulary. And again, I'm more concerned with giving the impression of a voice speaking than singing. That's pretty much William Carlos Williams’ legacy for the poets who started writing in the 1950s and after. Find the American voice box, he said, We don’t speak English; we speak American. And we speak, we don’t sing. So with me, voice rhythms are all. As is clarity. The pursuit of clarity has always been a conscious decision on my part and has to do with my focus on imagery and metaphor as the core of my work.

2. RS: How do you hear your poems? That is, what do you "hear" first in your mind and--tricky question--how then do your poems find their way from head space, so to speak, to the physical page?

MM: One of the ways, a predominant way I think, that I develop a poem is through imagining a voice speaking, a particular voice that is talking to me or which I'm overhearing, a voice whose rhythm and tone I let guide the method and structure of what I'm writing in so far as tone, line length, stanzaic arrangement and form are concerned—some of the latter, of course, are only relevant when I'm writing verse poems.

3. RS: You're saying the voice mode is primary…

MM: No, that’s just one way I develop a poem; a major way, it’s true. But for me, the voice is secondary to the imagery and/or metaphors that reveal themselves in the course of the writing.

4. RS: Explain.

MM: Maybe if I described one of the methods I use to write a poem, this will become clearer. But let me warn you that my description may sound fanciful…

To begin with, images and metaphors in almost all cases appear like golden medallions in the vaulted darkness of my psyche.

5. RS: if I may say so, the preceding sentence strikes me as out of keeping with what you said earlier about “plain style.

MM: No, no. You’re confusing two things here. My imagery may be baroque, even decadent, but my language is plain.—And I warned you that this might sound fanciful. But let me go on. I was saying that images and metaphors in almost all cases appear like golden medallions in the vaulted darkness of my psyche. Let me add that their appearances are unplanned and unexpected. A long time ago I decided that these appearances were in many cases the beginning of the creative act for me, and that it was my task to pursue their meanings by following their development, which many times consisted of grappling with their changes in shape and direction. Is that clear so far?

Monday, February 4, 2008

"Earthquake Collage," Blue Moon Review, Santa Cruz downtown, 1989

For more:

Blue Moon Review editor Doug Lawson and his family here for Sunday visit, Feb. 3. I think of Blue Moon as the first quality literary magazine to appear on the Internet, but I may have a slight prejudice. Following the Oct. 17, 1989 *Loma Prieta / Santa Cruz earthquake, I went downtown (70% destroyed in the quake) and took 40 or 50 photos, some of which (see above) found their way into a 2o-page electronic chapbook, which Doug generously edited and designed. The "finished" work appeared in 1995, a year or so after **Blue Moon came into existence.

Following the quake, I started writing in form and contributed some not very good villanelles, etc., plus excerpts from my "earthquake" journals combined with stuff gleaned from newspapers and magazines... the best of the writing is from my students, who reported on their experiences... I obtained their permission to reprint... what stands out in my mind is how we were all, 5:04 PM, Oct. 17, 1989, experiencing the same thing at the same time... I was in the bathroom taking a pee, readying myself to go off to Foothill / DeAnza College to teach a class.

Later, a local college (not one of the above) agreed to host the complete (20 or so pages) chapbook online, but then dropped it when I retired... dropped it without telling me they were dropping it. And for years, up until yesterday, in fact, I had thought the thing no longer existed... other than a few fragments, scattered photos... I tried, but wasn't able to find it in Blue Moon's archive.

So I feel re-born... and plan, with Doug's permission, to host it also on my website. In fact, that's what I plan to do right now, ask permission.

* Sometimes called the San Francisco Earthquake. Loma Prieta, in honor of a remote peak near the quake's epicenter. It's a Spanish name. Loma Prieta, the Earthquake of the Dark Hill.

** For the record, Doug Lawson's
Blue Moon Review was preceded by Blue Penny Quarterly (BPQ), which first appeared in 1994. Having worked as a technical writer for the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) in 1988-89, I was primed... ready to go when BPQ, Zero City and the others came online. See below for more:


Why I Publish In E-Zines: One Writer's View of Online Publishing
--by Robert Sward –
(Originally published in 1996)

Computer-phobic writers, fellow freelancers and fans of olde style lit-mags ask why I have chosen to publish in e-zines like Web del Sol / Perihelion; Alsop Review; Blue Moon Review; X-Connect; eSCENE; Gruene Street; Realpoetik; Recursive Angel; Transmog; and Zero City, to name a few.

1. I publish on the Net and World Wide Web because it's cheap: email after all is free.
2. It's more efficient: no SASEs, no International Reply Coupons; fewer trips to the office supply store.
3. It saves time: I don't have to wait 18 months to hear back and the rejections, when they come, are less annoying because a) I've invested less in the submission process and b) it's easy enough to send the work somewhere else.
4. It gives me the opportunity to improve on what I write and make changes even after publication. Zen Buddhists say First thought, best thought. I say, Think again.
5. It allows for interaction: timely feedback from fellow writers, editors, publishers, agents, and students.

I recently (remember, this is 1996) sent a poem to Realpoetik ("rpoetik, the little magazine of the Internet, a moderated listserv..."), got an email acceptance message and saw the poem published, all within 24 hours. Editor Robert Salasin claims he has approximately 3,000 subscribers. All I know is that over the next few days I got more responses ("fine work...," "wish you continued success in Cyberspace...," "would like to use excerpts from A Much-Married Man...") from that single appearance than I got from 30 years of publishing in magazines like The Antioch Review, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Transatlantic Review, etc.

Yes, it's a form of instant gratification. Just what the world needs, right? In my opinion, instant gratification has gotten a bad rap. Or maybe I'm late to the game and am just beginning to catch on. Anyway, I write for myself and always have, but I still agree with Whitman: it doesn't hurt to have an audience.

I still use pen and pencil to write and revise and turn to my Olympia portable to type envelopes. I'm still doing what I did in my 20s: writing, revising and sending the best work I have to the editors of the journals I admire.

Writing is re-writing and I spend just as much time revising now as I ever did. To this day I send poems and stories to traditional print journals and, when the publication appears, sometimes long to remove a line or two or correct a typo or printers error. A while back the then London-based Transatlantic Review published Thousand-Year-Old Fiancee and destroyed the poem, made it meaningless with a record thirteen typographical errors. They never sent me page proofs and, once the poem was printed, there was nothing I could do except rage at the editor, the inattentive, lackadaisical schmuck.

Now, when I submit work to an e-journal there is no typographer involved because there is no type to set. And if an error occurs or I change my mind, voila! I can e-mail corrections and see the fix made promptly and at no expense. I like that.

Apart from an increasingly large, responsive audience, what's the payoff? Payment used to be in contributor copies. Now with magazines appearing in electronic print, there are no contributor copies to send. Still, a few mainline lit-mags and e-journals do make an effort to pay. In all the years I've been writing, I haven't come close--not one year have I come close--to covering the cost of postage. How much is poetry worth? In 1958, in an effort to determine the dollar value, if any, of my poetry, I engaged in an experiment. A student at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, I sent half a dozen poems to the local phone company as a way of paying my bill. Not only did Ma Bell send them back, but she disconnected my phone. So be it.


I'm doing multi-media stuff now combining poetry, fiction and non- fiction with photographs, paintings, movies and--soon--music and the human voice. I'm collaborating with visual artists, computer scientists and other writers. If you're interested, check out Earthquake Collage and Highway 17 on my home page.

My first computer was an Apple IIe and my first word processing program was Magic Window. Today I use Microsoft Word and Photoshop on a Mac G-4, supercharged by my son. How does it all work? I have no idea. I just switch on my modem, gaze into cyberspace and type away. It's still Magic Window to me.

"So what's the point?" my partner wants to know. "Isn't this just one big ego trip? Who really reads those e-journals? Do you actually think you're going to sell copies of your books on the Net? And what about copyright? How do you know someone isn't going to rip off that new book of poems of yours?"

Of course she's right, but I have all those virtual magazines and editors on the Net waiting for me to check in.

"Gee, honey, I don't know," I say. "I'm just gonna go upstairs for a moment and check my mail."

Copyright (c) 1996, 2001, 2007, Robert Sward