Kurt Vonnegut said…


Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.

Kurt Vonnegut, on telling his wife that he is going out to buy an envelope. Ironically posted and read via computer. Sorry Kurt! I’ll go outside now and play.

Seamus Heaney, “The Schoolbag”


My handsewn leather schoolbag. Forty years.
Poet, you were nel mezzo del cammin
When I shouldtered it, half-full of blue-lined jotters,
And saw the classroom charts, the displayed bean,

The wallmap with its spray of shipping lanes
Describing arcs across the blue North Channel…
And in the middle of the road to school,
Ox-eye daisies and wild dandelions.

Learning’s easy carried! The bag is light,
Scuffed and supple and unemptiable
As an itinerant school conjuror’s hat.
So take it, for a word-hoard and a handsel,

As you step out trig and look back all at once
Like a child on his first morning leaving parents.

~ ~ ~

I really have a thing for Heaney’s poetry these days. As a reader he is constantly rewarding; I could flip to any page in any of his books and be perfectly satisfied, and more likely blown away, by the poem I found there. He’s a magician, an alchemist. I look at his poems and think, these are just words. These are simple words I know and use. And yet he shapes them into magic, over and over again. This is true poetry here friends, I hope you’re seeing it.

(from his book Seeing Things)

Seamus Heaney, “From the Frontier of Writing”


The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover,

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration –

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by the quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

And suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you’d passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armour-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.

~ ~ ~

A beautiful and frightened thought on writing and war. The entire feeling of the work is summed up in a word in the first line of Heaney’s own making: nilness. Nilness. What a perfectly absent, hollow word. Hollow and haunted, filled with this blank blackness that permeates the rest of the poem.

Book Report: The Song of the World by Jean Giono

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I have tried to make a story of adventure in which there should be absolutely nothing ‘timely.’ The present time disgusts me, even to describe. It is sufficient merely to endure it. I wanted to make a book with new mountains, a new river, a country, forest, snow and men all new. The most consoling thing is that I have not had to invent anything at all, not even the people. They all exist. That is what I want to say here. At this very time when Paris flourishes – and that is nothing to be proud of – there are people in the world who know nothing of the horrible mediocrity into which civilization, philosophers, public speakers and gossips have plunged the human race. They think only of adding to their comfort, heedless that one day true men will come up from the river and down from the mountain, more implacable and more bitter than the grass of the apocalypse.
– Jean Giono, 1937

This quote can be found on the back cover of the paperback version of Giono’s French adventure/pastoral novel Song of the World. Not only does it explain, in a roundabout way, the purpose of his novel, but it gives precise definition to his overall philosophy and motivation as a writer. His motivation is not unusual: the motivation of most writers is to create a world that is parallel to ours, but molded in the authors own image. The author wishes to play god in his own little world, so to speak. What strikes me in Giono’s statement is the ferocity with which he expresses his motivation, and the anger he throws at the “modern world.”

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Book Report: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

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The first thing I’ll say about this book is that I have rarely experienced so intensely the feeling, after finishing the book, of not wanting to leave its confines. In this case, my desire to stay in 18th century Nagasaki was so intense that even though I finished the book about two weeks ago I’ve been unable to start reading anything new; any other set or scenery just bores me after a few pages. I have the same feeling whenever I finish something by Jean Giono (report forthcoming) – leaving his mythical world of Provence after diving so deeply into it is jarring to the system. Similarly, reading something like Anna Karenina, which envelops you for hundreds of pages in its cloak of wintry Russian aristocracy, is hard to leave behind. I think that might be the highest praise you can give any book.

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Autumn, autumn is the poets’ time, which means it is humans’ time…a period of big change and flux when in the cold night we can feel the universe bend down and peer into life…when we sleep with the window open, under a the big comforter with just our nose cold, and we feel so immediate, and in immediacy is timelessness. The warmth of the day recalls life, and the achingly recent but still-gone summer, and the chill at midnight calls out winter, death, and an atomic precision deep, deep down – a piercing clarity – a glimpse through the hollow wind back at the universe which is staring at you – like an old memory of something never experienced.

Indian Summer Invocation


The world: mine and now.
Hello and welcome.
Here is newborn Indian summer
where blue battles pink in the sky
and a sharp light spit from the sunset
splits the sides of the neighborhood, tree-dark and struck dumb

Maple leaves cling in hopeless desperation;
Well, we’re all afraid of that –
of death –
aren’t we?

Now there’s me, laying in a garden patch
of dusk-blue flowers, dreaming this up,
all the words, the lines, the breaks. Drunk master
Han Shan mind conjuring the swaying,

the pines
and aspens
back and
and forth,
fading into purple sky,

the sky,

the purple sky,
oh the purple sky.

The autumn moon stealing up
from the black horizon. The neighborhood creeping up
like a constellation.
These constellations
I wonder what they have to say. Like a Spanish frigate
on the Atlantic, where do they guide me?
Constellation is myth,
constellation is faith is poetry.

Faith is a puzzle, jigsawn and scattered across space and the centuries,
and even if you found a piece, you might never know it.

Your sparking somnambulist continues;

the church bells ring, of course, radiating,
the angel’s trumpet ringing true a note of blue-orange.
And there she is, the fiery gem-center of the story,
the tippy tipping-point of the plot, she shows up whenever
I puzzle out my place in the world, or when I’m sleepy
and I need something warm to lay beside, like a garden patch.
Call her Muse, if you must call her something.

Here we all are in the place
where the blurry bleary rhythm of
Indian summer gives way
to the sharp deep rhyme of winter
in a filter of hard colors and cold nights,
frost and makeshift death.

Above me, the plum-ripe sky. The sound of airplanes, and an echo of
ancient baseball games, the melody of chimneys.
The mysterious smell of fall, which is campfire, which is no smell at all.

The grass and earth now cold on my back, so I take off. It’s so easy,
I wonder why we don’t do it more often. I float away on a chilly wind.

Leaves brush my toes. I sing. I harmonize with the chimneys.
Dark shingles, orange leaves, yellow leaves. The so-sad clapboard homes.
Past the ringing cathedrals, ringing, past the smokestacks, smoking,
over the circuitry of streets,
past the lumberjacks in the hills,
past the snowy silence of November mountains,
washing over whitewash fences,
nearly past the moon,

I drop down to the ocean, seasalt in my lungs,
tickling tallgrass, a spray of sand, down to the ocean,
above plum sky has burst open into unimaginable color,
one last display before the rotten black of night.

Oh ho, ah hah! I see.
I can be

whatever I want.

Down to the ocean, sinking down and dipping my toes
into the frothy waves,
shins, knees, thighs, hips, chest, neck—
sky above reflecting me—
ah, watercolor ocean.