Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day's progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.

John Updike

Happy birthday, Updike!

Believe it or not, it's been a little over a year since he died.

Although Updike's primary legacy abides in his Rabbit books, my favorite continues to be Toward the End of Time.

One Poet

“Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.”

Joseph Brodsky

Not sure I agree with Mr. Brodsky on this. Every poet can teach you something, but not every poet can teach you language. But if you tend to agree, you can use me if you want. Easy pickins.


Humans think they are smarter than dolphins because we build cars and buildings and start wars etc., and all that dolphins do is swim in the water, eat fish and play around. Dolphins believe that they are smarter for exactly the same reasons.

– Douglas Adams

Adams was a writer and musician who lived from 1952-2001; a phenomenon which, if I live to be 100, I will never understand. I mean dying young. But I’m saying you should read his books, because they’re smart and funny. Maybe not great literature, not Faulkner’s Cow funny, but Oh so readable. The best laughs I ever got while reading anything not babbled forth by Bush-Cheney came while reading Douglas Adams.

Douglas Adams Web site, on which I found this:

How should prospective writers go about becoming an author?

First of all, realize that it’s very hard, and that writing is a grueling and lonely business and, unless you are extremely lucky, badly paid as well. You had better really, really, really want to do it. Next you have to write something.

But he did die much too young, didn’t he? Therefore, I think we need to see something funny.


click for full size

no more rooms?

Since January 2007, the Guardian has published a series of photos and personal commentary “Portraits of the spaces where authors create,” called Writers’ Rooms.

The series seems to have come to a whimpering end. The most recent installment was added July 18, with the portrait of a musician’s room.

That there is no note on the Guardian’s site about the end of the series, or on a summer holiday hiatus, etc., may speak to a yawning lack of professionalism as much as a deliberate conclusion. Even those of us who publish personal blogs would mention if we planned to take a longer-than-usual break. That a major paper wouldn’t bother is simply sad.

Still, I have enjoyed and appreciated the series as an entertaining glimpse into the personal lives of my fellow artists. It was a good idea, generally well executed, and a bit of fun with my coffee on Saturday mornings. … Cheers.

cool audio slideshow

I’ve been enjoying Eamonn McCabe’s photos of writers’ rooms in the Guardian for several months now. So I was very pleased to find this audio slideshow, in which he discusses what he has learned from the process.

“I have always enjoyed photographing loners. When I was covering sport it was boxers in their gyms. Now I’m older, I enjoy photographing writers, poets and artists. The one thing they all have in common is that they work alone.”

Kay Ryan

I’m reading this profile of poet laureate Kay Ryan:

“Ryan has long had an ambivalent relationship with exposure, and she has always resisted change. ‘I’m eager for stasis,’ she says, ‘because I can count on its being disrupted.’ While some poets thrive on the drama of their own experience and others want to capture the cacophonous world, Ryan probes the cracks and edges in her mind. Out of those crevices, the disruptions in a quiet life, come her poems.”

Sure, I can understand that. It’s amazing how a deer among the trees remains invisible until it moves.

But the quoted paragraph seems to suggest that there are a limited number of sources in a poet’s life from which poetry springs. I say there are an infinite number of such sources in a single poem. Writing from the imagination is like holding the world up as a prism in which the light of creative inquiry might break, then watching the universe scatter into countless colored shafts. Thus, I have never read a poem the same way twice; not even my own.

missed it again

Well, I can’t believe I’ve missed another Bloomsday. My calendar reminded me, and I thought about typing something witty or at least melancholic and Joycesque. But I was OBE.

I was having an out of body experience. … No.

I was overcome by events. As some of my many faithful readers might know, we’ve been dealing with a health crisis with our beloved little Pomeranian, Happy. I’ve been posting some about her on her own blog, Happy’s Trials.

Anyway, that’s been the hungry crucible of all of my free time of late.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Joyce:

“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why.”

Funny, Joyce never struck me as the kind of writer who would give a wet shilling for the English reading public. But, while I’ve read many thing by Joyce, I’ve read nothing about Joyce since my college days.

Here’s a better one:

“My words in her mind: cold polished stones sinking through a quagmire.”

Yeah. Happy Bloomsday, belatedly, y’all.

Duffy is new poet laureate

For the first time since the post was created in 1668, Britain has selected a woman as its poet laureate, the long-acclaimed Scottish-born Carol Ann Duffy, who has written on topics including Shakespeare and Elvis Presley.

Duffy, 53, won the Dylan Thomas Prize for poetry in 1989, and is known for tackling down-to-earth subjects such as crime, prostitution and housework. Her poetry has been hailed by fellow writers as original, imaginative and often bitingly satirical or plain humorous. [LA Times]

in a desert

Comes today from Poetry Daily a missive bearing Selections from The Black Riders by Stephen Crane. Now Crane was a poet of the late 19th century. He died at the age of 30 or 31, in 1900. I read his stuff in college.

This first selection struck me so firmly 25 years ago that I memorized it, and carry it about in my poor brain to this day. I was a little surprised to see it coming at me in an e-mail, because I’ve always considered it pretty obscure.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

This section I don’t remember but it’s pretty cool.

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never –”
“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

Check this out. A metaphor for the stupidity of misbegotten human endeavor, if I’ve ever seen one. And it hands me a chuckle.

Many workmen
Built a huge ball of masonry
Upon a mountain-top.
Then they went to the valley below,
And turned to behold their work.
“It is grand,” they said;
They loved the thing.
Of a sudden, it moved:
It came upon them swiftly;
It crushed them all to blood.
But some had opportunity to squeal.

So there’s some Stephen Crane for you. Pretty drear, huh? And you might say, well the poor bastard was dying young, and was justified. Fair enough. But the way we look at life is a choice. And for proof I say Look, there goes Mattie Stepanek, who lived half as long and knew he was sick, and wrote poems to meet his days with joy.

Food for thought.

Kinnell reading Celan

Galway Kinnell came to Santa Barbara in 1994 to give a reading. It was wonderful, despite his suffering a cold. He was touring for the publication of his book Imperfect Thirst. I was tasked to bring the cake for the reception, which I fetched from a local bakery. It was a large sheet cake in the excellent imperfect likeness of the book’s cover.

That night it rained lightly. Toad the Wet Sprocket were playing The Arlington and we were at the Victoria, not far away. Naturally, all the parking lots were full. I walked carrying this burden of art in the rain, block after block. I thought of that experience the other day, as I wrote a scene for my novel, in which the narrator carries a dead dog through spring orchards. No place to set such a delicate burden down and rest, except at one’s peril of great spiritual debt.

All of which begs questions:

  • If the ox is determined, is the earth not more patient?
  • Do we not, from the hour we lose our illusions, dig for ourselves a grave in the cold sky?