Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Two things Miles said today


"Why do you say 'they' in England when you mean only one person?"

He might not have been accurate about the England part, but he was very accurate here in identifying how everybody says "they" when they refer to singular subjects (as in this sentence!).


"Little miracles are happening everywhere right now, because it's so beautiful and nice."

Said as we left his swimming lesson and walked out into the late afternoon sunshine, temperature in the low twenties (C; ca. 70 F).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sara Emily Marie Delpho

Sara Emily Marie Delpho was born May 20, 2006, at 4:34 a.m. in Basel at the Frauenklinik of the University Hospital. She was 48 cm long and weighed 3100 grams.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Daily Poem Project, Week 6

This week's vote for the Daily Poem Project took place this morning (Tuesday, May 16). The poems in question were those on Poetry Daily from Tuesday, May 9, to Monday, May 15.

In another close vote, the winner was Ioanna Carlsen's "Forgiveness," with five votes. Janet Sylvester's "Barometric" received four votes, while three poems received three votes each: Victoria Chang's "Proof," Kathryn Starbuck's "Thinking of John Clare," and Stephen Yenser's "Tidepools: La Jolla."

This week, then, the two most "prestigious" poets of the week received the least votes: Carl Phillips with two for his "Riding Westward" and Frank Bidart with no votes at all for his "Tu Fu Watches the Spring Festival Across Serpentine Lake." This contradicted an effect that I had noticed in last year's Daily Poem Project, in which poets with good reputations tended to get votes (only a poem by Gerald Stern got shut out among poems by poets whose reputations I thought relatively "substantial" in my own subjective way).

Still, I was quite surprised by the winner, as I found Carlsen's poem dry and abstract; even though I read it twice, I did not consider it a serious contender at all. It has some humor, but that's all I found in it. Here's part III of the poem:


You would
if you could,
but what if you can't —

the trick is to believe
your own story,

accident is needed for some kinds of change.

I like that "[y]ou would / if you could, / but what if you can't," but surely there is more to do with this dissection of a cliché than Carlsen does here.

The second-place poem, Sylvester's "Barometric," was on my short list of two poems, but I gave my vote to Yenser's "Tidepools: La Jolla"—perhaps I am just a sucker for rhymed poems about daughters, especially one that contains a lovely rhyme on the name of my favorite 19th-century American poet:

Quick, mystic — this is the world's profoundest mirror.
The girl in any of us leans a little nearer.

You lean to it this evening, Helen Emily,
Holding my hand, to glimpse us both, though dreamily ...

Week 5
Week 4
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1 (with explanation of project)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Greg Brown at JR's Warehouse, Traverse City, MI, May 28, 1991

Warning: What follows will not mean much to people who are not already Greg Brown fans. If you are not yet a Greg Brown fan, that means one of two things:

a) You have never heard him (or perhaps even never heard of him). Please rectify this problem by buying at least one of his CDs. My recommendation for a starter: "Dream Café" from 1992. But "Down in There," "The Poet Game," "Further In," and "Slant 6 Mind" are all brilliant, too, just to name a few.

b) You have listened to Greg but somehow not recognized just how utterly brilliant he is. This makes me sad, because you have missed something! :-)

Anyway, this is a review of a 2-CD recording of a concert of his in 1991. For insiders, but of course outsiders are allowed to read it, too.

Greg at JR's

"You Drive Me Crazy" is the opener; as with several other tunes from "Dream Café" here, it must have been quite new at the time (the "unit" had not yet been released). These tunes all sound pretty close to the album versions here, as well as to the versions on "The Live One." (The other DC tunes are "I Don't Know That Guy," "No Place Away," and "Spring Wind.")

"Good Morning Coffee" has the "Earl Grey kind of guy" story with the "expensive, greasy little buggers." It's a very quick and energetic version.

"I Don't Know That Guy" is lovely and haunting (but then I love this song); Greg introduces it as being about an "evil twin."

The introduction to "If I Had Known" is about how much Greg likes albums; I like the point about how albums would change over time in a way that CDs do not. Remember how one would get to know one's own copy of an often-played record? (Still, I don't understand why he insists that you can't call CDs "albums"; after all, a CD is still an "album" in the sense of a "collection," as in a "photo album.")

"If I Had Known" is more poignant and plaintive than some more recent versions, which often get bluesier than this version. I wonder if he knew when he wrote this one just how good it is (and how "better and better than it's already been" it would keep getting).

"No Place Away" is a haunting song even one is familiar with it, but imagine hearing it here when the CD had not been released.

"Fishing Blues" closes the first set and is real groovy, with lots of Greg's lovely, driving finger-picking and the British-trout rap: "Oh, I hardly think so" (Greg's version of "I would prefer not to"?).

Still on the first CD, the second set opens with "In the Dark with You," slower than the studio version. It is as if the song were both more subtle and more explicit at the same time: the music is more relaxed, but the sensual side of the song comes through a lot more clearly.

"Dream On" follows, also a bit quieter and subtler than on "One Night," the picking of the chords less pronounced, the guitar playing more drumlike, as it were. "Heavy-lidded eyes."

I always like "Speed Trap Boogie" without the studio effects and with the wonderful rapping. "Earl? Come in, Earl. Wake up, Earl. ... How many'd you get?"

"Twenty or So" is an eye-opener, one I had never really noticed on "44 & 66." Such a beautiful song, actually!

"Spring Wind" is very close to the studio version (again, before it was released). "The wine bottle's half-empty, the money is all spent." (My sister Sara's favorite Greg Brown song.)

The Blake set that follows is preceded by the FIRST REASON TO GET THIS CONCERT. In his intro to the songs, Greg talks about poets, including e.e. cummings. In the discussion of cummings, he recites the beginning of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales in the voice of cummings. He also recites Dylan Thomas in a fake Welsh accent.

So "The Little Vagabond" and "The Chimney Sweeper" follow, the former with its usual energetic triple meter, the latter strummed in a more floating, almost ethereal way, with occasional accents for effect and an evocative solo: humming. :-)

Disc two begins with the SECOND REASON TO GET THIS CONCERT: the Angel Poop Lullaby. It is part of the introduction to "Daughters." Sung only once, apparently, like the songs children make up: "They're just sung once; they're like jazz." A must have for any Greg fan. "This life we have on earth, the beauty and the poop are like that."

"Daughters" is full of drifting rubato, as it always is, and beautiful, as it always is. "Dad, the moon is coming home with us."

Dave Moore joins Greg for the last four songs: a rowdy version of "Help Me Make It Through This Funky Day" ("Mr. Mellow, they call me"); "Who Woulda Thunk It" as always funny and swinging; a version of the "Chicken Polka" ("Everybody dance!" cries Greg); and "Downtown." Greg's version, of course, not Patsy Cline's (or Neil Young's?). "Downtown" even includes a sax player identified only as Tom.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Poem of Winnie the Pooh, by Miles D.


Winnie the Pooh
and Piglet, too;
Tigger and Kanga and Rabbit and Roo.
Owl says Who-who;
Eeyore doesn't say Moo;
Christopher Robin says, "Me, too!"

— Miles, 22 April 2006

Discussion Group, Sept. 13: Tim Parks, "The Rapids"

Wednesday, September 13, 7 - 8:30 pm

Book Discussion Group on
The Rapids
by Tim Parks

The discussion will be led by Andrew Shields. Set in the dramatic landscape of the Italian Alps, this is the story of a group of English canoeists who arrive for an 'introduction to white water.' The dangerous river manages to bring out the group's qualities and failings in the most urgent fashion, provoking sudden conflicts and unexpected shifts of alliance.

Bergli Books
and Bergli Bookshop
Rümelinsplatz 19
CH-4001 Basel

The announcement says: "Anyone is welcome to attend the meetings of the Book Discussion Group but it is recommended that you have read the book in advance." Makes sense, doesn't it? :-)

See my earlier comments on "The Rapids."

Daily Poem Project, Week 5

This week's vote for the Daily Poem Project took place this morning (Tuesday, May 9). The poems in question were those on Poetry Daily from Tuesday, May 2, to Monday, May 8.

This was another close vote, but with only two poems in contention: "Thighs," by C. K. Williams, was in first place with seven votes, while "Swimming in the Woods," by Robin Robertson, came in a close second with six votes. They thus garnered the majority of the votes between them; the other five poems received a total of nine votes in all. "Fragment," by A. E. Stallings, from week 1, remains the only poem to have won an absolute majority of the votes for its week. (This week, I also especially enjoyed Christian Wiman's "The Secret" and Timothy Steele's "Starr Farm Beach"; the latter's reference to swifts is a joy to this swift-watcher.)

The poems by Williams and Robertson are astonishingly different. Robertson's title captures quite a bit of its paradoxical, almost surreal power; in fact, it is short enough to quote the whole poem here:

Her long body in the spangled shade of the wood
was a swimmer moving through a pool:
fractal, finned by leaf and light;
the loose plates of lozenge and rhombus
wobbling coins of sunlight.
When she stopped, the water stopped,
and the sun re-made her as a tree,
banded and freckled and foxed.

Besieged by symmetries, condemned
to these patterns of love and loss,
I stare at the wet shape on the tiles
till it fades; when she came and sat next to me
after her swim and walked away
back to the trees, she left a dark butterfly.

The poem moves from a rather concrete image described through metaphor (the light flickering through the leaves onto the woman's body makes her appear to be moving through water) to several other relationships between woman, woods, and water in such a short space that it is dizzying. I found myself gasping with the vertiginous speed with which the wood goes from literal to figurative and the water goes from figurative to literal, with at least one allusion to classical metamorphosis dropped in for good measure. It was that gasp that convinced me to vote for this poem.

I also gave "Thighs" serious consideration, though: Williams eloquently and vividly (even painfully) juxtaposes two thigh injuries: one to an unidentified NBA player with "a 'Charley-horse,' we called it when I played, it did hurt,"; the other to "a taxi driver in Afghanistan, a small man, five-two, arrested by mistake, hung by his wrists, and . . . / tortured" (yes, Williams's lines are that long). The taxi driver died as a result of being tortured (I found some information about this death on the web); the NBA star returned to the next game and was at "eighty percent."

Williams handles this challenging and provocative material skillfully; the long lines work very well, and he balances the poem's five stanzas by beginning and ending with ones about the basketball player, with three poems about the taxi driver in between. If I did not vote for it, it was because of that gasp at the end of Robertson's; in a sense, "Thighs" is an exceptionally strong poem, but it also seemed a bit predictable, and hence less successful. As I wrote in my notes before the vote: as a document, it is excellent; as a poem, it is very, very good.

Still, as with Abraham Sutzkever's poem in week three, I was not surprised that this poem won the vote: Williams has some incredibly powerful material here, and he has handled it with tact and precision. As I wrote about Sutzkever: "It's hard to beat a poem that takes on such issues in such a grounded, memorable way."

Week 4
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1 (with explanation of project)

Monday, May 08, 2006


Reading Richard Wilbur's "Walking to Sleep" for class tomorrow, I was struck by this image:

Now with your knuckles rub your eyelids, seeing
The phosphenes caper like St. Elmo's Fire

A friend of mine once said something to me about wanting to watch what was going on behind his eyelids. Perhaps we were enjoying alternative approaches to perception at the time. :-)

I wish I had then known the word "phosphenes":

"A sensation of light caused by excitation of the retina by mechanical or electrical means rather than by light, as when the eyeballs are pressed through closed lids."

If I had known the word, I could have said, "Okay, I'll shut up and we can enjoy our phosphenes." Perhaps only "mechanical or electrical means" generate "phosphenes," or the definer failed to consider "alternative approaches" to the production of such "sensations of light."

Two sentences for today

My sentence for today (May 8, 2006):

"The toilet is kind of like a diaper, so when you're on the toilet, you don't need a diaper."

(Luisa was on the toilet, practicing ... well, being on the toilet. I call it practicing, because only once has she ever actually done anything on the toilet besides sit there.)

Miles just had a good one, too:

"We live in the middle of the world, but the middle of the world is everywhere."

(I'm not sure what brought this one on, but we had just been discussing what the word "native" means, in the context of Swallows and Amazons.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Daily Poem Project, Week 4

This week's vote for the Daily Poem Project took place on Tuesday, May 2. (I have only found the time to type it up just now, on Friday night.) The poems in question were those on Poetry Daily from Tuesday, April 25, to Monday, May 1.

The vote was again exceptionally close. The winner, "Woofer (When I Consider the African-American)," by Terrance Hayes (from his new book Wind in a Box), received five votes, while three other poems received four votes each: Seamus Heaney's translation of the anonymous ninth-century Irish poem "Pangur Bán," Martha Silano's wonderfully titled "Getting Kicked by a Fetus," and John Hodgen's equally wonderfully titled "When Dylan Left Hibbing, Minnesota, August 1959." Come to think of it, Hayes's poem has a wonderful title, too.

In fact, the four poems receiving the most votes were the four that I had on my (quite long) short list. I ended up voting for Hayes's poem because of its witty, memorable, and intellectually convincing dissection of the expression "African-American":

I think of a string of people connected one to another
and including the two of us there in the basement
linked by a hyphen filled with blood;
linked by a blood filled baton in one great historical relay.

That's the poem's conclusion; it also includes a wonderful story about a pickup line:

..........I met her waiting for the rush hour bus in October
because I have always been a sucker for deep blue denim
and Afros and because she spoke so slowly
when she asked the time. I wrote my phone number
in the back of the book of poems I had and said
something like "You can return it when I see you again"
which has to be one of my top two or three best
pickup lines ever. ...

Week 3
Week 2
Week 1 (with explanation of project)

Sendak, Seeger, and the poets

The April 17, 2006, issue of The New Yorker contains a wonderful coincidence in its profiles of Maurice Sendak and Pete Seeger: how both of them had encounters with poets (women, no less), the kind of encounters one tells stories about, as Seeger does in this story from when he was in high school, where he edited the newspaper:

The playwright and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay visited the school to see a production of one of her plays. "They told me that, with my newspaper, I should interview her," Seeger said. "I had never interviewed anyone famous. I didn't know what to ask. Finally I blurted out, 'What do you think of Shakespeare?' I don't remember anything else of the interview."

(Alec Wilkinson, "The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger and American Folk Music," in The New Yorker, April 17, 2006)

Sendak's encounter with a poet came later in life:

He also owns a Charlie Chaplin figure, given to him by the poet Marianne Moore, who was a neighbor of his on West Ninth Street; in the nineteen-seventies, Sendak would visit Moore and read aloud to her.

(Cynthia Zarin, "Not Nice: Maurice Sendak and the Perils of Childhood," in The New Yorker, April 17, 2006)

I find these juxtapositions particularly amusing since Sendak and Seeger were childhood heroes of mine.

(Unfortunately, neither profile is available on-line, so I could not provide links.)