Auden Was Wrong

    Does poetry make anything happen? Auden said no but who would argue that America is no better for the publication of Leaves of Grass? Who would argue that the wide readership that we have seen in recent years for novels by Toni Morrison or the popular poetry of Bily Collins has not made our nation a more reflective and discerning place? Poetry will not influence a tyrant beyond the arrest of the poets but it may influence what comes after. Last year the University of Iowa Press published an astonishing collectonof poems that were written by the captives at Guantanamo Bay. We stand today in the expectation that this prison will be closed and that the individuals who have been detained there will at last be accorded their human rights under the bylaws of the Geneva Convention.

Poetry is slow. It is generally the case that the human conscience is steadfast though it lacks initial speed.  

Where I've Been



In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been lately (though I hope this hasn’t been your dear caste of mind) I am presently in Geneva, New York where I spoke about Emily Dickinson and blindness last evening. Last week I was in Moscow, Idaho where I taught creative nonfiction to an especially talented group of graduate students although I also absorbed some odd right wing “juju” which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I wrote about this sad, aleotoric anti-magical ennui at the “Split this Rock” anti-war poetry blog. See:



Honoring Recovery and Service

I received the following note this morning and I want to pass it along. The entire disability rights community owes a great deal to American war veterans who have pushed the envelope for disability rights and accommodations after each and every foreign war. Let's honor those who have served our country and in turn those who have worked assiduously to serve veterans.

The Veterans Health Administration has designated today, November 6, 2008, as the first annual National Prosthetics and Sensory Aids Service Day "Where Quality of Care Results in Quality Life!" At the end of World War II, no agency or method existed to provide quality prosthetics to America’s disabled soldiers. On November 1, 1945, in response to both Congress and veterans, VA created the Prosthetic Appliance Service. Its purpose: to develop a system through which artificial limbs of the highest quality as well as other prosthetic appliances would be provided to disabled veterans. Today, VA medical centers celebrate and recognize the significant contributions of Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service (PSAS) personnel in delivering world-class quality service to disabled veterans. Observances include presentation of the Under Secretary for Health’s Award for Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service of the Year to the Togus, Maine VA Medical Center by Frederick Downs, Jr., PSAS Chief Consultant. Many medical centers will host presentations for staff and veterans on prosthetics and orthotics and display the unique services and high tech equipment PSAS provides. Wherever you are, stop by your Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service today and thank them for a job well done!


Helsinki, May 1980


A woman sat next to me on the metro and began softly talking to herself, talking like birch leaves at the summer house, talking and talking and I knew that she had no volition. My Finnish isn’t fluent but I could tell she was speaking a pre-war working class slang, a lingo that the old street horses would have known; the open grained speech of her husband and her children. Of course you can see where I’m going. It didn’t take long to learn they were dead and long ago, long ago. There have been so many times I’ve felt how little I know. My capers and satires are thin in these moments. "yes," I think, "I have suffered but my sorrow is a mechanical thing like the pulleys in a dumb waiter, willy nilly window up and window down. But there is something other: wilderness of the thistles, thistles with the worms under the spikes, thistles from which their soup is made, thistles in a dictionary of soldier slang. It was a short train ride. That train couldn’t take me where I wanted to go.

Baltic Classicism

We stood on a quay talking of illness,

Of a friend’s discomfort, the long solo of our age

Now people have the luxury of slow death.

A wooden shack leaned on the sea wall

Like something one finds after walking

All night—the house in a Russian tale,

Its windows open to admit souls.

Anyone can talk of dying, the measure

Of tongue and footfall, of boats in darkness.

But groaning, incapable as men are

We talked in the rhythms

Of singers from Tallinn:

Men who stayed up all night,

Turning their sleighs into coffins.





11 O' Clock at Night

Half in the manner of St. Augustine and half in the sotto voce of Linus Pauling who hoped to live forever the clock hints of lives unfulfilled. The northeast window takes it up: these asides and hand wringings until dull matter reflects our wishing like a Mexican mirror. There’s nothing we can do to hurry ambition. Tonight my good friend Dr. S goes to bed thinking about post-molecular medicine. All day he has seen children who are going blind because there are pin-point spots in their respective genes. We are so close to curing blindness. We have advanced one hundred years in the past decade. We need only five more to restore sight. The FM says the world is ending. Everywhere evidence mounts for the end of culture. The great laboratories will be overrun by looters like the libraries of Mesopotamia. And while the winter stars rise fat and imperfect war merchants are planning the destruction of hospitals with American taxes. We are so close to making the young firm; the old see; the broken mind calmed; the old Rosicrucian marriage of light and dark; the very promise of matter; soul clap its hands; going to sleep is like rolling up a scroll, hiding it among stones for the ones who surely will arrive. Tonight I say they will come: the builders and doctors; the mathematicians and young artists from the orchards. 11 O’clock at night & we have work to do. Let it be said we stood upright in our age.


The Inheritance

I met a man recently who was twice divorced and recounting his woes he allowed that when his first wife left him he inherited her cat. As I endeavor to pose as a moderate man I withheld my approbation for privately I saw that the possession of a cat was simply another straw on the camel’s back. I kept mum. I held my measure. I made no moue of disgust. Oh but inwardly I thought of the injustice of the matter. In fact I thought of the terrible affliction that’s represented by leaving a cat to anyone–whether you like that person or not.I shall stand firm with this view no matter the tidal wave of feline hysteria that will assuredly come my way. Oh yes.