On the Oppositional Element

The second volume of the Robert Frost Letters is out, and I've busted my budget to get my hands on a copy.  The first volume was lengthy and rich, and clearly only the tip of the trail.  A couple of fragments, from WH Pritchard's review (from the Fall, 2016 issue -- am catching up on my reading), Hopkins Review:

I was determined to have it out with my youngers and betters as to what thinking really was. We reached an agreement that most of what they had regarded as thinking, their own and other people's, was nothing but voting -- taking sides on an issue they had nothing to do with laying down.

Frost sets himself against "clash" in the classroom; debating and disagreeing was well enough for coming lawyers, politicians and theologians,

...but I should think there must be a whole realm or plane above that -- all sight and insight, perception, intuition, rapture ...Having ideas that are neither pro nor con.  The differences that make controversy become only the two legs of a body the weight of which is on one in one period, and on the other in the next.  Democracy, monarchy, puritanism, paganism, form, content, conservatism, radicalism, systole, diastole, rustic urbane, literary, colloquial, work, play. I should think too much of myself to let any teacher fool me into taking sides on any one of these oppositions. 

Of course this is the same guy who likened writing free verse to playing tennis without a net.   And of course he had his political views, but clearly he's  talking about the the classroom here, and particularly within the humanities.   

As a perpetual student and long time teacher, I'm left wondering what the classroom really is.  I've often said my two kids have been my greatest teachers.  The husband has taught me what love is.  And I've learned more from the scorpion, the ground squirrel, the scrub jay, and the mountain than I have in any classroom.  What's all that to do with humanities, or literature, in particular? My old friend Jack used to say, All learning is conversation.  

It would follow that I've been imagining Uncle Walt, Father Frost, and Grandmother Emily having a post-modern beer in a dusty bar called The American Sublime.  

When I come back to earth, it doesn't end well.  The beer too hoppy.  Walt makes a pass at Frost, Frost takes a poke at Emily, and she ends up eyeballing the door. 

In my own teaching or presenting, (often outside the halls of academia, and often within it, as an outlier), I've the luxury of saying things like: 

When we speak of writing formal poems, we often place an emphasis on the technical aspects: scansion, the integrity of the line, the requirements of the various fixed forms, etc.  In the midst of all this, it’s easy to forget that the reason versecraft exists is to create a vocabulary in which to describe what the ear already knows.  In other words, prosody, or the study of the meters, is useful in providing the terms with which to talk about poems, but not so much in the making of poems. 

More and more, students and facilitators are telling me they're interested in learning versecraft, are interested in the fixed forms, want to know what makes a sonnet tick, desire a working understanding of the iambic line, and even express an inexplicable interest in rhyme.    

On the one paw, I'm delighted New Formalism (a movement I've long been associated with, though I'd no idea it existed at the time), has begun to shed some of its archaic and stodgy reputation.  On the other paw, I find myself astonished by how quickly a pendulum can swing...I've been seeing formal work alongside vers libre in all manner of journals and anthologies of late -- something unheard of twenty years ago -- has there been a profound shift in aesthetics, receptivity, consciousness, reading habits ?  

Or are poets and editors ....(gasp) ....fashionistas ?

No matter, Poetry says, I've a way of dismissing these things.

Excellent, says Politics, I've a way of clinging to them.

Ah, the Humanities, oh the Classroom, egad, and mother of crisis, Politics! 

From deep in the bowels of myth, tradition and consciousness, science gurgles, religion coughs, and the eyes and ears of social media flicker on and off.  

This might be construed as the rough beast stirring, a random electrical blip, or an innocent, wide-eyed blink. 

Yes, I've no choice but stick with poetry.  It's a good thing in the end, I suppose, when one's inclination is also one's bane, one's practice, and one's sanctuary.  Below, a mighty fine introduction/meditation on the subject, (Natasha Tretheway), and a sampling from the 2017 Best American Poetry, out last month, in which yrs truly appears, in full feather jacket:

And a couple of other little poems of mine, from the current HR:



A Horse Made of Driftwood

A horse made of driftwood walked into my dreams the other night. Soon after, an old poet appeared, riding the back of a turkey buzzard.  The elk in the road turned into a moose.  Italy paused, having lost her boot.  There were no words, but there was some sort of curtain, and some sort of curtain parting.   I woke feeling a little like Brando.  I coulda been a Krishna.  

Meanwhile, after long thought, (and suddenly off the cuff), one comes to realize the lyric poem is not enough.   One has to wonder if language itself aches to escape itself.  I suspect it does.  In the wake of the boat, the row.  In the throes of the boat, the rumor of autumn.  Floods, fires, and refugees, sun, moon, and Weldon Kees.  

It's when  going upstairs, not down, I tend to trip, or stumble.  Up, down, back and forth. Mumble, mumble, mumble.  My kingdom for a (deep, dark, and absolutely clear) truffle.  


Oh, Nico

by Peter Anderson

Succubus from the tobacco leaf, sometimes I wish you would turn me loose, but you have your ways and you know where to find me, usually at night on some mountain-town sidewalk after a few beers.  You know how to get my attention, like the older but attractive woman stealing a french fry from my plate at the bar and girl.  You love to flaunt yourself.  And I am all too willing to entertain your flauntings.  Oh, Nico.  You are like the Harley-leathered bartender in that downtown Montrose tavern, one of the few places where they still let you in.  Like her, you are both attractive and dangerous, and maybe that's the appeal.  Or maybe it's how you leave me with my thoughts as I breathe you in.  How you dance your night-sky tango when I let you go.  It's true, I love to undo your slinky belt and slide off your see-through negligee.  And you smell so good when you are naked and ready to burn.  And I love the anticipation of lighting you up.  And how you disappear and drift away saying I'm here and I'm gone but there's more where that came from.  You drive me to drink when you do that, but then  I want you even more.  And you are always willing to come back.  Damn you.  Too often your scent lingers and it is clear that I have been with you.  My wife hates you and so do my daughters.   You took my old man.  I hate you in the mornings when you linger uninvited, though you can be pleasant over coffee.  Leave now and don't come back.  But you will and you will and you will.  And I will say good-bye, and good-by, and good-bye.  For now.

from "Coming Home: Field Notes" by Peter Anderson


Coming Soon

A poem of mine entitled "Deconstruction" in Best American Poetry, edited by Natasha Tretheway, due out in September.  

Also due out in September: Nasty Women, and Unapologetic Anthology of Irreverent Verse, Lost Horse Press

Aug 10: I'll be doing a reading in Edwards for the good folks at the Rocky Mountain Land Library

Aug 26: I'll be co-teaching with Jodie Hollander at the Solarium for the Western Colorado Forum, 10-1, and doing a reading that evening at 8 pm at Lithic Books in Fruita, during the Jack Mueller Festival.

Sept 15-16: I'll be teaching a day-long workshop in Salida, and reading at Book Haven, I believe the night before.

It appears I've emerged from my hermitage.

Wailing Walls

I've been asked to produce a large painting of the Wailing Wall for my nephew and his wife, who are Orthodox Jews.   As I've never been, they sent several photographs of the angle they prefer, and asked, with a bit of a grin, as I'm of Syrian/Lebanese heritage, to leave the mosques in the background out of the painting.

This led me to some google searching, only to discover that yes, indeed, many modern artists' rendition of the Western Wall is depicted this way, devoid of context or historical background, as it were.

In a strange coincidence, at the time they asked, I was actively writing a cento --harvesting lines from various poems and songs on the subject of walls. 

Ah, the Literary Life


Mercy, Pity, and Abilene: They Ain't Just fer Tumbleweeds

In which the poet gives the last word to Blake

This sedentary Coloradan has recently spent some time in Texas, from Amarilla to Austin to Houston to Abilene and back.  Our son has recently moved to Houston.  

Friendlies and soft-bodied folks abound, as do lakes, rivers, and bridges.  

Still, I’ve been mulling how to paraphrase my overall perceptions in one pithy, all inclusive sentence.  I’ve decided on: 

They don’t call it the lone star state fer nuthin.

Though naturally I haven’t been able to resist one small stinger of a poem: 

Home of the Brave

You can change the laws
but you can’t change me.
We who believe 
in the land of the free 
are free 
to poison honeybees.  

In a strange coincidence, while deep in the heart of the road, I received an email that a lengthy review of my work had quite suddenly appeared in Borderlands, an Austin-based journal.  We walked into a local bookstore near our rental cottage, and picked up a copy.  The author, Jeff Beck, Dean of Graduate Studies at Weiss, who had contacted me a couple of years ago for an interview, was far too kind in his lengthy assessment of the work.  One is grateful one’s glaring limitations were only worth a sentence or two:

Meanwhile, following a recent conversation with my son, I’ve been mulling the nuanced differences between pity and mercy.

Whatever their subtle differences and intersections, both seem to have developed the habits of tumbleweeds.  

If mercy were 
a bird
(of which nobody 

had seen,
and everyone 
had heard),

wonder what song 
she’d sing. 

Likely a mix of Auden, Hafiz, and Simone Weill.  With a Tory Amos undertone.  In other words, utter madness.

Popular culture is a place where pity is called compassion, flattery is called love, propaganda is called knowledge, tension is called peace, gossip is called news, and auto tune is called singing.    -- cris jaml

What is the real battle raging, asks 
the aloe vera mole. 

The answer I suspect 
is three-fold,
replied the yeti, 
the black swan,
and the floating flake of gold.

The battle with the self.
The battle with the world.
The battle with the mystery.  

The eavesdropping eagle 
said only



Mercy laughed, You have to excuse them -- they suffer from an incurable disability.

What would that be?


-nalini singh


Said the hedgehog by the shed, 
I only partially 
(re tweet me). 

Mercy is the stuff you give to people that don’t deserve it.  (joyce meyer)

Pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent.    (terry goodkin)

Night is a time of rigor, but also of mercy. (bashevis singer)

You don’t write a novel out of sheer pity any more than you blow a safe out of a vague longing to be rich.  A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery.  
(nelson angren)

Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.  (blake)


Reflections on a Wednesday

Charlemagne said, 

To have another language is to possess a second soul.  

I'm hopelessly monolingual, but I like to think I speak a little ravenese, coyote, quail, cat, and some kind of pidgin bluebirdese.   

A poverty is said to bless the process.

Lewis Hyde said that we are only alive to the degree that we can let ourselves be moved. 

Three times I've spotted fox this spring.  

One was with her two kits, and I spotted them down the hill.  The other two I noticed as they were gazing up at me from the ravine.  

Rather feline, the fox.  

Anyone can speak Troll.  All you have to do is point and grunt.

-- JK Rowling

Still no mountain lion.  Not even tracks.  But every now and then, I sense that one has been in the area.  

Only in the last moment of human history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world.  

-- E.O. Wilson

Time will say nothing but I told you so.  

-- Auden


Belle Turnbulle, Unsung Masters Series, Pleaides Press

Happy to have played a small part in this worthy project: 
"Well-known during her life but long out of print,Turnbull’s lyrics of sublime alpine wilderness and her narratives about the harsh and dangerous world of hard rock mining offer us a profoundly original vision of the American west that transcends the region.
"In poems that are as consoling as they are unsettling, Belle Turnbull extracted and refined the meanings of mountains, miners, memory, and mortality. Now, nearly fifty years after her death, a team of gifted writers—serving as Turnbull’s latter-day friends in high places—joins together to rescue her work from our inattention, and return us to her company. “

With essays by Dave Rothman, Dave Mason, Uche Ogbuji, Susan Spears, and others


J.D. Blackfoot, The Song of Crazy Horse and Wounded Knee, from 1973

Not just a beautiful piece of music, operatic in scale, but a profoundly well made epic poem.   I include the lyrics below, which stand alone as a piece of historical literature.  I mean to write an essay on this, as a song, and as a stand-alone poem, and make a plea that it be known in the world of letters.  And in the schools.  It deserves a place in the American canon.   The death dirge alone is enough to have convinced me of this. An unsung genius, this man, and the song is virtually unknown.  With thanks to my brother, for turning me on to it when I was a child, and to Chrissy, and Dave, whose travels, conversation, and poems, have put Wounded Knee back into my orbit of thought.   Turn up the volume.  You'll weep.  You'll dance.  You'll fall to your knees.  

I think it's time, great white father, that you knew my name.  

Jd Blackfoot The Song Of Crazy Horse 

The Song of Crazy Horse
Words & Music by: J D Blackfoot © 1973 Published by: Tokala Music
You took his land and you ate his corn,
and on his grave your land was born.
You took his pride and you fed him dirt,
you wished him winter without a shirt
and you called this red man savage.
And after you crushed him you helped him up,
to let him drink from an empty cup.
You gave him the Navy without the fleet,
and made him lick your hands and kiss your feet,
and you named this mad dog savage.
Well I found a book the other day,
so I looked up red and white to see what it'd say.
One was a savage the other unlearned,
like a look in the mirror the tables were turned,
for history has named you - savage.
In the year of 65 when I was very young,
we watched the dust clouds to the south
we knew that you had come.
We saw you build your chain of forts
along the Bozeman Road,
but Red Cloud had his allies a-counted
long before it snowed.
And someday Great White Father
you will know my name.
In December of 66' you met me face to face.
I decoyed your Captain Fetterman
and we never left a trace.
Into our sacred homelands
your Blue Coat Soldiers came,
but we just taught you a heap-big lesson
in the Battle of a Hundred Slain.
And someday Great White Father
you will know my name.
In the June of 76' our Nation joined its hands.
We made our camps on The Little Bighorn
not knowing of your plans.
You sent your long-haired Custer
with the Seventh Cavalry,
to hunt and kill my children
for wanting to be free.
And I think it's time Great White Father
that you knew my name !
It's Crazy Horse - it's Crazy Horse
and I wish you were here to see,
cause' I got Yellow Hair cornered at the Bighorn
and I'm about to set him free.
Ride to the village to get my Oglala's,
the Sans Arc's and the Miniconjou,
Get Sitting Bull with his band of Hunkpapa's,
the Brule's and Blackfoot's too.
Ridin' home from battle came the Cheyenne ponies
with white blood drippin' from their feet.
Their riders were a lookin' and a shoutin' up to heaven
here's to Chivington at Sand Creek.
Hey there mister wagon master
what do ya' have inside,
hidden underneath of that buffalo hide.
Could it be ya' brought to me
some food from the man back east,
so my starvin' children could have a feast.
A-hey mother come look and see,
what the bastard done brought to me -
its alcohol - tobacco - and guns,
alcohol - tobacco - and guns
Now I have seen the Eagle soaring
beautiful and free,
I don't want no man to make less of me.
Do you take me for a fool
or as a little child?
And do you really wonder what's made me wild?
Hey paleface ya' better run,
because my men been havin' lots of fun
on your - alcohol - tobacco - and guns,
alcohol - tobacco - and guns. Yeah -
Now I have waited patiently
for you to pay your rent,
but as yet I haven't seen that first red cent.
I don't think that there's much chance
of me evicting you,
but watch out for the day that you get Sioux'd.
A hundred years have seen the setting sun,
but his sad country it still is run - on his
alcohol - tobacco - and guns,
alcohol - tobacco - and guns.
A hundred years have seen the setting sun,
but his sad country it still is run - on his
alcohol - tobacco - and guns,
alcohol - tobacco - and GUNS.
Now you try to trick me and lock me up in jail,
but where would a stupid savage
find the bondsmen or the bail.
I turn to run for I am scared and want so to be free.
I feel the ice cold bayonet
as it sinks deep inside of me.
But someday Great White Father
you'll remember me.
Sioux warriors teach your children
the white mans evil tongue.
Make them know the name of Crazy Horse
and the battles he has won.
So they will know the truth
when its knowledge that they crave.
Let them sing of the land of the free
and the home of the brave.
And of the Great White Father
that dug my grave.
Brown rivers once were blue
now the fish float upside down.
Ancestral burial grounds
that's where you built your towns.
The smokestacks from your factories
they pollute my skies.
You slaughtered all my buffalo
and you left me here to die.
And all of this you have done
in the name of God.
Crazy Horse he was laid to rest
on a creek called Wounded Knee.
But there is more buried in his grave
than the wisest men could see.
I have dreamed the vision of the horse that dances wild,
I have seen the land of the great beyond.
I am one with this earth as a little child.
Let my eternal light shine on.
I have dreamed the vision of the horse that dances wild,
and I have seen the land of the great beyond.
I am one with this earth as a little child.
Let my eternal light shine on.
Crazy Horse he was laid to rest
on a creek called Wounded Knee.
But there is more buried in his crave
than the wisest men could see.
Crazy Horse he was laid to rest
on a creek called Wounded Knee.
But there is more buried in his crave
than the wisest men could see.
For Crazy Horse he was laid to rest
on a creek called Wounded Knee.
But there is more buried in his crave
than the wisest men could see.
Milkweed allusion cast its dye.
And the horse that dances starts to fly.
Rhythms of metamorphous leave their stain.
Memories of happiness kept in vain.
The target tomorrow is one step beyond.
For lilies of mercy lost on a pond.
They cry out for freedom to the light house above.
They are angels of victory, peace and love.
Visions of Odin dark and oblique.
Mind over matter which all men seek.
A vague understanding with no recourse.
And a fond remembrance of Crazy Horse.
Just Ride away -
And travel right out through space and time.
Try and find a way of leaving the illusion behind.
And in this sleep your mind will be awakened.
To the calling of a dream that lies within.
You're just a child, who has but to remember.
That in yourself you just found your best friend.
So ride away -
And let your mind go through its metamorphosis.
Try and find a way -
To bring your sunken love back to the surface.
And sail on silver clouds straight through the fire.
Like a lily pad adrift on a windless sea.
A-clinging to the breast of Mother Nature.
Together sailing beautiful and free.
Ride away lord -
It's said that Crazy Horse had the power
to dream himself into the real world -
and leave the illusion behind.
So ride away -
And don't recall the things that are best forgotten.
Try and find a way -
of picking from the barrel the one that's rotten.
The key to peace is sitting on your shoulders.
So knock upon the door and you walk on in.
You're just a child who has but to remember.
That in yourself you just found your best friend.
So ride away yeah - Ride away -
Ride away - Ride away -
Ride away yeah - Oh yeah -
For Crazy Horse he was laid to rest
on a creek called Wounded Knee