Sep 30, 2010


I'm back. Thanks for your patience.

Left: Two Kids in Competition. (The Checker Players, Bingham, 1850)

While visiting the town of Houghton Lake in north-central Michigan, I was parked next to an elementary school at quitting time. As they waited for their rides, one ten-year-old boy said to his buddy, “If you fist-bump me again, I’m gonna bite your face.”

But school was out and both kids needed their rides, maybe even from the same driver. They were stuck with each other. When I pulled away, The Fist-Bumper still had a face, and the two were bosom buddies, lazily shooting the bull.

When my gang was ten, playing Lucky Strike was one of our rituals. Walking around town, the first guy to spot a discarded pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes could step on it, holler “Lucky on me,” and slug the shoulder of the nearest other guy, who was expected to endure the blow without protest or tears.

Usually, the Lucky puncher gave a dramatic but half-hearted jab, partnered by a lot of shouting and editorializing about his victim's character flaws. The intent was to menace and annoy, not to inflict important pain. No one said this, but we understood it.

Occasionally, some thug-kid joined us from the margins and showed his poor breeding by lambasting the victim with an all-out roundhouse that brought tears, curses, or both. The violator would then feign innocence; he didn't know the rules, he didn't swing that hard, blah blah blah.

That might have been my introduction to a phrase I’d hear so often in life, verbatim or paraphrased or silently implied: “Not our kind of people.” These days, I use it only in order to mock it, even as I grudgingly admit its significance, see pretty clearly the dangers of any We vs. Them.

By the way, the Lucky Strike mayhem rarely happened with only a pair of kids. An audience of two or more somehow validated the tradition and bore witness. Who had quick enough feet to get to the empty Lucky pack first? And how hard was the punch to the shoulder? After all, if it was too weak, the puncher’s manhood might be in doubt. Oh, yes--and how stoically did the victim receive the blow?

So as we walked our streets and alleys, each kid was constantly on the lookout for used-up packs of Luckies. I won't speak for other towns, but that is how the Clawson males, always on the prowl, became such rotten listeners. I thought you ought to know, and those guys don't say much.


Sep 28, 2010

Internet Problems

I hope to back to full speed Friday or Saturday.  Thanks for checking.


Sep 24, 2010

Dear Rachel Maddow, I Tried To Be Brief, But . . .

Dear Rachel Maddow:

I agree with about 90% of your positions, and I learn a lot from your show (which I tape and watch with breakfast at least twice a week). I’m concerned, however, that you are preaching only to choir members like me. What are you (and your staff, of course, plus Jon Stewart, Keith Oberman, and others) doing to try to be heard by the other side?

I find your specifics compelling, and I have to think some conservatives would too. So what can you and the others do to expose to Centrists and Moderately-Right the Militant-Right’s irrationality and hatred? Is your show just biz and vanity, or do you honestly want to effect change? Maybe someday the Tea Party will have demonstrated that change trickles up. If so, what pragmatic alternatives are we offering in an effort to trickle up? How can we be more compelling? Preaching to each other is not the answer, no matter how well we bring it off. And if we sneer in the process, we're cutting off our noses.

I grew up in a small town in southern Ohio, and I know that sending liberal TV stars into hardcore Republican areas is not the answer—your IQs and seemingly elite eastern backgrounds are too apparent. I love your eloquence, but Joe the Plumber resents it bitterly; it won’t fit on a bumper sticker. And we need Joe as much as he, unknowingly, needs us.

Still, getting the obvious rationality of your actual content, your specifics—minus your glitzy personae—to people whose minds are still open, if just a crack, should be an achievable, wise, and correct objective. I imagine, for example, a sort of line-item questionnaire or list of talking points to be presented, say, to civic and church groups, at any school that will permit you to enter, and at various other local gatherings, where you offer, simply:

“Do you know the Right is pushing for this? And this? Do you agree with that? Why?”

For example: “The Right wants to privatize Social Security, Medicare, the V.A., and ______ and _______ and ________. Does that make sense after we’ve seen what Wall Street, the health insurance companies, auto companies, oil companies and other corporate interests have done to Main Street? What is your evidence that private sector executives know how to manage anything? Was your sister’s retirement money in Enron?”

This is a Coffee Table; our conversation-emissaries will have to set aside condescension and show biz antics. They must wait patiently for citizens to answer. No Fast-Talk. We'll shun histrionic volume; we'll have entered a sanctuary of reason and earnest good will.

Politely, calmly decline to accept slogans and sound bites. Courteously insist upon responses that are explained and illustrated with specifics. Videotape citizens and play back the tape. “Now that you’ve heard what you’ve said and seen how you’ve said it, do you notice any problems with your argument? Do you think the other side might? How could you be more convincing? Do you have the strength of character to alter any of your views? Which of our views would you most like us to alter? Why?"

That is, help average Americans stop shouting and hating. Persuade citizens to imagine life in circumstances other than their own. Entreat an entice them to begin to hear what they themselves, as well as others, are saying. Help them inch toward reasoning.

Jon Stewart would have to abandon his narcissistic shtick and his interruptions, and I don’t think he’s up to it. You, Rachel, might be able to present as a well-meaning person on the street, but I doubt it—whether or not you intend it, in language and manner, you exude the Ivy League and Oxford. And faked average-ness is the last thing anyone needs.

So you’ll need likable regular-guy representatives from the Inch-Left-of-Center camp. Surely we have some. Maybe we could call ourselves the Coffee Crowd: “Joe Plumber, Have a Cup. Wake Up.” Or, “Joe, Real Americans Don’t Drink Tea.” Or, “Joe, Show us how The Militant-Right cares about you or your grandma.” Or, “Joe, What do you and a CEO have in common? What have CEOs done for you lately. Have they kept afloat your local businesses? Their employees, the guys who hire you, how much chump change have they tossed your way? Is it trickling nicely down? So why do you keep sucking up to CEOs? Is that why you bow-wow and bounce on your hind legs for Hate-Mongers?

“Why are you mouthing Republican sound bites about the merits of the private sector? They’ve nearly bankrupted us. Are you their stooge? How do you think The Glass Towers’ Upper Floors regard you and your set of manly tools?

“Who told you that a new president can fix in two years what their guy built in eight? How carefully have you thought about that formula? Two, eight. Two, eight.

“Has a new economic recovery begun? Some experts think so, and they’re as good at economics as you are at pipes and faucets.”

The Coffee Crowd could even go to a string of What-would-Jesus-do? questions. I must tell you, I find them less absurd than most bumper stickers, and downright promising in some cases.

Jesus was . . . a generous guy, wasn’t He? To put it mildly, he didn’t trust the Rich—He tossed their tables in the temple; and with His needle, He pretty much shut down heaven to the Rich and their glitzy camels. Let's see, He believed in compassion and giving, didn’t He? To the . . . you know . . . the poor? The unbathed, the sick—even the lepers?

Remind me what Wall St. says about compassion and sharing. How about the Upper Floors of Blue Cross or General Motors? “Blessed are the . . . Executives?” I guess the Methodists omitted a Beatitude or two.

Can it be that this new Extreme and Hateful Right has answers to any of that? I cannot imagine it, neither in the letter of their law, nor the spirit of it. The Militant-Right is aggressive and mean--and anarchic, maybe seditious: “Second Amendment remedies,” says former school teacher, Sharron-double-r-Angle.

But Coffee Table questioning will have to be delivered by generous people, in a kindly tone of mutual respect and willingness to listen—a tone which I lost somewhere back there, dozens of words ago. You need a calmer, wiser person than I.

Surely there are suitable minions, probably among the young, or maybe local, young politicians who haven’t yet perfected the stridency of our day. Unfortunately, our greatest president since Lincoln or FDR is a man of color who is too brilliant and too burdened by his liberal reputation (deserved or not) to be effective in Paranoid-Right venues, where you don’t find too many men of color, brilliant or otherwise. But the message must be delivered, and filming folks as they encounter content might expose some hitherto hidden truths to those who need to behold them. "Do you think you sounded a little mean there? More than you meant to? Exactly what and whom do you hate? Why? That aunt who lost her pension to Enron's top floor--what did she ever do to you? Why wouldn't you want to help her out? Maybe you could persuade her to be more cautious with her savings next time, if she ever has any savings again. Maybe you could listen to her story."

This all seems obvious, yet, to my knowledge, it is not happening. Democrats have been timid or inarticulate. Just as the media have not sought out and publicized moderate Muslims, they have not pounded home some specific realities about the meaning of Right and Left in the year 2010, choosing instead to focus on Christine O'Donnell's babblings of ten to twelve years ago. Maybe exposure of significant facts could even come along in time to prevent a regrettable tide in the November elections.

Aim high—especially now, when High is not as high as some once thought it was.

Best wishes and thanks for what you do,

Sep 22, 2010

James Tate, "A Wedding"

Here is more of James Tate, one of those poems that's all about the unexpected "turn" toward the end. The question then becomes--doesn't it?--which of the details leading to that turn might be omitted with no cost to the poem as a whole? That's a complex, nuanced question about rhythm, pacing, tone, and mood--oh, yes, and content.

A Wedding by James Tate : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I suspect the only way to address it is to type up the poem without the challenged word, phrase, line or lines, and see what happens. We don't know if we need ten fingers till we cut one off.

I also wonder where poets like Tate, Charles Simic, Dean Young, or John Ashbery fit in comparison to the "School of Accessibility" poets like Ted Kooser, Tony Hoagland, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, to mention only a few (and that list creates some strange bedfellows, it seems to me).

Standing in the wings are ultra-talk poets Mark Hallady, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby.

What would be the parallel questions in the visual arts or serious music? When do we have a legitimate breakthrough in sensibility, formal aesthetics, and intellectual content? When do we have fraud?

And how can we know the answers before each new canon comes out in paperback?

While you're at it, which is better, the Earl Scruggs three-finger picking on the banjo or clawhammer frailing on the open-backed banjo. Don't even mention the four-string tenor banjo of Dixieland. They're not our kind of people.

Surely we must choose. Surely we must hate one crowd. Otherwise, why politics?

A Wedding by James Tate : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Sep 21, 2010

James Tate, "The Motorcyclists"

I was browsing at Poetry Foundation, realizing I haven't posted anything by James Tate, a significant contemporary poet. I do believe I stumbled onto a companion piece to Altadenhiker's Sunday post.
(I also think visitor Gothpunkuncle referred us to this poem some time ago).

Of course, Tate's female cyclist strikes me as the opposite of the solitary thinker in my photo at left. Maybe they're all riding under this sky and by this farm in Ohio.

The Motorcyclists by James Tate : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

What do you think? To borrow a line from Diner, the Tate poem is a smile, I hope, an entertaining, comfortable ride. Does it also bring us to the question of how casual a writer can be and still command our attention? Maybe tomorrow I'll browse in Tate some more and see how often he leads me to that question.

Sep 20, 2010


In Chile, both man and dog seem to be having fun in these clips, and the pooch is amazing. So why don't I completely enjoy it? Am I a party-pooper to wonder if it it's too much about the guy, his center stage and his control of the dog? I won't lose sleep over it, but I wonder if anyone else sees something a bit icky here.

YouTube - Dancing Merengue Dog

In the second clip, we might see enough of the guy to think he's okay (of course, I can't keep up with his Spanish--who knows what he's actually saying?). Opinions welcome.


Here endeth Deep Thoughts for this Monday.


Sep 17, 2010

Ohio’s State Parks. Salt Fork State Park. Richard Wilbur.

For those who came for a poem, I must offer again Richard Wilbur's magnificent "Still, Citizen Sparrow." I cannot think of Salt Fork without remembering the abundance of
turkey vultures hovering over the lake there, and I cannot think of turkey vultures without amazement at their contradictions: their beauty in the sky, their creepy hideous heads once they light and dig in on carrion, and, as Wilbur illustrates, the benefit of their role as scavengers. If we don't share Wilbur's glorification of the buzzard, we must admit their functionality as cleaners of the wild. Perhaps like crows, they are one of our most misunderstood creatures.

Now, about Salt Fork . . . . Anyone taking yesterday’s post seriously might wonder about lodging in the area. The lodge at Salt Fork State Park is the first place I think of. Each of Ohio’s seven state parks consists of thousands of acres of woods, trails, a lake for boating and fishing, a golf course (sorry about that), cabins and tent sites, and a lodge with restaurant, pool, and the usual package of amenities.

For outdoor, hilly beauty, Salt Fork has been my favorite for a long time. However, I must caution that the beds are like elderly trampolines, and the springs jut through the mattress cover. The chairs are uncomfortable, straight-backed affairs. So if you’re prone to back problems or if you have trouble sleeping, you really, really might want to look elsewhere.

Also, Xanterra, which operates the Ohio state park lodges, finds it OK to charge $10/day for use of the internet—an insult as well as an inconvenience. I know these are hard times economically, but I question how much (important) revenue Xanterra is realizing from this bush-league policy. I suppose most people don’t go to these parks with Wired on their minds, but I do, and I’m annoyed, so get out of my way.

Fortunately, there is good news at Salt Fork too. Three years ago, the lodge was refurbished, and indeed, the rooms and halls feel brighter and cleaner than my last visit in 2003. The restaurant’s food is good at breakfast and not bad at lunch and dinner. The food service has improved over the last seven years, and the prices have held steady (entrees probably average around $16, sandwiches around $9).

About half the rooms face inward, toward the pool and restaurant, which some folks might like. I prefer the other half, the rooms looking out at the surrounding hills, trees, greenery, and wildlife. Deer visit regularly at dawn and dusk. This year, I saw my first Salt Fork coyote creeping around at about 10:00 a.m., looking for garbage. Turkey vultures are constantly soaring.

Do the plusses outweight the minuses? I doubt I’ll return unless I’m assured that the furnishings have been upgraded. I’ve had much better room and restaurant experiences at other Ohio State Park lodges: Deer Creek, SW of Columbus; Mohican in the hills around Mansfield, Loudonville and Amish country; and Maumee Bay, on Lake Erie, near Toledo—it’s pleasant and quiet, but pancake-flat, and not at all an illusion of wilderness, except for nearby Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and that birder-paradise, Magee Marsh.

Salt Fork ties Mohican for a sense of the wild (the nearest town of any size, is Cambridge, about 11,000 people, 15 winding, country miles away, and by the way, boyhood home of cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy). Indoors, the common areas in the lodge are quiet, light and airy, so the heavy, dark beams and north woods décor seem appropriate, not oppressive.

The price? It varies a lot according to season and day of the week, so I’ll just say my Sunday-Monday price tag in early September was $104. The other lodges always seem to have better prices, so you’ll have to be—dare I say it?—the, the . . . Decider.


Sep 16, 2010


Here are some buildings I liked in my recent and epic wanderings in southeastern Ohio. Also, the Amish hill country north of here, around Wooster and Millersburg, is gorgeous in an agrarian way. To try to hang on to a theme, the campuses at College of Wooster and Kenyon College (in tiny Gambier) are extremely attractive, too, as are their towns.

“Maps are a way of organizing wonder.”
Peter Steinhart, “Names on a Map” (1986)

Color season has begun. Shake a leg. Here is the southeastern quadrant of Ohio. Could you name as many as five towns prior to this map? Can you picture the towns or the hill country? Click to enlarge (though only a little, I'm afraid).

I recommend these fine drives on southeastern Ohio’s back roads (there are more, but these will get you started):

from just north of the quadrant:

Rt. 800 Urichsville to Barnesville
Rt. 83 Millersburg to Coshocton to Reinersville to Beverly

Within the quadrant:

Rt. 339 Macksburg to Beverly
Rt. 36 Coshocton to Gnadenhutten (mostly 4-lane, but open, rural, pleasant)
Rt. 147 Batesville to Sarahsville.
Rt. 285 Winterset to Caldwell (averaging about 30 mph).
Rt. 513 Middlebourne to Batesville
Rt. 78 Woodsfield to Caldwell to McConnesville to Glouster
Rt. 564 Caldwell to Harrietsville

western part of the quadrant:

Rt. 60 Zanesville to Marietta
Rt. 550 Marietta to Athens
Rt. 13 Athens to New Lexington
Rt. 7 along the Ohio River is sometimes beautiful, sometimes pocked with industry.


Sep 15, 2010

James Wright, Ohio Pastoral

I've been wondering about a follow-up to Snodgrass' "The Campus on the Hill," and I keep coming up blank. So this seems as good a time as any to start posting this picture from time to time.

Also, I'm just back from four days of wandering on two-lane roads back in Ohio. I saw some friends from high school, too, so I think I'm overstimulated (I heard you laughing!), and I've got to sort out what I want to say, which could take a few days and a dozen posts. In the meantime, when in doubt about what to say about Ohio, go straight to James Wright, from Martins Ferry, across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Beginning by James Wright : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Wright and I seem to agree that, under the moon, women and other mysteries can arise from or fade into Ohio fields.


Sep 9, 2010

"The Campus on the Hill" by W. D. Snodgrass. What Is College?

The Campus on the Hill by W. D. Snodgrass : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

What is it with me and college campuses? You didn't ask, so I did.

In September of 1963, the United States and I were on the brink of everything: Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, environmental awareness, and the rug of trust in America, that rug pulled out from under everyone who wasn’t hiding in the cellar, where the apples were rotting. Parents, teachers, politicians, clergy—everyone had lied.

Of course, we didn’t know what we were on the brink of. That’s what made it . . . fun?

I was a freshman at Donut College, a small liberal arts school, on a hill overlooking a quaint small town. I’d drawn for a roommate a guy who, unlike me, was aggressively interested in politics and the workings of the human animal.

It was maybe our second conversation when, for lack of a better topic, he said, “So, are you a Republican or Democrat?”

“Oh, Republican,” I said, as if I were saying ketchup, or Kleenex—and as if I were saying, “Isn’t everyone?”

“Yeah?” he said. “How come?”

There was only a hint of challenge in his tone; he wasn’t pulling the wings off a butterfly. He was just interested in the subject—human nature—and each person's place within it.

My response was a grin as silent as it was stupid. He had me, without even trying. We both knew I had barely managed to stifle the infantile response, “Because my parents are.” But I couldn’t find a useful word to utter, so I kept still.

That was one of the most embarrassing, important exchanges of my life. A little voice in me hissed, “You will never let yourself feel this stupid again. Or this childish. See to it.”

So when W.D. Snodgrass’ poem critiques the elite white morons of “The Campus on the Hill,” it is both right and wrong. I entered that campus as a bumpkin, and, while my grades didn’t show that I learned much over four years, I was somewhat proud of learning to demand Why and How of things and people, including myself, though there haven’t always been answers.

The main defense for Snodgrass’ argument, I suppose, is that so few college graduates seem to have learned the sacredness in Why and How, and responding to detail, in detail, seeing both the forest and the trees, along with all the ways they are wrong. The being wrong will never stop; everyone must see and accept that, then plow forward all over again. It seems that most people feel that, if they're getting the rent paid, they should not have to ask hard  questions, no matter how intriguing they are. That probably applies to a lot of liberal professors, as well as Republican money-grubbers who protect their piles with ferocity more than thought.

Otherwise, why the great . . . unpleasantness we’ve seen? Look back at the irrational resistance—fire-hoses and German Shepherds, that resistance—to civil rights, or the ten-year, murderous struggle in the war in Vietnam, or the 2008 presidential campaign with its casual references to candidates “Hillary” and “Barack” by a supposedly liberal press, which addressed the Republican candidates as “Governor” or “Senator” or simply “Mr.”

Yet I cannot wholeheartedly accept Snodgrass’ critique of the college experience. There’s a lot wrong with the undergraduate scene, but it’s one way for dumb youth to bumble into a better understanding of themselves and their world. It is indeed a second birth. Or at least it can be.

Obviously the college experience doesn’t have to happen on a pretty hill, but it can.
And it might be youths' first exposure to, or last chance at, living and working in a place of beauty, which might inspire more careful thinking—about how to make more things more beautiful. It can do that, and that’s a very big deal.


Sep 5, 2010

Back Roads, Campus, Waking, Roethke

The weekend’s not over yet. You can still hit the two-lanes for a few hours, or take a new back road home from Shangri-La.

Hit some small towns, wander by some farms. How much can you generalize about them? Or roam around a college campus, which can feel something like a gathering of cathedrals if you plan well—or just get lucky. What is life like for those kids and profs? If the devil's in the details, how much can you, should you generalize?

If this weekend is a flop, remember, a couple of autumn months have just begun, and they won’t last long. So hit the road and remember your Roethke:

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

The Waking by Theodore Roethke : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Sep 2, 2010

Ukuleles, Sweetness, Stephen Dunn, Frances Darwin Cornford, e.e. cummings.

Here is one by Stephen Dunn that might fit the theme or mood of the videos below.

Sweetness by Stephen Dunn : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I had no idea what was possible on the uke. Don't tell Gothpunkuncle, but I thought of it as a toy guitar. I confess.

If you look at the James Hill video, there is, as usual, a column of promising ukulele clips down the right side of the page at YouTube.

The clip is about 5 minutes. If you're short on time, you might scoot forward to about the 1:30 mark for the remarkable stuff.

YouTube - James Hill - One Note Samba

But for sheer delight, for complete bunny-hood, I still have to crown the happy little strummer from last March 30:

YouTube - I'm Yours(ukulele)

After that, Stephen Dunn, or even a lighter, feel-good poem might seem too heavy, but I'll offer one in case you missed "The Guitarist Tunes Up" from last Valentine's Day. It's written by the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, so I presume there's a survival motif if we look really hard:

The Guitarist Tunes Up by Frances Darwin Cornford

Upon hearing ukuleles and seeing Ukulele Boy's animation and face in the video, I also think of these lines from e.e. cummings' poems 53 and 54, posted here last May 13:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance


Lovers' Lane