Friday, December 19, 2008

Lists 2008--Best of . . .

Here's an aggregate list of many of the end-of-the-year best of/ worst of lists. What's this fascination with lists? Maybe because they are so neat and tidy. Maybe they simplify our world into nice linear value-laden predigested cultural schedules. I dunno. All I know is that I'm off for the weekend.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Google Street view

I have probably blogged about this at least once already, but it still blows my mind everytime I encounter a reference to it. If you haven't done this yet, you need to try it--if only to see how easy it is for information-literate-trained stalkers to find you. Many streets in U.S. cities have now been photographed. Looks like pictures of my house were done sometime last winter.

Go to Google; choose Maps; enter your address/zipcode. When you get the map, click on Street view in the box that pops up. Now you can navigate by clicking on the arrow in the middle of the street or rotating the picture using the carets (sp?) in the top corner of the view.

Should you ever see a car driving your street with a set of cameras mounted on the roof, be sure to wave and say hello to the world!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tic Your TOC

I love electronic databases, especially those with full-text articles. But, alas, I miss the serendipitous finding of articles I wasn't looking for, but really like or need or explode my mind. Just got notice of a utility from the UK that allows us to specify (tic) a list of our favourite[sic] journals, save the list, and then cruise the Table of Contents (TOC) of our choices whenever we wish. And the name is. . . . ticTOCs!

"Welcome to ticTOCs - where researchers keep up-to-date

* ticTOCs is easy to use, and it's free.
* Find 11,393 scholarly journal Table of Contents (TOCs) from 414 publishers.
* View the latest TOC for each journal.
* Link to the full text of 291,071 articles (where institutional or personal subscription allows).
* Export TOC feeds to popular feedreaders.
* Select and save journal titles to view future TOCs (Register to ensure your MyTOCs are permanently saved).
* And more!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Library Elf

Sounds like a Christmas story; it's not. Ellen Wilson, our ingenious technology librarian, alerted me to this utility several months ago, and every month I'm really glad she did.

Sign up for an account. Enter your Mobile Public Library card number and password and Library Elf will connect with your account. You can set it up to let you know which books you have checked out and send you an email alert before they are due.

It works for MPL and Hancock County library for both me and my husband. You can check and see if any other libraries are included. There are a couple of academic libraries, but not this one, though I will look into it. Library Elf may not work with our system.

It has saved me from fines several times and I love just being able to see what I have, what I've put a hold on, and when everything is due. Perfect if you have kids that use the public library. So easy.

Monday, December 08, 2008


I think it was the Washington Post that used to have a contest every year for the best made-up word. This website is based on the same concept. The Word of the Day is:
noun, The anxiety and stress stemming from having the in-laws over for dinner over the holidays.

So many words that ought to exist!

Thanks to
Marylaine Block

Friday, December 05, 2008

Just for Fun--Sleeveface

Now that exams are going on, I think it's too late for anything but some stress relief. Heard about this website on NPR the other day. Too cool! This is something anybody can do with an old album cover and a friend with a digital camera. Submit your photo to the website.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Mechanics of Finding an Article in the Library

I just finished updating a web page that, I hope, elucidates the steps you need to take to find a full text article through the USA University Library Homepage in a couple of general databases. I wish it were easy, but it's not. Here are seven steps that take you through the mechanics of the process. The actual search strategy is a whole 'nother ballgame. Maybe I can talk Ellen Wilson into doing a Captivate demo on constructing a search strategy--after the Holidays, of course.

Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day

How much do you know about how AIDs? Take the test.(Give it a few moments to load.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

American Social History

Appropriate for this most social of holidays is this primary document website described by the Scout Report today.

The Digital Library Federation's website, Aquifer American Social History Online, is a site that brings together 175 collections that catalog American social history. Some of the types of materials included on the site are photographs, maps, oral histories, data sets, sheet music, posters, books and journal articles. On the right side of the homepage you can browse by "Times", "Subjects", and "Places". The items included here date back as far as the 1600s, covering the 50 states plus Puerto Rico and subjects ranging from African-Americans to World War II.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Website Parodies

Sometime along the way, I gathered this set of parody websites. They were probably originally meant to illustrate the need to evaluate public web pages. Some of them are very carefully done--by someone who had a lot of extra time. Some of them are just silly. I thought maybe they would provide a little humor-break from research-paper writing. And always remember there is The Onion.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Civic Literacy Quiz

According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education citing a newly released report on civic literacy:
. . . earning a college degree does not necessarily guarantee an increase in knowledge of American history, government, or economics.

The report, "Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions," is based on a survey that quizzed more than 2,500 randomly selected Americans, including college graduates and elected officials, to test their "civic literacy." Of those who took the 33-question multiple-choice test, nearly 1,800, or roughly 71 percent, failed.

According to the report, college graduates whose highest educational-attainment level was a bachelor's degree answered 57 percent of the questions correctly. That was 13 percentage points higher than the score for Americans whose formal education ended with a high-school diploma.

Only one age bracket of college graduates, baby boomers, did not fail the test over all but came close with an average score of 61 percent. A score below 60 percent was considered failure.

I didn't fail, but am embarrassed that I actually missed 3 questions. But I'm one of those baby boomers that actually studied "civics" as a class in grade school and high school.

See how you do. Take the 33 question multiple choice test.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Life on Google

For years, when doing a library tour, I've stopped at our shelves of Life magazines. Our bound volumes on the third floor outside of the classroom start in 1936 and go through about 1983. Students are amazed at the history these represent--the articles, the advertisements and the photos. Google has gotten the Life photo collection from 1750s and made it available on their Images search. All those famous shots of presidents' inaugurations, presidents'funerals, war, wars' ends, fashion icons and the poor unfashionables.

To browse the collection go to Google, choose "Images" search and use these words: source:life.

To search it just add another word, for example: source:life vietnam.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Full Frontal Scrutiny

Americans for American Energy
Center for Consumer Freedom
American Clean Skies Foundation
Coalition for a Democratic Workplace
Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy
Consumers Rights League

"Alliance," "foundation," "league," "coalition," Wow, such great names. They sound like activist, grassroots organizations working for the betterment of our world and our lives. Sorry to say these are all backed by those for whom transparency is the foe. Hmmm, what might that be? Here is a watchdog website that follows the money to unearth the agenda of these groups.

"This joint project between Consumer Reports Web Watch and the Center for Media and Democracy aims to examine advocacy groups with misleadingly green-sounding names that are actually funded by corporate interests." Thanks to: Neat New Stuff I Found This Week

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hoaxed Again!

Have you heard the news that Sarah Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent and not a country? And did you believe it? All the news stations and blogs reported it, so it must be true, right?

Read this:

Even me, a librarian skeptical of all news sources, fell for it. After all everyone was saying it. Just hope that no one decides to do this to you on the web, on facebook, twitter, wherever. It is viral and can be deadly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

National Survey of Student Engagement 2008

Though this report should be of interest to university administrators, students should take note of the summary below. Whatever college and university you attend, there will be differences in the quality of the education. It is up to you to find the best courses and the best teachers--not just the easiest and those that fit your schedule.

Promoting Engagement for All Students: The Imperative to Look Within
Source: National Survey of Student Engagement
From press release (PDF; 226 KB)

Findings from a national survey released today show that the quality of undergraduate education varies far more within colleges and universities than between them. As a result, rankings can be highly misleading predictors of educational quality. Analyses of key “Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice” reveal that in almost every case, more than 90 percent of the variation in undergraduate education quality occurs within institutions, not between them. A related conclusion is that even institutions with high benchmark scores have an appreciable share of students whose undergraduate experience is average at best.

The 2008 report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is based on information from nearly 380,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 722 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. The report, Promoting Engagement for All Students: The Imperative to Look Within, provides an overview of survey findings and points to accomplishments as well as areas where improvement is needed.

Friday, November 07, 2008

10 Most Annoying Phrases

Oxford Researchers List Top 10 Most Annoying Phrases
By John Scott Lewinski, 7 Nov 2008

The great hierarchy of verbal fatigue includes:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

The list appears in a new book, Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, by Jeremy Butterfield.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition

The 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, coincidentally published in 1911, is known (by librarians and historians mostly) for the depth of its articles and the scholarly authority of the authors of these articles. I just ran across an online version of this 44 million word reference source and after a little more research have found more than one website hosting it. Needless to say, it is of no value for most 20th century topics, but for students and academics in most fields it is a historiography of great value.

Wikipedia offers these characterizations by noted authorities. I can't think of better advertisements for trying it than these
In 1917, under his pseudonym of S. S. Van Dine, the US art critic and author Willard Huntington Wright published Misinforming a Nation, a 200+ page criticism of inaccuracies and biases found in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition. Wright claimed that Britannica was "characterized by misstatement, inexcusable omissions, rabid and patriotic prejudices, personal animosities, blatant errors of fact, scholastic ignorance, gross neglect of non-British culture, an astounding egotism, and an undisguised contempt for American progress.

"Sir Kenneth Clark, in Another Part of the Wood (1974), wrote of the eleventh edition, "One leaps from one subject to another, fascinated as much by the play of mind and the idiosyncrasies of their authors as by the facts and dates. It must be the last encyclopaedia in the tradition of Diderot which assumes that information can be made memorable only when it is slightly coloured by prejudice. When T. S. Eliot wrote 'Soul curled up on the window seat reading the Encyclopædia Britannica,' he was certainly thinking of the eleventh edition." (Clark refers to Eliot's 1929 poem Animula.)"

Check it out at:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Molecular Movies--Cool Animations for the Biologist and the Curious

This website just came via Scout Report. This is their review:
. . . . The Molecular Movies site presents an organized directory of various animations, along with original tutorials for life science professionals who are learning 3D visualization techniques. These materials are divided into the following sections: "Showcase", "Learning", "Toolkit", and "News". The "Showcase" area contains animations listed by scientific area or individual animator or design studio. Currently, there are well over fifty animations offered here which demonstrate everything from cell invasions to DNA replication. Next up are the visualization tutorials (located in the "Learning" area), which allow users to learn about the techniques used in making such lovely animations. Visitors can browse these tutorials by skill level, software type, or topic area. Before leaving the site, visitors should also check out the site weblog for further updates and links to other related works. [KMG]

Copyright Internet Scout, 1994-2008. Internet Scout

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Imagination Overwhelms Me

When everyone else sees the world as bland and boring, there are those among us who make visual, aural and poetic sense of the random.

Sorted Books project

The Sorted Books project began in 1993 years ago and is ongoing. The project has taken place in many different places over the years, ranging form private homes to specialized public book collections. The process is the same in every case: culling through a collection of books, pulling particular titles, and eventually grouping the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence, from top to bottom.

Bill Geist on Complaining Choirs (CBS Sunday Morning)
CBS' offbeat correspondent Bill Geist explores the trend of "complaining choirs", where ordinary people complain about life to four-part harmony.

Glumbert: When graphic artists get bored.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Banned Books Week

This is the one week a year that we officially celebrate our freedom to read whatever we want. John Stuart Mill believed that if we were just allowed to explore all possible arguments we would come up with an enlightened answer. But Plato didn't trust that we would not be unduly swayed by the poets and rhetoricians. The battle still rages today. Reading is a civic responsibility OR reading is dangerous unless controlled for "truth." Libraries generally take the first position and are sometimes challenged by those who take the second.

Here is the Joint Statement by the American Library Association and the American Association of Publishers.

Take the Guardian's Quiz to see how much you know about book banning worldwide.

Here's a list of frequently banned books.

And visit the University Library to vote for your favorite banned book.

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” — On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Living Room Candidate

Lest we forget past campaigns.

Just got this fascinating link from a library colleague. It's from the Museum of the Moving Image. How about let's study the visual and rhetorical techniques of campaign ads as part of information literacy.
"The Living Room Candidate contains more than 300 commercials, from every presidential election since 1952, when Madison Avenue advertising executive Rosser Reeves convinced Dwight Eisenhower that short ads played during such popular TV programs as I Love Lucy would reach more voters than any other form of advertising. This innovation had a permanent effect on the way presidential campaigns are run."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Institutions, Victims and Justice

Paul Newman: from the film The Verdict (1982, directed by Sidney Lumet, script by David Mamet).


You know, so much of the time we’re lost. We say, ‘Please, God, tell us what is right. Tell us what’s true. There is no justice. The rich win, the poor are powerless…’ We become tired of hearing people lie. After a time we become dead. A little dead. We start thinking of ourselves as victims. (pause) And we become victims. (pause) And we become weak…and doubt ourselves, and doubt our institutions…and doubt our beliefs…we say for example, `The law is a sham…there is no law…I was a fool for having believed there was.’ (beat) But today you are the law. You are the law…And not some book and not the lawyers, or the marble statues and the trappings of the court…all that they are is symbols. (beat) Of our desire to be just… (beat) All that they are, in effect, is a prayer…(beat)… a fervent, and a frightened prayer. In my religion we say, `Act as if you had faith, and faith will be given to you.’ (beat) If. If we would have faith in justice, we must only believe in ourselves. (beat) And act with justice. (beat) And I believe that there is justice in our hearts. (beat) Thank you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Pogue on Google

Every Thursday I watch for the email from New York Times with David Pogue's column. He is one of the few technology writers that really writes to be understood. I trust someone who actually uses the products he writes about. This week he writes about using Google and how Google has improved its searching facility to make life so much easier for us. Those of us who remember life without Google can't even conceive how life can be even easier than yesterday's Google, but David Pogue thinks so. Here's his column.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What Issues are Important to You in this Election?

If you think you don't know what McCain and Obama stand for, it is about time you found out. With only 5 weeks till the elections, get serious about what is important to you.

Here are links to two websites, one for each of the presidential candidates, which present what candidates believe and promise to do on the major issues of the day. There are too many choices facing the country today to make uninformed decisions or ones based on a single issue, hearsay, gossip or TV ads by political action committees, lobbyists, or general factotums.

Tomorrow, Sept. 19th, is the last day you can register to vote!
You can register to vote at the following locations:

Mobile County Courthouse
205 Government St.
Mobile, AL.
(251) 574-8586

Mobile Public Library
701 Government St.
Mobile, AL
(251) 438-7073

Tillman's Corner Office (West Mobile)
Cloverleaf Shopping
Mobile, AL
(251) 574-8552

You can also obtain voter registration forms from AmSouth Bank branches, Alabama Power, and or the Old Courthouse, 109 Government St., Room 116.

For more information, call (251) 574-8586.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


This should have a huge disclaimer stating "world names for 26 countries--NOT INCLUDING the Middle East, China, Russia most of Africa and some other areas of the world." Sorry, most of the world population is not included. If you are of Western European heritage, however, it is kind of fun to see where your last name [surname] and other family names appear most often, that is, how many times per million inhabitants.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gov Docs Big Week

All week long our Government Documents department will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary of its inception as a Federal Depository Library. Join them

At 1:00 Paula Webb & Beverly Rossini and doing a presentation in Room 305 "Take Charge! Informed Health Decisions for Older Adults."

At 3:00 in the Library Auditorium, Mobile County Commission President, Stephen Nodine, will speak.

The rest of the schedule is here.

Established by Congress to ensure that the American public has access to its Government’s information, the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) involves the acquisition, format conversion, and distribution of depository materials and the coordination of Federal depository libraries in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

The mission of the FDLP is to disseminate information products from all three branches of the Government to over 1,250 libraries nationwide at no cost. Libraries that have been designated as Federal depositories maintain these information products as part of their existing collections and are responsible for assuring that the public has free access to the material provided by the FDLP.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What [Media] Librarians Do on their Day Off

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Every student, and even more emphatically, every faculty member at an institution of higher "learning"--not just at elite institutions--should be required to read this essay.

"The Disadvantages of an Elite Education"
By William Deresiewicz
in the current issue of American Scholar

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Evaluating Webpages

I've been terribly negligent about keeping this blog up-to-date. One excuse is my schedule of teaching classes on how to use the library. One of the concepts I would like to include in each class, but seldom have time for, is how to evaluate the reliability of a webpage. Because it is sooo easy to use Google, one tends to ignore the constant warnings from faculty about webpages and their provenance.

Here's a webpage I've developed over the past few years providing some questions you need to ask yourself before including a webpage from the "public" Internet in your bibliography. I need to do one on Wikipedia too. My advice about using Wikipedia is to always read the info under the tab "Discussion" before using an article. It often contains some of the most amazing arguments about what's true and what's unknown and what is pure bs. Much more fun than the articles themselves--sometimes providing insight into how "information" is often a social construct.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Library Newsletter

It happened again. You'd think I would learn. I sent out a mass mailing announcing the latest library newsletter in which the links to it didn't work. I don't know if the issue is Mac/PC related. I do know that it is stupid to do an email to the whole university if you haven't checked the links on another computer.

Anyway here is a link to the newsletter. I hope it works online better than in email.
Fall 2008 University Library Newsletter

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mindset for the class of 2012

Beloit College has just come out with their annual list purporting to offer insight into the mindset of the entering college freshman. Always interesting; often surprising; perhaps not so relevant as suggested. But I do wish that I knew what some of the items referred to.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Netlingo--Yesterday's Word of the Day

Boolean and Boolean Logic
Note: this is not just a library concept. Boolean is a powerful way to give your web searching more focus. More time strategizing mean less time evaluating.Always go to the "Advanced Search" option to make use of a form that employs Boolean.
See Wikipedia graphic.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

BBC Sport's Olympics Monkey

BBC's version of a Olympics promo. Great animation. You just have to put up with a short commercial first.

Typographic Fun

Friday's activity: Create your own extraordinary typographic graphic--whatever. Find a piece of text you like or create a set of related words and paste them into the window. Wordle creates a graphic design using your words. There is some control over font, color and design. Then do a screen capture to use it in your own webpage.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Truth in Advertising:
The political ads are flying. Seems like a new one everyday. Who's right? What's hyperbole? What's not literally true? Every four years I depend this website to help me deconstruct the language, and video, of political advertising. The fellows find the facts behind every claim--on both sides. Comes out of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and takes no money from political, commercial or ideological groups, just the Annenberg Foundation.
Try the vidcasts.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Copyright "Digital Slider"

Sue Medina of Network of Alabama Academic Libraries fame just sent this website which is a valiant attempt to clarify which publications are still under copyright and which are in the public domain. Public domain means that works can be used without permission, though they still need to be cited. If you happen to have the required info about the item, this is a nifty little web invention. Unfortunately most of the time one doesn't know whether the copyright was registered and extended or when the author died, and sometimes the answer given is just "maybe." You may have to do more research, but at least try it. Move the red slider next to your best guess and like the Magic 8 ball the answer may turn out to be correct.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Library is Not. . .

Just back from my extended vacation and trying to catch up on my reading. Ran across this quote which I need to try to remember while facing the brand new students this fall.

"Writing is not about grammar and spelling and punctuation. It's about expression and discovery and the beauty of language. Libraries are not about Boolean searching, truncation, or APA, but about reading and curiosity and learning."
Ross LaBaugh in LOEX Quarterly

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Literary Tattoos

I know that all of you associate literature with tattoos, right? Well, check out this gallery of tattoos from books, poetry, music, and other sources.

Fun fact: at least one of your USA librarians has a literary tattoo.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poem of the Week - June 9-13

by Joel Brouwer

One winter, when much snow fell in Florence,
Piero de'Medici caused Michelangelo to make
him in his courtyard a statue of snow, which
was very beautiful.

–Giorgio Vasari's Lives

He found his rasps and hammers useless,
too crude for such soft stone.
So he chiseled the head

with his fingers: scratched ice
from the ears, rubbed his numb palms
against the cheeks to smooth them.

He stood on a ladder with his back
to the balcony, so the Medici's guests
could not see the statue's face take shape.

Clots of snow flew from his fingers,
dropped to the ground. The guests
amused themselves by guessing what magic

might be forming behind his black cloak.
Bacchus? Moses? Maybe the Pope?
After an hour, bored, they ordered the artist

to step aside. We cannot know
what they saw. Vasari doesn't say. But let's imagine
that silence falls thick as a blizzard

on the crowd. That the children drop
toys and hide behind their mothers.
That every eye wanders

up the snowman's bright muscles,
his dazzling, impossible flesh,
and locks to his lucid gaze,

which seems so certain, so candid,
that the guests shiver, look away,
turn suddenly solemn.

Later, at the feast, a young woman slips
from the table and rushes
to the courtyard, where a stray warm wind

strokes the statue's face, erasing
each feature. She climbs the ladder, stands
nose to nose, staring hard as if

the force of her looking will bring the face,
already so close to life,
to life. She scrapes away the thick, curved lips,

squeezes them between her hands.
She dribbles the liquid into a small glass vial,
which she'll wear on a necklace,

the water exactly as warm as her skin.
She imagines that strong, ruthless mouth
still beautiful, pressing heavy against her.

from Exactly What Happened. Purdue University Press, 1999.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Poem for this Week

by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Poem for this week

Ode to a Nightingale
by John Keats


MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
  But being too happy in thine happiness,—
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
        In some melodious plot
  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
  Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
  Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
        And purple-stained mouth;
  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
  What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
  Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
        And leaden-eyed despairs,
  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
    Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
        But here there is no light,
  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
  Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
    Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
        And mid-May’s eldest child,
  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
  I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
  To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
        In such an ecstasy!
  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
  No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
  In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
        The same that oft-times hath
  Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
  To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
  As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
        In the next valley-glades:
  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Poem for Friday - May 9

Today’s poem is by Friedrich Schiller (b. 1759), who died on this day in 1805. The poem, “Ode to Joy” (1785), is the original source text of the famous last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It is worth noting, however, that the “Joyful, joyful we adore thee…” that appears in most American church hymnals, while often entitled “Ode to Joy,” was written by American writer Hen­ry van Dyke in 1907. Schiller, a noted poet, philosopher, historian, and dramatist, is considered one of the preeminent pillars of German intellectual history.

Ode To Joy
by Friedrich Schiller

Joy, beautiful spark of Gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, fire-imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary.
Thy magic powers re-unite
What custom's sword has divided
Beggars become Princes' brothers
Where thy gentle wing abides.

Be embraced, millions!
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers—above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell.
Whoever has had the great fortune,
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won the love of a devoted wife,
Add his to our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to must creep
Tearfully away from this circle.

Those who dwell in the great circle,
Pay homage to sympathy!
It leads to the stars,
Where the Unknown reigns.
Joy all creatures drink
At nature's bosoms;
All, Just and Unjust,
Follow her rose-petalled path.
Kisses she gave us, and Wine,
A friend, proven in death,
Pleasure was given (even) to the worm,
And the Cherub stands before God.

You bough down, millions?
Can you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.
Joy is called the strong motivation
In eternal nature.
Joy, joy moves the wheels
In the universal time machine.
Flowers it calls forth from their buds,
Suns from the Firmament,
Spheres it moves far out in Space,
Where our telescopes cannot reach.

Joyful, as His suns are flying,
Across the Firmament's splendid design,
Run, brothers, run your race,
Joyful, as a hero going to conquest.
As truth's fiery reflection
It smiles at the scientist.
To virtue's steep hill
It leads the sufferer on.
Atop faith's lofty summit
One sees its flags in the wind,
Through the cracks of burst-open coffins,
One sees it stand in the angels' chorus.

Endure courageously, millions!
Endure for the better world!
Above the starry canopy
A great God will reward you.
Gods one cannot ever repay,
It is beautiful, though, to be like them.
Sorrow and Poverty, come forth
And rejoice with the Joyful ones.
Anger and revenge be forgotten,
Our deadly enemy be forgiven,
Not one tear shall he shed anymore,
No feeling of remorse shall pain him.

The account of our misdeeds be destroyed!
Reconciled the entire world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
God judges as we judged.
Joy is bubbling in the glasses,
Through the grapes' golden blood
Cannibals drink gentleness,
And despair drinks courage—
Brothers, fly from your seats,
When the full rummer is going around,
Let the foam gush up to heaven:
This glass to the good spirit.

He whom star clusters adore,
He whom the Seraphs' hymn praises,
This glass to him, the good spirit,
Above the starry canopy!
Resolve and courage for great suffering,
Help there, where innocence weeps,
Eternally may last all sworn Oaths,
Truth towards friend and enemy,
Men's pride before Kings' thrones—
Brothers, even it if meant our Life and blood,
Give the crowns to those who earn them,
Defeat to the pack of liars!

Close the holy circle tighter,
Swear by this golden wine:
To remain true to the Oath,
Swear it by the Judge above the stars!
Delivery from tyrants' chains,
Generosity also towards the villain,
Hope on the deathbeds,
Mercy from the final judge!
Also the dead shall live!
Brothers, drink and chime in,
All sinners shall be forgiven,
And hell shall be no more.

A serene hour of farewell!
Sweet rest in the shroud!
Brothers—a mild sentence
From the mouth of the final judge!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 30

Today’s poem is from one of my all-time favorite poets, British poet Tony Harrison, in honor of his birthday. This poem is a bit long, but it’s worth it.

A Kumquat for John Keats
by Tony Harrison

Today I found the right fruit for my prime,
not orange, not tangelo, and not lime,
nor moon-like globes of grapefruit that now hang
outside our bedroom, nor tart lemon's tang
(though last year full of bile and self-defeat
I wanted to believe no life was sweet)
nor the tangible sunshine of the tangerine,
and no incongruous citrus ever seen
at greengrocers' in Newcastle or Leeds
mis-spelt by the spuds and mud-caked swedes,
a fruit an older poet might substitute
for the grape John Keats thought fit to be Joy's fruit,
when, two years before he died, he tried to write
how Melancholy dwelled inside Delight,
and if he'd known the citrus that I mean
that's not orange, lemon, lime, or tangerine,
I'm pretty sure that Keats, though he had heard
'of candied apple, quince and plum and gourd'
instead of 'grape against the palate fine'
would have, if he'd known it, plumped for mine,
this Eastern citrus scarcely cherry size
he'd bite just once and then apostrophize
and pen one stanza how the fruit had all
the qualities of fruit before the Fall,
but in the next few lines be forced to write
how Eve's apple tasted at the second bite,
and if John Keats had only lived to be,
because of extra years, in need like me,
at 42 he'd help me celebrate
that Micanopy kumquat that I ate
whole, straight off the tree, sweet pulp and sour skin—
or was it sweet outside, and sour within?
For however many kumquats that I eat
I'm not sure if it's flesh or rind that's sweet,
and being a man of doubt at life's mid-way
I'd offer Keats some kumquats and I'd say:

You'll find that one part's sweet and one part's tart:
say where the sweetness or the sourness start.

I find I can't, as if one couldn't say
exactly where the night became the day,
which makes for me the kumquat taken whole
best fruit, and metaphor, to fit the soul
of one in Florida at 42 with Keats
crunching kumquats, thinking, as he eats
the flesh, the juice, the pith, the pips, the peel,
that this is how a full life ought to feel,
its perishable relish prick the tongue,
when the man who savours life 's no longer young,
the fruits that were his futures far behind.
Then it's the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.

History, a life, the heart, the brain
flow to the taste buds and flow back again.
That decade or more past Keats's span
makes me an older not a wiser man,
who knows that it's too late for dying young,
but since youth leaves some sweetnesses unsung,
he's granted days and kumquats to express
Man's Being ripened by his Nothingness.
And it isn't just the gap of sixteen years,
a bigger crop of terrors, hopes and fears,
but a century of history on this earth
between John Keats's death and my own birth—
years like an open crater, gory, grim,
with bloody bubbles leering at the rim;
a thing no bigger than an urn explodes
and ravishes all silence, and all odes,
Flora asphyxiated by foul air
unknown to either Keats or Lemprière,
dehydrated Naiads, Dryad amputees
dragging themselves through slagscapes with no trees,
a shirt of Nessus fire that gnaws and eats
children half the age of dying Keats . . .

Now were you twenty five or six years old
when that fevered brow at last grew cold?
I've got no books to hand to check the dates.
My grudging but glad spirit celebrates
that all I've got to hand 's the kumquats, John,
the fruit I'd love to have your verdict on,
but dead men don't eat kumquats, or drink wine,
they shiver in the arms of Proserpine,
not warm in bed beside their Fanny Brawne,
nor watch her pick ripe grapefruit in the dawn
as I did, waking, when I saw her twist,
with one deft movement of a sunburnt wrist,
the moon, that feebly lit our last night's walk
past alligator swampland, off its stalk.
I thought of moon-juice juleps when I saw,
as if I'd never seen the moon before,
the planet glow among the fruit, and its pale light
make each citrus on the tree its satellite.

Each evening when I reach to draw the blind
stars seem the light zest squeezed through night's black rind;
the night's peeled fruit the sun, juiced of its rays,
first stains, then streaks, then floods the world with days,
days, when the very sunlight made me weep,
days, spent like the nights in deep, drugged sleep,
days in Newcastle by my daughter's bed,
wondering if she, or I, weren't better dead,
days in Leeds, grey days, my first dark suit,
my mother's wreaths stacked next to Christmas fruit,
and days, like this in Micanopy. Days!

As strong sun burns away the dawn's grey haze
I pick a kumquat and the branches spray
cold dew in my face to start the day.
The dawn's molasses make the citrus gleam
still in the orchards of the groves of dream.

The limes, like Galway after weeks of rain,
glow with a greenness that is close to pain,
the dew-cooled surfaces of fruit that spent
all last night flaming in the firmament.
The new day dawns. O days! My spirit greets
the kumquat with the spirit of John Keats.
O kumquat, comfort for not dying young,
both sweet and bitter, bless the poet's tongue!
I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42!

I search for buzzards as the air grows clear
and see them ride fresh thermals overhead.
Their bleak cries were the first sound I could hear
when I stepped at the start of sunrise out of doors,
and a noise like last night's bedsprings on our bed
from Mr Fowler sharpening farmers' saws.

from Tony Harrison, Selected Poems. New York: Random House, 1987

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 29

Today’s poem is by my friend Joel Brouwer, who is currently Associate Professor of English (Creative Writing) at the University of Alabama.

"Astronomers Detect Water in Distant Galaxy, Suggest Life May Be Present Throughout Universe"
                        –San Francisco Chronicle April 3, 1994
by Joel Brouwer

Whether a thimbleful frozen hard as a tooth
or a boiling lagoon they don't say.
Because it doesn't matter. A single drop

or an ocean makes the same implication,
namely: maybe. Maybe we're not alone
in this universe, friends. Maybe bathtubs

up there, bougainvillea and thunderheads.
And maybe (why not?) they've got it
good up there: no mumps, no smashed china

on the kitchen floor, no rubber checks
to the gas company, no Kalashnikovs . . .
Beleaguered skeptics everywhere, you may begin

dreaming now. Of wars fought with peonies,
or glasses of milk. Of every belly filled each day
with dish after succulent dish. Of law books

one sentence long: "Be nice." But maybe this
is too much to hope. Perhaps
they're just protozoa up there, wiggling

blind in a sullen puddle. Let's rocket there quick
and help them avoid our mistakes,
snatch the stone from their first murderer's hand,

inoculate them for plague and smallpox,
burn their Oppenheimer's notes. In a few million years
they could be perfect, with our help,

and then we could go live there too, simply,
in cabañas along the ocean, eating mangoes
and staring out at the deep blue water, wondering

when somewhere out there the first shark
will feel its first tooth
rise like a dagger from its jaw.

from Exactly What Happened. Purdue University Press, 1999.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 27

by Louie Skipper

I remember the great composers,
their heads, those simple mutes,
on the slave block of my weekly piano lesson.
Half a century ago, I came to nothing.

Mrs. Riley, patient as a nurse,
sat beside me on the bench as I made the piano suffer,
the eyes of Mozart straight ahead,
Beethoven expressionless.

Nevertheless it was he alone who swallowed back
such monstrous violence,
his arm folded invisibly in rage and song,
then, once I was gone, raising his fingers above the keys,

threw the rest of his life before the silent room.

From the upcoming book, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun, Settlement House, January 2009.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 26

Today's poem is by Brandon McLeod.

by Brandon McLeod

Deep resonance within me
tribal drumming
the high stiff tone of a pipe
respire and gravity loses its hold
and     I     am     released
Rocketing to the edge of the universe
I feel the swell within me
the soft vocals, tertiary,
almost obliterate my rush.
closing my eyes,
the pulsing, pulsing
saturates my mind.
Benevolent and wild
you take me over the edge,
and when you break
the silence within me
is haunting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hot Docs and Cool Toy

Paula Webb has created a new Hot Docs: America By Air.

And try this new toy I found. Create your own--has to better than mine! Be patient. It was my first try.

Poem of the Day - April 25

Today's poem is by Dr. Sue Walker.

Modulations: Sharp Voices and Soft Voices Sounded Together
by Sue Walker

Who is to say
Mozart was not a starling
who dreamed he was a poet,
tune on the tips of his fingers,
a foolish wag who fought for words
the color of sky,
the shape of clouds
light as a wafer issued by a priest
who understood wind
was breath, was ballad,
was twelve mortal men,
prisoners who were hawk and raven,
eagle and crow, woodpecker,
sapsucker, each constructing
a Piano Concerto in G Major
while the earth itself listened:
tseee tseee tseee,
and maestro’s pen scratching
Whenn ich daran gedenke
O lessert schenke

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 24

Today’s poem is by Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) for his birthday.

Mortal Limit
by Robert Penn Warren

I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.

There--west--were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?

Or, having tasted that atmosphere's thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore

The breath of earth? Of rock? Of rot? Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?

From New and Selected Poems 1923-1985 by Robert Penn Warren, published by Random House. Copyright © 1985 by Robert Penn Warren.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 23

Today's poem is for the Bard on his birthday.

My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun
by William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 22

Today’s poem is by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) and is one of the most famous English poems about World War I. The Latin title is an abbreviated version of the last two lines of the poem, which are a famous quote from Horace's Odes and roughly translate as “It is sweet and honorable (or right or fitting) to die for one’s country.” This poem, if nothing else, is a wonderful testament to the power and necessity of poetry. Owen was killed in battle at the age of 25, exactly one week before the war ended.

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 21

Today’s poem is by my good friend Angela Jackson-Brown, who was a colleague of mine when I was at Troy (State). She is now living in Louisville.

where the music at
by Angela Jackson-Brown

hey ma – why you all the time sounding so angry

don’t you have some rhymes about
when a man fingered you up
getting you all saxed up
making you cry out jazz notes
to the tune of the yardbird
scratch, scratch, scratching your blues away

i swear to god, one man treat you bad and you
can’t hear the music no more
one man treat you bad and
you give him the power to play the rhythm
clean out of your soul

you need to ride the trane, girl,
and let some miles get between you
and him or whoever took your music away

you need to let them evil thoughts
spin up out of your mind
and get you dizzy over gillespie
so you can bebop your way back home again

you need to let your mind
be free so you can hear
rashied ali thumping
your drums, ma
bump twa, bump twa, bump twa

how you gonna let the rhythm reverberate
through your hips again
if you don’t let that earthy beat
call your name

put on some hendrix
and let some disharmonies
roll you back into a thelonious mood

come on, baby
write something with a hook
but with no words
scat yourself back into a happy mood
doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah

rhyme us something, just you and me,
that’s gonna make us both feel good tonight

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 20

Today's poem is one I wrote a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

when i sing
by Robert Gray

when i sing
i often feel
like a rich old woman
with a priceless steinway
in her front parlor
that she’d never learned how to play
i possess an instrument on which
i can bang out brilliant flourishes
fleeting fragments of virtuosity
that can at times approach
the heights of placido or pavarotti
or more often those of tonic or toad
like the young guitarist
who can dazzle
with a few zeppelin riffs
but cannot play an entire song
and as i sit here in virtual quietness
serenaded by the arrhythmic
almost inaudible clicks of this keyboard
i have a similar feeling as a poet
i have stashed away
somewhere in the attic
in one of the countless
boxes of books notebooks
and other sorts of literary trinkets
an antique ticket
for the train to transcendence
but i could never use it
the bridge is out near simplon pass
broken long ago
whether by the winds of time
or nietzsche’s madman
i cannot be certain
but it is more likely that its abutments
and cross supports collapsed
under the weight of their own suppositions
or were gradually deconstructed
by internal contradictions
and faulty assumptions
and so we are left with the fragments
we can mimic the masterpieces
i have myself sung handel’s messiah
haydn’s creation and bach’s b minor mass
and while
iambics often trickle off my tongue
i can only bang out fragments
on this keyboard
there is of course brief comfort
in attempts to imagine a stairway to heaven
but it is no different than the haunting rhythms
of the ocean or even the steps
of a fool in the rain

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 19

Today's poem is to commemorate Lord Byron, who died on this day in 1824.

She Walks in Beauty
by George Gordon, Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
   How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Best of the Blogs's First Annual Blog Index
Time Magazine held a vote and these are the 25 top-rated blogs on the web. Check 'em out.,28804,1725323_1727246,00.html

Poem of the Day - April 17

Don’t forget that today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The poem I am carrying with me today is below. All you have to do is print your favorite poem out and put it in your pocket so that you can pull it out and share it with friends, coworkers, and family. And feel free to post your poem choice as a comment below.

Of Modern Poetry
by Wallace Stevens

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
                            Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
                                                         It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Poem in Your Pocket Day - April 17

The American Academy of Poetry, as part of its National Poetry Month celebration, is having its first Poem in Your Pocket Day tomorrow, April 17.

As they say on their website, “The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 17.”

For more ideas and information, visit

Poem of the Day - April 16

Today's poem is Nikki Giovanni's manifesto on poetry.

by Nikki Giovanni

poetry is motion graceful
as a fawn
gentle as a teardrop
strong like the eye
finding peace in a crowded room
we poets tend to think
our words are golden
though emotion speaks too
loudly to be defined
by silence

sometimes after midnight or just before
the dawn
we sit typewriter in hand
pulling loneliness around us
forgetting our lovers or children
who are sleeping
ignoring the weary wariness
of our own logic
to compose a poem

no one understands it
it never says "love me" for poets are
beyond love
it never says "accept me" for poems seek not
acceptance but controversy
it only says "i am" and therefore
I concede that you are too
a poem is pure energy
horizontally contained
between the mind
of the poet and the ear of the reader
if it does not sing discard the ear
for poetry is song
if it does not delight discard
the heart for poetry is joy
if it does not inform then close
off the brain for it is dead
if it cannot heed the insistent message
that life is precious

which is all we poets
wrapped in our loneliness
are trying to say

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 15

Today's poem is Auden's great elegy to Yeats.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden


He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Poem for National Library Week

This poem is by Ted Hughes and was found at:


'For out of olde feldes, as men seyth,
Cometh al this newe corne yer by yere,
And out of olde bokes, in good feyth,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.'

Chaucer: The Parlement of Foules

Fourteen centuries have learned,
From charred remains, that what took place
When Alexandria's library burned
Brain-damaged the human race.

Whatever escaped
Was hidden by bookish monks in their damp cells
Hunted by Alfred dug for by Charlemagne
Got through the Dark Ages little enough but enough
For Dante and Chaucer sitting up all night

looking for light.

A Serbian Prof's insanity,
Commanding guns, to split the heart,
His and his people's, tore apart
The Sarajevo library.

Tyrants know where to aim
As Hitler poured his petrol and tossed matches
Stalin collected the bards...
In other words the mobile and only libraries...

of all those enslaved peoples from the Black to
the Bering Sea
And made a bonfire
Of the mainsprings of national identities to melt

the folk into one puddle
And the three seconds of the present moment
By massacring those wordy fellows whose memories were

bigger than armies.

Where any nation starts awake
Books are the memory. And it's plain
Decay of libraries is like
Alzheimer's in the nation's brain.

And in my own day in my own land
I have heard the fiery whisper: 'We are here
To destroy the Book
To destroy the rooted stock of the Book and
The Book's perennial vintage, destroy it
Not with a hammer or a sickle
And not exactly according to Mao who also
Drained the skull of adult and adolescent
To build a shining new society
With the empties...'

For this one's dreams and that one's acts
For all who've failed or aged beyond
The reach of teachers, here are found
The inspiration and the facts.

As we all know and have heard all our lives
Just as we've heard that here.

Even the most misfitting child
Who's chanced upon the library's worth,
Sits with the genius of the Earth
And turns the key to the whole world.

Hear it again.

Ted Hughes, July 1997

Poem of the Day - April 14

Today's poem is Walt Whitman’s famous elegy to Abraham Lincoln. Since it is very long, I have only included the first third or so of the poem (which many consider to be a poem in itself). A link to the entire poem can be found at the bottom if you are interested in continuing on.

from When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d
by Walt Whitman


WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.


O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!


In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.


In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)


Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.


Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags, with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil’d women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

To continue, go to

Poem of the Day - April 13

You’re probably familiar with today's poem, but I suggest you read it again. Carefully. Stevens’s mastery of sound and sense is nothing short of amazing.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 12

Today's poem is by Bruce Alford, a poet in the English Department of the University of South Alabama. I think you will enjoy his work.

How Far Would You Get Without the Devil
by Bruce Alford

…but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care
Sat on his faced cheek –Paradise Lost

See how the dragon comes
screaming. My brother’s eyes are red,
the color of Satan—I mean they’re red,
and I stand in the bathroom mirror,
with nothing but a towel around my waist,
appearing strange to myself.

And he’s yelling, you know loud, because he’s drunk.
He wears a baseball cap as black as his face.
Nappy hair sticks out from under the edges. Bozo.

I should
His loose face swirls.

Man, I would die for Mama. You hear me, man.

He puts four calloused fingers against his shirt,
right over his heart,
right over an illustration of Curious George.
Can’t I have something for myself?
No listen. Listen

Man, she pulled a gun on me—her son!
Her own flesh and blood.
Said I’ll kill your motherf***ing ass.
Man, she did this to her flesh and blood.
What’s wrong with Mama, man?

Let me tell you what she did. I gave her 400 dollars.
I had just given her 400 dollars,
and I’m back there in that room,
and the phone rings and I hear her:
‘He got his lazy black ass back there.
He ain’t done nothing for me’—
When I heard that, Man,
I broke down and cried. I cried just like a baby.

It doesn’t matter that I’m a professor, teacher, lecturer, poet.
I am a stranger to myself,
hard to recognize. I am
my brother’s hand, reaching.

I hear voices
over long distances,
ghosts come forth from their tombs:
two brothers watch the Road Runner and Bugs Bunny,
a pillow fight: a goose quill sticking out between the stitching.
He used to be a ladies’ man.
Cool Congo, smooth black skin, my beautiful brother.

What’s wrong with my mama?

Give me Answers.

Louder. Louder.
Man, why she got to talk to me like that?
I know I drink. I drink. I kick back a few beers.
But I’m 55 years old. You hear me?
And Mama’s got to be a little lenient.

I’ll do anything for Mama. I’m gone stick by Mama.
I’m gone stick by her side, but she takes.
She takes and I and I give so much of myself.
I neglected myself for Mama.

I can’t deal with this shit. People just don’t know.

Excuses. You can’t blame your past. Use it.
“In this magnificent piece, the poet transforms a painful experience into a strange beauty.”

You’re so cold.
Your iron body needs a brother’s heart to make it live.

Still, you have to die a little.
Go. Embrace him there.

This could kill me.

It’s the history that’s terrible.
Satan, Satan a fallen angel,
oh how fallen, how changed.

Poem of the Day - April 11

Today’s poem is from my friend Louie Skipper. It is from his upcoming book, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun, which is due out in January 2009.

The Seminary Trees
for William Seth Adams
by Louie Skipper

What would they need to know,
the trees
preparing the last words

spoken against our kind

long before our common birth?
I wonder over the wisdom of oaks,
the slender sounds

urged by the greatest trees.

All my life I have looked up to them,
holding their hardness like cellars,
perfecting their dissatisfactions,

then, looking down,

I enter daily life
and take up my poverty of shadows
guided by the sun

the way the oaks are by the evening breeze.

What would it be
to speak with the trees
through some gift bestowed upon us,

these trees that are carving the wind’s instructions?

What would it be
to follow them
the way one might follow a scar

back into its wound,

and to hear,
shaped by their voices,
the call of our own names

transparent in their motions,

whipped right up from the ground?
What reply might we give the trees
looking up into them,

their shapes putting words in our mouths,

the inquiry of water oaks and sycamores,
their chronic darkness
rustling our human, our corrupt and lovely form?

From the upcoming book, It Was the Orange Persimmon of the Sun, Settlement House, January 2009.

De Gustibus non est Disputandum

For the weekend:
The Scout Report today contains two exhibits that couldn't be more different, but are intimately connected as expressions of a cultural timeline of who/what can be represented and how: National Portrait Gallery's Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture and the Denver Art Museum's Inspiring Impressionism.
Hip Hop: "The lyricism and social consciousness of hip-hop music has been a source of inspiration for many artists working in photography, painting, film, and even contemporary multimedia projects."

Impressionism: "The exhibition explores the relationship between the Impressionists and the Old Masters that inspired them."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 10

Today’s poem is by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a German-Czech poet who did most of his best work around the turn of the twentieth century. If you don’t think you know what good poetry is, see below. In the next few weeks, you’ll get poems from Shakespeare, Whitman, Byron, Blake, Giovanni, and several local poets, but, to be painfully honest, it’s all downhill from here. Poems just don’t get any better than this one.

The Swan
by Rainer Maria Rilke

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying—to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day—
is like his anxious letting himself fall

into waters, which receive him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draw back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Poem of the Day - April 9

Today's poem is by one of the leading African American poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen (1903-1946).

Yet Do I Marvel
by Countee Cullen

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

from My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Copyright held by Ida M. Cullen.

Espionage Among the Poems

Paula Webb just put up a few new Hot Docs website links on espionage. Nothing like the palate-cleansing of some scary prose to make one ready to jump back into the world of poetic language.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Another Poem of the Day - April 8

Today’s second poem of the day is from our own Rob Gray. Wish him a happy birthday!

i wish that i were langston hughes
by Robert Gray

i wish that i were langston hughes
or even maya angelou
able to cry out for freedom
over the roofs of the world
from a position of surprising
and unaccustomed strength
but sadly i am not
for no matter how much
i read or think or discuss
no matter how enlightened i may feel
i can never fully understand
as a white poet
privileged if by nothing else
but my own whiteness
how the truth in their words
can see so well into the life of things
and so i am damned
by that same whiteness
always to be disadvantaged
always impoverished

i have always found
a fundamental difference
between white poetry
and black poetry
and i have always envied it
and while i am certainly
as guilty as anyone and
would never wish to oversimplify
it seems to me that white poetry
historically at any rate
has often tended to soar
on the ethereal wings
of imagination and philosophy
with a mission to explore
the deep and hidden meanings
of the heights of heaven
in order that poets might
as prophets or amanuenses
bring the mountaintop down
so that truth might come to be
within the reach of those
of us too blind or deaf
to write the zeitgeist of eternity
and so white poets have pontificated
throughout history on the wherefores
and whys of our existence
almost as if poets and poetry
had nothing else or better to do

african american poetry
on the other hand
has preferred to labor
with its hands in the earth
it has always done its work
in the everyday
at the dinner table
or through childhood remembrances
born out of minds too strewn
with petty cares
or while standing on
the grave of dreams
deferred from the earth’s inside
this voice of the subaltern
long subjected to the margins
has always preferred to work
down in the midst of things
where life happens
lifting truth up to the heavens
in an act of heavy praise
for there is power in pain
and strangled possibility
but there is also beauty
in the fact of blackness
just as there is poetry
in the song of a caged bird
or the lies of a mask
perhaps even more than
in the tortured thoughts
of an overly pensive prince
or an overwrought
ideological wasteland

yet while it is indeed a privilege
to ponder life’s mysteries
by deconstructing the semantics
of our social discourses
even in a vain hope that
by revealing and reversing
historical and hierarchical binaries
they might dry up or explode
it is a privilege wrought
with hidden costs and effects
that we are taught not to see
and while many might argue
that poetry should be above
the baseness of politics
and while there may well be
a richness to those arguments
there is also a whiteness
silently blinding us to the life of things

Poem of the Day - April 8

Today's poem is by Martin Espada and is in honor of the Red Sox home opener.

The Fugitive Poets of Fenway Park
-- Boston, MA, 1948

The Chilean secret police
searched everywhere
for the poet Neruda: in the dark shafts
of mines, in the boxcars of railroad yards,
in the sewers of Santiago.
The government intended to confiscate his mouth
and extract the poems one by one like bad teeth.
But the mines and boxcars and sewers were empty.

I know where he was.

Neruda was at Fenway Park,
burly and bearded in a flat black cap, hidden
in the kaleidescope of the bleachers.
He sat quietly, munching a hot dog
when Ted Williams walked to the crest of the diamond, slender as my
father remembers him, squinting at the pitcher, bat swaying in a
memory of trees.

The stroke was a pendulum of long muscle and wood,
Ted's face tilted up, the home run
zooming into the right field grandstand.
Then the crowd stood together, cheering
for this blasphemer of newsprint, the heretic
who would not tip his cap as he toed home plate
or grin like a war hero at the sportswriters
surrounding his locker for a quote.

The fugitive poet could not keep silent,
standing on his seat to declaim the ode
erupted in crowd-bewildering Spanish from his mouth:

"Praise Ted Williams, raising his sword
cut from the ash tree, the ball
a white planet glowing in the atmosphere
of the right field grandstand!

Praise the Wall rising
like a great green wave
from the green sea of the outfield!

Praise the hot dog, pink meat,
pork snouts, sawdust, mouse feces,
human hair, plugging our intestines,
yet baptized joyfully with mustard!

Praise the wobbling drunk, seasick beer
in hand, staring at the number on his ticket,
demanding my seat!"

Everyone gawked at the man standing
on his seat, bellowing poetry in Spanish.
Anonymous no longer,
Neruda saw the Chilean secret police
as they scrambled through the bleachers,
pointing and shouting, so the poet
jumped a guardrail to disappear
through a Fenway tunnel,
the black cap flying from his head
and spinning into centerfield.

This is true. I was there at Fenway
on August 7, 1948, even if I was born
exactly nine years later
when my father
almost named me Theodore.

Martin Espada