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Friday, September 30, 2005

Observations on Leiocephalus carinatus armouri and Other Stuff

I am not sure whether it is because of the drought of recent years, from which Florida has yet to completely emerge, or human intervention, but the Northern Curly-Tail lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus armouri) just isn't what it used to be. I saw an unusually large specimen, just the other day, and it was half the size of the behemoths of several years ago.

The Curly-Tail is an import from the Bahamas, intentionally released into Florida during the 1940s. (No one seems to remember just why.) It is a sand lizard, rarely seen around the omnipresent Palm Beach County canals, ponds or lakes. Only a few years ago, it was everywhere else in the landscape. It is much less common since. It is rare, now, to see a specimen as much as eight inches long from nose to extended tail.

It is quite possible that steps have been taken to reduce the population. Eradicating aggressive imported species of flora and fauna has been on the state's agenda in recent years, and the rise of the Curly-Tail has been paralleled by a precipitous drop in the populations of the green and brown Anole (also imports).

The Anole receives better press than do other imports. They are much more interesting to watch. (The Curly-Tail is a blunt fellow with little personality.) During mating season, the males extend a bright orange pouch, beneath their chin, and do push-ups to show the ladies that they have what it takes. Combat is frequently the outcome of these displays. They are also pseudo-chameleons: always a favorite party-trick.


I've posted a number of extracts, recently, from well-known naturalists and intend soon to gather them together onto theme pages. Most will appear in the pages of the Treasure Coast Review, as have the following:

Florida locales will figure prominently in line with the TCR's regional slant.

Prior to the nature/naturalist pages, I'd set to work on pages of extracts relating to the Romantic poets. One such page is here on the main blog and the remainder are posted at the TCR. The first pages are on John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Edward John Trelawny was a personal friend of Shelley and Byron and his extracts are drawn from the edition of Recollections of the Last days of Shelley and Byron published in 1858.

The Treasure Coast Review has also gained indexes of Virtual Grub Street's poetry and book reviews over the past week. On the computer side, the Computer Archive's "How to Remove ISearchTech.SideFind" page has been updated. The Archive has become a hit in a little over two weeks time.

American Life in Poetry #27: Angela Shaw.


In this lovely poem by Angela Shaw, who lives in Pennsylvania, we hear a voice of wise counsel: Let the young go, let them do as they will, and admire their grace and beauty as they pass from us into the future.

Children in a Field

They don't wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
hurry, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls. It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance--
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green. What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm. Let them go. Let them go traceless
through the high grass and into the willow--
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.

Reprinted from "Poetry," September, 2004, Vol. 184, No. 5, by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) 2004 by Angela Shaw. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

A Word Association Test.

by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

Words Brushed by Music ed. by John T. Irwin.
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
200 pp. $12.95 paper. ISBN 0-8018-8029-7. $27.50
hardcover. ISBN 0-8018-8028-9.

In 1979, while the poetry world as a whole was marching with ever greater determination towards quote-unquote free verse and one or another variation of anti-poetry, Johns Hopkins University Press staked out its own territory. Its new Poetry Series would provide a haven for poets who had chosen to write the only truly alternative poetry that remained: a poetry which stayed connected to the tradition of the craft.... [Go to the review>>>][Go to the Book Review Index>>>]

Saturday, September 24, 2005

American Life in Poetry #26: Claudia Emerson.


Descriptive poetry depends for its effects in part upon the vividness of details. Here the Virginia poet, Claudia Emerson, describes the type of old building all of us have seen but may not have stopped to look at carefully. And thoughtfully.


One rusty horseshoe hangs on a nail
above the door, still losing its luck,
and a work-collar swings, an empty
old noose. The silence waits, wild to be
broken by hoofbeat and heavy
harness slap, will founder but remain;
while, outside, above the stable,
eight, nine, now ten buzzards swing low
in lazy loops, a loose black warp
of patience, bearing the blank sky
like a pall of wind on mourning
wings. But the bones of this place are
long picked clean. Only the hayrake's
ribs still rise from the rampant grasses.

Poem copyright (c) 1997 by Claudia Emerson Andrews, a 2005 Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. Reprinted from "Pharoah, Pharoah" (1997) by permission of the author, whose newest book, "Late Wife," will appear this fall; both collections are published by Louisiana State University's Southern Messenger Poets. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Claudia Emerson:

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

From the Mailbag: Joseph Bednarik, June Jordan, W. S. Merwin, Dan Wilcox, Lyn Lifshin.

The following two letters may be of interest. First, Joseph Bednarik, of Copper Canyon Press, sends word of tributes to June Jordan and W. S. Merwin:

Dear Friend,

Please join us for--and help spread the word about--two extraordinary tributes that will take place in early October:

A Tribute to the Work of June Jordan
Thursday, October 6, 7:30 pm

With special guests Adrienne Rich, Yusef Komunyakaa, Cornelius Eady,
Laura Flanders, Bob Holman, Joy Harjo, and others; emcees are Jan Heller Levi and Sara Miles, the editors of June Jordan’s new collected poems, Directed by Desire.

Hunter College, New York City
The Kaye Playhouse
695 Park Avenue
(68th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues)
Admission is $12 ($7 for Poetry Society of America members and

Tickets available at The Kaye Playhouse Box Office: 212-772-4448

* * *

A Tribute to W. S. Merwin
Monday, October 10, 8:00 pm

With special guests Lucille Clifton, Edward Hirsch, Naomi Shihab Nye,
Gerald Stern and W. S. Merwin

92nd Street Y, New York City
Kaufmann Concert Hall
(Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street)
General admission $17

Tickets available through the 92nd Street Y: or

* * *

We encourage you to forward this email to those who may be interested.

Next, Dan Wilcox sends an announcement, via his Topica list, regarding Lyn Lifshin, who, it would appear, has returned once again to live in New York's Capitol District:


Lyn Lifshin, prolific poet and award winning poet and editor and Niskayuna resident, will read and sign copies of her new book about the famous, tragic race horse, THE LICORICE DAUGHTER: MY YEAR WITH RUFFIAN, prize winning manuscript from Texas Review Press at The Open Door Book Store, 128 Jay Street, October 6 at 7 pm.

This one reminds me that I have an old piece about an Open Door reading, some years ago, that I've considered on and off for the pages of VGS. Anyway, the events all sound like they will be well worth the time and money.

Dan's Topica list can be subscribed to by contacting him at

Dueling Mythologies.

by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

Extracting Appalachia: Images of the Consolidation Coal Company 1910-1945 by Geoffrey L. Buckley.
Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2004. xxiv+216 pp.
$46.95 cloth. ISBN 0-8214-1555-7. $22.95 paper. ISBN 0-8214-1556-5.

In the process of working toward his doctorate, in Geography, Dr. Geoffrey L. Buckley informs us, it was his “good fortune to stumble upon a truly remarkable collection of coal-mining photographs.” The photographs — some four thousand in all — were taken for the Consolidation Coal Company, the largest of the various consolidated mining interests in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. That collection is the subject of Extracting Appalachia: Images of the Consolidation Coal Company 1910-1945. Various historical studies and the Consolidation Coal Company Mutual Monthly, the company organ in which many of the photos appeared, provide the immediate context from which it is viewed.

Buckley is not unaware of the validity of the analytical/semiotic perspective. The reader is warned that photographs are not the purely objective records they may seem to be. The author defers to Mona Domosh, a colleague in his field of Historical Geography:

Visual material — photographs, advertisements, and newspaper images — are discursive forms, and need to be interpreted as documents of culture, or as “texts.” These images are not transparent conveyors of “truth,” but instead participate in the creation of meaning.

All reference to the need for a rigorous analytical machinery, however, remains in a chapter set aside for the purpose of making general observations relating to the matter. The pictures themselves are queried almost entirely from an historical perspective.

The fact that historical perspectives can be highly problematical has earlier been made clear, in the Introduction, by dint of a prophylactic statement:

My purpose here is not to write yet another history of coal mining in Appalachia. That task has been carried out ably by others. Nor is it my intention to excoriate the coal industry for its poor safety record, its abuse of individual liberties, its antiunionism, and its use of heavy handed tactics during the first three decades of the twentieth century. No doubt these are valid criticisms, even if sometimes we have carried the generalizations too far…. Rather, my purpose is to critically examine the photographs in the Consolidation Coal collection, place them in historical context, and try to understand why they were taken and for whom.

The presence of such a disclaimer suggests a wider context within which Extracting Appalachia resides, limitations under which its author necessarily labors. Any attempt at detachment will run the risk of appearing revisionist about historical matters which are resoundingly considered to be settled, and which, like all “resoundingly settled” historical matters, have for their proof a fierce emotional certainty. It is not the best environment for critical examination.

Nor does this fierce certainty exist only among the audience that Buckley imagines for his book. The above disclaimer is written for himself, as well. The detachment which he seeks — and within which he intends to examine the photographs — is every bit as much a myth as the prevailing history. There are few observations in this book that are not imbued with its author’s affinities. Those affinities are a product of the prevailing histories. His intention not to “excoriate” ends at just that. While he has sought to set aside the popular accusatory tone for a more muted one, his narrative is always mindful of his obligations.

To say that the claims of historical verity and scholarly detachment, which the reader is provided, are myths is, of course, not to suggest that they do not arrive at meaningful results. It merely describes how they arrive at their respective results. In the case of Extracting Appalachia, it also explains the limitations that Geoffrey L. Buckley has chosen — or felt compelled to choose — for his book.

Some ninety black and white photographs, chosen from the Consolidation collection, are reproduced as the subject of Dr. Buckley’s examination. The four photos in the first chapter — “Reading Historical Photographs” — are wide-angle shots intended to be representative of common themes in the collection and otherwise undergo no inspection. No photos appear in the second chapter, in which the reader is provided a brief, well turned historical overview of the mining of coal in the U. S. and the formation and rise of Consolidation Coal:

In 1927, Consolidation became the largest commercial producer of bituminous coal in the United States. In that year, the company operated ninety-two mines, employed over twelve thousand workers representing forty-three nationalities, and possessed an estimated 2.7 billion net tons of unmined mineral resources.

This ascent came by way of means that today might be considered questionable. In states such as West Virginia and Kentucky coal was king. Its representatives served as senators, congressman and governors, regularly voting the needs of their industry, it being, to their minds, synonymous with the needs of the citizens of the states they represented.

This foundation lain, the remaining four chapters are devoted to placing the photographs in socio-historical context. Coal company towns and their mines are shown in various stages of construction. In particular, the environment surrounding the miner’s life on the surface attracts Buckley’s attention. This environment necessarily includes the company magazine, the Consolidation Coal Company Mutual Monthly, from which extracts are freely quoted.

A great many observations are made upon the Mutual Monthly throughout Extracting Appalachia. The following, though more direct than most, may fairly be called “representative”:

In a very real sense, the photographs in the Consolidation Coal collection abetted the Employment Relationship Department’s efforts to achieve the company’s goals. When we gaze at rows of freshly painted company houses, merchandise at the company store, group photos of miners, and impressive gardens, we must ask ourselves why the company selected these images for publication in its magazine. We must recall that company towns were carefully planned places designed to maximize production and enhance surveillance. We must remember the company store’s reputation — deserved or not — for price gouging and debt peonage.

Nothing in the historical overview lays sufficient groundwork for these observations, and, as much as the reader may agree with many of the claims made here, the use of terms such as “abetted,” inferring that the company and its Employment Relationship Department were engaged in a quasi-criminal enterprise, is problematical. It is unclear why, in reference to these ninety photographs, we must remember the company store’s reputation “deserved or not”.

We may see these as — and they are represented as — attempts to counterbalance the company’s unquestionable intention to use the photographs to enhance its image with potential stockholders, government inspectors, its workers, the general public and itself. Hence the reader is presented with dueling mythologies: competing attempts to establish the real history of Consolidation Coal. In the words of Roland Barthes:

…what causes mythical speech to be uttered is perfectly explicit, but it is immediately frozen into something natural; it is not read as motive but as reason.1

Through the apparent transparency of the photograph, the company had sought to make its case. Its officers were subtle enough not to resort to obvious tactics. The photos are simple. Any arrangement — any posing — stayed well within recognized limits. Buckley utilizes prevailing historical perspective, lightly seasoned with observations garnered from the field of semiotic analysis, to combat one myth with another.

The company did use “selection” to an extent that may be considered indicative. Buckley’s argument to this affect is strong:

Comparing the pictures in the Consol collection with images taken by Farm Security Administration photographers, as well as those found in private collections such as the Mary Behner Christopher archive, we find sharp differences with respect to content. Unlike the Consol photographers, the FSA photographers show us the grim side of life in a coal-mining town — the unpaved streets, the poor condition of company housing, the inadequate facilities for drinking water and for waste disposal. The government photos, in particular, remind us that it was not uncommon to find children working in and around the mines. Government photographers also take us into the homes of the miners so that we can view the condition of company owned houses and gain valuable insights into the daily lives of the mining families.

Consolidation Coal clearly chose its model towns as the subjects of most of the ninety photos in Extracting Appalachia. Within the context of the historical period represented by the photos, its photographers chose, in them, subjects calculated to impress. Those photos that do seem uncomplimentary are generally of subjects that would have seemed favorable in the early twentieth century, impressed as it was with industrial scenes, and the wealth they implied, and unimpressed as it was with the natural environment, there seeming to be inexhaustible tracts of unspoiled land.

But it is important to recognize that Consolidation is not the only source of selectivity here. Buckley himself has selected these ninety photographs out of some 4000+. He, too, necessarily has an agenda to advance. The reader is provided no description of the 3910+ remaining photos. The Farm Security Administration selected its subjects in order, as Buckley himself points out, to support President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Furthermore, the FSA photographs Buckley describes were taken during the depths of the Great Depression, while all but a very few of the pictures he has selected from the Consolidation collection were taken during the boom years that preceded the Depression, the company magazine having ceased publication in 1928.

Moreover, the desegregation that existed only within the mines proper, correct as our author is to point out the hypocrisy of it, was more than was generally available elsewhere below the Mason-Dixon line (and in much of the North). The mines had already long provided a greatly improved lifestyle for Eastern European laborers — whose place had been taken by African-Americans due to reduced immigration, from that region, during World War I — and a ready route to assimilation. For all the problems that have historically inhabited company towns, the better Consolidation towns had postal, telephone and electrical service, well before they were generally available to the rest of the rural United States. The laborer for Consolidation Coal was not entirely naive when he thought that life was good.

Simplifying matters to the more direct question as to whether the photos are “untruthful,” we may begin, at least, to avail ourselves of the advantage of the more objective criterion of semiotic analysis. Those provided (however paratactically) by Winfried Noth, in “Can Pictures Lie?”, are simple and compelling:

The question of truth or lie in pictures has a semantic, a syntactic, and a pragmatic aspect. From a semantic point of view, a true picture must be one which corresponds to the facts it depicts. From a syntactic point of view, it must be one which represents an object and conveys a predication about this object, and from the pragmatic point of view there must be an intention to deceive on the part of the addresser of the pictorial message. 2

The transparency of the photograph stems from its perfectly satisfying the first criteria. The photographs in question employ various predicates, satisfying the second. As for the pragmatic aspect, there would seem to be no reason to believe that the management of Consolidation had undertaken a systematic program of disinformation. It is arguable, in view of these ninety photos, that the collection may simply reflect the normal social constructs and exigencies of the times.

Geoffrey L. Buckley would presumably reply that the conditions in these towns were an exception rather than the rule, that both the model towns and photos were predicated upon the highest possible profit structure and the lowest possible wage structure. Even in photos of these models towns there are indications that problems abounded. At this point in our history, when unions are in retreat and ever larger portions of the U.S. population face low wage employment stripped of health and retirement benefits, when the concept of Affirmative Action is under attack, he might add, corporations can not be allowed to think that the convenient excuse of “the times” is available to them, that sophisticated public relations can expunge a multitude of sins. We all bear a responsibility to strive to overcome our “social constructs and exigencies” — particularly those of us who possess wealth and power.

The reader of Extracting Appalachia will find a book that walks the line between topical non-fiction and scholarship. Accordingly, no attempt is made to analyze the photographs as photographs. None to utilize them as a means to add to our knowledge of period or place. No higher level myth is sought from which to resolve the competing mythologies that inform the book and photos.

Dr. Buckley’s advocacy for the rank and file coal miners of the early twentieth century, and, by extension, the rank and file workers of all industries and periods, is laudable. Mythologies are not, it bears repeating, necessarily untrue. His intent, by however circuitous a process, is to place ninety photographs into an existing framework and to free them to say what they have to say within it. Toward the end that they may speak freely, within that framework, he has sought to avoid stridency and overt politicization. On that basis, it seems a fair surmise that Extracting Appalachia: Images of the Consolidated Coal Company will justly occupy an honored place within Geographical and Labor History collections.

1 Barthes, Roland. Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Noonday Press, 1975) 129.
2 Noth Winfried. "Can Pictures Lie?" Semiotic Review of Books, Vol. 6, No. 2 pp 10-12. Canada: University of Toronto, 1995.

Gilbert Wesley Purdy has published poetry, prose and translation in many journals, paper and electronic, including: Jacket Magazine, Poetry International (San Diego State University), The Georgia Review (University of Georgia), Grand Street, SLANT (University of Central Arkansas), Consciousness Literature and the Arts (University of Wales, Aberystwyth), Orbis (UK), Eclectica, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Links to his work online and to a selected bibliography of his work in paper venues appear at his Hyperlinked Online Bibliography.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Eudamus Proteus and Blogging Insanity.

This morning I saw a Long-Tailed Skipper (Eudamus proteus a.k.a Urbanus proteus) out sampling the verbena again. It was early enough that the plants were still in the shade, being on the south side of the building, and only a single bee was interested itself in sipping. The verbena (verbena horata) beside the main door is a deeper purple than seemed to be common, almost a dark blue. It's the bees' favorite flower here. Each evening the half-dozen or so tiny flowers of the day fall off of the spike. Each morning new, nectar laden flowers emerge from another spot along the length of it. The spikes are probably four inches long and slightly curled with their own weight.

As pleasant as the beginning of the day may have been, the rest of it was busy and frustrating. During the last couple of months, I've been able to post little more than the weekly American Life in Poetry column (and that not always on time). I've otherwise spent the time trying to overcome serious fluctiuations in search engine ratings for several of my top pages. During its first four months, VGS's search engine ratings were a model of statistical consistency, but, beginning in June, the correspondence between page-traffic and search rating became a thing of the past. Several of VGS's best pages disappeared from the engines altogether. Search engine traffic, which had been climbing in leaps and bounds, suddenly and understandably plummetted.

At the same time as I was watching the aforementioned fiasco I was building two new blogs. The 300 page limit on editing Blogspot postings was clearly going to be troublesome for a blog growing at the pace of VGS and the evolution of the blog into a combined computer, arts and literature blog was presenting logistical problems. The Virtual Grub Street Front Page blog was created in order to provide a portal into politcal and news content and the Treasure Coast Review to provide an arts and literature portal. Because the search-engine problem continues to be serious, I have spent the past week creating a fourth VGS blog, the Virtual Grub Street Computer Archive, on the MyBlogSite server, and will be transfering content, that disappears or is suddenly driven deep into the pages for its respective key-words, on to it as the need arises.

While there will soon be one more blog, today I begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The Computer Archive now has four pages posted and has already had its first 40 hit day. I've managed to get my Friday postings up on the base blog (here) and I've added a new posting - Trelawny Burns Shelley's Body - to the Treasure Coast Review. A news and commentary piece should soon be posted on the Front Page portal. All that remains to do is to post regularly, create specialty pages and build one more category blog! A piece of cake! Aaaaaaaaah!

American Life in Poetry #25: Rodney Torreson.


Emily Dickinson said that poems come at the truth at a slant. Here a birdbath and some overturned chairs on a nursing home lawn suggest the frailties of old age. Masterful poems choose the very best words and put them in the very best places, and Michigan poet Rodney Torreson has deftly chosen "ministers" for his first verb, an active verb that suggests the good work of the nursing home's chaplain.

The Bethlehem Nursing Home

A birdbath ministers
to the lawn chairs,
all toppled: a recliner
on its face, metal arms
trying to push it up;
an overturned rocker,
curvature of the spine.
Armchairs on their sides,
webbing unraveled.
One faces the flowers.
A director's chair
folded, as if prepared
to be taken up.

From "A Breathable Light," New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2002, and first published in "Cape Rock". Copyright (c) 2002 by Rodney Torreson; reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

Also at Virtual Grub Street from The Poetry Foundation:

From the Mailbag: 18th Annual Jack Kerouac Festival.

The following forwarded message recently arrived in my mail box from Dan Wilcox's Topica list:

From: teresa costa
Date: September 13, 2005 9:42:14 AM EDT
To: teresa costa
Subject: [poetrybay] lowell celebrates kerouac/check this out:

The 18th Annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Festival will occur October 6-9, 2005 in Lowell, Massachusetts. This year the theme is 'Jack's Roots.' The festival will examine the rich multi-ethnic, and literary heritage that influenced his work as well as his association with classical culture and contemporary events.

This year the festival coincides with the biennial University of Massachusetts Jack Kerouac Conference on Beat Literature.

The keynote speaker is Sam Kashner, author of the book, 'When I was Cool,' his account of being the first poetry student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute. Kashner will speak on Friday afternoon at the O'Leary building, room 222, South Campus, which is located on Wilder Street.

Kerouac was a track and field athlete and a preliminary lead-in event that will occur the preceding Sunday, October 2, is the third annual running of the Kerouac 5K road race beginning near Kerouac Park and ending on Worthen Street.

On Thursday, October 6, Lowell's, Destination World will feature food, film, music, and readings in cooperation with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! and the University of Massachusetts, with a focus on Franco-American culture with origins in Canada.

Numerous non-conference related events are happening in a number locations. Please check listings and schedules available from the Lowell National Historical Park and the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau for times and locations.

--Saturday will feature tributes to Hunter S. Thompson, Lucien Carr, Robert Creeley, and Philip Lamantia. Poetrybay editor George Wallace is among those who will speak at the Lamantia tribute.

--There will be a talk on Allen Ginsberg by Bill Morgan as part of the Parker Lecture Series, following David Amram's Cairo to Kerouac music extravaganza at the Pollard Library.

--John Ventimiglia, widely known for his role in the film Jesus' Son and the character Artie Bucco on The Soprano's will be joining Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! with David Amram on Saturday night for an evening of Jazz in Jack's Town. Neil Cassady's son, John Allen Cassady, named after Jack (John) Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg will be joining Ventamiglia for an evening of Jazz that also celebrates the DVD release of a performance done by Cassady, Amram, and Steve Edington, at the 2004 LCK! Festival in Lowell. There will also be a raffle at the event for one (possibly two) of the now Baseball Hall of Fame famous Kerouac Bobbleheads!

--In addition to several Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP) hosted Kerouac-related walking tours and a boat tour, LNHP will host a bus tour and an evening walking tour led by Roger Brunelle. Also, there will be a Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! hosted tour of local establishments where Jack socialized with friends and family while living in Lowell during the mid-1960's.

--There will be open mics, a high school poetry contest, book signings, film showings, including one on Michael McClure and one on Charles Olson, nearly 30 events over four days. Admission is free to the vast majority of these events and minimal, or a small suggested donation, at the few that are not free.

For more information see the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! website, or dial 877-Kerouac. You may also contact Lawrence Carradini, President of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! by email at

If you would like to subscribe to Dan's (largely Albany, N.Y.) literary mailing list, you can contact him at

Thursday, September 08, 2005

American Life in Poetry #24: Martin Walls.


In this poem by New York poet Martin Walls, a common insect is described and made vivid for us through a number of fresh and engaging comparisons. Thus an ordinary insect becomes something remarkable and memorable.

Cicadas at the End of Summer

Whine as though a pine tree is bowing a broken violin,
As though a bandsaw cleaves a thousand thin sheets of
They chime like freight wheels on a Norfolk Southern
slowing into town.

But all you ever see is the silence.
Husks, glued to the underside of maple leaves.
With their nineteen fifties Bakelite lines they'd do
just as well hanging from the ceiling of a space

What cicadas leave behind is a kind of crystallized memory;
The stubborn detail of, the shape around a life turned

The color of forgotten things: a cold broth of tea & milk
in the bottom of a mug.
Or skin on an old tin of varnish you have to lift with
lineman's pliers.
A fly paper that hung thirty years in Bird Cooper's pantry
in Brighton.

Reprinted from "Small Human Detail in Care of National Trust," New Issues Press, Western Michigan University, 2000, by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) by Martin Walls, a 2005 Wytter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. His latest collection "Commonwealth" is available from March Street Press. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

American Life in Poetry #23: E. G. Burrows.


In this fine poem about camping by Washington poet E. G. Burrows, vivid memories of the speaker's father, set down one after another, move gracefully toward speculation about how experiences cling to us despite any efforts to put them aside. And then, quite suddenly, the father is gone, forever. But life goes on, the coffee is hot, and the bird that opens the poem is still there at its close, singing for life.

Camping Out

I watched the nesting redstart
when we camped by Lake Winnepesaukee.
The tent pegs pulled out in soft soil.
Rain made pawprints on the canvas.

So much clings to the shoes,
the old shoes must be discarded,
but we're fools to think that does it:
burning the scraps.

I listened for the rain at Mt. Monadnock,
for the barred owl on a tent peak
among scrub pines in Michigan.
I can hear my father stir

and the cot creak. The flap opens.
He goes out and never returns
though the coffee steams on the grill
and the redstart sings in the alders.

Reprinted from "Passager," 2001, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2001 by E. G. Burrows, whose most recent book is "Sailing As Before", Devil's Millhopper Press, 2001. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

American Life in Poetry #22: Jean L. Connor.


In this short poem by Vermont writer Jean L. Connor, an older speaker challenges the perception that people her age have lost their vitality and purpose. Connor compares the life of such a person to an egret fishing. Though the bird stands completely still, it has learned how to live in the world, how to sustain itself, and is capable of quick action when the moment is right.

Of Some Renown

For some time now, I have
lived anonymously. No one
appears to think it odd.
They think the old are,
well, what they seem. Yet
see that great egret

at the marsh's edge, solitary,
still? Mere pretense
that stillness. His silence is
a lie. In his own pond he is
of some renown, a stalker,
a catcher of fish. Watch him.

Reprinted from "Passager," 2001 by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2001 by Jean L. Connor whose first book of poetry, "A Cartography of Peace," is published by Passager Books, Baltimore. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

American Life in Poetry #21: Karin Gottshall.


How many of us, alone at a grave or coming upon the site of some remembered event, find ourselves speaking to a friend or loved one who has died? In this poem by Karin Gottshall the speaker addresses someone's ashes as she casts them from a bridge. I like the way the ashes take on new life as they merge with the wind.

The Ashes

You were carried here by hands
and now the wind has you, gritty
as incense, dark sparkles borne

in the shape of blowing,
this great atmospheric bloom,
spinning under the bridge and expanding—

shape of wind and its pattern
of shattering. Having sloughed off
the urn's temporary shape,

there is another of you now—
tell me which to speak to:
the one you were, or are, the one who waited

in the ashes for this scattering, or the one
now added to the already haunted woods,
the woods that sigh and shift their leaves—

where your mystery billows, then breathes.

Karin Gottshall works at the Middlebury College library in Vermont. This poem first appeared in "Tar River Poetry", Vol. 44, No. 1, Fall, 2004. Reprinted by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 2004 by Karin Gottshall. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

Also at Virtual Grub Street from The Poetry Foundation: