Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Driving Home, by Charles Simic, new poet laureate

A poem by our new poet laureate, from the August 20 New Yorker, and with thanks to Steve Rogers.


Minister of our coming doom, preaching
On the car radio, how right
Your Hell and damnation sound to me
As I travel these small, bleak roads
Thinking of the mailman's son
The Army sent back in a sealed coffin.

His house is around the next turn.
a forlorn mutt sits in the yard
Waiting for someone to come home.
I can see the TV is on in the living room,
Canned laughter in the empty house
Like the sound of beer cans tied to a hearse.

-- Charles Simic

Monday, August 27, 2007


Grace Paley: Poet, Writer, Activist, 1922-2007

Grace Paley will always be one of the greatest lights in my life and the life of this benighted country. A writer-activist role model, a fierce intelligence, an unparalleled dedication. Always with humor, compassion. No self-righteousness. No self-aggrandizement.

I met Grace a couple of times but was always too star-struck and tongue-tied to have a real conversation. How could I be so stupid?

We can listen to her now:

Democracy Now! interview on the role of the poet in wartime: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/08/24/1322211

New York Times obit

NPR piece on Paley

Interview with Paley from War Resisters League

A beautiful piece by Dani Shapiro on Huffington Post:

And a wonderful poem, courtesy of Dan Vera:

This Life
Grace Paley

My friend tells me
a man in my house jumped off the roof
the roof is the eighth floor of this building
the roof door was locked how did he manage?
his girlfriend had said goodbye I'm leaving
he was 22
his mother and father were hurrying
at that very moment
from upstate to help him move out of Brooklyn
they had heard about the girl

the people who usually look up
and call jump jump did not see him
the life savers who creep around the back staircases
and reach the roof's edge just in time
never got their chance he meant it he wanted
only one person to know

did he imagine that she would grieve
all her young life away tell everyone
this boy I kind of lived with last year
he died on account of me

my friend was not interested he said you're always
inventing stuff what I want to know how could he throw
his life away how do these guys do it
just like that and here I am fighting this
ferocious insane vindictive virus day and
night day and night and for what? for only
one thing this life this life

Saturday, August 04, 2007



I'll be observing the traditional down time known as August over the next week or two. Hope you, too, get some essential lounging in. We must be rested (though I can never claim to be tanned...) for the long road ahead of us. I leave you with Dr. King:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Mavis Staples in the Funk Queen of the Universe

I watched Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story on PBS last night (thanks to SeeingBlack.com, which included a notice of it in its weekly email alert). The movie's full of spectacular vintage footage of live performances from the years 1957 to 1975: Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes.
But the performer who sent me reeling, as always, was Mavis Staples of the Staples Singers.
Watching her is a full-body experience, as is her singing. Forget about trying to describe it -- rent the Wattstax documentary and watch. Get the CDs and listen. She's doing some wonderful recording now but 1973 - oh my. Mavis Staples is like a huge wave that takes you and you let it: there is no swoop the voice will not ride, no place it will not travel.
In an interview, she says that some were shocked when the Staples Singers began singing secular music, calling it the Devil's Music. "The Devil has no music," she says she told them. "All music is God's music." I believe.
You can read Esther Iverem's review on SeeingBlack here.


Neruda Knows

From the 1971 Nobel speech:

The poet must achieve a balance between solitude and solidarity, between feeling and action, between the intimacy of one's self, the intimacy of mankind, and the revelation of nature.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Qana by James Scully


where the wedding was
where water turned to wine
where the best was saved
for last

shsh they're trying to sleep
in the dark wood
of dreamless dreaming--
coughing farting snoring sighing
turning over

where the wedding was
the rolling storm
that is not a storm
flies over

it doesn't feel much
to drop the bomb--
a slight bump
under the wing

the thing is done--

their deaths
like little yapping dogs
rush out
into the nerve-endings of the universe

the bodies stay put,
impossibly still

so it was said in school
Macbeth doth murder sleep--
with so much life to kill
there's no room for sleep

in Qana
where the wedding was
those who sleep, die

the future of sleep
is buried alive

in Qana where the wedding was
the murdered in their sleep
wake just long enough to die
to become the woods
where the wedding was...

they are on the move now,
which is impossible

these impossible dead
growing out of their deaths
into an army of trees

by James Scully

(with thanks to Richard Peabody)

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