Intelligent Life

Intelligence might mean an ability to exercise choice, even if the options seem limited or nil. A couple of weeks ago, meeting for a beer with fish and chips at a local English styled pub where soccer from the real England was playing on hanging television sets to an audience of rapt fans sipping beers, an old friend asked me if I thought there exists intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. At once I had to consider the definitions of intelligence and life and universe. I also had to consider that at first he said simply life, then qualified the question by adding intelligent, as if other kinds of life were assumed to exist but even if so had already failed some test of life.

In the midst of this morning’s freshly updated global warming news, walking with a cup of coffee in ye olde Americana backyard, I stopped to consider again why the Dogwood tree now refuses to flower. About 25 years old, flowering reliably every spring until seeming to lose interest in recent years, full of healthy green leaves, not a touch of pink blossom does it this year yield. I would blame last year’s torching hot summer, when the temperature one day in July hit an unprecedented 116 degrees F, easily the hottest ever locally, or this April’s absurdly late snow storm, which piled a few feet of heavy wet snow on branches already leafing out, bending them all the way to the ground under the weight of the late snow, but elsewhere around the neighborhood all the other Dogwoods are blooming to beat the band, a bumper year.

Maybe this Dogwood has simply chosen not to bloom this year. The reason may be nothing more than a desire to exercise its ability to choose. But where would this desire, seemingly baneful to its existence, come from? Or maybe the energy required to produce blossoms is being used to correct some deficit in the soil or water or location – but again, similar conditions around the area are at the same time thrilling all the other Dogwoods into fully blessed vibrant pink blossoms.

What have I done to offend this Dogwood such that it refuses to bloom? At worst, I’ve ignored it, but the other plants in my yard seem to appreciate being mostly left alone to their own devices.

Nature, left to its own devices, continually overseeds. It has always done so, blasting and piping surely enough that somewhere somehow something takes hold roots and spreads. But never alone, always sewn from a diverse bag of seeds, some seemingly smarter than others, whatever that means. And it means nothing. The same intelligence that informs me informs the Dogwood. Thus as I sit here in my attic room from where I can watch through the window the Dogwood willfully refusing to bloom, I choose to write.

The Great Text Awakening

These days, there is no bugle call. I don’t have to set the alarm for 4 am across the room to ensure I get out of bed now and hat up for a drive north to Seattle rather than hit the snooze button evermore. And these days, days will pass without my getting a single legitimate call. When I do get a call, the ringtone plays a bit of Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” and I’m inclined not to pick up but to dwell in the sound of the violin reminding me my mother’s tears no longer flow.

These days, I’m not sure why I still bother to maintain a phone, one that no longer rings till the cows come home. The cows don’t leave home anymore. Indeed, like Hamlet, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space” were it not that I get text messages.

These days, the text messages I get are usually automatic. For example, my phone provider will text my bill, usually at an absurdly early hour on a weekend morning, as if a dozen or more cows were restlessly mooing to be milked. Or there’s an urgent message from some pollster who can’t take another breath until he has my opinion on who should be the next President. Or the local pharmacy is alerting me that once again my doctor is in denial.

Yet this morning, deep in some recurring dream reconstituting an old commute and the reasons whyfor, at not, it might be argued, an unreasonable hour for someone departing the docks for an adventure, but arguably still a bit early for someone who has no call to wake up let alone get out of bed for a walk along some deserted slipway, I received the following headline-worthy news item of personal note from an old friend who I might add has I think never before texted me any message whatsoever and who indeed calls less frequently than my poor mother used to:

“We are on our way
to Texas. I am
enjoying the book
you sent: Three
Men in a Boat.

8:20 AM

I picked up the phone, read said message with interest, got out of bed, made some coffee, bringing a cup to Susan and taking mine out for a yard walkabout where I decided I really should cut at least the back grass today, came back in for a second cup, and sat down to put up this post, thinking, I hope he’s not texting while driving. I hesitate however to discourage text messages from, say, a reststop. I remember Kerouac’s general advice not to use the phone, because, he argued, people are never ready to talk, and he advised using poetry instead. And, indeed, “We are on our way” is a perfect poem written evermuch in the Kerouac style.

A Soul Astray

A drunken wind tonight
wild with whiskey delight
bloviator off the sea.

I was sitting on a whitecap
when the Angel Whale surfaced
lifting me in a spew of salt.

Gin and it shall blow for three
days the weatherman foretold
and the audience grew cold.

To each their own way
wandering opinions
like birds molting feathers.

Until naked a soul astray
thy neck a tower of ivory
thy ears porcelain shells

eyes periwinkles hair oily
seawrack washed ashore
an animal bush or tree.

War On (later)

I’ve been reading Edward Hirsch’s new book, The Heart of American Poetry. It’s very good, and I’m glad I decided to splurge for it, though I continue to think the industry’s continued use of “hardbacks” is wasteful, overly costly, but mainly, the hardback with paper cover is not as pleasant to hold and read as, say, the Penguin Classics, quality paperbacks not nearly as costly as the hardback with its really useless Victorian-like jacket cover. The size of the Hirsch book though is conducive to poetry lines, and the Library of America copy is a sound book production. Anyway, Hirsch makes a comment about Theodore Roethke, essentially that Rothke thought each line of a poem should stand alone, work as if a poem on its own; thus Roethke’s sparing use of enjambment.

As an exercise, I’ve reproduced the last post, a poem titled War On, to eliminate enjambments in favor of the possibility of stand alone lines (a few other changes too, one might discover):

War On (later)

Somewhere usually a war on near or far
I’m on watch in an audience of silence
in a theatre or church reminded darkly
sacrifice need not be so bloody violent
those preoccupied by their own war know
the maps the open fields the rivers and farms
i remember watching one of the wars on TV
donald rumsfeld mumbled something known
his Iraq he said the first war of the new century
and unknown from the announcer’s booth
a new statistic the fans could not deny
his hysterical perspective born in me
between WWII and Korea boom destined
in line for boot camp for the Vietnam Error
at 18 already sick of this phony war business
how quickly young boys on a beach bathing
become old men in dress greens that drab color
pollutes the wettest shades of nature’s grasses
leaves ferns of fields and waves of oceans.

The murderer attends Mass fills the pew
the fakery has achieved so much so little
frivolity yet the beauty of this war seems
no one remains who believes in war
the reasons for
not the hand
that signs the paper
not that hand
covered in oil and blood
does not cry like the hands of a working man
tears seeping over the banks of blue
rivers coursing through a field of skin.

War is the natural order of things human
authority comes down as heavy as a tank
made with human hands
made to crawl along tracks of its own
making through the green fields
somebody’s home tornado torn
the outdoor clothesline scatters
the chickens and dogs bark
the baby barely crawling sees
the tanks for what they are inhuman
monsters driven by human machines
men made to march made to doom
demented torches lighting one
step ahead sinking into the dulce
earth the metallico wheels slogging
over the homeland where the pitter
patter of the patria played on accordion
in the rain waiting for the flood of time
to wash a new century’s wars away.

War On

Somewhere usually a war on near or far but
most of the world watches war as audience
in a theatre or in a church reminded darkly
sacrifice need not be so bloody violent some
of course preoccupied by their own war know
the maps the open fields the rivers and farms
i remember watching one of the wars on TV
donald rumsfeld mumbled something about
Iraq being the first war of the new century
as if announcing a baseball game turned in
a new statistic i couldn’t deny his hysterical
perspective myself having been born quickly
between WWII and Korea boom destined to get
in line for boot camp for the Vietnam Error
at 18 already sick of this phony war business
how quickly young boys on a beach in bathing
suits become old men in dress greens that color
they use so pollutes the wettest shades of nature
of grasses and leaves of fields and ocean waves.

The murderer attends Mass fills the pew
the fakery has achieved that much
frivolity yet the beauty of this war
seems to be no one left who believes
in war the reasons for not the hand
that signs the paper not that hand
covered in oil and blood but does not
cry like the hands of a working man
tears seeping over the banks of blue
rivers coursing through a field of skin.

In the natural order of things human
when some authority comes down heavy
as a tank made with human hands
made to crawl along tracks of its own
making through the green fields
of somebody’s home tearing through
the outdoor clothesline scattering
the chickens and dogs barking and
babies barely crawling who see
the tanks for what they are inhuman
monsters driven by human machines
men made to march made to doom
demented torches lighting but one
step ahead sinking into the dulce
earth the metallico wheels slogging
over the homeland where the pitter
patter of the patria played on an
accordion in the rain waiting for a
flood to wash this war away.


Still working (leisurely) on cataloging the books into Libib (pronounced, btw, from Libib’s FAQs: “luh-bib. For you IPA people, relish the schwa: ləbib.” At first I thought they were talking about India Pale Ale.

Categories and Tags – this is where things get swiftly tricky, like getting caught in a riptide. Libib recommends not using genres as categories, but something more personally identifiable, so that I might put one collection into a category called basement books, a collection being a subset of the library, and where to find a book of paramount concern. Or green bookcase. This might make sense for my library, since the books are spread throughout the house with little to no regard for genre or author. Though there is some organization, a row of paperbacks I’ve had since high school, for example. The green bookcase holds primarily poetry and plays. Nevertheless, I’ve decided upon genres as categories. But how many? Is biography considered non-fiction, or should it have its own collection (a collection and category being at this point synonymous)? Most of my books are literary by nature, so a single category of literary would hold them all, which would not be all that helpful in terms of organization and inventory. But less the whole enterprise get subsumed in some sort of biblio neurosis, I’ve decided to go with the following categories of genre: Fiction, Non-fiction, Music, Philosophy, Plays, Poetry. Libib provides a tool to filter: “Not Begun, In Progress, Completed, Abandoned, No Status.” I was thinking I might put all the Samuel Beckett books under Abandoned. In any event, the organization of the library will be in reality only virtual – I’ve no intention of actually physically moving all the books about trying to get them organized by genre or author or whatever. It’s enough to take them down, dust them off, peruse, catalog into Libib, put back – or leave out for further consideration. The library is, after all, not so large that I can’t find something wandering about and searching manually, which is what the hobby, if not the passion, is all about. A library should be a quiet and also unhurried experience.

Tags will be useful and helpful, for example: beat, pocket poets series – which I’ve for the last few days been working on. This morning I came to Robert Bly’s “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last,” Number Twenty-Six in the City Lights Series. Bly, born in 1926, passed away last November at the age of 94. Teeth Mother (hyphenated on the title page but not on the cover) is a single poem, 22 pages in this edition (Library of Congress No. 73-11121), 1970 by City Lights Books. Parts of the poem were printed earlier in the Nation and New American Review magazines. In my copy, which I think is a first edition (original cost $1.00), the pages are as thick as the covers of other Pocket Poems books, thick and unbending. I was struck by several things (historical, foreboding, ironic) in the Kenneth Rexroth quote on the back cover:

“For a good many years now in his magazine The Sixties, and its accompanying book publishing Robert Bly has been struggling manfully to return American poetry to the mainstream of international literature from which it was diverted into the sultry provincial bayous of the Pillowcase Headdress School a generation ago. He started out completely surrounded by enemies . . It’s a wonder he’s alive. When he first started to wean away the puling young of America’s heartland from the seventy-seven tits of ambiguity, I thought he didn’t have a Chinaman’s chance. Robert Bly is today [i.e. 1970] one of the leaders of a poetic revival which has returned American literature to the world community . . A wide grasp of experience, an octave or more in each hand, is not just a sign of energy, it is a cause of responsibility. This is what gives the poems their great moral impact.”

Kenneth Rexroth

A Personal Library

How did the plumber’s son, whose father never read a book in his life, come to have about 3,000 books in his collection? I’m not a hoarder. A book must have some sort of meaning for me, an affinity established, which usually can only come from reading the book, before I keep it. Though of course there’s the stack I have not read. Then again there’s the stack read and loaned out and never returned. And a few, held since high school days, open so crisp and dry the pages break. And most of the books are paperback. And the collection taken as a whole is probably not worth much. Though I do have a few books that might be worth something to collectors of that bent. A first edition of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, for example, which a lady once offered $100 for at a garage sale back in the early 80’s. I said no, deciding to keep it. That $100 would have been spent on pizza and beer long ago, but I still have the book, somewhere.

With a bit of extra time on my hands these days, those close to me increasingly independent, and the pandemic still on (and off but on again), and with the easy availability and use of the Libib application, which I mentioned yesterday, I’ve decided to catalog the books, which are spread throughout the house in every room on shelves and bookcases and tables. The 3,000 is pretty much a guestimate, arrived at by counting the books on a couple of average looking shelves, measuring the length of those shelves, and then measuring the total length of shelves. Something like that.

Anyway, today I’ve added but one book to my Libib, spending most of my time reading through it rather than simply cataloging it and going on to the next book, and then distracted by writing up this post.

Here is the catalog info. for that book as I manually input into Libib:




Jacques Prevert

1958 71 pages (City Lights Books, San Francisco)



Copies: 1

First published 1946, copyright by Les Editions du Point du Jour, Paris, 1947. First published in this edition: July 1958, by arrangement with the Librarie Gallimard. My copy is sixth printing February 1968. Number Nine in The Pocket Poets Series published by City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, California, U.S.A. 94133. Translated with Intro. Note by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (San Francisco, 1964). From the Intro: “I first came upon the poetry of Jacques Prevert written on a paper tablecloth in St. Brieuc in 1944” (3).

No status.

Libib has no category or input for how a plumber’s son came to possess the book. So that I will answer here, maybe tomorrow. I think for now I might enter another book, but first, for those who’ve read this far:

From the Prevert poem titled “Inventory,” page 54.

“One stone
two houses
three ruins
four grave-diggers
one garden
some flowers

one raccoon

a dozen oysters a lemon a loaf of bread
a ray of sunlight
one groundswell
six musicians
one door with doormat
one Mister decorated with the Legion of Honor

one more raccoon…”

Why We Read

“In the tenth book of the Republic, when Plato has completed his final burning denunciation of Poetry, the false Siren, the imitator of things which themselves are shadows, the ally of all that is low and weak in the soul against that which is high and strong, who makes us feed the things we ought to starve and serve the things we ought to rule, he ends with a touch of compunction: ‘We will give her champions, not poets themselves but poet-lovers, an opportunity to make her defence in plain prose and show that she is not only sweet – as we well know – but also helpful to society and the life of man, and we will listen in a kindly spirit. For we shall be gainers, I take it, if this can be proved.’ Aristotle certainly knew the passage, and it looks as if his treatise on poetry was an answer to Plato’s challenge.”

Aristotle: On The Art of Poetry (Translated by Ingram Bywater with a Preface by Gilbert Murray), Oxford, At the Clarendon Press. First Published 1920. My copy reprinted 1967 in Great Britain at the University Press, Oxford, by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University. Oxford University Press, Ely House, London W . 1. 95 Pages. Light pencil marks by your student reader throughout, this little chapbook size paperback was used as a text at CSUDH, early 1970’s, Prof. Marvin Laser instructor. “Personal Library of…” emboss stamp on first page. The passage quoted above is from Murray’s Preface, page 1.

I’ve been experimenting with a book library app I recently found: Libib, a library management tool, used apparently by professionals and amateurs. (Any comments I make here on the app’s functionality refer to the Libib Basic, i.e. free, version). The app can be downloaded on mobile, tablet, and computer devices and they all sync. I first played around with such an app as volunteer assistant librarian at The Attic back around 2012. There we used Library Thing. Libib is cleaner, efficient, and quick. Books can be scanned via mobile device and barcode. Most of the books in my collection however predate barcodes and current ISBN formats, so must be manually input. If the book has been reprinted in some new edition, you can use that, but it won’t be the same book (edition, print, etc.) as the one in your library. Case in point, the Bywater translation of Aristotle’s “Poetry.” That problem could be workarounded by importing the newer version and then editing the information; alas, the app disallows editing of imported info. Nevertheless, I’m moving forward using the app, even though it means yet another project I’ll never complete.

No matter, what I’ve found is the app provides another purpose, that of perusing, browsing, not to mention dusting off, books that have not been touched let alone read in awhile. The app information can be downloaded into sortable files, should one have a need for such a tool. In any case, I’m currently happily stuck in Aristotle’s examination of poetics. Every page is like opening an oyster and finding a pearl. At random, this:

“The objections, then, of critics start with faults of five kinds: the allegation is always that something is either (1) impossible, (2) improbable, (3) corrupting, (4) contradictory, or (5) against technical correctness.”


Yes, I’ll take all five. It’s why we read.


for Bill Currey, after Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a machine.

A machine whose mouth is closed for good
and holds no metaphor under its hood.

A machine whose words number the stars
infinite yet for talk has no reason for.

Can’t remember when it was young
was never drunk won’t grow old.

A machine with no laughs or cries
but all night long creaks and moans.

Out of oil the machine starts to rust
like pages of a book turned to dust.

The Symbolists

The golden goblets
the silver symbols
crashed down on us
brazen stars falling
into a sea of flowers.

The good news was
there’d be no more

A few of us
we survived
with the littles.

We dug tunnels
to a comfort zone
not exactly Paradise
but warm and moist
plenty of bugs to eat.

And we drew signs
on the walls waiting
for the dust to clear
above in the Dear
One’s celestial home.

We tilled the new land
built boats and bridges
peopled the prairies
where ran the rivers
down to the sea.

In church we celebrated
the symbols of the dinos
and prayed they’d never
return even their stories
in time seemed surreal.