Wednesday, October 18, 2017


"Some experts said it was the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs."
—page 16, from The Botanical Garden by Ellen Welcker


The Botanical Garden by Ellen Welcker is a strange and short book-length poem. I was perusing the poetry book shelves at Orca Books of Olympia,Washington when I noticed this small square volume. I was initially attracted to the sperm whale on the cover and the incongruity between it and the title.


"Fifty years after whaling began, refugee populations in the Arctic Ocean had dropped so much that they were no longer considered an industry."
—page 25


But it was the words within that finally drew me in and had me heading toward the counter to purchase it. Poking about through its pages had me intrigued, captivated. There were themes, but there were as many digressions as there were consistent threads.


"Immigrants are huge, but elusive and difficult to see which adds to their mystery and fascination. They are highly intelligent animals with an elaborate social life, no possessions, and the complete freed of movement in three dimensions."
—page 30


It reminds me of Notes on Sea & Shore by Greta Wrolstad. It reminds me of Notes From A Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel by Evan S. Connell. It reminds me of Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník. It reminds me of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.


"You who name mountains, oceans, and desolate towns: tell me the idea of your country. Tell me its contours and flags and animals and industries. Tell me why it is, then tell me if the idea of being is a beautiful fusion."
—page 37


The text is concerned with borders and barriers, even as it transcends them. It confuses and conflates human and whale, mother and child, geographies and bodies. Information about whales and information about refugees and immigrants trade places.


"The game was called Border Patrol. The objective: 'to keep them any cost!' Players had the opportunity to shoot any and all of the four types of border crossers: 'Nationalist,' 'Drug Smuggler,' 'Breeder,' or 'Krill Eater.'"
—page 44


Categories are collapsed. Countries are shown to be nothing more than empty names. And, in the midst of everything being swept away in some sense, there is still the sea, always the sea.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Salted Caramel, an Imperial Stout (in the Blackwater Series) by Southern Tier Brewing Company.

12 ounce bottle served in snifter.

10.0% abv.


The pour is indeed black water. The head is a thin skin of dark tan that mostly dissipates within 30 seconds or so.

The nose is salted caramel.

The tongue is dark chocolate, cocoa, caramel, vanilla, a bit of marshmallow, and a light saltiness. Lurking in the background is a hint of smokiness.

The mouthfeel is medium with a hint of oiliness. The flavor is mostly chocolate and cocoa up front and then a longish finish slowly adds the other flavors.

The only problem with this beer is that it is really too sweet to be drinking a full bottle. It would be better split with someone. Six ounces in a mini snifter and paired with dessert after dinner is probably the best plan for this beer.

I liked it, but I’d rather eat salted caramels than drink them.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Detail of "Vesalius (2 Months)" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal on 12" x 12" concrete board.


Rest in peace.


"In 1849, when Melville returned to America after a short stay in England, he had a strange item in his baggage. It was an embalmed head...but it was his own."
—Opening two lines of Melville: A Novel by Jean Giono


I am so looking forward to reading this short novel about Herman Melville. I've only read these two opening lines and I am hooked.

Apparently, it started life as a preface to the first French translation of Moby-Dick, but then swam off into what is now this short novel.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I'm just going to leave this right here for myself—a "syllabus" of sources for an upcoming class I'm teaching.

The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible by Sarah Ruden, especially "Poetry in the Bible: The Living Word of Everything and Nothing."

Poetry, Language, Thought by Martin Heidegger, especially "What Are Poets For?"

The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul. Page 46. "Poetry needs to be spoken." + "The same process applies to religious writing."

The New Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics by Lewis Turco.

The Great Poems of the Bible: A Reader's Companion with New Translations by James L. Kugel, especially "Psalm 23 • And Obscure as That Heaven of the Jews."

Poets on the Psalms, edited by Lynn Domina, especially "Psalm 23" by Catherine Sasanov and "I Shall Not Want: The Twenty-third Psalm Comes to Cleveland, Ohio" by David Citino.

"Psalm XXIII" from Radio Sky by Norman Dubie.

"David singt vor Saul / David Sings Before Saul" from New Poems [1907] by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


The July/August (left) and September (right) 2017 issues of Poetry magazine.


Poetry magazine has been firing on all cylinders lately.

First, the design of the covers for the July/August 2017 and September 2017 issues by Alexander Knowlton and Pentagram is wonderful. I love the different typefaces used for the POETRY lettering on the July/August issue and the minimalist "nested" typeface and color scheme used on the black background of the September issue.

Secondly, the editorial staff of Poetry are seeking out and serving up some of the best contemporary poetry.


The July/August 2017 issue features Asian American Poets, many of whom I already read and know and many of whom were new to me. The issue opens with Aimee Nezhukumatathil's wonderful "Sea Church" and keeps going strong until it closes with Li-Young Lee's epic "Changing Places in the Fire" and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center's "Culture Lab Manifesto" and accompanying "Culture Lab" images and artwork.


As of this writing, my favorite poem in the July/August 2017 issue is "On Visiting the Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens" by Khaty Xiong. I see, sense, and hear transformation, fragility, vulnerability, motherhood, a shifting of perspective—and all of it layered and confused and yet somehow concrete.

Listen to these beautiful lines:
As in a fever the boy runs back & does not see / the white morpho the way I must see it: / my personal moon stone-ripe in this foreign corner, / mother as fauna forever — inhuman & gazing.


My September 2017 issue just arrived in the mail today, so I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm especially looking forward to poems by Atsuro Riley, Patricia Lockwood, Joy Harjo, and Terrance Hayes.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


On Saturday, August 12, 2017, my friend Dave and I got together for lunch, conversation, and to visit King's Books. While perusing the poetry shelves at King's Books, I stumbled upon Radio Sky by Norman Dubie and Crow by Ted Hughes.


Years ago, I was working on a series of poems that featured Fox and Crow from the fables of Aesop. Each poem was a "comic strip" of sorts, consisting of three short sections or "panels." Each panel was filled with violence and/or death. Fox, Crow, or both were usually dead by the end. Even if they didn't die there was plenty of mischief.

A friend asked me if I had ever read Crow by Ted Hughes. I had not. At that time, I still didn't. I didn't want any associations of my Crow with that of the Crow of Hughes. I already had Aesop's Crow in my head, as well as my Crow, so I didn't need another.


But that was then. Now seemed a good time to delve into the tales of this Crow. There was distance from poems long written and released.


What appears on The Dark Mountain Project blog on Thursday, August 17, 2017? An essay by Mat Osmond about the poems of Ted Hughes and the illustrations of Leonard Baskin as found in Crow. Yes, the very book I had just picked up a few days prior was now the subject of "In Other Tongues: An Underswell of Divination."


On Sunday, August 20, 2017, I'm having a conversation with my uncle at a family gathering. The talk is of trees and how they communicate with one another. My uncle asks me if I've read The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. I have not, but I have read about the chemical communication of bananas with one antoher as they decay, and I've written a poem about the same. I have also learned recently about research on tomato plants and how they communicate with another through a fibrous fungal network in the soil, which acts as a sort of "internet" or information web for these plants.

As my uncle and I talk, I know that I will be locating a copy of The Hidden Life of Trees and end up reading it.


My uncle also tells me about his special connection to yew trees. He talks about the amount of DNA that humans share with yew trees. He tells me about the various yew branches he has found throughout Tacoma and how he has been carving those branches. He tells me where yew trees are located in Tacoma and the surrounding communities of Pierce County.


The next day, Monday, August 21, 2017, I'm on The Dark Mountain Project website again and there is a new post. What is it? Another "In Other Tongues" essay. This time it is "Conjuring Yew Trees and Mountains" by Christos Galanis.

The essay features a couple of people who are able to communicate with yew trees, similar to my uncle's experience.


These Dark Mountain "echoes" of conversations and experiences I had just prior to their posts remind me of Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences by Lawrence Weschler. I'm not sure how these juxtapositions happen sometimes, but they did. I'm learning to be better about recognizing them and accepting them for the gifts that they are.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


"Octopus as Harlequin (after Picasso)" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk, charcoal pencil, chalk pastels, acrylic.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


"Fauvist Forest" by Troy's Work Table

Sidewalk chalk, charcoal, and chalk pastels on sidewalk in Puyallup's Pioneer Park as part of Art Downtown's "Chalk the Walk."

Friday, August 11, 2017


"Seraph" by Troy's Work Table. A companion to "Shift."

Sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal on concrete wall and sidewalk at Frost Park.