The Hopkins Review

Three Videlock Poems: Hopkins Review

Cold Turkey

For some weeks now I have been in seclusion and mostly unplugged, and trying like hell to quit the tabaccy.

The first two switches have been easy, have been in fact, a kind of relief.  The third ain't been easy, though it's been helpful in getting me off the hook for the other two.  Can't talk, ma, I'm tryin' to beat the nicotine; the phone's a real trigger.  Can't come, friends, lest I up and murder somebody.

But the truth is, I have needed this seclusion, have craved it, have dreamed about it for some years. Save my usual commitments to the galleries, quiet time spent with the husband, and visits from the kids, I am deep in the throes of aloneness.

Rather like this:  

Oliver on Solitude and the Imps of Idea

And this:


The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne. 


Small Town News

The husband and his buddy disking on their lunch hour.  


Trickster Ridge: Poets on the Edge of the World

Chance, and chance alone, has meaning.  -- Kundera


The Trickster myth derives creative intelligence from appetite.  It begins with a being whose main concern is getting fed, and it ends with that same being grown mentally swift, adept at creating and unmasking deceit, proficient at hiding his or her tracks, and at seeing through the devices used by others to hide theirs.    -- Lewis Hyde

My gratitude to Kent for this montage:  

And to Art, for this nod:

The Telluride Watch/Trickster Ridge

William Louis Dreyfus, Not your ordinary billionaire

I was sorry to hear of his passing.  He wasn't just a billionaire humanitarian, supporting the arts on a large scale and from a great height.  He was also a man who wrote lengthy, remarkably clever fan letters to obscure poets like myself.  By snail mail, no less.  On the most beautiful paper I've ever seen.  This was a few years ago.  I remember googling his name to discover who on earth he could be.  I remember following the public trail of an eccentric, private mind, and marveling.  A couple of years ago his daughter, Julia, directed a PBS documentary about him.  Well worth seeing.  If I can locate it online, I'll link to it.

He'd seen my work in The New Criterion, and reached out on a whim.  To the whim, and the whirl, and the ripples left behind.  Good night, strange prince.

William Louis Dreyfus Dies


Where have I been.

One could say I have been plagued by ideas.  And limited by time, talent, ambition, discipline, etc.

Meanwhile, by the by, nevertheless, the passage of time and all that. 

Since moving in, spring of last year, we’ve removed about ten tons of gravel and  large swathes of weed-resistant fabric from the property.  Thus began my studies in physical exertion.  And its attendant physical agony.  I am old, Fodder William,  and I am xeriscaping upside down, on a steep hill.    

Got me a burn permit, yup, and set fire to the north side of the ravine.   Strangely exhilarating, that.  My daughter often stops over for those burn days, and we get to share the weird exhilaration.  Only once did we lose control of our controlled burn.  The couple of horses next door stand absolutely still, heads high, tails up, during a burn.  I have arrived in the sticks, and the sticks are sublime.I have arrived in the sticks and the sticks have stuck me ?  I am steeped in the sticks and stuck on the sky.  

A dozen half-finished essays (?) and a bunch of unfinished paintings lie scattered about the house, calling for me and pushing me away in equal measure.  I clearly prefer risking life and limb on the hill.  

The jays are back, and with them, a couple of mockingbirds.   The pines we planted last year have established themselves, and the long grasses and sedum have begun to crawl down the slope  -- a final burst of growth before the the cold begins. 

I have stepped down from two boards, cut back on the galleries, and lightened my teaching load.  And still I will never know where any given day goes.   Time is a real trick of the tail.  

Meanwhile, by the by, nevertheless, the passage of rhyme and poems get written and all that.  Some of them fly off into the world, and find  places to roost.

Lighten Up/The Yogi From Pamona


Over the mountain and through the rains ...

A couple of weeks ago I journeyed over the mountain in a barrage of alternating rain, hail, wind, snow, and sleet, straight into the heart of Denver to pick up a friend, where the barrage of alternating rain, hail, wind, snow and sleet was met with a steady barrage of traffic.  

There's nothing quite like a harrowing road trip. 

At Fort Morgan, out on the eastern plains, life is slow, night is dark, and they treat their poets really well.

My thanks to dear friend Rachel Kellum for the invitation.  Attendance was quite good in spite of the wonky weather, and the folks were a joy to converse with.  I was able to stop on the way home and enjoy a soggy lunch with my son in Golden.  

The following weekend, I set out over the mountain again, this time with the husband.  The barrage of alternating rain, hail, wind, snow and sleet had become old hat. 

What followed was a brilliant production of The Scarlet letter, and time spent with dear poet friends, friends who write librettos and ask the world if poetry... matters.   

I did not know which to prefer,

the somber cloak 

of the opera,

the blissful ignorance of the hour,  

or the rain and the sleet, 

and the coming home.



  1. the study and measurement of time.

    the art of making clocks and watches.


On Donner, On Diction

In which the working poet asks a question of the wind.  

On a Saturday morning at 3am the winds began.  So fierce were they, and so long in duration, one couldn’t help take it personally.  Become entirely discombobulated.  Consider putting a gun to one’s head.  I canceled my plans for the day, having heard the gusts were at 60 MPH all over the valley.  The howling was incessant.  The cats began attacking one another.   The dog sunk into a deep depression.  Chimes and chairs and birdhouses flew past the windows.  Food sounded awful, drink even worse.  I paced the perimeters, watched from the bedroom as a metal piece of yard art split  in two.  Our yard- umbrella, its pole staked and buried into the hard ground months ago, was finally upended.  As it somersaulted across the yard and down the ravine, it knocked over our beloved cast iron bench.  

I recounted the horrors to the husband, who was secretly glad to be enjoying the temperate air in San Francisco.  I was, too.  During the call, several sirens blew past on his end.  The howling winds in the city never stop.  It’s just a different kind of crazy-making. 
This morning I woke to the sound of stillness.  I crept outside to inspect the damage, and opened my arms to the warmth of the day.  The wind had left the building.  Recovery efforts ensued.   Strewn across the deck and yard were broken ash trays, shattered pots, a cracked table, wind-chimes in heaps.  After a while I was distracted by the sight of some weeds in the garden, and began pulling them in earnest.  Pure joy.  Warm sun.  Stillness.  A day with nothing to do.   Later I would write, I assured myself.  For now, I shall forget the time and all deadlines or pressing matters.  Scrub jays.  A couple of quail.  The aspen sapling which had miraculously survived the winds.  Paradise.  
By early afternoon, I’d moved up the hill, and, having flipped the bench back over, sat to rest.   A warm breeze.  From behind, a sudden rustle, and a fierce little twister presented itself.  A funnel of small stones,  twigs and dust had been taking form, gaining strength as it spun past me and plunged down into the ravine.  

In these parts we call these little pockets of wind dust devils.  This one peaked in a cove about 10 yards down the hill,  just underneath the displaced umbrella.  That old umbrella was forced entirely open.   Each rib stretched to capacity,  it was lifted onto the air, up the slope, and was dropped a couple of feet from where it had stood the day before.
The wind giveth and the wind taketh away.    

In which the working poet asks a question of the learn'd professors.

In an essay called, The Genius of American Diction, Tony Hoagland writes:
"We American poets are millionaires; we possess a vocabulary extracted, imported, and patched together from so many tongues and sources, we can write checks with our mouths all day. We inhabit a linguistic landscape so etymologically wealthy that our most minor communications are studded with high and low improvisations. We have tinhorn and yahoo and meshuganah; we have yonder and redneck and hokeypokey, we have lily-livered and bumbershoot and rockabilly. Our diction is already mixed— a mixture of nationalities, jargons, eras, and attitudes. 
The receptivity of English to creative mongrelization may spring from its hybrid origins— from the Norman Conquest, in 1066, when Anglo-Saxon met French-Latin, and Middle English was conceived. Our forked tongue thus includes both work and labor, both dead and mortified, both hungry and famished. As a result perhaps, English, and especially American English, seems never to have taken a puritanical stance toward vocabulary. It has enlarged itself by freely absorbing vocabulary from Arabic, Iroquoian, and Indonesian. Other countries, such as France, have striven to shield and protect the purity of their language. But Americans love coinages and improvisation— linguistically, we don’t mind being “balkanized.”
In consequence, English is fantastically elastic and adroit. We possess so many alternative options for naming that our available expressive range is vast. Each synonym carries different implications, or connotations, of relative high and low, of attitude, formality , distance, and inflection. Thus, a poet can “say the same thing” on a semantic level while spinning the message in any variety of ways: pregnant is also knocked-up, gravid, expecting, bun in the oven, one on the way, great with child , and so on and so on. To use any interesting word is not just to pinpoint one meaning but also to invoke a whole resonating web of vocabularies, contexts, and ideas. In this particular way, diction is very much an instrument of associative imagination, and one of the many modes of intellect that collaborate in the making of a poem.".
In The Trial by Existence, Elizabeth Sergeant writes: 
Robert Frost has said over and over, that in his poetry he did not aim to keep to any particular diction, unliterary, vernacular, or slang.  He said, 
“What I have been after from the first, consciously and unconsciously is tones of voice. I've wanted to write down certain brute throat noises so that no one could miss them in my sentences. I have been guilty of speaking of sentences as a mere notation for indicating them. I have counted on doubling the meaning of my sentences with them. They have been my observation and my subject matter."

Emily Dickinson tells us, Tell the truth, but tell it slant ! 

Marianne Moore speaks of real toads in imaginary gardens.  
So, I said, given that we are here to discuss idiomatic speech as it pertains to poetry, it occurs to me that diction, or word choice, or the turn of phrase, if you will, is instrumental in creating tone, or tone of voice.  Tone is perhaps the weather that blows through the poem, orienting our perceptions, forming our shifting attitude toward the subject at hand, the speaker on hand, the poem at hand.   

It also occurs to me, I continued, (sensing I was going on too long, or about to make a leap that would meet with some serious resistance), It also occurs to me that perhaps some of our greatest poets are masters of tone.  Would you agree with this, I ask of of the three learn’d gentlemen gathered on the panel.  
One learn’d gentleman took issue with the word greatest, another took issue with the word tone, (too 'squishy', he later  explained), and what followed was a fascinating discussion between these two concerning the reason English is so diverse in the first place.  Neither agreed with Hoagland’s cursory explanation.  One argued that the reason the English language is so diverse is because of its unique linguistic structure, which allows for all manner of inclusion and bastardization.  The other countered that the language of empire will naturally dominate, whatever its linguistic structure. 

We were given lessons in history, political science, tasty little morsels of linguistic knowledge, tidbits on the Chines language, the Navajo language, and lots of stuff I wish I could remember about Latin.
I had prepared for this.  In the event that one learn’d gentleman should veer completely off course or dominate the conversation, (who, poets ?), I was prepared to begin slowly waving my arms back and forth.  Or spinning like a dervish round the room.  I had all manner of impossible-to-ignore interventions planned, for I have, as we say, been to this rodeo before.   But, so interesting was the discussion, I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt, save for a couple of conventional verbal interjections.  
After a while, the third learn'd gentleman leans in toward me and and says, This is fascinating... I speak three languages, and I’m just now beginning to realize I know nothing about language.  I think they’re both brilliant, and both right, he whispered, and I’m thrilled they’re going on like this, as I only had about five minutes worth of material.  
Me, too, I said, laughing. Indeed, the conversation was stimulating, and erudite and lively, and I was entirely interested in hearing it through.  Still, I couldn’t help notice that even when the... tone of the discourse shifted between the two, briefly, from congenial to pique, and back again, (for we are all old friends, and know one anothers' buttons and triggers and interruptor-tolerance) -- yes, even when the tone changed, and the weather in the room shifted, nobody wanted to talk about this thing we call tone.  

Which of course made me think of the volta, as it pertains to tone.  
I’m not even sure what to say about tone, myself, or perhaps it'd be more accurate to say I’m even not sure what I wanted to learn about tone that day.  I suppose such things are too subtle for explication, or deconstruction.  I only know what I scribbled into my journal soon after the conversation had ended and my head was still spinning.   

Don't look at me in that tone of voice ! 

Dear Tone, 

It seems we have a bone
to pick with you.  

replies the letter.  

replies the feather.  

the weather, 
ever the measure,

murmurs the vellum and
the volta, 

it's not
the font, 

it's not
the phonics, 

and neither is 

it just for sonnets.  

Next up:  Tone, Koan, and Atmosphere, Through a Glass Darkly, Out Through a Sphere



Safe Passage, Kate Light

Her candle burned at both ends.


The Idea is the Fleeting Ghostly Fish

Kate Light

that's lit up in the world of fathoms-deep;
announcing its arrival with a swish
that makes the waters murmur in their sleep.
There always blooms that steady stream of snow
like plankton fallout in the sea of brain,
from which you snitch a thought not yes not no;
but Something from the world's incessant rain.
The ghostly fish that's lit up from within,
and bright enough to catch your eye that sweeps
the depths, or reaches, or the narrrow place;
its luminescence gets beneath your skin, 
and cheers you when it finds your tearstained face.
And if you mimic it or rise to match its pace,
then you become the company it keeps. 

When it Comes to Heather McHugh

When it comes to Heather McHugh,

I do not know which to prefer
the extraordinary

or the  life

the extraordinary do

or the word.
when it comes
to Heather McHugh,

same sing, blackbird.


               - Heather McHugh 

If the fact itself were not
at odds with most of my hopes
for human life, I'd want
to know why sex was always best
when I stood to lose the most.
Why make its charms so devilishly
proximal to risk?
The patterns ought to favor
children's best protection -- not
one parent hardened and one hurt;
one predator, one weak. But nurturance
appeared to have no part
in our old fastest appetites -- our grappling hooks
and eye-meats. Well, a mortally afflicted tree
will scatter seed. That's nature's way
of furthering its kind. In my own
sixties (here where issue's not the issue --
not unless I go to Delhi for
an embryo implant. and let me tell you
I am not THAT nuts) -- here newly
sixtified, I say, I'd settle for
a kindness: tender looks not
tenterhooks; a cuddle,
not a cattle-prod. Dear God,
you made me pull away from every
club and strut and hoe. Don't now
on my account, sweet chariot,
swing so damn low.


Most creative people would use a $500, 000, no-strings attached grant to do something practical for themselves: maybe pay off a mortgage, or fund a research trip, or otherwise enable their next piece of work.  But when the poet Heather McHugh won a MacArthur genius grant in 2009, she used that largess to start an organization called Caregifted, which provides free vacations to caregivers of the severely disabled: 



Don't look under the apple tree --

From the epic to

the lullaby,

the stakes so high

they dwarf the sky.

Scattered Showers

From the ludicrous 

to the sublime,

the end rhyme 

is all about time.



There are no ordinary cats.  

What's That You Say ?

Election year.  

What on earth could be worse than the candidates ? 

The media.


In the larger scheme of things ...

It's unsettling to meet people who don't eat apples.  -- Aimee Bender 


Read, read, read.

Best book discovery of the year:  The Monsters and Critics, Tolkien


Losing Contact

My computer tells me it has lost contact with my time machine.  

This makes sense.  After all, time is a little bit loki.

Growing old, says my Moses, is like being in 20 different places at once.   

Be present, say the Nowists.   There is only this moment ! 

As though the Present could exist in isolation.  



In Which the Poet Does Anything But Write

It has been a brutal winter in the valley, with record lows and record snows and many good souls taken.

Kitt, Kitt, Kitt Muldoon, you were the gypsy woman, through and through. 

I have seen grace in the face of great loss, grace in the midst of losing a child, a spouse, a father, and in the presence of such grace, how could I not be reminded of my own whining, bitching, and complaining.  

Which always makes me think about Betty.  

Betty died five or 6 years ago at the age of 80.  She was the wife of an old cowboy poet named Charlie.  Charlie called himself a rhymester, and indeed he was. He knew all his poems by heart and recited them to anyone who'd listen until his voice finally gave out. There were times old Charlie would  launch into one of his poems and Betty would look my way and roll her eyes with such love it about broke me in two.  

The story went that Charlie married Betty when he was eighteen and she fourteen years old.  He put her in a shack out in the middle of nowhere, I think near Meeker -- where she taught herself to cook while Charlie was off punchin' cows for weeks at a time.  They had a couple of kids and lived happily ever after.    

At Betty's funeral, Charlie said some real nice things about Betty and then he recited about a hundred of his poems.  Then he said, his voice quivering, That Betty, she never complained.   

One by one, family members and loving friends hobbled to the podium and essentially said, Life was real hard, but that Betty, she never complained.

Nobody said that Betty read Wordsworth, Emerson, Thoreau.  Nobody said that Betty had her Elizabeth Barrett Browning by heart.  Nobody said that Betty could be wickedly funny, or that she wrote her own poems.

That Betty, she never complained.  


On the Move: Ships, Fringes, Fog, Song

 The Ghost Ship

A.E. Stallings 

She plies an inland sea.  Dull

With rust, scarred by a jagged reef.
In Cyrillic, on her hull
Is lettered, Grief.

The dim stars do not signify;

No sonar with its eerie ping
Sounds the depths; she travels by

At her heart is a stopped clock.

In her wake, the hours drag.
There is no port where she can dock,
She flies no flag,

Has no allegiance to a state,

No registry, no harbor berth,
Nowhere to discharge her freight
Upon the earth.


Last week a couple of friends and I drove over to Aspen where Juan Felipe Herraras was appearing.  Herraras' poems don't quite appeal to me, but the man entirely won me over.  I think he might be our first national laureate whose work comes from the spoken word tradition. On stage, he embraces the role of the kindly elder, has a bit of a medicine man vibe.  I came away feeling he is a well chosen guardian, representing, as it were, one tent, one genre, one school, one constellation in the great big poetry sky.  He is particularly suited to the role as spokesperson now, given the present discourse and public debates on peoples in migration. He spoke movingly about his experience of immigration, migration, displacement, poetry.  He spoke eloquently about voice and what it means to the displaced.


Closer in, we have made our home on the fringe of what might be called a migrant town-- a small agricultural oasis here in the high desert, with a river running through it.  Down the road: a post office, a couple diners, the brewery, a distillery, medical marijuana dispensary,  biker bar, a couple of art galleries, a gas station, and a laundromat.  The best part: No traffic lights. 

Further out, a host of assorted wineries surround the town.  The economy (and the soil) is very poor, but sprawled across East Orchard Mesa and throughout Palisade are miles and miles of orchards and vineyards.  In  summer, the winds, which travel at impressive speeds up and through De Beque Canyon in the evenings, cool the hot night air, creating a sweetness of peach, a good hard cider,  a crisp, deep grape.  Contrast, they say, is everything.  

 I've on occasion been invited to teach the arts to migrant children in Junction, a sister town about fifteen miles out.   Even the youngest of these kids are bilingual, yet most hardly raise their voices above a whisper. Immigration, migration, displacement, voice. Perhaps voice is so powerful, it terrifies us all.   

From here on the edge of the world, nestled against the mesa, I watch an endless parade of wildlife track across the snow.  They rarely seem to rest, the fox, the quail, the scrub jay, the deer, the rabbit, the coyote.  Even in the dead of winter. 

In constant movement as well: the skies, the weather, the clouds, the very atmosphere.  Here on the edge of everything, the constancy of motion is emphasized, dramatized, even flagrant.  Fog slips in and out of these  rough rocks up through the mountains and into the heavens, and most of the time, no footsteps are left behind.  Countless little flurries of snow, far below the timberline, find themselves drifting through these canyons, gullies, ditches, and other nameless secret places.  Rainbows appear, and vanish. 

Everything it seems, is on the move.

The Lion, The Loon and the Lamb

Last year a writer friend invited me speak at a service for the local Unitarians.   

The pagan in me was intrigued. 

It seems each month they invite a guest to deliver a speech on a particular topic --   from an extended list of virtues.   They call this presentation a sermon.  And yes, one stands behind a podium on a Sunday morning, flanked by a chorus, a minister, burning candles, the works.  

It had been many years since I had attended church, and the very idea of delivering a sermon, (on the subject of Dignity, no less), had set my impostor syndrome on alert.  This was a venue in which I couldn't just blithely dispense with the podium, or the microphone, for that matter.  I knew there would be one.  A microphone, that is.  But it was the word sermon that had really set me on edge.  I'd certainly delivered sermons in my life, but those were ...spontaneous effusions, generally regretted.  

In the end I decided I was incapable of writing a sermon, but I was capable of explication,  deconstruction, free association, and sharing bits and pieces of poems and strange or unusual insights into the subject at hand, from a variety of sources.  In other words, rambling.  And it turned out to be a delightful experience; these folks were intelligent, curious, and a wonderful sense of humor was in evidence among them.               

This year they've invited me back, and have asked me to speak about Courage.  


What on earth have I to say of courage...

Has my own courage ever really been tested..

If a courage falls in the forest ... 

Anne Sexton tells us:

It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.