Sunday, June 24, 2018

June 24: Force of Nature, Classic Saint Marty, Adult Reponsibilities

I find myself in the middle of craziness.  Lots of poetry things going on.  The kickoff of Art Week in a neighboring city.  A Sidewalk Chalk Poetry Contest that I'm helping to judge.  A concert to attend this evening.  And then, if I'm not brain dead after all that, I'm going to see the new Jurassic World movie with my wife and kids.

I don't mind days like this.  It's all part of being a parent and a poet and a teacher.  You can add a few other hats onto that list if you want.  Last night, I was able to write a draft of a new poem.  That makes me very happy.  Like I've accomplished a lot. 

It's difficult sometimes to maintain my energy.  Just met with a poet friend of mine for a little while.  She said to me, "I don't know how you do it.  You're a force of nature."  My response was something like, "I just take things one at a time.  That's how I survive."

A few years ago, I was sort of thinking about the same issues.  How to maintain youthful enthusiasm in the face of adult responsibilities . . .

June 24, 2015:  London, Youthful Passion, Louise Gluck, "The Open Window"

It had been a lovely trip, London everything they had wanted and imagined--for Annie, reading selections from several Dickens novels at the time, it was an enchantment; they took strolls through the Queen's gardens, fed the swans in Regents Park; tried to envision the shantytowns that Dickens had once written about, along the Thames, the city's architecture sometimes suspending their notion of modern time.  In fact, out of their usual context for a glorious period of several weeks, the veil of grief had somehow lifted from their hearts, Ives regaining a sense of childhood wonderment about many things.  Walking about the city with a black-bound sketchbook, Ives drew madly, as he once had as a kid . . . 

Ives' trip to Great Britain does something to him.  As a kid, he used to sit for hours with his sketchbook, drawing cartoons, people, buildings.  He was obsessed with art.  Everything he saw inspired him.  He sent samples of his work to Walt Disney, and Disney himself wrote back, encouraging him to continue drawing.  That's what Ives recaptures in London.  Passion.  Curiosity.  The love of life.

I used to have the same kind of youthful passion that Ives rediscovers in London.  Everything made me want to write.  I'd read a Stephen King novel, and it made me want to write about vampires in a sleepy Upper Peninsula town.  I'd go swimming, and it made me want to write about the moon climbing over Lake Superior.  I saw the original Star Wars (before the episodes and director's cuts), and I wanted to be Isaac Asimov.  I had that much enthusiasm and drive.

I still write every day.  During the course of my 14 or 15 waking hours, I still sometimes find inspiration.  Not as often as when I was a kid, though.  Life gets in the way.  Sick kids.  Broken windows.  Car troubles.  These things tend to stifle my passion.

Right now, I'm sitting in my office at the university.  I rode with my sister to work, and I have a couple hours before I have to punch the time clock.  So, I'm typing my blog post.  I did the same thing last Wednesday.  I find my mind much clearer at this time of the day.  The worries of job and home intrude less on my thoughts.  In the space of a half hour or 45 minutes, I'm done, and I've written something that I'm not ashamed to publish.

It makes me wish I had a life that allowed me to follow this writing practice every day.  I would be able to produce so much more work.  However, rising at four every morning, writing for three hours, and then driving to the medical office to work for eight hours is not a schedule I could maintain forever.  By 8 p.m. today, I know I will be exhausted.  Falling asleep on the couch.  I don't even know how I'm going to answer phones and deal with patients for the next nine hours.

I'm not complaining.  I'm just wishing I could somehow reclaim some of my youthful enthusiasm for writing.  I feel a little too old and too tired at the moment.

Maybe Saint Marty needs to take a trip to London.  It worked for Ives.

The Open Window

by:  Louise Gluck

An elderly writer had formed the habit of writing the words THE END on a piece of paper before he began his stories, after which he would gather a stack of pages, typically thin in winter when the daylight was brief, and comparatively dense in summer when his thought became again loose and associative, expansive like the thought of a young man.  Regardless of their number, he would place these blank pages over the last, thus obscuring it.  Only then would the story come to him, chaste and refined in winter, more free in summer.  By these means, he had become an acknowledged master.

He worked by preference in a room without clocks, trusting the light to tell him when the day was finished.  In summer, he liked the window open.  How then, in summer, did the winter wind enter the room?  You are right, he cried out to the wind, this is what I have lacked, this decisiveness and abruptness, this surprise--O, if I could do this I would be a god!  And he lay on the cold floor of the study watching the wind stirring the pages, mixing the written and unwritten, the end among them.

Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations at this desk

Saturday, June 23, 2018

June 23: One Dam Ingin, Social Media, Cat Videos

When in the Southern Fishery a captured Sperm Whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; is not very soon completed; and requires all hands to set about it. Therefore, the common usage is to take in all sail; lash the helm a'lee; and then send every one below to his hammock till daylight, with the reservation that, until that time, anchor-watches shall be kept; that is, two and two for an hour, each couple, the crew in rotation shall mount the deck to see that all goes well.

But sometimes, especially upon the Line in the Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be visible by morning. In most other parts of the ocean, however, where these fish do not so largely abound, their wondrous voracity can be at times considerably diminished, by vigorously stirring them up with sharp whaling-spades, a procedure notwithstanding, which, in some instances, only seems to tickle them into still greater activity. But it was not thus in the present case with the Pequod's sharks; though, to be sure, any man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that night, would have almost thought the whole round sea was one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it.

Nevertheless, upon Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when, accordingly Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades,* kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe. They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw.

*The whaling-spade used for cutting-in is made of the very best steel; is about the bigness of a man's spread hand; and in general shape, corresponds to the garden implement after which it is named; only its sides are perfectly flat, and its upper end considerably narrower than the lower. This weapon is always kept as sharp as possible; and when being used is occasionally honed, just like a razor. In its socket, a stiff pole, from twenty to thirty feet long, is inserted for a handle.

"Queequeg no care what god made him shark," said the savage, agonizingly lifting his hand up and down; "wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin."

Again, Melville lapses into stereotype with Queequeg, making him talk pidgin English--the same kind of dialogue used by actors playing Native Americans on Bonanza and Rawhide.  It reduces Queequeg from a fully realized character to the "savage" Melville's readers would expect.  It's not surprising.  No character with skin of any shade darker than white fares well in the book.  This little chapter is simply a reflection of a larger social issue, one that has been a part of the United States since its inception.

I'm not going to spend this entire post ranting about racism or ageism or sexism or homophobia or Islamophobia.  We can all agree--hopefully--that those problems are blights on the American landscape.  What is on my mind this morning is the danger of social media in propagating these kinds of beliefs.  For a computer savvy racist out there, it's not too difficult to splash offensive subject matter all across Facebook or Twitter.  Stuff that flashes across the screens of smart phones and laptops, right into the minds of young people who are only beginning to understand the adult world.

I suppose that's the point.  Get 'em while they're young.  For example, when I was a kid, my exposure to pornography was limited to the magazines I would find under the mattresses of my brothers' beds.  And it was pretty tame stuff, comparatively speaking.  Now, hard core porn is only a computer click away.  If a young boy can operate a mouse or has access to an iPhone, he can find just about anything he wants to see.

I know it's ironic that I'm writing about this subject in a blog post.  I use social media a lot to connect to people, speak my mind, share poems I like.  Yet, I can get sucked into the cesspool as much as anyone else.  On Facebook, I will stop and read anything that is critical of Donald Trump and his cronies, because it validates feelings that already exist in me.  (It doesn't help that the Trump administration has an agenda that is completely antithetical to my Christian faith and my values as a human being on this planet.)

Social media has always been a part of the human experience.  First there were cave drawings.  Stone tablets.  Then bards wandering around, singing songs and telling stories.  Papyrus.  Theatrical plays.  Pamphlets.  Posters.  Books.  The Information Age has just made it a lot easier to spread messages (good and bad) across the globe.  Social media can be useful (fundraisers for flood victims) or damaging (gatherings of Neo-Nazis).  It all depends on who's using it.

I don't think Herman Melville was trying to further the cause of racism and colonialism with Moby-Dick.  He was trying to write a book, and he was a product of his culture and time.  As a parent in the 21st century, I find that I have to be really vigilant about what my kids see and watch on social media.  Point out the flaws and mistakes in political posts.  Discuss the harmful images of women and sex in pornography.  Try to raise my children to be responsible citizens in the Digital Age.  And, maybe, pass along a funny cat video every once in a while.

Saint Marty is thankful today for his kids, who usually think he's pretty cool.

June 23: April Halprin Wayland, "Big Dreams," Sidewalk Poetry Contest

Big Dreams

by:  April Halprin Wayland

The scruffy house cat
aches to fly—
she dreams all day of
wings and sky!

So tonight
she climbs the ladder,
mounts a platform,
nothing matters

except to catch
a thin trapeze
then hold on tight
with grace and ease.

She swings herself
by both front paws
then somersaults
to wild applause

of kitchen mice,
who, though dizzy,
encourage Cat,
to keep her busy.


Tomorrow, I'm going to be one of the judges in a Sidewalk Poetry contest in Marquette, Michigan.  The theme is "All Things BIG."  Since I'm working on a book of Bigfoot poems, I'm more than a little excited to see the entries for the contest. 

In honor of this event tomorrow, I thought I'd share a poem about a BIG thing. 

Saint Marty is going to work on a new Bigfoot poem tonight.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21: Barbecued Porpoises, Summer Solstice, Poetry Blessings

That mortal man should feed upon the creature that feeds his lamp, and, like Stubb, eat him by his own light, as you may say; this seems so outlandish a thing that one must needs go a little into the history and philosophy of it.

It is upon record, that three centuries ago the tongue of the Right Whale was esteemed a great delicacy in France, and commanded large prices there. Also, that in Henry VIIIth's time, a certain cook of the court obtained a handsome reward for inventing an admirable sauce to be eaten with barbacued porpoises, which, you remember, are a species of whale. Porpoises, indeed, are to this day considered fine eating. The meat is made into balls about the size of billiard balls, and being well seasoned and spiced might be taken for turtle-balls or veal balls. The old monks of Dunfermline were very fond of them. They had a great porpoise grant from the crown.

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite. Only the most unprejudiced of men like Stubb, nowadays partake of cooked whales; but the Esquimaux are not so fastidious. We all know how they live upon whales, and have rare old vintages of prime old train oil. Zogranda, one of their most famous doctors, recommends strips of blubber for infants, as being exceedingly juicy and nourishing. And this reminds me that certain Englishmen, who long ago were accidentally left in Greenland by a whaling vessel- that these men actually lived for several months on the mouldy scraps of whales which had been left ashore after trying out the blubber. Among the Dutch whalemen these scraps are called "fritters"; which, indeed, they greatly resemble, being brown and crisp, and smelling something like old Amsterdam housewives' dough-nuts or oly-cooks, when fresh. They have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly keep his hands off.

But what further depreciates the whale as a civilized dish, is his exceeding richness. He is the great prize ox of the sea, too fat to be delicately good. Look at his hump, which would be as fine eating as the buffalo's (which is esteemed a rare dish), were it not such a solid pyramid of fat. But the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that is; like the transparent, half jellied, white meat of a cocoanut in the third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for butter. Nevertheless, many whalemen have a method of absorbing it into some other substance, and then partaking of it. In the long try watches of the night it is a common thing for the seamen to dip their ship-biscuit into the huge oil-pots and let them fry there awhile. Many a good supper have I thus made.

In the case of a small Sperm Whale the brains are accounted a fine dish. The casket of the skull is broken into with an axe, and the two plump, whitish lobes being withdrawn (precisely resembling two large puddings), they are then mixed with flour, and cooked into a most delectable mess, in flavor somewhat resembling calves' head, which is quite a dish among some epicures; and every one knows that some young bucks among the epicures, by continually dining upon calves' brains, by and by get to have a little brains of their own, so as to be able to tell a calf's head from their own heads; which, indeed, requires uncommon discrimination. And that is the reason why a young buck with an intelligent looking calf's head before him, is somehow one of the saddest sights you can see. The head looks a sort of reproachfully at him, with an "Et tu Brute!" expression.

It is not, perhaps, entirely because the whale is so excessively unctuous that landsmen seem to regard the eating of him with abhorrence; that appears to result, in some way, from the consideration before mentioned: i.e. that a man should eat a newly murdered thing of the sea, and eat it too by its own light. But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on his trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does. Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.

But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he? and that is adding insult to injury, is it? Look at your knife-handle, there, my civilized and enlightened gourmand, dining off that roast beef, what is that handle made of?- what but the bones of the brother of the very ox you are eating? And what do you pick your teeth with, after devouring that fat goose? With a feather of the same fowl. And with what quill did the Secretary of the Society for the Suppression of Cruelty of Ganders formally indite his circulars? It is only within the last month or two that the society passed a resolution to patronize nothing but steel pens.

This is not a chapter for the vegan reader.  It isn't for the animal lover, either.  The details of different animals being killed and consumed are not pleasant, especially when Melville discusses creatures that are endangered and protected.  I know that I probably wouldn't order a plate of deep-fried sperm whale brain at Red Lobster, and I wouldn't be tempted by porpoise balls at a Super Bowl party.

I am in the Copper Country right now.  Have been since last night.  I'll be performing at the Calumet Theatre this evening at 7 p.m. as part of the Red Jacket Jamboree radio show.  It has been one of the highlights of this past year being a part of this group of artists.  Love the music.  Love reading my poems and essays in front of a live audience.  It has stretched me as a performer and writer.

I know I make a big deal out of not being comfortable with change.  That I prefer routine.  That's the writer part of me, I think.  I can't plan my day or week or month of writing if I don't know when I'm going to be able to sit down with pen and journal.  However, since being named Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula, I have been pushed outside my normal comfort zones, and I've really enjoyed the experiences.  Enjoyed the people I've met, the things I've done.

That doesn't mean that I'm ready to sit down to a sperm whale meal after a poetry reading.  Don't think I'd go that far.  However, I have grown in the least year-and-a-half, as a person and poet.  I've been able to raise money for causes that I hold dear, like the local homeless shelter and warming center.  I've been invited to be a part of things (like the RJJ) that have enriched my life a great deal.

Being in the Copper Country at this time has reinforced to me how really lucky of a guy I am.  This past week, the Keweenaw Peninsula was devastated by floods.  Roads collapsed.  Houses were destroyed.  Entire towns isolated by washed-out thoroughfares.  It's incredibly sad.  On my way to Calumet yesterday, I saw firsthand some of the damage.  It humbled me.  A lot.

Poetry has provided me with a lot of blessings over the last year.  I think that I take these blessings for granted sometimes.  I need to stop doing that.  I'm sitting in a hotel room right now.  In a few hours, I'll be at a theater with a group of really talented performers, and they'll be treating me like I belong with them.  That's amazing.

Blessings come in many forms.  I guess they considered sperm whale pudding a blessing back in the day.  In the face of great challenges, people rise up and fight back.  That's a blessing, too.

On this summer solstice day, Saint Marty is thankful today for all of the blessings poetry has brought into his life.