Archive for November, 2015

Frost beach

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Robert Creeley

This morning I came upon a sound file of Bob Creeley reading a long (for him) poem called “En Famille.” I hadn’t read or heard that poem before. It moved me very much, hearing his voice, hearing his words. I am stunned to realize that my teacher has been gone for more than 10 years. Below is what I wrote at the time.

4 April 05:  Corresponding with friends about Robert Creeley, who passed away the other day, has been a solace. Creeley was a good guy, and he was certainly good to me. When I was his student, he saw beyond my ruthless go-getter attitude, he tried (without great success) to teach me to go for singles and not home runs when writing about poetry, and he talked to me like a guy he’d invited to his house.  Creeley was somewhat reticent and curt in a New England way back then, and he wasn’t very comfortable in class – a point I made very clear in a memoir I wrote called “Creeley Teaches in Buffalo” that was published in the essay collection “Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop.” It wasn’t that Bob didn’t try at times to get some dialogue going – just that, when he did try, it was so surprising that his students, at least the ones in my class, literally couldn’t speak. A couple of years after I published the piece, I moved back to Buffalo from Stanford and visited Bob, and he said of it, “That was probably the best I could have hoped for.”  I took this as a compliment – him saying that he was grateful someone had recorded faithfully what being a student in his class was like.  About a week later, though, playing with that sentence in my mind, I saw another, clever, very Creeley-like, and quite probable meaning:  “It was the best I could have hoped for FROM YOU, Basil.” *laughs*  Both assessments were probably right.

The Times of London has a good precis of Bob’s career.  It notes that “as a character [Creeley] transformed himself from an originally quite angry personality into an increasingly genial one, and his public readings of his work had a large following. Indeed, the celebration of his 70th birthday at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in October 1996, devoted to readings and lectures by him and others, lasted for three days.”

My favourite Creeley poem is called “The Whip”:

The Whip

I spent a night turning in bed,/my love was a feather, a flat

sleeping thing. She was/very white

and quiet, and above us on/
the roof, there was another woman I

also loved, had/addressed myself to in

a fit she/returned. That

encompasses it. But now I was/lonely, I yelled.

but what is that? Ugh,/she said, beside me, she put

her hand on/my back, for which act

I think to say this/wrongly.


to be jolly


You’re Going to Love How You Look

Hedge funds may force companies to be more efficient, but that’s not always the best thing for every stakeholder group, like employees. It’s curious we’ve allowed capitalism to become all about shareholders.”

No Loss


As a young man, running was right up there with hitch-hiking as one of my favourite things to do. By the time I was in my mid-twenties several of my running partners could no longer run; their knees or feet or back had finally buckled; road-running’s no good on the joints. I knew that my time could be up in a day or a year or in ten years.

One day while visiting my parents in Fairport, NY, I went out for a long run down by the Erie Canal, then along some paths dividing farmers’ fields, then out to my old high school. It was a hot hot HOT; and no wind; it was *lovely*. Heading home on Ayrault Road I was running up a hill and felt the sun just burning the back of my calves; this elated me. I knew how lucky I was to be able to run. I knew that I had enjoyed every step of every run in my life.

Then I realized something. I saw into my future, to a time when I would no longer be able to run: I would have no regrets, because I had never taken my gift, such as it was, for granted. I had always thanked my lucky stars.

Sometimes I find myself running in my dreams – and when I do, I *know* that I am dreaming; I am having a lucid dream, and I can run anywhere I want. And *do* – having been given a gift from my younger self and from the magic of life.


Thinking about it over at my iPhone blog:

As one gets older, mental hygiene becomes more important than ability or intelligence. Laziness is the chief vice of high aptitude.

I was at Burger King the other day, and grew irritated by how long it took to receive my cheeseburger. I had to walk away from the counter because I did not want the cashier to see my twisted face. Then I remembered that I got fired from Burger King 40 years ago. It was my first real job. I kept forgetting to put the fish in the fish fillet sandwiches.

Edifying Irritation

The first thing I read most every morning is Clarissa’s Blog. It is a whirlwind of commentary on culture and literature and history. The folk who follow her blog chip in with animated and sometimes antagonistic discussion. It’s really really wonderful. The last couple of days Clarissa has been providing spirited critiques of the way people typically understand The Holocaust, and how they use it in public and private debates. Today she hammers those lamebrains among us who, as a rhetorical device, compare such-and-such an event to The Shoah. I am going to quote the whole post, because every sentence matters.

Middle schoolers who join debate teams are warned to avoid the “that’s just like Hitler” argument because it’s intellectually vacuous and morally unsustainable. Reaching out for an easy, tear-jerking analogy is a sign of an impotent mind.

Lazy, primitive brains love nothing as much as they do analogy. They dismiss any new information that reaches them with an, “Oh, it’s just like X” because absorbing anything new is work, and it’s much easier to sift through a limited stock of trivia tidbits than try to learn. The Hitler Analogy is the easiest one because every ignoramus on the planet feels hugely knowledgeable about the Holocaust on the basis of having heard that something vaguely bad might have happened and can be used to shame people you don’t like.

This morning, I tried scrolling through my news feed but all I saw, in about 30 articles in a row, was the comparison of Syrian refugees with European Jews in 1938. The analogy is both unsustainable and offensive. It’s also been done to death, it sheds no light on the understanding of anything, yet people repeat it with the insistence of robots who’ve had no other function programmed into them.

Have you noticed, though, that for just-like-Holocausters everything is as bad as the Holocaust except for the Holocaust? They have no sympathy for Jews but every sympathy for just-like-Jews. (One of the just-like-Holocausters in my blogroll, for instance, was the “tender-hearted Nazis” fellow I quoted yesterday.)

The reason is that their attachment to just-like-Holocausting does not only serve the purpose of faking an understanding where there is none. It also helps them trivialize the Holocaust and turn it into an ordinary, mundane occurrence which is “just like” everything else in the world.

Get thee to Clarissa’s Blog, go!

No Word

A friend in the media emailed me this morning: “Everyone keeps talking about hostages having been taken in Paris. Doesn’t the word ‘hostage’ imply a demand on the part of the terrorists? They made no demands; they intended all along to slaughter them. Wouldn’t captive be a more appropriate word, or am I over-thinking this?”

I wrote back: “You are definitely right about ‘hostage’ being the wrong word and for the reasons you say. I would say that ‘captive’ is also the wrong word, because captives are prisoners – not intended victims of murder. At the very least, one ‘holds’ a captive for a predetermined period of time; this was not the case yesterday. To see how ‘captive’ is the wrong word: One would not say that a person killed in his/her or another person’s home is a captive – same for a person killed in a restaurant in a drive-by. I think ‘intended victim’ is the closest. There is no single word for ‘terrorist victim,’ and it seems discourteous to refer repeatedly to the slain as ‘terrorist victims’ – two awful words to describe innocent souls.”

My friend’s reply: “Alas, ‘intended victim’ is clumsy.”


About this one can truly say, There is no word.

cross-posted at NoContest.CA

My neighborhood


From Robert Mangelsdorf and The Westender (an alert and lovely weekly):

Vancouver’s West End has been recognized as Canada’s greatest neighbourhood, something that no doubt comes as no surprise to the people who live there.

The West End took first place in the annual Great Places in Canada contest, hosted by the Canadian Institute of Planners and now in its fifth year.

“We couldn’t be more delighted,” stated the West End BIA on their website of the win. “[We’d] like to thank all of the amazing citizens, community groups, businesses, and event organizers that make the West End such a fantastic place to live, work and play.”

The neighbourhood was recognized by Great Places in Canada for its natural beauty, culture, and liveability, including “spectacular English Bay beach, a backdrop of majestic North Shore mountains, tree lined and foliage rich streets, an elegant blend of heritage and modern buildings, lively commercial areas, parklets and roundabouts, [and] dedicated cycling lanes.”

Every morning when I wake up and realize that *I’m still living, and living here* … I thank the heavens. I really do.



I am praying for the people of France and sending my love there.

[Addendum: Saturday mornings invite reflection; today we feel the whole world zooming and twirling, its surface topped and toppled by our species; are we really *that* sickening, ever remote from atonement? – 14 Nov. 12]



Kafka’s Iris


Luscious espresso, clean bathroom. 2525 Main St, Vancouver.

Magic work


I love these anecdotes regarding the painting of Wassily Kandinsky’s “Composition IV” (above) and “Composition VI” (at bottom):

During the studies Kandinsky made in preparation for Composition IV, he became exhausted while working on a painting and went for a walk. While he was out, [painter] Gabriele Münter tidied his studio and inadvertently turned his canvas on its side. Upon returning and seeing the canvas (but not yet recognizing it) Kandinsky fell to his knees and wept, saying it was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. He had been liberated from attachment to an object. As when he first viewed Haystacks of Claude Monet, the experience would change his life.

In another episode with Münter during the Bavarian abstract expressionist years, Kandinsky was working on his Composition VI. From nearly six months of study and preparation, he had intended the work to evoke a flood, baptism, destruction, and rebirth simultaneously. After outlining the work on a mural-sized wood panel, he became blocked and could not go on. Münter told him that he was trapped in his intellect and not reaching the true subject of the picture. She suggested he simply repeat the word uberflut (“deluge” or “flood”) and focus on its sound rather than its meaning. Repeating this word like a mantra, Kandinsky painted and completed the monumental work in a three-day span.

Liberation is a surprise and a happy heaven.