For Horses, Horseflies

I’m tired of getting told who’s being stoned in the proverbial public square this time. Yes, we want criminals put behind bars, but do we need witness it, especially in the form of entertainment? Why care what mess movie stars have gotten themselves into? Why so eager to participate in gossip, or clap when someone successful slips? And the way political candidates dig up dirt about each other! Don’t get me started.

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The idea is to pick a poem you love, carry it with you and share it with colleagues, family, neighbors, and friends. This Jane Hirshfield poem is going in my pocket because it matches my sentiment:


We know nothing of the lives of others.
Under the surface, what strange desires,
what rages, weaknesses, fears.

Sometimes it breaks into our daily paper
and we shake our heads in wonder –
“Who would behave in such a way” we ask.

Unspoken the thought, “Let me not be tested.”
Unspoken the thought, “Let me not be known.”

Under the surface, something that whispers
“Anything can be done.”

For horses, horseflies. For humans, shame.

Quote of the Hour

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. Of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

–T.S. Eliot

The Great God Pan is (never) Dead

An ancient story tells of a couple of fishermen on the Ionian Sea. The wind suddenly drops, the air thickens, and their boat sits in odd stillness all day long. Finally, toward evening, an omnipotent voice calls out to them: “The great god Pan is dead!”

From the hills and the streams, from little valleys, temples, and holy groves, from mountain pastures, and ferny cliffs, there rises a cry of lament, a vast wave of wailing and weeping, anguish and keening. It echoes across the land. Pan is gone.

After this day, the oracles no longer prophesy accurately. The old gods and goddesses of the classical world, nymphs of sacred sites, fauns and satyrs, the centaurs and all the other wild beasts fall silent. The Lord of the Wood is dead, and the new god’s domain is not of this earth, but of heaven. Spread by the followers of Christ.

A statue of Pan in my garden

A statue of Pan in my garden

Pan’s features included the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. With his uncertain parentage, he was the god of the wild, of shepherds and their flocks, nature, overgrown mountains, and the dark. He was connected to fertility, the season of spring, and romantic imagination. He lived in that untamed zone of forest and rock, always just beyond the village boundary. Despite Pan’s affection for beautiful nymphs, his greatest passion was for Selene, a lunar deity.

All the greats new Pan–Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Dickinson, and Whitman. And so did all the 19th-century American landscape painters, especially those belonging to the Hudson River School–Cole, Durand, Church, and Kensett. They were eager to tell the world, Pan isn’t dead. He just moved to America!

Have you ever gone past the city limits to that place, a remote brambly hillside say, near rushing water, stood there in wonder until it hit you, the breathless sense that something lovely and terrifying could happen? That’s Pan.

Let’s pledge together, you and I, this spring, to find Pan. In our yards let’s grow more trees, bushes, vines, ferns, and flowers. Let’s NEVER mow the grass, and then, on some moonlit night, we’ll bushwhack thirty or forty feet into the holy thicket and call to him. We won’t worry because we know he will appear.

Sidewalks: Where Poetic Champions Compose

April–National Poetry Month–is just around the corner and Saint Paul wants your poetry.

For the past few years, the city has been open to poetry submissions with the intent of impressing them into wet cement whenever they repair a stretch of sidewalk. The idea was conceived by Marcus Young, Saint Paul’s Artist-in-Residence since 2006, and whose projects lean toward the collective. Projects that many can participate in and projects everyone can enjoy the results of. Here are a few poems from previous years already set in the sidewalks near my house:

If you have a poem or two in you, if you’re feeling generous, and if you want your words set in cement for posterity, check out Saint Paul Sidewalk Poetry Contest. You must be a Saint Paul resident to submit your work. This year’s deadline is April 13, 2012.  I hope to see your words at my feet.

Minnesota Book Awards Readers’ Choice Event

Last Friday The Loft was packed with people listening to 16 of the 32 Minnesota Book Award finalists as they presented their work.

Writers had five minutes to either read from their books or in some other way, tell about the work. While most read from their introductions or first chapters, some explained how they arrived at their titles, while others gave the so-called elevator pitch–short and succinct. For example, Kevin Fenton, the author of Merit Badges, describes his book as Virginia Woolf’s The Waves meets That 70’s Show.

Brett Laidlaw, author of the cookbook, Recipes from a Northern Forager explained how his book evolved from a blog he keeps. And no, he did not stand up there and proceed to read recipes, though he did promise us that his book had pictures of bacon in it.

Other notables were Su Smallen, whose poem from Buddha, Proof, about Buddha and a Barbie doll was nothing less than delightful, Nancy Loewen’s, The Last Day of Kindergarten had everyone up on their feet, and my brother-in-crime, Richard A. Thompson read a chilling grave-digging scene from, Big Wheat. Lori Sturdevant and George Pillsbury seemed to impress everyone with their enthusiasm for Minnesota history in their collaboration, The Pillsburys of Minnesota.

George Pillsbury and Lori Sturdevant

In fact, all the authors were genuinely enthusiastic about their work. The diversity of writers and their writing is impressive. An accurate title also goes a long way as in Bronson Lemer’s, The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq. It also helps I think to have cool writer names like Bronson Lemer, Kurtis Scaletta, author of The Tanglewood Terror, and Ed Bok Lee, author of the poetry collection, Whorled.

For a complete list of finalists, please see

Be part of selecting the winner of the Readers’ Choice Award by voting online for your favorite finalist book by March 31st:

On April 14, the 24th annual Minnesota Book Awards gala will take place in Saint Paul. Winners of the eight book category awards and the Readers’ Choice Award will be announced, and presentations will be made to the winners of the Book Artist Award, the Kay Sexton Award, and the Hognander Minnesota History Award.

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

For my brother, Mike, on his birthday:

When I say I wish you were here I do not mean it in the non-sincere sense that often exists with correspondence on the internet. I wish means not only do I hope that you will come back to Minnesota, I wish means we are in this world together and let us wish together for the success of the risk we take at being alive.

Happy Birthday, Mike.



Quote of the Hour

“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.”

― Maya Angelou