June 15th, 2006

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Good Morning -

A more perfect day could never be.   I am rested, like the shining sun, and all the green that is spreading in its gaze. 

My morning dreams were of my mother.  She looked great and was using a computer, typing quickly, and it turned out her new home is right under where the helicopter takes off, so what she typed showed a view of her home as the helicopter rose, and, then, the surrroundings.   She is living in a beautiful place.  We went out to eat and checked everything out.  She was like she was in the past, only even more animated.  It was a lovely way to wake.

I also had the image this morning of cancer treatment as like being in one of those car washes where you put your car in neutral and are towed along.  Then, you are unhooked, and, have to start your engine and choose a direction.  I think I have been a bit overwhelmed at my lovely array of choices.  I feel rested and well-chosen today.

I love this comment by Verlyn on Donald Hall.


Donald Hall, Poet Laureate

Published: June 15, 2006

The question, What is poetry for? has a corollary: What is everything that is not poetry for? That's what I found myself wondering as I reread Donald Hall's poem "The One Day" after hearing the good news that he will be the next poet laureate of the United States. The question has a circular, elliptical answer. In the life of a poet, what is not poetry is for the making of poems. It is the raw stuff, like "a bad patch of middle-life," as Mr. Hall puts it in his note on "The One Day." It took 17 years to make that 60-page poem, and 17 years for a poem of that magnitude is a decent rate of exchange.

In this country there is no job description for the poet laureate. And yet the title, which carries a stipend and a travel grant, is not entirely honorific. It's assumed that the laureate will try to advance the cause of poetry — especially the public awareness of poetry — in a manner somehow separate from the writing of poems. To speak on behalf of poetry sounds like a natural task for a poet, and for some poets it certainly is. I don't know whether Donald Hall will turn out to be that kind of laureate, and, in a way, I hope he doesn't. So much of his poetry has emerged from the rigor of his privacy — from what appears in his verse to be a deep, unsettling sense of what's possible in one's life. There's always the temptation for the laureate to find some anodyne ground to stand on. But these are not anodyne times.

To many readers, Donald Hall has lived what appears to be an eminently poetical life — in an ancient farmhouse in New Hampshire. The setting is pastoral, and yet there is a ferocity in Mr. Hall's voice that undoes the pastoral, which is always waiting to be undone. As Mr. Hall once wrote in an essay about the withering of the National Endowment for the Arts, "the mathematics of poetry's formal resolution does not preclude moral thought, or satisfaction in honest naming, or the consolation of shared feeling." I'm looking forward to the mathematics and the morality of this new laureate. After all, it doesn't matter where you watch life from if your gaze takes in the whole world.


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One way to choose -

Maybe we should choose our candidates on how easy it it to rhyme their name, on how poetry can roll easily around in them, in rhythm and in feet.

Op-Ed Contributor

Name That Candidate

Published: June 15, 2006

MY excitement at the news that Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, is considering a bid for president in 2008 is easy to explain: his name has enormous rhyming potential. We all have our own issues.

Rhyme is not my only one; I am also intensely interested in meter. I happen to be a deadline poet, responsible for commenting on the events of the day in verse. Someone in my position tends to see Ross Perot and John McCain as two peas in a pod — blessedly iambic candidates with nearly unlimited rhyming possibilities. During my 16 years in the deadline poetry game, though, we've had nobody with a name like Ross Perot or John McCain in the White House. I've had to deal with presidents whose names are an affront to rhyme and meter. Given the rhyming difficulties of Bill Clinton's name, in fact, I believe future historians will think of him as the "orange" of American presidents.

It's not as if a deadline poet has an easy lot to begin with. Obviously there are those constant deadlines. Without wanting to knock the competition, I might just point out that, say, the romantic poets — Wordsworth and that crowd — could mosey along the countryside for days without feeling any pressure at all to come up with a sunset they considered worth writing about.

Also, the pay is limited. Two years ago, it was revealed that National Review was paying its deadline poet, William H. von Dreele, precisely the same per poem as The Nation magazine pays me — $100. I was shaken by that news.

For years, I've referred to the editor who retained my services for the Nation as "the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky," but I'd always thought that National Review's William F. Buckley Jr. was, whatever our political differences, a considerate and generous-hearted man. I could only conclude that society as a whole undervalues deadline poets. Given those burdens, the last thing we deserved was a second president whose name rhymes with almost nothing beyond "push" and "tush."

I don't want to appear unappreciative. At times George W. Bush has seemed interested in making my life easier. He must have known before the appointments were made, for instance, that Condoleezza Rice's name fits exactly into the meter of "The March of the Siamese Children" from "The King and I" ("Condoleezza Rice, who is cold as ice, is precise with her advice") and that Alberto Gonzales rhymes with "loyal über alles."

Still, as the names of potential 2008 presidential candidates begin to get tossed around, you can't blame us for looking forward to having someone in the Oval Office who is more compatible with our needs. That is why I groan every time the eminently rhymable Bill Frist shoots himself in the foot. That is why I keep trying to reassure myself that the Republican base would never permit the nomination of Rudolph Giuliani. That is why, in a conversation about the possibility that the governor of Massachusetts could enter the race, I might burst out, "To me, Romney is just another Clinton."

Reading about the renewed interest lately in Al Gore, whom I once referred to in a poem as "a man-like object," I have to admit that his name rhymes with more than "bore" and "snore." My worries about the Democrats go beyond the growing sense that their leading candidate is literally another Clinton. They have a tendency to thrust forward candidates whose names we can't even imagine at this point in the process; witness Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean.

In my more pessimistic contemplations of the 2008 campaign, I see myself telling some political operative that I've made my peace with the possibility that the Democrats, desperate for some charisma, could turn to Barack Obama — a man whose rhymes I long ago used up in trying to deal with Osama bin Laden.

"But Obama's not the only Illinois contender," the operative says. "There's also the governor."

"The governor?"

"The governor," he repeats. "Rod Blagojevich."


Calvin Trillin is the author, most recently, of "A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme."

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grieving -

This day is so beautiful that it is odd to reach for words to comfort someone who lost her son because of the war in Iraq, but I do, because that is here, too.  I hear the garbage trucks roaming the valley this morning.  If only it were so easy to get rid of pain, put it in a bin, brown for garbage, blue for recycling, and green for disconnected plant life.

I offer this poem to my friend.



There are no words,

only the songs of birds,

and the laying of hard shells,

that will one day


and fly.

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more thoughts -

I read yesterday about the many people who have started blogs as a way to deal with their illness.  What is curious to me, is that for many of us, the illness ends.  It was a tunnel we went through.  We emerge.   What now?   I have been requested to continue the blog, and I will.  As Jane and I go back through what is here, we see it is not so much about the illness, except as an instruction in presence.  It is harder now, in this world of choice, to stay present, and yet, I reach for it like a towel and wrap it around me, and now, I let it go, and bathe in the pool. 

Thank you!   I bow in thanks, as I honor my movement through a threshold.  I am beginning to believe I am well, and I always was well, and I see the wellness is the well within. 

Steve and I were married 35 years ago, on Monday, the 19th.   I am with that today, even as I sit in presence, wrapping the wholeness of my life around me. 

On Tuesday, I will help Jan choose a cake and flowers for their wedding.  I am wrapped in blessings.   I feel like a dolma.   I hope you do too.
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Who Knew?

There is a Presidio College of Sustainability right here in SF.  It is the Presidio World College, and you can get an MBA in management.  Robert Kennedy Jr. was the keynote speaker at the graduation last Saturday.   A friend of mine was there and was inspired and dismayed by his speech.   As we know, the Bush people change the laws to suit themselves and corporate interests.  In West Virginia, when strip mining was ordered stopped by a conservative Republican judge, without hours the Bushies had rewritten the law behind closed doors.  The mining continues, topping the Appalachian Mountains and polluting over 1200 rivers and lakes in W. Virginia alone. 

I know this and I can only handle a bit at a time, and yet, we must continue handling the bits that we can.

I do believe good triumphs, and we may need to give it a little push.  It was a little easier to slide downhill when we had a whole mountain on which to get ourselves going.  Starting from a flat top makes it a bit more difficult, especially when we can't make the slope more slippery with water because we'll get toxins on our hands, but we can do it.  We will. 

I have been working outside today.  Plants are growing all over the place and birds are singing.  I feel wealth in my soil.  
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Changing thought patterns -

I SAW MIKE [Seeger] play without the Ramblers… . He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for -- the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, and the guitar; even harmonica in the rack. Mike was skin-stinging. He was tense, poker-faced and radiated telepathy, wore a snowy white shirt and silver sleeve bands. …Being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them. I was so absorbed in listening to him that I wasn’t even aware of myself. What I had to work at, Mike already had in his genes, in his genetic makeup. Before he was even born, this music had to be in his blood. Nobody could just learn this stuff, and it dawned on me that I might have to change my inner thought patterns…that I would have to start believing possibilities that I wouldn't have allowed before, that I had been closing creativity down to a very narrow, controllable scale…that things had become too familiar and I might have to disorient myself.

Bob Dylan, from Chronicles

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an excuse for chocolate

I just learned that M & M's come in pink and white and if you buy the 8 oz. package of pink and white ones, 50 cents goes to breast cancer research.  I think it might be a win-win, though I'm not quite sure.  : )     If you want chocolate, eat pink and white.