Friday, November 30, 2007

Loren Eiseley on Flowers

The call in Nebraska is to bring back old Tom Osborne to coach the Huskers, but what we need is naturalist and scientist Loren Eiselely speaking to our connection to the earth--in that way we might take care of it and ourselves and everything on it a bit better. Of course, he's dead, so bringing him back physically will be hard. Nonetheless....

“Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know—even man himself—would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he has sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man.”

If it wasn't for the high energy content of seeds produced by flowers, Eiseley notes, humanity wouldn't have flourished; only the evolution of flowering plants led mammals to take over the land. Why seeds? Because the human brain--unlike, say, cold-blooded reptile brains--requires far more energy as it processes complex ideas. That's the short version.

“Without the gift of flowers and the infinite diversity of their fruits, man and bird, if they had continued to exist at all, would be today unrecognizable. Archeopteryx, the lizard-bird, might still be snapping at beetles on a sequoia limb; man might still be a nocturnal insectivore gnawing a roach in the dark. The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.”

Other Eiseley quotes of note, all taken from his book The Star Thrower.

“Ever since man first painted animals in the dark of caves he has been responding to the holy, to the numinous, to the mystery of being and becoming…”

“One can only assert that in science, as in religion, when one has destroyed human wonder and compassion, one has killed man, even if the man in question continues to go about his laboratory tasks.”

“If it should turn out that we have mishandled our own lives as several civilizations before us have done, it seems a pity that we should involve the violet and the tree frog in our departure.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Louise Gluck Poem

Because I have so many gardeners visiting I feel an incumbent duty to push upon you a poem, an author, and her book entitled The Wild Iris. I may push more of her poems soon. Winter is long.

The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sedums Battle

Not really. I forgot to take pics. But here it is:

Autumn Joy is far better than Autumn Fire. I base this on observing the color change in their first season. Autumn Joy has been a dependable orangey color every year in my past tiny garden, and this year it blew away Fire, and even its seeds are holding their color longer.

Maple, Dogwood, Cardinals

I'm obsessed with seeing my Japanese maple through its first winter. Bought it for 1/2 off at Home Depot and the tag said "acer pulmatum." Big help. Google image search makes me think that--based on the leaves and bark--it's a bloodgood. It's on the east side of the house, but still seems to get plenty north wind.

I heard wind is a big enemy, so I thought why not try a mild windbreak. Oh, looky here, I have a pallet left over from the delivery of stone steppers (I was going to use it for SOMETHING creative). It's only 4 feet tall, and not solid, but it might help. Is it pointless? Pic below.

Also take a look at the young isanti dogwood twigs. Nice and red in the sun, also red in the snow, but on just your average cloudy day unimpressive.

And last week during our 1/2" snow a couple visited us for Thanksgiving. They were sort of loud and a might peckish.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Book List for 302A

So, I think I have my booklist for my spring English 302A, Poets Since 1960, lit class figured out. Happily, I have a dissertation fellowship, so this is my only class--and what a fun one to have. I don't want to make it a habit of talking about my teaching on here since I know I already have students reading my blog, but this seems safe. Plus, I always marvel at books other teachers pick and think "why did they pick THAT" or "I do NOT get how those books work together at all." Then I either think less of them or better (no middle ground). At least I recognize that I'm judgmental.

The anthology:
Contemporary American Poetry, 8th edition, eds Poulin and Waters
What I like about this book of poets from the last 50 years is that they select several poems for each writer, have a pic, then also have a short critical review of their work in the back. What I don't like is they have included some B-list poets and exclude obvious A-listers, like Anthony Hechte. Anthologies are a dime a dozen and none will ever be perfect. That's why I own like 30.

Individual poetry collections:
Yusef Komunyakaa -- Dien Cai Dau
Rafael Campo -- What the Body Told
Lousie Gluck -- The Wild Iris
W.S. Merwin -- The River Sound
Sherman Alexie -- The Summer of Black Widows

--Komunyakaa's collection is one of the best, if not the best, of poetry on the Vietnam War.
--Campo exhibits how a double minority--gay and cuban--uses received forms to subvert and then trump the poetic "tradition."
--Gluck's poems are lush, imagistic, and I always have loved how she so intensely personifies flowers, seasons, et cetera without getting sentimental.
--Merwin because of his environmental tilt while showing that sometimes no punctuation heightens the lyric without sacrificing syntax. And I've always wanted to see if I could get away with teaching him.
--Alexie because he accurately captures Native Americans in a post post modern America--with a healthy and appropriate dose of humor, sarcasm, and irony.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Eco Poems

Though I can't say the following two by William Heyen (from Pterodactyl Rose, 1991) are what I think writers should be doing to grab us emotionally and affect change--these are too overt and didactic, not tightly lyrical enough--I do appreciate what they're attempting.


In the duplication center I xerox a hundred pages
of the usual stuff, you know the stuff.
I xerox maybe a branch's worth, maybe

a small lower branch of Georgia loblolly pine:
evergreen scent of toner, and when I close my eyes,
I see the long needles of light along my branch.

Sometimes, the stuff done, it takes a touch
from next-in-line to break the spell
of xerox, fire, and the wheel.

Gods of Vanished Species

At Kwik-Fill, I pump ferns and turtles into my tank.
They'll ride here in my dark until they burn.
Millions of years later, now, our traffic
traverses ancient landscapes, zone by zone,

desert by forest by marsh by swamp until
we sleep. At night, like you, I almost remember
rib-like sprays of cat-tails, pterodactyl eyes of coal,
clouds of insects curving a moonlit shore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why Hello--Where Did You Come From?

1/2" of snow came from the sky. As perhaps did the cardinal. The cat? From the ground (he did not approve of my grading papers today, as made evident of his sharing the chair with me and being squarely at eye level).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Before the Cold Front--Last Fall Colors

It was 78 yesterday here in Lincoln, a record high for the date, and the warmest it's been this late in the season since the moon hit the earth and set us in rotation. Remember that you old farts out there who read my blog?

So I spent two hours piddling. Piddling? Make sure no plants had overexposed root balls--placed an inch or two up out of my heavy clay--so I mounded dirt around some, mulch around others. The first year is the most important you know--this is the year the plants begin to formulate language and create basic ethical and moral constructs.

The last fews days I also watered the trees since it hasn't rained for a month or so (wait, does .001" count?).

Below are pics.

1)The orange-ing sedum angelina
2) The red-ing sedum dragon's blood (I will have a carpet of sedum throughout my garden within 3 years by golly)
3) Prairie smoke
4) Ninebark coppertina finally resembling copper (and won't it be awesome in the fall when it's grown up?)
5) A sunset during the best time of year for sunsets
6) And lastly the view out my office window. Why didn't I put the garden on this side of the house? Because I thought it'd be better to see it whilst eating dinner on the deck, or entertaining the invisible guests we entertain whilst grilling out. Blimey. Who has time to be social? Have acquaintances? Read books, grade papers, write papers, write books, pet the turkey, cook the cat....

Sunday, November 18, 2007

American Poetry

Prepping (read finding books) for my spring class--302A, Poets Since 1960--and re-reading the work from the last 50 or so years, a few things are blatantly clear:

1) I have a long way to go.
2) But so did all these writers who started out one way, and ended up somewhere else, for better or worse, but along the way... wow.
3) American literature is not established at all. Sure, any culture's lit is in flux, morphing, flexing. But ours? It's both varied AND stagnate. How can this be? The most interesting poets have their hands in everything--themes, styles, strategies, hybrid genres--but their voices and interests remain constant, like a heartbeat or Twinkies. They're trying to actually GET at something elusive, painfully and awkwardly at times, and I think that's clearly us as a nation. We're still quite young--we don't know that much, just how to party and bully and flirt.
4) Some of the best writing, by far, has come from poets not white and not male. Not that white males aren't doing some good stuff.
5) So many poems, so many words, hardly read or not read at all, all that blood and sweat buried away, fortunate to see light again, fortunate to be felt again.
6) I sorta see how I fit in with everyone. This is both comforting and "deer in the headlights."
7) Holy holy holy.


When I type "Ariel" in to, only 1 out of 16 products on page one is a collection of poetry. The rest have something to do with red hair and fish tails. Sylvia Plath: The Secret Life Aquatic.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Passport Rapport avec Environment

It came today--only one week after applying for it. It's more rigid than the old one, due to the electronics inside, which I'm not supposed to expose to extreme weather conditions or other harsh conditions. Sure. Ok.

But I find the social critique more telling (I have to do this, I've been trained like a monkey to do so). I'd post images, but I bet the CIA would come after me.

Each page now features an American "scene" with a quote from some famous citizen: there's mount rushmore, the statue of liberty, liberty bell, but also cowboys herding longhorns, a depression era man plowing with two oxen and a close up of wheat heads to the left, a steamer on a river, an eagle with snow-capped mountains behind, a constituiton class ship sailing by a lighthouse, a train smoking up the prairie, a bear catching salmon in a stream with a totem poll as auspiciously placed as the wheat. Well. Ain't we integrated.

"For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say "Farewell." Is a new world coming? We welcome it--and we will bend it to the hopes of man." --LBJ

"May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world." --inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869

"We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so." -- excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version

These were on subsequent pages, one after the other, and the irony smacks me upside the head. Every image in here shows man's bending earth to his hope (and women, sorry). I find the other quotations uplifting, indeed I find all of them inspiring to some degree because we do have one hell of a nation, in the bones anyway. Platitudes work on me. But it's gonna be hard to learn from the animals when we kill them all. It's gonna be hard to learn from the land when it isn't there anymore. So much going on in the passport.

(And did you know that when you walk through customs now, your face is captured by a camera and digitally compared to national databases and the image in your passport to validate your goodness?)

Still, after watching the History Channel last night, I have faith in us. I saw how one paper manufacturing company uses methane from landfills to run its operation, uses bad pulp to create more energy, and captures CO2 and other stuff from burning it to produce yet more energy. Some companies store CO2 in the ground, working with oil fields to pressurize the ground and get as much oil out as possible. I even saw how algae can save us, make us zero emission. Algae is amazing. We can fix everything. We have the technology.

Go see what my good friend Bill McKibben has to say about a coffee bean roasting plant and self sustainability here:


Friday, November 16, 2007

A Poem


Each clump
of pinched blooms
on the concrete,
like burial mounds
or funeral pyres,
leaves evidence
of its parting:

the imperfect cut,
the diseased stem
now yellowed thin—
the week by week mistakes
of disintegrating matter.

Between one last
green stem still pulsing
and a new leaf’s bend
back toward earth,
a pink head pushes

from sudden absence.
Forced, it tries to open,
color its thin petals amber,
until giving in
to autumn—nearly

luminous, almost
numinous and in danger
of becoming more than us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christmas in July

Feels like it. On 10/31 the grocery store had green and red candy. A week ago? Trees out front.

Last week I was trying to find music on the radio--a fruitless effort I hardly try any more--and I found one of the main Lincoln stations has switched over to all day Christmas tunes. How many songs are there--ten? So, we hear 100 renditions of each.... if you ask me, Metallica and Silent Night is like merlot and Pop Tarts.

Neighbors have begun putting up lights; but these lights are the "easy" icicle lights. This may say something about the people who put up lights so early, and who will undoubtedly leave them up until the ivy starts yanking on them in summer.

Point is, I hate to sound old and mean, but every year winter gets pushed on us earlier and earlier. I can't feel joyful and bring any freaking tidings to anyone--school is still in session, papers come in next week, and book orders are due the day before Thanksgiving.

Park Seed

They almost got me this week with a viburnum and honeysuckle. Half off, discount overnight shipping. Almost. But the season is over, I'm tired of planting and need to focus on teaching and writing again. But I made it as far as the checkout page. Instead, my $20 will go toward buying souvenir crap in Mexico.

Speaking of which, a person can swim with the fishes--er dolphins--down the beach in Zihua. Now, I think this is both kind of neat and purely awful. I think "those poor dolphins" and remember the Simpsons episode where dolphins impale Willy. I think about how so much in the world is made to fit us, entertain us. Last night on the History Channel I was learning about all the new ingenious ways--and far less benign--to extract oil: out of sand, shale, coal, everything. I knew about tar sands in Canada, but had no idea Canada is now our #1 exporter of oil. And did you know we only pump out 1/3 of the oil we find? Turns out only 1/3 of it is pretty oil, the rest needs far too much refining to get pretty.

But you know what? I have to enjoy my life, enjoy the privileges that exist now, at least at times in my life. I can't think about the pollution from planes or any of that stuff. I need to forget--for a week--that I am not a part of so much bad. I may need to swim with dolphins to remind me of the essentials. And I feel like I can do that because I carry far too much guilt about all kinds of things, and need to carry less. I did almost buy a viburnum. Right? Oy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Soil and Seed

I finally tested the dirt even though I knew what it'd be; it couldn't be more alkaline, my color chart doesn't get any greener than this:

Then there are seeds. Mistflower (eupatorium), then tube clematis super close up, then two shots of maiden grass. You only get close up shots cuz the garden is new, and so not much to see. And the last pic... many nights ago we had a fire--I took a photo so that I could make my own cable access show for the holidays.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Help Me Pick a Conifer

Please? Anyone stopping by. Anyone.

One of my goals is to get an evergreen tree out front. I'm zone 5. Clay soil. CLAY. Northern exposure and windy out here in Nebraska. It'll be on a slight slope--i.e. the yard slopes down to the neigbor's property by about a foot or two, then down to the street by about 2-3 feet. A gentle slope, but enough that water won't sit on this spot.

Looking for only about 10-20' spread, and height of 30-40'. A small front yard, but I hate seeing my neighbor's driveway when I'm on the front porch.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Renegade Gardener Ruminates on Nature and God

I tell my students to quote when some idea is said well, or to your liking, or that makes you think deeper / new about a subject, or that you just enjoy. Practice what you preach.

"One cannot experience this wilderness and not ponder whom or what created it, wonder why it so quickly infiltrates and alters every element of one’s being. Why are we drawn to wilderness? What power does it hold? The answer that has slowly formed for me is that we are drawn to wilderness because in areas where the influence of human, mortal man is nowhere in effect, the spiritual principles that lie beneath all material reality rise nearer to our perception.

Study the photos—you don’t have to believe in a Creator or Supreme Spiritual Being to realize that there is masterful design behind this wilderness. Why can’t those of the “sheer chance” persuasion, who insist that the design of our planet and the universe had no designer, shift half a degree and call whatever sheer chance caused it all, God? I think the hesitancy has everything to do with the established, prevalent definitions of this word, “God,” and the human, erroneous idiocy that has been performed on His/Her/Its behalf.

Wipe the slate clean, and it’s not difficult to believe in God. One’s definition of God need not be remotely similar to anyone else’s, after all. God can be principle. God can be whatever unseen, intangible principle created this wilderness.

Truth is intangible, yet real, as is life. Did humans invent life? I can pick up an acorn from my yard, put it in my pocket, fly to England, go hike in the countryside, plant it, and 200 years from now there will be an eighty-foot oak tree growing in the English countryside. Aside from my courier service, did man have anything to do with that? Then what did?

These key principles that humans did not invent—truth, life, love—they aren’t material, yet are real, and came from somewhere. A common word for this unseen, alternative reality is spirituality. That word doesn’t offend or scare me. It intrigues me. It makes me ponder that perhaps the spiritual reality is the true version of our existence, and the material reality the false. It makes me ponder that as I gaze at this material wilderness, I’m actually glimpsing evidences of spiritual principles, and that as the version you choose to believe in grows in your consciousness, it becomes your reality—for better, or for worse. At the very least, I’ve arrived at the belief that when it comes to the material world, there’s more going on than meets the eye. "

License Plate on a Mustang


Guess the car color (barf).
Guess the age and gender of the driver.
You get only one guess for each.

Then ask yourself this: why name your "sports" car after a leisurely-imbibed breakfast drink?

I suppose the plate could also mean "orgy jocund" or "orangutan jump cd" or "organ just c.o.d."

Guess what flower color I deplore in the garden?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Allium in November?

I knew the ground was too warm when I planted 150 bulbs a month ago. I have early summer allium coming up. I hope this doesn't hurt them, I really have no idea, never planted bulbs before. I'd assume it's fine, and with lows in the 20s now it has to be. Maybe I'll go stuff their pointy spikes back down and give my garden an inny.

All my annuals should have bought it last night, and the last of the coreopsis and dianthus blooms should have shriveled. A good run though this late in to fall (if I'd had a garden the whole year--though most others didn't anyway with the late April freezes).

I missed the Nonfiction Now conference at Iowa this past weekend, but heard it was good. It only happens every two years, so hopefully I can hit the third one in 2009. I'd love too. Also heard the cnf job market is begging for qualified candidates--too bad I'm still a year or more out (which is good, cuz I ain't qualified yet either).

Any good dinner ideas? It's my turn to cook this evening.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

La Casa Que Canta

A delayed honeymoon after Christmas. In Zihuatanejo, Mexico. Conde Nast says it's #1 in Mexico, Travel and Leisure says #1 in Mexico, Central, and South America. We'll be staying in a private residence beside the main hotel; this residence has its own main pool, butler, and chef, only four guest suites, each with its own smaller pool overlooking the beach and bay. 5 stars. Kinda pricey.

Pics of the main hotel. Then finally a pic looking out from our terrace of 6 days.

Adrian Peterson

Have you heard of him? Minnesota Vikings rookie who broke the single game rushing record today with 296 yards. Already has 1,036 yard in just 8 games (running backs pray to make 1k in a whole season). And someone's dad especially likes him cuz he played college ball for Oklahoma. Though the Vikes are only 3-5, they've not had someone this purely dominate since 1998 with a punk named Moss. I'll put this under poetry.

Friday, November 2, 2007

In the Mail: Almost a Book and a Gift Card, Then Buell

Today Tupelo Press teased me once again. For three years I've been sending my poetry book-length manuscript their way, so in love with their press that I am. The last two years I've received delightful notes. Last fall, a note saying I was in the the top 30 of 1000 manuscripts for their summer open reading period. Today, I don't know the number, only that the editor "held on to this until the last possible moment" and that "this is superb work--please consider letting us see it yet again. It keeps coming very [underlined twice] close."

I appreciate his note and time, but I am also very tired of getting about two dozen of these types of rejections each year as I struggle to publish even a few individual poems or essays.

But other presses reject me faster that you can say. That fast. So I take whatever encouragement I can get.

I did get a lovely $35 gift card from Campbell's Nursery here in town for being such a loyal customer (don't ask how loyal, you've seen the pictures, I've been EXCEEDINGLY loyal).

Went to hear Lawrence Buell last night lecture on eco lit and crit. Clearly a genious. Clearly has his fingers on the pulse of the times. Clearly why everyone quotes him (not me, not here). Whenever I read his work I have to step back every few paragraphs to let myself be awash and absorb his ideas. His writing and speaking is dense, but said at just the write cadence and pace we get it. I can't say this for very many other people who lecture on college campuses.

He reminded me of Alan Alda. He did.

And when he did his q&a I was surprised at how he involved our comments. I imagine he's an excellent teacher. Clearly, he knows, and we know, how smart and influential he is in the world of environmentalism, but he also seems to know that no matter how smart he is, it's the rest of us who will put into action those ideas that are at the core of environmental awareness and balance. He's just the spark. He did this humbly, in my opinion, as if truly part of our tribe. He is, of course, I just wish I could be like this.

I'm also fascinated--and a believer for years now--in his idea and new book project that only through STORY and creative art / writing can we invoke the kind of spiritual change needed to save the planet and get ourselves back in balance with it (I'm biased being a writer). This is why I teach Tim O'Brien and Dorothy Allison and Terry Tempest Williams and Scott Russell Sanders to my FRESHMAN COMPOSITION students. All these authors show, and even tell us point blank, we save ourselves and our world through story. It's also why I tend to believe that writing, seeing as it destroyed many American native cultures, is second in story power to oral tradition, and somehow the mystical / moral power of the oral needs to be infused into the written tradition. However, it can be a close second, as Linda Hogan and N. Scott Momaday would say. Too bad movies and music have overwhelmed writing (it's like chocolate for dinner instead of hot dish).