Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring Affair Plant Sale

You always spend more than you think you will--even if the containers are small, even plugs. I thought I had $50 worth. I had twice that. Luckily, I'm always dismayed at the quality of lawn art, otherwise, the bill would've been higher.

Sponsored by the NE Statewide Arboretum, UNL Botanical Garden, and the State Fair Park, it was my 2nd time to this cRaZy madhouse of plants. Last year I was overwhelmed and got nothing. This year I came knowing FAR more about plants and what I was looking for and what would work in my garden, and I bought many cool cool cool things--especially variegated iris, sedum, and a Caryopteris. Anything named "gold" or "aurea" or had dark / variegated leaves just jumped in my flat, as some would say. Devilish plants. In no special order:

Achillea 'Apricot' Milfoil Yarrow
Monarda 'Jacob Cline'
Penstemon 'Husker Red' (already have one, and it's COOL)
Viola 'Ultima Morpho'
Viola cornuta 'Johnny-Jump-Up'
Viola pedata Bird's Foot (for the endangered regal fritillary butterfly)
Sedum grisbachii
Sedum kamtschaticum 'The Edge'
Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut' and 'Tricolor'
Herniaria glabra 'Sea Foam' (good for urinary problems!)
Sempervivum braunii Hen and Chicks (for my grandma)
Sagina subulata 'Aurea' Corsican Pearlwort
Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Longwood Blue'
Iris ensata 'Variegata'
Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet' Swamp Milkweed (for the monarchs)
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed (monarchs...)
Agastache cana 'Sinning' Sonoran Sunset (my lord these smell GOOD)
Veronica fasciculata Ironweed
Acorus calamus Sweet Flag
Acorus G 'Minimus Aureus' Variegated Sweet Flag
Eupatorium rugosom 'Chocolate' Mist Flower (can never have enough of these!)
Liatris punctata Blazing Star
Sundown and Twilight coneflowers (will these die on me again?)
Actaea (cimicifuga) ramosa 'Pink Spike' Bugbane
Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Worcester Gold'

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What's Wrong With My Graft???

Long story short, I bought a Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' on a standard from Home Depot. Before you purists harangue me, note 95% of my plants come from local and indie nurseries. The shrub on a stick was just so darn NEAT. And I'm trying to help out with this Arbor Day thing. Yeah.

Being a tad blind, I bought it without noticing the graft union. This doesn't look right, does it. Is there anything I can do to help it? Was I a sucker? (It's not planted yet, either.) The twigs look good, it's leafing out, so things must be working, but I'm concerned about pests and diseases. I've included pics of two sides--there are two sides to every graft, you know. Click for bigger image.

Submission Failure

Since August, and mainly last fall, I sent out my largest blitz of writing ever. The results? Dismal.

Literary Journals:
66 sent to
51 rejected
15 still out
1 accepted

Contests (individual poems or essay):
15 sent to
9 rejected
8 still out

Full Length Poetry Book Contests / Open Reading Periods:
11 sent to
3 rejected
8 still out

Chapbook Contests:
6 sent to
2 rejected
4 still out

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why Are People Afraid of Poetry?

I was talking with someone today (now I've done it) about why so many folks would rather read a piece of prose--any piece of prose--over a poem. The reasoning is that it takes many reads to "get" a poem, so it's harder to engage. When I teach, even in poetry classes with poetry students, the same issues come up:

--Why don't I get this? Should I? What am I missing?
--What does the author mean?
--I know I should like this, but I don't.
--I'm pretty sure this is well written, but it's hard to know.
--This sounds beautiful, but I still don't get it.

My answer to the above is at first an angry hmph, then it's a questioning about our FAILED attempts at educating or teaching poetry, about poetry as one necessary part to living are lives more richly. Our history with reading poetry is one where we either read langauge that isn't contemporary and so alienates us, or language that is self gratifying and not an act of communication. It's masturbating. I said it. It's 98% of poetry published today. So, I'd answer the above questions with:

--If you don't get it then the poet either failed as an artist (and that's ok) and / or it's just not your cup of tea (and that's ok).
--Who cares? Move on if it doesn't click with you. Life's too short.
--No you shouldn't. Life's too short....
--It very well might be well written, it might be gorgeous language, but poetry fails because it doesn't do both essential things for a poem to be great: communicate via fresh clarity of thought and sound.
--I don't get it either. Life's too short....

Poetry fails us because it's losing out to a visual dumbing down of culture where we want immediacy and someone else to think for us (I don't get who wants to be thought for, but whatever). Instant gratification. Poetry CAN do this, but does such poetry fail? Does it become too simple? Does a simple poem ask us to still read it over and over searching for some deeper meaning, some theory? Why can't a poem be a poem, a moment of grace, a moment of focused intensity, a sublime cherry on the desert of life? I hate what I just said.

The Red Wheelbarrow (William Carlos Williams)

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

A simple poem. An elegant poem. English academics have studied this poem to death and talked out their posteriors so much that the room needs a good venting. So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow. Yes. It does. Can't you imagine having this moment in your life? Sitting somewhere, seeing a wheelbarrow, thinking this? Isn't that a wonderful moment? Isn't that just a pure and right moment where you feel connected to the world around you, richer, living your life more deeply? Isn't that enough? Isn't it MORE than enough?

I could go on, but I'm not wanting to write an essay on a blog. I am a poet. I am a poet because I notice things, write them down, and happen to do a decent job of it once and a while if I work hard. Sometimes I don't have to work hard, but that's because I've worked hard all the other times. Poetry is valuable only in as much as it communicates a moment to us and moves us on some level. If we don't click with that moment, there will be other poems, other moments--all we need is one moment, one poem, to have our perspective changed forever.

My fear is that, in a rush rush visual culture that seeks to destroy individuality and moments of solace and introspection and independent thought, will there be any moments left for poems to enliven us? Will poems that effect us matter? (Should we force poetry classes on students just to get them to settle down, focus, and have moments again? Like quiet time in preschool or recess?) As Christian Wiman says, "[...] we now live in a world that seems almost designed to eradicate the inner life. When a real poem falls on such soil, how is it supposed to take root?”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A More Sublime Post on Buckthorn, Loosestrife, Teaching

An evening in the upper 70s will change a man (woman, too, I'd imagine). Things sure did pop today--warmest day of the year. Both maples are near bloom, the willows are very green, and below the Mellow Yellow spiraea has begun to bloom. The variegated foliage of Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’ yellow loosestrife is pink in spring, but that'll turn to cream with yellow flowers in summer. (don't confuse this plant with that nasty invasive purple kind)

The freaky awards go to Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' elderberry and Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’ Fine Line buckthorn. Like spiders or something halloween-ish.

And the wasps are back; can't say I missed those much. One buzzed me. Pollinators or not, yellowjackets and me are like eggs and tabasco sauce--it's just wrong. However, our regular evening diners were here again tonight: a pair of cardinals. The male always gets the feeder, the female the grass below. What patriarchy have we here? But he does swoop down a few feet from her, hops over, and I swear they kiss--they do actually touch beaks, but only briefly. I've seen this several times now. Please, no one email me and tell me he's regurgitating seeds for her.

The end of the school year is two weeks away and I am sad and excited. Sad because 1) so much grading is coming up and 2) I've had (who knows if my students have had) my favorite class to teach ever in my 7 years of college educatin' (well, it's maybe more like a tie, a close tie). It helps that roughly half want to be there, given it's upper level poetry literature--a break from freshman comp was also fan-freaking-tastic--but it also helps that they are all terribly bright, engaging, and fun to talk to in class or out. There's so much more I wanted to cover with them but didn't--I mean this not in the sense of boy, there's so much poetry to look at, but boy there's so much more I wanted to challenge them with because I know they'd run with it in exciting ways and there's a lot I wanted to hear their opinions on. I will miss them. I hope they are not reading this post right now--I know some have found my blog, and I'm a bit vulnerable right now.

Why Spring Stinks

Someone has been grinding up the world's largest tree all afternoon. People mow their lawns at the first hint of new growth (why?); then these same zealots begin the 24 application regimen of fertilizing their yard and polluting my water (which they also do by taking tylenol and hormones and antacids and...).

While gardening, I no longer hear just the prison loudspeakers in the exercise yard, but the framers singing to Bon Jovi on the radio as they build the house across the streeet, people somewhere in the trees sharing lewd jokes, the scrape and rattle of strollers on the street with parents talking (screaming) to each other about what to have for dinner, the back neighbor practicing his golf swing and finding golf balls near--not yet in--my yard, the air force reserve refuling tankers having more touch and go runs than usual (runway is just a few miles north).

I could just stay inside, couldn't I? But then how could I be a 31 year old curmudgeon? Some day my shrubs and trees will buffer me, hide me, protect me, envelop me, and we'll commiserate together in the solace of our smugness and absence. Until then, anyone want to go pull weeds?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Got My Sambucus

But first, a sign you might find at the Electric Company:

"We would be delighted if you send in your payment.
However, if you don't, you will be."

I got me an elderberry that no one in Lincoln has--went to Omaha (where a fountain will be coming from, HUGE nursery, my lands). Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold.' I'm excited about this plant if it looks anything like Nan Ondra's . So, for $25 it's 18" tall and wide and in a 5 gallon container. Not bad, I think. Plus I hear it's a fast grower? Will it cross pollinate with the Black Lace thirty feet away? Sutherland is in front of some dark green cedars, beneath a tall mystery-deciduous tree, and behind a bench, where it's full glory will tickle one's cranium in a few years. Np pictures cuz it's pointless.

The garden is greening up (reddening and oranging and yellowing and pinking, too). A few first blooms on the Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' Mellow Yellow. Cascade willow leafing out. I planted some milkweed seeds today, enjoying the 68 degrees, sun, no wind, and no rain--we've had 4" in our yard over the last 8-9 days. Silly post this is. Move on, now.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Some days I wish I could walk around in one of those smiling, happy-faced mascot suits; that way no one would have to know what kind of day I'm really having and won't be affected negatively by it (I don't hide my emotions very well).

Other benefits include:

--Don't have to shower
--Don't have to dress nice
--Can flick people off at will
--Can make snide comments and faces
--Will stay warm and dry
--Better able to absorb impacts
--Though not the intent, people will avoid you at all costs

Ohhhh yeah.

(Seriously, don't you wonder about those people, who they are, what they're doing under that get up?)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Before a Departure in Spring

Once more it is April with the first light sifting
through the young leaves heavy with dew making the colors
remember who they are the new pink of the cinnamon tree
the gilded lichens of the bamboo the shadowed bronze
of the kamani and the blue day opening
as the sunlight descends through it all like the return
of a spirit touching without touch and unable
to believe it is here and here again and awake
reaching out in silence into the cool breath
of the garden just risen from darkness and days of rain
it is only a moment the birds fly through it calling
to each other and are gone with their few notes and the flash
of their flight that had vanished before we ever knew it
we watch without touching any of it and we
can tell ourselves only that this is April this is the morning
this never happened before and we both remember it

W.S. Merwin, The River Sound

(blogger won't let me indent the even numbered lines, so apologies, Mr. Merwin)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Viburnums, Coppertina, Maple, Compost, Anxiety

Monday morning I went to the dump and got 6 or so bins of compost--all that could fit in my hatchback. It sure is BLACK. Wow. God save the city of Lincoln and their free compost.

Then I moved 3 shrubs and planted 5: mostly planted some viburnum like winterthur, brandywine, and blue muffin (no botanical names for you). Also planted an ivory halo red twig dogwood. I do believe I need a pollinator yet for blue muffin. Winterthur and brandywine, both nudums, should work for each other if they bloom in sync--blue muffin looks like it'll bloom by May, much further ahead. I am so very sore today. I'm 31 for Pete Sampras' sake, but I did forget to stretch before planting, which I used to be religious about.

Then there's a pic of an October Glory maple thingy doing its thingy, and ninebark 'coppertina' has new coppery-yellow leaves. Angelina Jolie sedum looks good, too--that's what I call it now. I'm putting this post up today somewhat frantically in order to divert myself from general and specific anxieties--but you know, whenever it's windy outside (30-50mph today), I always feel more anxious anyway. Why is that? What does wind do, or mean, or say to me to create such a response? What resonance is this in me? Who or what is out of tune, or too in tune? Why can't it snow? I always feel calm when it snows.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Got Copper? Are You Sure It's Still There?

I've heard about thieves here in Lincoln comma Nebraska stealing copper wiring from cell phone towers, but hadn't heard about them actually living in foreclosed / vacant / listed homes for a few days to get the copper pipes, sinks, electrical wiring, et cetera. At $3 a pound, it makes sense. Apparently the best crews make $20k a month.

"It's an international problem with local repercussions. From the theft of large copper statues in England, to millions of dollars of missing copper in post-Katrina New Orleans, to a $300,000 copper heist from the irrigation system of an Arizona farm, the thieves have caused financial havoc.

In Minnesota, scavengers have dismembered a copper-coated Buddha, stolen statues from Theodore Wirth Park, snatched plates off of graves and stripped warehouses and construction sites of tens of thousands of dollars worth of the precious metal."

Grave markers? That's classy. But I wonder, too--what about gardens? What about my 100% copper trellis, obelisk, rain gauge, and fountain? I love copper in the garden, but will I wake up one day to find nothing left but morning glory and clematis vines dementedly wagging in the breeze?

Metal scrap shops have installed video cameras and signs in an attempt to make transactees more honest, and / or to aid in police investigations. I imagine it's in their best interest, too, as far as a bottom line--that copper will be bagged and tagged for the cops if it's ill gotten, and they'd be out some benjamins (that's right, "ill gotten" and "benjamins" in the same sentence).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Stop Mailing Me Crap I Paid For!!!

My wife and I were maligned the other day reflecting on the poor quality of our mail. Generally, like most, it's credit card offers (offers you thought you headed off by signing up for some "leave me the heck alone" service or other). Then there's also catalogs, but only ones we buy from--for me, that's 10 gardeny ones and Eddie Bauer. Rejection letters for my writing, too, 6 last week (working on a 99.5% rate since August). Bills. Bills. Bills. Death threats. Some I send.

Then we've got environmental organizations. Children's cancer research funds. And all of "those" things, worthy and good in their own right. So two years ago I gave some money to the National Parks Conservation Association, The Nature Conservancy, and the Rainforest Alliance. Fine, I felt like I could afford it, I believe in that stuff, I was happy I could help.

Apparently, they all hold strategy sessions in far off mystical places on how to market themselves via my contribution. "How can we spend this sucker's money? We need more members. In fact, we need more members with the same name and address. Send him some stuff."

Alas. I have too many stickers and return address labels, and now, this week, wrapping paper. Wrapping paper. With gift tags.

The National Wildlife Federation promises a backpack. I apparently "Love St. Jude." I have to save the Save-the Redwoods League. The Wildlife Land Trust sent me stickers my grandma would've liked, or any old lady. Barf. I have to save the polar bears, too--the lovey-dovey images of mom and cubs tell me so. Don't I just feel awful? The Center for Biological Diversity's slogan says I should donate "Because Life is Good." Is it? I was driving behind an idiot from planet stupid this morning going a full 10 under speed limit, clearly confused as to why he was driving a car, so he swung over two lanes to turn left without ever signaling. The wind is at 45mph and it's 30 something degrees. My neck hurts. People who shouldn't be sick or homeless are sick and homeless. Just lost a football-field-sized chunk of rainforest. And another. And another. And another.

And look what I just got in the mail!

If I give you 10, 20, or even 40 bucks, it means leave me the hell alone. Not to get you off my back, and most CERTAINLY not to get you to spend my money on sending me crap, but because I simply feel moved to.

Speaking of which--when I moved this summer I cleaned out my stamps and labels drawer. I had about 5 billion address labels I'd never use, and a gazillion stickers from every season, holiday, and moonrise from the last four years. I sometimes put two dozen stickers on a letter just to get rid of them. I'm thinking of doing this IF and WHEN I give money to such organizations as the above again. Maybe I could pay in stickers? Wrapping paper? That'd make life good.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Indoor Gardening Tips from a Man Who's Very Scared of Plants

Christopher Walken was on SNL this weekend, the only reason to ever watch the show. I can't seem to embed the video here, so follow the link. Anytime he says "googly eyes" I bust a gut (he sticks googly eyes on plants because he's afraid they'll kill him--well duh, who doesn't think that).

Apologies to others I've seen who've posted on this--I am riding coattails, but I must spread the good word.

Happy 7th Birthday, V

Why won't cats ever be cooperative? Why? Because this is what makes them wonderful. "You want me to wear this, huh? Not going to happen dip-wad. And once I get it off, I'm gonna tear your face off ever so gently. Then you're gonna feed me five pounds of whatever I want. Shortly thereafter I will regift the food as a smorgasbord of plastic wrap, hairball, stomach acid, and down feathers. You will love me for this."

Well, happy brithday V, you're the best cat a guy could ask for (and that's saying a lot given the other cats I've had in my life). It was worth driving up to Cleveland and forking over real money for a pure bred manx such as yourself.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Soil Test, Bulbs, Thuja, Nurseries, Magazines

I'm writing a post because I am distracted, irritable, and have accomplished nothing over the weekend--and now another week is upon me, another week wasted and to be wasted, struggling away, thinking the next weekend will make it all better. And it won't. They never do. Good things happen, nearly too late, and then they get complicated and tiresome and wear you down. Then bad things happen (good things you hoped would, no, expected would happen (how couldn't they?), and they don't--big things, one big thing, and you're left to struggle yet again for another year, 52 weekends to be wasted on things you don't really care about, unfocused, abused, trivialized--completely normal, human). Vague enough for you? I feel like I'm 15 tonight. It's raining. Tickle me Emo.

1) I got the results of my soil test which confound the mitochondria out of me. Ph of 6.3. What? Medium organic content--ok. Very high in potassium and very low in nitrate--yup. I can't figure out that ph, though. I have clay; clay ain't acidic. Whatever.

2) Went to two nursuries Friday after a bad bad bad mail day. VERY BAD, depressing mail day that makes me feel utterly worthless and banal (I have many mail days like this, but this one was large). Thought I'd feel better if I nurseried, I did a little bit--looking to make a fountain out of a mole hill, er, large planter. Never been to the nursery so early. Of course, the hothouse plants were all doped up in their late May best, but even the shrubs outside seemed a few weeks ahead. Buy me. I will lie to you. And you will love me like no other. Then I will die.

3) Bought a plant--thuja emerald green--with a wedding gift card. Not an exciting purchase, but my wife and I, now seeing it in the garden, have made it our favorite plant (for now). It's green, that's part of it. But it'll be green in winter, too. And I am so happy where it is--perfect plant in the perfect place. It'll be so cool when I don't live here anymore. Sigh. Sigh. Murderous rampage. Sigh.

4) If I had to subscribe to JUST ONE GARDEN MAGAZINE, which should it be? I don't want bull, I don't want the topic du jour, I want decent writing that assumes I am informed, well read, and cultured. All of which I am. And exceedingly sexy.

5) Somewhere in this post are pics: of my little 24" thuja, a bluejay getting peanuts, house finches and a cardinal, and my martagon lily 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse' popping up. I hear she might not bloom this year, or even the next, but to see her alive after a late fall planting is delicious. Just delicious.

6) I need a shrub that gets 4-6' tall and loves wet clay, and occasional standing water. And not a dogwood. Anyone??? It better not just be green all year long either, and it better look mildly interesting in winter, and it can't be more wide than it is tall. It also must know how to make exotic fruit tarts.

Friday, April 4, 2008

NA0805--The Central Tall Grasslands

You gotta go check out Wild Flora's post on maps of North American Ecoregions. Here's what I "learned" about Lincoln, NE:

This ecoregion gets its name from the tall grasses that once grew all over this area. These species of grass can reach more than 7 feet (2 m) in height! About 265 herbaceous plant species make up most of the tallgrass prairie in Iowa; 237 species were recorded in a square mile near Lincoln, Nebraska, and 225 species were recorded in the Missouri Valley. Unlike the soils of the Flint Hills Tall Grasslands that borders this ecoregion, the soils of the Central Tall Grasslands were easily converted to use in farming. Historically, fire and drought and grazing by bison and other ungulates were principle sources of disturbance here, which were necessary to maintain the grassland characteristics of the region.

WOW! 273 herbaceous plant species in one square mile right here. I like that. (What was it 300 years ago?)

And, of course, this:

Distinctiveness (1=highest,4=lowest): 1 (globally outstanding) This prairie ecoregion had a rich herbaceous plant cover including as many as 250 species.

Conservation Status (1=most endangered, 5=most intact): 1 (critical) There are no sizeable blocks of intact habitat remaining. Nearly all of the ecoregion has been converted to tilled cropland. Most of the intact patches are smaller than 0.08 km2.*

You can link to a list of native wildlife--I wish there was also a link to native plant species beyond the woody. So far all I get in 4 years of living here is we have bluestem, indian grass, switchgrass, coneflower, liatris, et cetera. Yes. Fine. That's not 237 species, however.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

In Blackwater Woods--Mary Oliver

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'Tis National Poetry Month--So Have a Poem

These days everything has a month, and without recognizing shoe polish and chickens, what kind of world would it be? (Are there months for shoe polish and chickens? Gosh, I hope it's the same month.) Have a poem I wrote that almost won a prize, but didn't.

Photograph, 1990

Before construction started my parents put
a blueprint on the kitchen table asking me
which room I’d like. Then my father fashioned
three sets of miniature ceilings out of cardboard—
using an x-acto knife to make the angles—
and with my back against a wall he placed
them one by one above my head like half
formed continental hats I’d made in grade school.
Beneath each one I saw what it’d be like
laying awake at night on my bed, mapping out
the contours of the house that would protect
and then cast me out to a world of 8 foot
ceilings flat and lacking this affection.
He said I had my choice since I was older
than my sister. It was the first time, twelve
years old and wanting to follow him, I saw
the architecture of my thoughts in form.
I felt the smooth lines above me as I reached
toward them, I felt the warmth of breath
and the heat of my face nuzzled in the safe
enclosure of that space. I felt the perfect shape
we made and see it now, again, through half
covered bones and missing doors, tall masts
of two by fours as scaffolding across
the sidewalk. I see the corner of that window,
set back and rising on the sill of one in front,
pushing light into the shadow of my home.

(copyright 2008)