Cold Reading

“Yr lines, sunny boy,
bingy, not calm,
head busy jabots,”

read Madame Fraus,
by the tide that rips
rocks thru yr palms.

“Saline swim,
bit sweet lit life,
palms stage aligned,

neck aflame, hair
shorn horizon
frizzled smile.

Silverfish whitecaps
aquiline wings smack
& bay across draft brow.

Paddle out, palms
cupped, plod, slog,
moil, & no sloom.”

No sleep, steep crag
to pine green palms,
in line for clay water.

Around another point,
the persuasive ocean
spreads open palms.

“I’ll see you next week,”
Madame Fraus said.
“Leave the door open.”

Cold Reading

Teeda, Sped, Flotsam, and Twist

Mr. Teeda with tart taste
hairy-scarfy lips late but at last
arises to seize downtown bus amid
yawns and snort, sneeze and nicks
himself hie shavely in tortello
braggadocio hurry-scurry.
“Out-a-my-way, out-a-my-way,”
Teeda cocoons the mod you
muddle of his noggin.

Meantime, Mr. Sped, cold splash
asleep in red tide road dust,
implacable rouge shore,
weird civic bird waggles past,
rubber fins folding dreamily,
tail swerving to and fro, football
public service posters advertising
Hollywood endings posted to fuzzy
windows frozen shut with rust.

Salt shakers fill the upright oak seats,
and time passes so terribly slowly,
magazines, cigarettes, styrofoam cups
of coffee and newspapers near boiling point,
Mr. Sped grows wonky waiting,
hoity-toity, charged with C of C,
expectant umbrellas aloft as Line 15
stretches in cap and scarf
amid coughs, and heaves, and spews.

“All one needs is the fare,” Mr. Flotsam claims.
“The rest depends on the robes
and suits of one’s
sword swallowed piers.”
“Brobdingnagian egos these
competitive solicitor types,” Mr. Twist explains.
“Half a man most of them, don’t feel
whole without an opponent in their ring
to tort down their ecomanic day,” Teeda says.

The firm still self-identifies
with vocational pigeonholes,
so when the toilet stops up,
they call in a travel agent.
In the boardroom, near the whiteboard,
Teeda polishes his burgundy wingtips
with the hands-off electronic
machine, rubs cream in his hair,
hears the snake’s whir.

Inside Li Po’s Restless Night at Berfrois

In my essay put up by Berfrois this morning on variations on a theme of Li Po, a notebook of poems I’ve been working on for years, originally suggested by my reading and writing experience with my former student Florence, I make reference to a few books she gave me. Below, I’ve posted some pics of the books, which I still have in my library. Among her many experiences Florence shared with me, she told me that she and her husband had fought with the resistance in the mountains of the Philippines in World War Two.

Florence was an excellent cook. Each quarter, my classes devoted an entire period to a potluck meal to celebrate the closing of the term. Recipes learned in kitchens around the world ended up on my classroom tables for our refugee feasts.

Travel over to Berfrois to have a look at the essay on Li Po’s poem.

My Blood Red Moon

Blood Red MoonA couple of out-of-town visitors from Vineland crashed here last night, the night of the celebrated Blood Red Moon. We ate dinner at the Bagdad on Hawthorne, walked around the blocks, checked out the absurdly named “Goodwill on Hawthorne” (gentrified thrift shop), and headed up to Mt Tabor to view the moon.

A month or so ago, I watched Ang Lee’s film “Taking Woodstock.” When we got up to Mt Tabor, the film came back to me. The crowds up in the park reminded me of the famous concert scenes: lines of cars, people walking, bicycles, strollers, guitars hanging from shoulders, something celebratory in the air – the moon, though not yet; as it happened, someone exaggerated how early the first views over the Cascades would open, and some people had apparently waited a couple of hours for the show to start. But what the hey; it was a free concert.

We drove up from the west, past the cinder cone, around the upper swings, and over to the east side road that up rises from 69th. We might have been in line at Woodstock. The road was moon-jammed. The east-side picnic area looked like the media corral at Cape Canaveral. There were tripods with exotic if not phallic telephoto lenses. People were spread out on blankets, enjoying a bottle of wine, coffee from a thermos, bread and cheese and apples and grapes, on lawn chairs and beach chairs, reading, talking, watching, people sitting on the picnic benches and on top the tables, people crowded along the paths, clustered together in spots where the views of the Cascades open up through the near tree tunnels, no shortage of dogs, tail gates open, everyone gazing east, anticipating the moon on the clear evening, a touch of fall mist rising off the distant mountain range. In short, it was a party.

By now, you probably have seen a picture of last night’s Blood Red Moon, if you didn’t take your own, so I won’t bother posting the one I took (instead, I’ve included my photo of the moon marble on a blood red bell). Never before has the moon been snapped by so many cell phones on a given evening, and it won’t happen again, I heard, until 2033. Everyone I talked to had calculated how old they will then be, a math problem I did not want to contemplate.

Back down on 69th, the Line 15 bus was unable to make the turn east from Belmont, was stuck fast diagonally between lines of an overflow of questionably parked cars, and traffic was being diverted. A tow truck arrived with red lights flashing. The night was darkening, the Blood Red Moon rising, gradually turning white, everyone in the streets, watching, Woodstock wonky-like. I’m thinking tonight I might walk back up into the park and see if there is still a moon.

Imago’s Radio

There Imago was

Crashed flat out

face to the sky on a hill

of sun shredded grass,

Patches of smoke

pausing like elephants

big ears open to the wild fyrs furling.

Listening she was Listening she was

for a kindness for a kindness

to pass to pass


onandonandonandonandon (fade out).

She wrote in her diary.

She wrote:

“another hot day

I love the blues

but we need some rain

the trees all stressed

took a long walk

found a park

on a hill full with dry grass

I stretched out and fell


I don’t know for how long

maybe just a moment or so

but when I awoke

there he was

sitting on a park bench

across the way

writing something

in his pocket notebook

‘what is it?’ I asked

‘ants in the grass,’

he sd.

‘What do you want

to do for dinner?’

I asked him.

‘Pesto braised

free range

chicken,’ he sd,

as if.

‘I’ve some hamburger

helper on the shelf,

I think,’ I sd.

‘We can eat it

without the hamburger


‘Have you heard

the new Elvis song?’

‘I like Elvis’s early stuff,

when you could still hear

the instruments, a guitar,

a riff or two.’

‘I don’t know

where I’d be

without my radio

what I’d do.’

Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio
Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio
Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio
Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio Radio
+++                                                                           +++
+++                                                                           +++
+++                                                                           +++

El Porto, 1969

Santa Monica Bay, water like lead

ladled from a plumber’s melting pot.

Fog spills oily blue

foam fills with air, pulls some green under.

Close in, swells steam and foam, a salty dough of seaweed.

Waterers wax boards, paddle out north end at 45th Street, first smoky light, shadows of refinery plant, dunes still in shade, covered in olive drab.

The surfers paddle out, into the surf.
They work the waves like fishermen,
air full of flush, gush, white hissing bass horns,
trembling treble flourish finish.



like a whale sounding, in a long lull,
     water like coffee with milk and honey
          where the waves churn the sandy bottom.

A surfer trio returns to the beach, short paddle from small waves now high tide,

rolled waves rope caulked and cold chisel hammered.

The surfers lift their boards into a truck, laughing in wet trunks, salted muscle, and tussled hair. The surfers never grow weary of waves, dancing drones under a lemon yellow flower. The waves open blue, break lime green, fall white

in simple declarative sentences
of plumbed gist, of easy escape.

“The strand and the waves exist no more,

the summer is dead,” Samuel Beckett said.

Los Angeles, South Santa Monica Bay, beach city surf, Strand cruise Hermosa to El Porto, royal blue bicycle paddling along, waves closed out bass lines, high spring tide, full moon.

Angel’s eyes perpetually open,
losing particles of neon green light,
Mister Jama quick walking Chaplinesque,
black dressed for snow, Silence caged in his palms.

Swells slumber under mounds of silver paint,
disheveled waves chiseled from lead cakes,
grunion running in surf fanning the beach
full of lustrous flickers in the moon glow.

The surfer girls come and go, come and go,
singing of clothes in forget-me-not lingo,
walking the beach in blue and gold.


At night they tape their hair to their cheeks
to hold the curl, the surfer boys
long to know, long to know.

The Strand bars net the last generation, inside, drinking beer, surfboards against the wall, bleached parasols, a few surf waves still, but figuratively, as if one finds waves in some oceanic dictionary, listening for the mermaid’s music in books.

The surfer hears the buzz of his own skeg humming
across the pages, heavy sets, far out.
Turning right on the corona’s shoulder
the surfer grows a little older, the water somewhat colder.

Flour soup brushes up the dusty beach after the sun falls.
First light the beach dustless after all night off shore blow,
the water glassed off, air clear to Malibu north,
Palos Verdes south.

A bloom of waves spills and flows over the beach,

foaming across the bleached sand as the tide rises,

smooth after the offshore wind blowing all night long,

the morning water crystal, waves flapping like sheets,

an airy fuss slapping movement then a quick flip,

and the rush of fish smell mixed with wax and salt and hair and skin.

Surfers like a swarm of dragonflies crowd the waves,

empty at first light, then three California pelicans

swooping low in a line over the edge of the break,

blessing surfers believing in waves,

sitting on their boards just outside the break.

One takes off on a gray-blue glossy pearl,

but this surfer should be somewhere else,

sees an expressionless ocean,
does not believe in waves,
upside-down in the surf,
carving and cutting too hard,
this surfer rides this wave
like it’s not the wave he wants,
so he throws it away,a discarded piece of waste paper.
He bolts the wave to chalk
flounces about, his board flotsam.
This surfer flouts about
and scorns the sea.

He does not truly believe in the ocean.

He does not flower with the waves,

and a dark brack rises

and takes him away.

And the Summer dies.

The strand and waves exist no more,

the summer is dead,”

Samuel Beckett said,

and the surfer believed him.

The dead sun did not matter.

He lost his surfboard, lost the path to the beach, what waves there far beyond his reach. Wave peepers came and pushed him away. He slept in ditches. They even took his bicycle. No technology could save him anyway.

He sat at an intersection,
with a cardboard sign that read,
“Won’t you please help
a surfer with no wave?”

A woman stopped, rolled down her window,
and blew him a kiss that fizzed like a wave,
and to thank her, he wrote this:

  1. Nothing makes sense
  2. in a waveless universe,
  3. where surfers ride beams of light
  4. on virtual surfboards.

    Many anecdotes followed.

This one’s about a surfer who stuck with it, tried glass and glue but tossed all that, painted houses in the afternoons, surfed mornings and evenings. This surfer had a feel for boards, loved the way the resin and glass felt watery smooth and clean, bright surf shop stickers buried beneath wax. This surfer believed in waves, was a generous local, too,

didn’t want to fight, was easily satisfied with a simple sea, lived a slow life, long days, in the bowl of Santa Monica Bay, loved the sun, water, salt beaches, the surf songs The Waves sang.

The Waves were a beach band, paddled out brittle surf songs on metallico Teles and Jazzmaster bass, drums the speed of breaking waves.

That’s it, not much more.
The surfer got drafted,
went away to war
came back, went into Insurance,

said he would never forget

the last wave he ever surfed,

after which he felt he’d never grow old,

then he left the beach for the rain and cold.

“Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar,” Wallace Stevens said.

The surfer placed a board in Los Angeles,
and long it was, upon a wave,
it made the disheveled surf
array in dressed lines.

The surf surrounded him,
the board glassed upon the wave
like a poem,
like Apollinaire.

It seemed all cool but absurd,
breathless, and dead,
not like a bird or a fish,
like nothing else in Los Angeles.

Then he added something more,
a man upon the board,
and filled the waves with bicycles,

The waves grew somber, the beach cold,
the surfboard a splinter in the wave’s skin.
The surfer fell, it was Fall after all,
and found himself alone at the end of a pier.

He was free to swim to shore,
yet felt a curious fatigue engulf him,
a surfer’s anxiety,
for from the beach the waves lacked this intensity.

He paddled toward shore,
but a riptide pulled him away and away.
He treaded water, drifting.
He lost sight of land.

The sun fell, and no moon rose.
The waves met the night.
They broke in the sky
and rained down a dark salt.

The surfer clung to his board,
flotsam and jetsam floated by,
old rusted bicycle parts,
useless in the waves.

There were no fish, no birds,
no beach, no palms.
The surfer drifted in the inky night sea
below a blue black salt lick night sky.

He thought he saw a light, the light rose,
rose or fell, he was not sure,
if he floated in water or in air.
His surfboard disappeared.

Storm surf flushed chaos across the beach.
I waited for the surfer to return,
I went to work shaping and glassing a new surfboard.
Every evening, I walk down to the water

and watch the waves for his dancing legs,
his leaning stretch, his tumbling shadow,
his crouch, his ocean filled gills.

Poetics and Politics: Notes on “Poets for Corbyn,” a Berfrois e-Chapbook

This MachineIs poetry a sturdy platform for political action? Aren’t poets the ones following rabbits down holes? Jumping into ponds to hug moons? Talking blather and twittering sentiments to one another across an inky night? Politicians often twist tongues, glossolalia filling their cheeks, but what they speak is not usually considered poetry.

Poets for Corbyn,” another e-chapbook from Berfrois, features 21 poems by 20 poets, edited by Russell Bennetts. The poems are unified by their support for Jeremy Corbyn (1949), a member of the UK parliament and of the Labour Party, and currently standing to be Labour’s Leader. US readers might be accurate in aligning Corbyn with their own Bernie Sanders.

Mixing poetics and politics reminds me of the note Woody Guthrie taped to his guitar in 1943: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” If music and culture critic Greil Marcus is right, and the guitar is not a machine and it does not kill fascists, then poetry is not a fit medium for political activism. But why does Marcus take Woody’s note so literally? Guthrie knew the difference between figurative and literal language, but he also knew that even the white lettered on red background STOP sign is an argument, even if only occasionally a driver passes through it with some disagreement.

Maybe one of the most politically effective signifying messages in “Poets for Corbyn” is Nick Telfer’s “For the Love of God.” A concrete poem, it evokes a rally chant where we hear the single slogan “No Blair” shouted repeatedly, 21 times in a black and white grid: noblair; no noblesse – shares of rights and duties are equal.

That Woody labeled his guitar a machine is more than a nod to labor and unions. Woody was a machinist, manufacturing messages in song – in song because song is what people (as in The People) hear and respond to and remember. And song is poetry. Poetry stirs pathos, and it’s pathos that gets politicians elected, pathos that goes to war, pathos that sacrifices, pathos that bangs the drum slowly and paddles the boat and joins the march and walks down the line.

How do the poems in “Poets for Corbyn” sound? What forms are employed? What characteristics of poetry are in evidence? Are the poems difficult to understand (i.e. modern or postmodern and such)? Are the poems all polemical?

Some of the poems might be considered polemical. From Michael Rosen’s “For Jeremy Corbyn”:

“celebrating an economic system
that was developed and finessed
with the use of child labour around 1810
…they tell us that socialism is outdated.”

Some of the poems sound traditional, employing stanzas with rhyme, as in Michael Schmidt’s “Until I Built the Wall,” a kind of ballad narrative:

“Until I built the wall they did not find me
Sweet anarchy! tending quietly
To wild birds or picking the blackberry.”

Some of the poems in “Poets for Corbyn” are clear and concise, but with irony spreading like tattoos, as in Helen Ivory’s “Doll Hospital at the Top of the Hill”:

“Take her to the doll hospital;
restring the limbs with slipknots
fill the skull with lint
clean out the craze lines on her face
and paint on a 1940s smile.”

Some of the poems are painfully forthright. Reminding me of the ruined hopes of George McGovern’s 1972 US Presidential campaign, is Andy Jackson’s “Unelectable”:

“I represent the things you want but cannot say,
the ideology of why the hell not; socialism redux,
neither new nor old, not clean or compromised
but human to its heart, and that could be enough.”

Of course, in 1972, the human heart was not enough. Will it ever be enough? A heart needs a voice, as illustrated in Nicholas Murray’s “J. C.”:

“Corbyn’s no knight in shining vest,
or bright Messiah from the West
(he’d say)
but someone who has found a way to voice
a fractured country’s need for choice,
to say we’ll make another kind of noise:
No way!

That “No way!” is a call for solidarity, expanded upon in Erik Kennedy’s (long-titled) “Growing Fears That the Leadership Contest Has Been Hijacked by Far-Left Infiltrators”:

“and if in your entire life
you’ve had
no-one to identify with
who wasn’t first and last
a danger to the good
through well-meaning compromise,

if you can agree to this,
resignedly but definitely,
you might be a socialist.”

The austerity buzzword is taken down by Becky Cherriman’s “Austerity”:

“Hear it scutter
along the guttering of offices
in the bins behind Waitrose,
the thorned bushes at the playground’s edge –
a language devised by the high-born
to parch the lips of those with less.”

In place of austerity, Josephine Corcoran suggests a “Coat” of hope:

“A woman filled with the gladness of living
refused to be suspicious of hope….
Deep inside the coat,
the woman held on to the goodness of people.”

And of opposing viewpoints, the kind that lead to divorce? From Erin Belieu’s “Poem of Philosophical and Parental Conundrums Written in An Election Year”:

“And that’s what you call the realpolitik in action
when it comes to divorce, wherein the rubber hits
the ‘blended’ family’s road. But since I’m not…
…and I’m thinking
maybe I got it right this time…
…the obstinate and beautiful mystery
that every soul ends up being to every other.”

The poems in “Poets for Corbyn” are unified by their call for solidarity in support of a purposeful cause. For that call to be successful, the politics must not be subsumed by the poetics. There is tension here, no doubt. Woody’s machined message was made to defy backstabbing political machinations. At the same time, real machines made real weapons used in a real war, and a military industrial complex prevailed. But Woody knew that, even as Marcus does. “What did you learn in school today?” Tom Paxton sang.

Over at Berfrois, readers may download for free an electronic copy of “Poets for Corbyn.” There are several covers readers may choose from; I liked the one with the blue bicycle.

“Poets for Corbyn”, edited by Russell Bennetts, Pendant Publishing, London, UK, 2015. ISBN 978-09928034-5-2. V2.0. 34 pages, with poems by Tom Pickard, Michael Rosen, Pascale Petit, Ian Birchall, Michael Schmidt, Marion McCready, Nick Telfer, Rory Waterman, Helen Ivory, Iain Galbraith, Andy Jackson, Nicholas Murray, Alec Finlay, Erik Kennedy, Ian Pindar, Becky Cherriman, Josephine Corcoran, Natalie Chin, Ernest Schonfield, and Erin Belieu. Covers by Evan Johnston @evn_johnston.