Saturday, December 31, 2011

Those who progress, through the anguished yet learned struggle of the mind, reach a stage where they must assume the full mantle of Cassandra.

She Who Scolds Ravens


Friday, December 30, 2011

Liberty's Vigil, the Occupy anthology, Launches!

Liberty’s Vigil, the Occupy anthology, 99 poets among the 99 percent, has been given a web page at Foothills Publishing:

FP and Liberty

See my review and praise for the editors, Karla Linn Merrifield and Dwain Wilder, here:

Owl On Liberty's Vigil

You’ll find one of my best anti-war poems, “Protest,” among the offerings--but the really interesting thing about this anthology is the fertile enthusiasm among the contributors. We have each other’s email, and the electronic bombination has been travelling this way and that faster than bees pollinate a bower.

Readings are being organized all over the United States. Some of the poets are in other countries, spreading the effort there as well. In my ten years as a poet, I’ve never seen this much fervor over the launch of an anthology.

Poets are the bellwether of any country’s moral compass, and many of those in the Empire are frenetic from the sad truth: America is sick with decadence, riven by cruelty, obese with greed, atrocious from war. The bulk of the people are not protesting (yet); but poets are speaking out, yelling, proclaiming with the literary equivalent of a clarion that we need to overcome the inequality and bellicosity that dominate our lives, and in truth menace the entire world.

Buy this anthology, or write your own anti-Avarice poem, or pick some work by a great prophet like Pablo Neruda or Wilfred Owen--and then read your piece aloud at a gathering, or post it where others can and must see. Pin your anguish to the words. Let the public know you care about the descent of American into tyranny, plutocracy, and dissolution.

Courageous artists are speaking. You are one of them, if only you challenge the invisible yet insidious walls of silence. An honest poet speaks freely, fights the momentum of malfeasance.

Whether or not you use a pen or a keyboard, or call yourself a protester, is immaterial.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Poem: December Trees

Another poem published originally in Wilderness House Literary Review, under the auspices of Poetry Editor Irene Koronas. All this month, I am posting some of my WHL acceptances to honor this venue and its leadership.



December Trees

half-melted popsicles,

bark spongy with drench,
a lettuce of wood,
and spiny

like squished crabs
in a tubular crate,

icy as rejection,
twitching gale-numbed

don’t climb them
they snap like horns
of dead ibex,

and grimace
from fangs in notches,
revealing the crush
of hungers inside--

decades of lives
sucked by roots
to lard the pith--

every splinter an ant,
every rumple
some hapless sprite,
the twigs pedipalps

stolen from spiders
after they veiled
oaken bones.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Acceptance: IthacaLit

IthacaLit is a new journal that has taken its recent flight very seriously. As a result, it has already learned to soar. Currently, a small number of poets, only twelve, have work on the site; but the quality is outstanding, and so IthacaLit spreads young yet magnificent wings. You will find the work of seasoned and extraordinary voices like Diane Lockward and Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, and also lesser known yet scintillant silver-tongues as well.

Founding Editor Michele Lesko has done everything right (with assistance from Editor Sherry O’Keefe, who also edits at YB poetry). She no doubt realized that if the name of your journal is eponymous with place, you de facto become a representative of the personality and eloquence of place. By claiming geographical kinship, you contribute to a communal aura.

In my sincerest opinion, the city of Ithaca can be quite proud of this nascence--and better be. IthacaLit is like a star that pulls your eye to a certain quadrant of the sky.

Today is Solstice and I’m not swimming in an abundance of time (maybe a little ice), but I want to add that the ambience upon arrival at the URL ( is absolutely pro. Expert and stylish organization, including font and color, synergize with a generous assortment of starkly good photos. You feel emotional roots as soon as you cross the threshold.

Once this journal gets known, the chance of acceptance is bound to plummet; and I suspect it is already a camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle kind of thing. Polish your best pieces with lapidary care, and send them out quick. Keep in mind the Yule song that goes, “Up on the rooftop quick, quick, quick” and move even faster!

I’m lucky and honored that my poems “Hermit Thrush Song” and “On the Couch” will be included. A rare and special gift.

This journal is a must-see.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Poem: Under the Silver

Continuing my tribute to Wilderness House Literary Revew and Poetry Editor Irene Koronas, here is another poem originally published there.

May the silver in the darkness guide you.



Under The Silver

the moon gazes
like a denarius
on the lid of Venus,
and we wonder
what else is buried in the mists;
if truth is a victim
or a willing sacrifice;
and whether we ourselves
are under the silver.

the soil-like sky
shuffles its den of coffins,
each a mansion of mutable doors.
how long have we been
sawing with harsh prayers,
trying to get out,
or to rescue the eyries
trapped within?

when clouds mesh
into a metropolis,
their eye sockets
yield an immutable rain;
and if we are to earn daylight,
we must decipher the turbid sorrow,
untangle the beasts hinted at
by clumps of vaporous
and angry bone.


Monday, December 19, 2011

America and Johnny: Both Seduced By the Devil

The Devil Went Down To Georgia is one of the best known songs in the US, embodying what has become a legend of Americana. The devil challenges a talented boy named Johnny to a fiddle-playing contest, wagering a golden fiddle against the boy’s soul. The boy outplays his infernal opponent, and wins the expensive and shiny prize:

The devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat.
He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet.
Johnny said: "Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again.
"I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been."

The underlying message embraces values of competition, materialism, and individualism. Unvarnished praise of gold-lust is given a special twist: as long as you are very good at what you do, it is okay to be reckless and immoral. In the song, Johnny admits that accepting the Devil’s challenge is sinful, but he doesn’t care, boasting with unflappable and audacious arrogance:

The boy said: "My name's Johnny and it might be a sin,
"But I'll take your bet, your gonna regret, 'cos I'm the best that's ever been."

The cultural encryptions in the song support the kind of norms you would expect in America, an imperious and self-aggrandizing place. In good Roman fashion, the US has battened on wealth, and imploded into a lopsided aftermath of decadence and poverty. It is now descendant after a brief run on top, making it the shortest-lived empire of all time.

This precipitous decline has a lot to do with the theme of Charlie Daniels’ song, a surreptitious message in the psyche of extreme capitalism:

If you try hard and have great talent, you can beat the Devil.

This message is not only flawed, poisonous actually, it is a gateway to disaster. The real truth in the song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, is that the Devil cannot lose. As soon as Johnny takes the bet, the Devil wins, no matter the outcome of the competition.

If the Devil outplays Johnny, the boy’s soul is lost in a blink. Reckless is a stupid way to gamble.

If Johnny outplays the Devil, he gets a golden fiddle. Okay, what next? The fiddle becomes the Eye of his life, the lens of his great moment. It fixates him on risky triumph and associates thrill with gold. The fiddle enamors the immature upstart, making object master.

We can imagine the insidious way this glittering possession possesses. To justify his outlandish risk, Johnny convinces himself that his soul has no more worth than a fancy yet simple instrument.

By handing Johnny the fiddle, the Devil spreads an itch for wealth, a pride in danger, and scorn for humility. Life becomes a trophy hunt.

A plausible ending: Johnny, haughty already, goes home and brags about his prize, tucking it under his pillow at night. He does a fine job spreading seeds that the Devil wants spread: selfishness, avarice, impulse. Johnny’s virtuosity wanes. He has convinced himself that he plays for riches, not excellence. The rest of his life becomes a monetary quest.

Eventually, the boy who 'beat' the personification of Evil is shot and killed by covetous thieves.

In “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the satanic bard cannot lose. In fact, taking Johnny’s soul is probably the lesser way to debauch humanity. Why not let Johnny have the fiddle so he can infect others and sow discord?

The United States acts like Johnny. It thinks that if it blusters and saber-rattles, it can beat the Devil, and do whatever it wants.

Big corporations act this way too. Sociopathic of ego, incautious, they push us into a bewildering future. As the victors rush ahead, accelerating the profit craze, tens of millions of people get left to languish in irrelevance.

The United States thinks it can beat the Devil. But just like Johnny, the US is trapped in a no-win situation. Once you take the bet, you're in chains. When arrogance makes you think you can step beyond good and evil, you lose.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poem: Stormy

Another poem published in Wilderness House Literary Review, edited by the talented Irene Koronas. I am very pleased to showcase WHL poems this month.




what some call fatal
others deem food.
the wounded reach up
alongside the supple.
a crow bleats as fractured nests
sift down.

animals of water
orgy in flooded streets.
their moans gorge
on a mill of shapeless skin.
streetlights swing like biceps,
fiercely working slush.
the wail of an ambulance
scissors liquid, cutting
its sheets of sighs.

some of us dance nude on
greased tar while rainbows
lick our feet. others wrap in
hurried layers of pelt and rubber.
ripples slither-slip over
the anguish of the pummeled stage,
reminding us of shattered

a pigeon swerves
then jackknifes madly,
becoming the story of a whip.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Poem: Closet

Another poem published by Wilderness House Literary Review. This poem concerns my brother, who was born on December 9, 1969 and died on February 5, 2000.



in the dark the shirts
in the closet are ghosts,
suicides that hung themselves
that way. faint
moonlight dredges up
a slump of someone’s collar.
the boy on the bed
wants to go inside, stick his head in--
to try on every limp body,
find out every why
from these skeletons
that hang on hooks
shaped like the letter Y.

he wants to be in the middle.
wrapped up, strangled, hugged.
he wants all these bodies
to be fabrics of snatching web.
and as he struggles
he beholds the intri-
cacy of the monster,
its cheekless face,
how it torments in echoes,
reminds him of love
that died mangled in its beak.

somehow, fitting into
the agony of all his fears,
he must go down.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Poem: Flooded Gutter

This poem originally appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, edited by the exceptional poet and thinker, Irene Koronas.


PS: You never know what you will find in a gutter.


Flooded Gutter

trash floats thick
like a python slow
with cancer.

we watch soiled husks
bob toward drains,

like sycophants
and barely able to swim.
they stink

of the trouble
of denied decay,
of stress held hostage

in antsy cars.

we do our best not
to fathom their pall.
their ignominy.

their lack of face.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Acceptance: Liberty's Vigil

Liberty's Vigil: The Occupy Anthology, 99 poets among the 99%

It’s a great honor and privilege to be part of this justice-seeking anthology, along with 98 phenomenal poets, many with national reputations. The release date will be some time in January and the publisher is FootHills Publishing, a wellspring of quality books and stimulating literary endeavors.

The up-front Editor is Karla Linn Merrifield, a brilliant and prodigious writer whose voice strives with skill and emotion not only to praise the Earth, its beautiful animals, ecosystems and plants, but also to alert and educate, to reach into our hearts through layers of conformity and wake us to the perils of the Tech Rush (think California Gold Rush, circa 1848, expanded to include the entire globe). She writes books, she edits multiple venues, and she puts together anthologies. I worked with her briefly in her capacity as co-Editor at one of the best-produced small-press journals of all: The Centrifugal Eye. You have to see--not just read but SEE--this journal to believe it. Anyway, I worked with her briefly and was overwhelmed by her competence, ethical passion and charm.

(What is “ethical passion?” It is the result of living without denial about the dangers and wonders of life when it could all be destroyed by nuclear weapons, genetic tampering, or cyborgery. It is the ability to soar to bliss and dive into vicarious grief, an emotional flight born of candor, with a deep-seated yearning to heal and protect the Earth from further damage, and to help the human species continue to mature and evolve its fledgling conscience)

In short, Merrifield is the human equivalent of an earth calyx. An earth calyx is a magical place of natural beauty and aesthetic/spiritual confluence. Merrifield is a leader, not authoritarian, but rather a humble and discerning artist and philosopher, who brings the best of many souls together in journals and anthologies.

I haven't communicated directly with the Behind-the-Scenes Editor Dwain Wilder, an equal partner in the project with Merrifield. Go to the 99-poets website (see the purple link above) and read his bio. You will find a fascinating spectrum of adventures and skills that, I have feeling, barely scratch the aptitudes and avocations of this bardic Renaissance man. This erudite fellow is truly fascinating. For instance, I learned a new word, "luthier," the name of his artisan and euphonious trade. As a coup de grace, he is an exemplar of progressive courage, having worked extensively in leadership roles for Civil Rights and also to end the Vietnam War.

What a magical duet of editors. The synergy between them is a sure seal and signet, attesting to the excellence of this anthology.

It’s late here, and I am sinking. I needed to write this now, because I hardly have time for anything beside the pillars of my existence: my poetry and dwelling in mutuality with my incredible wife.

I will add that all copies of this anthology will be hand-sewn. What a special and rare touch (double-entendre intended).