Tuesday, February 27, 2007


This week, we have the story of a brilliant piece of public art which may be lost to progress: A mural at our local community college. First however, a couple of friends join us, one for a poem and one for music link.

Norman Ball, a very good poet and musician, sent me this video of American soldiers in Iraq set to his lyrics and music by Paul Millington, titled Spill My Wine (Fallujah):


A Youtuber said it is a tribute to all who must negotiate the fog of war --without political intent.

There are additional protest videos at http://www.neilyoung.com/lwwtoday/lwwvideospage.html

Norm also has tracks at http://www.jtmp.org/Songs/Norman_Ball_Track_3.mp3
and http://www.jtmp.org/Songs/Good%20Books.mp3 both on the
Music for Justice site at http://www.jtmp.org/index.htm

The first is with Tom Saputo and the second with Lonnie Glass.


Suzanne Griffith, one of my partners in The Garbage Collection, send me this poem for MindFire, now on hiatus. It needs publication even if it is just in a Dawg House:

broken rhythms,
just north of Artic (sic)

old fo
rest gone that
ashen wood co
lor gray brown
sheeps' wool
driftwood bug mo


And the story of the week is from our Bremerton Sun. http://www.kitsapsun.com

It inspired this poem as part of my One Hundred Days of Rain series:

He Giveth, We Taketh

When the Buddha’s dynamited
by barbarians from the mountains,
Venice’s light allowed to sink,

His arm, recycle bottles, snapped
by bursts of cemented progress,
God’s tears fall into rising seas.

By Andrew Binion

February 24, 2007

Bremerton: It shows the hand of God giving the power of the atom to man, among other things, and was an opus of Olympic College’s first art instructor.

It was made out of bits of brown beer bottle glass fished out of the Puget Sound by schoolchildren.

But the giant mosaic gracing the south side of the math and science building for the past 50 years, painstakingly designed and assembled by the late Hank Blass and his art students, has a date later this year with the wrecking ball.

An effort started by a college librarian and cheered by former students and a former Washington secretary of state has college administrators looking for a way to preserve the mosaic on the side of a building scheduled to be demolished.

"It’s possible to do anything. The question is at what cost," said Barbara Martin, vice president for administrative services. "We need to understand what this is going to take."

When architects visited the site of what is slated to become a brand-new, $19.4-million humanities and student services building, they "all kind of scratched their heads and looked at it," Martin said.

There was no plan to save the mosaic, which is essentially cemented to a concrete wall. And there’s no money set aside to do it.

But earlier this month, college librarian Dianne Moore took the issue of preserving the mosaic to the College Council.

"It’s not only a beautiful piece of art, it is an integral part of the history of the campus and of Bremerton," Moore said. "Hopefully the conversation has been started and information is getting out there."

Martin said the college has heard back from an art conservator who said saving the mosaic is possible. The next step is to take the results of the conservator’s work to contractors to determine how much it will cost and how much time it will take.

The building is scheduled for demolition in late summer early fall, she said.

Mel Wallis, Blass’ predecessor at the college, was doubtful the piece could be preserved.
"It’s probably just going to come apart," he said. "They tried to restore it once and almost destroyed it."

Artist Brad Kauzlaric of Seabeck, a former student of Blass’ who helped with the grunt work on the mosaic and remained friends with Blass until his death, said the artist made the mosaic to last.

"That’s what it was designed for," said the 71-year-old Kauzlaric.

No one contacted for the story could recall the name of the piece, but Kauzlaric noted that the wall the work of art is attached to is 12 inches thick. The mosaic is more than 10 feet tall and 37 feet wide.

"Build around it. That’s real easy," Kauzlaric said.

The mosaic took about five years to complete, said Harlan Mattheson, 75, of Bremerton, who served as Blass’ assistant during production of the artwork. It was finished in 1957, Kauzlaric said, but Mattheson said Blass continued to work on it after that.

The materials used to make the images, glass and tile, came from a variety of places, including the beaches of the Puget Sound. Children helped collect the material.

Former state Secretary of State Ralph Munro was one of them. The Bainbridge Island native combed the beaches around age 12.

"It was quite a community effort getting the materials," Kauzlaric said.

Most of the glass available was brown, from beer bottles, Munro said, and Blass wanted a variety of colors, so kids were especially on the hunt for red and blue.

"In those days there was no garbage service," Munro said. "Everybody threw their bottles into the bay."

It isn’t the only notable work Blass completed. One mural, done in oils, is located in Guadalajara, Mexico, his obituary said. Another is in the entrance hall of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
He stayed in Bremerton with his wife, Maria, until he died of lung cancer in 1992 at the age of 82, according to his obituary. Maria Blass died on New Year’s Eve 2006.

Blass graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and attended the University of Washington, receiving a degree in fine arts. He received a master’s degree in fine arts from the Instituto Allende, an extension of the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, in San Miguel de Allende. He started teaching at the college in 1947 and retired in 1974. Wallis replaced him as art instructor and retired himself in 2001.

"He was there for quality," Wallis said. "You have people who were evasive and wishy-washy. He was the opposite of that."

Kauzlaric and Mattheson agreed that Blass was not one to mince words or coddle students more interested in being an artist than producing art.

Mattheson noted that Blass was the only person allowed to set the tesserae, or bits of tile and glass.

When Mattheson and Kauzlaric heard the college planned to demolish the mosaic along with the building, Mattheson worried how Blass’ ghost would take the news.

"If he hears they are going to take it down," Kauzlaric said wryly, "he’s going to come back with a vengeance."


Until next week, respect…

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Tale of Two Scrotums

I’m going to forgo poems this week (except for a short one) for the dumbest story (outside of the administration) I’ve heard in ages. – The banning of an award winning children’s book because it contains the word scrotum. I love libraries, but the librarians who want to ban this book should find a new profession.

First, though lest me recommend a book: Path of Destruction- The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein (Little, Brown and Co, 2006). It might be a little early for a through history of Katrina, but the authors do an excellent job of laying out why New Orleans could not be protected, and why the protection (levees) built were so poorly engineered they might as well not been build. It will change the way you look at the Corp of Engineers forever.


And a short poem –

Noonday, Australia Winter
(with thanks to Frank Faust)

Fair dinkum hot, even for a barbie.
Bush burns, smoky; sheep on the long paddock.
Dry as a pom's beach towel, watching sheilas.
We need rain soon, mate. Send her down, Hughie.

Long paddock - Graze along the road in a drought
Pom - Englishman
Send her down, Hughie - A wish for rain to fall


And now the news article – I heard portions of this read on the radio today and can tell you, the s-word is used with care. Nine and ten year old boys might snigger, but they do about lots of things.

NY TImes Published: February 18, 2007

The word “scrotum” does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children’s literature, for that matter.

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,” the book continues. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and re-opened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children’s books. The controversy was first reported by Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine.

On electronic mailing lists like Librarian.net, dozens of literary blogs and pages on the social-networking site LiveJournal, teachers, authors and school librarians took sides over the book. Librarians from all over the country, including upstate New York; Missoula, Mont.; Portland, Ore.; and Central Pennsylvania weighed in, questioning the role of the librarian when selecting — or censoring, some argued — literature for children.

“This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment just to see how far they could push the envelope, but they didn’t have the children in mind,” Dana Nilsson, a teacher and librarian in Durango, Colo., wrote on LM_Net, a mailing list that reaches more than 16,000 school librarians. “How very sad.”

The book has already been banned from school libraries in a handful of states in the South, the West and the Northeast, and librarians in other schools have indicated in the online debate that they may well follow suit. Indeed, the topic has dominated the discussion among librarians since the book was shipped to schools .

Pat Scales, a former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee, said that declining to stock the book in libraries was nothing short of censorship.

“The people who are reacting to that word are not reading the book as a whole,” she said. “That’s what censors do — they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.”
If it were any other novel, it probably would have gone unnoticed, unordered and unread. But in the world of children’s books, winning a Newbery is the rough equivalent of being selected as an Oprah’s Book Club title. Libraries and bookstores routinely order two or more copies of each year’s winners, with the books read aloud to children and taught in classrooms.

“The Higher Power of Lucky” was first published in November by Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, accompanied by a modest print run of 10,000. After the announcement of the Newbery on Jan. 22, the publisher quickly ordered another 100,000 copies, which arrived in bookstores, schools and libraries around Feb. 5.

Reached at her home in Los Angeles, Ms. Patron said she was stunned by the objections. The story of the rattlesnake bite, she said, was based on a true incident involving a friend’s dog.
And one of the themes of the book is that Lucky is preparing herself to be a grown-up, Ms. Patron said. Learning about language and body parts, then, is very important to her.

“The word is just so delicious,” Ms. Patron said. “The sound of the word to Lucky is so evocative. It’s one of those words that’s so interesting because of the sound of the word.”

Ms. Patron, who is a public librarian in Los Angeles, said the book was written for children 9 to 12 years old. But some librarians countered that since the heroine of “The Higher Power of Lucky” is 10, children older than that would not be interested in reading it. “I think it’s a good case of an author not realizing her audience,” said Frederick Muller, a librarian at Halsted Middle School in Newton, N.J. “If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that.” Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.

In the case of “Lucky,” some of them take no chances. Wendy Stoll, a librarian at Smyrna Elementary in Louisville, Ky., wrote on the LM_Net mailing list that she would not stock the book. Andrea Koch, the librarian at French Road Elementary School in Brighton, N.Y., said she anticipated angry calls from parents if she ordered it. “I don’t think our teachers, or myself, want to do that vocabulary lesson,” she said in an interview. One librarian who responded to Ms. Nilsson’s posting on LM_Net said only: “Sad to say, I didn’t order it for either of my schools, based on ‘the word.’ ”

Booksellers, too, are watchful for racy content in books they endorse to customers. Carol Chittenden, the owner of Eight Cousins, a bookstore in Falmouth, Mass., said she once horrified a customer with “The Adventures of Blue Avenger” by Norma Howe, a novel aimed at junior high school students. “I remember one time showing the book to a grandmother and enthusing about it,” she said. “There’s a chapter in there that’s very funny and the word ‘condom’ comes up. And of course, she opens the book right to the page that said ‘condom.’ ”

It is not the first time school librarians have squirmed at a book’s content, of course. Some school officials have tried to ban Harry Potter books from schools, saying that they implicitly endorse witchcraft and Satanism. Young adult books by Judy Blume, though decades old, are routinely kept out of school libraries.

Ms. Nilsson, reached at Sunnyside Elementary School in Durango, Colo., said she had heard from dozens of librarians who agreed with her stance. “I don’t want to start an issue about censorship,” she said. “But you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.”

“At least not for children,” she added.


Until the next post.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

New Jersey and Georgia

Check out Tolu's blog. He, the MindFire African editor, won $1000 in a contest. Congrats, friend.



New states, several written to be posted over the next few weeks. Eight plus DC to go and they are coming hard, which is ok.

The index at http://garydawg.blogspot.com/2007/01/indexing-states-and-one-forgot-last.html


Poetic States XXXI – New Jersey

An American Original
for William Carlos Williams

In Seventy-Six, we slowly drove
through the Garden State
in a yellow Rabbit
past oil tanks
and urban depression,
the auto soot-black
when we stopped at a HoJo’s
south of Trenton for lunch.

It was not until twenty-five years later

I saw the importance
of chickens in the rain

peered through a window
in need of soap and swab
at plum pits picked clean

trod wild carrot beneath my feet
in the warm mud of spring

to the clack-clack
of a Patterson doctor’s typewriter

upon which we all depend


Poetic States XXXII – Georgia

Shake the Dust from Your Boots

Some long time back,
a man walked from his grandfather’s
grandfather’s forest homeland
to a forbidding land
across the Big River

Much later, a man left his father’s
houses for a world away
and hesitant, commanded
the long, hostile war
on behalf of a tired people

Men left the red dirt and cotton
to build Caddies and Fords in Detroit,
jam in Chicago and New York,
rot in Viet Nam’s rice paddies,
bottle Coke in Atlanta

Women sometimes joined them later,
children too

Forever, they remembered –
the final days of summer
ripe peaches
pecans –
red dirt that never washes away
even when you dive headlong
into the Chattahochee River

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Traditions - Chinese Short Songs in English

Modified on 2/19/2007 because I can't proofread. Thanks, Kathy.

Let's leave off traveling round the Poetic States for the moment. For about eighteen months, Kathy Paupore and I have been penning The Many Names of the Sun, using an English version of the Chinese Short Song or jueju as the form of choice. From time to time, I get asked for the "rules" for the short form. Because, Chinese forms must be modified to work in English, I wrote this essay to explain the requirements for English language short songs. This is a draft, so if you have any comments or recommendations, please mail me at garydawg@msn.com or post them here.


New Traditions:
Writing Chinese Short Songs in English

English is a rich language, taken from many diverse origins, strong in many ways, weak in others. One strength is how successfully English borrows not only words, but ideas and poetics. Another is how it seems to work for nearly any form devised for verse. That success depends on not simply parroting, but adapting to English’s assets. Chinese Short Songs are a primarily quatrain form (also called jueju) composed in Tang Dynasty regulated verse, written at the height of Chinese classical poetry. Arguably, the best poems were written in the form, and best poets practiced writing them.

In this paper, we examine the basic requirements for a Short Song, and how to use the strengths of English to write them.

There are four superior forms that come out of the East: Ghazal, with origins in Persia and Pakistan; tanka, the five line form that preceded haiku; sedoka and its Malay cousin, pantun; and the Short Song from High Tang China.

The basic rules for ghazals and tanka have been codified by short form poets; and although sedoka/pantun are seldom practiced, so have they. The same can not be said for the Short Song.

Chinese supports script and tonal rhyme, or rhyme on three levels. Chinese writing is composed of elemental pictographs, some of which (but not all) representing real world objects, such as sun, moon, tree, or man. Li Bai and others rhymed script through the repetition of basic pictographic elements. It is also tonal, with tone inflections of rising, level, and falling. Regulated verse had specific requirements for tone placement. English has neither, though on rare occasions, poets attempt to rhyme homonyms or homophones.

The best of High Tang poets painted pictures with the script. The most famous might be the first line of Wang Wei’s “Magnolia Basin”

On branch tips the hibiscus bloom.

(Add picture of script here. I can not find the poem in Chinese on the web. See the Introduction to Willis and Tony Barnstone’s Laughing in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei for a study of the poem as script.)

Chinese is a monosyllabic language with a high level of words that rhyme. English also has a rich heritage of rhyme, albeit it seems to be out of favor in the modern age. Regardless, the ability to play with meanings via pun, allusion, entendre and the like is as strong in English as in Chinese. Word games enhance poetry in both languages.

Are we at a disadvantage in attempting to fit Chinese Short Songs into English?
Perhaps, but no more than translation in general, or the author that attempts an epic work; poets often attempt fool’s errands.


Examine these rules for English-speaking poets to consider when penning the Short Song.

1. Length

Four lines of nearly even count from eight to twelve syllables, the average being ten, the latter count being the average English breath. Variation is permissible, but generally couplets should be the same count. For example, the first two lines might be eight, and the last twelve, or all lines might be ten count.

Mudslides block the high mountain roads
Storms flood the valley’s villages.
Tomorrow, rugs and clothes will be hung to dry;
next week, the market sells the last moldy bean.

As an alternative, write the couplets as two quatrains with each line five to seven syllable count. Some rewrites may be necessary to get the right rhythm to the poem.

Shouts from the trail below,
visitors arrive from afar;
Dust from ox and porters,
relatives at the East gate.

Every chicken prepared,
even the ancient rooster;
every child gathers pecans,
even the youngest bride.

2. Parallel construction

Perhaps the format that lifts the form above the average verse is the use of parallel construction. For example in the poems above, the first line in each couplet has an exact parallel in the next line. However, a single word might be the parallelism; and the construction may even be more subtle as in the poem below:

A flowered frock waves from the farm’s front porch;
each hand imagines smiles for him, one knows.
In the eaves, wasps paper their new queen’s nest;
her tea glass sweats, ice melts - flowers flooded.

The parallel lines may be any pair – one and four, one and three – and not simply the couplets.

Although the lines may relate, there should be a tension if the reader’s interest is to be held. It may be overt as in Li Bai’s “War South of the Great Wall”

my husband, my sons – you’ll find them all
there, out where war drums keep throbbing.

- David Hinton, trans.

or subtle, as in line two of Wang Wei’s “Deer Park”

Nobody in sight on the empty mountains
but human voices are heard far off.

- Tony Barnstone, trans

Parallelism is a difficult concept to understand and implement. Although, English poetry used the technique for most its life (consider Poe's “Annabel Lee” or Whitman's “I Sing, America”), it has fallen out of favor in most modern poetry. The connection is like an echo; sometimes it will be hard or solo, and at others, soft, muted and multiplied.

3. Alliteration

Short Songs are musical. While they typically do not rhyme, they lean heavily on sounds, either with alliteration or near rhyme for lyrics.

Soft and green stacked as if winter’s wood.
Notice posted on every door – Free!
Surplus fried with scallions, garlic, cornmeal;
in next year’s soil, discarded seeds live.

4. Economy

Chinese poetry differs from English in more than alphabet and script. The High Tang poets often eliminated pronouns, articles and numerical notation for poetry with extreme economy. Of the techniques we attempt when drafting Short Songs in English, this may be the most difficult for an English speaker. English poetry generally does not sound correct and is too choppy without the standard constructions and grammar. In the poem below, the speaker might be one of the bodies, or simply an observer; and the state of the bodies – alive, dead, sleeping – is also not known. In this case and most, I do not entirely eliminate articles, but keep enough to cut down the chopped feel.

Leaves sink, a brown feather rising on the wind;
Dust devils twist, sheets snapping in the breeze.
Bodies stain a bare mattress, no movement;
no memory of the last rain, only flies.

5. Silence

High Tang poetry excels in silence, a quiet seldom found in poetry from other eras or regions. Wang Wei, of River Wang fame, penned poems that often seem too simple, so light as to nearly not be. Yet, they might be the most peaceful poetry written, as in his “House Hidden in the Bamboo Groove.”

Sitting in the dark bamboo,
I play my lute and whistle song.
Deep in the wood no one knows
the bright moon shines on me.

- Barnstone trans.

Chinese poetry excels in silence, part of the Tao religious tradition. For example, these lines from Section 16 of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (as translated by Ursula K. Le Guin)

16. Returning to the root

Be completely empty.
Be perfectly serene.
The ten thousand things arise together;
in their arising is their return.
Now they flower
and flowering
sick homeward
returning to the root.

No matter how many I write, I doubt that I will ever approach the quietude of Wang Wei’s poems. I seem a locomotive to his feather.

I wake, the light demanding the day be joined,
morning so gentle I can’t resist the call.
By noon, shelter sought from the sky’s power;
twilight, to watch the day end in crimson blaze.

6. Nature and Myth

Chinese poetry takes many of its images direct from nature and uses myth, legends and history, often really legends, as common themes. A poem may be about the poet traveler, yet nothing but natural or historical images will be seen in the poem.

The sharp taste of dust and pollen greets us,
the trail a thin line across the meadow.
A flash of light breaks in the woods beyond:
Feather, horn, a reluctant traveler?

The day the planes came, heroes and their trucks lost;
nickels, dimes saved by bayou and city children.
Gulf coast homes drown, the heroes bring new rides South,
to give care with The Spirits of Louisiana.

7. Variation

Of course, no matter what the rules, interest demands we have sufficient variation to hold the reader. A strict adherence to rules is generally not successful. Or as a friend says, “The only rule is there are no rules.”

In the tall grass, a small boy sleeps
lulled by the grasshoppers’ sharp click;

he dreams of catching a brown trout
with dead flies he found on the road.

Supper waits - brown beans and fried spuds,
cold fresh milk and hot apple pie.

Explore the possibilities; your poem might be in couplets, quatrains or one unbroken stanza. You might find pronouns to your liking, but dump all the articles, and definitely find images in urban and suburban settings.

Practice composing in sets of Short Songs. Poems three to six above are part of a collaboration with another poet called “The Many Names for Sun,” and seven is from a set by this author titled “The Naming of the Seasons.” A group might take the shape of a sonnet or be a crown of five; but whether a single stanza or many, the form is a pleasure to pen.

A passing note about titles:

Chinese has a tradition for what we might see as boring titles – “A Poem Written for Commissioner Chang Lee on His Return to the Village.” I tend to use both this style and standard English title construction. The first two poems in this essay are a set titled “Stanzas Inspired by a Letter from a Friend,” while the last is from “Field and Fin.”

Is it possible to successfully draft Short Songs in English? I believe it is, but to be as successful as other forms, it will take a group of practitioners who work to develop the form beyond the few simple rules I have outlined above.


(All works copyright the authors.)

Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry, Anchor Books, 2005

Francois Cheng, Chinese Poetry Writing, Indiana University Press, 1982

David Hinton, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, Counterpoint Press, 2002

Ursula L Le Guin, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: A book about the way and the power of the way, Shambhala Publications, 1998

Stephen Owens, An Anthology of Chinese Literature, WW Norton, 1996

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