Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Miracles of Art: Remembering Donald Hall

Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon - Eagle Pond Farm - 1993
Credit: New Hampshire Public Radio
I believe in the miracles of art but what
prodigy will keep you safe beside me.

These words are inscribed on a polished black granite stone shaded by oaks and birches on the edge of Proctor Cemetery, in Andover, New Hampshire.  They were penned by the late poet Jane Kenyon (1948-1995), when Donald Hall, her husband and fellow poet, was diagnosed with liver cancer.  Remarkably, he recovered only for Kenyon a short time later to be diagnosed with leukemia to which she succumbed in 1995 at age 47.  She believed the miracles of art might save her husband.  The doctors saved him only so he could watch her die.  Hall had this epitaph chiseled onto the granite stone along with Kenyon’s name and dates, and his own name and 1928, his year of birth.   One date was omitted.  For years Hall would visit Proctor Cemetery and dream of the days they shared in Ann Arbor, and since 1975 at Eagle Pond Farm.  Those lost days.  And he dreamed of the time he would finally lie safe beside her.

A week ago a dear friend messaged me to inform me that Donald Hall, one of my favorite poets, had passed away the previous evening at his ancestral Eagle Pond Farm, in Wilmot, New Hampshire.  He was 89 and in failing health for some time.  So I cannot say I was shocked by the news, but I am nevertheless devastated by the loss of this New England, this American icon, who had reached the pinnacle of his profession of poet, essayist, and dare I say, a definer of American culture.  He would be named US Poet Laureate in 2006-2007. 

There have many tributes to Mr. Hall since his passing; extensive obituaries recounting his life and career in literature and letters have appeared in newspapers and journals  across the country.  I doubt I can say anything about his life and writings that have not already been said many times over.   So permit me to share a few personal notes about the times his and my orbits intersected.

I had been reading Hall’s poems and essays for many years when I first wrote to him in 1998 asking if he might contribute a poem or an essay for an anthology I was editing to commemorate the life and works of my dear friend John Haines, a former poet laureate of Alaska.  I had first met John a few years earlier when he was the writer in residence at the George Washington University, in Washington, DC, and when he had invited me to participate in a workshop he was leading.  We became good friends after that and frequently corresponded after his return to Alaska.  So I wanted the anthology to include offerings from friends and contemporaries who knew John.  Donald  Hall was at the top of the list. 

I received a very nice letter from Hall congratulating me on my project yet he regretted that he had nothing he could contribute; his time was then devoted to the writing of elegiac verse (“poetry begins with elegy”) and prose while trying to come to terms with Kenyon’s premature death, as well as his own mortality. I then wrote back to him inquiring whether I might have permission to use “Stony John Haines” (1990), a short commentary which appeared in Death to Death to Poetry published by the University of Michigan Press, in 1994.   Hall was more than gracious and happy to allow me to include it in A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines published by CavanKerry Press, in 2003.

I met Hall for the first time when he read with Charles Simic at the Library of Congress in early March 1999.  We spoke after the reading and he asked how the Haines anthology was coming along.   After that we continued to correspond until we met again in the autumn of 2000 when he gave a reading from Kenyon’s posthumous collection, One Hundred White Daffodils, at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.  I was there doing literary research at the Houghton Library and saw an announcement for the reading on a kiosk in Harvard Yard.   That evening I wandered over to the museum after the library had closed and once again I enjoyed a nice conversation with Hall as he inscribed Kenyon’s book to me as “Jane’s remains.”   The next day we bumped into each other at the minuscule Grolier’s Poetry Bookshop near Harvard Yard.  Hall used to hang out there during his undergraduate days and was making a few purchases before returning to Eagle Pond Farm.  

Our correspondence continued for many year after that as age and infirmities began to take their toll on Hall’s body although he continued to reside at his ancient farm up until his death.  His mind remained sharp when the well of poems eventually dried up eight years ago.  He nevertheless continued to write essays in which he described the afflictions of age.  Essays After Eighty appeared in 2014 and he recognized that his own mortal coil was quickly shuffling off.  “In a paragraph or two, my prose embodies a momentary victory over fatigue.”  Still he kept writing. 

Last year I received a nice letter from Hall informing me that he was assembling yet another collection of essays.  He included a mock up of the proposed cover - A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety - along with a couple brief excerpts. “In your eighties you are invisible. Nearing ninety you hope nobody sees you.”  Just a few days before his passing I wrote to Hall telling him how much I was looking forward to the publication of the new book in July.   Unfortunately I doubt he saw my letter, and it is sad to think he will not see the publication of his last book and revel in its success.   It will be hard to read knowing Hall is no longer among us.  Writing about his friend Richard Wilbur, who died last year at age 96: “In his work he ought to survive, but probably, like most of us, he won’t.”  I disagree.  I am certain Hall’s legacy will live beyond my own years.  

Today Donald Hall was buried beside his beloved Jane in Proctor Cemetery, sharing the “double solitude” they experienced together for two decades at nearby Eagle Pond Farm.  But his poetry and prose will remain with us as we carry on - Don’s remains.   They are his prodigy, his miracles of art.

Friday, May 4, 2018


To the followers of my two blogspots . . . I apologize for my long absence, but I am dealing with some nagging health issues that have dominated my time, wrecked my routine, zapped my energy levels, and distracted me from my thoughts and my ability to express them as I would like. I look forward to a quick recovery from what I hope is only a temporary yet exasperating set of circumstances.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Lake For All Seasons

The following is the text of a guest blog posted today at Coös Networks, – – a community website serving the far northern precincts of New Hampshire. Coös Networks has become an important meeting place for the exchanging ideas, sharing information, while "deepening relationships across disciplines and geography, and building regional vitality." I thank Coös Networks for giving me an opportunity to contribute this guest blog. 
In the 1989 film "Field of Dreams," a disconnected voice instructs an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner to mow down part of his corn crop and construct a baseball diamond. "If you build it, he will come." I won’t spoil the film for any of you who may not have seen it yet (you should). Suffice it to say, he does . . . . and he does. The film’s tag line states it plainly. "All his life, Ray Kinsella was searching for his dreams. Then one day, his dreams come looking for him. Like Kinsella, I went looking for a dream on my first visit to northern New Hampshire over twenty years ago. I was not sure I knew what I was looking for, but I knew I would know it if and when I found it. And I did. This dream came to me in the form of a small 231-acre lake nestled just below Prospect Hill and the height of land that forms the headwaters of the mighty Connecticut River and demarcates the US-Canadian (Québec) border.

On that first trip to northern New Hampshire in early 1994 I drove the 18 miles of macadam that is US Highway 3 as it bisects northern Coös County between Colebrook and the peaceful hamlet of Pittsburg where Lake Francis is impounded behind the 117-foot earthen Murphy Dam built in 1940 as part of a flood control project. From there for a distance of 14 miles I continued to follow the forest-fringed highway roughly paralleling the Upper Connecticut River and the three Connecticut Lakes.

First Connecticut Lake (ca. 3,000 acres at 1,638 feet above sea level) and Second Connecticut (ca. 1,100 acres at 1,866 feet above sea level) two miles upstream are also both impounded behind large concrete dams with flood gates. The Connecticut River connecting these two lakes and Lake Francis is considered some of the best trout and landlocked salmon waters in New England, if not the United States. The river narrows the farther north one travels and it is fed by several small tributaries. Five miles above Second Lake, and just north of a marshy area known as the Moose Flowage, is Third Connecticut Lake (2,188 feet above sea level), the lake of my dreams. One mile beyond that lake is the international border and the terminus of US Highway 3.

On that first visit I pulled off the highway at the small gravel boat landing - the only mark of man on the entire lake - and parked in the shade of two ancient trees near the water’s edge. From there I could survey almost the entire surface of the lake and the surrounding hills. Somewhere just below the height of land beyond the far shoreline is a small two acre pond - Fourth Connecticut Lake - the actual headwaters of the Connecticut River situated at 2,670 feet above sea level. I was the only one there and I felt that in some small way I had arrived at a place I had to share with no one. The lake was quiet. Just a couple of loons out in the middle minding their own business. The only sound was the wind rustling the leaves as I watched clouds scud over the distant ridge line. This was the spot I hoped and dreamed I would find.

I have returned to this spot dozens of times over the intervening years. At all hours of the day and night and during every season. I would go there to just be alone with my thoughts. I have sat there and watched storms brew with lightning stabbing the roiling lake as thunder echoed through the hills. I have gone there to revel in the myriad autumn colors as I fished for lake trout. I have parked my car above the lake in the dead of winter when the ice is thick and snow covered as are the surrounding forests; my car buffeted by the wind as snow dervishes terpsichored across the ice, or as a blizzard slowly arrived over the ridge line from Canada. I have returned at the height of spring which comes late in this northern country. The winter ice rotten and soon to sink to the depths of the lake. The loons had returned and it was time to dream of a quiet evening fishing for trout.

All of my life I had searched for just such a special place. I can’t help but think this lake was created solely for my enjoyment and peace of mind as I always enjoy it in solitude. It is the only way I can imagine it, either when I am there or when I dream about it and wonder what I will see and feel upon my next visit. A disconnected voice comes to me. "If it is there, you will come." I always do. I always will.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas – More Than a High School Atrocity

The February 21, 2018 edition of the New York Times ran an interesting essay by Mary Lou Foy of The Miami Herald via Reuters on the woman for whom the high school in Parkland, Florida is named.  I am guessing those who never spent much time in Florida have ever heard the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) until it was connected to the second most lethal school shooting in US history on February 14.

Despite many visits to Florida over the years, including the three years I spent there as an undergraduate in college, I am sad to admit that I had never heard of her either until the spring of 1994 when I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Florida Historical Society in Fort Myer.  Sitting in a beach tiki bar one evening a colleague who was an authority on Ms. Douglas brought me up to snuff on this fascinating woman.  I don’t want her name to only be associated with a needless and senseless atrocity, one more in a long string of school shootings which our leaders, our government, wants to do nothing about as it would interdict the ready and steady flow of cash flowing into their coffers from the National Rifle Association.  I am proud to see and hear the surviving students in Parkland, and others joining them around the United States, learning an important lesson in activism from Ms. Douglas.   That is perhaps a greater tribute to her memory than any other than can be afforded her. 

Marjory Stoneman was born in 1890 in Minnesota where she was raised.  Her father was a judge and her mother a concert violinist.   She went East in 1908 and graduated from Wellesley College, near Boston, in 1912.   She married Kenneth Douglas, a local newspaper journalist, in 1914 but she soon realized this was a mistake and in the autumn of 1915 an uncle encouraged her to make the move south to Miami where fewer than 5,000 people lived there.   She joined her father Frank Stoneman, who in 1903 became the first publisher of the Miami Evening Record, the newspaper that would in 1910 become The Miami Herald.  Marjory worked for a time as a reporter for the paper before going overseas during World War I, serving with the American Red Cross in France, Belgium, Italy and in the Balkans.  She returned to the paper after the war and worked for a time as an assistant editor.  She eventually left the paper in 1923.

During her early years in South Florida, Douglas took up the activist cause of responsible urban planning as the population grew by more than 100,000 inhabitants over the course of a single decade.   She opposed the policy instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, the former Florida governor (1905-1909), to drain the Everglades in order to reclaim land for agricultural cultivation in South Florida.  This advocacy would continue long after she gave up newspaper journalism.

From 1920 until her centenary in 1990, she wrote and published dozens of articles, young adult fiction stories, and numerous book reviews.  The natural South Florida landscape, especially the Everglades, and its animal inhabitants were recurring themes in her fictional stories while she continued to write on environmental issues and in support of the women’s suffrage movement, civil rights and the revocation of Prohibition.  She served on the editorial board of the new University of Miami Press, and supported the Junior Museum of Miami and slum clearance in Coconut Grove where she lived in an English-styled cottage from 1926 until the end of her life.

Douglas continued to oppose the draining of the Everglades while advocating for its preservation.  She lead the campaign to have the central core of the Everglades preserved as a
national park in 1947, the same year her seminal book, The Everglades: River of Grass, was published by Rinehart & Company as part of a book series focusing on US rivers.  It remains in print 70 years after its publication and it has become a classic treatise on the importance of US wetlands; the Everglades being the largest.  They are not useless swamps, but rather a complex system of tenuous ecosystems.  The Everglades is actually no swamp at all, but a 60 mile wide, 100 mile long shallow river running from Lake Okeechobee in the north to Florida Bay in the south.  Even today the Everglades are continually subjected to over-drainage, pollution from adjacent agriculture, and the encroachment of urban sprawl along its eastern margins.  The population of what is now the Miami metropolitan area has grown from 100,000 to over six million in the past century roughly coinciding with Ms. Douglas’ lifetime.  Who can deny the Everglades are under assault and require protection?  I saw this damage up close during my own first visit to the Everglades in 2010.  Ms. Douglas understood this threat perhaps better than anyone.  I read her book while I was there.  The first sentence says it all.  ''There are no other Everglades in the world.''

Douglas was one of the founders of the Friends of the Everglades in 1969 and today it has over 5,000 members . . . the population of Miami when she first arrived there.  The organization has at its goal that this “vast, magnificent, subtle and unique region of the Everglades may not be utterly lost.''  She continued to speak out against those who plundered the Everglades wishing that one day the message would get through to those who refused to recognize the importance of this valuable and irreplaceable ecosystem.  ''I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I say it's got to be done.''

In the mid-1990s the Clinton administration endorsed efforts during Douglas’ lifetime to stop this plunder and to restore the Everglades’ natural water flow.  Naturally this was opposed by agribusiness, especially the sugar industry, which claimed that the damage to the Everglades was the result of urban sprawl.  The battle continues to this very day.

During the 2016 election campaign our current president [#NotMyPresident] stated that, if elected, his administration would cooperate in efforts “to restore and protect the beautiful Everglades.”   During a campaign visit to South Florida he flew over the Everglades; “ let me tell you when you fly over the Everglades and you look at those gators and you look at those water moccasins, you say, I better have a good helicopter.”   Sure, that’s what’s most important.  His well being and not that of the Everglades.  He promised to “help you upgrade water and wastewater — and you know you have a huge problem with wastewater — so that the Florida aquifer is pure and safe from pollution. We have to do it.”  Unfortunately these claims and promises have proven to be typical Trump claptrap.  He has also made it clear he plans to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and scale back environmental regulations which would protect the Everglades.  Florida Senator Bill Nelson points to Trump’s appointments, including Scott Pruitt at EPA.  “You can tell a lot about a fella by the company he keeps and you can tell a lot about a president by the appointment that he makes, and here’s a good example.”  Some battles have been won over the years, but the war to save the Everglades still wages at the state and federal levels.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ vision is still alive and cannot be ignored or forgotten. 

Ms. Douglas’ name has become synonymous with environmentalism and efforts to protect Florida’s Everglades.  In May 1998, following her death at age 108, her ashes were scattered over the portion of Everglades National Park that bears her name.  The building in Tallahassee, the state capital, that houses the state Department of Environmental Protection is named in her honor as is a nature center on Key Biscayne, near Miami.  Several parks and schools throughout the state bear her name, including the high school where the recent atrocity took place.  The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was established in Parkland, east of Pompano Beach, in 1990 to commemorate her centenary.  Ironically, Parkland is a relatively newer community in the ever-expanding urban sprawl fast encroaching on the Everglades from the east. 

Her name has been associated with environmental activism throughout the 20th century and beyond, yet it is now unfortunately married to one of the most deadly school shootings in US history.   The people of Florida have long known the name of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and what it has come to represent. Everyone should know.  If you have never read her book, you should take the time to do so.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Leaving the Highway” - A Dispatch from the Sunshine State

Dateline: Gainesville, Florida

Florida has always been a big part of my life having vacationed here with my family when I was young. I spent my undergraduate college years at Florida Southern College, in Lakeland, if for no other reason than I was quickly growing tired of those cold and dreary Midwestern winters. It was in Florida where I met and married my wife of 43 years, a native Florida gal. I still have family and friends here. My father is buried here.
Many of us, including my younger self, think of Florida as a place of sun and fun, a place to escape to when life elsewhere in America has grown old and tiresome. Yet for some of the natives, Florida can become just as old and tiresome . . . just a place to be. My wife has felt this way having grown up here although nostalgia and thoughts of family and friends still here have tempered this a bit over the years. "Florida is a transient state in which too many rootless people dare nothing for the past nor this state’s future," writes Floridian novelist Randy Wayne White in Ten Thousand Island (2000). "Florida is a vacation destination or a retirement place, as temporary as time spent in a bus station . . . Like a bus station, Florida attracts con men and predators. It always has, Florida always will."

I am quite certain this is true. When you get right down to it, Florida is really no different from any other state. There will always be those who sing its praises while others disparage it every chance they get. Florida is certainly not the state I expected to find the first time I visited here in December 1962. There was a lot more to the place than the beaches and palm trees I had seen in photographs and on postcards. I have always enjoyed the beaches, but I am strongly drawn to the less visited hinterlands, especially the inland scrub of central North Florida. Ocala north to the Georgia border, along with the Panhandle, resembles southern Georgia more than it does peninsular Central and South Florida. To quote an old adage: "In Florida, the farther north you go, the farther south you are." And this is truer than one might think for North Florida still retains its strong Southern roots.

For over five decades I have been a regular visitor to Florida - mainly to the Gulf Coast where my family vacationed when I was young and where my parents retired in 1984. There were my three years of college in Lakeland (a year was also spent in Germany), and now there is my in-law’s home in Gainesville, the county seat of Alachua County in central North Florida about an hour and a half southwest of Jacksonville and two hours north of both Orlando and Tampa. For several years now Gainesville has been ranked high on the list of the best places to live in the USA. Driving across town one is struck by the large variety of trees; despite development the city has been careful to preserve its urban forest. I have always felt very much at home here. It feels like home away from home.

Alachua County today is somewhat of an anomaly, tending to be more liberal than the rest of North Florida due in large part to the presence of the University of Florida campus (the fifth largest in the USA in terms of enrollment) and the diversified community that supports it. There are world famous medical facilities. There is a thriving cultural scene in the area with several museums and performing arts venues. Gainesville is the home of the late Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Stephen Stills lived here as a boy, as did Don Felder and Bernie Leadon of The Eagles. They, along with Petty, all attended Gainesville High School. And one cannot overlook sports (GO GATORS!!) The University is by far the largest employer in the area and locals wear the Orange and Blue everywhere you go.

That said, Alachua County was not always this forward thinking. According to the county’s Historical Commission it was the site of at least 21 documented lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950, including at least ten in Newberry, just a few miles west of Gainesville. In 2017, Alachua County announced plans to place markers at the sites of every extra-judicial killing in the county along with a memorial plaque in Gainesville listing all of the victims. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center there are still several Ku Klux Klan entities, as well as other white supremacist and separatist organizations, operating throughout Florida. How can we overlook the fact that a self-proclaimed white supremacist murdered 17 high school students and faculty in South Florida just a week ago? So Randy Wayne White was perhaps not too far off the mark with his views on modern Florida. It is still a very edgy state in so many ways, especially when one ventures into the rural interior.

I choose, however, not to dwell on all of this, but to celebrate this inland North Florida scrub land I have come to love over the years. This brings me back to my own "small place of enchantment" as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) called rural Alachua County southeast of Gainesville. Rawlings, a 20th century American author, moved south to Florida in 1928 and purchased a 70-acre farm and orange grove in Cross Creek where she lived until her death in 1953. There she wrote novels set in the Florida scrub, the most famous of these being The Yearling which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in 1939.

It is to this little corner of Alachua County that I return to

every time I come to Florida. A visit would not be complete without a trip to Cross Creek and the Florida scrub, roaming the back roads over by Cross Creek, Micanopy, Island Pond, and Hawthorne. The narrow country roads pass under canopies of live oak festooned with long gray beards of Spanish moss. This year, in the wake of last autumn’s Hurricane Irma and its torrential rainfalls, there is plenty of water in Cross Creek, connecting Orange and Lochloosa lakes, and in the River Styx which is only a few miles long and more a swampy creek than a formidable river. It connects Newnan's Lake with Orange Lake. This is not always the case and I have visited this area there was no water in them or in the lakes they connect. But this year there are white herons and egrets wading the sedgy sloughs looking for their next meal. An alligator was resting on the bank as if he had not a care in the world. This entire area is a high-quality bald cypress swamp forest surrounded by Southeastern conifer, sand pine scrub, saw and scrub palmetto and swamp tupelo . . . part of the extensive Ocala National Forest, the southernmost in the USA and one of the largest east of the Mississippi.

Again, I am reminded why I like to come back to this special part of Florida. Perhaps Miss Rawlings said it best when surveying her home and farm at Cross Creek. "It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Called By No Name Except Deportees

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;

Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?
                               – Woody Guthrie

Seventy years ago, on a winter morning in late January 1948, a DC-3 aircraft chartered by the former US Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] departed an airport in Oakland, California bound for El Centro, just a few miles north of the US-Mexican border after a brief refueling stop in Burbank, the plane’s home near Los Angeles. On board was a three-person flight crew and an INS agent. Some of the remaining 28 passengers were bracero guest workers returning to Mexico at the end of their contract in the fruit groves. Some were undocumented aliens being deported by INS.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on; Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

Approximately 150 miles south of Oakland a fire broke out in one of the plane’s two engines. As the fire spread one of the wings sheared off and the aircraft spiraled into Los Gatos Canyon some 20 miles from Coalinga near Fresno, crashing in a massive fireball. Despite attempted rescue efforts, everyone on board was killed instantly.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

Media reports at the time would identify the flight crew and the INS agent and their bodies were eventually returned to

their families for burial. The remaining victims were identified only as "deportees." Not all of them were. In fact, one of the victims was born in Spain and was not a deportee or a Mexican national. Nevertheless, he was buried anonymously with the others in a mass grave on the fringes of a cemetery in Fresno. "Here lies 28 Mexican nationals."

This incident would have passed into a distant and soon forgotten memory had it not been for Woody Guthrie who penned the above poem – "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos") – to retell the story of the crash and the sad fate of the mostly anonymous victims who died violently and were buried without their names. Very few of their families ever learned what happened to their loved ones until much later. Guthrie’s poem condemned the treatment of those who came to this country to help harvest our crops.

They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

The poem was eventually set to music by Martin Hoffmann, and Guthrie’s friend Pete Seeger began performing it at concerts. Over the past seven decades it has been covered by numerous and varied musical artists, including this beautiful cover by Woody’s son Arlo:

In the years since this song was written the plight of the Mexican field workers has improved only slightly. Those who have remained in this country to work the fields live mostly in poverty. Those who are here illegally always live with the threat of deportation. And still they come to America to what they hope will be a better life for them and their families. They do work many Americans feel is beneath them. Today there is a border wall and our current so-called leaders want to build a bigger and better one. In Woody Guthrie’s time the Mexican workers were treated "like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves." Our current president added "rapists" and believes America can only be great again if this country rids itself of undesirable foreigners, be they Mexicans . . . or Muslims . . . and whoever he decides to add to the list. To him they are not immigrants yearning to be free. They are not field workers, students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, veterans who served this country in combat . . . this list goes on. Dreamers all.
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Speak Out Against Fascism!

Writers and artists fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s because they believed that art cannot flourish in a reactionary environment.  Ernest Hemingway, speaking in New York City in 1937, said, "There is only one form of government that cannot produce good writing, and that system is fascism." American writers and artists today should use their talents to stem the tide of reactionary nationalism and populism taking root in this country, even at the highest levels of government. It is how we keep creative thought alive in this country. The alternative is unacceptable. RESIST!!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Robert Frost, 1974-1963

55 years ago today Robert Frost stopped by a woods on a snowy evening . . . and departed this veil of tears.  RIP.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Why "Epiphanies in the Rue Sansregret"?

No big mystery or deep-seated symbolism. Since I launched this blogspot in late 2009 I have been asked several times the origins and significance of the title - Epiphanies in the Rue Sansregret. In addition to Looking Toward Portugal, my general commentary blogspot launched a year earlier, I wanted to also host a site that would be confined to the posting of literary-based commentary while also sharing some of my own modest literary offerings . . . poetry, flash fiction and the like. Like I said . . . no big mystery.

During the winter of 2009-2010, during my annual visit to my favorite lodge in northern New Hampshire not far from the Canadian frontier, I chanced to make one of my occasional forays through Québec’s Eastern Townships to Montréal just a couple hours away. It was snowing quite hard when I arrived in the borough of Hochelaga Maisonneuve in the city’s east end. Considered to be Montréal’s version of Brooklyn, HoMA, as it is affectionately called, is erected on the presumed site of the village where, in 1535, the French explorer Jacques Cartier first made contact with the indigenous Iroquoian people living along the banks of what is now the St. Lawrence River. It was for a long time a down and out working class area famous for its street and biker gangs and the violence that accompanied them. Add to this chronic poverty as many of the local factories closed down. There was a brief and welcomed renaissance when the 1976 Summer Olympics took place nearby. And today the area is experiencing another reawakening although, in my mind, it is still an underrated and overlooked neighborhood where some of its original grittiness remains as a reminder of what once was.

These days there are a great many good Hochelagais places - old, new and retro - to eat and drink in HoMa, including one of my all time favorite sushi joints in the rue Ontario Est. That is where I chose to have lunch on this particular trip into the city. Street parking was at a premium due to the recent heavy snowfall yet I managed to find a spot on a back street just a few blocks from the restaurant. From there I had to navigate the deep snow banks and icy sidewalks. But I made it in one piece, and as always, it was a fantastic meal. I decided to take a short detour back to my car to walk it off.

Strolling down rue Joliette I came across a sign that immediately caught my attention; affixed to the brick wall of one of the row house, it pointed to rue Sansregret. How could I not venture forth to see a street promising "no regrets." The housing stock in Hochelaga was mostly constructed between 1880 and 1920; rows of brick and stone duplexes and triplexes. Interspersed behind them is a network of ruelles [alleys]. These thoroughfares first appeared in Montréal around 1845 when large rural properties were subdivided into smaller lots. Some are simply narrow unimproved footpaths while others are as wide as streets with names and their own addresses. Although officially defined as "a narrow street; especially a thoroughfare through the middle of a block giving access to the rear of lots or buildings," a "ruelle" originally referred to the small space between a bed and the adjacent wall, or, in more general terms, a literary coterie as well as the room where it met.

I took a short detour along rue Sansregret which extends for a single block and provides access to several garages and

the rear entries to residences along rue Joliette and rue de Chambly. It was on this detour, along this short stretch of Montréal alley, I found myself suddenly thinking of literary salons and the idea for this current blog came to mind. It would take a few more months before I was ready to launch, but when I did, I could think of no better title than this one.

I will further explore Québec’s Eastern Townships in my next posting. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Winter Dreaming

"Beauty at low temperatures is beauty" was Russian poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky’s response to seeing Venice blanketed by a rare snowfall. This passage can be found in Watermark (1992), his short, evocative treatise describing his frequent winter home since 1973 and where he is now buried following his death in 1996 . . . a city once described as "of dreamlike beauty that banishes nightmares." It was a place where he might seek solace from the disturbing facets of daily existence.

Brodsky describes the extraordinary winter light, "savoring its touch, the caress of the infinity whence it came. An object, after all, is what makes infinity private." This stands in broad contrast to Rainier Maria Rilke’s impressions eighty years earlier while walking on the seaside cliffs just a short distance across the Adriatic at the Duino Castle near Trieste. There "beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are / just able to endure . . . ." (Duino Elegies). I prefer Brodsky’s outlook.

If you have not read Brodsky’s little gem, you really must. Especially if you have ever spent any time in the ephemeral and enigmatic place that is Venice. "Better yet, read it and open your eyes and other senses to its encyclopedic wonders," John Updike wrote in his New Yorker review upon publication. "Another dividend," Updike continues, "will be how it may open your eyes to actually see the places you live, work or visit other than Venice! Anticipate a change in your comprehension of life."

Brodsky was no stranger to the aspects of winter, even in Venice. "Seasons are metaphors for available continents, and winter is always somewhat antarctic, even here." He was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg today) in 1940 and he and his family survived the hunger and deprivations of the Nazi siege of that city from 1941 until 1944. He ran afoul of the Soviet regime and was exiled to the Archangel region of northern Russia in the mid-1960s. He was later sentenced to hard labor in the Soviet gulag system and eventually fled Russia, living for a brief time in Vienna and London before settling in the United States in the early 1970s where he taught at several universities and college. But there was always time to visit Venice, particularly in the winter.

Like Brodsky’s Venice, I have my own special winter place . . . the Great North Woods of northern New England . . . to which I frequently return dreaming of winter light. "I have never seen a grander or more beautiful sight than the northern woods in winter." With these words a young Theodore Roosevelt described his regular sojourns to a wilderness camp in Maine’s Aroostook County. I could not agree with him more.

In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my "panic hole" which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.

Brodsky was onto something when he penned "Beauty at low temperatures is beauty." There is something about trekking through the deep snows of these quiet northern New England woodlands where nothing stirs but the cold winds. Nothing is heard but the creaking and scraping of barren branches and the crunching of snow beneath one’s feet. Or sitting by a warm fire in the lodge and watching snow devils swirling across an iced-over lake. The temperature, even during the day, frequently plunges into the deep double digits below zero. Yes, Brodsky was correct. There is something inherently beautiful in all of this.

As I write this the snow is falling steady across the region. I regret that I am not making my annual trip north this year.
Like years past, there has been a heavy accumulation of snow across the region since before Christmas, and despite a couple quick thaws, the snows have returned along with frigid sub-zero temperatures well-known in these parts this time of year. It was just not in the stars this time around. But this does not preclude me from dreaming about a northern New England winter with its special lineaments of light and the beauty of its low temperatures. And why? I refer back to Brodsky when asked why he close Venice during the winter. He recalled the " . . . lonely monument to Francesco Querini and his two huskies carved out of Istrian stone, similar, I think, in its hue, to what he saw last, dying, on his ill-fated journey to the North Pole, now listening to the Giardini's rustle of evergreens in the company of Wagner and Carducci." I go because there is magical music in the air that banishes nightmares. That’s why.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Inside the Trumpian Reich

I have finished reading Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, and despite the author’s somewhat sullied bona fides and criticisms of his journalistic methodology, I have no trouble believing much of what he has written is right on the mark. Many of the events, facts and conversations are supported by stories we have all read or heard in legitimate media reports and through DJT’s own statements and tweets over the past year. To quote Sean Spicer, the much maligned former White House press secretary - "You can’t make this shit up." Michael Duffy’s and Nancy Gibb’s essay in Time describes the book’s revelations as having captured larger truths. That said, if only 10% of what Wolff has written here is factual and true, then it is enough to make you ill. The White House and the Presidency are in total disarray and this country is being led by a man who is ignorant and infantile and not up to the demands of the office; a man who has no curiosity and makes no effort to inform himself and who is being advised by a coterie of unqualified and inexperienced charlatans, many of whom can rightly be labeled fascists. The individual who stood in front of the Capitol one year ago and swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States has made a mockery of it. His mission is to undercut it at every opportunity. The man now sitting in the Oval Office promised to make America great again, yet his behavior in office and his ill-informed actions and comments have only tarnished America’s reputation within the community of nations. He insults and slanders our enemies and allies in equal measure while denigrating that which we hold dear about our democratic institutions. History teaches us that unheeding hubris can only lead to our own rendering of a Gottesdämmerung, a twilight of the "gods" in which leaders and their people are banished to ruins. Pray this is not our fate. But more than prayer, let’s work hard this year to send the White House Trumpsters and their Congressional minions packing. Let’s take back our country. Let’s really make America great again! It is up to us now. Take a stand! Resist!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Chimes of Freedom Flashing . . . .

The Poet Bloggers 2018 Revival Tour continues . . . .

In the city's melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden as the walls were tightening

                                                – Bob Dylan

I have just been invited to speak at "Darkness on the Edge of Town" - An International Springsteen Symposium sponsored by the Pennsylvania State University and to be held in April at Monmouth University, on the New Jersey Shore. This will be my fourth presentation dealing with Springsteen and his music. Prior to this I have talked on the subject of Springsteen and John Steinbeck (at Monmouth and again in at a Steinbeck conference in Sun Valley Idaho), and on the Boss and Woody Guthrie. The topic this time around is "Chimes of Freedom: The Social and Political Impact of Bruce Springsteen’s 1988 East Berlin Concert."

Springsteen and the E Street Band performed across Europe in the early autumn of 1981 as part of its 1980-1981 The River Tour. This included four concerts in West Germany, one of these at the ICC Halle in West Berlin. Bruce and Steve Van Zandt took the opportunity of this gig to cross through the Berlin Wall into East Berlin for a short visit during which they walked about unnoticed (with the likely exception of the Stasi, East Germany’s ubiquitous Ministry of State Security).

Seven years later, Bruce brought the band back to Germany as part of the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express Tour, playing concerts at West Berlin’s Waldbühne and East Berlin’s Weissensee Velodrome, the latter before an enthusiastic audience of 160,000+ (in comparison to the rather sedate crowd of 17,000 in West Berlin). Bruce described the East Berlin audience as the largest he had ever played to . . . "I couldn’t see its end." In fact, it was the largest concert by a western artist in the entire 40 year history of the ill-fated German Democratic Republic.

Two months later Bruce would join several artists for the world-wide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! during which he made his first overt political statements . . . "trying to assert myself as a world citizen . . . This tour marks my graduation of sorts." But it was in East Berlin where Bruce Springsteen rang the chimes of freedom for the first time for all the world to hear. And just over a year later the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall came down for good.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

With a New Year Comes New Posts

A friend and fellow poet informed me that a group of poets who also blog have pledged to resurrect their blogs for a 2018 Revival Tour. Each will try to post at least once a week during 2018.

I host two blogs. "Looking Toward Portugal" is billed as general commentary "from the edge of America" - I have been posting there fairly regularly since late 2008. This blog, on the other hand, is more literary in concept and execution and it was designed to use social media as a means of sharing some of my literary endeavors - poems, flash fiction, criticism and reviews, literary news, obituaries of literary favorites . . . whatever strikes my fancy - with a wider audience.

So I accept the challenge and let’s see how well I do. Listed below are the writers who are participating so far. Check them out and share what you like with others. That is how we build and support our community of writers. And if you are a poet blogger, why not join us.

Happy reading and writing in 2018!

                  Beth Adams
                   Teresa Hichens Ballard
Sandra Beasley
Carolee Bennett
Mary Biddinger
Andrea Blythe
Dave Bonta
Jim Brock
James Brush
Angela T Carr
Patricia Caspers
I. F. Caton
Grant Clauser
Kevin Connor
Jared Conti
Josephine Corcoran
Jill Crammond
Jenelle D’Alessandro
Laura E. Davis
Kate Debolt
Heather Derr-Smith
Risa Denenberg
Amy Dryansky
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow
Andrew Eickstead
Lou Faber
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Gail Goepfert
Erica Goss
Uma Gowrishankar
Sarah Kain Gutowski
Charlotte Hamrick
Erin Hollowell
Trish Hopkinson
Jennifer Hudgens
Catherine Hume
Crystal Ignatowski
MJ Iuppa
Charles Jensen
Jill McCabe Johnson
Collin Kelley
Kathleen Kirk
Anita Olivia Koester
Courtney LeBlanc
Lorena P Matejowsky
Marilyn McCabe
Ann Michael
Amy Miller
James Moore
LouAnn Sheperd Muhm
January Gill O’Neill
Shawnte Orion
Ren Powell
Bethany Reid
Susan Rich
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Sarah Russell
Jennifer Saunders
Carl Setzer
Martha Silano
Kim Bailey Spradlin
Bonnie Staiger
Rosemary Starace
Hannah Stephenson
Stephanie Lane Sutton
Christine Swint
Carey Taylor
Dylan Tweney
Michael Allyn Wells
Lesley Wheeler
Allyson Whipple
Sean Wright

*This list is current as of January 3. I have joined the ranks today