Pablo Neruda by Mark Eisner

Poet’s Obligation

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell;
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea’s lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn’s castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying “How can I reach the sea?”
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of the sea-birds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.

-Pablo Neruda










Eisner reaches back to the Mapuche people, the native inhabitants of the part of Chile where Neruda lived, tracing the poet’s literary DNA:

…the culture and oral traditions of the indigenous Mapuche people were steeped in lyric verse through their unwritten language, Mapudungun. the manner in which they elected their leaders exemplifies this. For the position of strategic leader, a candidate must prove he is a sage: that he is wise, prudent, and patient. He also must demonstrate his command of the language. Toward this end, one of the tests was a trial of rhetoric in a ritual exercised through poetry. The candidates recited, they sang, they engaged their audience with poems they created spontaneously, odes to everything that surrounded them…Through language they had to connect the tribe to its ancestors… p. 518

Devotions by Mary Oliver

How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run my unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unbearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

-Mary Oliver

Happy 85th birthday, Willie Nelson

My son, Matthew, sent a Willie Nelson song this morning.

Entrepreneur or Craftsman

Guidance to two ways of imagining life and pursuing happiness may be read in these new books.

In Burn the Business Plan, What Great Entrepreneurs Really Do, by Carl J. Shramm, we read that

An entrepreneur is someone who exploits an innovative idea–one that he develops, or copies, improves, or rents–to start a profit-seeking, scalable business that successfully satisfies demands for a new or better product.

If you are [a] successful [entrepreneur] you might become rich and maybe even famous. More important, however, you may be happier…A 2013 global survey reported that successful entrepreneurs are among the happiest people on earth. Making money by improving…the lives of million of others with something that you created is the reason that entrepreneurs tackle the unknowns and risks that they do.  p. 28

Alexander Langland’s Craeft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts   claims that human beings are born makers:

Against a rising tide of automation and increasing digital complexity, we are becoming further divorced from the very thing that defines us: we are makers, crafter of things. When our lives once comprised an almost unbroken chain of movements and actions as we interacted physically with the material requirements of our existence, today we stare at screens and we press buttons.  

If we spent more time individually converting raw materials into useful objects, we might be better placed to contextualize the challenges that face a society addicted to excessive and often conspicuous consumption. Perhaps more importantly, we might be a little bit happier.  p. 23

Stars Shall Bend Their Voices in October 2018

Stars Shall Bend Their Voices:
Poets’ Favorite Hymns & Spiritual Songs

edited by Jeffrey L. Johnson

*Available for pre-order.*
paper / $18.00
Orison Books

From the Publisher 
In Stars Shall Bend Their Voices, some of the most respected living poets meditate on the role of hymns and spiritual songs in their lives and writing. Representing many spiritual traditions and many approaches to personal spiritual practice, Stars Shall Bend Their Voices is a testament to the lasting impact of spiritual music on many of today’s best poets.

Kaveh Akbar
Zeina Hashem Beck
Scott Cairns
Richard Chess
Kate Daniels
Kwame Dawes
Margaret Gibson
Dana Gioia
Lorna Goodison
Jason Gray
Linda Gregerson
Robert Hass
Edward Hirsch
Jay Hopler
Mark Jarman
Kimberly Johnson
Sydney Lea
Maurice Manning
Shara McCallum
Kathleen Norris
Yehoshua November
Jacqueline Osherow
Alicia Ostriker
Vijay Seshadri
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

J. D. McClatchy 1945-2018

“The central strain of American poetry has continually been a Song of Myself- – the lyrical celebration of the individual. Solitude is the soul’s setting; landscapes or cityscapes are backdrops to heighten the isolate self. From the Puritan divines on to our contemporary eccentrics like Ashbery and Ammons, we prefer to read accounts of the self picking its way through the cluttered emptiness. Whitman’s lonely catalogues and Dickinson’s hymns to unbelief are our breviary. History is neither weight nor witness. Nature is uncompanionable.”

“Whitman created American poetics, and remains the model for any American poet: not how we write about ourselves but how we imagine ourselves. Pound had a widespread but shallow effect on the “look “of poems, and not lasting effect on their ambitions. Stevens and Frost are the poets I think of as the most distinctly “American” of this century. Neither is easily or convincingly imitable. Perhaps they are more crucial to readers than to writers.”

Spring Evening by Frederick Turner

Spring Evening

Above the baby powder clouds
The sky is china blue.
Soon, young and chattering, the crowds
Of stars come pushing through.

And this is the first dispensation,
The setting up of the odds;
This is the eve of creation,
This is the time of the gods.

Psalm by Richard Chess


Somewhere a man is writing a psalm.
Maybe it’s late, his child
sleeping under dreams,
his wife coughing, shivering, spitting,
touching a clock on the bedside table.
Let’s say they have lived on just enough
hope for many years, let’s say one day
God’s not a bad idea.

Maybe the man fixes cars
for a living, I don’t know,
I can’t ask him right now, maybe
he assists a teacher in the local school,
maybe he’s a prosecutor, a defender.
I don’t want to disturb him; he’s earned
this solitude, he’ll pay for it.

He is lucky, he thinks
as he waits at the table, late at night,
for the next verse
of the psalm he composing.
Just before worming under the covers,
his son laid out tomorrow’s uniform.
His wife, before the syrup
quieted her, scribbled a note
to herself. She’s certain
the floor will be there at dawn
when her feet fall from bed.

The psalm? I can’t read it
from here, it’s cupped in this hand.
Let it be a psalm of praise,
praise the roof that keeps them
dry, praise the farmer, picket, packager,
shipper, stocker, checker, bagger, wife-
the network by which he is fed,
praise the doctor who examines
and assures him, the father, husband,
worker, worrier, that it’s nothing,
praise the sleeplessness that gives him
those quiet hours, this yellow pad,
and a fan to draw relief into the August house.

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge

Norwegian extreme weather explorer, adventurer, art collector and publisher, Erling Kagge, has written a little book about silence. He believes in the salutary effects of it for sentient human beings, and fears the extinction of it in our noisy, plugged-in, tech-drowned world. My review of Silence in the Age of Noise will be published in the Christian Century.

See the source image

Henry David Thoreau, A Life, by Laura Dassos Walls

I guess biographers’ hearts are  trained and exercised through scholarship and study, through writing, and deep sympathetic thinking along with their subjects. If a biographer is to do justice to the life she tells about, she should have a heart almost equal to her subject’s  Laura Dassos  Walls shows the wild man, Thoreau, in domestic relationships in Concord. She shows us the ambitious poet as a responsible citizen, speaking out on issues of justice. She shows us the gifted essayist, measuring his paragraphs by the pace of his steps through the woods around Walden, and in the rhythm of his canoe paddle dipping into the Sudbury River.

I think Thoreau is the father of the best part of the American character: independent, helpful, creative, neighborly, scientific, ingenious, child-like and innocent. This fine biography is a long, complex tale of one of the first and greatest Americans, told richly through the characters and intellectual society of his beloved Concord.