Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday Anniversary


That's Lorry, age 7, on Destin Beach in Florida in 1954. She used to tell me -- as early as our first date in 1966, Holy Thursday, in Montezuma, New Mexico -- that she thought of herself as a "Florida girl" and that growing up near the beach was about as good as it gets.

The second pic shows Lorry, age 25, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, 1972. We lived there for seven years. Mariah and Hannah were born there. She never thought of herself as a "Berkshire girl" -- the winters were too cold for that and there was no beach.

Number three: this was taken at our home for the past 20 years, Bokeelia, Florida. I finally got the girl back to the beach -- only, this island where we live has no beach, it's mangrove-fringed and heavily palmed, but no beach except the little one around our pond that the leopard frogs use.

So this is my tribute to Lorry because today is the day we met 48 years ago and I penned a poem for her ...


Loved her then 
before I met her.
Loved her when
I barely knew her.
Love's not blind,
time proves truer.
Love's this poem
I've written to her.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Carl Sandburg: Discovering Yourself at Age 50

Carl Sandburg, the great American poet of the past century said that at age 50 there was "... some puzzlement as to whether I was a poet, a biographer, a wandering troubador with a guitar, a Midwest Hans Christian Andersen or an historian of current events ..."

At age 61 the confusion was over -- Sandburg published his four volume biography of Abraham Lincoln which became an instant classic and yielded awards and honors including some ten or eleven doctoral degrees. Not bad for a folksinger who rode the rails in the 30s and was considered an "imagist" poet of the 20s, a figure of the American imagination whom America had the utmost trouble pegging and putting into a convenient library category.

I found a mint copy of The American Songbag, Sandburg's tribute to our national folklore in song, in a small library in Indianapolis. The librarian had no idea what it was and what it was worth. I told her, "Its worth is incalculable." She replied, "Maybe I shouldn't have it out on the regular shelves then."

Sandburg said as he got older, "I am more suspicious of adjectives than at any other time in all my born days." His writing became bare bones but the rhythm of it was uniquely Sandburg and I think he got that spoken music from the people he grew up with, the Swedish American storytellers whose pauses were full of meaning and whose phrases came from the ancient bards who recited the sagas and never missed a beat.

As he looked back on his life, Sandburg commented that he'd forgotten the meaning of "... twenty or thirty of my poems written thirty or forty years ago." He claimed that all his life he'd "... been trying to learn to read, to see and hear, and to write."

At sixty-five, he wrote his first novel. It took him five years to finish it.

Growing older still Sandburg became the sort of official poet laureate of the plains and along with Robert Frost, the greatest oral reader of poetry alive. Without Sandburg there wouldn't have been a Ginsberg or, for that matter, a raging pile of nonstop verses called Howl.

Carl Sandburg hoped to live to be 89, the same age of Hokusai. Sandburg's paraphrase of Hokusai's farewell to earth and sky ends like this: "If God had let me live five years longer I should have been a writer." Sandburg made it to 89 just as he wished.

I think some of our younger writers, God bless 'em, could learn something from old Hokusai and Old Sandbuggy, as I heard someone say. It gets better. It just gets better -- if you have the patience for it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

If It Snowed Forever

IF IT SNOWED FOREVER  by Fred Burstein and illustrated by Anna Burstein
Irie Books, 2014

Author Fred Burstein (Anna's Rain; Rebecca's Nap) has written an unusual novella about a young girl with heart trouble, a bus driver and a bunch of teens with social issues of various kinds that erupt in the bus on the way to school. This may sound like the prelude to a dystopian story of hopelessness and angst, but it is anything but that. The novella deals with real problems -- adult and teen -- but the beauty of Mr. Burstein's writing is his casual, conversational style which sort of meanders like the bus itself. In point of fact, the author was the bus driver. If It Snowed Forever is a one-of-a-kind story that proves that people can only achieve peace of mind by bonding and being compassionate. The early reviews from well-known authors say, " ...touching and life-affirming ..." David Kherdian and Nonny Hogrogian (Newbery Honor and Caldecott medalist authors). Paula Fox, a Hans Christian Andersen Award winner, praises the novella's characters. She says, "Jimmy is wonderful. His dreams, his inner life, his bafflement and yet his authority." Nancy Hickey, a Special Education teacher, says: "A story about students on a minibus who transcend usual adolescent behavior and compassionately bond with Marie, a girl with special needs. The reader sees through Marie's eyes and learns how simple gestures and small moments can change lives forever." If, in reading this short novel, you are changed for only a moment the story has done its work effectively, for as we know, books change lives forever in ways we do not always know.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Forbidden Ride: An Icelandic Love Story

The Forbidden Ride is the story of a 15-year-old-girl and her first love. Set in 10th century Iceland, a time of harsh laws and cruel men, Freyja falls in love with Jarn, a handsome young man from the next settlement, only to have him ripped from her by her father Sigurd as he enforces a merciless ancient Icelandic law against Jarn for the crime of riding Sigurd's spirit  horse Freyfaxi without permission. Surrounded by customs and rules that make little sense to her, Freyja must overcome her lack of status as a young woman in a man’s world of brutal justice and blood in order to save her family from banishment and shame, and with the help of the magical shaman-horse, Faxi, to regain her freedom to be with Jarn. 

This is the first book that Lorry and I have done together since A Mind With Wings: The Story of Henry David Thoreau.  It's available on in digital!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


It has taken me months to charm this King of Round Stone. I call him Ozymandias, though certainly not to his face. I am sorry he doesn't trust me -- or so I have felt for the longest time. But today, of all days, blessed by abundant sun and trust, he lets me creep up to his vast castle of rock. And having crept, I stop and stare and he casts a wary eye upon me, but permits me to press the button and capture his image for all, or anyone, to see. And here is a verse to commemorate the day ....

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822

Monday, March 10, 2014

Copperhead Necktie

This morning in the golden sunlight along came a serpent. Marked like a copperhead he was instead a lovely young cornsnake just up from a hibernation nap. Knowing cornsnakes are friends, I scooped him up and Lorry took a quick pic of him sliding around my neck and off my back. He was out for lizards and I didn't want to keep him from his early morning hunt. I set him down and he slid gracefully into an asparagus fern and disappeared.

I was five years old when I met my first cornsnake and this is how it goes:

Just up from a nap
out in the yellowy tassles

the hired hand hung something loose
back of my neck

belly scale shiny feel
a burnt umber
copperhead necktie.


It was the hired hand, Ray, who said it was a copperhead. All these years it took me to find out it wasn't, or shouldn't have been, but maybe still could've been but, more likely, it was a cornsnake like the one that just visited us.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Once again Longhouse Publishers in Vermont has produced a book exquisite in design, fat enough to be a feast, pretty enough to just wade around in, and deep enough to dive into and stay with for days and weeks and even months on end. Could be it's the first of its kind, a scrapbook novel that is also a how-to and a mystery -- how did he do it, and how does he make rocks balance like Thor?

Author Bob Arnold is a poet, well-known for well-crafted verses of the back country. But Bob Arnold the builder, the stone mason, the rock wall maker is for those of us lucky enough to have gone walking on his grounds or dining in house with his lovely wife, Susan. 

I've known these guys a very long time, but frankly it takes a long time to know people who have the woods in them. They are like trees you love to look at, and you can give them a good hug, but that doesn't mean you know them. It takes years to do that and even then there's more mystery below the bark.

Well, there are years upon years in this shining, stunning photographic book of buildings, walls, stones, woods, flowers, lakes and of course trees. It's a book of family built with love, and like each rock, hand-held and sort of loved into place, it's a book that couldn't have come in a night or a day. It's taken Bob Arnold a lifetime to write it as his life was written around him in loving circles of tribute to his wife and son.

The beauty of this book is that it is truly a scrapbook novel, as solidly true as stone and bark. And it's not about one house, it's about many, and all made by the same man,woman, and son. If you want a life you have to make one. This is the story of a family who did just that.