Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sharing Spaces

first published Gator Springs Gazette, Life Sentences, August 2004

click the arrow to start the audio >>

check out the writer's spaces here at Sitting Pretty Magazine

A sense of work space--for an architect a sense of space is a tactile feel of narrow enclosure, of walls and the density or lightness of their materials, the sun penetrates through stained glass windows, the sound of a sibilant murmur echoes, the smell of a cavernous hollow and the feel of the stone floor as it is walked upon. Tibetan monks bang their drums. For a poet space is like a rapidly expanded universe without end, the topographic map winds as far as the umbilicus of the disembarked soul will reach. And then there is the place where we sit and write.

"You don't just sit down and write that stuff out, do you?" The answer is, "Well, NO, not exactly."

I sit at my keyboard and I look out past the monitor through the window and the leaves of the trees are green with the early sunlight from the east filtered through over the Atlantic. I can just pick out amid the biosphere and fresh birdsong the white and blue edge of the bow of my neighbor's boat perched in his mown yard. I am at the helm of my imagination in this space. I invent myself as a small Mark Twain secluded in an isolated pagoda in Elmira, NY where I look out over stretches of timothy fields with goats and cows in them and tentatively peck at this newfangled typewriter. My family flutters around me and the energetic dog Mudslide waits outside on the porch, or comes inside begging for me to come out and play in the lawn.

Here I am on a lazy boat in the Caymans in pursuit of tarpon while I smoke a Cuban cigar. From this roost I can see the Post Office of Hell. A friend of mine told me the last time he was here it was a hundred feet under in a sub in the 50s. It is his confined space to remember and mine to relate as I sit in this writing space on Long Island, east of Manhattan in the unHamptons, and write of a sense of place that is noplace.

Or I am Stephen Hawking's spiritual clone, confined to a wheel chair afloat in a hot air balloon where I imagine entire universes and black holes while I peck out with a soda straw on keyboard instructions to my students on where to look for the hidden mystery of one. A space can be so many things to match our desire to fill. I am within his space of body and without of it in story. Like with Baudelaire, I am anywhere and anyone I want to be but here.

It is an elaboration of the advice to those who want to be writers to find a space within which to write, to form a habit of writing. We seek a space within, more likely a space within which we can be most within ourselves comfortable to dream ourselves different, and in a dream to become as that which is and is not this person confined within and without and yet entirely free. We each make it as our own cell, a few stuffed cats on the firm shelves smile at us, paper rockets lay dormant next to duck decoys, or we sniff the subtle burn of sandalwood incense mixed with a scent of sauteed garlic in the back grounded kitchen. My cave, I wander all around in and out of business--battered here and there with the cosmic tide, I get a haircut or fix a flat tire or ease blindly into the ocean's surf or find myself arrested--and then I retreat to my cave where I write, and rewrite, and communicate, with you.

I am surrounded by books, sorted, unsorted, piled up on three sides. There are precarious cliffs of non-reference books anchored to the desk, while more humble piles of them tower over the threatening arcs of flying buttresses escaping from the floor. A fourth side of the space is left partially open, just enough room to avoid the tangle of computer wires. It is to this writing cave that my broken body returns to find the dream where my mind runs wild, wickedly, softly, near close to slumber and catatonia on occasion, excited, angered, confused, drunken with your imagination, but always with a desire to be free. It is this place to write.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sound Poetry: Eight Geese

Listen to this sound poem at Poesy Planet.

Eight Geese

...........o-ak, o-ak, o-ak


o-ak o-ak, o-ak, o-ak

ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch

o-ak, o-ak, ch ch

o-ak, o-ak o-ak, o-ak o-ak

ch ch o-ak, ch

ch ch o-ak ch, ch ch


o-ak, o-ak o-ak o-ak ch ch ch, ch

ka, ka ch ch o-ak ka, ch

o-ak ka, ka ch o-ak

ch ch ka o-ak o-ak o-ak ka ka ch ch ch ch ch ch, ch


ka ka ch, ch ka

ch, ch, ch

ch ch ch ch ch ch, ch ka o-ak o-ak

o-ak ka ka, ch o-ak

feather grouped under sun of white-green lilac

...........fragrant flocked




"I just published eight geese online." -- GO
"I did not know geese could be authors." -- Kathy Follett

Try to figure out what this traditional poetic form is about at Sound Poetry.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Text Analysis

Thanks to Matt Bell who today brought up the subject of the repetitive use of words, and someone else to mention the use of text analyzers... I was curious to check out a flash that I recently published at elimae, Tree Reader. This short text has developed a bit of interest for itself beyond elimae, hopefully more on that later.

The data below, not in a table format (meaning no vertical alignment) is confusing but interesting. For one thing, out of 104 words 93 are shown here as unique (without my going to any further work to verify this). For another, the Gunning-Fog Index for readability seems to be off the chart.

The most frequently used word in the piece is 'fell'.

A much longer (1,800 words) non-fictional essay, composed as an educational tool, came back with a Gunning-Fog Index of 10.


Textalyser Results
The complete results, including complexity factor, and other features

Total word count : 104

Number of different words : 93
Complexity factor (Lexical Density) : 89.4%
Readability (Gunning-Fog Index) : (6-easy 20-hard) 79.2
Total number of characters : 1006
Number of characters without spaces : 567
Average Syllables per Word : 1.4
Sentence count : 1
Average sentence length (words) : 197
Max sentence length (words) : 197

(in furrowed bark of the old basswood tree as i read an older brother say ten with a younger sister on the train she was all over the place in and out of the seat she fell in the aisle and taunted him then bumped her elbows into commuters who smiled or winced or stared defiantly or shut their eyes to retreat to sleep if they saw nuisance or themselves reflected in their memory of childhood as a climber of trees as he said eat and they ate cold fries and paper wrapped hamburgers she yelped and whined they spilled dark brown soda while all he wanted was his own seat to sit he pushed her down and off of his head where she grabbed the leaves away from his own room and as the commuter train slid on the iron line further east the passengers thinned out stop by station stop until eventually the young boy got to sit alone he fell over and slept and the ride fell quiet as it passed the old basswood tree in the lawn of the cemetery as i read in the metallic flicker of sunlight on the afternoon window)

Min sentence length (words) : 0

Readability (Alternative) beta : (100-easy 20-hard, optimal 60-70) -111.5
Frequency and top words :
Word Occurrences Frequency Rank
fell 3 2.9% 1
sit 2 1.9% 2
train 2 1.9% 2
own 2 1.9% 2
stop 2 1.9% 2
seat 2 1.9% 2
tree 2 1.9% 2
old 2 1.9% 2
read 2 1.9% 2
basswood 2 1.9% 2
Word Length :
Word Length (characters) Word count Frequency
3 56 28.4%
2 38 19.3%
4 37 18.8%
5 19 9.6%
6 14 7.1%
7 12 6.1%
8 8 4.1%
9 5 2.5%
10 4 2%
1 4 2%
Syllable count :
Syllable count Word count Frequency
1 133 68.9%
2 45 23.3%
3 13 6.7%
4 2 1%
2 word phrases frequency :
Expression Expression count Frequency Prominence
in the 3 1.5% 31.6
on the 3 1.5% 40.3
of the 3 1.5% 63.3
to sit 2 1% 31.4
his own 2 1% 39.5
i read 2 1% 50.5
as i 2 1% 51
basswood tree 2 1% 53.6
old basswood 2 1% 54.1
the old 2 1% 54.6
3 word phrases frequency :
Expression Expression count Frequency Prominence
as i read 2 1% 50.8
old basswood tree 2 1% 53.8
the old basswood 2 1% 54.4
4 word phrases frequency :
Expression Expression count Frequency Prominence
the old basswood tree 2 1% 54.1
Unfiltered wordcount :
Expression Expression count Frequency Prominence
the 16 8.1% 39.6
and 9 4.6% 48.1
of 7 3.6% 50.8
as 6 3% 44.8
in 6 3% 57.5
he 4 2% 41.5
to 4 2% 50.4
she 4 2% 65.1
or 4 2% 71.1
fell 3 1.5% 37.9
his 3 1.5% 39.6
on 3 1.5% 40.6
they 3 1.5% 57.9
stop 2 1% 24.1
sit 2 1% 31.2
own 2 1% 39.3
read 2 1% 50.3
i 2 1% 50.8
over 2 1% 52
tree 2 1% 53.3
basswood 2 1% 53.8
old 2 1% 54.3
out 2 1% 54.8
her 2 1% 59.4
train 2 1% 59.9
seat 2 1% 63.5
was 2 1% 66.8
their 2 1% 67
all 2 1% 67.3
a 2 1% 76.1

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Steinbeck: Not Found in Sag Harbor

Though I have lived on Long Island nearly 20 years I had never previously visited Sag Harbor until recently. I have heard of various artists who took up residence there – something about the light -- and I have held just a smidgeon of curiosity. I have certainly been out on the South Fork and done work in the Hamptons and at Montauk, but for whatever reason I had not gone to Sag Harbor. My forays to the Hamptons, which are closer to us than we are to NYC, have always been exploratory as in many respects the culture of wealth at play for me is prohibitively alien.

My travels tend to be brought on by either a purpose, as in business, or on the downside by no other reasonable alternative -- as in a wedding or funeral.

For a living I am in the business of fixing old buildings. My specialty, if I have one, and many who know me wonder what I actually do with my time, is historic masonry.

Whenever I have an opportunity to combine my writing and reading interests with my paid work I am always delighted. So I was quite happy, and intrigued to be asked to come out and look at the brick and limestone masonry ‘free’ library in Sag Harbor. The only problem with all of that is that the free library was actually looking for free work, on our part (my son being my business partner), thinking that we would be seduced to do a full survey of their really incredibly unique and absolutely amazing historic masonry, find all of the problems, and give them an itemized price list... in fact, tell them what to do, how to do it, and the materials to use. It is a scam that I have been stuck with in the past, and it was very clear to me once we got into conversation with our contact where we were going with it and what they wanted from us. It was also obvious to me that the person we were talking with had no clue what they were talking about, as far as the actual work goes.

They told us all of the granite steps need to be replaced and I looked at them and at the steps and wondered what in heaven’s name they thought was wrong.

They had no architect on board, no written scope of work (you tell us what we need to have done) and no specifications (we have a guy in town that likes to do that historic stuff and he will tell you the mix for the historic mortar but not any time soon, and we need prices by Monday). I was perplexed and came right out and asked them if they had the money for the project, and for whatever reason they were honest and told us they had no money at all (usually people wait until you have finished the project before they admit to that little detail -- and people wonder why contractors get antsy), but they want to get some.

I won't be shy, we need to get some too!

If we were to give them the information they needed then their intent is to go ask the taxpayers for a bond. I suspect that they had this idea, a lame idea in my mind, that if they could sucker a bunch of contractors into doing free work to come up with a budget that they could line themselves up for all of that “shovel ready” stimulus money we hear about on the news these days.

There is some sort of epidemic of irrational fantasy that folks come up with when they are associated with an old building that nobody but them cares much about. It is like being the used book seller that has to keep explaining that the collection of old National Geographic, the one’s Aunt Rose saved in the attic until she expired, stacked in very neat piles, are worthless.

Sag Harbor has a bunch of really neat old buildings that look like they will never be restored in this millennium.

I kind of felt like we had really wasted an entire morning, and these days wasting an entire morning without pay, and to have to pay for the gas to get there, it sort of hurts.

To do what they really wanted done would have taken me at least four days, three days on site and a day to estimate and write it up. That is a lot of time to put into speculation and I asked, “What chance have we of getting any work here at all?” “As much chance as anybody, we will look at your price and if it is a good one then we will come back to you.” That is the voice of a death knell for any idea that they will want a quality restoration, as the masonry butchers are always cheaper. So the game here is we get all anxious to tell them everything that they need to know and then they take it and shop it around for a lower price. Been there, done that. I would like to say some nice choice badass things right about now, but I remain polite.

So then while waiting for the sap (I think he was a kitchen renovation guy with a sad task to conduct this ruse as a favor to some local grand dame) to close the roof hatch and get down off the ladder I see this bronze bust on a pedestal. I go over to look at it and I see it is John Steinbeck.

There was also some rather nice Guastavino tile vaulting.

I think, oh, gosh, Joseph Heller is buried in Easthampton and one day when I was out there I tracked down his grave... and the plaque under the Steinbeck bust tells about how Steinbeck wandered all around the globe in a state of constant internal torment but finally found a place of peace and rest in Sag Harbor. I think, yes, rest, as in he must be buried here. You see, I had not exactly thought to do extensive research on the culture and history of artists in residence or entombment in Sag Harbor before we got up that morning and prepared to go out there.

Like almost anyone I read Grapes of Wrath under duress in school and a few of his other books at a time in my life when they did not grab me very well. But as an adult I read East of Eden, read it rather slowly and deliciously, and consider it for an American writer a must-read, as much as Huckleberry Finn is a must read. So my thought here is that we will not have wasted all of our time if we can go visit the grave of John Steinbeck and I get my picture took.

I ask the sap, I figure his being local he will know, if John Steinbeck is buried in Sag Harbor.

He has no clue, I mean; he has no clue who I am talking about even when I point at the bronze bust.

He suggests I ask the library staff. So we go down stairs and the person at the library desk, the one there in what looks like maybe it was supposed to be a brown uniform (either that or a weird sense of sailor's fashion), the person that would check out your books, and she has no clue who I am talking about.

I say that they have a bust of him upstairs... then think twice maybe she does not know what a bust is either.

She tells me to ask the woman dressed in white that walks up with the mop, and I ask. She has no clue either, but has some idea who I am talking about and she says if not here then maybe in New York City he used to spend time there as well.

Where in the world is John Steinbeck?

Well, we leave there and a friend calls me on the cell and asks me how things are going at the library and I say, “They suck. It all sucks.” My candor was genuine. I am a bit fed up.

I tell my friend about how the damned librarians, of all people, have no clue if John Steinbeck is buried in Sag Harbor, or not. They get no sympathy from me (Notice how the name plaque is kind falling off?). I tell him about the crap sucker ruse we walked into, he knows what I am saying, and I am slightly peeved at everything including the sky with the nice light right about then. We hang up. I want a coffee. I want to leave Sag Harbor. In a bit my friend calls back and tells us that Steinbeck is buried in Salinas, CA.

My son says to me, “Good thing we did not decide to just wander around and look in cemeteries the rest of the day.”

Monday, April 13, 2009


After kissin’ his soul mate for 4,096th time Guarana divided a binary quandary as she suddenly found herself transformed into an albino cyber amoeba. Spit and sizzle. Yet, every word spoken at floating stuff switched Guarana from AC to DC and Mrs. Blob is unsure if she is attractive today or not all depending on their packaging. But hooking, with her infrared watch, Guarana propositions the floater's wrist and with immediate excursion his ark module mates her musty hippo. Kazam zip fuck!

Bump flesh, flesh bump.

Mere cells exuding projectile meaning as water-eyed Guarana studies nascent gel before now after then telegraphs unto wee hours of mourning for metronome stations across her balmy poolside music, steam air, and palms burnished over hades swim zone. Guarana caught in a buoy can jumping up tears ligaments to cause his mate to shut her lid so darkness gives him cause to want weed tinted portals on their wandering affair. You know, underwater breathing keeps Guarana safe from predators and sex change artists who will not disembark from warm safety of shored rock lines. Sinking, submerged, androgynous amber burning croak bytes. Oceanus' thin cosmic slush line spurting between here and there on targets.


First published Magazine Minima vol. 0.1 for Jonathan Carr, sometime in the late 20th century. The piece was written for the FLASH form, it is worth looking at the original publication to get a sense of this symbiotic integration.

The following narrative was NOT included with the original publication.

I like a story that leads one to believe that there is a story but hints at the same time that there may not be any story at all. Collage is a model to build upon for this purpose in that recognizable elements are blended with strips of color and alluding phrases to mimic connections of meaning that may, or may not, have substance. Synaptic jumps. Indecisive discomfort of question, a condition of life, is not quite hell, so the dividing river as an aquatic biosphere of myth & imagination is the primary metaphor. The thin line is like that space between dark and dawn when the swamp creatures suddenly go native and the birds sing eerily. Condensation of post-modern prose requires techniques of indirection and reflection to elicit a vision of a full world perspective in few words. Mrs. Blob, a cinema twist, familiarity with the hilariously camp horror. Here we have a note that triggers recognition surrounded by notes that submerge meaning. The meaning flows in and out of the sequential progression of the prose. Cut n' paste method with an applied intelligence of complex pattern recognition and selection. Taking the absurd and arbitrary and giving them a fantasy of meaning. Our mask is one of action, things moving around, and attracts through recreation, the creating of the new, in sex, the biologic counterpoised against the mechanical, AC/DC. The alliteration tends one towards feeling sedated, and missing the encoded meaning hid behind the rhythms of repetition, then bang, verisimilitude occurs in the flashing of common and vulgar, vulgate words, Spit. The enunciation of speech is a projection of thought in a river biosystem that is an imagined place conditioned and created by imagination… everything changes shape and meaning on the edge of hell, the veil of our sanity torn. Oceanus is the mom of the river Styx, a river that I imagine flows very slowly and stagnant. A log file not restored in order on the launch time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Sometimes a thing said simply needs to be kept short.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Book Reviews and Personal Culture/Canon

"Writers who are familiar with classic literary works are better able to engage with the ideas deemed most relevant to a culture." Well, yeah sort of, but I think this concept is a big load of propoganda that diverts us from an understanding of, "Who's culture?" Most often in these canonical reading lists I find quite certainly the culture that is identified and pushed is not mine. The ideas deemed relevant may not be relevant to me, though I am sure it is relevant to a drunken Robinson if I slip my lift-boy tips into Robinson's pocket.

Show me please, I ask of these lists, What is my culture?

For me a good book review is a writer’s review of a writer’s work, and as such it is not meant as an uber-analysis, best-of, recommended that the world buy this and read this for the purpose of a publisher's marketing department to enhance sales of product, but an explication of why I, as a writer, would appreciate or learn something from this or that writer’s book, and why I may propose that other writers, or curious (dare I say discerning) readers, may want to read a particular book.

Yesterday my wife and I discussed around the futility of critical words to ever recreate the essence of a work of art, to which eventually I agreed once I had a clue what it was that we were discussing. The variations of human experience are multiple and if not unique to each individual at least they make a good show to appear unexpected. Critique is an artifice conditioned by our talent, and in some cases training, to observe ourselves in the process of observing and to be able to articulate that experience.

In a world that works so desperately to depersonalize our understanding and to capture our attention, my only interest finally is in the local and the personal, wherever and however it may occur, and as much as possible to do so in the purely subjective. This is what I think, and what I feel. If I did not intend to communicate then I would not bother to try, but in the end Dear Reader you are free to go where you so desire and think whatever suits your fancy.

I like to listen (though my wife may tell you that I prefer to bounce around the room and shout). Talk at me.

Add to that, too often my impression is that writers, young and old, neglect a habit to read a whole lot of really good trashy sub-par not-perfect material in preference to what they have been pointed to as the canon of great examples. This tendency, IMHO leads to a sterile literature.

A good gardener knows without thinking how to turn manure into beautiful flowers. And lest one not understand, a sustainable human population requires that we do something imaginative about the accumulation of night soil. In the light of morning one person’s steamy pile is as good as another’s.

Well, great examples have criteria of selection and what I intend to say here is that the canon that appeals to me is the one that I select for no good reason... and I encourage all writers, and readers, to carve out their own canon, to ignore the bright lights, bright signs, best sellers, pillars of literature and to look into themselves, see and sense what they feel and experience in reading a book, and settle as to what they themselves desire to read, and why, and to stick to it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How a Poem Happens

Philip Levine interview by Brian Brodeur.

Levine is one of my favorite poets.
Excellent poem, excellent interview.