Saturday, November 14, 2009

Twitter Ugliness, A Part Time Poet's Perspective.

Twitter Ugliness,
A Part Time Poet’s Perspective

I have been a writer for nearly 50 years, It scares me sometimes that I have been doing this for so damned long and all I have is a few publications, an honor here and there, a nice “Google,” and not much else. When I was a boy and I penned, or should say “penciled” plaintive rhymes and melodramatic stories in my little blue book I had no idea of what the life of a writer might be like.

What have I learned? Not much. Writing is hard, lonely, work that is. for the most part, not reinforced by the world. It is difficult to keep up one’s spirit, maintain focus and beat out work day after day, but that is the only way to write. One gets little recognition or encouragement, and those wonderful times when one does never last. Once again, a writer is back at the desk, with the pen or pencil, keyboard or computer.

It is even more difficult to be a “successful” writer, however one defines “success.” I define (or limit what I mean) as recognition, publication and readership. I don’t ask a lot, because I don’t have a lot of time to spend on an obsession that takes so much hard work, consumes so many of my limited free hours and makes “success” so difficult, even if my personal bar has been lowered to exclude any “financial” elements.

Many of my small successes have come from persistence, patience, and a period where I was unemployed and had the financial support of my spouse, before I had children, obligations, a mortgage and a full time gig. Since that productive time, I have published here and there, now and then. I was recently a finalist of the _OFF Magazine prize and will be in their upcoming, English/Polish inaugural issue in January of 2010. I have three new poems coming in the next issue of EX CATHEDRA, an online magazine I supported by submitting 3 poems. They were so eager to take all three I worry about what else will be in there. But that’s part of the biz, too. that uncertainty as to whether a publication source will accept, or publish, or fold before it can try.

I could not afford that uncertainty and the paucity of any financial element once I gained the responsibility of a spouse and family to support. Pragmatic things like insurance, a paycheck, a home and a school for them. All of those priorities take up so much time.
Time is indeed money, as my latest poem postulates. Without the money to assuage the hunt for shelter, food and family needs, the time is not there for anything else.

Time is money

The currency of time,
like one paid by the hour,
or one who might bill
his/her time to a client,
seconds/minutes spent.

It is a conceit that
makes sense, like an
hourglass filled with
gold dust measuring
the price of moments.

We can waste
time and kill it,
we can sped it
and save it.

Our wrists strapped
to timepieces, eyes fixed
on the long and short hands.
Each agonized tick squeezes
out into the bubble
of the white faced clock.

How can one consider
what is worth the while?

I still write, part time. I still publish, on occasion. I rarely read or travel or promote my work as I did when my work was in the Paris Review a number of times and Coal & Ice was new, nearly three decades ago. All that said, and reading back on what I have written, I am tempted to edit because I was wordy and too bloggishly confessional for my comfort zone. But no. I let it go. This is my notebook, lying open on a table if you care to read it.

The Twitter Experiment (ongoing)

I have been twittering daily since first weeks of 2007 and over that time have gathered more than 1,000 followers, many of whom I interact with, at the rate of several a week. For me, tweeting is “making public” or publishing my thoughts. My mental darts are not polished, and in a sense they are the opposite of the Roman ideal, allegedly practiced by Virgil of “one good line a day.”

I have been a student of Zen for many years and these are my approximation of the quick sketch of the “Sumi” painter, the calligrapher, almost eastern influenced meditations that I roll around in my head for a few minutes then put into 140 characters in one quick stroke, or more like one quick series of keystrokes.

Twitter has becomes an outlet for me, and in the bridge I am on, that spans from my working life to my retirement in a few years, it has been a light and upbeat positive reinforcement to my writing, much needed in “my craft and sullen art” I have come to look forward to the hour or so I spend online every day and collect ideas for tweets. Often, I get a reaction to an old tweet from a reader and it inspires a thread of tweets. I have used the material from these “nota” to build longer and more substantial poems. I found poets to follow and people whose efforts on the web, the environment, the arts, etc. I have grown interested in.

I really only had one problem. My URL provider ( where I get most of my e-mail, requires an extra account, a “bounce” as a backup when you create your e-mail account. My bounce, however, got upgraded and started rejecting copies of DM’s sent to my e-mail account. This drove Twitter crazy and they started putting up big red flags to “check my e-mail” when I signed in. I kept ignoring these because I was, and still am, getting e-mail copies of all my DM’s, many of which were girls who wanted to lure me to their dating site, or guys with surefire stock purchasing plans, or mom’s who knew how to cheaply whiten my teeth, or people who had secret electronic skills with twitter that would enable me to get rich, become a millionaire, roll in dough.

Last week, I was spoofed. I feel like a naive “nubie” tricked into following an infected follower’s question as to if I had appeared in a photo on the web. Alarms should have gone off when I had to sign in again but it was late and I was sleepy and I signed off innocently and went to sleep. The next day, I started getting DM’s from followers and soon realized what had happened. It took hours but I got every spoof DM out of my sent box and reconfigured my password. Another few days and I started receiving new spoof invites from others, but I ignored them. No problems, I thought.

Finally, upon awakening last Saturday morning and attempting to sign on, I was locked out of twitter. My name and password were no longer the right combination. No way in. So I followed the prompts to the help page and submit my problem. A day later an automated response comes back. It was an unfriendly and ungainly process to finally bet my submission ticket #657031, but hoping that number didn’t start out as 000001 that Saturday morning, I write out a detailed e-mail and I waited.

Two days and no response, so I re-read the e-mail and I notice that it sort of palms off the problem as a “significant bug” and “caching issues,” as if the problem was too technical to explain and now is solved, so I respond again. The e-mail claims that there is an open job and the information on the reply will be attached to that ticket to provide information to track the problem and respond more quickly. I review all the facts and offer a new e-mail address.

I wait. Days pass. I write and the Help prompt writes back that it is not accepting any more help complaints for now. I have a number, a ticket so I feel assured. But now, I am still waiting. It has been a full week and I have answered every question, supplied every detail, provided a new e-mail and written a half dozen impatient responses to their inability to acknowledge receipt of my additional information, my new e-mail address, or any progress at all on the problem.

For all I know, they are drinking beer and smoking cigars on a Cuban beach while their server farm hums happily attended by interns. I guess this is all part of “publishing.” Short of printing up broadsides and selling them on the street, whenever you use a media controlled by someone else, you are totally surrendering to their whim. So. What’s new. Haven’t you always had that sort of relationship with “publishers?”


Saturday, July 25, 2009

This Carboniferous Life

In a sense, carbon has always been the problem. When there were not many of us and there were so many trees, it went unnoticed, not noted, no nota bene, like a fire built in an old fire pit, just another fire. As time went on, rings in the wood counting the years, there were fewer and fewer trees. Once where there were millions, perhaps billions of trees for every human. Currently, the ratio is down to about 60 to one, sixty trees for you and me, to inhale the carbon dioxide we exhale and give off precious oxygen we inhale. How soon will we outnumber them?

My back against a big oak, I can feel the solidity of centuries, slow determined growth that exemplifies survival, the strength of the sun. I also have a slab from an old cherry tree, more than 50 inches across, cut down after a storm had broken it beyond saving. I hope to make a table. This wood is made from light, the same radiant sun that warmed my great grandfather, the water he drank and air he breathed abides in this wood. The sun trapped in the wood, every day of every season, a record of time is added incrementally to every ring of wood. Pipelines of nutrition flow up and down inside the bark; the languid limbs lift up to the sky, bristle with branches and burst with leaves, each leave breathing in the carbon dioxide, breathing out the oxygen; drinking in the water and soaking up the sunlight. This tree like all trees is, in a sense, time itself, a record of growth and weather in flood and drought, in heat and cold.

The chemical composition of wood, of cellulose, is carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and high-energy bonds combined in the solar furnace of the sunlight over many years. Each fat or thin ring records the conditions in that year. As it dries, wood hardens and tightens, the cells becoming less moist and stronger. Each time we build a fire, we release the sum of the sunlight, the history of days, and leave in its place timeless ashes. The process produces carbon oxides, unconsumed ones that we call carbon monoxide and dioxide.

After trees got scarcer, (as they continue to do,) coal, more efficient but even dirtier. became the source of energy. Extracted in every cruder ways, coal has always been a killer from a hundred mines where men still lie buried to the mountain tops stopping up the runs and hollows with "overburden" that leeches pollutants. After coal and the darkened skylines of the industrial age, came the age of oil. Just a different carbon compound with more captive suns to for incomplete combustion to fill the sky with sulfurous and carboniferous compounds. Our multiplying tailpipes and chimneys and smokestacks have turned our planet into a laboratory. We are experimenting, as we have since the first fire, with how much we can alter our atmosphere. It is dangerous and foolish modernity when the world creates its own extinction.

I fear a future when trees are kept in closed off, perhaps bubble-domed "preserves," similar to zoos, where one can actually observe a willow or an oak, "in the wild" and where children point in awe, the way they do now at tigers and elephants. Look at Haiti or Easter Island, where the trees were stripped from the soil and eroding masses of mudslides grow larger each year.

The basic carbon unit is the root of the world itself. We are carbon-based life forms. We play with our future and our grandchildren will live with the consequences. Think of that the next time you sit in the shade.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Twitter Experiment

The Twitter Experiment

In the subjective mood, let me say, would that I could write poetry all the time, alas, and if I could but lie abed, or sit beneath a greeny bough, with quill in hand, I would so like to for hours on end. write that is.

However, “poetry,” being one letter and a transposition away from “poverty,” makes making a living a necessity. I must support my poetry habit, and ironically, the very act of working seems to weaken my focus on writing. I arrive home too tired to concentrate.

I find when I spend my days waking, preparing for work, working, the commute to and fro, and finally, if I have a moment between supper and bedtime, writing, I can’t be consistent. Sometimes I get off a good shot, as in this poem, which I wrote as part of the Poem a Day Challenge from Writer’s Digest.


It was the cows and pigs that did it. Seeing what
Was intended for them, what their futures contained;
Seeing how their herds would be gathered and numbered,
Drove us further out into the sea. From shores, bays, rivers,
Feeding in the shallows, we swam out further, deeper, away.
The vast oceans became our pastures, our grazing ground.

Eventually, a hand became a fin, leg variations formed a fluke,
The canals of the ear lessened and the lungs grew and changed -
Fifteen million years, a day against the age of dirt, the age of water.
Now with one breath held for hours, diving down negative mountains
Deep into black waters, we sing arias to each other, with low notes
Few others can hear, long mournful songs of grass and flowers, sweet
Water and green fields waving in the wind as far as the eye can see.

I am incorporating some of the language and thinking in a new piece I am writing for the theater about Darwin. I try to keep working on poems and stories and even plays, but I always seem pressed for time, and when I have time, unable to go uninterrupted for as long as I need.

I fall asleep at the keyboard. Weekends seem to slip away. Holidays often involve family or travel. but always consume time. And now it is wedding, graduation, vacation season, all of which take time from writing. These, of course, are excuses, a long list of crappy excuses, actually for not writing.

Which brings me to my Twitter experiment. I have, since March of 2008, been twittering, at least a line every day. I have 500 plus updates, most of them small poems, some fragments, some just ideas or observations that I might grow into something more. Sharing these spontaneous utterances is fun and freeing. I don’t pretend to be submitting them for publication, but the poetry process, or at least the one I follow, is there for the 400+ people who are following the experiment to see, comment on, share, etc.

One of the best parts of this is my reintroduction to haiku, one of my favorite short forms that I had gotten away from in my drive to be accepted by American academia. Once, I was much more a citizen of the world, who sought out other poets, other forms, other heroes. Here are a few of my haiku, published on

Climbing the mountain,
I look back to see how much
I have forgotten.

King Dandelion’s charge,
armies overtake the field,
laughing yellow flags.

The toddler stumbles,
walking wobbly on weak legs.
An old man recovers.

Crows flock to spilled grain.
In the wagon's path feeding
on the farmer's luck.

Take away ego.
You do that and you are there!
But, how will "I" know?

The short form is back
“Mot just!” Disciplined. Succinct.
It did not leave me.

The essence of these short forms is a single thought, or ideally a binding together of two different thoughts into a unifying whole: this string of words implying polarity, a syzygy with each pole linked to its opposite, two forgotten thoughts tied in a knot.

That thought like most of the poetry that follows was thrown out like a verbal improv that I then recorded on twitter, through thwirl or another offshoot, sometimes at home, or at work, on a desktop, a laptop, someone else’s device, always attempting to get in my head a complete burst and then release it like a thrown dart. Here are some samples:

This poem is like candy: chocolate-smooth right off the bat with a caramel center chewy-Louie, gooey, topped off with more smooth-chocolate.

A short soft song, or a subtle, sensuous dance, a poem can be made at once, like Sumi, an image of shape in rhythm, inked in thought & gone.

We are peeling this poem's skin, slowly revealing the flesh of the fruit and the seed buried within. Juices are sluicing on our red tongues.

This poem is like a fortune cookie, gluten-free, paperless. It cracks open and says, You must swim in the now, not dream of an island beach.

This poem is a box; here's a lid. The sides are straight & the bottom flat. Inside are the words you dare not reveal to anyone. Quick, lid!

I have other examples of ideas that are leading to longer things. I am still working on how all those pieces come together. Meanwhile, I wanted to keep anyone who cares posted on my progress.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Language of Trees

Tree language is like the notes only dogs can hear. Tree roots touch tendrils ‘neath icy earth; glass twigs chatter; limbs clatter, leaves rustle. Shhh, the trees are whispering histories.

Nothing understands stillness, or silence like a tree. The pine whispers, the twiggy stick rattles, the empty bough moans in the wind: each of these sounds means something. We instinctively know this.

Trees look down on us. Because they live through seasons, trees understand and pity us. The spirit of trees comforts us. We surround ourselves with wood, cradle to coffin. In the heart of the tree and rings of a tree’s growing out into the world, we see a heartbeat echoing in time’s soft trap.

Whether tree of Life or tree of Knowledge, sacred trees of incense, or sacred trees of the Norse and Druid they are soulful. Knock on wood! Acknowledge the spirit in the flow, the life in the grain, the ghost in the door and the soul of the chair and the floor.

Tree roots like gnarled serpents writhing in the earth, bodies joined together in one enormous trunk, branching back into a thousand snaky tails shaking in the winter sky. Spring's thunderous arrival, every stick and twig burgeoning with buds. Leaves everywhere green sudden and complete.

Then the chlorophyll miracles and heat of summer, the change in the sound of green rustling from lush to dry whisper, the colorful chaos of fall, when all leaves leave. Naked, the trees take in one long, enormous golden breath, which they hold, all through snow and ice and frozenness, waiting, awaiting, spring.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Long Count

In the coming months and years leading up to 2012, there will be increased volcanic and seismic activity as well as solar wind and weather-related effects on the earth. If the Meso-American calendar is right and the enormous cycle of the turning galaxy is complete on December 21 of that year. As the date approaches more and more charlatans and con men will interpret the legends and find a way to profit from prophecy. Doomsayers are already calling this "the end of history" or "the end of time." Evidence suggests the same culture that predicted the cycle, also predicted events far beyond 2012, strongly suggesting that one cannot claim the accuracy of a doomsday based on a calendar whose high priests named events beyond that date. The excitement of an immense and world changing possible future appeals to me more than the fear of its end.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time, timelessness and the void

Fewer than five centuries ago, Pope Gregory placed the Gregorian Calendar's mathematical model on our concept of time. Lillius and Calvius and dozens of Vatican mathematicians worked endless hours to figure out how to adjust for what the stars and sun and moon counted out, which they calculated was drifting a bit from the Julian Calendar, the previous model. A model for measuring time that is linear and narrow and focused entirely on one point in time is a totally Western idea. Other cultures besides the Judeo-Christian one, might measure time differently and might impose entirely different frameworks, but these are not taught in our schools.

The very idea that one could look at time in other ways than as a linear string of events goes counter to our own individual experiences. We are born, age and die. We are all "Button Benjamin," and not the other way around. Anyone with children, and then grandchildren, etc., knows this in their very flesh and blood.

Yet some civilizations, some human intellects, could comprehend this concept. In fact, their calendars are more predictive and more accurate than our own. Most interesting to me is the Meso-American system, which incorporates cycles of the moon, in addition to numerous eclipse and comet cycles, and counts back some 3,111 years before the year one on the Gregorian Calendar to the beginning of the cycle it was made to measure.

The initial date, the year one of the Olmec and other Middle American Natives, refers to an ancient beginning, a change that these peoples, (who may have been predated by ancestors who lived through such a transformation,) considered just as real as the birth of Christ. These peoples counted accurately and studied the stars and their cycles and concluded that time was not linear. They believed that just as the sun and moon and stars revolved through repetitious cycles, (the entire galaxy, indeed the universe,) passed through an enormous cycle, known as "The Long Count."

To accept that thought is more than most Westerners can feel comfortable with. Not that time could not go back thousands and forward thousands of years, but that what looks like a straight line could, just beyond our vision, curve subtly and curl back around like a great serpent with its tail in its mouth. To get past the myth and look up at the Milky Way Galaxy and see what was studied for thousands of years, perhaps to understand an event so cosmic that their ancestors could not explain, takes an enormous leap of the imagination.

I am not certain that my mind can make this leap, but part of me can stay open to the idea. Watching the effect of solar wind and cosmic dust that always has and always will touch us unseen. Trying to understand what might motivate a civilization to adopt such beliefs and evolve such elaborate mythologies, completely outside of my own, interests me. My curiosity is piqued. I can picture myself back in the jungles of the Mayans, that canopy of stars whirling overhead. I can almost hear the high priest explaining the Serpents turning and how, when the complete cuircuit is made, the planets will align, The Long Count will "click" like a giant clock, be completed, like a giant bell at midnight striking, and the cycle will turn completely over to begin once again.