Writing Prompt: Poetry Floorplan

I got a request from a reader to re-blog this article. Enjoy.


A Floor Plan for Your Poem: How to Use Stanzas, Titles, Endings

Moving from Room to Room
A first draft of a poem may just be a blurt on the page–but as you revise, you want the poem to make more of a distinct impression. One of the best ways to do this is to use stanzas–and to use the stanzaic arrangement that is tight for your poem.
The word “stanza” in Italian means “room.” This is a fascinating spatial or even architectural way to look at a poem. It means that each stanza is intact, and has its own flavor in terms of both meaning and music. Poems can be written in various traditional stanzaic forms. The choice of stanzaic form is important to each poem–it gives structure, and even mood.
Here are the possible stanzaic arrangements:
0. No stanza. The poem is just arranged as a whole on the page. This is fairly common. It simply uses other techniques to create its flow.
1. One line stanzas. This is difficult, as each line needs to be strong and individual. Chinese-American poet Arthur Sze does this to good effect, perhaps because he is influenced by Chinese poetry which is written in intact vertical lines. Sze writes:
nine purple irises bloom in a triangular glass vase–
a pearl forms an oyster–
she folds a prayer and ties it to a green cryptomeria branch–
(from “Dudyma” in Quipu, Copper Canyon Press)
His use of one line stanzas allows images and thoughts to stand alone, and yet feel connected to a larger whole.
2. 2-line stanzas. Couplets are basic, and solid. They can rhyme or not. Think of them as half of 4–not just obviously, but as doing half the work of a quatrain.
3. 3-line. These are triplets, or tercets. Like tripods, they are stable but also less obviously solid than 2 or 4. Use them for a more tripping or musical effect of flowing from line to line.
4. 4-line stanza. This might be considered the basic unit in English and in other languages as well. Ballads, which are a pan-European form, work as 4-liners. Like a table with four legs, quatrains are solid. They are a good choice for a longer poem or one that tells a story. A classic quatrain opens a traditional ballad. :
Come all you fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court your men
They’re like the stars on a summer’s morning
First they’ll appear, and then they’re gone.

5. 5-line stanza. You can look at this as a combo of a 2 and a 3. It allows for a lot to happen. Japanese poetry is based on the 5-line stanza–the tanka form. The 3-line haiku is broken out of it. The 5-line stanza feels complete, it can make its own poem. Here is an example of a 5-liner by Elizabeth Searle Lamb:
there is a music
in the fall of white petals
from the peony
onto the camphorwood chest
a bride’s gift sixty years ago

6. 6-line: The sestina is built on 6-line stanzas. You can also consider it as 2 threes or 3 twos. Longer stanzas tend to be built on modular units of shorter ones. For example, 8-line stanzas might best be understood as 2 fours.
An Architectural Plan
To summarize, in English, the most important stanzaic arrangements are 2, 3, and 4. Longer ones tend to be built on shorter ones. To give a poem you are working on an immediate sense of structure, pick one of these and see how you can arrange the poem on the page. Some poems of course are in free verse. Free verse stanzas are just that–stanzas broken for sense or musical quality wherever you like. However, it can be useful to play around with various arrangements–try ending on a couplet, for example, or pairing up quatrains and triplets as if they were geometric shapes or colors of a quilt.
Look at this short poem by Philip Whalen:
Sitting home
Drinking wine
Writing pome
“What do you want
done with that?”

Here a series of funny aphoristic one-line stanzas end on a more solid couplet.
Enjambment is a very useful technique that is often ignored by beginning poets. It simply means that the sense or sentence run over the line and into the next. That is, not every line is a complete thought or grammatical phrase, and you can put a period in the middle of a line. In an example from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, enjambment in the last two lines lets the poet create a sense of emotional urgency:
The fire coals of a violet twilight
leave smoke behind the black cypresses.
In the shaded summerhouse a fountain
with its stone Eros winged and nude.
He sleeps, silent. In the marble basin
the dead water doesn’t move.

(from Border of a Dream: Selected Poems, translated by Willis Barnstone. Copper Canyon)
Open Field
In arranging your poem physically on the page, there are various options. The old fashioned method is to use left hand margins, and keep the poem flush. Each line can be capitalized, or in a form more favored by contemporary poets, the start of each sentence is capitalized. Some poets like a free form approach, with lines scattered any which way on the page. If you do like this, make sure there is some meaning to the arrangement so that it doesn’t look completely random. For example, indent for emphasis, or to introduce a list or change of mood.
The End and the Beginning
The end of a poem is like the end of a piece of music–after it is silence. The last line is always an important one, but don’t necessarily wrap up the poem’s meaning in a too obvious way. It can be an echo of the meaning of a whole. And happy or sad, the last line is always a little bittersweet because the poem is over.
Titles may come first, but are often written last. Avoid cliched one-word titles that are too abstract, like “Life” or “Soul.” A title can function as a first line to the poem, or can be a contrast to it. Titles can be aphoristic or proverbial, or they can create an impression, like the title of a painting.
A. Write a poem in a particular stanza form. Decide first what you want to do, and then try it to see if it works. You can take an old poem and revise it this way. What pattern might be best?
B. Use enjambment, or run the lines over, to keep the lines an even length. You can even run syntax and sense over from one stanza to another.
C. Settle on what left-hand margins you will use, and standardize where to capitalize.
D. End on a note that works with the mood of the poem.
E. Pick a title that adds to the poem rather than constricting it.
You have now “built” your poem, not just room by room but with a front porch and basement as well! It is ready to hospitably invite in your reader.

This article first appeared in WRITER’S DIGEST. Copyright Miriam Sagan.

Poem by Miriam Sagan

I saw this on waking…

a clearing in the dream thicket
deciduous woods, like childhood
wherever that was, and snow ankle deep

goose girl, you’ve run again
from those who would rape and starve you
with a pocket full of berries

or Red Riding Hood, you put on your hat
the silly mittens
with every finger knit a different color

and finally the hoodie
the color of what is supposed to stay inside but
doesn’t always comply—blood, rage, a desire

to put yourself first
to not bring the basket of delicacies
to the demented grandmother

who asks repeatedly
is that for me?
and—where are my car keys?

better to sit and drink the wine yourself
as if there were no wolf
because maybe there isn’t

and to walk
in the opposite direction
of what you were told to.

Off The Wagon And Into The Slush Pile by Miriam Sagan

Yes, I’m off the wagon. I’m reading slush again. Not so long ago in these very blog pages I announced that my editorship in one venue was over. Now I’m back in another (which I will not yet reveal, for fear of MORE slush).
And I’m ever so happy. At peace. It’s really odd, but I find reading slush ultra-relaxing. Right now, on these cold winter days, my favorite things to do are roast eggplant (it might also be brisket, but my significant other is vegetarian), knit, and watch Bollywood movies. All of these activities are leisurely, predictable, yet not without worth. (OK, Bollywood the least, but I tell myself I’m learning about culture and I do dance to all the songs.)
What is slush? Unsolicited submissions to a literary magazine, as a rule. Why is it called slush? I have no idea, except that it isn’t a compliment.
I enjoy it because the pattern is so clear (like roasting, knitting, and Bollywood). A bad poem consists of:

1. A dull underutilized title, often one word, like “Love.”
2. An opening that over sets context: I was in the kitchen, it was snowing, on Tuesday I went shopping.
3. A simplistic metaphor carried all the way to the end. (Hopefully not roasting eggplant is like reading slush).
4. An unambiguous emotion—I’m depressed, suicidal, happy I won the lottery.
5. An ending that reiterates context and wraps up already wrapped emotion.
6. No form, structure, or technique except for some predictable rhyme.
7. A self-satisfied, melodramatic, or cutesy tone.

I’ve left off many things, including word choice, but basically I’m scanning for the above. My reading slush is essentially a negative process of omission. If a submission DOES NOT have the above faults, it goes into the maybe pile.

Oh, and the cover letter. I don’t really care if you are in Yonkers, or prison. Write for therapy or have published in dozens of magazines. I don’t care if you praise the publication I’m reading for, and surprising even to me—I don’t care if I know you. I’m rejecting work by famous poets and accepting work by friends of mine (who to their credit didn’t know I was reading) with complete equanimity because I’m reading all submissions equally.

Once things are in the “maybe” pile, then my taste kicks in. I was hired to have that taste, so now I’m less objective. I love short work. I like the quirky. It’s possible I can be seduced by my favorite subject matter. Here again, I’m at peace. I’ve run an objective grid on the poem.Then I’m checking it against what I like.

I’m accepting and rejecting. Stirring the eggplant, finding a dropped stitch, doing fake Indian dance hand gestures.

Call it winter’s day—with slush.

Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: Remembering Welsh Poet Nigel Jenkins

Remembering a poet: Nigel Jenkins (1949-2014)

This upcoming Thursday, January 28th, is the 2nd anniversary of the death of Welsh poet Nigel Jenkins. Nigel was the co-founder and director, along with Stevie Davies, of the Creative Writing program at Swansea University in Wales, when I went there in 2009 to start my PhD.
I met Nigel at a new student gathering at the University a few days after arriving in the U.K. I was still very jet lagged, muzzy, and beginning to wonder what in the heck I had gotten myself and my husband into … moving us thousands of miles to attend a graduate program in another country where we knew no one and had no real means of financial support. Nigel was gracious and jovial at the meeting. Since the department had been too stingy to have any supplies brought in for the party, Nigel had brought wine and treats himself. He mentioned a walking tour he’d be giving the following week through Swansea for all interested.
A week later on a wet afternoon (the rain had cleared just in time), Nigel led about a dozen of us from the University, through Singleton Park to the Uplands, by Dylan Thomas’ childhood home and through Cwmdonkin Park (mentioned in a couple of Thomas’ poems), to Townhill – with its post war “Council Estates” (which I came to learn could be roughly translated into American English as “The Projects”. Townhill gave us a stunning view out over Swansea Bay, across the Bristol Channel to Devon. We traipsed back down into the town centre, across the busy Kingsway, past the Market, over the Tawe River to the docks. Nigel was a stellar guide. Each place, each path, each building had a story for him. Whether it was the 9,000 year old tree stumps visible at low tide in the Bay – a reminder of the fertile river valley which existed there before the sea swept in at the end of the last ice age, or the clock tower which served as a landmark for German pilots on bombing runs during WWII, or the hotel where Allen Ginsberg once stayed while doing a reading at the University. We ended up at a narrow pub on Wind Street (just past “Salubrious Passage”) drank beer and ate snacks, talking poetry and geography.
Over the years I was at Swansea, I can’t remember one poetry reading or student event which Nigel did not attend. He was a regular at the monthly open poetry readings at the Dylan Thomas Centre (“Poets in the Bookshop”). He sat through the poetry of rock-stars-poets, students, and Swansea retirees alike and every so often, if we were really lucky, he would get up a read something himself – his deep, melodic Welsh accent turning every line into music.
In addition to 15 books of poetry and 9 of prose, Nigel authored radio plays, stage plays, and articles. His prose largely centered on what he called, Psychogeography (with its Situationist, Dadaist, and Surrealist roots). He wrote two books on Swansea, “Real Swansea” (1 and 2) – far surpassing the pedestrian notion of either guidebook or urban history. The books wander, much like his walking tour, through a landscape peppered with history and memory, playful, often irreverent, and always deeply heartfelt. The books are filled with both his poetry and his dry wit. He also wrote two books on the Gower Peninsula which abuts Swansea. Gower is a wildish peninsula of beaches, cliffs, little villages, old stone churches, gorse, farms, sheep, and wild ponies, which was Nigel’s childhood home. These books, with gorgeous photos by David Pearl, are filled with his haiku and poems.
The images here are my own from ramblings on the Gower and I am including a few of the haiku which Nigel included in his book, “Gower.” And here is a link to Nigel reading what I think is one of his greatest poems, “Snowdrops.” A chance to hear Nigel read his own words is well worth clicking the link: http://www.nigeljenkins.com/aa_film/film008.htm

plough and tractor
mobbed by gulls; the sheen
of bladed earth

in anchored flight
from the barbed fence –
spider-lines, horsehair

‘beware,’ says the sign
at the churchyard gate,
‘of unsafe gravestones’

Whit Monday high tide –
the jellyfish that happens
to be a balloon

the seal’s head and mine
bobbing face to face
on the tide

gull hooked, trailing
from its beak a yard of line –
o for a gun

the rains
in breeze-rushed leaves,

Julia Deisler Reflects on Her Father: My dad, science, and the multiverse

My dad, science, and the multiverse

​My father, Paul Deisler, might have described himself as a chemical engineer and an amateur cosmologist, but he never described himself as a writer though he spent much of his life writing and thinking about things he would or could write about. From short stories and essays in his teens, to reports, articles, a Ph.D. thesis, books, and even an attempt at science fiction at one point (he decided he wasn’t meant to be a sci fi writer) and explorations of physics, religion, and the cosmos in the last decade or two of his life, he always had a project or two going and another one or two (or more) waiting.

It would have been my father’s 90th birthday today, January 20, 2016, and I found myself thinking, what better way to wish him happy birthday than to get a few of his pieces out into the world for others to appreciate?  One piece in particular is a poem he was working to publish on the beautiful and magnificent multiverse, but I also thought a couple of pieces might help give a broader context.

One is a set of notes that he made for a sermon (“The Last Lap”) he gave last January that acts as a brief memoir or as a kind of autobiography of his spiritual and intellectual evolution—giving the salient points in his evolution from Anglican Christian “fundamentalist” (my dad’s word for it) to believer in science and awed observer of the multiverse. Another is the actual sermon itself. With the sermon notes, I’ve included a link to an MP3 of it, given on January 11, 2015, at the Corpus Christi Unitarian Church.

Next is the poem, “A Paean to Ultimate Reality, Eternal Creator of Life,” which could be thought of as a super-concentrated form of a longer book he was hoping to write about the Multiverse (in which our finite Universe is just a piece). The book would have had a lot more of the scientific thought behind the idea of a multiverse (and, in fact, the original version of the poem had much more scientific detail.)

I’ll add that, while my father had written in many genres, poetry was not something he had attempted seriously before. Yet he felt a poem would be the right form for conveying this big, magnificent, awesome thing, the multiverse, in a way that conveyed both its beauty and his reverence for the “Orderly, law-driven creation” that is continually “renewed and refreshed / by the superimposed chaos/of repeated destructions.”

The file name for his poem is “Magnificent Multiverse,” and so what I call it when I think about it.


The Last Lap


A sermon by Paul Deisler, delivered to the congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist (UU) Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, on January 11, 2015

(Extended sermon notes, prepared on January 16, 2015)

•  Introduction.  Last week’s bulletin gave the title of my sermon as “the last laugh” and not “the last lap”.  I probably should have given that sermon.  It might have been funnier than this one, but I have already prepared this one so here we go with the last lap.

•  Background.  Mine has been a very happy life, a relay race of many laps, some pain and strong sorrow but much very good luck, starting with exceptional parents.

– At each lap, torches have been passed to and fro bearing helpful advice and criticism.  This month I enter my 90th year – I am now, in-deed, beginning my last lap.  It is now, if ever, that at least one more torch needs to be passed, from me to you.

•   Becoming a Christian.   My parents sent me to an excellent British boys ‘school in Santiago, Chile — not a religious school, but steeped in Anglicanism 5½ days per week plus Sunday school.  God was in the air we breathed and religion was taught as seriously as (and even more authoritatively than) math, French, or British history by none other than the Anglican archbishop of Santiago, gaiters and all.  He carried a steel-tipped, bamboo wand, which he applied vigorously to the palms of our hands when we stumbled when reciting an assigned verse.  The Christian religion was literally beaten into us.

–  Our god sought out our sins (and what boy has no sins?), oversaw our every move, word, and thought — dishing out much fearsome justice and very rare mercy, all day, all night, all the time.

•  By age 11 I had become a firmly believing, fundamentalist Christian.   It was an awkward condition in which to enter my teen years with their many biochemical ferments and changes — yet I remained a happy boy, happy with my many friends, my pets, my school, my hobbies and with my life in general.  My parents knew nothing of the intensity of my religious life.  I had learned, at my British school, to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity and to confide my trepidations to no one.

•  Questions arise.   But, discrepancies in holy writ and recognizable sophistry in the explanations I was given for them began to bother me.

•  My growing love of science.  I soon realized that science is one, religion is many.  No matter the language, culture, gender or other background of scientists, their tested and proven discoveries were universally true, as one might expect of the laws governing a universe created by the necessarily perfectly consistent, perfectly rational creator of the laws of science.

–  Scientists, themselves, are tough, rigorous skeptics of each other and of them-selves, demanding proof as objective as possible, where-as religionists consider strong faith to be enough, especially faith in authority deemed to be sufficiently ancient, holy or sacred.  Such teachings, to scientists, amount to drawing conclusions on the basis of hearsay.  When religious belief contradicts science, religion runs aground.   Only new, valid scientific discovery can contradict current science; then science must change or lose its credibility.

•  Science is not the enemy of religion.  For me, science is never the enemy of religion; I think of it, and reason, as among religion’s guides, as revelations about the creation and, therefore, about the creator, itself, directly.   If we are religious, we therefore should listen attentively to what science can tell us and we should heed its lessons.

–  My deep interest in religion thus guided me ever deeper into the arms of science, to applied science in my career and to fundamental science otherwise.

– On the fundamental side, I developed special interest in the sciences of origins – cosmology, physics, bio-chemistry and biology.  From these interests there arose studies on the basis of which I have formed a mental picture of what I call a new genesis, which has become the basis of my religion.

•  The new genesis.  The new genesis is not a totally new idea but an old one greatly updated.  What might Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been like if the ancient Hebrew wise men had been in contact with, and impressed by, the Greek philosophers?

–  Some 4,600 years ago, Anaximander of Miletus. A pre-Socratic, Greek philosopher, proposed that there is a fundamental space, which he called apeiron, which is a space that is spatially infinite, temporally eternal and in which worlds are continuously born and destroyed.

–  Today apeiron, with the addition of contemporary cosmology with its quantum theoretical underpinnings, with dark energy accelerating apeiron’s space’s homogeneous expansion, with dark matter helping to guide apeiron’s further development, and with the word “universes” substituted for the word “worlds” is the multiverse of contemporary cosmology.

–  Our very existence shows that the probability of occurrence of “big bangs” in apeiron’s space is greater than zero, in keeping with the probabilistic nature of quantum theory.  Our universe’s finite age makes it clear that, with infinite time available, there are an infinite number of universes in space and time, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle re-quires that universes be nonuniform in their properties.  Our universe’s example shows that at least some fraction of the universes will produce life, even, possibly far advanced life — perhaps, in some cases, life with god-like abilities.  We do not have the ability, today, to place any limits on the combination of biological, technological and cultural evolution possible in an infinite multiverse.

–  We may now at least allow ourselves to speculate that when we finally understand the phenomenon of quantum entanglement we may understand how infinitely fast communications can take place within or even between universes, enabling truly god-like species to operate within, and even influence, events in apeiron.

–  Such entirely speculative, god-like species must not be confused with any supernatural creator of apeiron and its laws.  Such species have merely evolved within apeiron, again and again.

–  This, then, is a brief description of the new genesis, one far more scientifically based (and satisfying to me) than the creation myths of other religions.

•  Consequences of the new genesis.  Paraphrasing René Dubos, having thought multiuniversally, I now must act locally.  What, therefore, can I believe and how should I live in the here and now?

–  I know for a fact that existing, religious, super-natural concepts of god are myths, that I, like all other life, live in the here and now and there is no “afterlife”, no heaven or hell impossibly “outside of” the infinite, eternal multiverse.  The laws of the multiverse are immutable, no miracles are allowed or needed and the multiverse is a continuing source of universes and life, needing no supernatural creator (though this does not mean there is not one, a question and a mystery yet to be resolved; our science is not yet up to that task).

•  With these thoughts in mind I visited, in March of 2013, the UU Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, read the church’s own covenant and turned to my older daughter, who had brought me to the church, to say, “I have found my church home”.  In-deed I have.

-The UU church covenant, the seven UU principles, with, further, the inclusion of the concept of my forgiveness of trespasses against me and, in addition, the content of the humanist manifestos (available online) are a good, general description of my non-creedal, religious, moral life principles.  These principles need no basis in belief in the supposed desires of a supernatural god to support them, though they do not prohibit anyone who wishes to do so from believing that such a god exists to give some kind of purpose to creation.
•  Now, as my last lap in life begins, I have become a liberated, happy, content and spiritually nourished man, grateful for my life as it is and totally unworried about, or fearless of, my future.

•  Love is the key concept on which to build the world we long for and need, complete with its own bits of heaven and devoid of hell.  We have the needed ability.  Let us all work to that end.

There’s a link  to the MP3 of of my dad giving the sermon on January 11, 2015, here: http://uucorpus.org/2015/01/11/jan-11-2015-the-last-lap-dr-paul-deisler/.



Paul F. Deisler, Jr.,

Ultimate Reality,
Always existent
Infinitely vast,
eternal reservoir
of hyperactive vacuum energy that it is,
is without beginning or end.
Within it is all there is,
and nothing can ever exist
that is not within it.

Multiverses and universes abound
without end,
universes within multiverses
and all within the infinite shelter of their
one and only mother,
Ultimate Reality.
They are all fathered
by the many-times-proven
powers of quantum mechanics,
their substance
the vacuum energy contained in all of space.

Each universe is born in its turn, by stages, within its multiverse,
in explosive light,
fierce radiation
and fast-evolving storms of tiny particles.
Some universes are, while living,
fit as birth-mothers
of clouds of gas and dust,
myriad stars,
manifold planets
and the molecules of life
that yield, after long eons of time
and repeated and fearsome,
destructive and constructive
rare and miraculous,
delicate and tough,
infinitely-numbered points
of Life,
and Love.

Thus was our very own
terrifying and beautiful,
life-giving and nurturing Universe
and all in it created
by the drivers of invention
and adventitious design:
extreme violence and
the many diverse and tireless processes
of Evolution,
generation by generation,
from simplicity to complexity,
fighting entropy locally
with hugely long time as its great ally.

Orderly, law-driven creation,
renewed and refreshed
by the superimposed chaos
of repeated destructions,
is the inspirer
of ongoing, eternal,
raggedly cyclical
changes of direction
without end and, perhaps,
without a Grand Purpose.

Is the perpetuation of eternal
and Love
within infinite universes
within infinite multiverses, scattered throughout Eternal Ultimate Reality
not enough for a Grand Purpose?
Must we seek more?
Some do seek, but are we not enough,
by ourselves,
of infinite and eternal processes,
living briefly as enchanted students
of unending holy mysteries
for as long as we draw breath?

Such is my vision of our living Eternity.






Here’s a link to a little more on the idea of the multiverse from Space.com (for those who might be interested): http://www.space.com/31465-is-our-universe-just-one-of-many-in-a-multiverse.html. In an introduction to the longer, earlier version of the poem, my dad wrote about it:


The Universe, our universe capitalized to name it and to distinguish it from other universes or constructs, is 13.8±0.1 billion years old and the Multiverse that gave it birth is eternal.  Within it our star, the Sun, is 4.5 billion years old and our Earth a bit younger. This is the time frame of the drama herein depicted.

The Universe may or may not be infinite in spatial extent.  The homogenous expansion of the Universe and the acceleration of that expansion that resumed some 5 billion years ago, prevents our observing, using waves that move past their own co-moving coordinates with the velocity of light (the maximum velocity in our Universe), prevents our seeing to infinity even if it were otherwise possible.  Gut opinion tends to favor finite universes.

The Multiverse is One and it must, by definition, be infinite in all spatial dimensions, as well as eternal in time, since it confines all that there is, was and can ever be.

The known and well-confirmed finiteness of the age of our Universe argues that there are more universes in space and time or both, constituting a Multiverse.  Something had to appear “before” or “along with” our Universe within the provably active Multiverse.

Here is the the story of the birth and growth of the Universe, of all of us and of the existence of intelligence within the Multiverse, in brief. . . .

The writing of this piece was inspired by the following books, in particular, though others contributed inspiration:


•  The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene

•  In Search of the Multiverse, John Gribben

•  Alone in the Universe, John Gribben


My dad, June 2014, giving a talk about universe and galaxy formation. If you look closely, you might be able to see the baby galaxy forming between his hands.


Graduating from high school (El Paso High) at around age 16.

Paul F Deisler, Jr, graduation from El Paso High, El Paso, Texas

Paul F Deisler, Jr, graduation from El Paso High, El Paso, Texas

Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: A Poem By the Great Kenneth Rexroth in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

The sky is bluer for the brave …

Years ago I said this to a creative writing class I was teaching. I was pretty new to teaching, excited and enthusiastic, and wanted more than anything, more even than to mold them into great writers, to impart in these students a passion for life, art, and language, for ferreting out and speaking the truth, for joining a great and ongoing community of writers and thinkers. I had the class read the whole poem by Rexroth, “For Eli Jacobson,” aloud, and then repeated my favorite lines several times for emphasis: It is good to be brave – nothing is better. Food tastes better. Wine is more brilliant. Girls are more beautiful. The sky is bluer for the brave.…

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day upon us, I thought of these lines. It isn’t always easy to be brave … Brave in our writing or brave in our own lives, brave in the face of injustice and callousness. Perhaps it is easier, as in Rexroth’s poem, when we are brave together, as comrades.


By Kenneth Rexroth

December 1952

There are few of us now, soon
There will be none. We were comrades
Together, we believed we
Would see with our own eyes the new
World where man was no longer
Wolf to man, but men and women
Were all brothers and lovers
Together. We will not see it.
We will not see it, none of us.
It is farther off than we thought.
In our young days we believed
That as we grew old and fell
Out of rank, new recruits, young
And with the wisdom of youth,
Would take our places and they
Surely would grow old in the
Golden Age. They have not come.
They will not come. There are not
Many of us left. Once we
Marched in closed ranks, today each
Of us fights off the enemy,
A lonely isolated guerrilla.
All this has happened before,
Many times. It does not matter.
We were comrades together.
Life was good for us. It is
Good to be brave — nothing is
Better. Food tastes better. Wine
Is more brilliant. Girls are more
Beautiful. The sky is bluer
For the brave — for the brave and
Happy comrades and for the
Lonely brave retreating warriors.
You had a good life. Even all
Its sorrows and defeats and
Disillusionments were good,
Met with courage and a gay heart.
You are gone and we are that
Much more alone. We are one fewer,
Soon we shall be none. We know now
We have failed for a long time.
And we do not care. We few will
Remember as long as we can,
Our children may remember,
Some day the world will remember.
Then they will say, “They lived in
The days of the good comrades.
It must have been wonderful
To have been alive then, though it
Is very beautiful now.”
We will be remembered, all
Of us, always, by all men,
In the good days now so far away.
If the good days never come,
We will not know. We will not care.
Our lives were the best. We were the
Happiest men alive in our day.

Animal Rights Haiku

I was just asked if my haiku, below, could be anthologized in an animal rights anthology. Of course I was touched, not having thought of it that way.

the nun scatters
her cut hair
for the nesting birds

The haiku was inspired by my friend Miriam Bobkoff who was a Buddhist monk (her lineage not distinguishing nuns). She cut her hair in preparation for the head shaving of her ordination ceremony.
She was a true bird lover. She hung seed feeders and hummingbird ones. She loved Bosque del Apache in southern New Mexico where migrating cranes winter. I once saw her run beneath a flock of flying cranes, calling “take me with you.”
Rich and I were at the Bosque over New Year’s, and I was reminiscing how Mir B. called the snow geese and sandhill cranes “people,” which we still do.
I’ve been thinking of her her for no apparent reason of late. She’s been dead for over a year, and while certain things (grilled tofu, oysters, the San Luis Valley) often call her to mind, she has just been in my thoughts more than usual.

She left me her embroidered portrait of an oyster catcher. She’d never bought a piece of textile art before, but she loved oyster catchers. In fact, she saw the piece, by Kristen Chursinoff, years ago here on this very blog.


I wasn’t happy to get it, because my possession meant she was dead. It’s really quite special, though. (https://dailypost.wordpress.com/events/self-confidence-sunday/)