Saturday, April 4, 2020

Small Joys

Bal du moulin de la Galette, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Do you remember where you were when you first heard the word quarantine? For me it was October 22, 1962 when President Kennedy spoke about preventing the Soviet Union from placing nuclear weapons in Cuba. The weaponry came in by ship, and Kennedy decided that a “quarantine” of the island nation was the best course of action. 

The administration called it a quarantine, because the term "blockade" would symbolize war.

Today there is what Fady Joudah calls “the quarantine on small joys.”

And because I thrive on small joys, I’m a bit off balance. Small joys are a major part of my minimalist livelihood.

Here are some small joys sans quarantine, from Lawrence Durrell:

A bureaucrat: “the endearing solemnity of a talking watermelon just down from Cambridge.”

Another official: “his starched cuffs rattled crisply.”

A group of people: “the disconsolate air of a family of moulting turkeys.”

Pigeons suddenly taking flight: “with the sharp wingflap of a thousand closing books.”

From an airplane: “The slow loops and tangents of the brown river lay directly below, with small craft drifting about upon it like seeds.”

Wearing a bulky, heavy uniform: “It was like being dressed in a boxing glove.”

Late afternoon: “the violet light of dusk was already in the air…gnats rose into the eye of the dying sun in silver streams, so store the last memories of the warmth upon their wings.”

Shop talk: “You thought you would somehow sneak by the penalties without being called upon to do more than demonstrate your skill with words. But words…they are only an Aeolian harp, or a cheap xylophone. Even a sea lion can learn to balance a football on its nose or to play the slide trombone in a circus.”

And from the world of music: Alondra de la Parra 

And from the world of art: Deborah Roberts 

Please visit my website at and my page at Write Up The Road.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Symphonies of Johannes Brahms

Links to videos of the four symphonies by Johannes Brahms, here played by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. These beautiful orchestral works are good for the soul.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Mai Veri Spacial Day of Science

I studied with Dr. Science, Dr. George, Mr. Wizard, and Bill Nye.

A collection of 31 new poems by Randy Stark

(Cover by Neil D. Novello)

Mai Veri Spacial Day of Science

I lernd of a thing I never new.
Grubs crawl on their back
Because there legs are not strong
So there hair on there back move.
Today was one of mai favrit days ever.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Expecting rain by midweek

It had been an enchanted final week of February; Mardi Gras, and the following Saturday Leap Year Day. I had a good time writing and reading and listening to music. Now, while I wait in line for my ration of toilet paper I have these comments: 

“…art is not frivolous, an indulgence or luxury, an embellishment of what is most central: it is the most vital and direct form of impact on and through the body, the generation of vibratory waves, rhythms, that traverse the body and make of the body a link with forces it cannot otherwise perceive and act upon. This explains art's cultural or human universality and ubiquity: it is culture's most direct mode of enhancement or intensification of bodies, culture's mode for the elaboration of sensations, and thus culture's most intense debt to the chaotic forces it characterizes as nature. While there is no universal art, no art form, no music or painting, that appeals everywhere in the same way, it is also true that there is no culture without its own arts, without its own forms of bodily enhancement and intensification.”  (from Chaos, Territory, Art by Elizabeth Grosz.)

Recent reading:

Transit, by Anna Seghers.  People trying to get the hell out of France in the 1930’s, ahead of the German occupation, hindered by bureaucracy and logistics. A sad and frightening story about the dehumanizing outcomes for refugees; Kafkaesque, Orwellian, with parallels to today but very much its own tale of the banality of horror. And the timeless struggle of being a refugee. The writing at times is surrealistic, at times gothic, always attention grabbing.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter. Three short novels. Some thematic similarities to Transit, especially the sense of being out of step with the norm, and the concomitant feelings of fear, frustration and helplessness. A fictional account of “The chaotic indeterminacy of the real” is a description from Elizabeth Grosz (above). Terrific writing. Thanks to Susan Harlan Slater for going to Bard Street Books and buying this copy for me.

And I came across the poet, Dorothy Chan

Because of the buzz about the current movie, “The Call of the Wild,” I decided to first read the book by Jack London before I went to the theater. It’s a classic most American students encounter during their school years. Somehow I missed it. Reading it now at my advanced age I do not understand it's honored place on the bookshelf. I found it to be well-written but ridiculous--a dog thinking just like a human--and I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie has the cartoon animals talking. I'll pass. No wonder the line for toilet paper is lengthening.

One of these days real soon I’ll stop quoting Robert Louis Stevenson, but until then, here’s something to combat political correctness and snowflake syndrome: “A human truth, which is always very much a lie, hides as much of life as it displays. It is men who hold another truth, or, as it seems to us, perhaps, a dangerous lie, who can extend our restricted field of knowledge, and rouse our drowsy consciences.”

And classical music I’ve particularly enjoyed recently: Insomnia by Esa-Pekka Salonen; Concerto for Bandoneon by Astor Piazzolla, and Tabula Rasa by Arvo Part. Composers from Finland, Argentina, and Estonia.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Rub Out Erasure

Erasure (or blackout) poetry as a style bores me. Erasure poetry consists of taking a text and selectively erasing words; instead of writing a new text, what’s left of the original becomes the poem. (The image accompanying this post gives an example of erasure. More on the image later.) 

Advocates and practitioners say erasure is not, but it is: censorship, under a guise such as appropriation.

Others justify erasure for being used politically, but the authorities justify erasure, too; they call it redaction. Blacking out parts of the Mueller report and calling it art? I think not, Cisco. 

BigPo praises some poet for “creating striking ‘erasure poems’ out of the apologies of Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others and posting them on her Instagram.” Striking? Actually, valorizing and glamorizing redaction is more like it, while claiming to be a voice for the voiceless or some crap like that (all on “her” Instagram!). 

Search for erasure poems on poets dot org. Consider the image used for this post is a snap of a magazine advert from 1998, erasure promoting a major capitalist corporation.

I'm not a fan of erasure.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

And This Little Piggy

During the Presidents’ Week staycay, this little piggy, it’s fair to say, and sans modesty, went to market: writing on a baily dasis, and patting myself on the back over this blogpost title: Half of One, Six Dozen of the Other, a political commentary of sorts.

This little piggy early voted, and when I received today a letter from candidate Mike Bloomberg I was concerned that the C-note enclosed would have to be returned because I didn't vote for him. But no worries, there wasn't even a fiver, nothing, cheap bastard, so no harm no foul.

So yes, I early voted in my state’s Super Tuesday election. Bernie. Bernie.  I also voted for the incumbent congressperson because he’s a Democrat, and the incumbent state assemblyperson—although he is a Republican—because his first name is Randy.

Things are getting better and continue to evolve at Write Up The Road. Being a part of the collective is assisting me in keeping my head in the writing game.

And this little piggy has two more poetry books to recommend. I didn’t research either poet so I have no notion of their biographies beyond what is in the books. But I see somebody that looks like me in these poems. I can relate, I’ve been there. Yet at the same time the writing is such that I feel like I’m also seeing and experiencing the situation for the first time. To me that’s the entertaining heart of literature. I love to read as though I’m at a production, a show, like a movie, or an opera, it’s an event, produced by the writer’s magic, talent, technique, call it what you will. And even though there were officially no classes this week, this little piggy got taken to school, twice, learning some of how it’s done, and even more being shown that it can be.

Empires, by John Balaban, 2019

Poems about various empires in various historical periods on various continents, and the residue of their dissolution, due often to war and its aftermath. An empire always striking back eventually implodes from exhaustion. That’s what’s being written about for the most part in this book. And written so well. At times Aeneid-like. It references many cultures, even mixes in some English translations of Romanian verse. Damn interesting.

And there are other themes, too. “A Visit from His Muse” about a quickie with a muse in a cheap motel. Another, “Showgirl,” a steely elegy for a person I had to Google.

And I so nodded in agreement at the conclusion of “El Mercado

“…know that few pass through here, that few
Stop in this high desert town by the border,
And that whatever you’ve come looking for
You probably won’t find.”

Unless its good poetry you be wanting.

The 44th of July, Jaswinder Bolina, 2019

This is a wild ride. Everything’s exaggerated. Like the title. Bombastic.

Couple of examples:

From “New Adventures in Sci-fi”

“No caps on our data plans, no gaps in our Medicaid
through the fevers of spring, through our seventeen

Months of summer, our seven throngs of fall
when the leaves change several times an hour

Until it snows those days we really need it to snow
so the sun can thaw the barrio dry, lay itself easy

As a leg draped across your legs on a porch swing.”

And then this one, a virtual job description/job interview for the position of poet titled  “What We Call a Mountain in the Valley, They Call a Hill on the Mountain.” The document starts by interrogating the basic premise of the poet’s (or any artist’s) motivation, why do this?

“Aren’t the rigors of traffic ample? Aren’t child-rearing
And the triumph of income over expenditure ambition

Later in the piece the prospective poet is being grilled about their precious conceit:

“And if we don’t comprehend it, do you believe someday we will?
That the poem will blossom before us some morning

Like a green light at Daytona?”

And I liked the advice from another poem: “In a story about Paris, you shouldn’t mention Paris.”

So yeah, every work of art that I get off my ass to pay attention to, changes me. The better the work, the bigger the change. A painting, a video, a concert, a poem, whatever dazzles me, I’m not the same artist afterward. It ups my game. It challenges me to be as fine in my art and style as that artist is in theirs.

These composers’ musics were on during the week, my own private nation under a groove: Lois Vierk, Unsuk Chin, John Adams, Grant Green, Alexander Scriabin.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Stinky Poo Rendezvous

I’ve mentioned the Write Up The Road project, and the collective I’m a member of. While participating in the collective’s build out and going through my files, I came across a poem by Richard Anthony Spadaro. Although he was from Berkeley, California, I met him in Santa Barbara twenty years ago. He was selling his poems on State Street. The poem I bought, Stinky Poo Rendezvous, is dated September 29, 1998. It’s about getting a group of friends together to wash clothes at a “laundermat.” If you Google Richard Anthony Spadaro, you’ll find a few results, some pictures, and a couple of his poems (but not Stinky Poo Rendezvous).

Sure we honor the academy poets, the tenured, the chaired, the shortlisted, the statured. But what about the true poetry warriors, the Richard Anthony Spadaros of this world?

I remember sending Stinky Poo Rendezvous to my dad, who wasn’t much of a poetry reader, but he really liked it, and my story of meeting the author.

Earlier this week I went to the city library and checked out three poetry books. I enjoyed each immensely.

Dispatch from the Future, by Leigh Stein, 2012
Hip, hyper and self aware, these poems are observations from the center of a pop universe.

Last Train to the Missing Planet, by Kim Dower, 2016
These are more or less Los Angeles-centric, and can be very funny. “Day Whatever of Heat Wave” and “It’s Wednesday, Not Thursday” comically reflect some of what people in Southern California put up with, every day, whatever the day; she captures the exasperation. I laughed out loud often.

On Time, by Joanne Kyger, 2015 This book is the calmest of the three, less romcom obsessed, more Buddhist sensibilities. 

Last Rays in the Garden

They lasted a long time didn’t they
those rays

I’ve also been reading, from the internet, in ones and twos and threes, poems by:

Sara Borjas (She teaches at UC Riverside, which is right up the road from this Write Up The Road office).
Natalie Diaz (I noted “Museum of tribal dentistry” and laughed but wasn’t sure if appropriately so? She’s from Needles).

And then, Robert Louis Stevenson. I posted this on the Write Up The Road blog.
Thanks for reading. 
And if your state has a primary election coming up, please Vote!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The first day of the second month


It’s been more writing than reading or even listening to music the past week or so, and the cause is due to a specific event.

It’s not officially launched, but it is live, the reinvented Write Up The Road website. A more formal launch, and more detailed narrative of the project will follow, but for now you are welcome to watch work in progress.

Beginning late last year I’d experienced a surge of writing but didn’t know where to direct it, and then voila! out of the blue my steam punk gothic content colleague and her interplanetary sombrero wearing site runner IT husband graciously invited me to join their collective, which has caused me to amp up, ramp up, and start churning out the verbiage.
Today, a poem about Elena Delle Donne, who currently plays for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA, appears on my page

It is a pastiche of Frank O’Hara’s poem Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed] updating the subject idol.  


It was last year or the year before that I read The Aeneid by Virgil for the first time. I’m into my second reading now, appreciating things I missed the first time through. Robert Fitzgerald’s is the only translation I’ve read. “frightening the air with javelins” por ejemplo. Or that great scene in part three, Wandering, when Aeneas and crew head into the open sea per the divine prophecy and rounds the south eastern tip of Italy and makes his way towards Sicily. As gods are my witness, I was on that ship in utter amazement.

Notes and Asides

I’ve blogged elsewhere about writing away from home, and how “breakfast places” are some of my favorite satellite offices. Breakfast is as much a ritual as a meal for me, going back—well, going back a long time, and this morning was no exception. A favorite place of mine is J.R.’s Family Restaurant in Hemet. Today, true to the spirit of the establishment, there was a nice family in a booth near where I was sitting. Mom and young daughter on one side of the table, dad and older daughter on the other. The little one is getting Mickey Mouse pancakes. Dad was forceful and direct in his conversation. The older girl, preteen I’d guess, had that slow sweet syrupy voice that hasn’t matured yet, still dreamy and softly mewling. It was fun eavesdropping!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

“with a touch lighter than a lark’s breath” Alison Fell


There's still time to get to Joseph Keppler’s show at the Zeitgeist in Seattle. Here is what the artist writes about it:

“There will never be another show like the first shows, never be another chance to be one who experiences what it is to live in the time with the artists who are showing what that time is like for all who will follow in time.
Do not look for reviews or red dots to justify this 2020 exhibit, which is in part about justifying oneself in North America and globally; critics have not thought reflexively about this art yet and collectors have not loved it yet.
Look upon this art as if looking into daily phenomena, mirrors clouded with oil, language, images, desires, and minds, your own and those around you.
This is a final shout-out to those who have neither seen nor understood the exhibition, Archeology Anthropology Aesthetics Investigated & Delivered Daily. It runs through 5 February 2020, and then it will never be seen again in whole and as first arranged.
Be knowing. Crowds come later but it is different then. Be someone who sees now and not only lives now.”


Cultural anthropology was my major in college, so unless they could be used to meet anthro requirements, literature classes were an indulgence, more partaken as electives in my junior and senior years. I had some great teachers, beginning with freshman English 101 and Comparative Literature 101 classes, then moving on into the upper division classes: African American literature, Chicano literature, Russian literature in English translation, Japanese literature in translation, German literature same, a special class on Borges. I missed Seamus Heaney until now. I’d seen his name, maybe haphazardly skimmed something, but not until the past few weeks had I actual read his work. Here’s a transcription of my audible reaction while reading many of his poems: Wow. Wow. Fuuuuuck. I was in a period of angry doubt, the usual what the hell have I been wasting my life on literature for howling; not only did he astonish me with the writing, he inspired me writer, there is a comforting confidence in his craftsmanship, and that’s really what all this is about: the art. 

I had a minute so I reread Katherine Anne Porter’s story, “A Day’s Work,” from a 1944 collection titled The Leaning Tower. A violent, sleazy, nasty narrative, it stunned me even more the second time around. 

Friedrich Nietzsche could be a smart ass. Here are some cynical lines from Thus Spake Zarathustra that I enjoyed: 

“A little poison now and then: that maketh pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.”

“Where solitude endeth, there beginneth the market-place; and where the market-place beginneth, there beginneth also the noise of the great actors, and the buzzing of the poison-flies.”

“Full of clattering buffoons is the market-place,—and the people glory in their great men! These are for them the masters of the hour…Such ancient babbling still passeth for “wisdom”; because it is old, however, and smelleth mustily, therefore is it the more honoured. Even mould ennobleth.”

Philip Schaefer:

“I watch a kid kick a telephone pole
with his brother’s face glued to his boot.”


Three of the iconographic buildings in the USA that I have seen are: the Woolworth Building in New York City, the Flamingo Tower in Las Vegas, and the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. The Flamingo Tower was razed many years ago, but the other two remain in use.


I’m hearing and half-listening to a recording of “A Mind of Winter” by George Benjamin. How often I’m hearing and half listening to things, birds for example, and still becoming infused with sensation.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2020, the next go-round

Remember when there was an "anti-war movement?" 


I have new work in The Bangalore Review and Good Works Review. Thank you to the editorial team at Bangalore Review and to Robert S. King, editor at Good Works Review.

I dropped my subscription to the local daily newspaper, and then became a subscriber to Love notes from Siel, a weekly email on matters literary and otherwise by the Los Angeles-based writer Siel Ju. I look forward to reading her take on the world.

And a couple of things I’ve read recently:

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen. This has lost its shock value as a woke piece for feminism, but I think it has acquired an unintended legitimacy as a critique of the effect of contemporary consumerism. (Perhaps a project that needs Greta Gerwig’s attention?)

From A Beginner's Guide to Free Fall, by Andy Abramowitz, here is a quick bit of the fresh mouth repartee that I like in the book, a back and forth between a dad (Davis) and his daughter (Rachel) who has just finished kindergarten and will be starting first grade in September:

“You think Old Lady Janacek is going to miss you?” Davis asked. This was how he referred to Rachel’s twenty-five-year-old kindergarten teacher, because the name somehow worked. “School’s over, and you’re officially a first grader. She’s lost you. You’re moving on, never looking back.”

“I’ll see her in the hall,” Rachel said, refusing to see sentimentality where it did not lie. “I’ll give her a hug if she needs one.” She tugged a small continent of cheese off her slice of pizza and dropped it into her upturned mouth. The open-jawed box in front of them on the table was now empty of everything except crumbs, grease stains, and smudges of sauce. Summer was on, school already a distant memory.


Bass players: 
the young and the iconic.