New Poems in Verse-Virtual

My poems “Ghostweight” and “Love’s Not Time’s Fool” are in the latest Verse-Virtual, along with the previously-published “The World Unseen”:

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Two Poems in Verse-Virtual

My poems “Dead Letters” and “There Were Giants in the Earth in Those Days” are in the latest Verse-Virtual:



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My lyric essay “Post-War” is up on Eunoia Review:


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Feel-Good Hit of the Year


I’ve been reading a book in which various people write about “the books that changed my life.” Porochista Khakpour, of whom I had not heard, chose Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, a book that I happened to have just downloaded. Unfortunately, the great thing about the novel, in Khakpour’s account, is that it brought on a nervous breakdown. Here is a typical scene:

Our heroine, Sasha (not her real name, but she decided at some point that a new name would make her less depressed) is looking back on a time when she was working at a swank dressmaker’s in Paris. The new owner, who like Sasha is English, has come to scope things out. She is just the receptionist, so the questions are pretty easy. For example, asked about her French, she first denies that she speaks it, then says she speaks it “sometimes,” and finally admits that she has lived in Paris for eight yers. Then the grilling gets really tough:

What was your last job?”

“I worked at the Maison Chose, in the Place Vendome.”

“Oh really, you worked for Chose, did you? You worked for Chose.” His voice is more respectful.

“Were you receptionist there?”

“No,” I say. “I worked as a mannequin.”

“You worked as a mannequin.” Down and up his eyes go, up and down.

“How long ago was this?” he says.

How long ago was it? Now everything is a blank in my head. Years, days, hourrs…everything is a blank in my head. How long ago was it? I don’t know.

We begin to see why she was working as a mannequin.

Well, I think they must end up firing her, because in the book’s present she’s back in Paris with no job, no apparent purpose, living on borrowed money in a hotel she considers excessively dreary and spending her evenings chatting up strangers in a bar and weeping uncontrollably until they sneak off. And if they did fire her, one can hardly blame them.

I suppose that the book is a portrait of mental illness at a time when treatments, for those who sought them, ranged from ineffective quackery to sadistic quackery. But don’t people usually expect art to transform pain in some way, so that reading about a mental illness isn’t the same as contracting it? If I just wanted to experience hours of abject despair, I would watch Fox News.


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En passant…

I saw this quasi-found poem the other day. It kind of speaks for itself.

“Pawn” by Jenny B. Baker:


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Bombs Lift Yanks in Blowout & Born to Run: Roy White

Two of my poems are on the blog of the Fine Arts Work Center’s online writing program, 24 Pearl Street.

24PearlStreet: Sidewalk Talk

Bombs Lift Yanks in Blowout

We have nothing to eat but meat itself.
They’ll raise the threat level to lamb shank
and make Mexico pay for it, ride us bareback
out of the international house of bondage
and into the deli of wrath.

I hate waking up in the dark
of a sunny spring morning,
getting mugged in the park
where every faction has an equal and opposite erection.
Move along, nothing to see here,
better to turn a blind eye
into a sow’s ear.

Scrying cryomancers
eye the ice-cube map of the world,
mulling over its wise cracks
the stuttering sutures on our lips,
the guttering flame of our flickering wicks.

I hate the whine of a leaf-blower, the spleen of a stone-thrower,
the bony glow of a sleek preacher, a teacher
who tells you one thing one day
and out the other. Straight lines, I’m told,
are the…

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The Struggle for the Mastery of Snark

I had been gnawing away for about a week at A. J. P. Taylor’s The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 when I ran across the following, in a NYRB article by Mark Mazower:

When British political warfare specialists were looking in 1942 for a basic handbook to help their servicemen to understand the country and the philosophy they were fighting, there was nothing up to date. A.J.P. Taylor, a young don who would later become one of the first historians to appear regularly on British television, was called in to write a general introduction to Germany. What he produced was so short on information and so full of wisecracks that it was rejected by readers in British intelligence and never distributed…



No-one could accuse the magisterial Struggle of lacking information, but the part about the wisecracks came as no surprise. In his introduction, Taylor describes international relations in his period as the province of cosmopolitan ‘diplomatists’ who shared a class (upper), a language (French, except for some of the Brits), and an ethos, for “all diplomatists were honest, according to their moral code.” The punchline comes in the attached footnote: “It becomes wearisome to add ‘except the Italians’ to every generalization. Henceforth, it may be assumed.” Snap.

Taylor likes to make fun of Italians, but every nation takes some shots. Of Nicholas I he writes: “As usual, the Tsar did not know what was in the treaty that he was seeking to enforce.” And of course there are the Germans: “Like other Germans, Bismarck regarded bullying as the best preliminary to friendship. The French did not.”

That one is almost Steinian. The same pattern of long windup and short delivery is found in the next example, where Taylor mocks the generosity of British overtures to Germany: “The pattern was being set for the following thirty years, in which Germany was repeatedly offered the privilege of defending British interests against Russia, without other reward than a grudgin patronage. Bismarck did not respond to this offer.”

And future generations do not escape his cold eye: “Monarchical solidarity in those days, like democratic principles in ours, was a good way of escaping treaty commitments.”

Sometimes Taylor’s references to ‘our’ time serve as reminders that he is writing in 1954: “Bulgarians and Serbs were far more akin than Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, between whom union has been successfully accomplished.” Or not. Actually, his attitude toward the Serbs, who come across more as the victims than the instigators of the outbreak of World War I, is notably different from that of Christopher Clark in his recent Sleepwalkers, where the Serb nationalists of 100 years ago show some of the same fabricated victimhood and murderous self-pity that we’ve come to know in more recent times.


Taylor also seems to say that the British still dominate the eastern Mediterranean, which brings home how stark the lesson of 1956 must have been. After Britain’s embarrassing failure in the trumped-up Suez crisis, everybody knew the Empire thing had jumped the shark and it was time to focus on making the world’s best pop music and worst sausage.

I’ll leave you with a couple of further gems. Sadly the capsule bio of Rosebury is never elaborated upon:

“The French, however, did not feel that a Russian occupation of Budapest, or even of Vienna, would be any consolation for a German occupation of Paris.”

“Rosebury, the new foreign secretary, meant to maintain the continuity of foreign policy, a doctrine which he had himself invented. His main task was thus to deceive both his chief and his colleagues, a task which he discharged conscientiously, but only at the cost of aggravating his naturally nervous temperament to the point of insanity.”

“France was the rock, somewhat flaky but a rock all the same, on which the German schemes broke.”


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