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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Poem: The Mourner’s Song

My poem “The Mourner’s Song” is in the new issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal.  Many thanks to poetry editor Jennifer Givhan.

The Mourner’s Song


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What’s the matter with Iowa?

I might as well admit that I’ve been on a personal news blackout since Wednesday. I don’t even want to know who’s in Trump’s cabinet, at least not yet. But I can’t help mulling over the results. So here’s what has been racing around in my head.

Remember the 2008 primaries? Hillary Clinton’s base was said to be working-class white voters, and she rode their support to victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania, especially after Obama’s famous gaffe about bitter people resorting to guns and religion. Then Clinton completely annihilated Obama in West Virginia and Kentucky, by margins of something like 45 or 50 points. These states are, of course full of uneducated white people.
I was not a Clinton supporter in 2008. In fact, I had been an admirer of Obama’s since before he won his Senate primary in ’04. But this year, I supported her over Sanders because I thought that she would have a broader appeal, that she would be appeal to the same people who came out for her in ’08 and who would be turned off by a socialist. Something went teribly wrong with that theory, and it turned out that, much as folks in rural Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia didn’t like Obama, in 2016 they had come to hate Clinton even more.
West Virginia was once a Democratic stronghold, and nobody was surprised when Bill Clinton won it twice. By 2012, it had flipped hard, and Obama lost it by about 30 points; this year, Clinton lost it by over 40 points, a mind-boggling margin. I don’t suppose any Democrat is going to win WV or KY or even Missouri for a while, but we’ll need to win more than 30 percent of uneducated white people to survive.
The scariest state for me is Iowa, which went from Obama +5 to Trump +10. How is that even possible? What sort of freak would vote for both Obama and Trump? It’s baffling, but I don’t think that all the people who voted for Trump are truly fans of his. People in the upper Midwest are not that fond of boastful, self-promoting trash-talkers; even our right wingers tend to be sanctimonious and wholesome nuts, not Vegas-style playboys. And indeed, Trump lost the Iowa caucus, finished 3rd in the Minnesota caucus, got whipped in the Wisconsin primary. He’s not beloved around here.
But he got the votes, and part of it is party loyalty, but a lot must be how people feel about Clinton.
So, what’s the deal with Clinton’s unpopularity? The explanation I’ve heard most is misogyny, and that’s clearly present in the way people talk about her, but it feels inadequate to me. Would any other woman have been equally reviled? If so, how have women gotten elected in other countries, including countries that are not famous paragons of gender equality? Right now the leaders of South Korea and Taiwan are women; Michelle (sp?) bachelet has been elected twice in Chile and Djilma Rusef was elected twice in Brazil, though she’s since been deposed. Angela Merkel has been the dominant politician in Europe for about 10 years…I’m just mentioning cases off the top of my head. Not everybody like Margaret Thatcher, but a hell of a lot of them voted for her.
Clinton’s gender was used against her in many shameful ways, and the same weapons will be used against the next woman who runs, but they will not necessarily be as effective, because the next one may not have the same sources of vulnerability. If you want to know how hard it was to be a will-connected career insider from a presidential family in this cycle, you can ask Jeb Bush. Remember that he was once the favorite for the GOP nomination, and look how his candidacy went pear-shaped; Clinton looks pretty successful in comparison. I still don’t entirely understand how she went from veteran pol with too many friends on Wall Street to devious master criminal, and how people could come to think of her as no more trustworthy than Trump. The media didn’t cover itself in glory this year, I know, but…
She is, of course, not as gifted a speaker as the last two Democratic presidents; that is setting the bar rather high, but maybe that’s the only way to win when your opponent is appealing to voters’ reptile brains.
I think most of us could feel the lack of inspiration this year, and some of that just comes from being the incumbent party, running for a third term. Fortunately the incumbent is pretty popular, but for whatever reason, “things are fairly good, let’s stay the course” was not a message that brought people to their feet.

There were some comments on Facebook Wednesday about how the election proved what a racist, misogynist country we are. It certainly showed that there are way way too many racists and misogynists in our country, but it should be borne in mind that it’s the same country that elected Barack Obama twice, and that Trump was not elected by a majority, or even a plurality of Americans. Clinton will end up with more votes than Trump, a million or two more, if California ever counts its effing ballots. The 4 million votes by which she will have won CA (I’m guessing how many are still to be counted) would be enough to flip a bunch of states, from FL to PA to MI, with Georgia and Arizona thrown in. I was as shocked as everyone else at how many Americans were willing to hand their country over to Trump, but it should be within our power to make the faschists an impotent minority.

I’ve seen some references to voters wanting ‘change.’ I don’t think this is a useful characterization of what happened, because the same people who voted for Trump apparently were happy with their incumbent senators and reps, including Rubio in FL, Toomey in PA, Johnson in WI, Burr in NC, Blount in MO, and Portman in OH. The people who wanted one kind of change showed up at the polls; the people who wanted another kind didn’t.
The surge in Latino turnout actually did happen, as predicted, though perhaps not to quite the degreee that some were hoping for. Clinton outperformed the 2012 Obama in several states with large Latin populations,: Texas, Arizona, California. The problem is, of course, that none of these are swing states, so the improvement had no effect.
I don’t see much evidence of the Latino wave in Florida or Nevada; maybe it was there, and was offset by poorer performance with other groups. Nevada has lots of uneducated white people, and a dropoff in the enthusiasm of African-Americans seems indicated by Clinton’s poor performance in North Carolina and Michigan.
The decades-long drift of educated white people toward the Democrats led Clinton to perform well, even compared to Obama, in places like Virginia, Massachusetts, and Washington state. This also probably contributed to her surprising performance in Georgia, which is increasingly educated as well as being the destination of significant reverse migration by black people.

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Lullaby for a Lab Mix

Roy White

Lullaby for a Lab Mix

The full moon hunts alone tonight.

He dreams his dreams in black and white,

but you may dream of what you like,

so close your eyes and sleep.


The squirrels have immunity,

they know that you are here with me,

but there’s nothing good on squirrel TV

so they curl their tails and sleep.


Those kids will stagger home before

their drunken shouts have turned to snores,

and they will not break down our door,

so close your ears and sleep.


Run now, run through pungent woods,

on silent loam;

hunt while you can with us, for soon

we must all go home.

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A Story to Lift Your Spirits

With Donald Trump soaring in the polls and the Democrats self-destructing in Philly, I needed something to pick up my spirits, and found it in this heartwarming story taken straight, so to speak, from the nightmares of Rick Santorum. I could wish for a more surprising ending, but that’s a quibble.
Oh, and the author is apparently a fellow Minnesotan.
A. Merc Rustad, “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps”

Episode #1 – How to Become A Robot in 12 Easy Steps by A. Merc Rustad

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