Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Editor Gary Entsminger and his Managing Editor Susan Elliott have two of the most intellectually active minds I know, and in the latest issue of Pinyon Review, Entsminger contributes an intriguing article entitled “Finding the Way.” It’s an instructive essay about how the Earth and all living creatures project energy fields and is the introductory piece in this eclectic magazine that features noteworthy poets, photographers, scientists, and artists. In the article, Entsminger, a masterful analyst, explains how readers can determine personal polarities using a compass and a pendulum. I was surprised by the sentence: “Men often, but not always, have positive polarity and women negative polarity…” and suddenly remembered having read that Jesus had 100 percent positive energy. When I find a compass, I’m going to conduct my own polarity test and see what’s going on in my energy field. Entsminger’s interests in science, philosophy, history, and literature are frequently reflected in the editorial page of Pinyon Review issues.  I recommend reading the brief article in Pinyon Review #9, which you can order from Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado.

The ninth issue of this small press magazine also features seventeen writers ranging from an artist and ecologist to a photographer who often provides the photography for covers and articles related to night sky landscapes. The latter, Stan Honda, spent a month at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico as an artist-in-residence and reported on the landscape, ancient pueblos, and the vast sky above them, photographing the changing moonlight moving across the landscape during certain lunar phases, as well as scenes like Jupiter above the North wall of Penasco Blanco.

Susan Elliott, whose artwork has appeared in many of Pinyon’s books, contributed a debut poem that reveals the energy of a highly creative mind, “a meditation on the emblem on the flag in the Death card”: “artichokes bloom[ing] in front of the mason’s old stone cottage/ – purple astral spheres/ full moon/hung/over windless/morning waters…” Susan’s word imagery matches the magic of her visual art, and her exquisite poetry reflects the insights of a practiced observer.

Stuart Friebert, who often corresponds with me, is an outstanding translator of German poetry, as well as an excellent poet. Friebert founded the Creative Writing program at Oberlin College and recently published Floating Heart with Pinyon. His prose piece “Burying Beetles,” in this issue of Pinyon Review showcases the range of his talent in a true story that reveals the cultural conditions prevailing in post-WWII Germany.  As one of the first exchange students sent to Germany after WWII, Friebert spent a winter break from his studies at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt, Germany with Richard and Sybille Kramer, relatives of one of his grandmother’s friends back home. He includes accounts of the efforts of German military to track down former Nazis and a drinking party in which the soldiers suggest doing what the Nazis perfected – “take hostages and kill one an hour until the swastika-worshippers give themselves up.” Friebert hints at a frightening understory, and the suspenseful account alludes to his experiences after learning that Sybille was a Jewess saved by Richard and hidden in the loft of a barn belonging to the widow of Richard’s best friend Dieter Braunfel. Readers shouldn’t be daunted by the title “Burying Beetles.” It’s a page turner!

Noteworthy among poems by Robert Shaw, whose latest poetry collection, A Late Spring, and After, will be published by Pinyon this year, is a poignant one entitled “Voicemail,” an amusing commentary about the recording voice of the woman in his voice mail message: “Once or twice, knowing how crazy it was,/I’ve dialed my own number to hear her,/stopping myself short from leaving a message./I couldn’t ask her – could I? – to call me back./I think the utterly disquieting truth/is that holding her calm voice to my ear/even now feels to me like protection,/and that I fear erasing it would set /a seal for all time on the house’s silence,/unbroken now unless I talk to myself.” According to my personal terminology, “Voicemail” is “pathotic.”

As usual, Pinyon Review #9, contains the work of authors with innovative approaches to memories, feelings, observations, and revelations and is a significant contribution to the body of literature published by small presses in the U.S.

Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Yesterday’s mail yielded a book of poetry by Chuck Taylor, a Texas-based writer who has operated Slough Press 43 years. Taylor’s latest, Taste I Say, You’re Timeless, contains characters whose names he says “come off a matchbox, like ‘Strike Anywhere.’”  The poems reflect an artistic sensibility that values personal freedom and explores alternative ways of living. They're reminiscent of “beatniks,” those cultural radicals who typified a vibrant counter culture during the 1950’s and 60’s in this country.

Taylor describes his book as a collection of “Prose Poem Anti-Poems,” and I enjoyed his relaxed style that Michel Delville refers to as “a downright illegitimate mode of literary expression.” His opening poem entitled “Where” asks the questions: “Where will the sentence take us?” followed by “Does this sentence start out from an unknown shore…can it row against the currents in search of undiscovered atolls…would the fear of being lost at sea keep us from going…? His metaphysical questions are even stronger: “How often in a day must we be happy to have a happy day? 4.6 hours? Must we bathe in the sweet tea of happy-like sunlight, or can you work in a dim corner by a subway shining shoes day after day so to be in rumbling noise of happiness…?

The poet provides his own answers in a series of prose poems “comical and a bit cynical,” Taylor writes in a letter accompanying the gift book he sent to me. I particularly liked the character “Strike Anywhere” featured in the poem “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” whose lonely feet are referred to as “apples in the dust wisely well traveled. I need to learn to bend and fold up in many pockets. Go with the luck of the soul’s water and the solid moment.” “Strike Anywhere” is the perfect personification of Walt Whitman or the wandering vagabonds of beatnik fame – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, to name a few.

The strange names in Taste I Say will cause readers to imagine all types of cultural radicals: “Strike Anywhere,” “This Side Up,” “Tobacco Free,” and “And Other” (a tall, carrot-topped Buddhist). Taylor underlines his explorations into alternative ways of living with characters who’re definitely not mainstream but who say it all and who, having “said it and said it, it all lies in the grass waiting for rain.” He takes these contemporary characters on delightful misadventures in existential landscapes until they find the ideal shore to push off from.

Consider this piece of alternative literature entitled “Manage” expressed by a non-materialist: “Down in the bargain basement so long, ‘Keep Away From Children’ [another invention of a comic name] did not know the air was musty, did not know the absence of wind or sunlight, down in the bargain basement for the testimony of the tribe of clearance – woeful shoes, party blouses already lonesome for dance, murderous belts and bolts of cloth so sad you can almost hear the tearing. Down in the bargain basement, hands behind her back, throat clearing, feet in tired heels, doing her dim shining duty.”

Enlightenment comes after two or three readings of the poems, and they’re worth the effort. Taylor’s clever combinations of words remind me of the poets Charles Simic and Charles Bukowski intermixed and chanting ardent “beat” poetry. Comic yet wise messages are passed on from an expert in the fields of Beat Literature and Creative Writing. Taylor has taught at Texas A&M, UT at Tyler, El Paso, and Austin, and Angelo State University and has won the Austin Book Award and Utah Fine Arts Poetry Contest. He also did extensive work in Poets in the Schools Programs.

Taylor does magic tricks for children’s parties, “studies socially-sanctioned investments, took care of his invalid mother, and now spends too much time on Facebook.” His letters are written on the reverse, blank side of college course hand-outs and are as amusing as his prose poem anti-poems.

These prose poems aren’t just cynical excoriations; they contain philosophical and metaphysical nuggets — noteworthy, timeless sentences...in the author's words, "new machines from the river of words…”

Taste I Say, You’re Timeless: Prose Poem Anti-Poems was published through Weasel Press in Manvel, Texas.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Today is the Feast Day of Evelyn Underhill, Anglican writer and mystic often described as someone who, in the first five decades of the 20th century, was one of the most widely read authors on prayer and the spiritual life in the world. I’ve conducted several retreats featuring Evelyn’s work, and ‘though some readers may call my ruminations outdated, I continue to quote her in sermons and read her works monthly.

Evelyn Underhill loved to attend and, later, to conduct retreats at Pleshey House in the village of Pleshey in England, a place now known as “The Retreat House,” where Evelyn made her first retreat in 1921. Later, it became the spot where she conducted her first retreat during Lent, 1924. She became the best known retreat director of her time and described Pleshey (her favorite retreat house) as a place “soaked in love and prayer.”

Every summer, as part of my commitment as an Associate of St. Mary’s Convent at Sewanee, I attend the silent retreat, and this year I fortuitously noticed that Evelyn Underhill’s feast day occurs this day before the retreat begins. So I began reading The Fruits of the Spirit again, Evelyn’s notable work first published in the 1940’s. A memoir of Evelyn Underhill by Lucy Menzies, one of the frequent retreatants during Evelyn’s lifetime, includes the guru of retreat master’s thoughts about how to prepare for a retreat. Evelyn writes a recipe for recovering “spiritual poise,” as she calls it — she says that we don’t go to retreats to gain spiritual information but for spiritual food and air — to wait on God and renew our strength not for our own selves but for the sake of the world.

That one sentence set me straight about the real reason for retreat. Evelyn says that anyone can retire into a quiet place and have a thoroughly unquiet time in it—but that isn’t making a retreat. “Shut the door,” she says. “Nearly every one pulls it to and leaves it slightly ajar so that a whistling draught comes in from the outer world with reminders of all the worries, interests, conflicts, joys and sorrows of daily life. But Christ said ‘Shut the door,’ and he meant Shut.” A retreat, Evelyn emphasizes, isn’t self exploration, but communion with God so that afterwards you’re more powerful interceding for others and experience such self loss in Him that your wounds will be healed by new contact with his life and love. In other words, if you follow her counsel for a good retreat, you may return to “ordinary time” and move about in the world emanating a bit more humility and charity. I don’t need to remind anyone of how much we need the latter two qualities nowadays.

Evelyn reminds us that there are three points in which we can respond to God’s creative will for us: 1) our prayer; 2) our work or service, the middle point between our action toward and with God; and 3) our action toward men.  The entire chapter on “Preparation” in The Fruits of the Spirit could be handed out to every retreatant who enters this “thin place” that is St. Mary’s of Sewanee, or any retreat space, and major transformation would result, I think. That transformation is not only the objective of retreats but the answer to all that is burdensome to us when we finally tune into the world again – an acknowledgement that the spiritual growth of humans has to do with the “creaturely status of man and thus the gathering of man into communion with God.”  

On this day, Evelyn reminds us that all must be subdued to the law of charity, and that all must be colored by the joy and peace of our spiritual inheritance carried through with patience, faithfulness and humility.

Pardon the “preach,” but on second thought, just order a copy of The Fruits of the Spirit and sit with it a spell.

P.S. That battered-looking copy of The Fruits of the Spirit that appears above has survived 53 years and was given to me by my godmother Dora on the occasion of my first visit to Blacksburg, Virginia to be with her and godfather Markham. It came directly from one of her shopping trips in London and resulted in my return to the Anglican fold after a 12-year hiatus in church attendance.

Friday, June 10, 2016


For those who’re burdened by political news and the state of the world today, I recommend a “time out” with someone like E.B. White, the essayist who wrote for the New Yorker during the mid 20th century. White often turned to farm journals to “escape for a few moments the ominous headlines in the papers…” However, he claims to have found danger even in the agricultural news, and this morning I returned to one of his essays entitled “Plant the Garden Anyway,” in which he talked about his dismay after reading a farm journal article listing dangers in the flower garden.

According to White in Writings from The New Yorker 1927-1976, the journal article warned about poison in a single castor bean that would kill a person… vomiting caused by pinks… sweet pea seeds containing a poison that could keep a person bedridden for months… night blooming jimson with enough substance in the leaves to produce delirium… and daffodil bulbs that, when eaten, cause stomach cramps. Danger in the garden indeed! People “back then” must have had bizarre diets!

White didn’t mention bees, digger wasps, and poison ivy. He may have been threatened by leaves, bulbs, and flowers, but the insects and ivy I just mentioned carry their own brand of poison in the garden. To me, the answer to the dilemma of the poisonous plants highlighted in the farm journal is a simple one: don’t sample the plants! Actually, the author of this article recommended completely doing away with a garden that produced such dangerous plants as the sweet peas, daffodils, etc. and changing the seed! Seems like gardeners in White’s day were either a) hungrier than most gardeners today or b) were experimenting with plants containing exotic substances to see if they would induce some kind of mind alteration.

White also discussed the plant patent business in another essay entitled “Prohibited,” in which a man received a birthday present of an azalea, and tied around the stem of the plant (“like a chastity belt,” White says) was a tag reading “Asexual reproduction of this plant is illegal under the Plant Patent Act.” White’s friend tore off the tag and sent it to another friend with instructions to bed it down next to “an old buck hydrangea.”

Whatever dangers White passed on to those of us who have trouble gardening must be taken with a grain of dirt. We should get our plants in the ground where, for a brief period, they will reward us with their bright faces, every now and then attracting swallowtails, monarchs, skippers, perhaps even a lunar moth.

My love of gardens was inspired by my mother’s nightly readings from books like A Child’s Garden of Verses and Marigold Garden. These books had nothing to do with poisonous seeds, but readings from them actually planted the seeds for my poetry writing today. I was inspired by such poems as Stevenson’s “The Flowers:” “All the names I know from nurse/Gardener’s Garter, Shepherd’s Purse,/Bachelor’s Baths, Lady’s Smocks,/And the Lady Hollyhock…”

The straggly garden pictured above, whose seeds I never saw since I purchased seedlings for my two miniscule beds, contains mostly herbs I can eat without getting sick. The sight of this place where moles and rabbits freely graze would probably cause White to smile. The flowers on one side of the yard are deer proof, so they have a chance of surviving. This is a consideration I gave them rather than worrying about poisonous seeds; however, I didn’t count on the invasions from moles and rabbits.

P.S. I haven’t seen either the asexual azalea or old buck hydrangea in the nurseries here on The Mountain, so I can’t foster any plant coupling.