Friday, April 13, 2018


Stuart Friebert, a master translator, has brought another elegant poet out of obscurity with his recent translation of the work of Elisabeth Schmeidel, a deceased Austrian artist, writer, and activist. Friebert, co-founder of the Field Translation Series at Oberlin College in Ohio, is the author friend who tells me that learning to translate another language into English helps “one-language” poets to improve their writing. Scant Hours, a collection of Schmeidel’s poetry, contains selections Friebert and Pia Grubbauer, Schmeidel’s daughter, made to produce the poems that never appeared in a book during Schmeidel’s lifetime. 

Born in 1945, Schmeidel wrote during the burgeoning of the poetry of a post-war generation; and she witnessed the flowering of Austrian poetry, especially Ingeborg Bachmann’s work. Her voices and moods are translated with laudable sensitivity and precision by Friebert who is himself an eloquent poet.

In the Introduction to Scant Hours by Thomas Wild, Wild writes that each poem in this collection faces anew “the task of finding its own form” and that readers perceive there are no certainties to support Schmeidel in her post-war generation writing where “even flower children decorate themselves with military jackets…in times of cold, undeclared wars…” The inference is that Schmeidel can rely on nothing but herself and language…words. 

Themes of darkness and existential fear, gender roles, conventions, and relationships are addressed in three sections of Scant Hours: Early, Later, and Later Still. In the poem “Searching,” there is an inchoate reaching out for that task of the poem to “find its own form,” beginning with the words: “Searching for words, for language,/for something and resting inside…I want to stop glowing, cool down/in the middle of the earth:/morning cools your face.”  

The above verse is followed by “Night Swallows” in which Schmeidel probes an inner darkness where “the ever stony guest knows/my season, my home/he enters and we are silent.” These poems are defined as ones in which the poet looks outwards towards an interlocutor while she contradicts herself with the need to explore the inward theme of existential fear; e.g. in the closing lines of “Speak To Me:” “Speak to me/when the coffin of time opens/and I’m unable to die.” Readers will discover that many of the poems in this volume may not change any person or event for the better, but the verses do not reflect sentimentality or mawkish themes as she deals with reality.

Like the German poet Karl Krolow, Schmiedel’s poetry sometimes enters the brief and condensed realm; e.g., the brief, ironic poem entitled “Where”: “Are you pouring time out to, when/the hourglass plugs up and/forests lie rooted out in the riverbed?/ Whom are you giving the handful of dust?/How many chickens do you consume daily?/That’s what the bird of passage dies of.” My favorite among the brief poems is entitled “Frequencies,” as it offers to me more hope than any of the verses translated in Scant Hours: “Being able to begin/there/where your voice/lingers—/frequencies/hidden like animals/in woods, which become/alive/at night/with shadows of fallen/angels, with strange commands./Being able to keep going/in your voice.”

As usual, Stuart Friebert has gifted readers with the translation of a visionary poet who was not afraid to write of days when "nothing is going on" or to pass on the urgent message that we must pay attention to the destruction of nature, political tyrannies, fears and hopes for humanity, and she suggests the “way in” can be through the language of the poet.

Available from the premier independent press: Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Cowan Railroad Museum, photograph by Victoria Sullivan

Trains have always fascinated me, and one of the activities on my bucket list is a ride on the Orient Express. Many of my poems have featured trains and train depots, subjects about which I thought of writing and photographing until I discovered a book already published about train rides, dinner trains, museums, and depots entitled Tourist Trains Guidebook that I found in Bryson, North Carolina, site of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This railroad was created from a portion of Southern Railway’s Branch and hugs the Tuckaseegee and Nantahala Rivers, ascends a mountain at Red Marble Gap, and zooms out over a 700-foot trestle at Fontana Lake.

Closer to home is the Cowan Railroad Museum in Cowan, Tennessee that I tried to visit today, a place that houses photographs, relics, and memorabilia from the steam age in a century-old depot. Vickie photographed the exterior of the historic depot for this blog, but I've never been inside and won’t be able to visit until May when it re-opens. I’ve learned that there are displays of figures in period costumes, model trains, and 1,000 interesting items for first-time visitors. I’ll have to schedule a May tour, but meanwhile, today, I could hear the trains “whooing” as we lunched in the Fiesta Mexican Restaurant beside the rails, across the way from the Cowan Museum. I was grateful for the scant sunlight and a diversion from illness.

This afternoon, as I write, I look at the end poem in Just Passing Through, a volume that contains some of my train poems, and I feel even more strongly about the lines in the end "snippet" entitled “End Times” that I wrote in 2007. The single verse actually describes a dismayed reaction to tribal quarrels I’ve observed that still persist in certain “corners” today.

Not burned to death
or frozen to death
but warred to death,
the planet excelling in hate,
a desperation to own too many corners,
saying too little about love,
Lewis’s explication of agape
falling on truculent ears
that listen to a different drummer —
the rumble of cannon.

On several trips to the West, I became enchanted with a historic train that runs through the desert from Santa Fe, New Mexico along the spur to the city of Lamy. The train I saw was a working freight train, and I wrote about it in ”The Santa Fe Is,” in Just Passing Through, the chapbook mentioned above:

No covert traveler,
the train boils through High Desert,
red, blue, and yellow freight cars,
imperatives on the landscape
traveling everywhere.
In the pinpoint of my eye,
miniature boxes of color
fret empty plains,
make me aware of destinations,
distant mountains.
We pass small stations
snoring at track side
while the bright colored cars sway
on miles and miles of track
like ants relocating,
good times left behind,
mirages passed,
a lonely figure waving
from the engine window,
face turned toward
an indifferent there going on forever…

Friday, April 6, 2018


Rain fell on The Mountain last night and showered the redbud, forsythia, dogwood, and other large blooming flowers in our yard. More noticeable on this overcast day are what I call the “littlest flowers” in various hues of lavender, yellow, and deep purple. They will soon take their leave, and I asked resident botanist, Vickie Sullivan, to photograph them so I can enjoy looking at them during days of summer drought. As I am an amateur plant lover and regard botany as Goethe described it — as an “amiable science” — my observations of the plant world in our yard are usually surface descriptions of leaves, flowers, and fruits that often inspire poetry —the language of flowers fascinates me.

The rich flora here reveal delicate blooms of a variety of wildflowers, especially during April and May, and the mosaic below shows a few species, which possibly could be classified as weeds that have adapted to the site our home occupies. Vibrant tones of color and delicate designs attracted me as I walked around in the yard, stumbling on mole holes and branches that had fallen during the winter. We live on a property that fronts a small wood, and a deer observed me as I walked through the front yard. I might add that deer are regarded as nuisances in these parts and are culled annually. I don’t know if they lunch on the littlest flowers, but I doubt that they have an appetite for these blooms as the flowers seem undisturbed by animal life.

Here are photographs of a few of the littlest flowers that attract me each year when I return to Sewanee: bugleweeds, bluets, spring beauties, mock strawberries, and violets. Also included are the large blooms of the narcissus that proliferate on The Mountain and greet us as we view the woods for the first time each spring:

Photographs were taken by Victoria Sullivan.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Back on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee for the spring and summer seasons, I shiver in temperatures dipping to the 30’s and 40’s and winds blustering out of the North today. I’m warmed by the sight of the cover of my new book of poetry, Let the Trees Answer, designed by my grandson Martin Romero from a photograph of the Gebert oak taken by Victoria I. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan, a botanist and writer, photographed the trees included in this salute.

The book of poetry is my contribution to National Poetry Month and is slated to be published by Border Press within this month. A description of the poems and an acknowledgment by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, Professor of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, are featured on the back cover of Let the Trees Answer.

This volume, a poetic tribute to trees, includes poems conveying the idea that “trees can talk,” a form of humanistic botany within the frame of verse. Let the Trees Answer is the third book in the series Between Plants and Humans, ranging from pines in Louisiana to jacarandas in Florida, and along the way, crabapple, Chinese Tallow, catalpa, and other trees scattered throughout the woods of the United States. This is a must-read for tree huggers.

“This loving tribute to trees, beautifully illustrated and full of plant lore, celebrates and remembers childhood, first love, betrayal, loss—all the time markers of our lives. Its lyrics turn us back to Nature, to the “consolation of spirit” trees offer whether they deflect family sorrow or embody erotic longing. Jacaranda, Joshua, Cedar, Paradise Apple—even the lowly Chicken Tree—emerge newly clothed with memory and desire. Let the Trees Answer gives us a writer at the top of her form, fully alive to the wisdom and mystery at the heart of our life on this earth. Kudos to Diane Moore for inspiring us to stop and look and remember.”
—Mary Ann Wilson, Professor of English, University of Louisiana, Lafayette —

Happy National Poetry Month to all of you poetry writers and lovers, as well as tree huggers everywhere!