To the Point

There comes a time in every epoch when pragmatism simply evolves into extreme acquiescence and surrender to the forces of apathy and do-nothingness, a guarantor of the status quo in all of its easy, democratic criminality--its fortress of greed.--TL Simons

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Death in the Family

My youngest and last surviving sister died Monday. She was 71. Felt sick, went to hospital, died several hours later.

Pancreatic cancer. That stuff moves like lightening and kills quickly.

Awhile back I informed the large, extended family that I was done with funerals. I've been to too many. I've now lost six siblings, most of whom died in their mid-seventies.

So I didn't go to Bethel's funeral, held in my home town of Sweet Home, Oregon.

They're all buried there.

Suppose I will be too. My family founded that community. A big pile of bones rests in Gilliland Cemetery, on a hill naturally, overlooking Foster Reservoir.

Beautiful place. Too bad the end so seldom is.

Oh well...


Friday, July 29, 2011

Works in Progress

(Mark Wilson, "Bards Between Bardos," Forest Park, 1978)

This is pretty cool. I've managed to re-edit "The Visitor" into a 55 min. masterpiece (comparably), dissing a full 20 minutes of bad edits and expository writing from the original. Lopped that stuff off like slabs of stinky cheese.

May need even more, but my flame is ebbing for now.

Inching closer on the new poetry book by a certain Oregonian whose identity cannot be revealed until we bundle the baby up and take a walk in the Oregon rain.

Like summer, the book is ever so close.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oregon Poetic Voices

Charles Deemer reads from his Round Bend Press collection "In My Old Age," published earlier this month. This Lewis and Clark College sponsored site, Oregon Poetic Voices, is terrific.

Be sure to check it out


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Project from the Past

I recently got my hands on a DVD of a teleplay I wrote and produced back in 1994. Shot and edited on VHS and featuring a group of actors from my old Northwest Portland neighborhood, this low-budget (essentially no-budget) drama was based on a William Faulkner short story called "Artist at Home."

If you're not familiar with Faulkner's story you ought to read it. One of the writer's best, it concerns a dying poet, an urbanite who is a bit of a leech and a marginally successful writer, who wanders out of the city to visit an old friend who is himself a famous, highly successful novelist.

The novelist has a new wife who has recently experienced the "visitor syndrome" and is quite upset that her husband has invited yet another down-and-out "artist" to their pristine countryside home for a visit. While visiting, the poet seduces the wife, fights with the author about that fact, reveals he is dying, and patches things up enough to bring out a final book of poems with the famous writer's assistance.

A pretty basic story, but my God, it was Faulkner, which means it is beyond great.

The film had many of the problems usually associated with homemade, no-budget projects from the VHS era. Digital video cameras had yet to hit the mass market in 1994, and I used a couple of VHS decks to finish the final edit.

You get what you pay for in a project of this scope, but I'll say this, the acting was fine. The audio was poor to okay, the lighting was poor to passable, and the editing, which I was solely responsible for, was atrocious.

I'd forgotten how bad it really was. It could and should have been so much better. Looking back, I'd volunteer that I blew a great opportunity.

People were nice not to mention it for years and years, except my shooter on the project who repeatedly said, "Man, the editing was horrible!"

How right he was.

But Lo! In this new-tech age I've been leased a second chance. Though I'm not in possession of the original VHS footage, I've been able to take liberties with the DVD, downloading it to Movie Maker and assembling something like a new version of the program.

I'm working on it as I teach myself some of the tricks of Microsoft's Movie Maker tools, so it's progressing rather slowly, but I think I can turn this old sows ear into a silk purse, or at least improve it.

I've retitled the film from it's original "What Time Is Left," to simply "The Visitor."

A sad yet interesting fact--three of the cast members on this project are now dead. Two of them died far too young, the third, the actor who played the dying poet in the film, lived to be considerably older than the protagonist in the movie.

I'll let you know how things transpire. Maybe I'll place the new edit on YouTube in the future.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Audio: Deemer Reads "In My Old Age"

Charles Deemer reads from his recent Round Bend Press publication, In My Old Age.

Folks, I guarantee you will enjoy this. First rate stuff.


Tanya Ponders the Future without Borders Books

In a newspaper story about the Borders bankruptcy and imminent closure of all of the chain's stores, I found this oddball account of the way things are:

"Perhaps a Borders liquidation would hurt the consumer most. Tanya Ellis, 42, of Southfield, Mich., said the closings are 'horrible.' She said she and a friend would stop at a nearby Starbucks, then visit the Borders store in Beverly Hills, Mich., and browse for about an hour.

'So where are we going to buy books from? I just got into reading books the last two or three years, and they just keep closing all these bookstores,' she said, adding that electronic readers aren't an option for her. 'It takes all the fun out of it.'"

Sounds like Beverly Hills, Mich. could use an independent bookseller and Tanya needs to get hip to Amazon and Lulu, where all of Round Bend's titles await the hungry reader.

I agree with her regarding e-books, however. They're no fun at all. A cold impersonal piece of plastic encasing that doesn't have that new book smell and feels uncomfortable in your back pocket.

How a 42 year-old "just got into reading books" shall forever remain a mystery. I hope her Starbucks doesn't fail. She'd have a major existential crisis on her hands.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Great Scenes from the Movies #6

Love him or hate him, Roman Polanski is a true visionary. This scene from "Bitter Moon" is as decadent, truly funny, and arresting as any scene I can recall in filmdom's history. Not that I've seen everything.

Peter Coyote was stellar in this film. Also, it might be the only film I've watched with Hugh Grant that I actually enjoyed.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oligarch-ed up!

I've recently noticed that certain individuals in my reading public do not find me funny. However, I know I really am funny all of the time. Every time I sit down to type pure genius emerges on this blog with the same certainty as an Oregon summer rainstorm.

Specifically, my critics do not admire my use of the American language, and are in some manner repelled by my verbiage, particularly as it relates to the use of the F-word.

I suggest that they should know better than to venture into my language-terrain and exit complaining. This place can be a torture chamber at times.

It isn't a prose palace or an Eden of words.

Whether one feels sullied or cleansed when leaving here is not of much concern to me. I feel like I've done my job by either annoying or pleasing you through a combination of questionable syntax and fitting words.

To be precise, I don't spend a lot of time worrying whether I have offended your good taste.

Good lord, I know I'm not capable of pleasing everybody. It's difficult enough as it is without worrying about a single reader out there.

Write what you want to write. I'll continue to do the same, thanks.

But let's allow for a moment that I might soil myself by taking seriously the protestations of a public overwhelmed by the utter indecency inherent in the F-word.

Does a better worse word even exist?

I've given the question some thought and consulted the oracle. A more disgraceful and discomforting word than the F-word is "oligarch."

Here are some examples of its possible usages: Man, that is oligarch-ed up. What an oligarch-ing mess! I oligarch-ed up the other day. I drank so much I was oligarch-ed up. My friend is oligarch-ed.

His girlfriend is really oligarch-ed up. Etc. Etc.

Here's a filthy word list for your reading pleasure.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Marginalia and Its Discontents

From Round Bend author and Tacoma artist K.C. Bacon comes this funny essay on a phenomenon we all feel deeply about--marginalia.

Marginalia and Its Discontents

Tearing open the brown sleeve it arrived in, I immediately began scanning the book of personal essays by a dozen or more well-know writers, some of whom I had actually read before. I had been looking forward to the essays ever since I'd ordered it from an vendor in Connecticut, eager for what I might learn about each writer's rendering of whatever they felt meaningful in their personal lives. I thought it would be like listening to a good friend's good stories about good times, even if those good times weren't so good. It would be a feast of sorts, a high repast at my reading table.

Or so I thought.

But when I opened the book at its middle, to fan it as I usually do, letting the pages breathe, so to speak, like one might do with a bottle of wine, I saw the first portend of trouble. For in pencil, on both pages, with several arrowed lines pointing to circled words in the text, and alongside underlined passages, one of which took up a third of the page, were the scribblings of a former reader - marginalia!

I fanned the pages. Acht! The thing was replete with pencil jottings on nearly all its pages. I felt like I'd woken up after going on a three-day binge with a novice tattoo artist whose idea of a practical joke was to graffiti me while I was passed out. The marks were everywhere.

I recoiled as from a bee sting. No, rather more like from a swallow who, upset that I had strolled too close to its nest, had made a strafing run at my head. I twinged. I might as well have been having lunch next to a table where a single person sits, talking to someone by way of a black and silver phone beetle stuck in their ear. When I see those weird contraptions in someone's ear, I think of an alien sucking the life out of another alien.

And I felt invaded, my private peace assaulted. The image of my car after it had been vandalized came to me. The thieves, finding nothing of value, hence upset, had torn my glove box off its hinges, a rushed epithet hurled at my stinginess.

Marginalia, by itself, is reasonable in reasonable hands. After all, we all jot in our books to celebrate a thought, or to simply join in the writerly fun. But this was overkill, a crime against human intercourse (perhaps done by a reader with a genetic predisposition to vandalism?). Whatever the reason, it was irritating in the same way public bad manners are irritating.

I guess bad manners existed even in Og's cave, though every age since has offered up its own special annoyances. Og, probably, was lucky in this regard. He only had to put up with his she-person sitting on his dinner, or doing that ridiculous shadow dance with the bear skull while he was trying to have sleep visions. I can see Og time-capsuled forward ten thousand years, popped up and standing in a Safeway checkout line next to someone chattering into the empty air like a lunatic and saying to himself, "She-person might sit on my dinner, but at least she isn't rude."

Some of these lunatics also employ hand gestures, an added weapon in their arsenal of bothersomeness. With the alien phone beetle in their ears (some have a bristle-arm sweeping around their cheeks with a microphone on the end of it, sitting in front of their swamp mouths like a bug morsel awaiting the long tongue), they stride the streets and public places gesticulating like mimes who have not captured the fact that mimes are not supposed to shout.

But the serial marginalia-ist is the best of breed. I guessed the one that Jackson Pollack-ed my book of personal essays was a she, given the soft teleology of the script. It had a forward tilt, but only just. It had a look of practiced purpose, done by a disordered, distracted mind.

I remembered the time when I waited on a fastball when my teammate decided to steal from first and I could not help but see him in the corner of my eye for just the second it took me to strike out. He of course was thrown out for a double play. And everyone blamed me. "For Christ's sake," I wanted to complain, but was only twelve and not yet given to blasphemy, "it wasn't me…he sidetracked my eye." Now, these decades later, a time when I am able to curse or blaspheme happy and free, it neither does any good nor pleases me to report that there are among us shitheads who are still blaming the wrong person for the errors of themselves. And no one performs this crude duty with more brio than the l'enfant marginaliste.

The overzealous marginalia-maniac has cousins, too. For example, there is the man of interesting observations from whom we must listen to the cost of his newly repaired car, or how he came to name his dog, Fred. Well, he finds it interesting, and that's enough for him, isn't it? Any conversation with him is limited to silently thinking, "Do you actually believe me to be such an imbecile that I am grateful to hear you rattle on about why you didn't have lunch at noon today?"

And there is of course the ubiquitous performance jokester. This is the guy who wears the baseball cap that either has stitched seagull poop dripping off its bill, or pronounces, DAMN IF I KNOW.

It was still early evening as I turned to a Max Beerbohm essay I thought I might enjoy, and saw another barrage of !!!!!!s lining the page edges like pert schoolgirls at a prom. So I shut the book, drove downtown, and drank two glasses of red wine next to a woman who was running away from her husband and had lots to say about the matter.

But even she spoke with her hands.

K.C. Bacon


Friday, July 15, 2011

Great Scenes from the Movies #5

The protagonist Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), the silent one lunching with his Stasi commander, says nothing throughout this cafeteria scene in "The Lives of Others."

Study his face and you'll see nothing that betrays what he actually feels, though a creeping level of discomfort with the proceedings may finally provide a clue.

The youths are the faces of the emerging new Germany.

This tragic story is one of my favorite movies of recent years, a top 10 pick for sure.

Sadly, Ulrich Muhe died of stomach cancer in 2007, a year after the film's release.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Buddy Dooley Emerges from the Ether

If you know anything about this blog at all you know that I have a friend/nemesis named Buddy Dooley, who occasionally casts himself as an expert regarding all things literary and makes every effort he can to get under my skin. Sporadically, we sit down with an old-fashioned tape machine and talk about the weather or whatever else crosses our boggled minds. Buddy drinks, has a refrigerator teeming with good Oregon micro brews, so I tolerate him. We cracked a few open the other day and let the tape roll.

BD: You've shamed me.

TS: How's that, old Buddy Dooley?

BD: That crap you've put up on your header, on this monstrosity you refer to as Round Bend Press. That nonsense about your so-called book, "Four Absurd Plays", or whatever you're calling it.

TS: Your quote? Are you talking about your wonderful quote?

BD: I didn't say any of that. I don't like the book. Can you get a clear picture of that? I didn't like the fucking book!

TS: What the hell? You didn't say you didn't like the book!

BD: Stop, please. What I said was--listen carefully dumb ass--"Simons' book made me want to throw up, such is its alarmingly stupid emptiness and hollow tenor. That makes me feel joyous."

TS: You did not say that!

BD: That is exactly what I said. I have it on tape. You turned it into some kind of praise or misrepresentation of how I actually feel about your work. You're worse than a fucking politician.

TS: Piss on you, Buddy Dooley.

BD: You've done your potential readers out there, and they are few and far between, a terrible disservice. That book is awful. You are awful. You can't write!

TS: How many of those Old Lompoc Specials have you had today, pal?

BD: Now aren't you clever? It is suddenly my problem that you are a shitty writer because I drink too many micro beers each and every day? Is that how it works? Jesus! You're about a half-step away from becoming a fucking dictator. Who the fuck was Mussolini? A failed fucking journalist. Same with Hitler, a bad fucking artist. You gonna become one of those guys? Can't sell a god damned book, so you're gonna turn into a fucking Castro?

TS: Tsk, tsk...You have any beer left?

BD: Change the subject if you can.

TS: No, I'm just thirsty. Listening to you makes me thirsty.

BD: I'll get you a brew in a minute. First, I want to get to the bottom of this header thing on your blogpage or whatever the fuck you call it. Why?

TS: Why what?

BD: Why did you misquote me?

TS: Fuck you, I'll get my own micro brew!

(at this point I did get up and walk into Buddy's kitchen. I opened the refrigerator and took out a nice micro brew for my chafed throat)

BD: Don't drink all my god damned beer, Simons!

TS: Buddy, you have more beer in here than a twenty-dollar street whore has johns.

BD: Fuck, look at this! Fuck, look at this would you!

TS: What?

(I race back into Buddy's living room in time to see him stomp the shit out of a cockroach the size of a field mouse)

BD: You sonofabitch, Simons!

TS: What, you sniveling-assed crybaby!

BD: I hate you! I hate you! I hate your god damned soul. You're drinking all of my micro brews!



Great Scenes from the Movies #4

Allen and Keaton in "Annie Hall."

Allen has made so many good movies it's hard to pick a favorite scene. Opinion is divided on Allen. People seem to either love or hate him.

Marshall McLuhan: How you got to teach a course in anything is amazing...
Allen: Boy, if life were only like this.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Deemer and Round Bend on PNBA List

We (Round Bend Press and Charles Deemer) are on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association's list of nominees for the 2012 awards season. That's right, we're mingling with the big boys now.

I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets by Tom Sexton--U. Alaska Press
In My Old Age: Poems by Charles Deemer--Round Bend Press
Land Sharks by S.L. Stoner-- Yamhill Press

Deemer's In My Old Age will be evaluated by a committee of nine to determine its status as a potential awardee, with all the rights and promotional privileges accorded therein.

There must be nine sharp readers out there, right?

This is a highly visible annual award that could garner RBP some much-needed love and make Deemer a wealthy old man.

But don't wait for the award announcement in 2012. Go for it right now.

Here is the complete list of PNBA nominees at its website.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Great Scenes from the Movies #3

A continuous crane shot of nearly four minutes helps make this opening of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" a classic scene.


When will the car blow up? How many innocent lives will be lost? What in the hell is going on?

"I've got this ticking noise in my head..."

That, friends, is compelling movie making.


Hold the Anchovies!

The U.S.economy is in shambles for most Americans.

But certain corporate profits have soared, thanks to the cozy deal between congress and the contractors who keep the good old military industrial complex humming.

Here's an in-depth look at what it all means, complete with those telling charts and graphs everybody loves as much as a slice of pizza pie.

Is any further evidence of the sheep-like docility of Americans necessary? To put up with this is a sure sign of rampant stupidity.

Unless your business is war profiteering, of course.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Great Scenes from the Movies #2

This is the classic fight scene from Chaplin's "City Lights." With the introduction of "talkies" some of the physical aspects of movie humor faded. This was about as good as it got before the sound revolution changed movie making.

I like movies with great dialog, of course, but sight gags, as well as unspoken storytelling in dramatic work, always enhance the art of film.

Chaplin is terrified when his upcoming opponent, smoking a cigarette no less, knocks out another fighter in the locker room before the bout.

But he's game. So how will he fare?


Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Good is Jeter?

No Bambino or Gehrig, yet he's had a brilliant career.

Are you ready for the All-Star break? I am.

Jeter by the numbers: Jeter's career.


The Wisdom of an Old Friend

My friend Chris Pilon, who lives in Houston with his lovely wife Vicki, is on a major Bukowski bender.

There are worse places to be.

He sends along the best of CB's quotes right here.

Thanks Chris. It is always a pleasure to hear from your Texass (spit!)ass!

"That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen."
— Charles Bukowski (Women)

"It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?"
— Charles Bukowski (Factotum)

Ah, Bukowski, America's greatest dead writer!


Friday, July 8, 2011


When My Quest to Write a Poem Ended in Failure I Said to Hell with it and Poured Myself a Strong Drink Before the Sun Came Up

The other day I
let a poem slip away
Now I am content


A Smash Hit

People out there in cyberland are into it.

They Google "old age poems" regularly, and land here for a peek at Charles Deemer's new Round Bend Press publication, In My Old Age.

"In My Old Age" is a first rate book. Death, with its looming finality, certainty, and utter mystery, is the greatest theme of all, of course. But this book is about more than that. It is about seeing and living out the string. It is about facing the end head on, and laughing all the way.

Damn, I am pleased Round Bend Press is attached to such an important book. I'm two years into the RBP project. Along with K.C. Bacon's "Morandi's Bottles" (see sidebar), this one sets the standard for what I'm attempting to do in my own advancing years.

The book is a sight and sound feast. Don't miss out. Buy it now.


New Cover for Four Absurd Plays

I never felt too fond of the simple cannibal scene on my cover of "Four Absurd Plays," so I've been exploring a few new options.

I like this one, featuring a painting by Charles Lucas. I've a message out for Lucas seeking his approval on this. If he goes for it, I think this is the one.

Late word. It's a done deal. This is the newest cover of Four Absurd Plays.


New Book Cover/Revised Edition

Per the suggestion of an influential critic with a solid argument, I've created a new cover and cut a portion of the title from my 2009 novel, "The Friends of Round Bend."

This is a crime story set in a fictional Oregon coastal town called Round Bend. The novel represents my first effort at self-publishing. I liked the sound of the name so much I named the press after the title.

The entire point is to create myth, isn't it? Myth of place and events.

Anyway, I like this one better than the previous cover. The noir feel suits the story which is set in the foothills of the coastal range under increasingly dark skies, literally and metaphorically.

By shortening the title, I preserve the integrity of the mystery, such as it is in the novel.

It's just a better book now. I'm almost pleased with it, a two-year project that I can't set aside because I'm neurotic about it.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Opening Lines (U to Z)

Let's wrap up this fun business (well, for me at any rate). I've gathered 26 poets' opening lines, a random list from A to Z, which surprise, riveting the reader to an opening, a full-frontal assault on the poetic imagination--a kind of literary "shock and awe" that doesn't leave any doubt about who is in command of the voice.

Real poetry, in other words.

It's been great. Thanks for your indulgence. The poet pictured is Arizona's Lisa Zaran.


Eleven o’clock, and the curtain falls.
The cold wind tears the strands of illusion;


There is Bukashkin, our neighbor,
in underpants of blotting paper,


Not yet 40, my beard is already white.
Not yet awake, my eyes are puffy and red,


I escape the horrors of war
with a towel and a room


Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid

L. Zaran

Death is not the final word.
Without ears, my father still listens,


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Northwest by No Northwest

I've been fortunate enough here at RBP to recently publish a few poetry books by a pair of writers whose work I believe merits serious praise.

While not being one to limit writing or writers to their regional qualities, I'll indulge those who worry about such matters by allowing this--K.C. Bacon and Charles Deemer are Northwest writers who have earned their regional merit badges.

Neither was born in this part of the U.S. (I was, and believe me--I am nothing like these guys, who are driven, determined, and obsessed with their work. I am laid back, lazy, cynical, and so "Oregon" that you would have a tough time distinguishing me from a dead, old Douglas fir were you to come across us in the Oregon Cascades).

As late-comers, K.C. and Charles earned their badges by living in the Northwest for many years and paying attention to and absorbing the qualities that comprise the Northwestern milieu. They have done so while filtering this place through much more sophisticated worldviews than are usually noticed in average Northwesterners. They have also, to some extent, left it all behind them as dust in their careers.

Still, in my pantheon, they are linked to Snyder, who was born here and moved away; Kesey, who mainly stuck around; Roethke, who lived and worked in Seattle for many years; and Carver, who roamed the West Coast as a vagabond storyteller.

Which tells me they have absorbed those artists' work in deliberate consideration of where they are and what it meant to be transplanted into this unique place long ago, even if they have more recently heard the sirens of else and other.

They caught the Northwest vibe years ago (I've been fighting the chill of the backwoods hick's voice my entire life, which may make me seem like a phony at times as I beckon the urban muses).

Interestingly, both Bacon and Deemer were Navy brats, which is hardly a strictly Northwest consideration, discounting the Puget Sound area. They haven't anything of the logger and woodsman in them, which was my milieu for better or worse, and which is dying even as I type this, though pockets of resistance may be found in the hinterlands.

Enough! Praise the poets!

Here is a poem from K.C. Bacon's Morandi's Bottles, published in April by Round Bend Press.


An unexpected sight
Is sometimes all it takes
To see right sense in things.

And so it was today
When I saw, tumbling down,
A leaf ahead of winter’s brink

With a pale halo of life
Fluttering its red edges,
Disposed of by its tree.

In that alone moment
The almanac of time
Read true. All things shall die.

Such for you, such for me.
For we shall, too, find fall
At some last lasting place,

In our crimson tatters
And deciduous dreams,
Completed, at rest

In the dirt and the moss,
Caught in the limbs of that
Generous azalea.

And only then shall we find
The harmony and grace
That is final provenance.

Before my life is
Downed like this fallen leaf,
I repeat this now to you:

I saw your face once first.
It endures with me.
Life was not love til now.

K.C. Bacon

And this, from Charles Deemer's June, 2011 RBP release In My Old Age.

Sometimes I Awake

sometimes I awake
feeling like a character
in a Kafka novel
life imprisonment
without a charge

sometimes I awake
and feel instant disappointment
not another day

sometimes I awake
my head filled
with Mulligan riffs
let's boogie!

sometimes I awake
and I am younger
and she is younger
and we are younger

sometimes I awake
the dog licking my face
we have to stop
meeting like this

sometimes I awake
a moment of panic
where am I?
who am I?

sometimes I awake
but only for a moment
a return to sleep
as silent as prayer

sometimes I awake
at the end of a speech
to great applause
an award I think
but maybe not

sometimes I awake
feeling like myself

I ache therefore I am

Charles Deemer


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Opening Lines (O to T)

For lack of a better way to do this, we're running down an A to Z list of 26 poets' opening lines.

A tried and true workshop method of teaching poetry writing is to pass a piece of paper around the room and ask each student to write a line. Someone starts, and each student's subsequent line builds the poem. It's always interesting to see where the poem goes.

I think that is why I like opening lines, because I loved that classroom exercise, and because the best poems mobilize immediately. When you read a poem with a dazzling opening you're at the poet's mercy. He/She carries you all the way or drops you with a painful thud.

Hemingway famously said, "Write one true sentence at a time." He was talking about writing stories, obviously, but the maxim applies to poetry as well.

Writing great poetry is not easy, of course. But here are a few more opening lines by poets who have solved the mystery.

S. Olds

To say that she came into me,
from another world, is not true.

Li Po

I take my wine jug out among the flowers
to drink alone, without friends.


Light is more important than the lantern,
The poem more important than the notebook,

K. Raine

Wanting to know all
I overlooked each particle

D. Schwartz

The riches of the poet are equal to his poetry
His power is his left hand


Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.

(to be continued)


Friday, July 1, 2011

More Opening Lines (H-N)

With the first line the poem begins to speak and sets its course. Here are a few of RBP's favorites.


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.


When I die choose a star
and name it after me

LR Jackson

Across a continent imaginary
Because it cannot be discovered now


I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries


When I see a couple of kids
And guess he's fucking her and she's


Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me


I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,

(to be continued)