ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Mark Strand: What I Have to Say

Mark Strand

Mark Strand (Credit: The New Yorker)

I usually have no idea what I will say before I begin to write. This is especially true with poems, and only slightly less so with lectures or essays. I write to find out what I have to say—not what I have to say about a given subject, but simply what I have to say. ~ Mark Strand, Poetry in the World

Mark Strand died on Saturday. There are many tributes to recommend including the following:

What I Have to Say

That opening passage above says much for me, though I’m often overly confident about what I think I want to say before I start. I’m almost always mistaken. Overconfident. It takes me some struggling to admit it. Several revisions. Sometimes years. Often humbled, but still stubborn. At best I write through the hubris, break into uncertainty, risk, discovery, perhaps find what I have to say by revising, redacting, rewriting,…

And yet the lesson takes relearning. Again and again.

A Kind of Wonderment

Strand’s entire lecture/essay is worth reading. It’s a clever “inside out” way of wrestling with the challenge he’s been asked to tackle. It’s also a brave and honest reflection on the what and why of poems. A search for what the poet has to say. A search that never quite ends, never quite reaches its quarry.

It is a selfperpetuating search like chasing a mirage that deepens the poet’s (and the reader’s) appetite for, and receptivity to, wonder. It offers the possibility of feeling more alive.

When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive… ~ Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998 (The Paris Review)

Thank you, Mark Strand, for searching for what you had to say. You have deepened our wonder and encouraged us to search for our own Holy Grails.

Wild Life with Mary Oliver

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver (“The summer day”)

Wild Life: Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver

Wild Life with Mary Oliver

Will you spring up from your pillow in the morning, heart racing, mind wild with questions and dreams? Will you sing softly then louder – to your spouse, your child, your dog, your view – an extemporaneous anthem of wants and wills and when’s and why’s?

Will you step into a steaming shower and listen to the raindrops and streams and oceans as you suds yesterday from your skin and hair? Or will you stride past the shower, the bathtub, the sink and dance directly to the lake? Will you dive in and swim until the shore calls you home again.

Will you pluck swollen raspberries from the brambles, grapes from the vines that wind through the fence around the garden, an apple from the gnarled tree in the first meadow?

And then, rested and clean and sated, how will you live this wild and precious morning?

Good luck! (And thank you, Mary Oliver.)

Mary Oliver Resources

Life is Poetry

A daily doodle by yours truly, and an eternal truth by the powers that be!

Life is Poetry: A daily doodle by yours truly, and an eternal truth by the powers that be!

Life is poetry.

Except when it isn’t. Like when it’s more of a broken record or an abscessed tooth or a tropical storm with hurricane potential.

But at it’s best, today for example, life is poetry.

Sometimes life rhymes. The message may be as difficult interpret as a summer mirage, but for a glimmering instant we stumble upon mesmerizing clarity.

And when I glimpse the poetry I’ve learned to step aside. Or sing along. Or dance.

I’ve learned that ignoring the poetry is all too easy, but unhealthy. Unhappy. It’s alright to sing off key or dance to my own rhythm. What’s important is diving in. Or yielding. What’s important is being open and receptive to the poetry. What’s important is embracing the poetry.

Each of us lives a life that expresses… Every thing we do, everything we are, expresses… What message are you giving the world, through your actions, how you live, how you treat others, what you accomplish, how you choose to be, every moment of every day?

Are you an angry rant? A ballad? An epic poem?

Perhaps a sonnet, a limerick, a haiku?

If your life is a poem, what do you want it to say? What would you rather leave out? (zenhabits)

Here’s one poet’s answer:

What’s your answer? If life is poetry, what are you expressing? What’s your song? What’s your dance?

Marginalia: Billy Collins

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Last week I shared one of my favorite Billy Collins poems, “Marginalia”, with my reading group. I was surprised how few had heard/read it before. Billy Collins has enjoyed the poet equivalent of rock star status over the last decade, and yet nobody seemed familiar with Collins’ meandering reflection on one of my favorite subjects.

While the poem’s charm and much of its aural appeal resides in the specific instances of marginalia which Collins includes (calling out Kierkegaard, dissing Dickinson, bravo-ing Baldwin, etc.), there are three excerpts that contribute handily to the universal notion of marginalia, and I’d like to pass them along.

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.


Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.


We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

~ Billy Collins, “Marginalia” (Poetry Magazine, February 1996)

Spot on! One, two, three perfectly captured truths about marginalia.

Collins is a member of your family, your best friend, sharing everyday moments and feelings so vividly they become your memories as well. (Jason Weisberger, Boing Boing.)

I’m still slightly perplexed by the almost combative bent of the marginalia scribblers early in the poem. While there’s a steady evolution toward less antagonistic marginalia penned by students and admirers, a shift accentuated by the love stained finale, I don’t completely grok the poet’s intentions. Perhaps hostile marginalia is sufficiently foreign to me that I lack the requisite context. I’ll work on that!

But the notion of challenging the author on his/her own playing field (or just off the edge of the playing field) is familiar. As is the curious human instinct to plant a personal flag. I was here. I staked this ground. I exist… For me this latter category often falls under the category of reminders. Can I find this passage or that reference easily later? Let’s make sure.

Marginalia was first published in Picnic, Lightning and later included in the collection Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. If you’d like to read the whole poem now, you can access it online as reproduced from the February 1996 issue of Poetry Magazine. As with most of Billy Collins’ poems, this deserves to be read aloud. Once you’ve heard the poet read aloud, you’ll forever hear his voice when you read his words. But even in your own voice, you’ll bring the words to life in a way that they deserve. Enjoy!

Borderer’s Flaneur

Borderer's "Flaneur"

Borderer’s “Flaneur”

Fit for some Friday flânerie? I’ve come across the perfect weekly wrap-up to entice fellow flâneurs (and flâneuses) to abandon toil early for a plunge into the pleasure palace waiting beyond the office doors.

If you’re deadline-married and unable (or unwilling, alas) to veer from your tasks, so be it. But if you’re free to wonder and wander I’d like to introduce you to Borderer’s “Flaneur”, a retired broadcaster’s “shattered prose which goes under the generic description ‘poetry’“.

I encourage you to read the entire poem, but to tempt you away from your deadlines here are a few amuse gueules from Borderer’s “Flaneur”.

I am sitting in a bistro, my legs are crossed,
Watching the swing of passing skirts.

I am the one the teachers cursed, smiling,
“He just does not apply himself!”


I wrote a story of 16,600 words.
I wondered what had possessed me.

I prefer to scribble out poetry,
Finished in a single sitting.

I never learned to march in step;

[…]I have the time to contemplate these things,
As I stroll without a goal.

I will kiss you, whoever you are;
I inflict poetry only to seduce.

I am a stroller on the sidewalks;
I know everything is forgotten.

I know, in a world where everything ends,
I cannot waste my time, so

Take my hand along the boulevards;
Let us embrace in every doorway.

Are you seduced, fellow flaneurs? The workaday week will wait. This invitation will not… Enjoy!

Mashup Manifesto: Steal Like an Artist

Austin Kleon practices “creative thievery”. Perhaps we all do! (Meandering Margaux)

Get caught stealing like an artist! Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) did… And it seems to be serving him rather well.

Austin Kleon, Newspaper Blackout

Newspaper Blackout will take you down the blackout poetry path, demonstrating the visual and literary appeal of Kleon’s quirky poems. Kleon derives poetry by crossing out most of the words in a given publication, discovering meaning in the remnants, and he’d like to show you how to do the same. (I can’t help thinking about refrigerator leftovers for some reason, but most leftover success stories involve adding/combining rather than subtracting…)

In Steal Like an Artist Kleon deploys his full quiver of mashup, remixing and doodling tricks to offer some practical wisdom about the creative process to his 19 year old self. We’ve all wished our way back in time, yearned for a redo knowing what we now know. Kleon skips the wish and gets it done.

Rainy Verse

Griffin wonders why HE can't have Oreos and coffee for breakfast...

I awaken to sheets of rain. And a brief power outage while fixing breakfast for Griffin, my rain-averse, pro-breakfast Labrador Retriever.

“What?” I can see the puzzled thought balloon in the dark above his cocked head. “Breakfast blackout?”

And then the lights come back on. Or the generator. Briefly. And then “the mains” as our linguistically amusing royal forbears would say.

Breakfast. For beast and man. But first, a rainy verse.

Reading a poem written in a rain puddle.
A pickup truck speeds through, soaking me.
I wear the poem home to read again later.

Not this morning’s verse. Pulled instead from the recycling bin of orphan poems slowly composting…

Bag of Dust or Self-Help Book?

Sarah Salway's poetry collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help BookI started my morning with Dust, a poem by Sarah Salway (@sarahsalway).

More accurately, I started my morning with Sarah Salway. She read her dusty poem. Aloud.

You might consider starting your morning the same way. If it’s not already too late. Or even if it is…

I’ve listened to the poem — from her newest poetry collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book — three times so far. In fact, I’m afraid I may have inhaled some of the dust while listening. The idea of hording and absorbing a bag of dust, all that remains of a departed spouse, won’t abandon me. Salway’s lines stride — cloying yet tear-jerkingly poignant — toward a horizon that never arrives.

At less than a minute and a half, listening to this audio clip just might be the best invested time of your day. But fair warning: you might listen three times. Or more.

I tip my sombrero to to Nik Perring (@nikperring) for his post “Dust. And Sarah Salway” which opened my ears to Salway’s bag of dust tricks. Want more? Recent stops on Sarah Salway’s virtual poetry reading tour include blog posts by Tania Hershman, Danuta Kean, and Lia Leendertz. Enjoy.

Flanerie: Banal into Art

contemporary flaneur Paris
Kieslowski’s world

A table, a cup over this table, a woman looks the raindrops outside the window. Then, an old woman tirelessly tries to put the trash into the garbage collector. The Polish movie director Kieslowski was a genius in turning trivial instants into poetry. Finding art in triviality makes art closer to quotidian and makes life less difficult to be lived. The writer Brissac Peixoto discusses about this theme in his book “Paisagem Urbana”. Brissac defends the art arisen from the moment, the stare at something banal turning it into art — and only the instant in the middle of the contemporaneity’s paranoia can put the sceneries in relief. (

Transforming the quotidian into poetry and discovering art in the banal, this is the flaneur’s gift and responsibility. To create. To curate. To discern and share what is human, what it beautiful amidst the maelstrom. To frame and share what otherwise would have been lost, and in so doing to reawaken that humanity in all of us. A heady task for an idler, you say? Perhaps. But undertaken with resolve and satisfaction.

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My Life as a Creek

Why do I love Twitter? Let me count the ways… Okay, there are some Twitter cons (ie: a tempting time suck!) but the Twitter pros so totally outweigh them. There’s a fascinating sort of rhizomic community building that is unique from Facebook, Google Buzz, etc. But there’s something more compelling and yet more ellusive: the “twitter stream”. Sure, this reference gets bandied about in a variety of ways, and maybe some of the water metaphor’s sex appeal has been diluted along the way, but nobody seems to have coined a more apt alternative.

In just such an aqua-twitter mood the other day, I retweeted this: “just to drift… to be like a river…it is so important!” (RT @t2van via @conscire) Familiar allusions. Not earth shattering. Just a feeling, a yearning sent out into the either that resonated with others, that for a few brief seconds connected strangers. A common dream, a shared aspiration.

Shortly thereafter I received this response from Laura Munson(@Lauramunson):

“Read the Jim Harrison poem, Cabin Poem. Much to say about rivers in just a few perfect words.” ~ Laura Munson

It was Friday afternoon and I was headed off to opening night of Mrs. Farnsworth in Saranac Lake. I was running lines in my mind, driving through the Adirondack’s High Peaks. I wasn’t tweeting. Not much anyway! And I didn’t have time to look for Jim’s Harrison’s “Cabin Poem”. This morning I did. With two performances complete, and a tsunami of family and houseguests moving back out to sea, I’ve had time to sit down at my desk and begin catching up. And in the midst of catching up, I rememberd Laura’s recommendation, so I Googled Jim Harrison’s, “Cabin Poem” and read the brief but reflective poetry. Then reread it. Again and again. Then pushed my seat back from my cluttered desk and walked across my study to an arm chair, warm in the morning sun, and settled in to ponder while listening to the waves crashing against our dock house beyond the open window…

I’ve decided to make up my mind 
about nothing, to assume the water mask, 
to finish my life disguised as a creek, 
an eddy, joining at night the full, 
sweet flow, to absorb the sky, 
to swallow the heat and cold, the moon 
and the stars, to swallow myself
in ceaseless flow.
Jim Harrison, Cabin Poem

The strong Buddhist undertone aside, don’t you hear the Twitter overtone? I’ve certainly allowed myself to be swallowed in Twitter’s “ceaseless flow” more times than I care to keep track of. Which takes us back to where I started, to the pros and cons of this curious phenomenon called Twitter. It can be a tempting time suck. Yes. And sometimes that’s what we want and/or need, even when we resist admitting it. Swimming in a massive conversation about ideas that interest us, that connect us with others who are interested, interesting, challenging, educating, inspiring. Submitting to the “sweet flow”…

If you’re new to Twitter (or puffing out your chest for resisting that pointless waste of time) then you might not have had the opportunity to evaluate the rewards, the sheer joy of the sort of tweetalogue I’ve just recounted. Clearly Laura Munson, who I’ve never met, feels otherwise. And I’m grateful and richer for it! Thanks for guiding me to this insightful poem.

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