Saturday, April 30, 2011


Don’t say that sonnet you’re about to read,
But sell it to us, as an actor would;
Make every word of it not word but deed,
An action in our ears well understood.

Project each syllable across the room;
Articulate the vowels and consonants;
If it’s a sad one, then convey the gloom,
Or if it’s happy, make your sonnet dance.

Your pitch must rise and fall as passion sways,
For nothing’s duller than a monotone,
But yet avoid inordinate displays
Of histrionic art that raise a groan.

     A sonnet is a little song to sing,
     So open up your heart and let it ring.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


So, here we are.  Now, what are we to do?
What course to take, what avenue pursue?
Or should we simply sit and contemplate,
Divining from the stars our destined fate?

Is destiny prescribed or is it made:
Inherent in our souls, not to be stayed;
Or something we produce, choice after choice,
Whose consequence we’ll regret or rejoice?

Most likely, both these theories are true:
Both fate and choice determine what we do:
Within the framework fortune has provided
We carry out those actions we’ve decided,

     And what we reap, the consequence we find,
     Is by both will and accident designed.



What is it about morning that makes birds
At the first glint of dawn begin to sing,
Bringing as well to me a rush of words
To thread along a tight iambic string?

A kind of joy, I guess, that darkness will
Give way again to day, and life return
From slumber’s shadowland, inert and still
As death, and yet once more the sun will burn.


Saturday, April 23, 2011


Yes, I have read the whole of Paradise 
Lost—yes, I did, and it has changed my brain.
True, it was tedious at times, a strain
To stay awake, but most times, though, concise
And action packed and never imprecise,
As when depicting the infernal pain
Of Lucifer on Hell’s dark lake and plain
First comprehending his dread sacrifice.
It changed my brain, however, stretching it
To accommodate a syntax flowing on
Like Indus, Nile, Yaloo, or Amazon,
Growing to be among the few and fit,
Enchanted by his grand iambic beat,
Who apprehend the genius of his feat.

* * * 


Whatever inspiration is, it came
To him quite often while he slept
And sang into his inner ear the same
Grand strains that made old bards adept:
Blind Homer and sage Virgil, Dante’s guide,
But further back, the prophets of the Torah;
Yet sang as well to those less deified,
More secular, like Petrarch to his Laura.
What they all shared was the sonority
Of verse, of different kinds, but all designed
To urge their syllables along more free
To find where they’re unconsciously inclined.
     This is the mystery of consciousness,
     Since how we know at all, we can but guess.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


          Of all the things to do with time—
          To make, to waste, to use, to lose—
          The one most apt that fits this rhyme
          Is to take time and not abuse
          What opportunity you’ve got
          To do what’s good and shun what’s not.


Saturday, April 9, 2011



Friday, April 8, 2011


1.    You want to, really want to become a better writer.

2.    You read lots, especially excellent writing of the kind you’d like to write, but all kinds, to see how our language works in many modes, even poetry, the most exact.

3.    You sometimes read aloud the best writing you’ve found, so that you take it slowly, hearing its syntax and sonorities while ingesting them into your brain.

4.    You write.  You practice writing regularly, frequently, attentive to the quality of your prose, sounding it out in your head, if not on your vocal cords.

5.    You may find it better to write by hand on lined paper than on a computer.  Slower is often better, for then you can tinker more easily with details, crossing out rather than deleting, keeping in sight all the options you’ve come up with and may revert to on further consideration.  The second stage—typing—then becomes a new opportunity to see your draft moving toward its final form in print.


Thursday, April 7, 2011


(after watching Ken Burns’ Civil War)

While animals will fiercely fight for food
And what their physical survival needs,
We humans show a different attitude,
Killing each other gladly over creeds.

Who’s right, who’s wrong and whose belief
Reigns sovereign in our skewed mentality
Has brought us always to our greatest grief,
Proving our innate criminality.

Ironically it’s Honor we defend
Against our fiendish adversaries’ might,
And in the name of Glory we pretend
Ours is the Truest Way, the Sacred Right.

     Ideas are more ravenous than lusts,
     And their abuse by humans most disgusts.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


               Each dawn I find the Keen Serene
               Of tea-infused tranquility,
               While in my mind scene after scene
               Presents fresh possibility.
               What starts a jumble soon sorts out
               In measured ranks across the page;
               Thoughts clogged before then freely spout
               And what was senseless soon grows sage.


Monday, April 4, 2011


In this course we will anticipate, speculate and extrapolate what lies ahead for human beings on Earth within your likely lifetime.  But, more significantly, we’ll ask what ought to lie ahead: where should we be heading, to the extent that our hopes and dreams can set our course and drive us where we’d like to go?

Obviously, the future will be filled with many surprises, often the consequence of novel technologies not yet invented: a cheap, safe, abundant source of power, for instance, could solve many of our current problems and conflicts.  Yet we humans face less tangible problems that are not material but psychological, sociological, political, moral, ethical and spiritual.

Simply put, we can imagine levels of health, sanity, and even wisdom we have yet to reach, either individually or collectively.  Or, if we cannot imagine them, we need to develop such a visionary perspective so as to lead us where we need to go.  “If you don’t have a dream,” goes the old song, “how you gonna have a dream come true?”  More eloquently, Dr. King simply declared: “I have a dream,” and it was a dream of an evolved society, freed of bigotry and full of opportunity for all.  Likewise, America’s visionary founders dreamed up a new kind of government than the monarchy that oppressed them, and they struggled to institute their new political invention: representative democracy.

Humanity’s future won’t just befall us; we will also invent it.  Invention is one of the defining capabilities of our large-brained species.  Far more than other animals, we may fashion our fates.  We have the opportunity and even the obligation to do so—and do so wisely, lest we violate the wonderful promise of our existence in this universe.

Therefore, I challenge us all in this course to develop our imaginative, visionary capabilities first to discern problems and flaws in current human behaviors, individual and collective, and then to conceive and contrive remedies for those ills, improvements and inventions to promote the well-being of Earth’s panoply of creatures, with whom we human beings live interdependently.


Friday, April 1, 2011


In the Q & A session after Billy Collins’ poetry reading at Rollins’ Annie Russell Theatre on March 29, I asked him:

“What do you as a free verse poet think you may have lost by not employing rhyme and meter?”

Collins’ chief answer was “Trust,” meaning that auditors feel comfortable listening to the patterns of metrical poems as they unfold in expected ways.

What I was angling for, though, was what he might have lost that would facilitate his writing of poems, even though many people would suppose that free verse such as he practices is easier than using rhyme and meter.

The next day, I attempted to answer my own question thus:


for Billy Collins

The rack of rhyme and meter seems to some
A torture, but to me a tool to plumb
The deep recesses of unconscious mind,
In which emerging poems are designed.
The rhythm’s like the pistons in a car
Beating away until its forward gear
Engages them kinetically to drive
Toward somewhere I’d not otherwise arrive.
The rhyme likewise accelerates my pace
And gives a coming line a certain place
To aim for, limiting infinitude
And making writing more an interlude
Than a laborious task of groping blind
And lost in tangled thickets of the mind.

His emailed reply, after I’d sent him my verse:


You should try it with the training wheels off sometime.