The Itinerant Poetry Librarian

The Itinerant Poetry Librarian will avail herself of our couch for one more week before leaving to share her collection of “lost and forgotten” poetry with the citizenry of Seattle. Thus far the Poetry Library has been featured at the Independent Printing Resource Center (IPRC), Reading Frenzy, The New American Art Union, The Free Skool, In Other Words and outside the gates of Portland’s aptly named Portland Art Center.

A thorough explanation of the Poetry Library would require tremendous time and edits for accuracy by the punctilious pen of the librarian herself. Therefore, I will provide only a flavor of the benefits of membership.

The Poetry Library is a temporary installation of a varied, and rotating, collection of obscure poetic publications from around the world. During an installation all are welcome to join the library provided they are willing to abide by the Library’s Bye-Bye Laws while members of the library. Here is Bye-Bye Law 13, by way of example:

“No person shall behave in a disorderly, discordant or overly debauched manner in the library or use violent, abusive, or obscene language therein unless expressly invited and incited to do so by the Library Authority. The Library Authority takes no responsibility for matters and manners occurring from the above.”

Patrons are given a library card with which to check out materials and a free haiku upon joining. The Itinerant Poetry Librarian manages the checking in and out of materials and makes suggestions about readings patrons might enjoy. Upon the closing of the library all materials must be returned to the librarian. The library card, haiku, and a copy of the Bye-Bye Laws (if requested by the new member) are retained by the patron.

The Itinerant Poetry Librarian manages a thorough chronicle of her project which is open all hours.



He looks frequently to the periphery of the room- in the upper corners where the ceiling and walls form a vertex. I wonder what he sees there. Long pauses between thoughts are when his eyes most frequently dart upward, as if he’s waiting for the next words to be given to him. I see children look in this way sometimes. They stare at the corners in markets or at empty park benches. It makes you wonder who might be there to return their look.

This elderly gentleman has an abundance of energy, smiles frequently, and is unafraid to offer his opinions. He sits with us in a sixth grade classroom abandoned to the leisure of summer and lectures on teaching astronomy. He’s taught for decades and his enthusiasm for astronomy is contagious.

Here is what children (and you) should know about the heavens.* The point directly above your head is known as the zenith and if you draw a line from the zenith through the top of your head- down to the center of the Earth- you’ll find the nadir point. If you think of the horizon as a flat plane extending from your feet then you can draw a sphere above your head with the top-most point of the dome being the zenith. This is your own unique dome of heaven. Since two people can’t occupy the same space at the same time** each person has their own entirely unique celestial dome with an individualized perception of the stars overhead. When you reflect on this you realize what a wondrous observation it happens to be. Your perception of the stars mirrors the unique nature of your individuality. You see the heavens like no other at each moment of your life.

This idea immediately reminds me of a time when the stars aligned for me. I was in the library of my junior college doing some research for an analysis of Whitman when I became fed up with the dry blocks of endless academic text and decided to spend ten minutes looking at some art books. I randomly grabbed a hefty tome about a German artist named Anselm Kiefer and the imagery left me dumbstruck. Charred landscapes, decayed photographs of staged maritime battles, massive expressionist prints-- it was the least safe art I’d ever seen. This one book on Kiefer compelled me to enroll in a drawing class. This one drawing class led me to abandon english studies all together.

Kiefer remains a great inspiration and there is one watercolor in particular that I think about often. It’s a subtle one and I would urge you to find a good reproduction. It translates into English as something like “Everyone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven” and it is literally an illustration of a solitary figure in a vast field under his own dome of sky. The ambiguity arises with the figure itself. Dressed in what appears to be a dull military green he raises his right hand in Nazi salute. I won’t presume to know Kiefer’s intentions, but I can state this: good and evil may strive for dominance on the earthly horizon, but the stars consistently remind us about the origins of voices in corners.

*These aren’t the only things that middle school students should know about the heavens it is apparently just a fine way to begin the exploration.

**Put aside theoretical physics for the time being.



I’m attending a seminar to assist with my upcoming year of teaching. Over the course of the next four days we will explore the sciences, humanities, and developmental issues related to the age of my students.

In a writing workshop we were asked to take fifteen minutes and write a story with a surprising element. As a person who prides himself on telling surprising stories, I found myself painfully blocked. The only tale that I could think of was amusing, but hardly surprising to anyone who’s eaten in France. As the minutes ticked by I stopped trying to force something brilliant or poetic and put down this simple bit of autobiography:

I am the only person seated at the outdoor cafe in the early hours of the evening. Even though the narrow street has been thrown into shadow the cobblestones still radiate heat from the summer sun. A lanky waiter inquires about a beverage. I order a Belgian beer, having grown weary of experimenting with weak French brews for the past week. The drink comes as warm as the day but I hold my tongue lest I live up to the reputation of my countrymen abroad.

Dinner is ordered and arrives just as the last dregs of beer are put away. “Un autre boisson avec le diner?” he asks.* The first beer has warmed me to the idea of another, regardless of how tepid it might be. I order another. The waiter stands quietly staring down at my bowl of steaming mussels in a delicate white wine broth. Then he regards me with a look that seems two parts pity and one part disgust. “Monsieur,” he says crisply as he slips the bill beneath the lip of my bowl, “absolument pas!”**

*Note emphasis.

**Linguists be aware that French is not my forte. Tu as? Furthermore, I don’t know the key commands for accents so spelling errors are inherent.



Last week I completed the paperwork that would accession “Interlude” into Portland’s public art collection. The decision to purchase the work was made by the Regional Art & Culture Council (RACC) on behalf of the city. RACC is one of the primary reasons that Portland’s art scene continues to thrive as they offer a host of grants to individuals and institutions of all creative disciplines.

Of all the works I’ve created in the past two years “Interlude” was the most difficult to complete and the work that I’m most proud of. For years I’d been keeping this low resolution image of the sun setting out the library window where I worked. It was one of those stormy fall days where the water whipped about in all directions as it fell from the sky and I felt fortunate to be among the quiet confines of the books and magazines. When the sun broke along the horizon the blackness of the storm clouds was made all the more apparent and having nothing but the Photo Phazer (an early digital camera that had been marketed to children, was held like a phazer from Star Trek, and had perhaps 5MB of total storage capability) I shot the scene through a rain-spattered window. The resulting image moved me. It was powerful in its mediocre representation of something so sublime. The blacks were mushy stains when the digital file was printed and the edges of shapes revealed the square corners of pixels more than the organic contours of nature.

When it came time to take on the challenge of converting this image into a drawing I opted to play down the digital origins of the image. The abstract composition of line and form took center stage and mushy blacks became silvery graphite. I did preserve the lack of clarity in the lower fifth of the image where a bramble of branches in shadow simply melded into one nebulous void of darkness, but ultimately the drawing was biased toward grandeur rather than technological mediocrity.

Such considerations might seem pedantic, but these are the musings that go through your head when you stare at a work in progress over the course of many weeks. These considerations are what grant “Interlude” some presence and they are made possible by idle days before windows- staring out at storms.


Swab the Deck

I was surrounded by pirates. At first I thought it simply the predictable cultural reaction to a media blitz by the movie companies. But then I considered the ocean beating against the sand just a few hundred yards away and decided that pirates were a logical tourist gimmick for a coastal town. Blaming the movies or consumer culture reveals my jaded So Cal sensibilities-- for Hatteras and the surrounding islands have a very legitimate history of piracy that has nothing to do with theme park rides or t-shirts.

Edward Teach was one of the most notorious pirates to plunder along the Eastern seaboard. His long braided dark beard earned him the moniker Blackbeard and, according to the “museum” at a local pirate gift shop, he was a sturdy fellow who carried plenty of pistols and travelled in the company of the Devil himself (such tall tales may have served as the inspiration for Ahab’s shadowy companions a little over a century later). It was on the shores of Ocracoke that Blackbeard would fall to a cadre of soldiers dispatched be the governor of Virginia to end the pirate’s raping and robbing along the Outer Banks. If ever there was a locality in America that deserved to capitalize on the pirate mythos its the communities separated from the American mainland by the Pamlico Sound.

The world is a very different place than when Teach led raiding parties off the Queen Anne’s Revenge. While many in my generation dress up like scurvy dogs and attend themed taverns for their grog I’m quite honest with myself about the roll I might have played aboard a pirate vessel. On July 4th I spent two hours in the blistering sun scrubbing years of accumulated filth off the wooden slats of my back deck. It may not be as glamorous as swinging from the rigging or engaging in a skirmish with cutlass brandished high, but let’s face it, slippery wooden planks would have been as great a liability to pirates in the 1700’s as they are to party guests in the twenty-first century.


Pinch Me

We arrive to a lightning storm over the Atlantic. Out at sea massive thunderheads are periodically back-lit by the quiver of lightning. They appear as puffy silhouettes with halos of orange and purple. Some of the strikes surge down toward the blackened sea and create a momentary reflection in the water. The air is dry and warm as we stand parallel with the storm on the third floor deck.

* * *

The current Cape Hatteras lighthouse in North Carolina was moved a couple thousand feet to avoid being swallowed by the sea. That was the fate of the first lighthouse over a century ago when the dunes retreated from her base. The current lighthouse is meticulously painted with a black and white candy stripe. The interior is whitewashed with the winding staircase a deep red. This brick column is almost more picturesque then the view it provides from its wrought iron balcony. Part of the lighthouse’s allure is the romance of its function- warning ships of danger in the darkened stormy seas, but part of it is also the incongruous form it adds to a landscape of scrubby trees and rolling dunes.

* * *

There’s a constant wind here. Out on the beach someone is flying a kite that looks like an orange shark. It dives about in the currents of the air: a furious flapping of streamers trailing behind its fins.

* * *

Blue crabs are red when cooked. You flip them over to find a “key” tab on their sternum. Lifting up and breaking off this tab allows you to pry off the upper shell and reveal the innards. At that point the experience can vary. Once you’ve peeled away the inedible lungs you might be confronted with bulbous globs of goo ranging in color from yellow to blue-green. This goo usually graces the tips of the sweet white meat that you are seeking. I’m told that the goo is considered a delicacy but I suspect this might be a diversionary tactic to keep my thoughts away from food poisoning. Crabs are scavengers after all- quick moving sea insects that feed off the bottom of the ocean. However, they’re also mighty tasty cooked in Old Bay seasoning. I crack off legs in hungry abandon, hardly noticing when a barb on a claw slices open my thumb as I try to free a morsel of meat from cracks in the exoskeleton.

* * *

The fourth floor of the house (named “Pinch Me”) has a tromp l’oeil ceiling painted to resemble a cloudy blue sky. From the vantage point the room offers you can watch the moon rise over the Atlantic or cars queue up for the ferry to Ocracoke island. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the room is a coffee table that’s built like one of the wooden boats Major John Wesley Powell used to brave the white waters of the Grand Canyon after the Civil War. There is a glass top over the boat and it sits atop a little stand. The stand is quite the liability, with the two back legs listing heavily toward the stern of the ship. Someone has moved the table to the periphery of the room with the hopes that it will remain there unnoticed. Sadly, I doubt it will survive much longer in a vacation rental that sees a new group of vacationers nearly every week.

* * *

Scattered throughout the island you’ll find tiny fenced plots tucked haphazardly around the water-ways and tourist developments. Foot-and-a-half tall white pickets randomly partition off the yards of vacation homes. Or they rise from the marshes below the wood plank boardwalks that surround a shopping center. These small fenced yards house the eroded tombstones of early families that settled the Outer Banks. There are many diminutive stones poking from the sand- children lost on this tiny finger of sand out at sea.

The South is hardly afraid of, or inconsiderate towards, the past. Most of the graves are well tended with fresh flowers, urns, and mementos. It’s odd in this day to consider a municipality without an established graveyard, but is seems that the randomness of the ocean itself has inspired an organic approach to interment. The deceased were laid to rest on the high spots of the island or on a family’s property. Time has shifted property lines as surely as its shifted the dunes, and now the dead are part of the backdrop in a community established to help people forget about life during a week or two of vacation.

* * *

We cross the Virginia line and a bug lands on my hand as I drive. I brush it away quickly, fearing all of the bugs here equally due to a general ignorance regarding their relative dangers. The bug clumsily bounces onto the dashboard and begins to asses its situation. A few quickly aborted attempts at flight confirm that my rough hand has damaged one of its wings. So ends that insect. Or, so I think. . . As the miles tick away on the odometer the tiny trespasser proceeds to very slowly remove its wings from its thorax and leave them on the dashboard. They look like the smallest of fish scales as they glint in the sun bouncing off the black dash. With the wings discarded the insect looks very much like an ant with a black and white striped abdomen. It explores the dash with great care before finally settling on a steep ascent toward the roof of the car. I follow its journey out of the corner of my eye, wondering what fate awaits it when the rental car employees vacuum away all trace of our presence from the car.