selections from my long narrative poem out from _adversus press_

in january of 2021 i was holed up in my bedroom in our flat for about a week w/ boxes of genealogy materials (courtesy of my mom), old books (digital and paper) on nineteenth-century mining and geology, old plat maps, and books on the blackhawk war and on woodland effigy mounds, concocting a long narrative poem in segments. the effort’s purpose was to forge in the imagination a commingling of my own family lives, my ancestral family’s history, our inhabiting of particular locales (esp’ly milwaukee, janesville (wi), vinegar hill (il), cornwall, and the black forest), and the geological forces that bequeathed the rock, hydrology, and plant life that we’ve all shared. all thru the master trope of mining, since my mom’s earliest family in the area came here as lead miners. it’s set primarily in a middle cornish meter of randomly alternating 7- and 4-syllable lines.

it was a task a long time in the making.

anyhow, it’s called leads and diggings: a conglomerated family history, and the new adversus press was kind enough to publish five sections of the longer work. you can read them here if you have an interest, and the full work will be featured in my new collection, be radiant: a sonata pome, coming out in jan 2024 (more on that soon…). (there will be images from those old books in the full version)

new paternal poem in _wild roof journal_

the kind folks at wild roof journal have published a poem of mine, “for my father,” in their fifteenth issue. this came out a bit ago, but things have been busy. all good, but very little slack time for posting things.

anyhow, i made this poem when i was hiding in the shade of some cypress trees from the midday sun on the shore of lake michigan in door county. i was daydreaming and suddenly my childhood saturday morning walks with my dad to stop-n-go (our local convenience store) for a newspaper and coffee came hurtling into my brain. had to write it down.

thanks, wild roof!

(pictures from “the old water quarry” gestured toward near the end of the poem)

sna poems, series supplementum #34: new camaldoli fence loop trail

new camaldoli hermitage, founded in 1959 by camaldolese monks based in italy, sits on a mountain in the santa lucia range overlooking the pacific ocean in big sur, california. it is a vibrant contemplative community of monks with daughter houses in berkeley and san luis obispo.

i have a particular affection for the camaldolese since my spiritual mother‘s teacher was bede griffiths, an english benedictine monk who ended up as superior at saccidananda ashram in tamil nadu, india, which ended up incorporated into the camaldolese order. plus, i’m very keen on the works of one of new camaldoli’s original monks, fr. bruno barnhart, and of the current prior, cyprian consiglio. the hermitage is well worth checking out if you’re in the area or looking for a spectacular place for a retreat.

the fence loop trail winds up beyond the hermitage, and we hadn’t climbed it before our visit a couple weeks ago. a beautiful walk with views of canyon and mountain and ocean and sky. redwoods and granitic rock.

first id of vetchling.

a.

carboniferous

but standing:

a scorched redwood grove

b.

purple pincushions

underfoot—

all god’s creatures hum

c.

clouds rolling below

limbs weary

but the soul refreshed

sna poems, series supplementum # 34: garrapata state park

beside hwy 1 in california, just as one descends on big sur from the north, lies garrapata state park and its bluff trail. we went up and down the mazey path along the bluff, enjoying the persuasive breeze and bare sun on the bluffside. and the flowers! clinging to the rock and sand for dear life all around.

in addition, one of the strangest sights i’ve ever come across: on the initial passage out to the bluff side, one comes upon a cove, and as i walked out to the overlook on a dusty path to spy the cove in more detail a massive corpse met my eyes, a whale deceased in the surf, gently tossing. i hesitated to take pictures, but didn’t want to hide the encounter and fall prey to the temptation to romanticize the natural world. it was a pity to see, but the vultures were already getting ready to eat for days, and many other creatures were surely going to be fed for longer. so it’s here, as the last set of pictures at the bottom; don’t scroll all the way down if you’d rather not see, please.

on brighter notes, first id’s of clawberry, sticky monkey flower, scarlet pimpernel, woolly sunflower (“seaside” methinks), and false bindweed (calystegia).

a.

clawberry fingers,

ocean breeze:

spiked fields to the sky

b.

woolly sunflowers

look and see

oiled mammal barges

c.

over ropey roots

false bindweed

curls in the seabreeze

d.

rock in your cove crypt,

deep cut wales

exposed to air and light

sna poems, series anthropocenum #20: san antonio mission

san antonio de padua mission is 86 acres of the valley of the oaks in california’s central coast, a mission founded by the spanish in 1771. it’s off the beaten path, moreso than the other ca missions at least, and is inside a military base perimeter. very hot and the hills looked over a pretty harsh landscape. beautiful though, and the smell! very different for old wisconsinites from the southeast glacial plains.

had a good self-guided tour. a solid community of devoted parishioners out there, but also realizing they’re all getting older and the young are moving away. who knows? difficult history, but the land held its own and continues. first id’s of spanish clover and a pincushionplant (naverretia, not sure what species).

a.

the spanish clover

is thriving

in anthony’s sun

b.

the steep rounded hills

hard on sky—

sweet scents from garden

sna poems, series anthropocenum #19 (late entry): bender park

bender park is an apparently fairly developed and now returning to a rewilded state piece of land on lake michigan in oak creek. it abuts the oak creek power plant and there are some precipitous drops down to the lake.

this was a “let’s not go to work just yet” walk from last december. but i lost the pomes i had written shortly thereafter, so i bagged this entry. this morning i went to open up a book i hadn’t looked at since last december and—what do you know—there were the pomes tucked inside marking my page from late last year. so, i thought i’d pull the photos back up and give bender park its due. here we go.

a.

siren call across

the prairie

the asci don’t mind

b.

curls and curves of drift

these grey skies—

grass’s heavy scent

c.

in the juniper,

sparrow call:

thousand-year moments

sna poems, series supplementum #33: muir woods

after visiting the state natural area muir park in marquette cty, wisconsin, leading a retreat at new camaldoli hermitage in big sur brought us to california. on the way, we stopped in at muir woods to complete the set. i’d been there a couple times before, but is there a way to get tired of seeing a redwood forest?

had a foggy and drizzly start, clearing up by the end of our time there on a couple loops. the redwoods are fantastic of course, but i loved training the eye on the understory to see what was happening and who was living there too. the redwood sorrel (first id) was fantastic—cousin to the yellow wood sorrel we have growing in our front yard but w/ arresting streaked flowers. also saw a pacific wren track a moth thru the air over the path, catch it, then proceed to knock it around under the sorrel canopy for three or four minutes until it stopped fighting, whereupon the wren gulped the moth down. intense!

first id’s too of california hedge nettle, california harebell, autumn hawkbit, california spikenard, american trailplant, a new kind of horsetail (field?), and pacific trillium. whew!

a.

under the sorrel:

moth flapping,

savaged by barred wren

sna poems, #120: muir park

muir park is a mix of upland and wetland habitats surrounding ennis lake (a spring-fed kettle lake), where john muir made his boyhood home in central wisconsin. fen and bog, oak opening and dry forest etc. a wide variety of species.

it was a real hot day, so we didn’t make it too far what with the kiddos along. but we had a nice hang at the lake, a short walk, and a good view of the very sandy soil—marquette county is located in wisconsin’s central sand hills ecological landscape, a remnant of the sandy bottom of glacial lake wisconsin. worth another visit in cooler weather for sure.

first id of hoary alyssum!

a.

down fox river road

to muir’s home

and lilies like fire

mammal burrow in millenia-old glacial lake wisconsin lake bottom

b.

hot in summer winds:

oaks growing,

nodding thimbleweed

charles durward’s one-of-a-kind book, _the floral calendar gathered from the glen_

over the last several years, i’ve been working on an edition of the selected poems of bernard isaac durward, a scottish immigrant to milwaukee in the mid-1800s. along the way, i’ve made some fun discoveries; one of which is a book hand-painted by bernard’s son charles.

in my childhood, i visited durward’s glen with my grandparents who lived in baraboo, wisconsin. the small sandstone and conglomerate gorge on prentice creek shaped my young imagination and grounded me in a sense of the numinous in the natural world linked to the devotions of the catholic faith. little did i know that decades later, when i finally got a job teaching in a university english department in milwaukee, i’d end up living on the same street as bernard (the old plank road, humboldt ave) before learning that this early milwaukee poet was _the_ durward that the glen was named after.

once i learned this, and started looking into bernard’s literary and visual art, it felt as though making his work more widely available was a sort of mission. i’ve been in archives throughout milwaukee and at the glen, visited the seminary here in milwaukee where bernard worked as an english professor, and worked thru every issue of the daily milwaukee paper _the sentinel_ (and other periodicals) to track down bernard’s publishing history. all while accumulating quite a little library of bernard’s and his children’s books, all self-published in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

then, i happened on a blog post from the milwaukee public library that featured a book i hadn’t yet come across: a one of a kind book of paintings featuring one painting per page of plants found at the glen, all painted by bernard durward’s most artistically inclined son, charles.

chalres percy durward (1844-1875) was born in prestwich, england and came with his family to milwaukee, wisconsin in 1845. he learned to draw and paint at his father’s side, first at riverside in milwaukee (the plot now called gordon park), then at st. francis seminary in st. francis, wisconsin. when the family moved to durward’s glen in columbia county in 1862, charles painted plants and landscapes, but he found the only money to be had from art was in portraiture. he dutifully obliged to some extent, and farmed some in order to afford a trip abroad to scotland, england, and france. but generally speaking his “contempt for money was as absolute as any poet or philosopher could wish” (says his brother wilfrid in his moving memorial to charles in his book annals of the glen—wilfrid’s poem on his brother’s memory is reproduced at the bottom of this post). charles died suddenly and prematurely by eating a root he found while hoeing one morning; they speculate it was water hemlock—a grimly ironic death given charles’s great love of plant life. near the end of his life, when he was painting more and more religious paintings, he said “i only want enough money to live on, and then to paint madonnas the rest of my life.” well said.

two years before his death, he also painted the book of wildflowers and tree branches from the glen, the idiosyncratic book i got the chance to leaf thru in the rare books collection last month. it was lovely and big and heavy and a touching relic of this man’s life and his fondness for the growing things with whom he lived at the glen. knowing the glen and its various inhabitants from my earliest years, and knowing that charles wouldn’t live more than a couple years after compiling this book, having some time with it was a powerful experience. here’s hoping i can get the selected poems out in the near future!

the milwaukee public library has given me permission to use their own (clear and straight-on) images of the book, and i’ve included a few more of my own with poorer lighting but more “hands-on.” i hope you enjoy, and do stop by the glen to meet his models someday if you’re in the neighborhood.

“these twenty years” by wilfrid durward, on his brother’s early death

the snowdrops nestle there,

the cross a marble prayer,

rises divinely fair

above his head.

//

the shadow comes and goes,

the grass but sparcely grows,

one frail ‘dear wilding rose’

blossoms, dew-fed.

//

the pine trees overhead

a perfumed coolness spread,

we pass with muffled tread

upon their leaves.

//

of sound, the calm suspense;

life’s turmoil has gone hence;

’round every tired sense

still sweetness weaves.

sonnet-ish poem on a milwaukee symphony orchestra concert out in _the brazen head_

i don’t often make poems in traditional-modern-meters or in rhyme, but the fancy struck me during a performance of british composer edward elgar’s cello concerto in e a few months ago.

this was my first time back hearing the milwaukee symphony orchestra live since the pandemic, and the cello was just too much not to start writing something. it’s “sonnet-ish” b/c it’s fourteen lines, uses end-rhyme, and has a concluding couplet, but the lines aren’t divided in traditional ways, so i’m sure plenty of formalist folks would balk at my use of the label. 🙂

anyhow, the kind folks over at the brazen head were willing to share this poem with the wider world today—you can read it here if you like, and do check out around the site.