new audio series featuring 19th-century wisconsin poet: first poem

i grew up visiting durward’s glen outside baraboo, wisconsin. it was/is a stupendous place: a secluded sandstone and conglomerate gorge flanking prentice creek on a small wooded lot outside the precambrian baraboo hills.

later on in life, when i moved to milwaukee, i found out that the glen was named after bernard durward, a scottish immigrant to milwaukee in the 1840s and a transplant to the baraboo area in the 1860s. i also found out that i currently live on the same street he lived on way back then.

all this (and that he became the first professor of english at the catholic seminary here near milwaukee and was an artist and poet) led me to start getting together a new edition of his poems, which i’m hoping to publish within the next couple years.

but in the meantime, i’m just itching to get his work out there sooner than that, so: i’ve recently come into a copy of durward’s poems from 1882. i’m going to start posting here regularly an audio file of one milwaukeean (me) reading another milwaukeean’s (durward) poems. we’ll see if i can make it happen daily, but every few days anyway.

two further bits: 1) the illustrations will be images from bernard’s son’s book wildflowers of the glen (1875), used by permission of the milwaukee public library, which holds the volume now, and 2) this is 19th-century american verse, so sometimes there will be some settler-colonial sentiments present—this is a sad but real aspect of midwestern history. i won’t post poems that are particularly problematic if i come across any. but to be clear: the durwards and my own ancestors and lots of yankees and european immigrants directly benefited from the land-grabs of the american federal and wisconsin state governments, and this was a terrible terrible series of events for the indigenous peoples of “the old northwest” and for the colonizers and the descendants of all of the too. as junot díaz says, “we’ve all been in the sh*t ever since.”

history being what it is, i still think generally that folks’ art is worth engaging and wrestling with even in their limitations, as we all have our limitations as well.

with that, poem #1, “the dells“:

freely downloadable microchap _begalende_ out from ghost city press

the little chapbook i never thought would see the light of day has indeed done it. begalende (old english for “singing/chanting ’round”) is a small digital chapbook of my verse translations of “charms” or “spells” found in old english, old high german, and old saxon manuscripts.

these texts (called “galdru” in old english) are strange ducks, landing somewhere between story, prayer, and recipe, what we now call—with little precision—magic. but they were also passed down (almost surely in each case) by christian monastics. the apparent paradox may not really be such, given the time period. that is, the strangeness, i conjecture, is more about these being “pre-modern” than being “pagan.” (if you want a good study of this basic view, see here.) they reflect a time when human minds and bodies were understood to be much more “porous” to their environments—things like “elf shot” could get you on any day of the week!

the texts translated here are a fun and bizarre time capsule of human experience, and you can download the book free from ghost city press right here. (tho’ any funds you may want to donate come straight to me, which is kind of them.)

happy reading!

sna poems, series supplementum #28: little menomonee river nature preserve

the little menomonee river nature preserve in ozaukee county is a 20-acre parcel of wooded land thru which runs the little menomonee. the river is small and seems to be close to its source here, and it has been vigorously channelized. further downstream the county is starting rejuvenation efforts and de-channelizing. (the word used is “remeandering,” which is fantastic.) hopefully, the city of mequon, which acquired the parcel in 1992, will continue those efforts or encourage and permit the county to do so.

it was a gorgeous fall day, and we meandered thru the woods of maple and oak, finding some fungus and the kids forded the river. a quiet, out of the way site, whose trail i wished had led thru more of the wood.


lanced green spiraling

into thorn

silk in waning sun


the menomonee


sculpted to a dash

sna poems #88: lost lake

lost lake is a kettle-like depression in a ravine, surrounded by alder thicket and oak woods. my walk was mainly on the slope headed down into the thicket wetland area. once i got into the hollow i didn’t have the proper footwear to keep going into the muck, so i trekked back up the slope to some larger quartzite boulders along a rivulet to take in the woods a bit.

tho’ i’ve never lived in columbia or sauk counties, my grandparents used to live in sauk, so my childhood impressions of the natural world are very much caught up in the sights and smells of this area. right when i got out of the car and into the woods, the scents made a very welcome homecoming. an excellent early-morning start.

(b.n.: i was trying out a new hand-held camera on this trip, so some shots are blurrier than i wanted or color a bit off…the experiment goes on.)


boulders and fern

smells of childhood

green silhouetted


me and the columbine

on this streamed

quartzite perch


here is the hollow


skunkcabbage reigns

sna poems, supplementum #20: amsterdam dunes preservation area

amsterdam dunes preservation area is a 328-acre preserve made up of lake michigan shoreline, rare sand dunes, forest, and wetland areas. somehow it avoided development. there’s also a little playground. direct access to dunes on lake michigan this far south in wisconsin is uncommon, so thanks to sheboygan county for tending this piece of land and opening it to the public!

(note: photo quality won’t be as high as normal here and in the next few posts, as i used the old flip-phone for this excursion. though in ways i like the lower res for this project sometimes; it seems to fit the immediacy and spontaneity i’m aiming for here. and i like to use old technology anyway—i still listen to audio cassettes and things like that…)


spine against dune

cormorants over waves

the sun shining now


thinnest ray of silver water—

field shifting slow downhill—

finds a linear tidal pool

state natural area poems #23: cudahy woods in fall

gill, spore, and stipe

they sound and found the forest

messengers of earth from below

puffball colony
dense polypores
canopy above

cudahy woods is where this whole “living found poem” project started back in march—a 40-acre plot of old-growth forest with an unnamed stream running thru. right next to mitchell airport. we’ve kept an eye on this forest periodically since march, and it’s been a gift to watch its communities shift, grow, and die back to make way for others.

candid excitement over an amanita

I don’t usually put purely personal moments on this blog, but on my recent trip up north to Door County, my family was able to watch two amanita mushrooms go thru their life cycle over a couple days. While this was not the famed “fly agaric” (Amanita muscaria), all the amanitas I’ve found in the wild have a similar air and stateliness.

I first started learning about amanitas from R. Gordon Wasson and Terrence McKenna a loooong time ago; while I don’t agree with their theories much any longer, I think their passion for the fly agaric and related mushrooms is understandable to anyone who has come across them in a secluded forest or a mountain clearing.

I think they belonged to the American species cluster called “gemmed amanita,” but couldn’t be sure–I’m happy for anyone to enlighten me if they know better!

Here’s one of the mushrooms: note the distinguishing features of the volva (the bulbous base from which the stalk grows) and the universal veil remnants (the “worts”) on the cap.

amanita 1

amanita 2

amanita 6

amanita 5

amanita 3


state natural area poems #8: the lower narrows

the bluff scarred yet beautiful

bedraggled columbine hanging red

i must weep for very life

lower narrows columbine

The Lower Narrows is a gorge in the Baraboo Range, an ancient mountain range exposed by erosion as a series of monadnocks composed mainly of Precambrian Baraboo Quartzite and rhyolite. The Baraboo River exits the range thru the Lower Narrows.

I climbed the nearly vertical mud path barefoot in the rain up thru part of the dry-mesic forest, huddled under an old water-resistant blanket. Communion.

Thanks to the Wisconsin DNR for keeping this land.

lower narrows 2

lower narrows 1

A “PSA for Catholics”: No Public Masses? Don’t Forget the Liturgy of the Hours

This is a sort of “PSA” for Catholics who are unable to attend Mass right now…

These are strange times indeed, and we’re all being affected. Not having the daily comforts of casual social interaction are trying on their own, but for Catholics the present inability all over the globe to attend Mass is surely an unprecedented sacrifice for so many of us. Especially in this holy season of Lent and the coming culmination of the Liturgical Year at Easter, the lack of public celebration is and will be difficult to say the least. While priests, deacons, and lay ministers are reaching out all over the land, one ready support I haven’t seen many Catholics publicly recommending is the daily praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a key way to participate actively in the common celebration of the Church’s public prayer.

Certainly, nothing takes the place of the Sacrifice of the Mass and Communion, but many don’t realize that the Liturgy of the Hours (the weekly and yearly rounds of prayers said at set times throughout the entire day and night) is also the Church’s liturgical action—the leitourgia or “work of the people” in Greek. The Liturgy of the Hours is a rich tapestry of meditations on the Scriptures and the whole drama of salvation history. Just as much as the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Hours is the public prayer of the Church.

For lay Catholics right now, the Liturgy of the Hours is a tremendously important resource. Not only is it the public prayer of the Church, but, more specific to our current situation, the Liturgy of the Hours can also be celebrated fully and efficaciously by all the faithful (no need for Holy Orders!). And it is a common act even when celebrated “alone.”

The “The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours” describes the essentially communal nature of this prayer: “In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church exercises the priestly office of its head and offers to God ‘unceasingly’ a sacrifice of praise . . . this prayer is ‘the voice of the bride herself as she addresses the bridegroom; indeed, it is also the prayer of Christ and his body to the Father.’ ‘All therefore who offer this prayer are fulfilling a duty of the Church, and also sharing in the highest honor given to Christ’s bride, because as they render praise to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of Mother Church'” (§15). In this way, the Liturgy of the Hours enables us all to perform the liturgy even in our present state.

Admittedly, for many the psalms and canticles can be hard to “make their own” prayer. What if the Hours present me with a psalm of exultation and I’m worried or depressed? What if they offer me one of the penitential psalms but I’m actually in a joyful mood?

Interestingly, this hurdle is one of its finest virtues in our socially distanced times. For, as the Instruction says, “The person who prays the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours prays not so much in his own person as in the name of the Church, and, in fact, in the person of Christ himself. If one bears this in mind difficulties disappear when one notices in prayer that the feelings of the heart in prayer are different from the emotions expressed in the psalm . . . [In the Liturgy of the Hours] the public cycle of psalms is gone through, not as a private exercise but in the name of the Church, even by someone saying an Hour by himself. The person who prays the psalms in the name of the Church can always find a reason for joy or sadness, for the saying of the Apostle applies in this case also: ‘Rejoice with the joyful and weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). In this way human frailty, wounded by self-love, is healed in that degree of love in which the mind and voice of one praying the psalms are in harmony” (§108). In being difficult to think of as exclusively “my” prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours opens us to the larger reality of the Church, to the common nature we all share in Christ, and the ways in which each individual member contributes to the Body of Christ and complements the other members.

In the season of Lent and into the season of Easter especially, the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours offer us much to chew on, to form minds and hearts as we enter more deeply into the holy seasons. If we know the Hours and have fallen away, maybe it’s time to come back. If we’ve never prayed them before, maybe we can use this strange time as a surprising invitation to a whole new way of prayer. In the absence of Mass, I can’t think of a better means to feel like a vital member of the Church, celebrating and offering up the “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) even in these difficult circumstances.

If you don’t have a copy of the Liturgy of the Hours available, Universalis has an online version and Laudate makes an app.