Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.


Filtering by Tag: Robert Frost


Howard Schaap

night-dark-blur-blurredIt usually doesn’t happen until about mid-journey.  Up till that point, the sun has been up, and you can see where you’re going.  You’ve never been in this kind of car before, and you like some of the buttons and the scenery outside your window—old barns or even the edges of industrial wastes—and just the experience of being in the passenger seat and wondering where it is you’re going. The driver has a hypnotic voice and quirks that are fascinating; a tattoo runs down the side of his neck—“R-A-” something.

Then, the fog or night closes down around you and the quirky driver puts on his blinker, and you think, now this is going to get good.  Then, in a few moments there goes the blinker again.  Pretty soon it’s all blinkers and turns and you’re getting carsick and thinking, “Where can this be going?”  Now you know that you’re just turning to turn, the driver has no idea where he’s going but is having a ball and assumes you are too simply because you’re with him and he’s a master driver.  

Finally, you pull into a gas station that only sells bad coffee and outdated gum. “We’re here,” the driver announces, blowing a kazoo, “wasn’t that amazing?” He scratches his neck and you realize the tattoo stops right there, that the A of the R-A- isn’t even finished, that it’s part of the outfit and probably only temporary.  

There’s something about “writing as journey through the fog” that drives me crazy.  Yes, you can make the whole journey just by what you see in the headlights, but you can also drive pointlessly to nowhere.

This may simply be fiction envy on my part.  I’m told that often good characters are the ones who take the wheel.  Bless all the fiction writers who give up the keys like this. I myself literally cannot do it.

In writing memoir, the unknown functions a bit differently.  You know where you’re going.  You even know all—or almost all—the different roads you might take to get there.  This takes things like suspense almost completely out of play, and it means you depend on having a clear day, because in writing memoir you don’t focus on the headlights—you look out the side window and what you see there had better be crystalline.  It might be warped and full of grotesqueries, but they have to be clear grotesqueries.  

Perhaps a better metaphor for writing memoir is gardening.  Tilling and re-tilling the earth of memoir can feel redundant. Are you really going to go back to the same patch of earth again this spring? But it’s in the tilling you find things.  It’s in the seasoning of earth that new richness emerges: a pepper plant with nuanced flavors springs right from that same old re-tilled patch.

I’d written about my name, Howard, dozens of times; then, in a writing exercise I stumbled on the word “anachronism.”  Recently, the name became a millstone that drags me back through the waters of time to the big white sink and drain board where my mother is thawing meat.  That sink screams 1950s to me, which is the decade when my dad’s brother died in Korea, bequeathing me the name.  

Not much perhaps, just some soil where pepper seeds may or may not take.  

But for me, this soil of discovery is the delight of writing memoir, Frost’s hallmark, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

Felix Culpa

Jean Hoefling

apple-on-stump-with-flowersNothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.      – Robert Frost

It was the first grown-up poem I burned to memory. I was seventeen, and Mr. Hunt's poetry class was a lifeline in that unhappy season of affected hippie clothes, a tumultuous first romance I still believe probably killed me, and a month of March that gives new meaning to the word bleak.

The passionate Mr. Hunt read poetry aloud to us—all his favorite sonnets by Donne and Shakespeare, and lots of Plath, Hopkins, Dickinson, and many others. O for a muse of fire… Glory to God for dappled things…I died for beauty…That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me… I’d watch our teacher’s mouth form each word and phrase, then place those exquisite nuggets of expression into his students’ hearing as though they were sacraments intended to bless and heal. And somehow, they did. There seems to be a given about most good poetry: it is true. Even if it’s harsh or vulgar, it’s still true. And where there is truth, there is power and mystery and healing. “The truth shall set you free.” Poetry’s aching bluntness gives us something to hang onto as we struggle to grow up over the course of a lifetime.

Maybe that’s why I took Frost’s haunting poem about life’s transience so seriously. I memorized it for life within minutes of my first reading. I lived inside that poem for years while I healed from the sinking Edens of my junior year of high school—the dawns that had too quickly turned to garish midday and the golden things I did not have the maturity to manage before they subsided forever. “Nothing Gold” gave me hope by expressing a sorrowful reality in a gracious and beautiful way.

Many years later, I think of this poem in light of the western theological term, felix culpa: happy fault. In felix culpa is the paradox of Eden’s calamitous fall as a necessary and blessed catharsis for the appearing of the One who, in Christian eschatology, will one day restore lost Eden; who is himself that paradise. Frost’s job as a poet was to point out the heartbreaking fact that in this world, nothing gold can stay. Faith takes it one step further: In the next world, gold will never pass away. 

Ice Cream Poems

Jayne English

pjimage It’s summer, the sky’s a hazy blue and the clouds are piling up like ice cream scoops in a bowl. All motion rendered lazy by the humidity allows my mind to wander. I wonder how many poems there are about ice cream. I know one by Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream.” But I stop my languid search as soon as I find Charles Bukowski’s “The Icecream People.” Thinking about the differences between the lives and writing styles of these two poets is as delicious as sampling dulche de leche ice cream and rocky road.

At first, I didn’t see similarities, except that they cohabited the same blue Earth for about 35 years. Wallace was a Modernist poet, breaking with the pre-modern forms of rhyme and the usual subjects of nature and religion to explore ideas about reality being a confluence of imagination and perception. He writes in elegant language with a well-varied vocabulary. Bukowski is also a modern writer who carved a new niche for himself sometimes called “dirty realism.” His poems, short stories, and novels chase a hard, fast line of drinking and women and running riot.

The two poets’ upbringings were very different. Stevens was from a wealthy family and benefitted from his father’s guidance regarding his education and career. Bukowski, who emigrated as a child from Germany to the U.S., was from a poor family. Bukowski’s father’s guidance came on the end of a leather strap that he used to consistently beat him.

Stevens’ education led through Harvard and then New York Law School. He eventually became an insurance executive with The Hartford, and lived a comfortable lifestyle in Connecticut. Bukowski dropped out of Los Angeles City College after two years, and moved to New York to begin a career as a writer. After receiving more rejections than his psyche could tolerate, Bukowski took off across the country on a ten year bender that nearly killed him. Once back in Los Angeles, he began to write again, and began to be published, at first by small publications.

Their book titles alone are interesting contrasts, and give us a vision of at least some of their personality layers. Stevens used elegant titles: Harmonium; Ideas of Order; The Auroras of Autumn. Bukowski’s titles took a different slant: Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail; Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window; and Love is a Dog from Hell.

Their language and imagery is wildly different. In the two ice cream poems alone, we come across words and phrases like these in Bukowski: pecker, leper, “nary a potential suicide,” jails, hangovers. In Stevens’ poem we see: concupiscent, “let be be the finale of seem,” “embroidered fantails,” “lamp affix its beam.” Stevens’ thoughts are more abstract, and he dresses them up. As Robert Frost complained, “it purports to make me think.” Bukowski’s ideas are clear, as John William Corrington says, his poetic world is one “in which meditation and analysis have little part.” Bukowski doesn’t dress up his ideas, he strips them naked.

Once his poems are naked, Bukowski speaks of a quasi virility, for example, like this in “The Icecream People”:

the lady has me temporarily off the bottle and now the pecker stands up better.

While Stevens expresses the loss of the same in “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle” like this:

We hang like warty squashes, streaked and rayed, The laughing sky will see the two of us Washed into rinds by rotting winter rains.

While their lifestyles and writing styles are polar opposites, the two men have commonalities. One is a vulnerability to pain. We’ve already seen how Bukowski spent formative years beaten by his father. He said this experience benefitted his writing because through it “he came to understand undeserved pain.” Once on his own, Bukowski lived life running across broken glass—chasing women, gambling, and drinking excessively. Stevens had his miseries too. He married his wife, Elsie, against his father’s wishes. When no one in the family attended his wedding, he never saw or spoke with his father again. In later years, Elsie became mentally ill, showing signs of paranoia about neighbors and the couple’s daughter’s childhood friends. In a review, Helen Vendler calls Stevens’ poem “The Snow Man” his saddest poem, “in which a man realizes that he must make something of a permanently wintry world of ice, snow, evergreens and wind, attempting to see ‘nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.’”

Perhaps it was his sorrow over Elsie that led him into confrontations we’d expect more from Bukowski. Stevens argued on two separate occasions in Key West with Robert Frost (they had strong feelings about their own ideas of poetry), and said things he shouldn’t have said about Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway afterwards started a fist fight over it and Stevens returned home to Connecticut with a puffy eye and broken hand.

Stevens and Bukowski, despite their differences, had another important characteristic in common. They had to write. As one Stevens biography puts it, he saw poetry as “the supreme fusion of the creative imagination and objective reality.” His poem “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” puts it this way:

This endlessly elaborating poem Displays the theory of poetry, As the life of poetry. A more severe,

More harassing master would extemporize Subtler, more urgent proof that the theory Of poetry is the theory of life,

As it is, in the intricate evasions of as, In things seen and unseen, created from nothingness, The heavens, the hells, the worlds, the longed-for lands.

Bukowski talked about the need to write poetry this way:

unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don't do it.

Considering the differences and (maybe) surprising similarities between these two poets, which flavor would refresh your summer day?

At the Seashore

Jayne English

21 Sea

The land may vary more; But wherever the truth may be— The water comes ashore, And the people look at the sea. - Robert Frost

The sea predates us, and—judging by literature—its significance in our lives can’t be overstated. The sea represents brokenness, beauty, loneliness, our own inner depths, mystery, tragedy, and wisdom, to name some of the themes it has inspired. Despite this influence, Revelations tells us that one day there will no longer be a sea. This is notable because it's the reverse of the usual order. Usually we lose things here (loved ones, health), only to have them restored to us there. In the same way, we will give up heaven and earth for a new heaven and earth. But though we have the sea now, we will not have it at the end of time. Won't we miss it? The sea has had a vast affect on poets and writers. Their vision reflects our own encounters with the sea.

Pablo Neruda finds brokenness and a paradoxical beauty washing to shore in an assortment of debris:

Petals crimped up, cotton from the tidewash, useless sea-jewels, and sweet bones of birds still in the poise of flight.

And in another poem he speaks of his dependence on it: “I need the sea because it teaches me./I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,/if it’s a single wave or its vast existence.”

The Anglo-Saxon poet speaks of the sea in terms of loneliness. In the Old English poem, The Wanderer, the warrior reveals the wounds of exile:

Care is renewed for the one who must send very often over the binding of the waves a weary heart.

Cut off from loved ones and his own familiar language, he finds that the waters “bind” or imprison as they present an obstacle to returning home.

In an essay, Robin Ekiss says the sea’s “vastness suggests the infinite depths of the self or the unconscious, even danger, which also lurks beneath the waves.” We don’t doubt Melville’s insight into the human heart with passages like this from Moby Dick:

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

Wallace Stevens sees the sea in terms of mystery and tragedy, calling it “The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea.” In “The Sea is Acquisitive,” Cecil Hemley considers how it takes lives to itself, saying “I am fearful for a man who loves/The sea too much.”

There are pleasant aspects of the sea. In “The Birth of Venus,” Hayden Carruth speaks imaginatively of a beauty and wisdom that originates in the sea:

She gave us beauty where our eyes Had seen but need, and we grew wise. For wisdom could not fail the gift Bestowed in that superb undress, Value consigned as loveliness From ocean’s riches, ocean's thrift.

Humankind has marked its emotional, physical, and spiritual rhythms by the sea. What does it mean that this treasured sea will no longer exist? Maybe God, who sometimes speaks in the language of imagery – stars, and wings, and branching trees—will close this age and open the next with the sumptuous metaphorical flourish of vanishing the sea. Isn’t the reason we can give the sea up and never miss it because of the relationship that will restore and surpass all that’s represented by its metaphors of brokenness and beauty?

The Difference

William Coleman

27 diverged woods For years I’ve held my hat in hand after reading “The Road Not Taken” aloud to my eleventh-grade American literature students. Giving voice to a poem made wholly of ambiguity, I tell them, whose mazy lines mocked Frost’s indecisive friend Edward Thomas into war, forces interpretation. I must utter the final stanza’s sigh with something akin to regret, or bewilderment, or sorrow, or satisfaction. I must incline the final line down the path of ruefulness, or complaint, or self-deception, or self-motivation—or even triumph. 

The same poem-limiting phenomenon occurs when I utter "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and follow its hypnotic beauty—"the only other sound's the sweep / of easy wind and downy flake"—until I find myself saying the final two lines as though tranced, captured by a drowsy globe, lulled toward dangerous sleep.

I am doing injustice to the poem, I tell my students, by saying it out loud. But what else, I’m quick to add, can I do? It’s impossible to say a poem while admitting two mutually exclusive interpretations of its tone. An actor, in one breath, cannot play rue and self-conceit.

But, of course, as is the case when anyone tries to say anything definitive about Frost (or about acting, for that matter), I was misguided. There are, at least (I think), two ways.

The first was found by contemporary poet Dana Gioia. In this recording, made for the participants of Poetry Out Loud—an annual recitation contest for high school students—Gioia, a gregarious former advertising executive whose reading of his own work is mellifluous and expressive, shuts off personality altogether. He presents the poem as though narrating historical events in an educational filmstrip from the 1950s.

The method is ingenious, but takes the risk of troubling the air by withholding what the air most desires from poetry, what Frost’s poem possesses in pure abundance: unabashed musicality.

That is why Robert Frost’s own method of expressing the poem publicly is so extraordinary, nearly as worthy of admiration as the poem itself. I’m shamed to confess that his recitations used to baffle me. I’d cite them when shaking my head about poets who, for reasons I could not fathom, were unable to read their own work well. So devoid of emotion! It’s as through he’s singing a tuneless song!

As it turns out, I was right, without knowing the reason—and have been apologizing to my students for the wrong reason. Reading Frost’s work aloud diminishes it only if one reads it aloud the way I do, demanding self-expression. It’s not how Frost does it.

The tone and tenor of Robert Frost’s best poems is ambiguous; their music goes beyond and beneath personality. What else can he do, to do them justice? He chants.