Nov 25, 2014

This Bird Has Flown...

After 1168 posts (this is #1169), The Perpetual Bird is moving to Wordpress. This is simply so the blog can be more closely integrated with my writing Web site, I hope all you birders take wing with it! And I hope you'll forgive any oddities that may crop up as I teach myself to make Wordpress work for and not against me....

Nov 24, 2014

Knausgaard on Seeking Freedom

Two excerpts here from "At First Blush," by Karl Ove Knausgaard, which appears in the December 2014 issue of Harper's Magazine (translated from the Norwegian by Ingvild Burkey):
Many of my writer friends were bullied in childhood, which is not so remarkable, for being a writer is only possible if you are outside the community; only then are you able to identify it, to know it, and to describe it. It strikes me now that a world without bullying would be like a world composed only of writers and artists. I can hardly imagine a more dreadful dystopia.


[H]ow difficult it is, when your desire to be just like everyone else is as strong as your desire to be unique! I remember that [in adolescence] I cut my hair very short, wore an army jacket, and pierced my ears, and that I ran into my father in the hall shortly afterward, and the he told me I looked like an idiot. I blushed and felt ashamed, for he was right, of course, but at the same time I felt so strongly the pull of another thing, a thing having to do with music, freedom, the future, individuality. this is an important reason why I became a writer, I think, for in everything I write, I am seeking freedom, which to me is a state that is inaccessible to the gaze of others.
I have to say that this Harper's essay is the only thing I've read by Knausgaard. Because I distrust praise, the frenzy of adulation surrounding his series of autobiographical novels called My Struggle (see here, here, here, and here) has held me back. But this essay (the whole of it, not just the writing-related passages I've quoted) has convinced me the time has come to dive in. My holiday wish list has just got substantially longer....

Nov 20, 2014

TweetSpeaking About Poetry

Maureen Doallas of TweetSpeakPoetry gave me the opportunity to answer 22 emailed questions about poetry, both writing it and teaching it. I blathered on so much that she had to run the interview in three parts! (What? You're not surprised?) Here are the links:
Hutchison Interview Part 1
Hutchison Interview Part 2
Hutchison Interview Part 3

Nov 17, 2014

Poetry and Arms

Essentially Bolaño's
Collected Poems
This morning, after watching and reading about the protests over 43 missing students in México.
Hills shaded beyond your dreams.
Castles dreamt by the vagabond.
Dying at the end of any old day.
Impossible to escape violence.
Impossible to think of anything else.
Feeble men praise poetry and arms.
Castles and birds of another imagination.
What has yet to take shape will protect me.
And here's the original:
Colinas sombreadas más allá de tus sueños.
Los castillos que sueña el vagabundo.
Morir al final de un día cualquiera.
Imposible escapar de la violencia.
Imposible pensar en otra cosa.
Flacos señores alaban poesía y armas.
Castillos y pájaros de otra imaginación.
Lo que aún no tiene forma me protegerá.
Let's hope that protectionand the destruction of the narco gobierno that protection will requireis in fact in the offing for the agonized people of México.

Nov 4, 2014

Announcing "The Conundrum"

Conundrum Press, which published my collection Thread of the Real, has announced the first issue of The Conundrum—a free, triannual sampler of the phenomenal literature this Colorado-based press publishes. Enjoy!

Oct 31, 2014

Adios, Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell
Galway Kinnell, who died on Tuesday, was perhaps the second or third living poet I ever met. He had been invited to read at the University of Northern Colorado, where I was a student. I was 20. I had already witnessed the deep, wild energies of Robert Bly in performance, but based on reading Kinnell's Body Rags I knew not to expect that kind of splash. And Kinnell's wildness did prove to be of a quieter kind. His sensibility was resolutely earthbound, images were tactile, the  the music thick and twisty like a Celtic knot. He did not stimulate; he involved. He wooed, in a way. When he recited "The Bear," one of his dozen or more masterpieces, the lines hung and flowed and lashed like the Northern Lights over some old growth forest; but that was just the music. The words themselves he treated the way van Gogh treated paintas substances with volume, weight, and color. Instead of looking for ways to sand their edges smoothas Heaney, for example, seems to doKinnell honored their roughness, their history, their sometimes outright oddity. As a result, his poetry is substantial and humane, fresh and varied.

Kinnell's fame around "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World" (Philip Levine reads a section from it here), Body Rags, and The Book of Nightmares has not been good for his later books, which are full of fine poems. Strong Is Your Hold in particular contains the best poem I know of about the September 11 attacks, a 135-line wonder called "When the Towers Fell." Here's another example drawn from that extraordinary book:
Burning the Brush Pile

I shoved into the bottom of the brush
pile to large grocery bags holding
chainsaw chaff well soaked
in old gasoline gone sticky—a kind
of homemade napalm, except, of course,
without victims, other than boughs,
stumps, broken boards, vines, crambles.

Bracing my knees against the next-
to-the-top roundel of the twelve-foot
apple-picker stepladder,
I poured diesel all gurgling
and hiccupping into the center of the pile,
then climbed down and sloshed
the perimeter with kerosene and sludge.

Stepping back, I touched a match
to the oil rag knotted to the thick end
of a thick stick and hurled it, javelin
style, into the core of the pile,
which gasped, then illuminated:
red sunset seen through winter trees.
A small flame came curling out from either
side of the pile and quietly wavered there,
as if this were simply the way matter burns.
Suddenly the great loaded shinicle roared
into flames that leapt up sixty, seventy feet,
swarming through the hole they had heated
open in the chill air to be their chimney.

At noon I came back with a pitchfork
and flicked into the snapping flames
a lot of charred boughs, twig ends burnt off,
that lay around the edges of the fire
as if some elephantine porcupine had been
bludgeoned on its snout, on this spot,
and then, rotting away, had left a rough circle
of black quills pointing to where it had been.

In the evening, when the fire had faded,
I was raking black clarts out of the smoking dirt
and felt a tine of my rake snag on a large lump.
I jerked, shook, beat it apart, and out fell
a small blackened snake, the rear half
burnt away, the forepart alive. When
I took up this poor Isaac, it flashed its tongue,
then struck my hand a few times; I let it.

Already its tail was sealing itself off,
fusing shut the way we cauterize unraveling
nylon line by using its own hot oozings
as glue. I lowered it into the cool grass,
where it waggled but didn’t get very far.
Gone the swift lateral undulation, the whip-tail,
the grip that snakes bring into the world.

It stopped where the grass grew thick
and flashed its tongue again, as if trying
to spit or to spirit away its pain,
as we do, with our growled profanities,
or as if uttering a curse, or—wild fantasy—
a benediction. Most likely it was trying to find
its whereabouts, and perhaps get one last take
on this unknown being also reeking of fire.
Then the snake zipped in its tongue
and hirpled away into the secrecy of the grass.
Crambles ... shinicle ... clarts ... hirpled.... (And the NY Times has the gall to call Kinnell a "plain-spoken poet"!) Who will we turn to now to deepen the word-hoard?

Oct 27, 2014

An Antidote to Mediocrity and Sameness

I'm passing along this message from The Bloomsbury Review, one of the very few publications that seeks out and reviews quality books that are undeservedly overlooked by other media. (You can read their full mission statement here.) Blooms, as long-time supporters and contributing writers like me refer to it, has been offering up intelligent, often extensive reviews of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books from small, regional, nonprofit, independent, and university presses since 1980. That's over three decades of commitment to publishers who have struggled to maintain their uniqueness in a period of corporate publishing consolidation--a process that in my view has fostered mediocrity and sameness in every genre these huge multinational entities have touched. For me, Blooms is a worthy cause that deserves the support of thinking people who care about quality books. If that isn't you, I don't know who it can be! So please take a moment to consider a contribution.
     Hello from The Bloomsbury Review. We hope all is going well in your world.
     You have been a supporter of Blooms in the past, so I wanted you to be among the first to hear about our good news.
     The Bloomsbury Review is now published by The Bloomsbury Review Foundation, a nonprofit (501c3). This means that all donations are tax-deductible.
     There's another reason I'm contacting you at this particular time, though. A generous benefactor has offered to match all donations to The Bloomsbury Review Foundation up to $5,000 if they're postmarked by November 5th. So this is your opportunity to double the impact of any amount you are in a position to offer. We sincerely welcome donations in any amount, and trust me, every dollar helps.
     The Bloomsbury Review's mission, as you know, has always been to introduce new, unknown, or under-appreciated voices to readers, and through the decades we have enjoyed the support of serious readers and writers. Of course, Blooms still has much work to do, especially in today's publishing environment. So we urge you to help us make the most of this donation opportunity.
     Please send your check or money order to:

          The Bloomsbury Review Foundation
          1245 E. Colfax Ave.
          Suite 304
          Denver, CO 80218-2238

Again, any amount is greatly appreciated and will make a difference.
Let me add to this one of example of the approach Blooms has always taken. In 1980, their first year of publication, the editors saw fit to review my first book, a chapbook with the big, compensatory title Weathers, Vistas, Houses, Dust, published by The Juniper Press, a small and sadly now defunct literary press out of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

This kind of publication by this kind of publisher is what Blooms was created to support. Not that the reviewer loved everything about my little book! But she treated it respectfully, with insight and balance. What more can any of us ask?

Sep 28, 2014

Laureation; Against Single-Mindedness; etc.

Gov. Hickenlooper, Melody, and I on the west steps of the Capitol
Many of you know that in early September I was chosen by Governor John Hickenlooper to serve for the next four years as Poet Laureate of Colorado. It's a great honor, of course, even more so because Gov. Hickenlooper was an English major with an early interest in creative writing. I don't know what ambitions he had for his writing or if he has continued with it "on the side," as we like to say, meaning any activity one does for love and not for gain; but from an all-to-brief conversation Melody and I had with him before the announcement, it's clear that he cares about good writing, and since I have no reputation to speak of and therefore no advantage in politics or business, I'm choosing to believe that he was moved by my work. That makes me feel especially good about the appointment.*

My new office is in University Hall, the oldest building
on the University of Denver campus
What many of you certainly do not know is that when I was informed about the laureate decision, in late July, I had been in a new job for two whole days. My title, a mouthful, is Interim Academic Director of Arts and Culture and Global Affairs, two programs in the University of Denver's Adult and Professional school, which is called University College. I'd taught writing and literature courses as an adjunct in the Arts and Culture program for a dozen years before this opportunity came along, and I was glad for both financial and vocational reasons. Melody and I have had our own business for over 20 years, a marketing firm called Full Scale, which since the 9/11 attacks had been in a long, slow downward spiral. In a business where loyalty was rare to begin with, we saw it disappear altogether, and as marketing became less about telling a compelling story and more about posts and tweets and frankly stupid YouTube videos begging to go viral (you'd think the terminology itself would give clients pause), our business lost its charm. Unsurprisingly, our bank accounts suffered big losses, too. So when I say that I took a "new job," I mean that the whole focus of my daily life shifted.

The new job and the laureate gig coming together as they did is a great gift, I mean to say, but a gift—like all gifts, really—that comes with consequences.

One consequence has been that I haven't been able to post here as often as I used to. I've got plenty to blog about—a crooked stack of books with flagged quotes and sticky notes covered with cryptic observations stands next to my chair. Every time I glance at it I feel accused. But I simply haven't had time or energy enough.

I intend to begin posting again, probably less frequently but more (I hope) consistently in the near future. And toward that end I'm offering an excerpt from one of the most profound, eye-opening books I've read in the past several years. It's by a Canadian poet, scholar of indigenous languages, essayist, and typographer by the name of Robert Bringhurst: The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology. The scope of Bringhurst's book and the thinking behind it is suggested by Jim Harrison in his introduction: "The Tree of Meaning is a book that before your eyes magically enlarges itself from 336 pages to many volumes. The prose is never reductive but tends to push at the confines of whatever room you are reading in so that the four corners seem much farther away than normal." I had exactly this experience in 1973 when I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I've found myself having it again with The Tree of Meaning. Here are a few examples:
It is no accident that prophets of monotheism, including Plato and Mohammed, have often banished the poets. These prophets understand that the poet is a pagan and polytheism by nature. In a certain sense, even Dante, Milton, San Juan de la Cruz, Teresa of Ávila, Gerard Manley Hopkins, an T. S. Eliot are pagans. Without admitting it, they seem to understand, like the peoples of the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru, and like many Native Canadians, that it is best to interpret Christianity as one more form of paganism.
     But Mohammed and Plato are poets too in their way, monotheistic and tedious at times, but very much livelier and more pluralistic at others.
     The great danger is single-mindedness: reducing things to one perspective, ne idea, one overriding rule.
     A polytheistic understanding of the world survived in Europe even in the time of the conquistadors, though it was then forced to take a wordless form. Music gave it refuge. It is found in polyphonic music, which is the music of multiple, simultaneous and independent voices. The churches of Europe overflowed with music of this kind in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It did not change the course of history, but it preserved an essential perception of the plurality of being. It preserved the essential, faithful heresy that reality is not of just one mind.


In the beginning, a vocation isn't much. Just perhaps a nagging interest that blossoms as habitual attention. it matures into continuous, compassionate, active, multivalent curiosity. Curiosity like that has a peculiar side effect. it produces, over time, a sense of intellectual responsibility. And that produces in its turn a nonconforming and non confining sense of identity. In other words, it is whole. A job is always a fragment. Vocation is whole.


Robert Bringhurst
I believe that all good writing has an oral root. All writing that is good to read sounds good when read aloud, because its goodness likes in part in its humanity. The humanity of a piece of writing is partly intellectual, of course, but it is also parlay physical, like the humanity of a shoe or a shirt or a shovel. It fits the human body. A good shovel fits the hand and foot, and a good sentence fits the voice, because that is the part of the body we normally use to handle sentences.
     The voice has an anatomy, like the arm, the heart, the foot. The voice is mae of breath. A sentence or a paragraph that pays no attention to the reach and rhythm of the voice is uncomfortable or painful, like a shoe that doesn't fit the human foot or a glove on the wrong hand. But a sentence that does fit the anatomy of voice and breath will touch, through them, some other rhythms of the body: those of the heart and hands and feet, and of the memory and mind.


The cheerful term postcolonial, which I often hear on campuses these days, might suggest that the age of destruction is over. In fact, the colonization is still at fever pitch. The great transformation of gold into lead and of forests into shopping malls continues. Some analogous transformations can be seen in the university itself. One of the reagents used for this purpose is the acid of postmodernism: the thesis that nothing has meaning because everything is language. It works especially well in parallel with the acid of unrestrained commerce: that nothing has meaning because everything is for sale. Repeated exposure to these ideological acids produces human beings who cannot wonder at the world because they are not at all sure the world exists, though they can wonder all the more at social power and reputation. When you take the world away from a human being, something less than a human being is left. That is the inverse of education.
Toward a new Canon of North American literature
Now, these excerpts are drawn from the first 63 pages of The Tree of Meaning, which I haven't even come close to finishing yet, but I felt the need to pass them on. And these only brush up against Bringhurst's deepest concerns, which are for the recognition and admission into our consciousness of the great literary products of indigenous peoples. These products existed only in oral form but have been delivered, through the good graces of linguists and translators, into our hands—though the vast majority await translation and publication. Bringhurst argues that we unnecessarily limit our perception of The Canon by ignoring the genius of native peoples, and he's certainly right about that. Perhaps before we attempt to teach classes in World Literature we ought to teach classes in the oral traditions of North America, a geographical and cultural construct that Bringhurst defines as all the lands north of the Panama Canal. How different our sense of ourselves might be if we reshaped our sense of the tradition along these lines instead of adhering to the Modernist desire to trace the roots of artistic value back to Europe.

In his famous poem "The Gift Outright," which Robert Frost read at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, the poet states: "The land was ours before we were the land's." But his implication that by 1960 we Americans had "found salvation in surrender" to the land was a groundless romantic notion. What Robert Bringhurst calls the continuing "transformation of ... forests into shopping malls" proves that we'd better look elsewhere for wisdom if we ever hope to feel less than alien on this continent.

* The people at Colorado Humanities and the alarmingly named Colorado Creative Industries have done a fine job of public relations, I have to say, so that anyone interested in my role as Poet Laureate can find all kinds of information online. Here's a list of links to date:

The Governor's Web site
The Denver Post
The Colorado Independent
The Denver Post (Entertainment [!?])
Colorado Humanities
University of Denver Magazine
Conundrum Press
Colorado Public Radio
KGNU Boulder
KOA Radio

Sep 9, 2014

Aug 22, 2014

Don't Miss This if You're in the Denver Area on September 6th

4280 Tennyson Street | Denver, CO 80212
720.443.2227 |

Aug 6, 2014

Rimbaud in Java

It’s long been known that Rimbaud journeyed to Java in the spring of 1876, a few months after the death of his beloved sister Vitalie. That voyage hasn’t received much attention, though, until Jamie James turned his attention to it in 2011’s Rimbaud in Java: The Lost Voyage. It’s a beautifully designed, brief but fascinating book, more about Rimbaud’s world in 1876 than about his journey, since the details of that are scarce. What James does is piece together likelihoods with a brilliant Sherlock Holmesian zeal. Now and then he strays a bit far from the story, but he always returns to the central plot with plenty of spices picked up along the by-way.

We read, for example, that Rimbaud, in Holland after one of his legendary walks, joined the Dutch Colonial Army for reasons unknown but ripe for speculation. The bonus he received in advance, in gold coins, was certainly a key incentive. He joined “in some Flemish town” but ended up in Harderwijk, where he joined the first battalion of the infantry on May 18, 1876. The Dutch Department of War recorded his induction, noting these particulars:

Face: Oval
Forehead: Ordinary
Eyes: Blue
Nose: Ordinary
Mouth: Ditto
Chin: Round
Hair: Brown
Eyebrows: Ditto
Distinctive signs: None
Height: 1.77 m

These quotidian details exist side by side with insightful descriptions of the Dutch colonial enterprise in a way that, for me at least, shone a fresh light on the poet, who by 1876, at age 22, had already put poetry behind him.

What was it that drove him to Java? The death of his sister? His disenchantment with his violent older lover Verlaine? His disgust with all things European (those deliquescent empires collapsing on every side)? Or the realization that his magical poetry could not and would never change the ways of the world? All of it together, certainly, but however we read his story Rimbaud stands as a chastening example of immense talent destroyed by a money-mad system that couldn’t allow itself to acknowledge the visionary forces he gave voice to in his work.

Aug 4, 2014

Jonathan Greene Travels Back in Time

Jonathan Greene
Don't miss the simply marvelous poem by Jonathan Greene in Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry column today. Click here.
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