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Do Unto Others Especially When Others Have Done Right by You

Do Unto Others Especially When Others Have Done Right by You

Last Tuesday, October 11th, at 7 pm, the Robert Frost Poetry Foundation hosted a Zoom reading by the winner and ten runners-up of the annual 2022 Robert Frost Poetry Contest. The winners came from as near as New York and as far away as New Zealand.

I was extremely fortunate to have my sonnet, “Summer Thunderstorms,” chosen as the first runner up. This is a real honor.

These readings lit me up!

Every single one of the poems was exquisite but what was personally wonderful for me was Helena Minton, who I have not seen since high school, was on that call. This high school, the Cambridge School of Weston, was a remarkable place because it respected the arts as a part of life rather than a collateral activity.

Helena and I were both on the board of the literary magazine of the Cambridge School of Weston. Also on that board was Susanna Kaysen, who wrote “Girl Interrupted,” which became a movie starring Winona Ryder. Helena has also become a well respected writer. The Boston Globe recently gave her rave reviews for her new and selected poems entitled Paris Paint Box, which I have read and highly recommend. I cannot name every member of that high school board, but they each were accomplished writers even in high school.

As I remember, we met once a week in the basement of one of the school buildings, and our faculty advisor was Mr. Pastorini, who took this stuff seriously.

The quality of the work that we received for publication was consistently very high and we learned from each other as we shared our perspectives about the submissions by our schoolmates.

I raise this because, again and again, I realize that the seeds and roots of my efforts now, fifty years later, to create a second career as a playwright and poet were planted and nurtured at that school and in that basement.

A month ago, the little library near where I live offered me a chance to teach a class in poetry. I am going to teach it in the same way as I was taught. We will learn from each other in a nurturing environment.

I have also been invited to start an open mic at a newly created independently owned cultural center in Monkton, The Manor Mill. I will try to support it much the way Mr. Pastorini ran that school magazine. We will learn from each other in a nurturing environment.

Finally, I had lunch yesterday with Allen Reese, who is a well respected poet, professor and previous publisher, to learn how to put together a small press to support the class and the open mic readings.

The real heroes, however, are Angelo Otterbein, the entrepreneur who created the Manor Mill only a year ago. It is growing into its future as a home for all the arts — from the visual arts and crafts, music in all forms, and writing. Similarly, Cynthia Weber at the Hereford Library opened a room and planted chairs in a circle for my class, with several recommended poetry books on a table nearby.

What little I can do I owe to these new and old friends who have nurtured me and given me the unbridled courage to be a little different and to create.

Do unto others, especially when others have done right by you.

———

Summer Thunderstorms

As with the generations long since dead
The fire and brimstone of the status quo
Wakes him up from the safety of his bed
And lightning frames him in the window

And photographs him in its afterglow.
Tonight he feels his present and its past
As the summer storm also comes and goes.
Conclusions are foolish in a world so vast.

For at the edges of his world and heart
Far past the farthest boundary of his grasp
Where ideas cause worlds to come apart
He lives in this place that will not last.

He loves his life more than he can explain
And leaves the window open to hear the rain.

———

I hope you will consider joining all those who taught me that the arts are at the heart of life. You can find An Accidental Diary on Amazon and, after you have enjoyed it, please spread the word. Give it away. The arts are not just a collateral activity.

Out of the Rain and into Ice House Pond

Out of the Rain and into Ice House Pond

…Out of the rain of last week.

I’m back to work. Watch me pitch.

As a child growing up in New England I quickly adopted “Yankee entrepreneurship” and I completely embraced “self-reliance,” which required me to not work for others during summer vacation in case I felt an urgent need to go to the beach.

One summer back in the late 1960s, two high school friends and I started the “Right On House Painting Company.” This was a highly independent entrepreneurial effort.

Our advertising amounted to a forceful announcement of the company name followed by the lifting of our right fist to the sky and pledging solemnly: “Right On”!

We were, of course, saluting latex paint.

Because we were under-funded and had to keep the overhead low, we lived in an old barn off of Upper Lambert’s Cove Road, which we rented from a local commercial fisherman who had at least twenty cats and had been drunk all winter.

We struck a deal for $15 a week rent if we would help him remove the long johns he had been wearing all winter.

Despite the bargain rent, he got the better deal.

We cleaned out the barn and divided it into quadrants so each of us had a room and there was a room left for eating, drinking and entertaining.

It was our “green” corporate headquarters.

We had no running water but refused to live without elegance, so we built an outhouse in a birch grove with a white wicker chair with the bottom cut out of it. We were proud to be feeding the birch trees.

We were way ahead of our time.

We bathed nearby in Ice House Pond — pretty much always at night so we didn’t get our bathing suits wet.

To reduce automotive and travel expenses, we generally hitchhiked with a can of paint and a brush in one hand and our thumb extended from the other in order to get to work.

It was also an early form of targeted corporate advertising, since we ended up meeting everybody on Martha’s Vineyard over the summer.

Every ride was a job interview from the passenger’s seat, but it didn’t matter because we were on your way to work anyway.

Our corporate mission statement required that on sunny days we went to the beach. On rainy days, we played poker. On hazy days we painted houses.

We made good money.

When asked about our profit margins we would announce: “Enough is as good as a feast” and drop our eyes and lift our fist to the sky.

My entrepreneurial spirit has never died.

I have avoided being an employee over the last several decades by starting a law firm and retiring to become a poet and here I am selling my book… but man do I have a deal for you!

It’s all about how you look at things.

Don’t look at this book as poetry — everybody hates poetry and a book of sonnets is worse.

But! If you look at it like sort of a Bible written in rhyme and rhythm or maybe just “Easy Go’n Bob’s Book of Random Wisdom,” then why not?

Keep it where you can read just one sonnet at a time uninterrupted. Like the bathroom. Or a wicker chair with a hole in it. I’m not proud.

Consider the sonnet entitled “The Facts of Life,” obviously composed for future generations.

———

The Facts of Life

I swam, back then, with some father’s daughters,
Back stroking only slightly out of touch,
Out to the raft in the starry waters
And never thought of their fathers all that much.

My child, don’t judge me till you’re fifty-five
But there were midnight visits to “Ice House Pond,”
In my misspent youth, when I was still alive,
Where couples would strip, and swim and then bond.

And my child, this I know for sure is true:
At seventeen we all are born to be free
But ’cause I’m your father and I love you
Please consider this seasoned advice from me:

As you lust for life, avoid the crudity
But don’t miss occasional sponti-nudity.

———

Get it in softcover or on Kindle I don’t care. Get a copy and after you have read it, give it away. Spread the word. That is all I want.

It’s sometimes a little scary and sometimes a little sad and often about self-reliance, defiance, a second life, and “which way is the beach?”

Right On!

A Walk-Off Ninth-Inning Home Run

A Walk-Off Ninth-Inning Home Run

As a young boy, I lived in the sports pages and played on sandlot baseball diamonds after school. I dreamed about the big leagues. My dreams and my future were one.

As a young man, things became a little more complicated.

I couldn’t really hit a curve ball and I started noticing that the second question that people asked grown-ups after their name was “What do you do?”

Businessman? Doctor? Lawyer? With high school, a wider and more terrifying world was opening up.

I stumbled on T.S. Eliot and his poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in which he wrote about the early 20th century. It is set in Boston’s Beacon Hill.

It seduced me from my fading childhood into my predestined future with its opening lines:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Ezra Pound pronounced this poem as “modern” — part of the dark reality of the new century and its new poetry. And so it was for me, standing there, in the Grolier Poetry Book Shop with J. Alfred Prufrock in my hand, a freshly minted teenage groupie at a one-room bookstore with towering bookcases.

Grolier was intimidating, but it held a world of new alternative heroes as I was losing my childhood and falling into the shadows of some job that would define me when asked “What do you do?”

How did this happen?

Posted on the front door of Grolier Poetry Book Shop was a blunt sign: “No Law. No History. No Economics. No Biology. No Physics. No Chemistry. Only Poetry!”

Gordon Cairnie, one of the founders, would sit on an old couch and hold court with published poets who were different in every way than the people I knew.

He waited for some unsuspecting student to walk in and ask if the store sold law books or the like.

Gordon would unload on the innocent walk-in and turn all the heads of the browsing readers when at the top of his voice he would answer, “No! But what difference does it make to you because you can’t even read the sign!”

Everyone would laugh in this freshly reconsecrated space and the young student was sure never to return again.

The point of entry to this new world was the “dare to be different” commitment to admit out loud that you were a poet and a believer, not a tourist.

I was way too shy.

This was a lot different than sandlot baseball, but within it there was still room to dream.

Over the years, the Grolier had become a focus of poetic activity in the Cambridge area, itself a magnet for American poets because of the influence of Harvard University. Poets such as John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, and Frank O’Hara were regulars at the store during their time as undergraduates at Harvard. The poet Conrad Aiken lived upstairs from the store in its early days.

Numerous other poets and writers are noted as “friends of the Grolier,” including Russell Banks, Frank Bidart, William Corbett, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Ferry, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Marianne Moore, Charles Olson, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, Ruth Stone, James Tate and Franz Wright, to name just a few.

The bookstore claims to be the oldest continuous bookshop devoted solely to the sale of poetry and poetry criticism.

This September it will be 95 years old.

I was committed to keeping up with the rest, going to law school and succeeding — and I did. But I couldn’t forget the voices at Grolier and my prior fear of admitting out loud I wanted to be a poet.

When my travels would lead me to Boston, I would always go back to make sure it was still there. I would always buy a book or two to justify my visit and my love of lounging there for awhile.

Last Saturday, I was in Cambridge. I brought two copies of my first book of poems, An Accidental Diary, to give to friends I planned to see.

That morning in the hotel room, an idea hit me. I looked up the Grolier Poetry Bookstore and before I let better judgment kick in I called and asked for the proprietor, James Fraser. I told him I had two copies of a book, explaining one poem was runner up for the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award and another had been chosen for an upcoming anthology in Baltimore. I asked him if he would consider putting them up for sale on the shelves.

I told James I had been going into the bookstore for over 50 years and had studied with Professor William Alfred and Elizabeth Bishop whose books were on the shelves and pictures on the walls.

He invited me to drop by. I immediately walked my two books over and told him more of my story. I encouraged him to read “Summer Thunderstorms” and “The Facts of Life” to show the range of the work.

He leafed through the book as we continue to talk. There were a few people browsing as there always are and I took a moment to take a deep breath and just be surrounded by the place.

James looked up and smiled. He took both books out of my hand, looked up at me again, took one for the shelf and then put one book prominently in the front window.

Things this wonderful don’t really happen in real life but sometimes they do.

When I walked back to the hotel empty-handed looking down at the pavement with a stupid grin on my face, I felt like I had circled the bases on the sandlot!

I had always dreamed about the big leagues. But after a very long time my dreams and my future were again one.

(An Accidental Diary” is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.)

Yes, There May Be Life After the Practice of Law! Now Help Me Prove It

Yes, There May Be Life After the Practice of Law! Now Help Me Prove It


I started this blog several years ago in an effort to explore if there could a professional life in the arts after a full and satisfying first career.

Yesterday, I was notified that I had been chosen as a runner up for the Robert Frost Poetry Award for 2022 for my sonnet, “Summer Thunderstorms.” and last month, my sonnet, “City Snow,” was chosen to be included in the upcoming Belt City Anthology: A Lovely Place, A Fighting Place, A Charmer: The Baltimore Anthology.

Both entries are from my book, An Accidental Diary: A Sonnet a Week for a Year.

Help me celebrate and prove that there is the second life, after all!

Please buy a copy of these books and give them away, and ask that they be re-gifted by order of the author.

Here is the  Robert Frost Foundation entry:

Summer Thunderstorms

As with the generations long since dead
The fire and brimstone of the status quo
Wakes him up from the safety of his bed
And lightening frames him in the window

And photographs him in its afterglow.
Tonight he feels his present and its past
As the summer storm also comes and goes.
Conclusions are foolish in a world so vast.

For at the edges of his world and heart
Far past the farthest boundary of his grasp
Where ideas cause worlds to come apart
He lives in this place that will not last.

He loves his life more than he can explain
And leaves the window open to hear the rain.
 
“Week 35” from An Accidental Diary
(Available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.)

Democracy in Ukraine

Democracy in Ukraine

The delicate interdependence that is nature also protects democracies. But it is difficult to recreate once eradicated.

The Heron

A tall shadow controls my autumn pond.
It moves on long legs and will stare and wait.
After the late March ice had come and gone
And the exchanged songs of the frogs that mate,

The lily pads rise through the clear water
To shelter the colonies of black tadpoles
That are born as eggs, like pupiled eyes, pure,
And, like the rest here, uncompromising souls.

The summer heat reveals the baby fish
Spawned by the survivors of last winter.
By August it is like my winter wish:
Blooming like some Eden, ready to enter.

The heron knows nothing of what I mean.
By noon it will have picked the pond all clean.

“Week 38” from An Accidental Diary
(Available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.)

The Cognitive Life of a “Magic 8 Ball”

The Cognitive Life of a “Magic 8 Ball”

Sometimes my subconscious rises out of its darkness to address questions I would prefer to avoid as I try to weave my past into the history I prefer to believe.

I generally succeed in avoiding these intrusions by being more focused on some other project.

My subconscious tends to work like the “Magic 8 Ball” of my childhood. When confronted with a question and tipped upright, its answer will float up to its little glass window.

Almost 20 years ago, if I had asked it: “Will I be divorced in four years?” its answer could have been: “As I see it, yes” and I would have laughed at the absurdity of that answer and asked another question like: “But don’t I love my family?” And its answer could have been “Yes definitely.”

Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a sonnet a week for a year in my effort to master the sonnet form. For 52 consecutive weeks, I paid little attention to anything other than my desire to get the rhyme scheme right (abab/cdcd/efef/gg) in 14 lines of roughly iambic pentameter.

My mind was driving the school bus.

My subconscious went to the playground.

A few years ago, after I finally committed to being a professional writer, I went back to look at the sonnets and thought of them as individual weekly efforts. But then last year I reread all 52 from beginning to end at one sitting and discovered something very different.

The 50th sonnet, the third to the last one, stopped me in my tracks. It was a memory about how my first wife and I fell in love as we walked to work. It is a beautiful love poem but ends with odd and troubling lines:

…How could this love go wrong?

Our lives are drawn to a collective center.
The buildings are the highest when we enter.

When I wrote those lines, we had been married for over 20 years, but four years later our marriage would end — to a large extent because we had been drawn apart by our ever-increasing professional workloads.

We lost the very real love we had when we first married and for years after.

Why?

“The buildings are the highest when we enter.”

It answered the question: “How could this love go wrong?”

It was all in there, but I had been working on some other project instead of us.

I second-guessed my conclusion, but I immediately started from the beginning and reread all 52 chronologically again.

All of a sudden #50 was not just a single love poem that recognized the hidden demise of love and marriage. All of the sonnets had loosely related overlapping themes, but they were also independent observations all from the same universe.

They were little standalone vignettes. Little stories floating to the surface, from skinny-dipping advice to scuba diving with sharks to giving up smoking.

This was the subconscious playing in the playground.

What intrigued me most about this discovery was that while the objective mind had been obsessed about form and order and had been locked into that project, I was quite unknowingly having a different conversation that I was denying, with my unruly and more interesting subconscious.

“An Accidental Diary” is a very different kind of book because it is a story told in 52 perfect independent little chapters that are less than one page long. A reader is free to connect the dots or to read each sonnet separately as a world unto itself.

And hey! What a deal!

You get your money’s worth when you buy it. It is both the Magic 8 Ball and the questioner as two different books all rolled up into one.

You can buy it for Kindle or get the paperback within five days. Any purchase permits you to provide a review on Amazon if you are so inclined.

https://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Diary-sonnet-week-year/dp/B09NGXSVM5/

Will you enjoy this book? “It is certain.”