Monday, March 26, 2012

CA Poetry Out Loud

We're at Poetry Out Loud finals in Sacramento. Competing students from 33 counties were stellar. First round was AMAZING. I'd hate to be a judge. How can you judge perfection? 

Dana Gioia showed up and gave an impassioned speech about Why Poetry Matters. Imagine  being a high school student reciting a poem by Dana Gioia, former Chair of & the genius behind Poetry Out Loud, while he's here watching? YEP! Dana said the student did a better job on his poem than he did. Praise indeed.

Head of the California Arts Council, Craig Watson gave an amazing testimonial about his deep and abiding connection with poetry, and Council member Malissa Shriver is a true champion for the arts. It gives me hope in a dark time for arts funding. 

California Poets Laureate: Juan Felipe Herrera and Al Young as judges. Former Assemblyman Dennis Mangers!  I met his way back when —when I was an arts advocate/lobbying for arts education with Ken Larsen. 

WOW! riding high. What a night for poetry. It really Matters. Besitos all round.

For me, tonight was several of so many small circles closing, completing, overlapping. When I told Dana Gioia way back in the early 1980s that I didn't buy the whole POL concept, why did it matter, he wanted to know about the pivotal moment when I got it. 

When Craig Watson was there for me in the outbacks of Santa Rosa, another "way back when story" giving me advice, art supplies, and hope for the future—I still have those magic pencils, having taught thousands of students to draw with them. 

And Juan Felipe Herrera and me working on CAC evaluation processes for the NEA‚ how many years ago? Me & JF with Juan Valdez of Zoot Suits fame way back when. 

And the CAC's inimitable Wayne Cook who wears a secret Super(Art)man shirt under his suit—but don't tell. So many amazing mentors in my life. Small circles opening into larger circles, myriad pools rippling in the consciousness of life—when it all came together, tonight at a banquet hall at a hotel in Sacramento tonight. What circles we travel in. For all this, I am truly grateful.

You see, I am a poetry coach for Poetry Out Loud. Last year my student Mark Reifenheiser from Diablo Valley High School placed second in the California state Poetry Out Loud finals, and the year before, my student from Deer Valley High School, Cheryl Evans came in 3rd. I'm onto something here. Don't know exactly what. But there it is. 

I tell my students that the real POL equation is being emotionally honest when redacting poem. Not over the top, not acting. But being with the poem, discovering it anew from the inside out—taking the audience along for the ride so they too discover something new in hearing the poem. These students really get it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's PADDY not Patty

For PaddySnakes! Why is it that as we approach St. Patrick's Day, the Irish-American (and wannabe Irish-American plastic Paddy) illiteratii, perhaps with a sullied and powerful thirst upon themselves—therefore, being thoroughly deficient in any reasoning skills, or little gray cells, crawl out of the woodwork, and insist on calling their international drinking day St. Patty's Day?  PATTY? Tut-tut. Are you kidding me?

Bah! What's with all these amateurish alcoholics who don't even know how to spell their patron saint's professional binge-drinking day nameslake?

It really gets my goat. My initial response (aside from my knee jerking so hard so as to render myself unconscious from a self-inflicted blow to the chin), is who's she? She? Baaaaa?

Did St. Patrick undergo a sex change? A sea change? Was he Swedish? A cloned sheep? No, that was Dolly. We do know that Patrick had a thing for pigs, not sheep. At 15, when most kids were fooling around in the bushes, he was captured by Irish pirates, and became a slave. 

An Antrim chieftain named Miliucc (his name sounds suspiciously similar to the Irish word for pig—muc, as in mucky. Anyway, Miliucc called Patrick "Succat." (That's Irish for sucker—not.) Probably because that was his real name: Maewyn Succat. It means warlike in proto-Welsh. He'd have to be, considering besotted Americans would be calling him Patty some 1500 years hence.

Maewyn Succat (he wasn't yet baptized Patricius) was a swineherd for seven years in the mountains of mourn—er, Antrim, with nobody to talk to except them little piggsies. Maewyn-Patrick-Succat was off gamboling with the jamóns for seven long years? Helloooo Dolly! Can you say rashers of bacon?

The Irish word for pig muc, comes from the Old Irish word for pig, which is socc (soch/suck). Sounds suspiciously like Succat, doesn't it. Being called a pig or boar in Irish or Welsh (trwch) wasn't a bad thing in the pre-medieval ages. The pig, or boar, was considered a sacred animal. You're on the pig's back now means you're on a roll. Of course, nobody could say trwch in Welsh without sneezing or sounding like a pig. Better than being called sucker! 

How the little piggsies (that's banw in Welsh) ever taught Maewyn-Patrick to speak Irish, remains a mystery. They must've been very talented swine. Perhaps they were bilingual? You may well ask: seven years? So, what's time to a pig? Maewyn-Patrick was 21, far from home, and he readily admitted to hearing voices on or in the hillside. Holy Leaping Schizophrenics, Gilligan! No wonder he drove all the snakes from Ireland. They didn't speak Oirish like the pigs. Or they weren't speaking to the pigs at all, so they got eaten.

I know St. Patrick had a cross to bear trying to convert the so-called heathen Irish to Christianity—but, ferfeckakes, not TWO of them. (No matter that Palladius was already busy converting the Irish when Patrick was still wet behind the ears.) I digress. Not PaTTy (see the two crosses?), but PaDDy. As in a DruiD. Was it some loose canon (stet) of a TT stutttttttering off somebody's keyboard to blame, or what?

How did this glaring "T" typo snake its way to these clemented shores of Amerikay? Maybe it's derived from the baby hand-jive, patticake. Or maybe it's from slinging hamburger. Gimme a patty. Raw. Hold the curly shamrocks, Babycakes!

it's PaDDy—not Patty—ever! Patty is a girl's nickname. Got it?  St. Patrick was not one billion McDonald's burgers served either—which is probably the natal spawning ground of this blaring typo. Blame it on those preliterate generations raised on Big Macs. Paddy is not necessarily a derogatory term. It's a man's (diminutive) nickname, or pet name.

St Patrick
Ok, so my great-great uncle was called Paddy Walsh, and his son was really called Patsy to distinguish him from his father. Really. No one would dare call Paddy diminutive, or Patty, for that matter, and live to tell the tale. 

But there were too many Patricks and Patricias in the family. Patsy's cousin was a Patsy too. Their sons were Paddys. Paddies and Patsies. Yup. We tend to flip the dimunitives every other generation. Works like a charm until they begin to overlap. Then we're right fecked.

Our family is rather name-challenged—we keep recycling the same handful of names over and over. Even the girls are called Patsy. (Not Patty!) Causes massive confusion in the family tree. We just know we're all related. But not exactly how. Sort of like a Kentucky Family Tree—you know, straight up, only ours is horizontal. Or maybe it's drowning itself neat in affrontal lobotomy of uisce beatha. But that's fodder for an-udder blogger.

Imagine being a cowboy called Patsy in the wild, wild and wooly west of Nevada. Yep. That was my rellie. I suspect some serious bar room brawls were in order. It's sort of like a Boy Named Sue. Paddy was also called The Boss. But trust me, no one called any of my relatives—male or female, Patty! Ever. So we tend to take umbrage rather easily.

Call it Saint Patrick's Day? Grand. It's all right and proper. (You may also genuflect here—a full knee drop, if you please, at the bar of your choosing—not some pannywaist half-knee crick or, gawdforbid, a curtsy—though royalty is invoked.)

Call it Paddy's Day? It'll do; but don't forget the St. part. As in saint, not street. Or Paddywagon. Get it?

St. Pat's? Och aye, if ye must. 

St. Patty? NO feckin' way, ye illiterate goats! Bahhh! Maaaa? 

It's enough to make and Irish(wo)man to take up flinging pigshit or cow paddies or worse, become bullish and see red—er, make that green. No wait, that's a river in Chicago. (No, not in back alleys. The real river. They dye it green.) Enough to get your knickers in a twist.

Beides, have you ever heard of a police prisoner transport vehicle referred to as a Patty wagon? I think not. Black Maria, maybe.

As my Irish teacher, Joe Nugent from Mullingar would say: We'll have one o' that fookin' shamrockery here!

For the record, Patrick's Mickname was actually Qatrikias in Archaic Irish, then Cothraige or Coithrige in Old Irish—there being no "P" sound or letter in Irish. 

Then, when that pissy "P" was borrowed from the Britons, it became Pádraic, or Pádraig, in Middle Irish, depending upon the millennium you're speaking from. And then it was rounded up to Patricius in Latin. Or AtriciusPay in Pig-Latin.

Qatrikias, you ask? Yes, well, you know that James Joyce, in Finnegan's Wake,  invented the word "quark," that sound a beer makes while sliding down a man's throat. Maybe Jammsie was trying to say Patrick while slaking his powerful thirst and it came out Qatrikias.

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he has not got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
              —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

And the name is Patrick in the Anguish bearla. Patrick is a much later Anglicization of his name by way of Welsh—they being overfond of pissy "P' sounds. P/Q Celtic = consider it a lisp synch thang.

And since Americans sometimes call girls by the diminutive Patty, some right eejits erroneously assumed that was how Patrick was also spelled. Nope. It's Paddy. As in an Irisher—a Paddy or a Mick.

What makes it all so funny is that St. Pádraic, or Old Adze-head, as he was referred to in the Middle Ages, wasn't even Oirish! He was a Romanized Strathclyde Briton (think Scotland/ Cumbria—perhaps born in DunBarton on the River Clyde—which means Fort of the Britons) and he had to LEARN Irish to speak to the natives. Remember the pigs?

It's Paddy, not Patty. Got it? (Cow paddies aside.) 

My guinness I think I'll have a goodness.

Thank you. I feel better now.

It was the Fairfax Brewfest Patty poster that sent me over the deep end. In recompense, for this great offense, I should ask them for a free beerpass (all you can drink). I'd happily drown my sorrows there this weekend, but alas, I have to work.

Some of this material was shamelessly lifted from the Paddy, not Patty site. All credit for this rant goes to them. The bar tab too. You can Tweet him at 

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig.

For what it's worth, this twisted Patrick stuff is an old goat of mine: in 1996, I took on Dear Abby for some twaddle about Patrick being a Roman, and his mum, an Englishwoman, etc. Like the Corinthians, she never wrote back. I might add, that in those days, my Celtic research was done by hand, with real books—pre internet.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh!

For more reverent information on some historical background related to St. Patrick, see my post St. Patrick was a Strathclyde Briton.

Home Ranch, Reese River Valley—Paddy Walsh

THE VIKING IRISH REDHEAD GENE MYTH—my most popular blogpost—19,000 hits and counting) which ultimately was derived from the Scottish Lassie's spiteful flame-mails.

Red-headed Step-children—I took the Scottish Lassie's vitriol to task in another blog post. I tried to be gentle, and educational, but she'd have none of it. She was pretty attached to her bigotry.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Poet Leonard Cirino (1943-2012)

         Most of my life I’ve been poor,
          I never lived in a house with gables.
          This year I’ll grow flowers.
          The movements change hour by hour.
                  —from The Moments Change, Leonard Cirino

I found out via a small Facebook comment posted by Crawdad Nelson that poet Leonard Cirino had died. I had no idea that Leonard was even ill. I was out of the loop and I'm completely stunned. No one thought to contact me—not Lee Perron, Claire Josefine, nor Crawdad Nelson. Donna Champion, who was in constant contact with Leonard, knew he was sick, but not the dying part. No Leonard-flavored instruction manual. He didn't tell Donna the news either—and we were among the ones who knew him the longest.

Apparently it was a quick diagnosis on January 23, Leonard's liver cancer had spread like wildfire. Leonard was given six months to wrap it up. Instead, he got only six weeks. Barely enough time to say hello to death, let alone, goodbye to life. According to his Facebook page, he said he wanted another 15-20 years more. He literally ran out of time.

So I am gleaning the web for links to Leonard in case others too didn't get the news. It may be a bit of a chaotic collection here but at least it's a start.

An Italian-American native of the San Gabriel Valley, east of LA, Leonard John Cirino was born 11 September 1943 and died 9 March 2012, in Springfield, OR. During the early 1960s, Leonard was a state champion pole vaulter in high school and in college. Leonard attended UC Berkeley during the FSM days—where he said his real education began. He tuned in, turned on and dropped out and did the Timothy Leary thing. Moved back to the land. Tried to clean up. Speed took its mordida. Went crazy. Was institutionalized for a horrific, violent crime. I remember the sun stood still the day he told me the news. It was a litmus test of faith. A watershed of loyalty.

Leonard was paroled in 1975. Rehabilitated, then repatriated. He reenrolled in college, and picked up where he left off. Leonard graduated from Sonona State University in 1978 and moved to Albion Ridge, in Mendocino, where he earned his keep as a jack-of-all-trades: landscape laborer, carpenter, solar specialist, a news reporter, and dishwasher. Writing all the while.

About that same time Leonard was at Sonoma State (circa 1976-78) I met him through Lee Perron and Donna Champion. I was organizing readings at Sonoma State. We hit it off like long-lost kin. Maybe it was an Irish-Italian thing, We had the same saints queued up along the portico. We knew when to genuflect.

I began spending a lot of my free time in Leonard's loft studio in the pygmy forest on the sea terraces that crown Albion Ridge, writing, learning my varied and sullen craft, hanging out the Mendocino poets: Sharon Doubiago, Deveraux Baker, Tom Roberdeau, Jess River, Mary Norbert Körte, etc., breathing the rarified air of my craft.

I suppose, in retrospect, we were emulating Wendell Barry, Theodore Roethke, W.S. Merwin, Donald Hall, Thomas McGrath. Poetry came from the landscape. We were an extension of that northern working-class tradition. But I was also reading Philip Whelan, Gary Snyder, and Lew Welch.

About 1980, Leonard went off his legal anti-psychotic medications, insanity manifested itself as an all-seeing apparition and he gouged out an eye because "the voices told him to." I was in the midst of organizing a big reading for Galway Kinnell at Sonoma State, when I got the news, I went to Albion to help get Leonard stabilized. A sort of hospice.

After a long weekend of watching over Leonard, making sure he took his meds (Mia Coltrane was there too), I drove furiously back down from Albion Ridge via Highway 128 in my 68 VW bug, to find Galway standing forlornly in the seedy Santa Rosa Greyhound station thinking I'd forgotten to pick him up.

Galway had left all his poetry books for the reading on the bus, along with his eyeglasses (ha! a metaphor if ever there was one), and I was a right mess. A basketcase, I stepped out of the Bug and then melted down. Galway visibly flinched when I told him the news. A violent blow. I promptly threw up in a trashcan and Galway just held me until the tears and rage subsided. There's more to that story, but not now.

But the horror of it all lingered on. Leonard's psychosis was ever-present. His vacant, unseeing glass eye, that traveled its own lighthouse orbit, was a constant reminder that he was literally of two worlds. What horrific crimes he had done in the dim reaches of the street drug-induced past, was suddenly also very time present.

I understood Leonard's impulse to get off the psychotropic meds as they interfere with the process of creativity. Leonard wanted to get closer to his muse. But the muse is a cruel mistress. I'd seen it happen with my own mother. The stabilizing meds turned her into a drooling, vacant-eyed zombie and that was possibly worse than the disease itself, as she was so linked to her creativity. But my mother off  her meds, was often suicidal. I've seen the insides of too many psych wards.

Though Leonard assured me that in his madness, he only wanted to injure himself, that he was no danger to others, it was a rift in the fabric of my space-time continuum. And I began to emotionally distance myself from Leonard—as my own mother was crazy and I don't do crazy well. Thing is, Leonard really understood my distance. We remained deeply connected but had limited contact over the next few years.
(Whenever he saw me, Leonard kept asking me for a manuscript as he wanted to publish my first book through his imprint, Pygmy Forest Press. It was fitting that he wanted to publish me in that my seminal writing roots go back to Albion Ridge.

But I went through a long, dark time after breaking up with John Oliver Simon, then, just as I was getting back on my feet, a horrific automobile accident in 1997 stole another few year of my life. I left Sonoma County as I wasn't getting the support I needed. I couldn't drive. Everything was post traumatic stress. A book was not on my survival list.)

Sharon Doubiago writes to me (time present): "Why does everyone say "a terrible crime." Why don't they say what the crime was?"  Why isn't it named? I answered, "In deference to Leonard's death." We need to mourn him, not the crime of passion. But now it's time.

In horror, of having borne witness to the story, not of the crime itself. The story is too visceral. Infanticide, and the killing of the replica of self, of selves. Not wanting progeny. A daughter, a toddler, down by the pond one bright summer morning. Unpremeditated. An ax. Imagine the mother.

I was sworn to secrecy, Leonard made me swear an oath. But he said that the gag order was to be lifted after his death. I have never mentioned it to anyone until now. Here im this blog. But his poems are his progeny. They are what survived him. This is the heritage I chose to focus on here. Not the other.

But Leonard eventually found his way out of the dark fire that was his Dantean rings of hell, his inferno and purgatoria, and emerged into the light.

Somewhere along the way, a miracle happened—in the spring of 1999 Leonard was declared legally sane—that meant he was no longer on parole and could legally leave Albion Ridge. He "retired" from being crazy and moved to Springfield, Oregon, in 2001 to take care of his ailing mother, Marjorie.

Then, on Leonard's 58th birthday on September 11th, 2001, suddenly everything was post 9/11. The world had changed. I moved to the Bay Area, in fits and starts, and lost contact with Leonard and most of my North Bay friends. I'd hear bits and pieces from Sonoma County friends—for a while Leonard and I kept in touch via email. But I'm not much of a correspondent. This blog forces me to write. Perhaps it's the anonimity of it all that allows me redress.

Ah, the distance of space and time. But I always thought he'd still be there. Or here on Planet Earth—or at least in Oregon. But some think Oregon is already heaven (or hell). And now he's gone. Leonard's gone.

All I can think of is the song: I always thought I'd see you one more time again." The chorus goes: "…one more time in the falling rain." And today, it's raining. Fitting. (I back-posted this on 3/9 but created this blogpost but I wrote this Tuesday the 13th). Trying to wrestle it into semblance in the morning light. Not much luck. Apologies all around. I don't do death well either.

(Something ironic, when I tried to revise this post on 4/5, my ENTIRE post disappeared from Blogger, I had a blank page—nothing worked to retrieve the text. Not even the Back button. Must be Leonard's other eye at work. Then I remembered  that Google stored "cached" pages and I was able to retrieve the page. I've been cleaning the text up. But most of my changes were lost.) Note to self: ALWAYS make a back-up copy of blog posts—when they disappear, they're gone forever. Vaporware.)

Leonard moved to Springfield, Oregon, when he retired from being crazy, to care for his 97-year-old-mother Marjorie, and he continued working full-time as a poet. In Oregon, Leonard repatriated with his family, made up for the long absence, healed old purgatorial wounds, and lo! he met a woman, Ava Hayes, with a crazy son. (Leonard maintained that women with crazy sons always liked him because he could give them insight into their sons' minds.)

Leo and Ava fell in love, and settled down to domestic bliss for ten years. (I'm piecing together the story here). I can't help but think that Ava was his Eve, or perhaps, his Beatrice. She was the garden he had been seeking. Leonard found some semblance of happiness and normalcy in the end. The ninth celestial sphere had been reached. And for that I'm truly grateful.

His favorite place in the world was his brother's farm in Deadwood, where his ashes will be scattered in the chestnut orchards. There he will continue his conversations with the blossoms and trees he loved with such conviction. Leonard will be deeply missed by many - especially the dispossessed of the world to whom he was devoted to his last day. He is survived by his mother, Marjorie Cirino (nee Burtle), his brother Bill, his partner of ten years Ava Hayes, and many nephews, grand nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.  —Eugene Register Guard

Leonard was slated to read from his life's work at Tsunami Books, the day I got the news, instead, life took him for a hayride, left us holding the bag of grief. He died too soon. But his prodigious tribe of poems survive him.  

Leonard was a prolific writer, churning out an average a poem a day for 40 years. That's something like 130,000 poems—counting countless revisions. Since his first publishing venture in 1987, Leonard is now the author of twenty chapbooks and sixteen full-length collections of poetry from numerous small presses, and has myriad poems published in small independent journals. 

Leonard received literary recognition from other presses late in his writing career. His first full-length collection, Chinese Masters, was published by March Street Press, in 2009. His 100-page collection, Omphalos: Poems 2007, was printed in spring, 2010 from his own imprint, Pygmy Forest Press.  

But soon, other publishing houses began to take interest in Leonard's work. A 64-page selection, Tenebrion: Poems 2008, was released from Cedar Hill Publications, in 2010. His 60-page collection, Triple Header is overdue from Červená Barva Press, W. Somerville, MA. He has two other full-length collections that have been accepted for publication in 2012. One of them, is his last book,  The Instrument of Others, from Lummox Press in San Pedro, CA, is in production right now.  (Scroll to the bottom of this page).

Leonard said he has never won an award or grant, he was simply a hardworking poet:
I have received no awards or grants, won no contests, yet I am among the most devoted, well read, and hardest working poets in the US or anywhere. I don’t have many illusions about success—especially in today’s literary market—so I will go on in my suburban hermit mode and do the real work. Most likely I will keep on reading translations from all over the world and use the poets I read to “inspire” my own work. As this title says, I have become “The Instrument of Others.”
Alas, Leonard can no longer be reached at

 "I hope I'm alive when I die."  —Leonard Cirino

Lee Perron & Leonard Cirino, Sonoma State University reading, ca 1981. Poet Leonard Cirino, founder of Pygmy Forest Press, died on March 9 in Springfield, OR, from liver cancer. In the words of Leonard Cirino: "I hope I'm alive when I die." RIP Leonard—an important teacher from my Mendocino daze.

Tobey Kaplan, Susan Abbott,  Sharon Doubiago, that's me (in the red satin pants), Leonard Cirino and Moonlight the Alsatian (well, his "leash"—you can just see his ears and back in the bottom of the frame). We made an epic journey in Sharon's Ford Falcon station wagon named Roses, with major headlight issues—to Port Townsend, crashing the poetry conference, where we (dubbed the California Poets) sat at the feet of Meridel LeSueur—to the apoplectic consternation of Mary Jo Bangs. From that epic visit, Hard Country was published.

Gleaned headlines

Mendocino County Today: January 22, 2012
by Bruce Anderson on Jan 21st, 2012
LEONARD CIRINO is suffering from cancer. The well-known poet lived for years in Albion before moving to Springfield, Oregon a few years ago to care for his elderly mother. Leonard’s medical condition can be monitored at CaringBridge.

Counterpunch: POETS' BASEMENT

 Leonard Cirino reading cancelled Because of increasingly poor health, Leonard Cirino has to cancel his reading at Tsunami scheduled for March 11. Here are two poems he might have read. Peace and blessings to you, Leonard. 

Leonard died at 11:30 Am on March 9. Leonard's wake was held at his brother's farm in Deadwood on Saturday, March 10. There will be a memorial later. Leonard's ashes will be scattered in the chestnut orchard.  You can leave comments in his memorial book at CaringBridge. You'll need to create an account.


I was born in Los Angeles in 1943 I had a quiet childhood in the San Gabriel Valley, east of LA. A mediocre student in high school, a minor delinquent and trouble maker, I was a good athlete and placed second in the state and fifth in the nation for high school students in the pole-vault event in 1961. Went to junior college for two years and then transferred to UC Berkeley in 1964 and my real education began.

I was active in the Free Speech Movement and the anti-Vietnam war protests. Flunked out of school in 1965 and began taking hard drugs for two years. Moved to the country as a back-to-the-lander and to kick drugs. Psychotic symptoms began in 1967. I was in three state mental hospitals for short periods from 1967-1968. In 1969 I committed a tragic, violent crime and was found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” I spent until 1975 in two different hospitals. Paroled in 1975 I went back to college and graduated from Sonoma State College in 1977.

Unable to find work except as a dishwasher, I was accepted into the C.E.T.A Solar Energy Technician Training Program at Sonoma State and studied solar and alternative energy until my graduation in 1978. I moved to coastal Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, and worked as an apprentice carpenter, landscape laborer, dishwasher, newspaper reporter as well as a part-time instructor of solar energy and poetry at the local community college, from 1979-1998.

From the time of my incarceration I began writing poetry and considered myself a serious poet. I started Pygmy Forest Press in 1987 and self-published my first book. I moved to Eureka, CA in 1998 and worked for the local environmental non-profit as an office person. In 1999, after 24 years of being on parole and being hassled by the mental health authorities I was found, “fully restored to sanity.”

In 2001 I moved to Springfield, OR with my elderly mother. I worked for five years in the mental health field and retired in 2006 to do full-time home care for my mother. This entire time (except for the five years in Oregon) I worked 20 hours a week or fewer and devoted myself full-time to painting and poetry, but mostly poetry. Currently I live in Springfield, OR where I take care of my nearly 97 year-old mother.

Since 1987 I have published 20 chapbooks and fourteen full-length collections from over a dozen different presses. I usually write almost two full collections and two or three chaps a year. Right now I have six unpublished manuscripts out at various presses and I hope to have two or three more books this year and next.

Leonard's latest and last book hot off the press:

Title: The Instrument of Others
Author: Leonard J. Cirino
Publisher: Lummox Press (PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733-5301)
ISBN: 978-1-929878-33-8
Publishing Date: Mar. 2012 

About the book:

In the late 80’s some friends of mine traveled to Europe and left me with several anthology translations from the southern and eastern Europeans and my interest in poetry was restored. I had become very despondent with the quality of US poets since the deaths of Lowell, Berryman, Sexton, Theodore Roethke, and James Wright. Very few US poets spoke to me then and they still do not now. I think this is when I began to find my own voice mixed among the voices of many poets I could relate to – men and women who had been through either the Spanish Civil War or World War 2 – either under Nazi or Communist occupation.

I still devote most of my reading, except for magazines, to poets in translation. I’d say that 75-80% of the poetry I read is in translation because I find people from around the world have far more to say than the poets in the US who are either self-described “outlaws” or belong to the privileged or academic classes and I don’t relate to either of them.
As one of my poems says, “He was hard at work being unemployed,” and only in the last five years of working did I live above the poverty level. I always had food and shelter and enough street smarts to trade for used books and I didn’t want for much more than that. As far as where my writing is going I just keep on keeping on. I have received no awards or grants, won no contests, yet I am among the most devoted, well read, and hardest working poets in the US or anywhere. I don’t have many illusions about success—especially in today’s literary market—so I will go on in my suburban hermit mode and do the real work. Most likely I will keep on reading translations from all over the world and use the poets I read to “inspire” my own work. As this title says, I have become “The Instrument of Others.”

—Leonard J. Cirino

"Poets like Cirino, who trust in metaphor as a path to poetic and perhaps spiritual enlightenment, who follow European symbolist models in the attempt to de-familiarize the ordinary and expose its full dimensions, and who approach the world with a generosity of perception rather than an intellectual full-court press are not currently in fashion. The publishing world is only occasionally friendly to them."
William Doreski (from the preface)

Some samples...

A Sacred Madness

I didn’t want to listen but the wind, the sea,
howled the world’s blood-stained torments.

I turned my thoughts inside my ears
and there a scarlet madness screamed.

Behind the sky, the moon succumbed
to dawn, the twilight gleamed in pain.

My head bowed to darkness,
life was wretched, struggle dreary.

Years later I lay down in woods

and bloomed among the ferns.

The Abyss

It was clear at first, later my brain shattered.
After a few years, suddenly I’m old. Back then,
when the wind called I would answer, the birds
tormented me and the ocean’s cries caused aches
in all my tissues. Now, I spy on nature’s aspects;
the alders blow away in peaceful thoughts,
rivers lament the passing of loved ones
I remain grateful to. Man of few talents,
with even less to do, I guard my leisure jealously.
The times are fast, and I am even slower
than past centuries when people carried on
at a graceful pace. Methodical, I walk my dog
in the woods, go out to the hills and streams
fearing the abyss will crush me for having too much.


Born a small stream, bare trickle,
I grew into a storming river
but learned my place
when I entered the great sea.

The Way Out
after Du Fu

The way out of these mountains forgotten,
checkered moonlight covers the forest floor.
I walk with old ghosts at my side,
my feet make little skitters in the duff.
I don’t know which path to take. A glow leads
us to a logging road. Dog at my knees,
we’re down to meadows and streams. The clearings
temper my fear. Not too far ahead,
my brother’s barn where we will find refuge.
Ten thousand sad atoms twist in the wind.

The Windows

One’s life lasts an hour or two
in the grand scheme of things.

For a while we hear the larks,
the blows come later.

What happens when birds sing
and then death stabs hard?

One late summer night a voice
reaches down to life’s remains,

things calm, the windows close
and open to a different scheme.


And more poems from the web:

Fitted to the Wind
after Louis Simpson
for Ava

As the streams are fitted to the rain
and the soil is to snow,
our love blows toward our ends. 

Our blossoms gone from spring, 
now it's autumn and the winds bend. 
Supreme, our love stands, 

And with birds in boughs,
their emptied nests, we go along
and whisper what the winds blow. 

Oh deep love our blossoms gone, 
we are fitted to the wind
and wherever our bodies flow. 

Gone are the youthful dreams. 
We're old now, and the snow
where we once frolicked is no longer new.

from The Source of Precious Life (1988)

Nearly Everyone Speaks
            for the Maryknolls

It’s what we hear that qualifies us
as different. None of us sees well,
we breathe the same ages-old weather.
One says, between gulps,“This is earth,”
and another, “This is death.” There is
no answer. She says, “We’re born again,”
and he, “Nos matan cada día.” They speak
in the familiar: semejante, familia.
Meanwhile, vanishing, driven uncertain,
species reproduce and teach their young
the arts of acting, shadows. Not knowing
vision, they open their eyes: with low growls
learn to keep their colors silent.

Psyche Undressed

Today, in a fine rain, autumn colors
transubstantiate their dry laments
into the landscape of a dappled mare:
skirting the ridge, the boughs of trees.

The sky hovers over land, a substantial
difference in their being, not weight
or humidity, but variety. In the most
versatile, all gesture seems futile.

A horse moves past with a new companion
unsure how to begin forming itself
out of the silent, leafless forest.
Transparent, startled, Psyche
looks up from the pond.

(Lee Perron's favorite Leo poem)
from Source of Precious Life, 1988

Everything Is Bare

Everything is bare: the pantry, the cupboards,
the freezer, the fridge. No papers in the desk,
only a family Bible. Where have they gone?
Even the cat’s bed is empty, and the dog’s pad.
The closet stores winter woolens, summer blouses
and spring dresses. But no man’s coat or sweater.
A dark lamp and silent TV. The table is bare—
no drinks or plates. The dishes washed and stacked.
No car in the driveway, garage door locked.
Screen latched, windows down and shades drawn.
Trash is out, newspaper gone, dust settled.
What has happened? What is going to happen?

Song of Songs

Older women still want soft tongues
across the stretch of imagination
with lip to lap resuscitation.
Oh labia my love, of star and moon,
limb and stone, my wish for rising hips.

Breath, unfold your mist
across my mouth, the autumn come,
soil wet with mothers’ gloom:
beasts and humans curved
and formed with earth’s unknowns.

The Moments Change:

This year I’ll grow flowers.
Next it might be vegetables.
The movements change hour by hour. ... 
The dog growls, cat on my lap stirs,
I’ve washed dishes, waited tables,
this year I‘ll grow flowers.

I’ve dug fence holes, framed windows, scoured
pans. I like imagination, fables.
The movements change hour by hour.

Things have been sweet, and sometimes sour.
I do what I can, differently-abled.
This year I’ll grow flowers.

Bagger in a grocery store,
early in life I went off level.
The movements change hour by hour.

Most of my life I’ve been poor,
I never lived in a house with gables.
This year I’ll grow flowers.
The movements change hour by hour.


For more poems, see also Leonard's Pygmy Forest Press blog. 

Interview:Leonard J. Cirino: Poetry Dispatch

Hear Leonard read on YouTube Leonard Cirino: The Essentialist: 3 Poems
Leonard reading  2007 I Dream Your Voice

Leonard J. Cirino  Blog Talk Radio  The Jane Crown Show
RD Armstrong Lummox Writers' Press Club elegy
Leonard J. Cirino,  Poet's Corner,  Counterpunch website, tribute with poems


(Uh-oh, Blogger just ate the end of this post....I opened it to fix a typo on Susan Abbott's name, and POOF! the end is gone. And of course the poem's's not online. Hope I have a copy somewhere. Meanwhile, I'll see if I can reconstruct some of the missing links. Aha! found a TextEdit copy. Ending restored. guess I'm leaving any future typos stet.


poetry dispatch & other notes from the underground

Springfield poet Leonard J. Cirino
dead at 68 |

POETS' BASEMENT Leonard Cirino (1943-2012)