Friday, January 31, 2020

Teaching poetry at Juvenile Hall

California Poets in the Schools residency, Loma Alta High School, Marin Juvenile Hall, I met a dozen students once a week, on Fridays during the month of January.

Day 1, I Am poems. In my other life... The poetry of imagination.

After I introduced myself, and the California Poets in the Schools program, I asked students what poets they had worked with in the past, as this is an ongoing residency. I talked about my own teaching experiences.  

In the spirit of keeping it real, or how poetry was relevant to their lives, I also told the students a story about former CPITS poet teacher, the late Judith Tannenbaum's star pupil, Spoon Jackson, at San Quentin, that, though he was imprisoned behind bars for life, poetry gave him another life. The idea that poetry changes lives. What Spoon discovered through poetry was that all human beings have one foot in darkness, the other in light. (By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives). Poems take on a life of their own, and can travel the world. Poetry is so powerful that it can affect change. I listed a litany of poets who changed the course of human events. Pablo Neruda, Bei Dao, Victor Jara. And of course, Martin Luther King’s famous speech is pure poetry.

One of the model poems I used was from McGrath School, part of the Napa State Hospital—the place where kids who were bounced from Juvie, or were sent to, before their final destination—prison. I wanted the students to glean the significance that though they were incarcerated, their minds weren't, that water could travel anywhere it pleased. Poetry was like that.
From the hills I learned
how to flow like a snake
I flow all the way down to the ground,
to the ocean, to some universe
far away in another galaxy
in a black hole and I become
the cloud of stars. 
      Class poem, McGrath School, Napa State Hospital
We made "I am" poems, based on the four elements, and discussed the intersection of metaphor and imagination.

I explained to the students that a poetry framework was merely a teaching model, a jumping off point, should they get stuck, and more significantly, that they had permission to take the poem in other directions. During our group boardwork, that's precisely what happened. After the first three lines, the group poem took off in another direction, wanting a life of its own, but they voted to keep it as one poem. Radical change or thinking outside the box threatens them.
I am the lion of the sun.
The universe taught me
to count the stars of the galaxy.
When we create poetry,
we shoot for the moon
We swim in sorrow, drown from the pain,
hoping to float on the waves
to reach the sanctuary of land
saturated by the past.

      Class Poem, Loma Alta HS
During a lull period where no one was writing, and no one wanted to share a poem—even though they get cellphone time points when they do share—and we had 20 minutes to go before class was finished, I asked them what secret animal lived inside them. (Someone had given me a stack of calendars, and I always have a few backup lessons in my go-bag.) I held up wild animal calendar photos. They all wanted to have copies, soon they each had their totem animals on their desks. The guards were on instant alert, in case there was anything sharp, like staples. The kids don't get to use regular pens, because pens can be weaponized. I thought of the song, Pretty Boy Floyd: Some rob you with a fountain pen.
Since I had worked at Napa State Hospital, I knew the drill. No staples, count the pencils at the end of class. No contraband. I wasn't allowed to bring in a cellphone or my iPad in with me, which meant I had to rethink a few of my teaching tools. The security guards let me bring in one pen, but I had to check it both coming and going. To enter the lockdown system, you pass through an electronic metal detector gate, and three locked doors. The covered outdoor halls are lined with chain link fence, and for a moment, you're stranded in the hallway, like a caged animal, dependent on the the guards to answer the doorbells, in order to get to the next level. Sometimes they were lax. Fear bubbled in my throat each time I went through the checkpoint system, and renamed itself claustrophobia.
One guard wanted to make sure the kids got adequate time to read, even though I had already asked students to read several times, at 10:20, and again at 10:30, no one volunteered. The teacher had stepped out of the room. I was annoyed by his interference. Other guards, and there were several, were much more engaged. so it was odd—perhaps a bit of a turf war. The animal calendar photos saved the day. The kids wanted to keep them. W., a bilingual Latino, clearly the most productive and prolific of the group, really gets poetry. He is willing to share and add comments. El tigre really resonated with him.

J. didn’t write at all, at first. she was openly hostile when I was working the floor (teaching poetry is sometimes like stand-up comedy where a recalcitrant audience needs to be warmed up), but at the end, she came around and did an amazing spontaneous rap poem about growing up in Oakland without electricity. The candle and the match became a metaphor shedding light throughout the poem. It was stunning, I told her to write it down, and that when she got out, she could should get involved with poetry slams. I told her she should look up Brennan deFrisco when she got out. I hope she does.

Three Latinix girls wrote endlessly about personal angst and pain in their journals. They were shy and didn’t want to share. I let them be. J. had trouble focusing and developing ideas in general. Ditto that with D., R., and T. T., an Anglo, and also the youngest, volunteered how much he hated poetry. I had to laugh. And I shared my story about hating poetry too. But I also told him how it unlocked my dyslexic brain so that I could learn to learn. And how it let me travel the world. One staff member, a guard, wrote an amazing I Am poem that became a Day 2 model.
I am the blood of my ancestors
with the heart of a warrior
I am like the grain of rice
being able to grow in any season
From my experiences,
I learned how to live
Being lost, I learned to grow
I cry from thoughts of my past
I am the humble beginnings
new life from the obstacles
I am thankful because I know the bottom…
I don’t need to speak of it. 
Day 2. Personification of feelings, deepening the metaphor. Feelings. If poems.

I typed up and copied the group poem from last week to share during the introductory editing process. And surprisingly, the students decided to split last week's group poem into two parts and developed more ideas for each of them. So now we have two group poems.
When we create poetry,
we shoot for the moon
We swim in sorrow,
drown from the pain,
hoping to float on waves
to reach the sanctuary of land
saturated by the past.
We are the light and life
of the universe. 
      Class Poem 
I am the lion of the sun.
The universe taught me
to count the stars of the galaxy.
Books taught me of the universe.
But el norte lado taught me
the oral tradition, the knowledge
you will not learn in school. 
      Class Poem
Today we focused on poems based on personification of feelings, with William Butler Yeats’ quote, Love is like a lion’s tooth, and other personification examples of emotions. I used several stellar lines written by Laura Walker's 4th grade Berkeley poets, about simile and metaphor, using "If and Then" as a bridge. The idea that If never happens. But if it happens, then there is an alternate reality. Writing is In My Heart by Ryleigh Norgrove, a 4th Gr. Alexander Valley ES, was the model poem. 
If I were a caged bird
I would try to break free
like the wind through the trees. 
If I was a river,
I’ve been moving slow, not fast
I’d be healthy and clear,
Not filthy and dark. 
We also discussed the idea of writing alternative poems to our other life. Nancy Chery's In the Parallel Universe, and Side 32 by Victor Hernández Crúz were the model poems. We never got to Billy Collins'' Litany, but that’s OK because I wasn’t sure I wanted to use it either. A little too Kahlil Gibranish for me. Billy Collins runs hot and cold.

The students seemed to enjoy making group poems on the board. The first day's group poem, "I am the lion of the sun," came out of that process almost spontaneously. We talked of metaphor, and I told them how I can’t teach metaphor, but I can teach them to make simile. Basically, I’m trying to show these young poets that the transparency of teaching poetry is not so much about following the rules as it is about that spontaneousness that happens when you think you’re doing the lesson. In other words, it was OK to go off script. And that the poetry frameworks were merely there to help them—should they get stuck.

I introduced editing during the board work of their class poem, Perfect River, an If/Then poem, and lively discussions on linguistics and line aesthetics, and imagery arose. How could sharks eat the night stars? It doesn't make sense. I used those moments as teaching moments. 
If I was the perfect river
I would be full of fish
Big white sharks
eating the stars
out of the sky.
Have you ever seen the stars
leap out of the water
and eat the moon?
If I was a river,
I’d be moving slow,
not fast.
I am the perfect river
and I’ll never stop
flowing into your heart.
I’ll flow all the way down
to the ocean of love. 
     Class Poem
Some students were really locked into the idea that poetry had to make sense, had to be literal, had to be true. Or that it had to rhyme. Which is interesting, because when they read their poems aloud, they are, in essence rapping their poems in iambic pentameter. I pointed out the role of iambics and memory. The first poems before there was writing. The origins of storytelling and myth. The handprint stenciled on the cave wall. 

They delved deeper into metaphor—an interesting aside, was that they began to spontaneously delve into the concept of spiritual awakening. I need to be careful because I didn’t want them to get into a fiery God and brimstone act. We did not get to the love is like poems which I had hoped to do. Surprisingly M. and D., the two Latinix girls wrote animal poems, and also turned in their poems (which is a voluntary process—they leave poems on top of their desks if they want me to read them).

Day 3

Since I actually typed up some individual student poems from the week before, I individually asked each student before class if it was OK to share that their poem. They each said yes, giving me the verbal permission I needed. If one student had said no, then, I would've changed my lesson plan, and not used the handout. They are also careful never to use last names. 

And most students did either change their poems, or added onto their first draft. I  introduced the idea that a first draft could be a separate poem all on its own, and that it was OK to change the poems because they would still have both copies after I added their edits and changes. But they were a little anxious about the process.

I introduced the concept of editing again, for Brian Kervin’s upcoming editing class on February 7. There is a Marin student poetry contest on Feb. 14. We did lots of revisions on the typed poems from the previous week. And we did some great boardwork. We didn’t get to the love poems again, the I Am poems prevailed, a spillover. I reintroduced the idea of In my other life as part two of the poems during freewrite, after the board poems. I always attempt to pick up the threads of the week before, as an ongoing process.

Some kids are willing to do freewrite, most are not. We created more board poems again at the end of class, after students shared their own work. D. seems to really like the group board work process. He doesn’t do very much on his own. W. is the most engaged student I have met in a long time. U., from Guatemala, who spoke no English, sat next to W., so W. could translate what I was saying. He was suddenly engaged. I told him of my travels to Guatemala and he wrote a poem about his village, asked him what his name meant, and said of course, Ulysses, the famous Greek hero. He beamed with pride.

R. is very thoughtful, I like his silence. T. wrote something today too, very surprising. He still doesn’t really want to share. Said he was unfairly incarcerated, he didn’t do anything wrong, a litany of denial they all share. The substitute teacher was enamored of the idea of If and Then poems and began to recite spontaneously a Rudyard Kipling poem based on If. She really enjoyed the class and it was fun to have her there, unlike most subs.

Day 4 Heart poems

It was much harder today to begin the class because most of the kids whose poems had been typed up, were gone as in matriculated from the program—including my star pupil, W. There were five new kids and that significantly changed the dynamics of the class. Wi., an African-American, wanted to take over the board poems completely with gangster talk. It was the first time we had to invoke the appropriateness clause. Three guards called him on it. I was glad for the back-up. Wi. wanted to completely take over the board poems, and no one else got a chance to say anything. However, the teacher was thrilled that he was coming out of his shell and interacting. Oh!

We revisited last weeks end-of-class board poem, a derisive poem about breakfast. In essence, it was a list poem. Some of the kids began to defend breakfast, but it was a fun mini-comparison exercise. I told them they could do freewrite riffs on it, or develop their own ideas from the board poems if they didn’t agree where the poem was going.
This morning
I ate rubber eggs
stinky as fish,
bread as hard as rock.
Frozen OJ like Antarctica
Pancakes taste like Playdoh.
Milk smelling
like rubbing alcohol.
Cleaning supplies,
like our cleaned up minds. 
     Class Poem
We finally got to Dorianne Laux’s heart poem—on the day she was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. I told them about other CPITS poets who’ve gone onto national, and international fame:  Jane Hirshfield, Juan Felipe Hererra, Molly Fisk, who also quoted yesterday in the New York Times. Students are amazed that one could ostensibly win money, or become famous via poetry. Which brought me back to that upcoming Marin student poets contest Feb. 14, with a $200 prize. To the students, that was 200-karat money. Everyone wanted to enter a poem.

We finally read the Laux Heart poem, which I wanted to introduce last week, so we could lead into Hikmet’s Things I didn’t Know I loved,  but there just wasn’t enough time. I asked them what lines or images resonated. I wanted students to personify the heart, or the soul, and or life—or something less than concrete, in order to be able to talk about it in abstract terms, and yet relate it to their own lives. 

I sang a stanza from the Canadian songwriters, the McGarrigle SistersSome say the heart is just like a wheel…. saying that song lyrics is where poetry and music intersect.  I also tell them that the hardest thing I can do in public is to sing, that I’m terrified. But I do it anyway. You could feel a palpable shift in the air. We just deepened. And now it was time for me to go. The next poet to take over. I wrote Josef Conrad’s famous line about the Belgian Congo, heart of darkness, on the board, and told the story of how the novel came from that metaphor. And the students wrote an amazing class poem on the board.
A heart of darkness
Takes the patience of greatness
Throughout the day
It brings on phases of freedom
Itching for poetry
It wants a door of iron, a path of fire.
But don’t get wired.
Inside the heart of a soldier
Too much on my shoulders.
An American dream. 
      Class Poem
Since we still had some time left at the end of class after students shared their poems out loud, they wanted to do another board poem. R. kicked off the first line it was great. I had him write his own line on the board, next step to owning it. Then Wi. decided he wanted to write the second line and we went nowhere fast. So I never got to do my closure speech with them. But having them write on the board was priceless. We covered a lot of ground, but the Laux poem didn't generate the response that I had hoped for. I had to remind myself that sometimes closure happens after you're gone. The board poem was my closure.

Imbolc offering to Brigid, simultaneous saint & goddess, ca. 2000

I made a Celtic scarf as a prop for finals in my MA MFA playwriting classes on monologue at San Francisco State University in 2000. Making the scarf went off without a hitch, after a lot of research, I banged the drawing out in about 45 minutes, and another hour or so for painting it with dye. The pin I was using to hold it in place, slid off during my monologue, and Justin Chinn dinged my performance for a costume fail. It was a class monologue reading for fucksake, not a public performance. He was an absolutely horrid teacher, resting on recent minor theatrical accolades, and he should never have been teaching. The class was a required waste of space, so I called him on it. He gave me a C-minus for the class. I fought the low grade and won. But the A-minus dropped my entire MA/ MFA perfect GPA to 3.9. May he rot.

I also simultaneously used the St. Brigid scarf for a final in my Celtic studies class with Professor Dan Melia at UC Berkeley. I came to class dressed as the goddess/St. Brigid, so it must’ve been around Imbolc, February, 1, 2000, as I began the long poem in October of 1999. I’m not too sure where the poem came from, as it was something that literally possessed me, written in a fugue, augmented with facts—after the fact, as it were. Probably because I was devouring medieval Celtic timelines, including the Annals of the Four Masters, so my brain was oversaturated. I wish I had kept a first draft of the poem as the original might have given me a way back to the source, and an entirely different revision might have evolved. But without that long-winded piece of didacticism, the scarf would’ve never came to be. Art works in mysterious ways.

For my Brigid costume, I made a halo of twelve candles (with little battery operated Xmas lights) I was dressed in purple robes, a green Celtic shawl for a cape, a kirtle with all her symbols attached to the costume, including a poem, an iron horseshoe, a candle, and a rubber chicken, I read a poem monologue, and prepared a traditional Celtic feast for the class. Salmon, bread, and beer as she was the goddess of bread making, and beer making. Dan sniggered and said, you can’t bring alcohol to class, pocketing the Guinness for later. I got an A-plus. Sadly, I don’t have a clear in-focus photo of the scarf when it was fresh.

BRIGID/BRIGIT  A triune goddess of:
1) healing                             (therapy)
2) blacksmiths                    (fire)
3) fertility & poetry  (light—poets/seers, divination, prophecy)

Poetry fragments from Marin Juvenile Hall

I am the spark of inspiration
I dream the stars of the galaxy
into being.


Sometimes when the mood is right
I will take a wrong turn on purpose,
and allow myself to get a little more lost
on winding back roads.
Not knowing where I am is part of the thrill.
My eyes, drunk with joy.    


My heart is like a glacier
slipping down the mountain
seeking the solace of the sea.

Inside my heart is a field of darkness,
mist rising from the folds of the hills,
Seeking the blue throat of the sky,
to quench its prodigious thirst.
It becomes the hawk guarding the chickens.
It beats its wings against the cruel morning,
Seeks flight on the far horizons
where clouds hide the gathering storm.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

My Maureen Hurley Art blog is now live

I've been developing a blog collection of my art work. I’ve still got a long way to go, with only 135 posts (some revert back to this writing blog—meaning I haven’t moved them over yet—mostly because I don’t have accessible jpgs). Blogger jpgs are tiny and you can’t directly lift them from an iPad. But you can lift low resolution jpgs from a laptop, by dragging them to the desktop.

Some posts host as many as ten art pieces, depending upon the medium. I tend to work in a series, or medium format: for example, a wet pastel jag, or an aquarelle jag, etc. I will eventually need to replace some poor jpgs—provided that I still have the work. In some cases, a bad jpg was all that survived. But it's a start.

Art is listed by media type, and by category. Most of my early work was destroyed, so in many cases, it comes down to bad jpgs (digital camera was in its infancy ca. 2000), or nothing at all. Work may seem uneven, but it really boiled down to what had survived the onslaught of technology, time and floods. Pretty much everything from my College of Marin and Sonoma State days was destroyed. Not to mention all my ceramics. Who knew that those daily Facebook Memories posts would yield so many salvageable jpgs, a snap to save to my iPad, then upload to the blog. It makes me positively giddy with joy.

At the bottom of the Blogger page there's a link to access the older posts, it goes in about 5 pages worth. Or you can navigate by month, which is much less useful as I don't know what month I made some  pieces, let alone, the year. Onward, as they say.

Next up is to create a photo blog. Any recommendations? I’ve been looking at many blogs for ideas. I really like Morrie Camhis (sp) photo blog. If only Blogger would develop some new templates. But as I write this, Blogger has finally updated the long in tooth app format. Meaning it’s a little easier to use it on the iPad. It was a nightmare, and there were no decent Blogger apps in the App Store.

Maureen Hurley Art blog

Friday, January 24, 2020


Sometimes when the mood is right
I will delliberately take a wrong turn,
and allow myself to get a little more lost
on winding back roads.
Not knowing where I am
is part of the thrill.
Wrong roads become the right roads.
My eyes, drunk with joy.

Thursday, January 23, 2020



Bald-headed vultures—
Death Star congress recruiting
in the hinterlands.

Poem was

Two turkey vultures—
Death Star captains recruiting
on a country road


Turkey vultures line
up at the roadside cafe
for raccoon special.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The dungheap

The ancient cow listlessly lipped scraps of hay by the barn. Well into her second childhood, she was long in tooth and horn. But she had given the best years of her life to the family tucked inside the farmhouse. She helped raise two generations of children. The family couldn’t bring themselves to get rid of her. After all, she had given them her life. They couldn’t bring themselves to send her to the boneyard, or the stockyard either. She was mostly skin and bone, not much there left to eat. Perhaps some stew bones and something for the dog. As summer drew to an end, you could see the old cow struggled with each step. The arthritis had settled into her hips. She could no longer navigate the steep hill to the richer pastures. Thinking this was her last year, they brushed her they stroked her petted her gave her treats. Apples and small carrots from tiny hands, a gift more than the world itself. Some mornings they found her trying to navigate the dungheap. As the days grow colder the dungheap grew taller. They thought perhaps she had long since left her second childhood behind, and was moving into the third age. She kept negotiating that dungheap until she forged a trail to the top. Mornings they would find her at the top of her domain, overlooking the yard, lying in the steaming dung. She wasn’t such a dumb cow after all. She knew the score. There was warmth in that dungheap and it lasted the whole night long. Soon enough, she was joined by the young heifers wanting in on the action.  Mornings the farmer would find them perched like enormous ravens on top of the dung heap.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Turkeys on the rocks

Photographer Jerry Downs posted photos of what he called native wild turkeys, assuming they’d been in California for centuries. I said, Well, if you consider Texas native, so be it. Wild turkeys are so wiley, Ben Franklin wanted to make them the national bird. The bald eagle was an afterthought. But they’re not native at all, they’re transplants, shills, stand-ins for the native California turkey that went belly-up, dead—as in extinct, not sleeping it off—during the Pleistocene—that’s the last Ice Age. And this is why you should always drink your wild turkey on the rocks.

Rambling on about Rambling Jack

Yep, Ramblin Jack is still alive and well and living in West Marin. He may be pushing 88, but he’s not exactly pushing daisies just yet. He may also not have been a real cowboy by birth, but he is a cowboy of the heart. Still cruising the back backroads in his big blue Dodge truck, he takes it slow. I remember when he used to live in Forest Knolls. He wasn’t so much the country boy back then, but he sure liked girls on horseback. If he wasn’t half cocked, he was generally half-lit. Before I was working for Mimi Fariña at Bread & Roses, I ran into him at a concert, at San Francisco State, in 1974, where nobody showed up, so we all hung out in the cafeteria. Hoyt Axton was hunkered down, with his sledgehammer hands performing a strange CPR to the formica tabletop. I remember sitting at that circular coffee table on its singular iron leg, as they swapped yarns, their knees lifting the small table off the ground, as if it was levitating from the sheer exuberance of all the collective tall tales being told as they outdid themselves and each other. I was a fly on the wall mesmerized into muteness. That iron claw foot was scratching the floor, was screening, and wailing like a monster—tidal waves of coffee splashing in our cups. Their hands thrumming hoofbeats into the proverbial sunset. Move along, little dogies, move along.

The Human Be-In

I was at the Human Be-In with my mother, I was barely into my teens. It was a gloriously sunny, if cold day, and the grass was damp. There were flowers and candles, incense and feathers, cymbals and chimes—and lots of smoke. 

Gary Snyder, in a fringed leather vest, was on stage chanting and reading poetry, Allen Ginsberg was standing behind him with Michael McClure dressed in black. Lenore Kandel. It was a gathering of the tribes, and the tribe kept growing all afternoon, from a thousand souls to a crowd of 30,000 people converging on the polo fields, and the bands played on.

Court jester Timothy Leary leaped off the stage, tumbles down among the masses, tripping down the main aisle like a pied piper, spots my mom, a tall willowy auburn-haired beauty, and hugged her. They knew each other from before. It’s an Irish thing. She was always bringing the Irish poets home like Lew Welsh and Gene Ruggles.

As they twirled and hugged, she threw back her head an laughed, I’d never seen her so radiant as in that moment. She was like another person, not depressed. She said God bless you Timothy Leary, he laughed and drifted onward toward the back of the crowd, creating hives of excitement whenever he stopped. Me, awkwardly standing there taking it all in, never dreaming I’d one day become a writer.

Big Brother and Janis Joplin lived down the road in Forest Knolls, Sons of Champlain, Jefferson Starship, Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana also lived in the San Geronimo Valley so the musicians were all neighbors of sorts. I later met most of them hitching back and forth to high school. My mom partied with them.

San Francisco, January 1967, was an electrifying year of social deconstruction and reconfiguration. The Gathering of the Tribes where spiritual generation amassed for a Human Be-In at the Polo Fields. Guest speakers Ram Dass and Timothy Leary spoke to some 10,000 very stoned pilgrims who turned on, tuned in, and dropped out en masse.

And yes, there really was a psychedelic poster. I remember it. Whether this one is real, is moot. We were there.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Rien se perd, tout se récupère?
Chaumière aux coquillages de st. Jacques.
Une halte pour les pèlerins de Compostelle ?
And when it rains,
do the scallops on the roof
endlessly dream of the sea
whispering secrets to those pilgrims
sleeping beneath its eaves.
Won’t it attract seagulls?
Does the rain sing of the waves?
Plenty of time to be afraid of the wind
among the fields of stars
on the road to Compostela.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

DYLAN O TONN a cut-up found poem based on Mary Oliver's West Wind #2

Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center Challenge
Prompt #29 (for January 12th, 2020)
Because I couldn’t imagine myself compiling a set of NYPC prompts without including a Mary Oliver poem as “combustion” for a poem of your own, I offer one of my favorites. Respond to it/ borrow (i. e., steal wisely) from it in any way you like:

West Wind #2

You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But, listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks -- when you hear that unmistakable
pounding -- when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming -- then row, row for your life
toward it.

Mary Oliver

DYLAN O TONN (an imitation poem)
a cut-up found poem based on Mary Oliver's West Wind #2

Listen, you were too young to know everything.
You fell from the open arms of the boat and begin to swim.
Without fins, without gills, without guile, and the waves
spoke directly to your soul as if you were born to it. Listen
to tide whispering. Lift your slender arms from the water,
orchestrate the oars, let your mind dwell, your heart is an anchor.
Listen to the wind. There is light within the darkness.
Remember to stop for that old coin in the road. It is a song of the past
when trinkets floated like baubles in the tidepools of memory.
When you hear the churn of the sea as it frets and gnaws
the carapaces of jagged rocks—you'll feel that unmistakable
pounding of the waves in the cave—& the pull of home,
you'll witness the endless battle between land and sea,
your soul and the darkness that lies ahead, and the rivulets
plunging and swirling—don't let their ceaseless hunger
mesmerize you—for of you do, you will drown in their sorrow.
You must remember to swim, swim for your life toward the light.

  6/27/20                                —MH

Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center New Year’s challenge—all the poetry prompts

I wasn’t quite in the mood to write, too discombobulated, and I had a painting deadline looming over my head. But I faithfully read the prompts, and wrote quite a few out of sequence, making it harder to post the poems under the date written vs. conceived. Sort of like conception followed by birth.

NYPC 11 Prompts

Prompt #1: Greetings, Poets! Okay, here we go…For your first poem—and continuing Gillian’s first-poem tradition to ease us all into this—
Write a haiku for some goodness that has happened to you this year. Feel free to create a haiku series of goodnesses if it’s difficult to choose just one. Ready…steady… go…

Prompt #2: Consider times in our lives when we are at the table, or someone has said, Come to the table. Write a poem for these times, or about the many sorts of tables (dining, negotiating, or even Periodic) we come to —or leave. For inspiration, consider this poem by our current U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo: Prompt #3: Write a poem in response to this idea: The Graceful Stumble. This is a prompt from the contest portion of our MoSt 8th Annual Poetry Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 1st, 2020. The deadline for submissions is Saturday, January 11th, 2020. For more information, go to our website:

Epic Autocorrect fails

Autocorrect sometimes helps me out with hilarious results, by changing my words into something completely different long after I’ve finished typing and posting a sentence. I typed—So that oversexed tortoise is sort of like Niall of the Nine Hostages? And ottocorrect changed that to—Nile of the nine hole stitches? Huh?

On Howard McCord’s post on Puerto Rico, he asked, trump hates them.Wonder why?

I dictated, “yes, his hatred knows no bounds.” But AutoCorrect fixed my words—originally displayed correctly, I might add—then it had its way with me... and wrote: “Yes his hatred no snow balance.”

I have to leave that malaprop stet. I can’t even...

Does AutoCorrect work for Trump? Alexa?

The first example was a case of AutoCorrect changing my typing. The second example, AutoCorrect changed my dictation. I can’t win either way. I’ve long since turned off predictive text. That was too distracting for words. I’ve also turned off helpful capitalization, as it was so off, I spent more time fixing its corrections than writing. It won’t capitalize I, or I’m, but give it a noun, and it’s gloves off. Or an s, and it’s an apostrophe field day. I made the mistake of using the Spanish keyboard once, and now my typing/spelling transgressions are multilingual, adding another dimension to surreal.

Now as I write this, AutoCorrect is literally changing my what I wrote, back and forth, and then completely retyping it again. Erasing everything I wrote, and reprinting it out in long strings of text. I can see a correct version of what I wrote go by, whoosh, only to be replaced by something rather more schizophrenic. I think it’s a combo of Apple and Facebook autocorrect systems attempting to out-compete each other. Make up your mind, AutoCorrect. Or go home, AutoCorrect, you’re drunk. Very drunk.

Another AutoCorrect epic fail. I explained, “What happens is I get shifting focal planes.” Oh my god, that was a brilliant auto correct. It wrote “fuck all planes,” then changed it back. AutoCorrect must have ego (I wrote “egg) on its face. Stet.

Reminds me of the joke about two monks and the scribal typo—celebrate not celebrate.

I have a scientific cleaning, so I do love reading about things but I try to never click on Web MD no matter how tantalizing the headline maybe. I did it once for hives and then was played with you to Cario arts ...  huh?

What I meant  to say was —plagued with urticaria ads. 

Cripes, scientific cleaning? Autocorrect just changed cripes to crimes. Autocorrect is a crime against spelling and word sense. Nonsense, more like. But that last autocorrect fail is so weird, I’m leaving it, stet. Forget obscure words, or a Latin phrase, like ad hoc, fergawdsake.

What happens if...


First Circle (Limbo): Reimagined by Autocorrect

Here wander the otherwise virtuous souls who were forced into grievous errors by autocorrect programs. They sit in silent masturbation, only rising once every hour to chant eerie koans such as “ducking auto cat rectal.” McSweeney’s

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Mis-musing on the name of Kenneth Mac Alpine

Someone in our British Medieval History group, wanted to know why Kenneth MacAlpin, (ca. 800 to 858) the first King of Scots, was also called  "king of the Picts". Was he a Pict who gained the Dal Riata/Gael throne, or the opposite?

Moderator Peter W Graham (whom I adore), said:
Probably of mixed parentage his mother being PICT and father a Dalriada Scotti, it is believed that the pict crown passed through the female line , the Scotti through the male, after the royal families of both were decimated by invading Norse Kinnaed was the most senior of both lines left, ignore the slaughter of the nobles it’s a myth. The Picti and Scotti were forced to unite under him against a common enemy and found the kingdom of Alba.
And of course, I was off and running. I said that Kenneth’s name was not Pictish, but Irish. Cináed mac Ailpin, which means the fire born one, possibly the son of that devotee of Colm, or Columba Aka Malcolm. (No K in either form of Gaelic). Pictish was a Brythonic language, like Welsh, so the very word son, or Mac designates the name as a Goidelic language. Welsh word for son is is mab, or ap. Alpin is likely  Pictish, as p was avoided In early Irish, a loan letter. Some think Alpin was Ailpein, Albin, or possibly alba, or alp.

Peter replied, Well Gaelic Scot and Irish had already started to separate. That got me going and I fell down the rabbit hole (again).

I said Early medieval Scots Gaelic and Northern Irish Gaelic were closely related Goidelic dialects, with Donegal Irish being the closest mutually comparable connection. Despite the fact there were probably about five separate Irish Gaelic (and Scottish) dialects, the grammatical rules don’t change much. (Spelling is another matter entirely.)

I found this on a medieval Scotland site: The nominative, Mael Coluim, Mal Coluim, Mal Colum, Mal Coloum, was spelled Maíl Choluim, or Mal Colaim in the genitive form. So, spelling was variable according to grammatical changes. The references are from Kenneth Jackson’s The Gaelic Notes in the Book of Deer.
Kenneth's origins are uncertain, as are his ties, if any, to previous kings of the Picts or Dál Riata. Among the genealogies contained in the Rawlinson B 502manuscript, dating from around 1130, is the supposed descent of Malcolm II of Scotland. Medieval genealogies are unreliable sources, but many historians still accept Kenneth's descent from the established Cenél nGabráin, or at the very least from some unknown minor sept of the Dál Riata. The manuscript provides the following ancestry for Kenneth:

...Cináed son of Alpín son of Eochaid son of Áed Find son of Domangart son of Domnall Brecc son of Eochaid Buide son of Áedán son of Gabrán son of Domangart son of Fergus Mór ... —Wiki Kenneth MacAlpin, Rawlinson ms B502
Máel is a devotee, or follower (of Christ), and Colm is a dove, pronounced Colum. So Máel+Colm is Malcolm. Máel (pronounced mal) was sometimes also used as a prefix to a Welsh name, Maelgwyn, and Mael Madog, follower of Madoc. And that Ma- in Madog may be a redundancy, máelmáel. But máel is an Irish prefix suggesting tonsured one, a monk. Which type of tonsure, I’m not sure, there were two warring factions of tonsure styles, the Druidic version was most radical.

Since we were covering goidelic languages, I tossed in some Manx too. Manx, though spelled with phonetic English orthography, was probably similar to Leinster Irish and Galwegian Scots Gaelic. Transcribing Manx into English sounds was a language disaster. Root words were lost as well as case endings, phonetic Gaelic is almost impossible to unpack. When I was looking at Manx tales, I had to say the words out loud in order to make any connection. By contrast I can suss out Scottish Gaelic place names via the Irish without too much trouble.

Also, during  the Medieval era, the term Scottii did not necessarily mean somebody was Scottish, it was a fluid concept—it meant they were Irish, or of Irish derivation—hence the term Dál Riada Scotti. Since Roman times, Ireland has been called Scotia Major, and Scotland was called Scotia Minor until the 16Th c. This simple fact seems to confuse people to no end. For the record, most of Scotland’s saints were Irish born.

Still on an odd language roll, I said: Weirdly, a dialect of Munster Irish was spoken in some of the Hebrides—especially Barra. You’d think with Colm Cille, that copyright thief, hailing from the north of Ireland, the Northern Irish dialect would’ve prevailed throughout the Hebrides. Certainly Iona. Munster Irish is very different than Northern Irish. People got around!

Gilbert Markus  caught me up on my references. I said, yes go raibh maith agat, the first part of the Rawlinson B502 was written down in the 11th c. Sometimes referred to as the Lebar Glinne Dá Locha, just to confuse things. Weren’t the annals of Tigernach later? But those early ms were not the works of sole authors, or authorship as we think of it today—same scribal hand, maybe. Well, two, or three hands. Annalists were responsible for organizing the material, not authors. Historians, maybe. But annalists were not necessary historians. And it was a collective compendium of what was thought to be historically accurate at the time. And yes, whoever was commissioning the ms would’ve had an agenda.

Now, speaking of hidden agendas, and constitutional fictions, the late 16th c. Holinshed's Chronicles was recreated history to shore up certain family trees and political agendas. Take Shakespeare’s MacBeth, for example. Poor MacBeth got seriously slammed. Yes, you’re right, there is not a radical divide between Scottish Gaelic, Irish, and Manx other than wildly different spellings, and pronunciation. My Irish teacher was always saying the difference between a language and a dialect is an army.

Well, hello, I just fell down the damned rabbit hole again, lock, stock and bunny tail, chasing the wrong name.

Comparison of Scottish Gaelic and Irish


Looking Down Yosemite Valley (1865) by Albert Bierstadt


When Bierstadt traversed the narrow ledge
up the granite wall, gaining momentum and altitude
with each labored step, in those golden morning hours,
with his sketch pad and pens in his rucksack,
or perhaps a small canvas strapped to a steady mule,
did he hesitate and bow to the sublime beauty
of The Sentinel, the grace of Cathedral Rock
or the sheer grandeur of El Capitán,
did his breath become an ablution
joining the collective prayers of dew and mist
rising from the meadow and river,
was he lulled by the cacophony of snowmelt,
and the silent song of samblind stars
before he rendered it all into artifice?
He was a long way from the Hudson River Valley
and those eastern sensibilities hellbent
on dividing and conquering the land in the name of God.
Did he ponder where to begin
with something so holy and profound,
or how to render that luminous landscape
wrought on such a massive scale, that it defied logic,
into something more civilized and tame,
all that Romanticism distilled
within the stifled confines of the painter’s studio?
Did he know the art salons would become billboards
of despair for the wild untrammeled vistas
when the thundering hordes headed west
to trample and love the sublime places to death?

Ekphrastic poetry

Protest Songs, a nod to Behan’s Patriot Game vs Dylan’s With God on Our Side

KQED’s editor, Gabe Meline, a former poetry student of mine, not that he would admit it, asked where are all the new protest songs, he was bemoaning the fact that modern musicians are not writing protest songs in the manner of Dylan.
Last week, after escalating attacks on Iran and the president declaring the United States has "God on our side," I couldn't help but think of the lines by Bob Dylan:
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side
That song, "With God on Our Side," was written over 50 years ago. So where are the new protest songs? It's a question that's surfaced repeatedly in the past four years. And I keep hearing, especially from our younger readers, that it's the wrong question to be asking — that the aesthetics and process of art are political, too, and more effective than earnest sloganeering.
I had to laugh, as the very word slogan, is from the Irish, a war cry. Irish sluagh-ghairm (sluagh "army host" + gairm "cry"). The word slogan from the Old Irish, slúag, and garim, is hardly new, as it appeared in early medieval Irish texts, where Irish folk hero Cuchulain talked about being on the war road.

Whether or not the term slogan entered the English lexicon in the 16th century via Scottish Gaelic, or Irish, is open for conjecture, as most Irish words in the Oxford English dictionary were subsumed and attributed to Scottish Gaelic as the English made a blood sport of negating or discrediting Irish cultural contributions whenever possible.

The great rip off game, as my grandmother might have called it. In the early 1960s my grandmother waited for her beloved radio program where she’d wrap her arms around the radio to give it better reception. I remember her muttering how Bob Dylan stole the Irish song and didn’t give credit where credit was due.

It’s interesting to read the Washington Post article that laments how our current lame protest music is stuck in the past, because the past is exactly where that Dylan song came from. But on some level all art is political. And as to the aesthetics and artifice of art, there is always a moral debt to the past, whether overt, or implied, as to who or what came before us. Art cannot exist in a vacuum. It is always in direct response to modern politics and pop culture. But maybe the newest generation of protest writers are operating out of a vacuum. So looking back to the past is also the way forward. What came before.

Speaking of moral debt, Dylan’s song With God on Our Side was cribbed and adapted from an Irish protest song, The Patriot Game, on the the Irish nationalist struggle after the death of 16-year-old Fergan O'Hanlon during an IRA attack in 1957. The words were written by Dominic Behan, brother of Brendan Behan, and set to a traditional tune "The Merry Month of May" with nary a nod to Behan or the Irish, for that matter.
Behan, who was unequivocal in the defence of his copyright, publicly accused Bob Dylan of plagiarizing "The Patriot Game" in writing his own "With God on Our Side". —Wiki 
To answer Gabe's question why aren’t the young musicians writing decent protest songs about what’s going on right now in Iran, I’d suggest that they take Dylan‘s song and update the words to fit the present tense. After all, it is all part of the oral tradition to borrow and adapt what came before. Dylan would understand. He’d totally get it, right? Payback would be such a sweet bitch.

Friday, January 10, 2020



Once I dreamed a poem
so profound
I had to write it down.
I could not wait until morning
but I had no paper, no pen, 
there was no twig, nor sand, 
so I scryed it on the water 
with my fingertip.
The words sank like stones 
to the bottom of the sea 
leaving me speechless in the dark.
When I awoke at dawn
I found an undecipherable scrawl 
stenciled on my nightstand,
a small flowered Richter scale of runes.


10th annual San Geronimo Valley Community Center senior lunch art show

Thursday, January 9, 2020



When life throws you too many fast curves,
and the road to nowhere is treacherous,
you must put your shoulder to the burden
and shove it off the cliff into the sea.
That’s the advice part. Seems simple enough.
But when you’re crippled by grief,
because the pool shark of an ex wants something,
you’re not sure what, it leaves you snookered,
your thoughts are scattered like a bad break-shot,
and that sandstorm of despair comes riding in
like a sweaty apocalypse hellbent on revenge,
so you can barely get out of bed, then what?
Do you abdicate? Rack it up to experience?
Or sink the 8-ball into the wrong pocket
when the money ball is no longer on the table?


Wednesday, January 8, 2020



Betrayals of the mind begin innocuously enough,
small warning signs, you pay no heed to,
they’re merely trifles, but they steadily accumulate
until one day you’re on the wrong side of a locked gate,
you misplaced the key long ago, and there’s no spare
to be found anywhere. Not for love, nor money,
nor wishes made of horsehair and remembrance.
Just an attic filled with dying stars,
and an insurmountable debt, that cannot be repaid,
the ritual of hope long since misplaced.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Gallagher Ranch, Black Mountain, Point Reyes, acrylic, 11 x 14”

Gallagher Ranch, Black Mountain, Point Reyes, acrylic, 11 x 14. Two down, four more to go... art show deadline Jan 9.

Revised foreground.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Last painting of 2019, Barboni Ranch, Hick’s Valley, West Marin. 8x10” acrylic.

Last painting of the year. Barboni Ranch, Hick’s Valley, West Marin. 8x10” acrylic. The iconic tree and rock formation is just past the one-room Lincoln schoolhouse with the vernal pool nestled in the lower foothills of Hick’s Mountain. Eponymous Tennessee land baron “Uncle Billy” Hicks never lived in the valley, once part of the Rancho Corte Madera de Novato land grant, that was named after him. Arroyo Sausal fireroad is to the right. It might be on one of the Barberoni ranches, preserved by MALT. Maybe Circle B Ranch? The Barbonis were Italian-Swiss, like most of the West Marin ranchers who settled there in the 1880s. Barboni founded Marin Dell Milk. I remember seeing the sign as a kid. Biggest ranches in Marin, 2600 acres, total, now preserved. Lots of rare and endangered species on that ranch including white buttercups in the lone remaining vernal pool, and home to red-legged frogs, badgers, otter.
Hicks Valley, Mountain: An absentee landlord in Marin's early days, William Hicks, left his name with this valley in the ranching area of Marin. (The Marin French Cheese Factory is located here.) Hicks was a native of Tennessee who arrived in California in 1843 and amassed a land empire. In the words of a newspaper reporter in 1884, "His acres, horses and cattle covered a thousand hills." The land stretched over Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Sonoma Counties, plus Marin, where in 1855 he bought 4,000 plus acres of Rancho Corte de Madera del Novato for $5,000. "Uncle Billy" Hicks died in 1884 at the age of 67 at his home in Hicksville, Sacramento County, a town no longer in existence. There was a post office named Hicksville, 1860-1889. —Place Names of Marin, by Louise Teather, 1986page 29
Neighboring Thompson Ranch, aka Marin French Cheese factory. Illinois 49er, well 65er, he came late—Jefferson  Thompson built an empire on cheese, supplying buttermilk cheese to the saloons of San Francisco. He wasn’t  French, his children changed the name to  “Rouge et Noir” to make it sound classy. After three generations, the Cheese Factory was sold to Jim Boyce, of Bishop, Ca. When Boyce died in 2010, it was sold to a French family business, Rians. It’s the oldest continuously operating cheese factory in the United States—and bona fide French after 150 years.


I made a pastel too, 9 x 12” but I don’t like it very much. I need six solid pieces of art by Jan 9, for two upcoming art shows. The pressure’s on.