Martin Luther King

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Random Thoughts: MLK Eve Edition

  • There’s a certain poetry in quotidian things, like getting out of bed, for instance, when the room is cold and the bed is warm. It gets you thinking ahead: the cold of bathroom floor tiles on your soles, the gooseflesh on your exposed body as you dress, the tiny jingle of license tags as the dog lifts his head when you come down the stairs, and mostly, the vigor of outdoor air rushing in and out of your nose, sometimes smelling piney and sometimes just dry and wintery, while the crows who have been up for hours laugh overhead. All this, while you’re still in bed!
  • This is why mentors advise you carry a small pad of paper with pencil: those snippets of thought, that mortar that will some day hold the bricks of a mighty poetic wall. Yes, it’s tough finding pencils in bed and when you’re in the shower, but I just make a rhyme of the idea, singing it in my head, until I can get to the paper.
  • A 3-day weekend is a marvelous thing. I especially like the “island day,” Sunday, a piece of luxury real estate in the middle. Usually Sunday carries a pall–wherein the monkey mind thinks of Monday, but on an island day? No. Just turquoise ocean, palm trees, and coconuts on the beach.
  • This weekend we meditate on Martin Luther King, Jr., and his message. Especially this weekend. MLK had a dream, but he’d have a nightmare in the decidedly White House were he alive today. “We shall overcome.”
  • This year, the MLK federal holiday falls on his actual birthday: Jan. 15th. (King was born in 1929.)
  • The best vow I ever made as a reader? Diversifying. If you thought that was financial talk, think again. Last year I branched away from my steady diet of fiction (comfort food) and started putting more fiber in my reading diet with nonfiction, short story collections, YA, and especially poetry. Oddly, it’s changed the way I read everything–even my comfort food–because these genres use different techniques and thus require of the reader different skills. Poetry, for instance, slows me down, invites rereading and marveling at how words are used. Reading it makes me notice the sloppiness of many novelists (where words are a luxury often abused) and the beauty when novelists (writers’ writers) treasure words like a poet. I’m seeing that now as I read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing.
  • It’s never too late for a “New Year’s resolution,” by the way. I hope you’ll try the Eclectic Reading Plan in 2018 yourself.
  • The more I write poetry, the more I realize the toughest part is nailing the end of a poem. True of novels, too. How many novels have horrible endings? Too many.
  • Which is why I so appreciate James Wright’s ending to the oddly-named “Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”: “I have wasted my life.” This while he is engaging in an activity most westerners would consider a “waste of time”–lying in a hammock! What’s irony to some is all-too-obvious to Buddhists.
  • Seems every time I experiment with my poetry, I get some reader who critiques it by advising that I change the part I experimented on. I’m beginning to think that you can’t experiment unless you go solo and just send the poem out, unvetted. I mean, of course it’s weird! It’s an experiment! Flying kites in lightning storms is weird, too!
  • How do you know you’ve made it or are on your way to making it in the poetry world? You publish a “Collected Poems.” (Meaning: You have enough poems to collect, so they’d better be good!)
  • Although society is less religious than it used to be, there’s no denying the innate appeal of church bells riding the crisp air to your ears. The sound is both sad and beautiful, a wonderful match.
  • I love it when writers from the past visit your poetry and make themselves at home. In my first book it was Turgenev and Tolstoy. In my latest it is James Wright, Jack Gilbert, and Ernest Hemingway. They’re good company, all of them, and make for good cameos in a poem.
  • Favorite good deed: Pushing Raymond Carver’s collected poems on unsuspecting readers. The man’s unjustly labeled as a short story master when, in fact, he is a short story AND poetry master, especially if you like narrative poetry and simple poetry that does not do its best imitation of a Rubik’s Cube.
  • Some of my poems are starting to rhyme unbidden. What’s up with that? I’m not going to question it, though. Never question something Robert Frost ran with.
  • Speaking of, it took England to discover what America had the chance to figure out first: Frost was one bad-ass poet! Thank you, England, and sorry about that little Tea Party thing in Boston Harbor.
  • My wife still isn’t sure about the title Lost Sherpa of Happiness. My daughter loves it.
  • Between Christmas and January birthday, I am (and will be) happily awash in new books, including new poets: Barbara Guest and Wendell Berry so far, with more on the way (like the poetic cavalry riding over the hill in stanzas to the meter of horse hooves).
  • Some say writing a blog distracts you from the real deal (writing poetry). Some say it’s an essential warm-up for the real deal. And some say the world will end in fire, some in ice. (Frost would say “either will suffice.”) For now, I’m sticking with the blog.
  • Thanks for putting up with another in this regular feature called randomness. Happy Day of Rest. I hope you make like Wright in a hammock today. Read, write, muse. Let it be. The world is much ado about nothing, after all….



Unlike major publishing houses, small, independent publishers have no marketing budget to speak of, so they depend upon word-of-mouth enthusiasm among their readers. I hope you can help keep the word-of-mouth buzz rolling for Lost Sherpa of Happiness by visiting Amazon for a copy. Thank you, and may the book’s 63 poems bring a little Buddhist & Taoist joy into your life!