Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Haiku and Travis McGee

Traditional haiku is seventeen syllables, three lines whose length is five, seven, and five. The haiku should juxtapose three distinct but related ideas in search of a deeper truth.

Travis McGee
In a bright blue sky
Anchored in a silver slip
Floats the Busted Flush
Mystery fans who have read John McDonald's Travis McGee novels will recognize the reference to a boat, the Busted Flush, that Travis Mcgee, "salvage consultant" lived aboard. 

My criticism of my haiku is that it should be separate ideas, and not read like a single thought.

A second try, still not quite.
Its only okay
Because we believe it so
Or because it is
Haikus traditionally deal with nature.
In the dark green woods
Among meadows, trees and trails
I heard my footfalls
November Days
Cold November days
Wind blows from the frosty north
Winter comes too soon

Among the best Japanese haiku authors is Matsuo Basho.

He breaks form on occasion, as in A Cold Rain Starting.
A cold rain starting
And no hat-
The point of this exercise is, I suppose, the idea that good writers get to the point.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are you ready?

Are you ready to hear the naked truth?

No, I didn't believe it. So, I'll come back when you are ready.

Still, you ought to know. You are a really tame bunch. So polite, like parishioners at Sunday service in the Washington National Cathedral. Everyone, in their seat, listening politely, afraid to even cough. I suppose I could understand your quietude if this were a funeral, but Ronald Reagan died years ago, and no one is to be buried this week, month, or year.

Say something. Let me know, as Lily Tomlin would say, that there is intelligent life in the universe.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


image fotosearch

This weeks writing assignment is to create a murder scene that takes place in a shower, like Alfred Hitchcock's famous scene from the movie Psycho. Neither am I good at murder mysteries, nor creating fictional characters, so this should be a challenge.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

He is mighty who today is happy.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC), Horace wrote lyric poetry during the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus.

Odes, Book 3, XXIX

 ... Ille potens sui laetusque deget cui licet in diem dixisse:
 'Vixi': cras uel atra nube polum Pater occupato uel sole puro...

Fortuna saeuo laeta negotio et ludum insolentem ludere 
pertinax transmutat incertos honores, nunc mihi, nunc alii benigna....

 He is mighty, who today is happy and says :
"I lived!" whether tomorrow may clouds darken or sun shine...

Fortune delights in her cruel business and plays her haughty game
ever changing uncertain honors, now kind to me, and now another....


The Latin Library

Poetry in Translation 

English poet John Dryden, Imitation of Horace (1685) wrote:

Happy the man, and happy he alone, 
He who can call today his own; 
He who, secure within, can say, 
Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Life's a Gift

Life's a Gift

Some say life's a gift, a treat
For me, I have to work to eat

Sunday, September 8, 2013



My dog* is no thoroughbred, he’s a mutt, but he’s still amazing. Toby is a two-year-old cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Mountain Cur. Most people know what a Jack Russell is, constant motion combined with unlimited curiosity, but few people have heard of the Missouri bred Mountain Cur. They are stocky, slim and muscular with a strong, wide head and short, high set ears that flop to and fro when they run. When you look at them head on, they look as though they are grinning from ear to ear.

Toby, the amazing dog

We have all heard stories of amazing dogs - a German Shepherd who rescues his master from a burning house, a St. Bernard who brings brandy to a stranded hiker in the Alps, a Huskie who, along with his teammates, brings needed medicine to an outpost in the far reaches of Alaska, a Labrador Retriever who pulls a child from the pool, and so on. 

"Jezz-us," Toby tops them all.

The combination of terrier and cur in Toby’s case has produced an extraordinary result. On a walk in the woods, Toby is capable of finding and carrying for miles a stick five times bigger than Toby’s compact 45 pound body. The only problem is that the stick is often ten feet wide. As Toby runs through the trees on the trail, he has to turn the long stick this way and that to weave through the openings.

When we come across a logjam on a stream, Toby will inevitably find the needle in a haystack. He pokes here and there until among all the debris he comes up with an old worn tennis ball that he then brings proudly back to me.

Now here is the most amazing feat that Toby is capable of. We go to a nearby lake to swim. Toby perks up as we get close to the parking lot. He knows where we are at and he can hardly contain his excitement. His bobbed tail, he gets it from his Mountain Cur side of the family, beats like the wings of a hummingbird, his head stretches into the windshield as he can hardly contain his excitement. We park the car, I open my door, and Toby shoots around my backside, and out the door. "Liketidy split," he hurls himself into the clear, cool lake. The fish scatter. The ducks and the geese, forewarned, sail out to sea and safety.

I know you may find this hard to believe, but it is true.

Toby’s fore and hind paws are working the water so fast, that he literally is walking on water. (If we had named him Evan instead of Toby, then his last name would be Rude.) I think it is the extra force of the tail that gets him airborne. The fishermen on the shore are a little rattled that he stirring the water up so. The fish, which had been nibbling at the fishermen’s bait, are now headed for the deep to avoid this miniature Moby Dick. The kids on the shore all point to their parents and say just one word, “Look!” Eventually, Toby tires of walking on water and succumbs to normal swimming. But normal swimming for him is acting like a seal, dipping his head in the water trying to catch minnows, and barking like a seal trying to bring the fish to the surface.

I know you might think this a tall tale, but it’s true. Just come to the lake and Toby will be glad to show you.

*My daughter, if she reads this, will tell you that Toby is her dog. I say dogs don’t belong to people, people belong to dogs.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Notes on Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason

Shiloh, by Bobbie Ann Mason is the main story of a collection of short stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982). It tells the story of a problem marriage between a working-class couple from Western Kentucky. The problem, never spoken of between husband and wife, is that an infant child died of SIDS.

Bobbie Ann Mason's short stories often take place in Western Kentucky, a region of coal fields, small farms and small towns. The area is comprised of less rugged mountains than the Appalachian Mountains to the east. It separates the Blue Grass region of the central part of the state from the Mississippi Plateau.

Norma Jean, the protagonist, works in a drug store and is on her feet all day. named Norma was given her name by her mother Mabel Beasley, in honor of Marilyn Monroe. Norma's husband, Leroy, whose name means "the King," is an injured and out-of-work truck driver who dreams of building his wife a log cabin. They live in a town, never named, in Western Kentucky, population 11,500, no more than 700 people more than 20 years before, with its new subdivisions.

Mason dates the story by reference to shopping malls, new sub-divisions, Norma's work at the cosmetics counter in Rexall, and a nostalgic comment about sixties music.

Mabel dreams of Norma and Leroy taking a trip to Shiloh as a second honeymoon. Norma reluctantly agrees. Leroy is excited, but has little understanding of Shiloh's significance as a battlefield and , personally to Mabel and Norma. Among the places they visit in Shiloh is a log cabin, the only surviving building from the Civil War battle.

Manse George cabin Shiloh, image National Parks

In Shiloh, Norma announces her intention to leave Leroy. He hears her plea, but still holds out hope. The story ends with Norma looking out over the Tennessee River that flows nearby waving her arms, Leroy watches from a distance, trying to interpret its meaning.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hemingway On Writing

As far as I know, Ernest Hemingway never wrote a "how to" on writing. The closest thing we have is George Plimpton's well-known interview Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21, which appeared in the Paris Review, Spring 1958, issue number 18.

If you have time read it.

Plimpton starts the article with a quote from a Conversation in a Madrid café, May 1954:
HEMINGWAY: You go to the races?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, occasionally.
HEMINGWAY: Then you read the Racing Form . . . . There you have the true art of fiction.
I suppose this is Hemingway's way of saying,  just enough detail to allow one to bet on the winning horse.

Both author Hemingway and interviewer/author George Plimpton were grand storytellers, meaning they made things up to suit their needs. I haven't researched Hemingway's biography deeply, but I do know that in January of 1954, while in Africa, Hemingway was seriously injured in two plane crashes. In October he was notified, while at home in Havana, Cuba, that he won that year's Nobel for Literature, and he was unable to travel to Stockholm because of his injuries.

Perhaps, he was in a Madrid cafe in May of 1954, I just can't seem to prove it. Then again, does it matter?