Saturday, March 01, 2014

from the Asiatic Journal, V 21 (1826): "THE SOUTH COAST OF CRIMEA"

(From the Journal of a Russian Officer)

 Sevastopol, the first town of Crimea, and the most beautifully situated in all Russia, was not in existence at the conquest of the country in 1783. An insignificant village lay on the right shore of the bay, in the midst of a thick forest; and on this spot Sevastopol was built, which now contains above 20,000 inhabitants, mostly soldiers and sailors. The town is seated on the declivity of a hill, forming a promontory between two bays. The houses are chiefly of one story, white, covered with red tiles, and surrounded with fruit trees. The principal street (the houses of which are two stories) runs along the foot of the hill

Its advantages as a sea port are perhaps unequalled. The roads are formed by a bay about a werst and a half wide, by seven wersts long, and from seven to ten fathoms deep. The anchorage is excellent, and vessels are protected against every wind, except from the west, on entering. From the southern entrance, it comprehends four capacious bays, viz Artillery bay, South bay, Ship's bay and the careening-bay.

Go to the entire article>>>

Thursday, February 27, 2014

American Life in Poetry #217: Kevin Griffith


American literature is rich with poems about the passage of time, and the inevitability of change, and how these affect us. Here is a poem by Kevin Griffith, who lives in Ohio, in which the years accelerate by their passing.


I hold my two-year-old son
under his arms and start to twirl.
His feet sway away from me
and the day becomes a blur.
Everything I own is flying into space
yard toys, sandbox, tools,
garage and house,
and, finally, the years of my life.

When we stop, my son is a grown man,
and I am very old. We stagger
back into each other's arms
one last time, two lost friends
heavy with drink, remembering the good old days.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2006 by Kevin Griffith, whose most recent book of poetry is "Denmark, Kangaroo, Orange," Pearl Editions, 2007. Poem reprinted from "Mid-American Review," Vol. 26, no. 2, 2006, by permission of Kevin Griffith and the publisher.  Introduction copyright (c)2009 by The Poetry Foundation.  The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.  We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser:

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Front Page

Alex Castellanos Now Advisor to McCain Campaign
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Sun Jul 20, 2008
Daily Kos

Maybe Castellanos is a racist, maybe not. But if his research indicates that a racist ad will help his candidate, he's already proven once that it is not beyond him. [Go to the complete story >>>]

The Ballad of Big Dick
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Thu Jul 10, 2008
Daily Kos

Ev'ry mornin' at the White House you could see him arrive,
He stood five foot ten and weighed two twenty-five.
Kinda broad at the shoulder and broader at the hip,
And everybody knew ya didn't give no lip to Big Dick.
Big Dick, Big Di-ick, Big Bad Dick Big Dick. [Go the the complete parody>>>]

Man-Boy Love Advocate Accused of Using Wikipedia to Troll for Interested Parties
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy
Mar 4, 2007
Eye Online

Rookiee's boyloving propensities, it was decided, fell under the category of "sexual preference" and users were not to be prejudiced against due to sexual preference. [Go to the complete story >>>]

True Stone and Epitaph: the Poetry of Pablo Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, Mark Eisner, Ed.
San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2004. 222 pages
ISBN 0-87286-428-6

The year 2004 is the centennial of the birth of the poet Pablo Neruda. As a result, the already considerable amount of work published annually by and about the poet has increased exponentially. City Lights' 100th birthday gift is The Essential Neruda, a selection of poems, edited by Mark Eisner, a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center for Latin American Studies. [
Go to the review>>>]

Pierce Butler, Fanny Kemble, et al.
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

The Weeping Time: Elegy in Three Voices by Christopher Conlon.
Washington, D.C.: Argonne House Press, 2004.
138 pp. $19.95 paper. ISBN 1-887641-18-1.

In March of 1859, Pierce Butler, a Philadelphian, wealthy by virtue of two plantations in Georgia, auctioned some 430 of his slaves in one of the largest such sales in American history. That auction became known as 'The Weeping Time'. The poet Christopher Conlon memorializes that day with a book of poems bearing the same name. Butler is of further historical interest by virtue of his rocky marriage to the famous English actress, Fanny Kemble,... [
Go to the Review>>>]

Go to full Poetry Review Index>>>
Go to the Book Review Index>>>

Page 2

New Poetry:

For the Tattooed Man by Sharmila Voorakkara
Fried Beauty by R. S. Gwynn
Seeing the Eclipse in Maine by Robert Bly
Dead Butterfly by Ellen Bass
Go to the Poetry Index >>>

New Book Reviews:

Never Far from a Breakdown. Collected Poems: With Notes Toward the Memoirs, by Djuna Barnes. Reviewed by Brian Phillips.

Thrills and Chills and Home Movies. Strong Is Your Hold, by Galway Kinnell. -and- Interrogation Palace, by David Wojahn. Reviewed by Peter Campion.

Barnes on Fire. A Word Like Fire: Selected Poems, by Dick Barnes. Reviewed by Peter Campion.

The Cosmic I. Present Company by W. S. Merwin.
Reviewed by by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

Sex Trek: the Next Generation.
by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

Sex Carnival by Bill Brownstein.
Toronto: ECW Press, 2000
250 pages. $22.95 Can, $18.95 US.
ISBN 1-55022-415-8.

Two factors changed our relationship to sex in the past century. The first was the introduction of cheap, effective birth-control. The second, market capitalism, has become the unchallenged law of the jungle.... [Go to the review>>>]

Go to the Book Review Index>>>

New Interviews:

Translating Poetry into Poetry. An interview with C. K. Williams.
Nature Poems in a Post-Natural Age. An interview with Gary Snyder.
The Poet of Green Bananas and Baclao. An interview with Victor Hernández Cruz.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jon Norman: tortured enfant anti-hero

by Gilbert Wesley Purdy.

This memoir was originally slated to appear in Days of Creativity: A Collection of Poems by Jon Norman ed. by James Stidfole. Little Red Tree Publishing. 2007.

1. Shortly after I was assigned to the Navy construction crew of the USS Groton, at the Electric Boat Naval Shipyard, in Groton, Connecticut, in 1976, a shipmate (a first-class electronics technician with a Dagwood Bumstead haircut and an even goofier laugh) informed me that he had seen a posting, on the local public access station, by a group that was starting a literary magazine. Surely, in his mind, it was goofier still for a sailor to read poetry and I will never quite understand what possessed him to write down the contact information in order to hand it along.

2. The journal, I would learn, was to be called A Letter Among Friends. I attended a reading, at the Groton Public Library, sponsored by the group. It was held in a meeting room strewn with carpeted modular staging of various shapes and sizes. (Everything was modular at that time: it was the in thing.) We spent the afternoon reading poems and aimlessly reconfiguring the staging. It wasn’t exactly an impressive experience but the idea seemed to have promise. My first published poem appeared in the first issue.

3. The founding editor had been Matthew Goldman. Matthew was a dedicated back-to-nature-type with long hair and a spreading salt-and-pepper beard. His wife, Jocelyn, was half his age, with a beaming smile and a penchant for canning and taking care of their two young sons. They lived on a small farm outside of nearby New London where they kept a huge garden and Matthew a hand-craft workshop.

4. Matthew soon withdrew as editor. The job fell to Jae Brown and Mary Jane Moore (née Anderson) who asked if I would help with production. This meant collating, folding and stapling the pages. Gerry Johnson, the Treasurer, spent days literally cranking them out on a hand-operated Gestetner machine and delivered them to us for the tedious task.

5. It was at about this time that the group formalized the occasional open mic readings. They would occur monthly, at various New London establishments, for nearly ten years. During the first several years, they were held in the bar of a Bank Street bistro called the Ice House.

6. It was in the doorway there that a dark figure, with shoulder length, dangling, unwashed hair, and wearing a black leather jacket, appeared toward the end of a monthly reading. His look was gaunt and slightly menacing. His smile was little more than a grimace. As I recall, he did not speak to anyone but the waitress that first evening. He left before the end of the reading.

7. He returned each month, when he was not “in painful chains ascending in madhouse degree the sacred mountain,” [1] until the readings came to an end. He read while straddling a stool whenever one was available, looked intently down at his text, periodically pushing his hair back from his eyes. At first, the poems were generally song lyrics he’d written.

8. It was during the second or third month that we found ourselves shaking hands. His name was Jon Norman, he said. He was impressed with the quality of the open mic. We didn’t know how fortunate we were to have a reading of this quality available in such a small town. He was self-conscious about not having a drink in his hand. He didn’t do drugs or alcohol anymore, he volunteered. Whenever he did drink even a sip, he went on, it took his body days to recover.

9. Jon’s family had been in New London since before World War II. His father, Victor Norman, he informed me in passing, was the founder and conductor of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. I had not been aware that there was a symphony orchestra in the area. I would only much later learn that his brother was Bob Norman, a well-known folk singer and one time editor of Sing Out magazine. As for Jon himself, he had been away from the area for years and only recently returned. The details were vague. He was working for a local plate-glass distributor.

10. I was not able to attend the readings quite as religiously as he. Submarines under construction tend to place extreme demands on the time of all involved. Eventually, I was onboard for systems tests as often as not. Soon after that came sea-trials, and, finally, deployment. My enlistment ended in 1980, and my wife and I decided to remain in the New London area. We bought a house on a street called (of all things) Cinderella Lane.

11. Each time I returned to the readings, I found Jon Norman considerably more at ease. He was creating a role for himself as laconic resident Beat guru. It was a role everyone seemed to appreciate, himself included. The grimace looked a bit more like a smile. At the same time, he was so careful to avoid confrontation that it was clear that he was somehow fragile.

12. This habit of avoiding confrontation should not be confused, however, with the painstaking courtesy Jon showed to others (with one rare exception) throughout the entire time I knew him. I had been at Cinderella Lane for about a year when I invited Jon to the house. When we came in the door the look on my wife’s face made it clear that Jon’s remaining in the house was not an available option. She and I had just added a screen house so that we could sit outside during the summer nights without being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I ushered Jon into the screen house where we spent a pleasant evening talking about poetry and social justice and I began to introduce the subject of Jon’s years on the road. My wife stepped out of the door, periodically, to direct a furious stare towards me meant to call an end to the visit. I apologized for her behavior but Jon wouldn’t hear of it. He was not sure he would want himself for a guest, he said, anymore than she did.

13. My marriage had been a difficult one from the first. The birth of my magical daughter, Rachel, and buying a house at the borderline between suburbia and the country, made it bearable for a time, after I left the Navy, but the final denouement was never really in doubt. I filed for divorce in 1983. Among the things I felt at liberty to do, as a result, was to spend my evenings as I saw fit. I had yet to accept an invitation to Jon’s home. The next time one was extended I did so.

14. From the outside, the Norman house looked very similar to the Monte Cristo Cottage (boyhood home of Eugene O’Neill) next door. Like all of the “cottages” on that stretch of Pequot Avenue, in New London, it was an over-sized, modified Victorian home with a wrap around porch the size of a boardwalk. The front door opened into a spacious foyered living room: large enough for a full-sized grand piano to the immediate right, surrounded by dark, built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and followed, at a comfortable distance, by unpretentious but nicely appointed sofa and chairs around a broad tea table. To the left, across from the sofa, was a spacious fireplace over which hung a copy of an Assyrian mosaic showing a lion rearing to strike.

15. Visit by visit, I was introduced to more intimate areas of the house. Jon’s mother was herself quite fragile at the time. She had a specially furnished sitting room upstairs into which I was ushered, on each occasion, in order to be greeted by her. She was a small woman, made tiny by a stoop, who made one feel like a dear friend from the first moment. At the beginning of each visit (until she passed away) Jon escorted me up to pay my respects. On each occasion, she also asked if he was well and gently reminded him of one or another thing he should remember to do. There was never the slightest trace of rebuke on her part or offense on his.

16. During the first several visits we sat in the living room discussing poetry and social justice as we had done so often in various locales. The coffee was navy-strong and we smoked cigarettes until a cloud enveloped the room. Having known Jon for some time I felt I could encourage him to talk at greater length about his years away. He was always careful not to let the topic monopolize too much of the conversation. He was conflicted, neither wanting to reject all that his youth had been about nor to glorify it.

17. One day he brought out a copy of Art Kleps’s cult classic: Millbrook: The True Story of the Early Years Psychedelic Revolution. (I still have the copy he lent to me.) He leafed to page 161, where he pointed out the following passage:

John [sic] and Vinnie [sic]. Ashramite couple. A pair of clean-cut American kids who never seemed to think of anything except how best to enjoy themselves. Vinnie was one of the sexiest little creatures I have ever met in my life, an opinion universally shared. She moved in a sort of continuous wriggle and her mouth was always open. When she discovered I was a writer, she suggested I collaborate with her on the story of her life. It would be a masterpiece of pornography, she assured me. John didn’t approve. He thought we should sell her as a Playboy centerfold instead. John and the Drucks had visited Israel together, before their Ashram lives began. [2]

‘That’s me and Vennie,’ he said. He’d spent about a year, during his travels, at Timothy Leary’s experimental, LSD-based community at Millbrook.

18. The Hitchcock Estate (Millbrook, NY), as Kleps describes it, in 1968, was a place of lies and filth. Drugs and alcohol had long since come to be hoarded by various groups and individuals in order to avoid rampant theft of the same.

Just being in the Big House depressed me. Since the electricity and heat were off, the remaining Leaguers were living out in the woods in teepees and the fifty room mansion was full of dog shit, cat shit, goat shit… [3]

If there had been glory days the young couple soon found themselves living in the offal of them. Little was left, in the end, but the heavy drinking, drugging and paranoia.

19. Jon had mentioned Vennie from time to time. It was difficult to nudge details out of him. He was preparing a book of poems for the press, though, and I learned more about her from the proofs he presented to me as work progressed. After Millbrook the two of them eventually moved to California. Vennie was pregnant with their child. Jon needed to become a provider, to settle down, to grow up. He called from work during the nights to make sure she was all right. Then suddenly it happened:

An empty bed beside me, curtains waving in the pane,
I called the house from work all night. [4]

What the poems didn’t make clear was Jon’s sometimes frightening struggle with his addiction to heroin. Vennie left him. Their daughter would be born somewhere in the redwood forests of California:

And I was left inside the whirlpool of the city,
you out in the forest with child. [5]

He’d come to depend on Vennie being there, had expected to hold their newborn daughter in his arms. These were the treasures he’d managed to come away with from the prodigal journey of his youth. Now even that had proven illusory.

20. Every time I suggested that the breakup was a terrible event in his life, from which he was still fighting to recover, Jon wouldn’t hear of it. Vennie was a good person. She and their daughter, Forest, lived a good life among the redwoods. His problems were his own to account for.

21. In retrospect, the pair of clean-cut American kids Kleps recalled can not help but bring to mind such observations as the following from a 1967 New Republic article, by Lisa Biebermen, then editor of the Psychedelic Information Center newsletter:

A community is a place for people to live and work together, put down roots, raise their children and grow old. There is no psychedelic community, least of all at Millbrook, a madhouse place that nobody can stand for long. Of the group that started there, none remain except Leary and his daughter and son. In the mad scramble to be In, nobody asks what became of the people who were In last year, and the latter are silent. How long can this farce be played out? Apparently indefinitely; the turnover of Leary's followers goes on, each new group of converts as true-believing as the last, until their turn comes to fall out through divorce, rejection, psychosis or disillusionment. [6]

Both Jon and Vennie could have fallen victim to any or all of these in their turn. They seem to have arrived at Millbrook as innocents, more or less. Who knows how they left?

22. The volume Jon had been preparing was entitled Forest Songs. In the prose poem "Les Mains Sales" he gives his own perspective on how he came to the impasse he did:

I’d played with marked cards in the recurrent cyclic spiral downward through the magus’s funhouse stageset to ego’s inevitable cul-de-sac; cornered and exposed, all conscience’s thousand whispering monoliths descended (mala fide) in hard crystal hailstones from my neighbors’ hundred-windowed structures, tall accusatory sentinels above my bare-headed Outcast’s fear. [7]

He’d certainly mentioned other addresses over the years — Haight Ashbury, Echo Park, Stinson Beach — that suggest a way of life that might not have begun and ended at Millbrook.

23. I wrote a brief review of the book that appeared in the pages of A Letter Among Friends. My words were those of a reviewer rather than a friend:

Whether writing a song lyric, a prose poem, or a lyric after the style of Rimbaud, the poet of Forest Songs is too scrupulous to opt for the easy way out. He refuses to round off his life or our history to justify either. His celebrations are often ambivalent while his accusations are not. In short, his book was all the rough edges of honesty. [8]

I, too, was intent upon honesty. There is a lot of exceptional poetry in the book.

24. What Jon did take away from those years was a hard-earned wisdom and a humanity of the sort few achieve. As painful as the fact may be, the profoundest poets — or, for that matter, people — are the product of coming to terms with their own suffering. More deeply wounded, they often remain unusually vulnerable, as well, in spite of their remarkable accomplishments.

25. Jon had a large bedroom upstairs which he had also fitted out with a few sparse pieces of furniture. Eventually we took our conversations up there. He kept a small library in his closet and was fond of pulling volumes down to quote from them. He was fonder still of impressing upon me how important it was for me to read them: Henry Miller’s Time of the Assassins; Rimbaud’s Illuminations; Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen; Ezra Pound’s Cantos. With the exception of Pound, I was only vaguely familiar with the authors. I bought my own copies of everything I could find by them. The conversations would soon begin in better earnest.

26. He didn’t need a prop in order to go on about Bob Dylan. There was more to Dylan, he repeated, than I knew, both as a song-writer and a poet. He spoke of this album and that, this song and that, with close attention. I should take the time to really get to know the music.

27. These evenings grew more frequent after I was asked to become the editor-in-chief of A Letter Among Friends. Others had been asked first. None wanted the position. I was informed that either I would take it or the journal would cease publication. I had been encouraging the New London poets to take their work more seriously for years. To the point, it turned out, that they were sick of hearing it. Now was the time to put my time where my mouth was, it seemed. I agreed (very much against my better judgment) with the proviso that Jon and one other poet would serve together with me.

28. Our first declaration was that we intended to publish on time — a feat that had thitherto proven impossible. We next announced that we intended to publish engagé political poetry should it prove to be of sufficient quality — a feat that had thitherto proven unpalatable. Finally, we brought an entire new staff onboard (the old staff being a combination of exhausted and aghast).

29. I believe it was during the last reading before the official turnover that it happened. A saccharin fifty-ish poet, who was then a regular at the readings, announced that his family had printed a limited and numbered edition of his poetry. They materialized there around him, beaming. The book was brandished. His work was lauded in the highest possible terms. It was everything that poetry should be: filled with Hallmark love and puppy-dog tails.

30. Then Jon took poetry seriously. He rushed the ad hoc table of honor. The gentleman’s wife and daughters gaped at the assailant. Pointing an accusative finger, neck veins bulging, Jon challenged the man’s right to even so much as call himself a poet. His stuff was the worst sort of rubbish. It was an insult to those who put their lives into trying to write actual poetry. Everyone in the room stood riveted to the spot. After several minutes of the same, I crossed the room, took Jon by the shoulder and walked him away. He seemed to have been waiting for me to do so. Everyone else in the room surged in the opposite direction, toward the doggerel laureate, like a gentle soughing wave. Was he all right? How terrible it had been! In retrospect, our effort was doomed before it started.

31. Not that we failed, exactly. Four issues came out very nearly on time during the following year. It was the first time in the history of the journal that this had been accomplished. They were easily the four finest issues the journal ever published. I was out of the area for several months but we’d managed to select the poetry and covers before I left. The subscription list grew at a gratifying rate. But while we gathered at a Mountain Avenue flat with our coffee, pipes and cigarettes, to shepherd the new literature of our time, there was the creeping sense of a hostile world outside of the room.

32. A previous staff-member was outraged by the changes and lobbied anyone who would listen that the journal should be turned over to ‘someone responsible’. We had published two of Jon’s prose poems excoriating American imperialism. During the monthly open mics he was regularly reading “Munitions Factory”, a protest poem against Electric Boat. I, for my part, had begun writing ‘disturbing’ poems in the vein of Rimbaud. Worse still, as a respected engineer and ex-nuclear submariner, my pronouncements on the military-industrial complex were garnering attention. This was not what A Letter Among Friends had been created for.

33. Half of New London, it seemed, was buzzing around like so many angry hornets. Anyone with the slightest destructive bent was suddenly and gloriously released to pursue their particular art, as well. Within the year, I was unceremoniously voted out as editor. I was only too pleased to give up the onerous position but was otherwise defiant. I began to present poems at the monthly readings that left no excuses available to anyone with a bit of conscience left. The monthly readings were suspended indefinitely. They never were revived.

34. I found myself without a job into the bargain. I took up cab-driving, the only job I could get any longer, locally, that paid more than minimum wage, and enrolled in a local college. In actuality, I found myself pursuing a post-graduate degree at the University of Hard Knocks. My specialization was “Mob Psychology”. My thesis is still in progress being published piece-meal.

35. Jon retired to the family house from which he sallied out occasionally to introduce me to open mic readings at St. Mark’s, in New York City, or a concert by Dave Van Ronk (‘a real folksinger’) in a tiny Hartford club. I was woefully uninformed about the world his poetry came from and it seemed as good a time as any to give me a short course.

36. Jon cut his hair. After years of abstinence, he began to allow himself a single glass of wine some nights. His wife, Gloria (they largely pursued separate lives), and their son, Daniel, began stopping by. I would sometimes arrive to find Jon teaching Daniel how to play chess on the sunbathed porch. Our evenings, for some reason, shifted to daytimes in the kitchen. The grimace was replaced by a boyish grin. He began to speak of writing a Handbook of Social Justice. I’d never seen him so happy. Victor Norman invariably stopped to chat for a while and to let me know how pleased he was that his son and I had grown to be such good friends.

37. Eventually, however, a remnant of the hornet’s nest, associated with the local drug culture, that had somehow become headquartered in an old farmhouse, a short distance from the Old Colchester Road, in Oakdale, just north of New London, managed to deal me a sundering blow. As a result, my thinking became slow, labored, barely thinking at all. There was ‘such a thing as “situational ethics,”’ I was informed, at one point, as I sat trying to focus my attention. I was taunted with descriptions of the bleak life ahead for me as a drooling, gape-mouthed moron. Detailed lectures were included on the most humane methods of ending one’s own life.

38. Afterwards I was an exposed nerve one moment, exquisitely sensitive to any stimulation, and in an anesthetic cloud the next. The simplest task required enormous effort. The police dismissed my claims with derision. I decided to move to upstate New York where my daughter had been relocated after the divorce and my own family resided. I remained in New London, in a rental cabin, for several months trying to recover sufficiently that I would be able to manage the rigors of a move, ventured out as little as possible. I saw Jon, once, briefly, before I left for New York. ‘It’s called “drug-bombing,”’ he said.

39. Some 10 months after I left, I received a call from Jon. He was nearly incoherent, clearly panicked. In all the time I’d known him I‘d never heard him in such a state. They’d gotten him, too, he said. He’d moved out of the house and they’d gotten him. He was living in the car. He wasn’t sure he was safe. He would be in my area in a week to attend a folk concert. Could I meet him there? He needed to talk to me. It was important.

40. I said I would try. I had no car. The fair ground at which the concert was to be held was thirty miles away and not near any bus line. The price of a cab was well beyond my means. I was barely able to get through my days as it was. I did not go to meet him at the concert. Three weeks later, I received a call from my mother. Victor Norman had called to say that Jon was dead.

41. I would later learn that Jon had drowned in a meditation pool at an Ashram, in Hunter, New York. It was a place he had often mentioned during our conversations, a place of peace and healing to which he felt he needed to return.

42. As for what Jon had told me during that final telephone call, I have reflected upon it many times over the years. I’d never known Jon without the resources of his loving family and home immediately available to him. Perhaps it was my own condition, at the time, that made me want to believe that he had been unwise to try to return to a crazy and often emotionally brutal world which would seek out and test, if not attack, his weakest points; to believe that his claims were the result of a degree of confusion that I’d never detected before in him which arose from those more normal (however difficult the fact is to accept) circumstances. Even now, the alternative possibility seems overwhelming.

[1] Norman, Jon, Forest Songs (Mystic, CT: Private, 1985). No pagination.

[2] Kleps, Art, Millbrook: The True Story of the Early Years of the Psychedelic Revolution (Oakland, CA: Bench Press, 1977) 161. The following e-book version, “© 1995 His Highness Arthur J. Kleps”, is posted at “John [sic] and Vinnie [sic]. Ashramite couple. A pair of clean-cut American kids who never seemed to think of anything except how best to enjoy themselves. Vinnie was one of the sexiest little nitwits I have ever encountered, an opinion universally shared. When she discovered I had literary inclinations, she suggested I collaborate with her on the story of her life. It would be "very pornographic," she assured me. Wouldn't John mind? Why should he? Despite my libidinal lassitude, there was something about this concept that appealed to me, but John, it turned out, did mind. He thought we should sell her as a Playboy centerfold instead, he said. John and the Druck brothers had visited Israel together, before their Ashram lives began.” It is this version that I quoted from in the text I sent to Michael Linnard for inclusion in Days of Creativity: a Collection of Poems by Jon Norman. Little Red Tree Publishing (2007).

[3] Kleps. 7.

[4] Norman.

[5] Norman.

[6] Bieberman, Lisa, "The Psychedelic Experience", The New Republic, August 5, 1967. Council on Spiritual Practices, documents,

[7] Norman.

[8] Purdy, Gilbert W., "A Review of Forest Songs by Jon Norman", A Letter Among Friends Vol. 6, No. 4 (1985) 18.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Federico Garcia Lorca Page

Federico Garcia Lorca (June 5, 1898 - August 19, 1936) was born in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada. He grew to be a talented pianist as well as poet and playwright. His first published book was Impresiones y Paisajes, a volume of prose published in 1918.

Between 1919 and 1924 Lorca lived at the Student Residence of the University of Madrid. In 1920 he was matriculated to the university. It was there that he met Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, Ramon Gomez de la Serna, Luis Cernuda, Rafael Alberti and others, and wrote his earliest mature plays and poetry.

During the late 1920s, Lorca began to feel distressed over the cooling of his passionate friendship with Salvador Dali and the end of a torrid affair with the sculptor Emilio Aladren. Both men had chosen, in the end, by marrying, to adopt exclusively heterosexual lifestyles. This seems to have suggested that, as time went on, his sexual orientation might involve even more devestating loses than he had previously experienced. The crisis was profound. When his family offered to send him to New York's Columbia University to further his studies, he accepted. He found his English courses unfathomable and spent almost no time at classes. Instead, he spent 1929 and '30 investigating Harlem and jazz and looking up fellow Spaniards. He also spent time with friends in Vermont.

In 1931 Lorca founded La Barraca (a traveling theater) together with Eduardo Ugarte. His association with the theater would continue until his death.

During the years 1933 and 1934 Lorca made a celebrated visit to Argentina and Uruguay where his work had already been particularly well received. It was at this time, in Buenos Aires, that he first met a young temporary attache to the Chilean embassy, Pablo Neruda. He also met the still younger Jorge Luis Borges. Borges, however, had already become the leader of his own small, indigenous literary movement and was deeply offended by Lorca's compulsive need to command the center stage at all times wherever he went.

In late July of 1936, Granada passed from the hands of the Republican government into those of the fascist Nationalists. Somewhat inexplicably, Lorca returned from Madrid to Grenada in mid-August. He attempted for several days to contact family and friends in the city without his presence being known. On August 16, 1936, he was detained for questioning. On August 19, he was shot by firing-squad, near the town of Barranco de Viznar, and buried in a common grave.


Essays/Ensayos in English:

Essays/Ensayos en Espagnol:

Poems/Poemas in English Translation:

Book Reviews:

Play/Movie Reviews:

  • Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca. Review by Lizzie Loveridge. A London production of the play. (Curtain Up, 2005);
  • Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca. Review by Adrienne Cea. A New York production of the play. (Off Off Online, July 2006);
  • The Disappearance Of Garcia Lorca. Review by Roger Ebert (;
  • "'The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca': Tracking Down the Killers of a Poet". Review by Stephen Holden (New York Times, September 1997);
  • 'The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca'. Review by Kim Williamson (Boxoffice Online);
  • Yerma by Federico Garcia Lorca. Reviewed by Sam Marlowe (?). A London production at the Arcola Theatre. (London Times, August 2006);

News Stories/Articles:

Other VGS Author Pages:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From the Trenches: Primary Experience.

by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

The Palanca Food Pantry shares its digs with Florida’s 3048th and 3056th precincts on election days. It’s quite an effort to resituate the Tuesday programs for the homeless, & etc., to the west side of the church so that voters may trickle comfortably into the doors on the east side.

As always, the pantry proper, during which we provide a box of food to take home (for the homeless, generally a camp in the woods), had been rescheduled. On this occasion, however, the word got out too late for many of the patrons to be informed of the change. My bad. I’d lost track of which Tuesday was primary day. As a result, Rosa, Cecilia and I spent the morning handing bags of food out of the kitchen door and loading deliveries into it; that and brewing continuous pots of coffee for ourselves and the dozen or so precinct volunteers.

I did actually have the presence of mind to call the Health District group, the day before, to tell them that the pantry would not be opening on the usual day. Under normal circumstances we set up a table for them the fourth Tuesday of every month. Tara was away from her desk so I left a voice mail. They arrived anyway. She has been out sick.

Dave, the new supervisor of 3056, had come to the church last Friday, during the community meal, to see if he could talk us into giving him a key to the building. He is apparently of Indian (as in the subcontinent) extraction with just a slight accent. His children were with him: a boy and a girl, very quiet and well behaved, with sparkling eyes. They looked like they had stepped out of a 21st century version of a Norman Rockwell painting.

The teams arrive at 6:00 AM. Maggie, the supervisor of 3048, already had a key, but I was more than happy to provide another in hopes that a knock would not come at my door at such an ungodly hour.

So then, I was able to sleep until the almost godly hour of 8:00 AM at which time I heard the bustle of the pantry patrons passing my door. I arrived in the kitchen to find the touch-screen voting machines, which had been delivered on Thursday, all on their stands, in the hall adjacent, and the volunteers all at their tables. The “Election Deputies” were posted outside the door to each precinct in their tired orange vests.

After the impromptu pantry, the St. Rita’s group showed up to serve lunch. The crowd was even larger than usual, but, apart from a bit of pushing and shoving, things went well enough. As everyone waited for their food I held mail call. (One of the many difficulties the homeless face is the lack of a mailing address.) One of the Sheriff’s Deputies who were covering the “feed” noticed my backwards Green Bay Packer cap and we analyzed our team’s season-ending loss to the Giants to death.

Clearing the property of meal patrons, after the feed, was more problematical. A----- (being a patron, his name will remain anonymous) has recently been kicked out of his parents’ home. He is a mild mannered young guy in his early twenties and lacks all but the simplest interpersonal and job skills. The currents of life carry him along wherever they will. His thought processes are profoundly confused, obsessive, magical.

The pantry being one of the few remaining places where he may be received with a kind word, A----- wants to remain now and be taken care of full time. He neither wants to seek a job nor has he any reason to believe that he can maintain one should he find one. All of his opportunities lie on the far side of years of intensive therapy and skills training none of which is available to him.

We did convince him to apply for jobs last summer and he did find one flipping burgers. His boss called him “stupid,” with some regularity, and in front of the other employees, though, and I spent many hours trying to advise him how he might handle the situation. A good deal of the time was spent explaining why punching the boss was the worst possible idea.

He’d run into "demons" before, A----- informed me. He "can see them." This one was trying to steal his spirit. He held on for several months. It is not clear whether he quit or was fired.

His situation having become still more desperate, now that he has no place to stay, A----- wandered over to the voters’ side of the building and huddled beneath the level of the shrubbery. When I came upon him and told him that it was time to clear the property he faintly nodded “okay”. As he dawdled, back on the pantry side, and was told again that it was time to leave, he asked to use the Port-o-Let, outside of which I stood, after some ten minutes had passed, calling him to come out. When he did eventually do so he slowly walked toward the road mumbling "’T’s a church, yuh son-of-a-bitch."

A----- has fathered two children.

By 3:00 PM it was just me and the precinct volunteers. There was not a voter to be seen. I put on another pot of coffee, as one of the volunteers cleaned her uppers in the kitchen, and announced the fact (of the coffee, of course) to cheers. The various snacks they’d left on a counter in the kitchen had largely survived the occasional wandering pantry patron.

As I emerged from the church office, having checked the Share Your Voting Experience opened thread, at the Palm Beach Post’s Florida Politics Blog, Maggie jumped up to play a few bars from a Beethoven concerto on the upright that we’ve been trying to get rid of forever. It was well played, actually, and the after-work rush of voters had failed to materialize. As supervisor, it was surely her responsibility to keep her people alert. She received a healthy round of applause.

I launched into a description of my relationship to the pantry in reply to a question from Carmen, the voting key-card validater, with whom I’ve shared the polling place experience for some years now. Fifteen minutes later I figured he’d had enough and released him from the results of his foolish mistake. How he kept a smile going for that long I don’t know.

The first few paragraphs of this piece were waiting for me back in the office toward which I retired. The hour of 7:00 PM was soon upon us and the voting machines being loaded back into their plastic cases. In less than a half hour the cases were secured onto the two carriers on which they had arrived (where they await the Division of Elections panel truck) and good byes being said. I was left with a sweatshirt, that I was to consider a “donation” if the volunteer who owned it did not return for it, and a gratifyingly quiet evening.

This article first appeared, on January 30, 2008, in the Talking Points Memo Café but was lost due to technical problems during a changeover of servers at that site.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

From the Trenches: the Palanca Food Pantry.

by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

The holidays were unusually busy at the Palanca Food Pantry here in little Lake Worth, Florida. Our crowds are up about 50% this year and resources are stressed but the response of our partners and the community at large has been gratifyingly up to the task thus far. On balance, we are able to meet the additional demand.

The communities we serve — the homeless, persons on fixed income (retirement and disability), and the working poor — are particularly vulnerable to economic fluctuations. In this area the homeless and working poor depend heavily upon housing construction for their limited earnings, the homeless through temporary, largely minimum-wage “labor halls” and the working poor through (or as) small sub-subcontractors.

Clients who have managed to avoid homelessness for years, if not decades, in ramshackle trailers, in run down trailer parks, are now living in their cars, catching a few harried hours of sleep wherever they can. The trailers they occupied now house those who used to be able to afford run down apartments. Increasing numbers of those apartments and trailers now have no electricity, the utility bills not having been paid. Increasing numbers of those cars have no insurance. They are driven sparingly as gas costs above $3.00 per gallon and there is generally no money available for repairs.

The guys who hang out at the exits from the Home Depot parking lot, just around the corner from here, waiting for contractors who might stop on the way out to hire their services for a day, are not having much luck just now. They know the pantry’s feeding schedule and often must be satisfied to have one good meal for their efforts. They generally sleep together in large numbers in crumbling trailers that no one else will rent.

Most major intersections in town feature four panhandlers, one on each of the four corners. There are only a tiny number of shelter beds available in the county and those are nearly 10 miles away in downtown West Palm Beach. The nearby Westgate Tabernacle has been the de facto shelter for the area for years now but they have been cited by the county, as part of a real estate battle, for operating a shelter without a license. The Tabernacle lost its court case. The back fines are enormous and another $20,000, or more, may be required in order to pursue an appeal. It will likely close soon.

While the safety net that was once available to our clientele is in tatters after a decade of reduced funding for the poor and disabled, the banking sector, rocked by its own poor decision making, has a strong ally in its government. The safety net available to the major market players, that is to say, grows more impressive with each passing year. This clearly constitutes an ongoing policy.

While the U.S. equity markets have been taking losses, it’s true, there is little likelihood that they will crash. The Federal Reserve is infusing hundreds of billions of dollars into the credit markets via special auctions. January 2008 having begun with a succession of daily stock market losses, the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, preemptively promised another interest rate cut just today. According to the Associated Press:

Wall Street was buoyed by Bernanke's words. The Dow Jones jumped 117.78 points to close at 12,853.09.

Foreign central banks are coordinating the effort to limit the damage to investors from the subprime mortgage crisis and cyclical downturn of world markets. Our market safety nets have been strengthen on a par with our fierce weaponry over the past three decades. Who could possibly argue against preventing economic downturns?

But the effects of yet another investor bubble, which, of course, greatly enriched those who got in and out on time, will have to be felt somewhere. That somewhere is at food pantries, such as Palanca, among the people represented by the recent .3% up tick in unemployment, and among those who have disappeared from our statistical radar altogether and appeared on our street corners and at the exits from Home Depot parking lots. Among those just one economic level above, it will be felt by way of lower quality housing, damaged credit ratings, the further loss of access to government programs that will come with the inevitable tax cut attendant upon a “stimulus package,” the loss of basic healthcare, and more.

This article first appeared, in early January, 2008, in the Talking Points Memo Café but was lost due to technical problems during a changeover of servers at that site.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More on the Etymology of Eggnog.

Important Note -- There is a question as to whether the GB information referred to below isn't the product of a bumbling data entry error. It has been brought to my attention that querying the information further arrives at contradictory results that suggest that the quotation probably comes from the 1958 edition of Acts Passed by the General Assembly of Georgia rather than the 1735 edition.


It seems that eggnog is raising an unusual storm this holiday season. Ms. Heidi Harley’s HeiDeas blog has announced that she has “antedated” the earliest OED citation for the use of the term by more than 50 years:

“The OED's oldest quote for eggnog is from 1825…”

She has found her citation in “a 'pastoral' poem written around 1774 by 18th-century clergyman and philologist Jonathan Boucher”. Congratulations are in order!

I have long assumed that the “nog” part of eggnog assures it a date prior to the celebration of Christ-Mass in the British Isles, but, of course, that need not be so. Only the nog of eggnog need be of such antiquity and the two “nogs” may not even be the same.

Well, all of this interested me enough to go looking for what I might find on the subject. It was a fascinating journey through my library and Google Books (part of all of our libraries) and I will go on at greater length when time will permit. Most immediately to the point, however, is the following quote from the Acts Passed by the General Assembly of Georgia – 1735:

... skimmed, chocolate or flavored milk or drink, buttermilk, fluid cream, ice cream, ice milk, egg nog or other dessert, ice cream or ice milk mixes. ...

Unfortunately, Google Books only quotes this as a "snippet" and one must go to a copy of the original volume in order to read the citation in context. They have not scanned the entire book into the database. Why, it is impossible to tell. Certainly not because of copyright restrictions.

Here, then, is the full Google Books listing:

Acts Passed by the General Assembly of Georgia - Page 262
by Georgia - Session laws - 1735
... skimmed, chocolate or flavored milk or drink, buttermilk, fluid cream, ice cream, ice milk, egg nog or other dessert, ice cream or ice milk mixes. ...Snippet view - About this book - Add to my library - More editions
The snippet is actually shown but consists only of a fraction of an inch of a page.

Monday, August 27, 2007

With Florida Tied Behind Our Back.

The Democrats are looking mighty confident this election cycle. The poll numbers are gratifying. More Americans identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. More Americans say they lean toward voting for Democrats than Republicans. Democrats lead in the polls on all domestic issues. The Democrat call for withdrawal from Iraq polls high throughout nearly all demographics.

They are so confident, in fact, that 30 days from now they are prepared to concede the state of Florida to the Republicans in the general election.... According to The Hill:

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) Saturday gave the Florida Democratic Party 30 days to submit a new plan for a primary or caucus or lose all of its delegates to the nominating convention.

The DNC has quite a lot at stake in the matter, it is true. In July 2006 its various minority chairpersons lauded the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s decision to add Nevada and South Carolina “pre-window primary period”:

DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins, Hispanic Caucus Chair Alvaro Cifuentes, Asian Pacific Islander American Caucus Chair Bel Leong-Hong, Native American Coodinating Council Chair Frank LaMere, and GLBT Caucus Chair Rick Stafford issued the following joint statement commending the vote by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to add two states to the presidential primary calendar pre-window period to join Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada will hold a caucus and South Carolina will hold a primary in the pre-window period.

The pre-window period had been carefully sculpted to reflect that the Democratic Party was the party that embraced our remarkable cultural diversity.

This sculpting, per se, is not, however, what is at issue. The stakes are considerably higher, as Lane Hudson, of the Huffington Post, points out:

The Democratic National Committee should realize that they are on the verge of becoming irrelevant. If their party rules can be ignored without significant penalty, then their existence may be pointless. The most coveted thing the party controls in our nominating process is the calendar. The DNC MUST stand up and make it clear that any state party that violates the pre-window period will be severely punished.

Of course, the DNC understands this all too well and is trying to firewall the threat to its raison d’etre by backing Florida down.

On the other hand, the Florida Democratic Party also has a great deal at stake. Again, quoting The Hill story:

Florida party representatives argued unsuccessfully that they should be given an exemption and not be punished because they had taken “provable, positive steps” to obey the rule, but they were unsuccessful because of the actions of a Republican controlled legislature

The Florida Dems are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The DNC demand that the state bow out of the Republican mandated January 29th primary is impractical. There is no provision in the law for the state’s Election Commission to support two primaries. An alternative caucus would drastically reduce Democratic primary voter participation and discourage Democrats from supporting their party’s various candidates (presidential, state and local) in the general election.

While the DNC’s concerns are legitimate, its actions threaten to bring about the very result it is trying to avoid. The Florida Democrats are in no position to hold their primary on any other day than that mandated by state law. To hold the primary for state and local offices on January 29th and to caucus later for the presidential primary will greatly reduce Democratic voter turnout during the primary and the caucus and the general election. Should the DNC carry through on its sanctions threat, after 30 days, in the eventuality that Florida Dems feel they have no choice but to follow their state law, it will amount to willingly sacrificing a vital swing-state state to the Republican column in the 2008 presidential election and many elections to come. Republicans will make further gains in most categories of Florida state and local elected and appointed office, as well.

The DNC is grossly miscalculating, here. Already it has placed itself in a position where it will suffer some irretrievable losses. Should it sanction Florida, as planned, it will have gone a long way toward removing itself as a meaningful factor in presidential elections. The party can not possibly choose to commit political suicide by refusing to allow the Florida delegates into the convention process. It would be the equivalent of boasting to the Republicans: “We can take you with Florida tied behind our back!” In the end, the delegates will be admitted and Howard Dean will be quite appropriately deemed the most disastrous Chairman ever to (dis)grace the DNC.

As for those encouraging polls, they will most likely turn out to have gone for naught. Yet again, the fractious Democratic Party, unable to respond with flexibility to conditions on the ground, will have huffed and puffed and stepped flush upon a Republican-laid landmine. A mistake here could result in Republican Presidents, and a heavily Republican Florida, for quite some time to come.

This article first appeared, on August 27, 2007, in the Talking Points Memo Café but was lost due to technical problems during a changeover of servers at that site.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Struggle of the Green Sea Turtle Mother and Infant

While articles about hunting turtles and their eggs are more likely to injure our sensibilities today than to whet our interest they can also be a source of first-hand information about sea turtles. Here, in an 1890 article, from The Outing Magazine, J. M. Murphy gives a nice description of the egg-laying habits of the female Green Sea Turtle [Chelonia mydas] and the subsequent scramble to the sea when the young hatch.

A female is so careful to conceal the nest that she scratches sand toward it from every direction, and, having made a mound over it, she rises to her full height, by straightening her legs, then letting her body drop on the mound, she packs it and the eggs as closely as if the work were done by a pile driver. She keeps packing it in this manner until it is as level as any other part of the beach. After inspecting it, to see that it is right, she makes a few false demonstrations in the sand, in order to deceive the enemies of her unhatched young, then hastens seaward as fast as she can travel, for she knows full well the danger that threatens her ashore.

It requires six weeks to hatch the eggs, and when the young appear they issue from their retreats in such vast numbers that the beach seems covered with them, and they remind one strongly of ants pouring out of an ant hill. They are about the size of a silver dollar, but small as they are they have the instinct of self preservation strongly developed. The moment they come out of the nest they hasten toward the sea and swim away, if they are not devoured by the numerous enemies that lie in wait for them, the worst of which are the sharks, especially the species known as the "nurse" shark. These extend along the beach in water just deep enough to float them, and gobble down the juvenile chelonian as fast as they get within reach. I have heard a veteran turtler say that he found 207 young loggerheads in a nine foot shark, and that the old fellow did not seem to have enough even then, judging from his anxiety to secure some more after being harpooned.

Tales of Old Florida ed. by Tony Meisel & Frank Oppel. Secaucus, NJ: Castle, 1987. 81. (An edition of facsimile reprints from turn of the century outdoor magazines and pamphlets.) From "Turtling in Florida" by J. M. Murphy. The Outing Magazine, November 1890.

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