January 28, 2013

'To Lucy in London,' by Bob Torry

Apparently there was just one of Bob's poems published ~ here at UW in UWyo Magazine in 2001.  I'm so glad I was able to find it.  Here it is, but know that an editor changed one word of the poem over Bob's objections.  I don't know which one, though.


To Lucy in London

by Robert L. Torry

Upheld in mountain towns we wait
as other, timely, towns below
accept consignment of the freight
that spring delivers when the snow
in every yard's account is spent.
While lower trees expand in green
fir trees are chaste, restrained. They mean
to save for weeks their warm assent.
You tell me London too is cold,
with winter after April old
as stone. Yet you yourself display
long winter's sense in this delay:
gray garden walls around disclose
the luminescence of the rose.

January 25, 2013

Bob Torry’s Poetry


I went to a memorial for University of Wyoming professor Robert “Bob” Torry yesterday evening.  It was very moving.  His friends and fellow professors eulogized his life, telling stories funny and sad.  Bob was only 62 but had walked with a cane for a number of years.  He died of ALS.

Bob taught film and modern poetry, and you could tell that he loved both.  I took Modern Poetry, Science Fiction and Horror Film, and Western Film from him.  He was also briefly my advisor. 

His film classes were much in demand.  They were taught in the Classroom Building, with 100 or 150 participants, so it was very much like going to movies.  You’d sit in the dark and watch Nosferatu or The Day the Earth Stood Still or Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Then Bob would draw out the political and social climate of the film, what sort of message the film was sending, what the ending meant, maybe how it harkened to a simpler time or yearned for traditional values.  Bob made a class of 150 feel like a class of 25.  He led discussions during class time ~ can you imagine, with cosy 150? He was my great friend Jessica’s thesis advisor, who has published a book on slasher films based on that thesis.  He himself published on film and religion, among other things.

Bob was a very supportive person.  Two women professors, making a joke about how students perceived female professors versus male professors, once put a sign on their doors that said, “If you want a mother, go see Bob Torry.”  It was not only a social critique but also a tribute to Bob’s nature. 

Yet, as I write this, I see all the absences in Bob’s life.  He obviously loved kids.  He would talk to all the other professors’ and grad students’ kids.  But I don’t believe he had any of his own.  I think the first and only time he got married was late in life to a wonderful woman named Kerry who is also part of the English Department, and that was just a few years ago.

And his poetry.  He loved poetry.  He LOVED poetry.  I took a Modern Poetry class from him, and you could see that he loved it and he wanted you to love it too.  And apparently he wrote poetry ~ wonderful poetry by all accounts.  I’ve never read it, however, and you can’t either.  He never published any of it.  Editors had actually asked him to send them some, but he wouldn’t.

To me, that is the saddest part (besides, obviously, losing Bob himself).  Selfishly, I think: there could have been this beautiful part of him left to us.  Why didn’t he?  Lack of confidence? He didn’t think he was any good?  That would be a distinct possibility ~ if your comparing yourself to the masters, of course your stuff looks like crap.  It is deeply troubling.

All I can say is that I wish he had.  Knowing Bob, we’re missing some delicately witty and deeply moving work.

January 24, 2013

‘The Days of Abandonment,’ by Elena Ferrante

I just finished an amazing novel ~ The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein.  It’s a domestic psychological thriller much like movie Unfaithful, but told from a jilted wife’s point of view.

I have to say, Elena’s prose is so amazing.  She’s so clear and nuanced and fabulous about the inner life of this woman, Olga.  And it’s so deceptive ~ at the beginning you’re nodding your head, going, “Yeah, I identify with this woman.  She’s level-headed and reasonable, and I would hope I would act the same way,” until she’s not and you’re not.  You’re saying, “What a crazy bitch ~ justified, but crazy!”  An unreliable narrator. (Did she put the glass in the pasta on purpose?! We’ll never know.) And then you’re on pins and needles! Is that horrible thing that Elena so deftly foreshadows going to happen? Oh my God, I hope not!

And so, some glorious excerpts from the novel.

Be forewarned.  There is a lot of sex in this book, and it’s here in the last excerpt below.

A great paragraph about women and writing (Mario is the cheating husband, and Otto is the dog):

I saw the cover again in every detail. My French teacher had assigned it when I had told her too impetuously, with ingenious passion, that I wanted to be a writer.  It was 1978, more than twenty years earlier.  “Read this,” she had said to me, and diligently I had read it.  But when I gave her back the volume, I made an arrogant statement: these women are stupid.  Cultured women, in comfortable circumstances, they broke like knick-knacks in the hands of their straying men.  They seemed to me sentimental fools: I wanted to be different, I wanted to write stories about women with resources, women of invincible words, not a manual for the abandoned wife with her lost love at the top of her thoughts.  I was young, I had pretensions.  I didn’t like the impenetrable page, like a lowered blind.  I liked light, air between the slats.  I wanted to write stories full of breezes, of filtered rays where dust motes danced.  And then I loved the writers who made you look through every line, to gaze downward and feel the vertigo of the depths, the blackness of inferno.  I said it breathlessly, all in one gulp, which was something I never did, and my teacher smiled ironically, a little bitterly.  She, too, must have lost someone, something.  And now, more than twenty years later, the same thing was happening to me.  I was losing Mario, perhaps I had already lost him.  I walked tensely behind Otto’s impatience, I felt the damp breath of the river, the cold of the asphalt through the soles of my shoes.

And you know how spring is so often shown as hope, a new beginning?  Well, I love this characterization.  So economically and ingeniously shows her state of mind (Ilaria and Gianni are the kids):

Never, that is, would he have abandoned us if he had known about our condition.  The spring itself, which by now was advanced and perhaps to him, wherever he was, seemed a glorious season, for us was only a backdrop for anxiety and exhaustion.  Day and night the park seemed to be pushing itself toward our house, as if with branches and leaves it wanted to devour it.  Pollen invaded the building, making Otto wild with energy.  Ilaria’s eyelids were swollen, Gianni had a rash around his nostrils and behind his ears. 

Finally, about love.  Maybe we fool ourselves.  Maybe it’s nothing more than sex, she says. 

Everything is so random.  As a girl, I had fallen in love with Mario, but I could have fallen in love with anyone: a body to which we end up attributing who knows what meanings. A long passage of life together, and you think he’s the only man you can be happy with, you credit him with countless critical virtues, and instead he’s just a reed that emits sounds of falsehood, you don’t know who he really is, he doesn’t know himself.  We are occasions.  We consummate life and lose it because in some long-ago time someone, in the desire to unload his cock inside us, was nice, chose us among women.  We take for some sort of kindness addressed to us alone the banal desire for sex.  We love his desire to fuck, we are so dazzled by it we think it’s the desire to fuck only us, us alone.  Oh yes, he who is so special and who has recognized us as special.  We give it a name, that desire of the cock, we personalize it, we call it my love.  To hell with all that, that dazzlement, that unfounded titillation.  Once he fucked me, now he fucks someone else, what claim do I have?  Time passes, one goes, another arrives.  I was about to swallow some pills, I wanted to sleep lying in the darkest depths of myself.


January 23, 2013

'One Today,' by Richard Blanco

The amazing Inauguration Day poem, "One Today" by Richard Blanco.

One Today

by Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the "I have a dream" we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won't explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father's cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn't give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

And, if you'd like to see him read it:

January 22, 2013

89 Years of Change

Dad and Mom in the 60s

My mom had her 89th birthday on Sunday. 89! That’s quite an accomplishment.

At the party, I asked her, “How do you get to be 89? Any secrets?”

“Wake up every morning,” she said.

What a hoot.

Can you imagine? In 1924, automobiles are just becoming common. The first performance of Rhapsody in Blue. Loeb and Leopold murder Bobby Franks in Chicago. George Mallory dies on Everest. This is the year of the first round-the-world flight by U.S. Army pilots John Harding and Erik Nelson. First Macy’s Day Parade.

People who died include Lenin, Franz Kafka, Calvin Coolidge, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Puccini. Also born that year are Earl Scruggs, Lee Marvin, Henry Mancini, Buddy Hackett, Joan Aiken, Daniel Inouye, Truman Capote, Jimmy Carter, William Rehnquist, and Rod Sterling.

Think of every person who has lived since 1924 and all their life stories and worlds of experience that have passed by in that 89 years!

We’ve gone from radio to television to digital internet entertainment, from telegraph to telephone to cell phone, from horse and buggy to automobile to commercial flight to the first private flight to the world’s International Space Station.

Socially, we are worlds different. In that time, we’ve gone from being about a 50/50 urban to rural population to 80 percent urban and 20 percent rural. Many groups who were previously unrecognized are achieving large measures of recognition and equality ~ minorities (who won’t always be the minority of the population), women, LGBT people, and others. I was struck, as everyone was, that President Obama yesterday refered to “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” all in the same sentence.

I can’t imagine where we’ll be when I’m 89. And when my kids are 89? Oh my gosh! We’ll have “augmentation” ~ computers installed in our bodies. We’ll all be connected with our bodies through that future iteration of today’s internet. We’ll have eradicated many diseases but others will crop up. Socially, where will we be? World’s away.

And as I’m an optimist, I think most of the changes will be for the better.

Happy birthday, Mom!

January 18, 2013



I’m in the third grade, and the teacher has just introduced the concept of “culture.”  I am at a loss.

Our elementary school was built in the 60s, and so it introduced the open color-coded pod system ~ four classrooms in a block without walls, each with its own color.  Second and third grades were in the blue pod, I think.  Or was it yellow?

You know what I’m going to say next ~ a thoroughly impractical scheme by  architect who must have been childless, as nothing distracts a gang of third-graders more than another gang of third graders.  So in desperation the teachers immediately rummaged every chalkboard and divider they could find to create WALLS, for God’s sake.

I was sitting at my desk facing north (don’t ask me why I always know which cardinal direction I’m facing, even in my dreams, but that’s a story for another day). Young neatly bearded Mr. Harris had just had us open our books to a page with a colorful illustration of a Mexican fiesta at the top.

“Culture is the art and language and practices of a group of people,” Mr. Harris said.

I searched the picture and the words in the paragraphs below for some grasp of the concept, while Mr. Harris went on. Culture? Was it the colorful blankets?  Was it the hats?  Was it Spanish?  How could it be both a thing like a hat but also a non-thing like language?

I was mystified.  I raised my hand, and Mr. Harris called on me.  “I don’t understand,” I tell him.

So he tried again.  “It’s everything that makes a group of people unique.  Mexican people have their fiestas and their Day of the Dead, while Europeans have liver dumpling soup or pasta.”

I’m paraphrasing here for affect.  I have no memory of the actual conversation, but I do remember sitting at my desk and staring at that page with the Mexican fiesta.

I didn’t get it.  In fact, I don’t think I got it for years.

I was reminded of this this morning as I heard NPR’s report on culture references and how they’ve become splintered.  Back in the bad old days of the monopoly of network TV, everyone watched pretty much the same things, and so everyone had similar pop culture references (never mind that if you were a black person you hardly ever saw yourself on TV).  If you were a comedian and made a joke about Don Johnson and Miami Vice, you could count on people getting it because they probably had watched that episode too.  Now, with streaming and the internet, you can watch whatever the heck you want ~ the democratization and individuation of content ~ and so there isn’t the commonality there once was. 

I’m of a mixed mind on this.  My first reaction is, Yay!  We get to follow our inclinations and see ourselves mirrored back to us in so many ways ~ something I didn’t feel I got as a child.  Democracy at its finest! The acceptance of difference and diversity and everyone is exposed to all sorts of things and so hopefully more accepting.

But then I mourn the loss of common ground. For some, these differences cause nothing but more fear and so they want to clamp down even more.  Difference doesn’t make them celebrate; it makes them want to bring out the guns.

What I get now, though, that I didn’t get all those years ago is that culture is to life what a dictionary is to language.  It’s a common agreed upon meaning of sign and signal and artifact and speech.  It’s all of us trying to agree on meaning and signifier.  It’s us trying to define our identity.  And it is and should be hard to define ~ because everyone is trying to pull it this way or that way and to pin it down.  One person’s gang sign is another person’s handkerchief.

That’s what makes the world so wondrous.

January 17, 2013

'For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry,' by Christopher Smart

I came across a quote the other day that I love: "Poetry is for those things you have no words for."  So I thought I'd post a poem today that I read in my first poetry survey course that I loved.  I even did a take-off on it called, "My Cat Flip."


For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry

by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep. 

January 16, 2013

‘Bad Writing,’ a Great Video

One of the things I love about Facebook is the infinite possibilities to discover new artists.  Lo and behold, yesterday I came across husband and wife Vernon Lott and Jennifer Anderson (and sister Gina Lott) of Morris Hill Pictures, Lewiston, Idaho.  They did a fabulous video called Bad Writing, which can be viewed for free on Vimeo this month.  It features a whole host of amazing writers talking about beginning writers and their own process.  George Saunders and Margaret Atwood and a host of others have some very interesting things to say. 

Check it out! (And I’ll be looking for great things from Morris Hill in the future!)

January 15, 2013

365 Sevens, a Different Kind of Animal

As you may know, last year I did a photography Project 365, where I posted a photo a day.  It was such a fun project, and it reminded me to see the beauty that is all around us every day.  I love it.

This year, to change it up a bit, I decided to do something a little bit different.  Instead of just the posting the best photo I take every day, I decided to do a series of seven photos each week.  Each series will be centered around an idea or a photographic technique or a subject. 

The reason I did this was because I thought it would force me to stretch.  It would give me more options and offer a different kind of challenge.  I wanted to get better at photography.

I’ve only done two series of seven so far, and it’s a different kind of animal.  Unfortunately, so far, I feel like the quality of what I post has decreased a little. I often take the series of seven in one sitting, but the problem is I don’t come up with as many great photos as I do when I take them day to day as I did last year.  So I need to push myself to continue to take more and better photos so the ones I do post are exponentially better.

Also, there’s how I take photos.  Like I said, I tend to take the Sevens in one sitting.  Logistically, it’s easier.  But then I haven’t been taking photos of great things as I come across them, and so I’m missing photos.  But if I do take them, what kind of variable are there? Which group will they belong to?  I think the best approach is to take a series when I think of it but also to take the individual ones and see what groupings show up.  Make is organic.

And another thing I want to do is to get better at Photoshop and also to use it more creatively.  So some of what I’m going to do this year should be a little more wild.  Last year, I went for strictly realism (though it was the realism of my perception, not strictly what the camera captured).  This year, I want to flex my artistic muscles and see what I can come up.  I should learn some new techniques and up my skill level.

The first photo I’ve pushed myself on is the one posted above of the moon.  I played with aperture and shutter speed to achieve this photo.  I have taken a course on it, but it didn’t sink in quite well enough, so the above photo was strictly trial and error.  But if I keep at it, it’ll get better.

And the one I post today, if it turns out, is going to be the start of a real departure.  Wish me luck!

January 14, 2013

Creative Collapse

Self-Portrait, Vincent van Gogh (via)

Mid-December, I went through a creative collapse.  It’s true that this time of year always gets to me.  I’m not sure why, since I love Christmas and all that.  It was set off by being really sick with the flu and also realizing that we didn’t have the funds for me to go to a couple of great conferences I’d planned on. (How selfish is that?)

But this one propelled me back to how I felt when I was in my teens and late twenties.  My interior monolog tears me to shreds and I have zero creative confidence.  I’d taken on loads of creative antimatter.  It was so bad this time that I didn’t even want to read—it was too painful, reminding me of what I had lost. 


It feels so selfish and self-aggrandizing to say all this, but it’s the truth.  I’m now starting to come out of it, thanks in part to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which has helped me tremendously in the past. 

Anyway, feeling better now.  Working through it.  For me at least, it seems to be part of the creative process.