Classic Jam Hits

Going through my computer the other day, I found the .pdfs of these classic book sets, and thought to post them here for whoever wants them: Frazer’s The Golden Bough, The Mythology of All Races, and Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Whatever their limitations now, they are still great resources. I … Continue reading Classic Jam Hits

6 New Poems

Many thanks to Chris Murray, editor at Poethead, for featuring six of my poems here. They include four poems from Orkney: Skara Brae Horses on Orkney Bone, Antler, Stone – Museum Pieces Cuween Chambered Cairn – (where the author photo comes from)  And two other personal favorites I’ve been looking forward to seeing published: Robert Oppenheimer … Continue reading 6 New Poems

Burials (2 New Poems)

Many thanks to Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, poetry editor at Londongrip, who just published two new poems of mine. They are from a larger sequence on prehistoric burials in ancient Europe. The poems can be found here. For those interested in more info on the burials, these are both good starting places: Vedbaek Finds Amesbury Archer   … Continue reading Burials (2 New Poems)

Living Orkney (Essay)

Many thanks to the editors of Living Orkney, who published a small essay on our trip to Orkney last year. Since few people outside of Orkney have access to the magazine, the article is pasted below. Each day there solidified everything I hold sacred about history, religion, poetry, and so much else, and I doubt … Continue reading Living Orkney (Essay)

Early Yeats (12 Poems)

A recent article tells the astonishing story about theatre majors who were unable to act out flirting: “Accustomed to soliciting one another via text, and more used to hookups than dates, this verb was no longer a touchstone for college students, and ‘flirting’ did not elicit any specific physical or emotional behaviors (sustained eye contact, … Continue reading Early Yeats (12 Poems)

Kafka’s Diaries

  My recent post about Thomas Wolfe elicited a handful of comments like, “I loved to read him when I was young, but as I get older he no longer holds up.” My own versions of Wolfe are people like Hesse and Dostoevsky, but Kafka has remained one of those authors I latched onto in high … Continue reading Kafka’s Diaries

Thomas Wolfe

On this anniversary of Thomas Wolfe’s death, I’m reminded that every few years I turn around and he’s there again. Whether in influencing Ferlinghetti or Kerouac, or anecdotes about his editor Maxwell Perkins trying to beat his holy mess novels into some more coherent shape, or just his own troubled life, Thomas Wolfe always shows … Continue reading Thomas Wolfe

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) This … Continue reading Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) For insight … Continue reading Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them … Continue reading Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them … Continue reading Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge

Notebook 1: God’s Will & Interpreting History

NOTEBOOK 1: GOD’S WILL & INTERPRETING HISTORY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) As an … Continue reading Notebook 1: God’s Will & Interpreting History

Viking Jesus

To see the ways in which a religion works, one of the best ways is to observe their missionaries and how they adapt stories created in one historical and geographic area, for people and places wildly different. On this point, nothing beats the ninth-century Saxon saga Heliand, which presents Jesus as a chieftain, prayers as … Continue reading Viking Jesus

Week of the Bomb: Tuesday

Impossible decisions remain impossible, even after they’ve been made. Following on yesterday’s post, here are the voices of those scientists and politicians who admitted the horror of the atomic bomb, but saw its creation and deployment as unavoidable; who felt caught up and even powerless in the equally inevitable march of scientific discovery; those who … Continue reading Week of the Bomb: Tuesday

“I respond more to revelation”: Hart Crane on Fire

Perhaps because he embodied that rarest of combinations—the energy and enthusiasm of youth, and actual genius—there are few writers better at articulating the fire of creation than Hart Crane. The following selection from his letters carries Crane from his early twenties to a few years before he died at thirty-two: here is is writing The … Continue reading “I respond more to revelation”: Hart Crane on Fire

Ship in Air

Here’s a nice anecdote told twice, first from some anonymous Irish source, and then Seamus Heaney’s version of it in verse. This was the first poem of Heaney’s I ever saw, back in high school when someone showed me the New York Times, perhaps when his book Seeing Things was reviewed there, or when he’d … Continue reading Ship in Air

A Bit of Late Yeats

For all those poets who feel guilty (or have been guilted) for not writing bad political poems—bad Brexit couplets, bad protest rants on racism, sexism, or Donald Trump poems that are as shitty as him—some advice from an aging Yeats is worth repeating:   Those Images What if I bade you leave The cavern of … Continue reading A Bit of Late Yeats

Voluspa

To close out a month of posts, here’s the Voluspa, that great bit of the world turning over, from the Norse Poetic Edda. Somehow these bards, in the voice of the Seeress narrating it all, were able to cram into a few pages everything from creation to the apocalypse, and there is simply nothing like … Continue reading Voluspa

Picasso & the Gestapo

Here’s a favorite, possibly apocryphal, story of Pablo Picasso (who lived in Paris during the German Occupation) and his great painting, Guernica. The exchange is almost too good to be true, and perhaps nobody but Picasso could have gotten away with it. Whenever volume four of John Richardson’s biography of Picasso is finally released, I’ll … Continue reading Picasso & the Gestapo

Egyptian Pyramid Texts

As a companion to yesterday’s excerpts from the Hindu Rig Veda, here are excerpts from religious texts even older than those: the Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt. Beginning in the late Old Kingdom (c.2375-2181 BC), pharaohs had prayers and spells to assist them in the afterlife carved onto the walls of their pyramids—and as you’ll … Continue reading Egyptian Pyramid Texts

Rig Veda

In another life (appropriately enough), I would have been Hindu; in an additional other life, at the very least I would have started studying Indo-European at a young age. As it happened, whatever brief time I’ve been able to devote to Hinduism has no doubt been saturated with the romanticism of a novice who is … Continue reading Rig Veda

Heaney’s Bog Poems

Here’s Seamus Heaney, first talking about his poems on the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, in Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones, and then the bog poems themselves, spanning three of his collections: Wintering Out, North, and District and Circle. Also, since I hope to do a post on the bog bodies at some point, interested … Continue reading Heaney’s Bog Poems

Whitman Last

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper … Continue reading Whitman Last

Whitman First

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper … Continue reading Whitman First

Heaney on Writing

Here’s Seamus Heaney talking about writing, from Dennis O’Driscoll’s book-length interview with him, Stepping Stones: On Inspiration On the week in May 1969 when he wrote “about forty poems”: It was a visitation, an onset, and as such, powerfully confirming. This you felt, was “it.” You had been initiated into the order of the inspired. … Continue reading Heaney on Writing

Joyce & Proust Meet

From that greatest of literary biographies, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, here is the account of Joyce meeting Marcel Proust, only a few months before Proust’s death: On May 18, 1922, Sydney Schiff (“Stephen Hudson”), the English novelist whom Joyce had met a few times, invited him to a supper party for Stravinsky and Diaghilev following … Continue reading Joyce & Proust Meet

T. S. Eliot on Dante

Is there anything better than T. S. Eliot talking about his debt to Dante? Here is the majority of his famous essay “What Dante Means to Me” (hence my own “What Eliot Means to Me”), which can be found in his collection of essays, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. The essay was originally … Continue reading T. S. Eliot on Dante

The Unfinished Kafka

Reiner Stach, in the middle entry of his three volume biography of Franz Kafka, writes, “Anyone who studies bibliographies today will envy Kafka’s earliest readers, who knew very little about his life and could enjoy his work as literature and not as an accumulation of autobiographical codes.” (186) Stach’s biography (and its beautiful translation into … Continue reading The Unfinished Kafka

Heaney Comes to Poetry

Here are some of Seamus Heaney’s memories of reading, writing, and poetry, from earliest schooldays to university, all taken from Dennis O’Driscoll’s wonderful book-length interview with him,  Stepping Stones. Yes, my memory of learning to read goes back to my first days in Anahorish School, the charts for the letters, the big-lettered reading books. But … Continue reading Heaney Comes to Poetry

Yeats & Lady Gregory

(photo from the LG/WBY Heritage Trail) In the single-volume Autobiographies of W. B. Yeats, which collects all of Yeats’s autobiographical writings from throughout his life, the great Irish poet mentions the memoirs of one John O’Leary. O’Leary was apparently taking his good old time at it, writing “passages for his memoirs upon postcards and odd … Continue reading Yeats & Lady Gregory

Classic Joyce

Too much to choose from, but here’s some classic bits from James Joyce that are always worth keeping in mind: On Writing: “Don’t you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people … Continue reading Classic Joyce

Jung’s Great Dream

Jung traveled with Freud and others to America in late September, 1909, and on the boat returning to Europe, he had a dream. Whatever you make of Jung’s overarching theories and scholarship, it always seems better to think of him more as a poet or mystic, and so his strength seems to lie in descriptions … Continue reading Jung’s Great Dream

Zen (Favorite Passages)

Along with my excerpts from Ramakrishna and the Desert Fathers, the following favorites from Zen Buddhism constitute just about all the religious wisdom I need. In one way or another, they are all expressions of humility and empathy, and upend the usual fundamentalist (and simple-minded, arrogant, and certain) approaches to scripture, discipline, knowledge, and to diversity of practice … Continue reading Zen (Favorite Passages)

The Lake (fiction)

Many thanks to the editors of Foliate Oak, who published my short story, “The Lake,” in their December Issue. The story is part of a larger collection on the neglected and easily forgotten, The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old. An .mp3 of my reading of it is available here. A YouTube page of that reading … Continue reading The Lake (fiction)

Hieronymus Bosch

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing … Continue reading Hieronymus Bosch

Albrecht Dürer

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing … Continue reading Albrecht Dürer

Edward Hopper

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing … Continue reading Edward Hopper

Cyril Edwards (Interview)

I’ve relied on many translators and scholars in the writing of To the House of the Sun, and over the years I’ve been lucky enough to correspond with a few of them. Their specialties vary widely—Greek religion, Hinduism/Indo-European studies, Egyptology, Arthurian romance, etc.—and it seems that their enthusiasm and love for language, history, and religion … Continue reading Cyril Edwards (Interview)

What Eliot Means to Me

(for Eliot’s essay “What Dante Means to Me,” go here) I. Late in life, T. S. Eliot hoped the essays of his that would last would be those “appreciations of individual authors,” saying he had written best “about writers who have influenced my own poetry.”[1] He had come a long way from the essays written … Continue reading What Eliot Means to Me

Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, by Erik Hornung (Favorite Passages)

Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, by Erik Hornung [p. 8:] There is no end to the question of the gods and their meaning. [p. 11:] …one cannot deny that the problem of the gods tends toward the infinite and has no final solution…. Anyone who takes history seriously will not … Continue reading Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, by Erik Hornung (Favorite Passages)

Origins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem (Favorite Passages)

Origins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem [p. 159-60, an excerpt from section 105 of the Bahir, commenting on the Sabbath:] [Every day] has a logos, who is its ruler, not because it was created with it, but because it accomplishes with it the effect that is within its power. When all have accomplished their effect and finished … Continue reading Origins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem (Favorite Passages)

Silence in London

Just back from London, where the hugeness of space and history were hard to ignore. But the experience was always deepest in the smallest space, where something sacred, or just something simply old, could be apprehended intimately, in silence. So that it was not Westminster Abbey, despite its beauty as a space and the unnerving realization … Continue reading Silence in London