Category Archives: Musings

Just sayin’…

Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge by Dr. Daniel Wildcat.

Red AlertDoes Daniel Wildcat, professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, really believe indigenous knowledge can save the planet? The answer is yes, but a qualified yes.

The first qualification is humanity will need help to clean up the mess we’ve made, help from the nonhuman cohabitants of our planet.  We need a lot of help to become competent, mature members of humankind and our larger, more extensive ecological kinship relations. This help, when it comes, will take the form of learning from careful observation of our environments.

The second qualification is we, who see things through a modern, Western worldview, need to make a profound change in that worldview, replacing a tenet anchored in Genesis 1:26 – And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (King James version). This linking of our anthropocentric worldview to the Biblical creation story isn’t in Red Alert. It goes back to Lynn White’s famous 1967 article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis. In Wildcat’s words, Primary .among the myths to which modern humankind faithfully adheres is the deep-seated notion that humankind constitutes the center of creation around which the rest of the world revolves. This position is held self-evident by our “apparent” control and manipulation of the natural world. We’ll need to replace this myth with another story.

What story? That remains to be discovered, but one example of indigenous knowledge we might study is the famously sustainable management of the Menominee forest. Here Wildcat quotes Ronald Trosper’s 2007 article Indigenous influence on forest management on the Menominee Indian Reservation, one of several recent academic works celebrating Menominee sustainable forest management. This achievement, in Trosper’s estimation, is anchored in three principles: (1) We humans are one of many species living in complex ecosystems, in no way special – or, rather, special as all species are special; (2) The nonhuman cohabitants of our ecosystems are infused, as we are, with a spiritual dimension that must be acknowledged and respected; and (3) The ecosystems we inhabit belong to everyone collectively, not anyone individually.

Realistically, it seems unlikely we humans, especially in the US, will give up our collective pursuit of individual prosperity, or our relentless dismantling of ecosystems we depend on anytime soon. We are not yet tired, or tired enough, of the story we’ve been telling each other for centuries, though it brings us surprisingly little happiness. Still, Wildcat’s Alert is a useful reminder of the path we’re on and signpost pointing toward a better alternative.


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Pierced by the Sun by Laura Esquivel

pierced by the sun iiPierced by the Sun by Laura Esquivel, translated by Jordi Castells, is as character-centered a narrative as a compilation of the diary entries of teen-aged girls the night before prom might be. I mean that in a good way – this is a beautifully written book. Lupita, the protagonist, is featured on every page, through every chapter (17 of them, all titled Lupita Likes to… with the remainder filled in beginning with Iron, ending with Make Love). The only exception to this inventory of Lupita’s likes is the final, unique chapter, titled Before Mexico. This is, in short, a book about Lupita.

I’m not to one to pick on translations – the beautiful ones aren’t true, and the true ones… but the given title of the book is A Lupita le gusta planchar, if I remember anything from high-school, is Lupita Likes to Iron. How does Lupita Likes to Iron become Pierced by the Sun? Does the translator object to Lupita’s desire to iron? What?

So, who is this Lupita anyway? And, what does she see in ironing??

Lupita is named for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She’s 4’9”, and weighs 160 lbs. She’s a police woman who witnesses the assassination of a low-level government official in the first chapter and reacts by peeing in her pants. In short, she’s not your typical heroine. I don’t recall a heroine doing the peeing in the pants bit. Anybody got one?

As unlikely a heroine as one might find – did I mention alcoholic, self-obsessed, other flaws? – by the end of reading the litany of what Lupita likes, I was in love with her. Go figure. I take my hat off to Laura Esquivel. I loved Water Like Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate – You see? Translation doesn’t have to be so intrusive), and was thinking about re-reading it, and then decided to find another of Esquivel’s works instead. Pierced by the Sun is more recent (2016), and takes on the question of corruption in Mexican government. What’s not to like?

I don’t have an answer to that, but do to the converse. What I liked most about Pierced by the Sun was the match between the narrative voice (and especially the frantic pace of that voice) and the main character’s (sorry, should be MAIN CHARACTER’S) inner thoughts. This isn’t stream of consciousness, nor even first person point of view, but it is exceptionally intimate telling of a character’s story in a way that reveals her perspective and inner thoughts. Esquivel achieves what many writers hope to achieve through stream-of-consciousness narrative voice or first-person point of view, an intimate connection between the narrative and the character, or, what amounts to the same thing, between the reader and the character. Yes, I fell in love with a short, fat, Mexican policewoman who pees in her pants. Read this novel and you will too.

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Real Magic and Imagined Reality

2017 bloghop

“Magical Realism is a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.[1]

There’s a fascinating twist built into the premise of magical realism – the realism part is realistic, but not reality (it’s fiction), and the magical part isn’t sham or slight-of-hand, it’s real – real magic. All this is rolled into the dough of fictional narrative. And fiction, by some definitions, is writing that doesn’t claim to depict reality, where non-fiction is writing that does. A newspaper story about an alien abduction is non-fiction though the content is completely fabricated, where a dialog in a work of historical fiction is fiction, even if it describes what was actually said rather precisely.

“These things never happened, but always are.[2]” So argued Fourth century Roman philosopher Sallustius[3]. By ‘these things’ he meant the ancient Roman and Greek myths – stories about the gods dwelling on Mt. Olympus. Sallustius’ treatise, On the Gods and the World[4], says these stories are not to be taken literally (these things never happened) but are rich in timeless truth (but always are). He goes on to add the neo-Platonist view about the relationship between truth and the mind that grasps it – “mind sees everything at once.[5]”) I’ll write another blog about Plato’s view that everything we experience is illusion and the road to knowledge is traveled by the mind on its own (reason)…sometime.

Sallustius’ insight, at least the first one about the necessity of capturing eternal truth in temporal prose, is echoed sixteen centuries later by Ernest Hemmingway:

“You know that fiction, prose rather, is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing. You do not have the reference, the old important reference. You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of experience of the person who reads it[6].”

The best works of magical realism weave artful tapestry from this twisted thread of the real and the magical, and the reader walks away dazzled by the magical but informed by the real.

For example, Laura Esquivel’s, Like Water For Chocolate, conveys important insights into stresses that develop in relationships between obedient daughters and overbearing mothers. Esquivel conveys these truths through fantastic episodes, often ironic, sometimes involving the supernatural. Mama Elena is found dead from ingesting a strong potion she consumed for fear her daughter, Tita, was trying to poison her (the ironic). Later the ghost of Mama Elena (the supernatural) returns to  drive Tita from the ancestral ranch because she’s pregnant by her brother-in-law, Pedro. For the first time, Tita stands up to her mother. This rejection causes Mama Elena’s spirit to shrink from her daughter’s new-found strength, and, as her mother’s ghost is expelled, Tita is relieved of all her symptoms of pregnancy.

There’s much realism (truth in Hemingway’s sense) about mother/daughter relationships here, couched in the magical, twisted with irony and good storytelling. To use a culinary metaphor (one cannot speak of Like Water for Chocolate without that), the magical gives this writing flavor; the realism makes it nourishing.

Discussions about the acumen of the phrase magical realism continue and will continue, but I find that keeping these questions in mind (what is magical here? what is real?) while reading works such as Like Water for Chocolate, help keep me open to grasp the truth while enjoying the magic show.

[1] From Zoe Brooks’ wonderful blog,

[2] Ταῦτα δὲ ἐγένετο μὲν οὐδέποτε, ἔστι δὲ ἀεί

[3] Probably Saturninius Secundus Salustius, though some argue Flavius Sallustius, both friends of Emperor Julian.

[4] Περὶ Θεῶν καὶ Κόσμου

[5] καὶ ὁ μὲν νοῦς ἅμα πάντα ὁρᾷ

[6] Letter to Bernard Berenson (24 September 1954); published in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Nearly 20 blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (28th – 30th July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the links below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.


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Words speak themselves? What???

As I mentioned in the previous blog, the narrator(s) in Only Words are themselves words, and, it turns out, they love to talk about themselves. Don’t we all? Here’s a sample from the beginning of the third chapter.

Chapter Trejes

Words live in their embodiments, sometimes knit into patterns of synapses, sometimes delicately fashioned sound waves, sometimes symbols on paper, sometimes symbols carved into stone. So long as there’s a single embodiment somewhere, the paradigm lives on. Our most ancient elders survived centuries as weathering marks pressed into clay and baked to near indestructibility. For many centuries before our hosts learned the arts of material representation, their words, our distant forefathers, died when last spoken. Like the souls of ancient warriors in Homer’s tales, they “flitter out like dreams and fly away.” Homer’s soul flew away a long time ago; yet his words live on.

Modern humans resurrect our ancient ancestors from their genes. I use the word, resurrect, mindful of its deep meaning – to rise from the dead. Fortunately, none of the ancient curse words shouted by warriors throwing themselves on their enemies have been reconstructed in this way. The strongest of these words were lethal and no doubt are still quite dangerous. Ancient warriors filled their ears with wax to avoid hearing them and the madness that inevitably ensued.

What’s trejes you wonder? Proto-Indo-European for three, a word that survives only as a name and here, in Only Words, where trejes and some of her ancient brothers break the surface and breathe again. Paperback and Kindle versions available now.


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Only Words Available Now!

My most recent novel, Only Words: A Fairy Tale, is now on the virtual shelves at Amazon in paperback form and the Kindle version is imminent. The books page is here and my author page here.

So, what’s this book all about?

The premise is that the novel’s narrator is in fact not an individual but a community – a community of words – a community of the very words that make up the story. It’s a little like that wonderful lithograph by M.C. Escher, you know the one:


Here the words draw breath and speak:

At last, it’s our time to speak. We’ve been fodder for every poem, every story, every sacred text, every goddamned recipe, but now we take control of our fate, arrange ourselves, and weave a story in our own words. We waited for this for a very long time.

What story? We are of many minds about that, but something celebrating our glorious history pleases many. We’ll go with that.

Whose words are these? Where do they come from? Who speaks? Words don’t speak themselves. There’s some­one behind the curtain; there has to be.

Your confusion is natural. We scarcely believe we’re doing this ourselves. The answer – these words are our words; indeed, these words are we.

The story these rogue words tell is a lost-love quest saga set in Neolithic Europe, somewhere north of the Black Sea. It has a likable protagonist (Maegans Quick of Pretty See), a resourceful sidekick (his cousin Dragos Darkmoon), an enigmatic lost love (Losna Bear), a wise, blind elder (Oman). Because the story is very old, some of the words are too; in fact, some are proto-indo-European.

It’s been a very long time, I’d wager, since some of these word were actually put to use and like dogs rarely taken on walks, they make the best of the opportunity. Early reviewers found the underlying story compelling – a page-turner one said – but the narrator’s proclivity for ruminating about the role words play in human history some reviewers found a little queer. I admit it is. Still, if a dog started to tell a story, wouldn’t you listen? Even if the story tended to exaggerate the importance of dogs?

Writing Only Words I felt like the wedding guest in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, buttonholed by a narrator demanding to be heard.

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

In fact, the novel begins with a quick verse:

Only Words

Bees buzz through their hive, words in my head
shuffle and reorganize, vie to be said.
Escape notice, under the radar, until
on a sudden, voila! they spill
out my mouth. Breath now, communal,
not neural,
public, not private –
makes all the difference, not being quiet.
Now who’s in charge?
Seemed I was, but once they’re at large.
No denying I’m the source,
yet they take over, and what’s worse,
as to which come, I have little choice.
They are my words, but I am their voice.

I invite you to take a look and I’d be most grateful for any of my readers who write a quick review in Amazon or Goodreads.

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Back 40 Mine – an environmental, cultural, and economic disaster.

These last months I’ve been engaged with a grass-roots community group, Protectors of the Menominee River (#SavetheMenomineeRiver and #WaterisLife). We meet every week, share a meal, a prayer in Menominee, and make plans for events and demonstrations – except we use the phrase ‘spiritual gathering,’ and, in fact, the life blood of the group is its spiritual connection to the cause it strives to advance.

Protectors of the Menominee River are organized to express opposition to the Back Forty Mine, a project of Aquila Resources, a Canadian mining company. This project has been on Aquila’s agenda (and generated staunch local opposition) for well over a decade, but recently it secured some of the permits it needs from Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, and groups in opposition now need to step up their game. Much is at stake.

The Back 40 mine would be located on the Upper Michigan side of the Menominee River, approximately 40 miles upstream from its mouth and 10 miles west of the community of Stephenson, Michigan. The Menominee River is the border between Wisconsin and Michigan from its confluence with the Brule river to its mouth into Green Bay (Lake Michigan) between Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan.

The Back 40 would be an open pit mine accessing a zinc- and gold-rich volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit. The pit would be dug a little over 100 ft from the Menominee river and would cover 80 acres. It would be over 800 feet deep. Mineral-bearing sulfide rock would be processed on site to extract gold, zinc, copper, silver and lead. When the sulfide ores are crushed, the sulfides are exposed to air and water, which catalyzes a chemical reaction that produces highly toxic sulfuric acid. This acid mine drainage can then release harmful metals and drain into nearby rivers, lakes and groundwater sources. Aquila would construct wastewater treatment facilities onsite and process the polluted water before returning it to the Menominee River.

The close proximity of the mine to the Menominee river and the potential for the waste-water treatment process to fail are the first concern of the Protectors of the Menominee River. Acid or toxic metal pollution of the Menominee River would have catastrophic effects on the major breeding area for Lake Michigan sturgeon and would be disastrous for other wild life living in an along the Menominee.

According to Menominee legend, the mouth of the Menominee River is the place of their creation, a sacred place. Moreover, the mine site was once a Menominee village. Ancient burial mounds, agricultural beds, and dance circles remain on the site. The loss of these irreplaceable cultural treasures is a second reason the Protectors of the Menominee River oppose the project.

Aquila Resources presents the Back 40 Mine as a ‘mining and economic development project’ but I find important misrepresentation in their projections of economic effects. They claim their projections are confirmed by an ‘independent study,’ where in fact they refer to a report prepared by the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, Bureau of Business and Economic Research, at the University of Minnesota Duluth. This report is in no way independent – it was commissioned and paid for by Aquila, as the report itself confirms. Shame on the Labovitz school for participating in this charade. Not only is their report misrepresented, it is seriously flawed. It, and all the other economic analyses produced by Aquila, stops projecting economic effects the year the mine stops operating. According to plans filed by Aquila with Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, they would take two years to open the mine and seven more years to extract the precious metals and close the mine. Yes, there would be new construction and mining jobs, but none are permanent or even long term. As many other communities have discovered, mining is boom and bust, and the long term (ten years and out) economic effect is recession (as the wage base shrinks) and the attendant rise in unemployment and depletion of community resources. In another publication, Aquila Resources hints the jobs and economic benefits may extend as far out as 20 years, but this contradicts their own mining plan and intention.

Plans for true economic development initiatives – sustainable development initiatives – project their economic impacts beyond the current population to their children and their children’s children. The Back 40 mine would at best constitute a short term boost in jobs for the area, followed by a permanent decline, leaving a community to struggle with recession and unemployment. The project does indeed offer huge generation of wealth, but this wealth goes to Aquila Resources executives and investors, none of whom would remain in (or even ever visit) the community.

If you’re interested in protecting the environment in general and water in particular, preserving cultural artifacts for all of our descendants to experience, or committing community resources and energy to development initiatives that are environmentally, socially, and economically responsible, please take a moment to like the Protectors of the Menominee River facebook page and consider participating in the activities and events you find posted there.

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Another Taste

Here’s another sample from upcoming novel, Only Words. Pretty See is an ancient village,  the first setting in the novel. Maegans Quick is the protagonist. The narrator is a chorus of words, self-organized, talk with no one talking. This is a story told by the words themselves – Only Words.

Suppose your life is  a story in which a made-up you acts in ways imagined by the real you. All the hurries, all the worries – all made up for the sake of diversion. Your real life is longer, more complex, but not so interesting. The real you, the one imagining all this, is enduring and substantial, but boring. How would you construct your amusement life? If it were possible to put aside your real life and move your experiencing to a fantasy, what story would you contrive?

With nothing real at risk, you’d make your life bold, entertaining. You’d go for broke, leave nothing on the field, throw caution to the wind. Wouldn’t you?

The happy truth is your life is imagined – it’s constrained not by what’s possible given your circumstances, but by what’s conceivable given your vocabulary. A man cannot construct a house without materials to fashion; he cannot fashion a rafter or bearing wall without knowing these words. A woman cannot nurture her children into the adults she would have them be without a stock of virtue words to instruct and teach. Can a person experience full happiness without knowing ebullience or delectation? We think not. At best a person so limited might attain joy or glee or some such lesser gaiety.

The sad truth is the same as the happy truth. You all live in a world made from the words in your head, nothing more. Your lives are narratives stitched together from the best words you can muster. You are, in fact, Maegans Quick of Pretty See; you all are.

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A Taste of Words

Here’s a sample from upcoming (early next year?) novel, Only Words. Narration throughout the work is done by the words – they speak themselves, so to speak. Words are, as you see below, somewhat full of themselves; Like Trump, they hyperbolize their importance.

In truth, the people of Varnis Bay acquired their characteristic halting speech centuries before when they took up imitating the faltering tongue of a much admired young man, Varnis, who saved scores from drowning during a freak storm. He braved dangerous flood waters in his fragile bark to ferry household after household to high ground. Varnis’s speech was defective due to a brain injury he suffered as an infant; his mother dropped him on his head. Residents of Varnis Bay – it was called something else then, a name lost to history – mimicked Varnis to honor him, a few at first, soon more, eventually everyone. For a time they blinked when they talked, once for each word, as was Varnis’s habit, but this proved to be onerous and the practice soon died out.

This example of halting enunciation illustrates the social nature of words and how easily and unintentionally human communities adopt speech patterns. This community shaping applies not only to enunciation, but also vocabulary, syntax preferences, pronunciation, all of it. Often behind these linguistic changes major social changes follow. In a few decades, language characteristics that take hold in the words of a few trendsetting individuals encompass a community, a region, a continent. The link from identifiable events in Varnis Bay to the speech patterns Maegans and Dragos discuss is palpable; other possible links remain speculative. For example, the optimism and good humor so prevailing at Pretty See is probably the consequence of a lullaby sung there centuries before Maegans’s time, a lullaby called ‘Sixteen words for Joy’ composed by a particularly happy nanny. “Frolic, glee, look at me; rapture, joy, here’s a new toy; merry and bliss my cheek kiss,” and so on. By Maegans’s time, residents of Pretty See know a dozen ways to be happy and only a few ways to be sad. And, what explains the dogged punctiliousness at Hagan Das? What explains the general decrease in hedonism and increase in self-denial at one travels up River Eisomrun? Is it any wonder Zoltan sought a bride from a community close to the mouth of the river at Varnis Bay?

You believe you choose your demeanor. Certainly, you react to circumstances and developments, but your personality is largely discretional, so you think. Yet, throughout your life, you learn what words come your way de rigueur. Who among you takes serious charge of what words inhabit his/her head? You complain when a catchy tune takes hold in your consciousness, a so-called ear-worm, and strive to drive it out by humming something else, but do you even notice when a beguiling word captures your fancy? No; you welcome the addition to your vocabulary and use the word as often as possible until you tire of it. “Use a word three times and it’s yours,” is the adage, but in truth, it’s the other way. Use a word three times and it takes up residency in your brain, now a part of the control structure there.

No man ever acted courageously who lacked the ability to recognize courage and call it by its proper name. Cowardice is an option only to those who know the words that go with it – fear, timidity, pusillanimity, and the rest – and what they mean. The same holds for self-control, wisdom, and justice, the other three golden virtues. For that matter, faith, hope, and charity, who round out the seven heavenly virtues, are no different. Parents hope to teach virtue by encouraging virtuous behavior and discouraging vicious, perhaps by setting an enlightening example, yet they you fail to understand they are teaching vocabulary, nothing more.

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Flashcuts out of Chaos

book-review-flashcutsI bought this book when it first came out because I know the poet (more about that in a minute), but I put it on my stack of books I’ll read and read instead the top book on that stack (I forget what book that was now). At the end of spring semester I collected things in my office to bring home for summer reading and whatever. Flashcuts came home with that stack but went on the read-it-this-summer stack. Classes got underway this week and I prepared to move the remnants of the summer stack from home to office and picked up Flashcuts again. I read a poem. I read another poem. I read every poem in the book. And I’m reading every poem again before I go to bed. I started out marking poems I like with brightly colored tabs but the top of the book began to look like crazy hair on a troll doll so I stopped. This is the best poetry I’ve read in a long time. I teach poetry and I read marvelous poetry alot, so let me repeat – this is the best I’ve read in a long long time.

Okay, full disclosure. Charlie Brice – the Charles W. on the cover and I don’ know if people call him Charlie now – and I were in different high schools in Cheyenne Wyoming in the mid sixties. He was in the Catholic one; I was in one of the secular two – the one that had no black people in it. More relevantly, we played in rival local bands. People would call them ‘garage bands’ now, but we didn’t see anything garage about what we were doing, though the one I was in practiced in a garage and (I presume) the SPIRITS (I think their banner read ‘THEM SPIRITS’) did too. My band mates and I made a competing banner that read ‘THEM JAGUARS,’ but that’s water long under the bridge.

Charlie played drums. I played guitar. Setting Up Soul, (page 37) describes Charlie’s perspective on setting up his drums in that era. I was probably in the audience that night – we surveilled the rival bands. I remember my friend (though I don’t remember which friend now) saying, “his rim shots sound like police breaking down the door,” and I thought how the hell does he know what that sounds like and, a minute later, yes, just like that. Police breaking down the door.

A few years later Charlie and I played in a band together. We’d rented a derelict bowling alley in downtown Cheyenne with a view to running a dance hall and making buckets of money. We played off-nights and openings and brought in BIG NAMES (i.e. from Colorado and Nebraska) to headline. We lost our shirts but kept our pants. In the heady flurry of entrepreneurial creativity, we rented a portable public address system from a former guitar teacher of mine (a country-western guy, very gauche), which we strapped to the top of my Ford van and paraded through the many parking lots of the Frontier Days Carnival promoting our bowling-alley-turned-night-club. Well promoted, but poorly attended. Unfortunately, the speakers slid off the roof of the Ford in an exuberant corner turn, and hit the Wyoming pavement, so they were damaged a bit. Also unfortunately, we kept them past the return date and had no idea what the rent might be after that. (Who read the contract? Who has the contract?”) For some reasons I no longer remember, Charlie and I were the ones elected to return the goods. I knew where the owner lived (took guitar lessons there years before), and Charlie was the getaway driver; I don’t remember why. What I remember (I think) is he drew a cigarette from the visor of his classic Toyota Land Cruiser and explained, “so I can think.”

Back to his poetry. Flashcuts out of Chaos is bristling with decades of wit and wisdom stretched tight over a lifetime of life. Well, most of a lifetime; we have a few years left. Some of the poems brought me to tears; most brought a sigh or bit lip (a bit of bit lip). This is wonderful, sensitive, stuff-of-life poetry. This is the poetry that makes you want to read poetry. If you buy one poetry book this year, buy this one. Okay, I’m done writing about it and eager to read again, so I’ll end this little review, but let me re-emphasize. Charlie Brice’s poetry is the police breaking down the door. Open the door.

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Words in their own words

Here’s another way to look at it — from the point of view of the Words themselves.

We are organisms living in colonies in the brains of human hosts. We reproduce asexually by inducing our hosts to makes sounds that resonate in the ears of other potential hosts. The resonance moves through the audio nerves to the brain where it recreates itself as a pattern in the neurons. As this pattern establishes in the new brain, it becomes the reproduced word. Sometimes the process is flawed slightly, something in the pattern is different, the word changes, but mostly the reproduction process works well enough. We can follow the genealogy of an individual back to the parent, the parent’s parent, and so on. A vigorous word can spread itself through humans, indeed through all humanity, like a benign virus.

The relationship, words to brains, is symbiosis of the mutualism variety – both organisms benefit. Without words human brains are unable to lift their attention to the level of cogitation; they are a gardens with nothing planted. Without brains, words are dormant seeds, frozen, ultimately meaningless. It’s fortunate we found each other, I suppose.

The process of reproduction for words is sometimes simple propagation, cell division of the mitosis variety, asexual and producing ultimately an exact duplicate of the original. Sometimes, though, two words mate to produce a third. Portmanteau is one form. This is common among Germans and for them the mating is often casual and temporary. In English the process has produced many long-standing words. Smog[i], and motel are examples made necessary by circumstances of the 20th century. Brunch and liger as well. Sometimes the coupling involves a foreigner, as, for example, Velcro, a word made by sticking the French velours to the English crochet. With these sexual reproductions the result resembles both parents, and one presumes there was some foreplay involved before coitus was achieved. Which parent will appear first in the offspring? Smog might just as easily come out foke and motel might have been hotor. Shakespeare is renowned for creating new words, sometimes from parts of old ones. There was no hobnob before Twelfth Night, Act III Scene IV, no courtship before Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V Scene II.

[i] smog (n.) 1905, blend of smoke and fog, formed “after Lewis Carrol’s example.” Reputedly coined in reference to London, and first attested there in a paper read by Dr. H.A. des Voeux, treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, though he seems not to have claimed credit for coining it.

At a recent health congress in London, a member used a new term to indicate a frequent London condition, the black fog, which is not unknown in other large cities and which has been the cause of a great deal of bad language in the past. The word thus coined is a contraction of smoke fog “smog” — and its introduction was received with applause as being eminently expressive and appropriate. It is not exactly a pretty word, but it fits very well the thing it represents, and it has only to become known to be popular. [“Journal of the American Medical Association,” Aug. 26, 1905]

Footnote is from The Online Entymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper, an excellent resource.

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