Saturday, September 29, 2018

Happy Gardens! My First Poetry Collection Nominated for State Book Award

           I'm happy to share the news that my first poetry book, a chapbook titled "Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty," has been nominated for The Massachusetts Book Awards. The awards are made annually to books by a Massachusetts resident or about the state that were published in the previous year.
            “The Massachusetts Book Awards," the program states on its website, "highlight the work of our vital contemporary writing community and encourage readers to do some 'close reading' of those imaginative works created by the authors among us."
             The awards recognize worthy works in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's or young adult literature published in the previous year.
            "Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty" was nominated by publisher Leah Maines of Finishing Line Press.

            Published in May of 2017, it's a chapbook -- a publisher's term for a half-sized collection of poetry by a single author. A full volume of poetry runs from 64 to about 100 pages, the chapbook generally tops off in the thirties. "Gardeners" is 36 pages. It includes poems published in Verse-Virtual, where I continue to publish regularly as a contributing editor, and in six other journals, including "Off the Coast," "Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal," and "Yellow Chair Review."
            Here's the introduction to the collection that I wrote for the publisher: 
            "Many of the poems in this book, especially those that relate to its title, spring from a decision following our move to a house in Quincy, Mass. -- with little lawn and no landscaping to speak of -- to dig up the turf and plant flowering perennials, ground cover, shrubs, a small tree or two, berry bushes, potted annuals, and vegetables. My first title for these poems about the garden project was "The Amateur." From a Latin root, the word means "lover." I have no training, no claim to expertise; I'm not a professional -- I don't even belong to a garden club. I simply began digging things up and planting. So, to be an amateur means to do something not for money, but for love, or desire.
            Years later, with mature perennials and shrubs elbowing each other for growing room, I love the idea that when we step outdoors we are in nature. The "environment" begins at the doorstep.          
            Open the door; breathe the air; listen.
            One day a cardinal sat on the head of a sunflower, bobbing and calling, looking for all the world as if he had just lost something. (His mate?) I noticed he extracted a few sunflower seeds while he was there. There is always something to see.
            "Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty" includes poems about plants, flowers, the craft of cultivation, talking to trees, getting stared at by hummingbirds. Seasons change and so do we.             The second half of the collection encompasses poems about family, places near and far, my father's near-fatal journey in World War II ("My Dad's Ship But One of Three"), "The Sacred Way" at Delphi in Greece, Syrian refugees in Beirut ("Sidewalk Madonnas"), and a quick dip into formal verse with "The Slow Tritina." 
          The Massachusetts Book Awards program was created by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, which in turn is an affiliate of Mass Humanities, the state agency that funds initiatives to promote the arts and humanities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

           So far my response is to follow the advice of the publisher, who says I "don't have to do anything but be happy."

            I'll close with a short poem from the "Garden Lovers" sequence.

            Human Bee-ing

            Flowers are the sex organs
            Of hot momma nature.
            We all love the colors, the shapes,
            The delicate constructions.
            They bring us together.

            Do not ask what makes
            that deep, persistent buzz
            that hovers above Zouve jackets and bell-flared trousers,
            transparent angel wings extended
            and wiggles its butt between stamen and pistil
            It's us  


Sunday, September 23, 2018

September Flowers: Some Plants Save Their Best for Summer's Last Gasp

Some garden plants save their best for last. The Blossoms at left grows on a very humble, stalky looking shrub that barely survives the competition and my attempt to prolong its useful life by moving it away from some of the more robust neighbors such as the Lilac, Wiegelia and Andromeda. Still, when those spring bloomers have settled down to a green but flowerless end of summer, this humble fellow puts out his delicate blue blossoms. I believe it is called the "Buccaneer" azalea. Maybe the other azaleas turn up their early blooming noses at its slow development.
        The plant in the second photo down is a flowering grass called Liriope. Again, it waits for its neighbors to do their thing, before sending out its blossoms well into August. They're still blooming now. 
         Annuals, especially plants whose true home lies considerably to the south, can be very rewarding in
September. We have pots of various sorts of Hibiscus, the 'annual' variety in this latitude. Plans with blooms very similar to these, if not exactly the same grow all year in subtropical climates such as Florida. The orange blossoms at the left dress up the house front.   

The plant below with rose-colored petals is the Mandevilia, or Mandeville Rose variety of the Hibiscus. This one is absurdly vigorous, sending is vines everywhere and producing new blossoms every few days all summer. It greets me with the lively outreach of color whenever I step outdoors to look at the backyard garden area. It's more productive this month than ever.
          The next photo down depicts one of the smaller Hibiscus plants, this one blossoms a standard wide blossom in bright red.      
            Back to the perennials. The Artemisia, which grows thick silver-gray foliage, and spreads everywhere, reaches its peak this month, when it flowers tiny, whitish buds at the ends of all its its branches and twigs. I call 'bud' because they are rounded and closed in appearance, but they never open, creating a two-toned effect on the silvery foliage. 
           Lots of anemones of the late-blooming species bloom this month. The dark pink flowering variety are blooming now. They follow a lighter pink flower that mostly had its run last month. A third variety, producing white, chalice-like flowers, pictured below the dark pink ones, are just beginning to open now. 
        I wait for these perennials every year, and they never let me down. Some of these plants are sold under the commercial name of "wind flower."
         Below the photo of the white anemone, another pink to light violet flower also opens this month. This is the Turtle-head (species name Chelone glabra). 
          The last of the perennial flowering plants pictured here are Asters, another reliable September bloomer.  
           The varieties pictured here are a hardy violet plant, growing up amid a thick patch of Siberian Iris, that peaked in early June. We have some more of these that have not blossomed yet.
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            The last photo on this page shows the tall red Aster, quickly growing so tall and leggy that I will have to stake it soon. Bees love these late-blooming flowers. One of them followed us into the house this evening after we went out to visit the plant, and promptly lost himself.
          What are the odds that I discover him someplace really inconvenient?

The Garden of Verse: A Ragged Harp Player, A Poetess with Butterfly Wings, a Vision Doing Dishes, and Other Portraits in Verse


           A classic form of visual art, the portrait helps us to see -- and to appreciate. Portraits in words can do the same. 
           Among the fine offerings in the September issue of Verse-Virtual, an elegant "ekphrastic" poem -- the term used for poems that respond to pictures -- by Steve Klepetar illuminates the truth of the image. His poem "The Harp Player" matches the style of its minimalist subject -- the image of a haggard, but devoted figure pursuing an ethereal art -- with the well chosen words of his 14 short lines.
"Someone has pulled him
from oblivion with a few
hard lines, rendered
his black, choppy hair

and bristly beard, eyes
pressed shut, open

And someone has rescued a remarkable work of art
with a few well-wrought lines of verse.

          The portrait of a legendary poet emerges from John Stanizzi's "Looking Out Emily's Window," a poem written in a shapely appropriation of Emily Dickinson's hymn-stanza style. Following Dickinson's own poem comparing a butterfly's emergence from a cocoon to a "Lady from her Door," Stanizzi's poem suggests the spiritual arrival of the poet "dressed in cabbage White -- Lilting wings of tulle."
           The Cabbage White is perhaps the most common of butterflies. After reading this poem I'll look at them more carefully in the future and try to catch a glimpse of tulle.

           And yet another sort of portraiture, the capture of a precious moment, shines in Joe Cottonwood's charming "That Summer," a poem that depicts the beginning of something special at summer camp. The language is all of a piece here, from "the triple sink," the washing of 93 soup bowls ("she counts, you learn"), to the poem's reference to "Pop's wheezer Chevy truck,"' and the youthful dishwasher's hair as "a swirl on top," as the little drama proceeds to the denouement:

"She reaches in rubber gloves for a can
of Comet cleanser on a shelf over the sink
(stretching, exposing belly, unaware)
when she sees you and tries to push
the straggle of hair from her face
leaving little bubbles among the freckles."

             Take the photograph right there. It's in the can.

             Penny Harter's poem gives us, as the title promises, "two spiders." I don't like spiders, but I like the poem's perfect depiction of them as "black condensations/
at the seam of wall and ceiling," The poem shows us the possible scenarios for such creatures -- mating, fighting, becoming victims of human disgust -- yet spares them as bit-part players in a bigger picture:

circling the center, living
to catch what they can
and devour it
one night at a time,
one day."

              In Alan Walowitz's "Video Postcard from Vietnam," a poem deconstructing a vacation scene, we're given references to "in country," the rainy season, Hue, water buffalo, and "an ancient French garden" -- phrases and terms we might remember reading back when that country was synonymous with a long, pointless, hideous war inflicted by a 'great' country on a small one.

             But just as a 'video postcard' freezes a moment in time, the poem interprets this moment to make a larger statement, offering memorable words and wider meaning to a lovely and remarkable image:
"The odd, unspoken message says,
Here is a place we feel safe.
Their fingers barely touch across
the distance between them, the width of the deck,
as they try their best to make a heart of their hands."

             You can see the photo and read the words to this and the many other fine poems in the September 2018 issue of Verse-Virtual at

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Garden of the Tale: "The Country/The Country," My Serial Novel Mingling Politics and Fantasy Posted Online

The Country/The Country
             A serialized novel by Robert Knox

"One of the things science fiction does... is to extrapolate imaginatively from current trends and events to a near-future that’s half prediction, half satire.” -- Ursula Le Guin

          I just posted chapters 16 to 18 of my new novel, "The Country/The Country," online on a site designed for authors of a new work. Starting last month I have posted weekly segments of the book online, following the formula of the serial novel exploited by 19th century authors such as Charles Dickens and Dostoyevsky. Inspired by the catastrophically divisive presidential election of 2016, the novel's events take place in a fictional country that shares many similarities with our own. I consider the book a combination of political satire and speculative fiction. Similarities between the fictional country of The Commonhope of UZ and the US will be apparent. But I've also given myself permission to invent characters (and a few creatures), such as a psychically empowered seer who calls herself a witch, a backwards neighboring culture from 'the North,' ancient earthly forces known as "the bodies," a near-human robotic assistant, and various spiritual aides referred to as the Ancient Ones. 
         The principal character, named Keel, is a former college teacher pressed into early retirement by the declining interest in his academic specialty, "the classics." The chief antagonist is a wealthy politician, the principal of an international cartel called Animal Firm, whose political theories involve more frankly brutal tactics than even those currently on display in our national politics. Dogs also play a role, as does an oppressed class of gender nonconformists know as the 'flexibles,' women who can walk up walls, and the political theories readers may recognize as those attributed to the influential theorist Machiavelli. 
           So far I have posted about one quarter of the total book. I intend to continue posting weekly segments of the ongoing story online (Wednesdays are the weekly target) through the November election. I'll post link to the site here:

     Click on the word "chapters" to navigate easily through the portions of the book posted so far. 
       If you create an account on the Inkitt site (it's free), it will allow you to post comments, or a 'review,' at the end of any chapter. Posting comments, even a word or two, helps me by (among other reasons) drawing attention to the book. You don't need an account to read the work, but you do to comment. I would of course appreciate hearing what you think, as well as any amount of time and attention you can give to reading my serial novel. 
         I'll finish this 'pitch' by posting the brief summary publishers call the 'blurb' I created for this book.
          And then share a few of the readers' comments I have so far been fortunate to receive on the early chapters.

A retired teacher, Keel is an Everyman in "The Commonhope of Uz," content to be a good citizen in a country founded on the rule of law and the guidance of reason. But after a long period of prosperity under a widely admired chief executive, fears of economic stagnation and social change are driving  the candidacy of a new kind of leader. Called "Pig" by his supporters, who pack rallies to show their eagerness for vague, sweeping concentrations of power, businessman Karol Pegasso dominates the country's complicated election system. Chance, or something larger, drives Keel to join an opposition, formed by young radicals and old-fashioned idealists, and led by an aging psychic who calls herself a witch. Together they summon forces beyond the old understandings of reason and law to build a wall of flesh and stop Pig's march to power. But in the end the country's safety relies on waking the slumbering giants of compassion and care, known as the Ancient Ones, "the bodies," and the Angels of Light.

My thanks to those of who commented on the early chapters. Some sample comments:

"I like sense of humor, irony, and suspense."

"Easily recognizable and relatable. I hope the citizens of UZ are able to resist! I look forward to reading more."

"Knox's fictional world is far too real. Many analogies can be made between this world and the United States in 2018. Looking forward to reading future chapters."

"Enjoying this story. Anxious for more. Knox's attention to detail is always exciting."

"Looking forward to reading the next chapter."

"Now we've been introduced to Mrs. Nathan and I'm anxious to learn more about her. A wonderful story is unfolding, which has parallels to our current society. Can't wait to see what will happen next."

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Garden of Climate: Let's Give Nature Back to the Indians

          Given that the United States government has fully entered "The Age of Intentional Misrule" by ignoring science and the greatest threat to the future of humanity our species has ever faced, it is no wonder that sensible people seeking leadership, action, and hope have been forced to look elsewhere.
            Last week many political and economic leaders -- those who do not embrace the current governing party's "National Way of Selfishness and Stupidity" -- met in California for a Global Climate Action Summit to talk about what can be done, and what should be done, without relying on any support from the so-called most powerful nation on earth, the country (that's ours) that's fast proving to be the paper tiger our enemies used to call us.
            The State of California, the largest public entity in the United States still under rational leadership, made news when its governor announced his state's pledge to eliminate carbon emissions within 27 years.
            That's a good step. But the bigger, and closer, signpost is the year 2030, by which time worldwide  emissions must be reduced substantially in order for the world to have a chance of keeping global warming increases within 2 percent F. Anything above that increase, according to the best projections, and we're swamped.
            To reach this goal, according to news reports on the climate action summit, the human world has to cut its expected annual greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of nearly 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, on top of the pledges nations made at the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
            The pledges so far made by businesses and US state governments amount to about 4 percent of that total.
            So, basically, the world has a long way to go.
            Another perspective on what have to do -- and have to refrain from doing -- was offered by actor Harrison Ford, one of the non-scientist, non-politician celebrities to attend the Global Climate Action Summit.
            "I beg you," Ford told summit attendees. "Don’t forget Nature. Because, today, the destruction of nature accounts for more global emissions than all the cars and trucks in the world. We can put solar panels on every house, we can turn every car into an electric vehicle but as long as Sumatra burns—we will have failed. So long as the Amazon’s great forests are slashed and burned, so long as the protected lands of tribal people, Indigenous people, are allowed to be encroached upon, so long as wetlands and bog peats are destroyed, our climate goals will remain out of reach, and we will be shit out of time."
            Many of us at one time or another have donated money to organizations pledged to plant trees to fight global warning. There are many good environmental gains to be made by planting trees -- to resist environmental degradation, keep soil in lumbered areas from blowing away, enrich soil, and reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere because trees absorb CO2 in process of photosynthesis.
            But we will never be able to plant enough trees to match the global warming deficit caused by destroying earth's oldest ecological systems. Old forests in the tropical, subtropical and temperate regions are the most densely 'green' places the planet will ever see. The concentration of biota in these regions far outweighs anything man-made. All that green takes greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
            Green plants terra-formed our planet millions of years ago to make it livable for animals like ourselves by sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it at the bottom of the ocean. And ever since their appearance here, the green life in earth's forests cleans our atmosphere.

            The world's governments and businesses should by all means be working hard and fast to replace fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they produce with renewable, non-polluting energy sources.

         But we need -- as human societies -- to develop a shared data bank of wisdom that recognizes that our survival is based on developing ways to preserve the earth as a living system independent of, and more powerful than, our species.
         To do this we need the assistance of first peoples who have lived with the earth before, and for longer periods, than modern Western society has done.
          Some examples of that 'first people's perspective are provided by speakers attending the San Francisco "Rise For Climate" march for a fossil-free world. Mirian Cisneros, president of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku in Ecuadorean Amazon, called for a "Permanent protection of all forests and life in our ancestral lands" of the Kichwa people:
          "I want to tell all of you that I come from those forests, rivers, lakes and mountains that have life. I come from there, where the human being and Mother Earth live in harmony. I come from Kawsak Sacha. I come from the Living Forest. I also come from a people who has fought for years and years the threats of oil exploitation. I come from the land where we have defended millions of lives. And today we are here to leave you with our Kawsak Sacha proposal, Living Forest...
          "We are also here because we want the world to know that indigenous communities like ours, Sarayaku, possess innovative solutions, such as our own proposal of Kawsak Sacha, a permanent protection of all forests and life in our ancestral lands. The world requires just and noble solutions, such as this one, to confront climate change. And also we ask for respect for our indigenous rights, self-determination and our autonomy. In this way, we can guarantee the life of humanity and to live in peace."

           At the same event Chief Ninawa Huni Kui stated:
           "I’m from the Huni Kui people, and I am from the Brazilian Amazon in the state of Acre. I’m here to unite with other indigenous peoples and the peoples of the world, because we’re here to defend rights. The governments are going to hold a summit to decide the future of the world and the future of our peoples. Their vision of the future is just about profits, making money. And they make money by polluting and destroying this world. So I’m here to bring the voice of the Amazon rainforest to this discussion."

            Our 'advanced,' Western and Westernized societies that continue to use up too much of the world's resources must turn to older societies for advice and direction; and to respect the wisdom of ways of life that we too hurriedly superseded and replaced. 
           Let's put these people in charge of saving nature. For only by saving their homes will we be able to save humanity.