Thursday, January 31, 2013


I always look
for the birds
in your poems
she sd & I sd
this isn't text
speak this is
Creeley speak this
is Pound speak
& I sd watch out
all that etc.
but she smiled
& there was a bird
in my head & a bird
in my back pocket
& the world
was suddenly made
of bridges over low
rivers & these poems
your aviary

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The only thing I know for sure about my paternal grandfather is that he he died in his mid-60s after falling into a vodka-induced coma. By all speculative accounts (of which there are only a few) this was a deliberate act, a suicide by bottle. My father obtained leave from the Navy to visit him on his death bed. Dad was 26.


They came from Irish stock. I don't know the exact date that they came over, but an ancient newspaper acount my grandmother once showed me proved that there were Robinsons in the Oregon Territory as early as the 1830s. We also know that, in my father's words, "Colonel Robinson married a squaw." So there's the Irish/Native American bloodline, a volatile mix if the stereotypes of the alcoholic Irishman and the "drunken injun" are to be believed.

There's the landscape: rainy small-town Oregon. In this case, coastal Oregon, the setting for Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. I guess, then, I come from hard-working Irish-American family. Loggers in the family, as in the novel. But I don't know for sure. My father had logging jobs as young man, making a little over two dollars an hour. I guess in there is drink, too. There is the semi-hidden Indian heritage. There are the pine trees and the sand dunes, the jetties, the rocky coastline, a landscape seemingly made for long melancholic days, made for poets, I guess, imbibers, regular blue-collar folk of the Raymond Carver mold.

I spent my entire childhood in towns like these. I learned everything I know about humans in these towns; everything since has been modification, tinkering, corollaries, minor discovery, affirmation.

I keep saying "I guess" not as a placeholder or a tic, but because so much of this work is speculation and rummaging. I don't know how much of this history is actually true, how much is pure guess, how much is well-intentioned reconstruction. But I do know that it's my story. And lest my first few paragraphs give an incomplete impression, I'll just say it: this is not a story about alcohol or alcoholism, drugs or mental illness. It's not a narrative of recovery. It's an account, decades removed, of family. Of a family and families, of trying to understand community and belonging. It's not even about survival or dying. It is, ultimately, about being alone.


There's nothing wrong with growing up in a small town; it has its advantages. It's relatively safe, they say. Everyone knows everyone else. A sense of community. When one is vitally aware of the boundaries of the small town, though--not just geographical but metaphysical, ideological--the "community" takes on a slightly menacing quality. A family, too, is a sort of community. At the age of 15 or so, when I had my first drink, I wanted desperately to escape both of these communities.


When I was a child nobody wore seatbelts. Nobody wore bicycle helmets. Did bicycle helmets even exist? The furniture was orange, the kitchens were formica, the carpet shag. All adults I knew drank heavily. And smoking? It wasn't weird to smoke--it was normal, accepted, and relatively free of health concerns. The other day I saw a young couple, early 20s maybe, pushing a toddler in a stroller. The woman was smoking a cigarette. My first reaction was disgust, derision. Then I thought, hell, I spent nearly every waking moment in my childhood house(s) inhaling my father's cigarette smoke. And I turned out ok, right?

On Being Numerous

Wouldn't say why
over iris, speckled grouse,
a forthcoming
of units, emergent on fidelity.

The field is no longer open:
our good is no good no more.

Speak with open mouth & hands
on the varieties of grace
or green grass waving its "hello"
at the lakes, still frozen, churning.

The mouth is a wry line straight:
my timeline's broken open.
I keep pulling the horizon
closer: I many need to call my broker.

Fallow lines, a systemic corrugation
at work with all these white people.

Did it always work like this?
Has it always felt like this.
A closed system is not closed:
it's just avoiding the hassle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New poems in Coconut, reading with John Beer @DIVA

Gina Myers wrote me last week to let me know that Coconut Magazine is taking three poems for the June issue. Coming on the heels of two or three rejections this month, this was welcome news.

The three poems are all in the manuscript of my upcoming book, which is tentatively titled On the Factorization of Very Large Numbers.

They've been difficult poems to place so far, though I don't exactly submit regularly these days. At this point, though, I'm sitting on a whole book's worth so I hope to get a few more out there on the street before the book hits.


I'll also be reading poems from that ms. this coming April 13th at DIVA in Downtown Eugene. Also reading is John Beer, Canarium poet, and teacher in the Portland State MFA program. It should be a good night. For a poetry reading.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


This morning I wandered in from the freezing fog or ice or whatever it was to find myself in the university bookstore (The Duck Store!) scanning the ever-present discount book tables, where I ran across a whole mess of titles I'd like to read, but alas, I don't even have the $4.98 to spare, due to my insane restricted funds clause (more on this in another post).

I picked up the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I have heard of but was not at all familiar with. I skimmed the first chapter and decided to add it to my list of things to read when I get the chance in 2013.

Of course I started thinking about Lolita and how much I adored it when I first read it as a young man in the mid-90s. A couple of yeara ago, S. and I tried to read it together (the third book in our failed book club; the first two were Wide Sargasso Sea and Ada. When we tried to read Lo, E. was about a year old and S. called me (we were by then living apart) and said that after the first few chapters she'd decided that she couldn't go on. She didn't want to read a manipulative story about a murderer and pedophile with a "fancy prose style." (Humbert's own words, not hers.) Somewhat reluctantly, I admitted to myself that I felt the same way. So Lo remains unreread.

At the beginning of this year I read a small book called Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee, which is a bit of historical fluff that promised much more than it delivered. Ostensibly the story of Jefferson's slave James Hemmings, who apprenticed in Paris and became the first classically French-trained American chef, the book suffers from sheer lack of historical information. The author is forced then, to fill pages of tangential information about Parisian customs, the French Revolution, the likes and dislikes of Jefferson's daughters, and so on. Good idea, middling execution. The only thing I really know about James Hemings is that Jefferson eventually freed him, he went on to become a tavern cook in Boston, and died at age 36 from severe alcoholism.

Trudging very slowly through the fifth book in G.R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance With Dragons, and it's pretty rough going. Both the plot movement and the prose are glacial. But I persist.

Monday, January 21, 2013

William Carlos Williams to Robert Creeley, March 3, 1950

Bad art is then that which does not serve in the continual service of cleansing the language of all fixations upon dead, stinking dead, usages of the past. Sanitation and hygiene or sanitation that we may have hygienic writing.

This is the second collaborative poem I've done with Joseph Massey.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

first new draft in nearly a month

Stop signs circum-
navigate my wife I mean
my life I

mean something was scurrying out
back in the alley last night &

I’m sure it was a raccoon
or a coal miner from another era, a Rural Indiana or something or

A call girl with many numbers, digitized Pi because how else
is it spelled? Thrushes fluffing, danced away

from bushes smoked out
with high school communications on high

said The President & The Prime
Minister indivisible but by one & himself

because we are on the brink of something huge
& largely insignificant:

These are days. Remember a sea
of six-year-olds—

Remember your spoon, your coffee cup,
your curlicue.