Thoreau on writing daily

In an early entry in Thoreau’s journal, he writes this about writing. He was 23 at the time:

Let the daily tide leave some deposit on these pages, as it leaves sand and shells on the shore. So much increase of terra firma (solid earth). This may be a calendar of the ebbs and flows of the soul; and on these sheets as a beach, the waves may cast up pearls and seaweed.

The same applies to any type of writing. For a poetry manuscript or the first draft of a novel, writing for a long-term project requires resilience against one’s own whim to do something else. Even reading cannot encroach into one’s writing time. Bit by bit, the circumference of words begins to increase, and if you keep up with the habit religiously, soon enough you’ll be sitting on fifty, hundred, hundred-and-fifty pages of raw material.

The beauty of the immigrant’s many tongues mixing


Immigrant Picnic
—by Gregory Djanikian—

It’s the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I’m grilling, I’ve got my apron,
I’ve got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I’ve got a hat shaped
like the state of Pennsylvania.

I ask my father what’s his pleasure
and he says, “Hot dog, medium rare,”
and then, “Hamburger, sure,
what’s the big difference,”
as if he’s really asking.

I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins
are fluttering away like lost messages.

“You’re running around,” my mother says,
“like a chicken with its head loose.”

“Ma,” I say, “you mean cut off,
loose and cut off being as far apart
as, say, son and daughter.”

She gives me a quizzical look as though
I’ve been caught in some impropriety.
“I love you and your sister just the same,” she says,
“Sure,” my grandmother pipes in,
“you’re both our children, so why worry?”

That’s not the point I begin telling them,
and I’m comparing words to fish now,
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.

“Sonia,” my father says to my mother,
“what the hell is he talking about?”
“He’s on a ball,” my mother says.

“That’s roll!” I say, throwing up my hands,
“as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll….”

“And what about roll out the barrels?” my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, “Why sure,” he says,
“let’s have some fun,” and launches
into a polka, twirling my mother
around and around like the happiest top,

and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
“You could grow nuts listening to us,”

and I’m thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
wordless, confusing,
crowding out everything else.



Good art resists what comes easily

Good art is partially about resisting one’s own initial interpretations of the subject. According to the masterful poet, Stephen Dunn, it is more about saying the difficult ‘no’ than giving in to the accessible ‘yes.’ In a way, such commitment to a mode of seeing that is beyond one’s complacent intuition, requires commitment to ‘seeing’ differently and the patience required to put that new way of seeing into words such that they expand the collective consciousness.

Not only must poets turn away from tried or dead language, they must be wary of their best ideas and all the language that was available to them before the poem began. That is, all language that hasn’t been found by the language in the poem. And then even that new language should be doubted and resisted. Resistance leads to discovery. No, no, no, no, and then yes. The good poem offers us a compelling and vibrant replacement for what, in our complacency, we allowed ourselves to believe we knew and felt.

A good artist must doubt the ideas and language that come naturally to her. This will become possible when she begins to resist the easy publicity handed to her by our time’s click-bait addiction, and also when she actively fights the impatience generated by the need to receive quick praise and amass more ‘likes.’ She must commit herself to seeing and interpreting deeply, which cannot happen until she becomes suspicious of satisfaction and adulation that are achieved easily. Her passion must take root in the flip side of obviousness, she must strive to turn things on their head and try to word them from different, and often difficult, angles.

The not so good poem sometimes too easily reflects or accommodates what is available prior to the poem’s inception. Its author says yes too soon.

This month marks 15 years of American involvement in Afghanistan


In that Part of the World
—by Raza Ali Hasan


The sky here is American like the blue of your eyes;
the folds of your eyelids the Hindu Kush mountain.

The rich vein of the Hindu Kush only a stony ridge
cutting across the parched soil of Afghanistan

on which the primal play of progress comes to pass.


Locked in, its people:
nomadic, peasant or simply pleasant,
green-eyed, blue-eyed, brown-eyed or simply wide-eyed.

Its great teacher: Noor Mohammad Taraki,
the proud translator of great works
into Pashto, Dari, Turkic and Uzbek.
Its cities: Herat, Kabul, Kandahar.


Assuredly, the pilgrims descend the emerald-strewn
Panjsher valley. They have come to water and tend

a young tree. Time is at hand, for the unhurried
descent of the Western offering,

whose yellow parachute will slow its fall.
And this tree, which will grow underneath the cluster bomb,
will hold up the pomegranate to the blue sky.


The tick tock and whirr of metal and material
in the hidden azure vault of the air

has so far unleashed the American ahistoricality
upon the two tall Bamiyan Buddhas.

Ordained stone must give way to bared rock face.
Grieve not. Rejoice, for the spirit triumphs here.


When Kabul was as beautiful as Leningrad,
when our hearts hadn’t grown weary,
when Taraki could take a stroll down
the streets of Kabul with a confident smile,
when he could still be Afghanistan’s Maxim Gorky,
when our erstwhile bachelor could enjoy
the company of dancing girls like a mogul emperor,
when the way forward was the way forward.


The uncertain exile is never to Rome—
no picture postcards of the coliseum to send home—

but to a mud hovel among other mud hovels
by the edge of the city of Islamabad.

For the uncertain exile has nothing to do
with the divine or with any other kind of comedy,

but with what has remained or with what reminds:
with the trace of terror that persists.


In this part of the world the children know and have desires
to be a martyr, to enter paradise, to leave this life.

Of the twenty-nine different names for the garden,
they know all twenty-nine by heart.

For this part of the world began with a garden and
will end as an open ditch piled up with bodies.


Grant me Antigone’s strength to forbear
for the sun has come unstuck from a blue sky gone black,

stolen for effect, and the veiled moon stands in,
for the mourning women standing next to platters of rice,

signifying the historically sound end of forgetfulness,
returning our agency to mourn

the collaborations of the merchant capitalist class
with the unlistening, ahistorical God.


If only Gandhi’s spinning wheel had spun
a million yards of cloth

we would have covered all our war dead.
And as for tents, we would have built

cities upon cities of tents to keep the rain out
for all our refugees. And then and only then

would we have mourned our war dead,
mourned our war dead.

The hospitality of writing

Billy Collins, ars poetica:

Collins has described himself as “reader conscious”: “I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.” Collins further related: “I think my work has to do with a sense that we are attempting, all the time, to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”

from Poetry Foundation

On becoming an independent thinker

Thinking independently can be a surprisingly scary thing to do sometimes. We have been throughly corrected in our childhood and young adult life. Someone who knows more, a mentor, a book, a wiseass friend, has always come along and refined our theory of life. This can alter the experience of independent thought, we might begin to say to ourselves, maybe I just shouldn’t explore this new project further because someone is bound prove me wrong. 

At this juncture, the love of discovery plays an important role. If we make discovery our main goal, then we can begin to welcome external feedback as an opportunity for further refinement of our ideas. However, if the intention is to be right, or not be wrong (a different mindset than the desire to be right), or if one is more concerned with where the discovery will take one socially instead of how it will expand her intellectually, then independent thought will remain stifled. 

The joy of discovery must exceed the concerns of self-image. For our thought to be truly independent and revolutionary, for it to create art, spot patterns, challenge the norm, we must overcome the fear of disapproval and indulge the unknown. Instead of fearing it, we must look forward to the mystery that shrouds discovery. We must muster courage to celebrate our own weirdness, make friends with it.