Saturday, March 30, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Sea Cliffs

the sea encroaches
cliffs resist the steady waves
summer sun cascades


Image: "On the Cliffs"
Medium: Oil on canvas


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Make a New Road

Why should we call
these accidental furrows roads?
Everyone who moves on
walks like Jesus, on the sea
       ~ Antonio Machado (from “I Never wanted Fame”)

Lt. Stamets and Dr. Culber
from the Star Trek Discovery series
Those words by the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, were echoed in a new episode of  Star Trek Discovery on CBS All Access last week. One of the characters, Dr.Hugh Culber (played by Wilson Cruz) was killed last season in an alternate universe and this season has been “resurrected” through a process of having his being reconstructed by some previously unknown life forms existing in a band of space fabric between our universe and the alternate universe. He is having difficulty adjusting to his new-found existence, with his former life seeming as a memory to which he cannot fully connect. As a result, he no longer feels a connection with his life partner, Lt. Stamets

Love is a Choice

In the most recent episode, "The Red Angel," Hugh goes to one of the Star Fleet officers who is also a therapist. He is troubled because he knows that he has loved his partner in the past and does not want to hurt him, yet he cannot just pick up where things were before. As he talks through his personal dilemma, she tells him, “Your experience transcends everything we know about identity.” The officer, in her therapist mode goes on to say, “Love is a choice and one doesn’t make that choice just once. One makes it again and again.” As Hugh is about to leave, she tells him, “The only way to make a new road is to walk it.”

One reason I am highlighting words from a poet today is that next week I will begin celebrating the month of April as Poetry Month. It will be a time to think of ways that poetry enlightens and enlivens us. Antonio Machado is a poet I discovered several years ago when reading some of Robert Bly’s translations of Spanish poetry. I was so taken by his poem, “I Never wanted Fame,” that I quoted it in one of my personal essays, “Form and Substance: How a Sonnet Saved My Life.”

 Make the Road by Walking

A few years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Brian McClaren who had just written a new book, We Make the Road by Walking (any time you look up Brian McClaren he has just written a new book). I was intrigued by the title and asked him, “Did you get that title from Antonio Machado’s poem?” He gave a big smile and said that indeed he did. McClaren has some fluency in Spanish, so he was able to appreciate the poem in its original version.

I am thankful today for the insight of Antonio Machado. I am also thankful for the way that poetry cascades into our lives in the stories we tell and in the people we encounter. May you choose love today, and may you find a way to make your road by walking it – like Jesus, on the sea.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Monday Music: Wedding Song (Dylan)

Maria Muldaur sings a beautiful wedding song by Bob Dylan. It is from her album, Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan.

(Bob Dylan)

I love you more than ever, more than time and more than love
I love you more than money and more than the stars above
I love you more than madness, more than waves upon the sea
I love you more than life itself, you mean that much to me

Ever since you walked right in the circle's been complete
I've said goodbye to haunted rooms and faces in the street
In the courtyard of the jester which is hidden from the sun
I love you more than ever and I haven't yet begun

You breathed on me and made my life a richer one to live
When I was deep in power you taught me how to give
Dried the tears up from my dreams and pulled me from the hole
I love you more than ever and it binds me to this all

You gave me babies, one, two, three, what is more, you saved my life
Eye for eye and tooth for tooth, your love cuts like a knife
My thoughts of you don't ever rest, they'd kill me if I lie
But I'd sacrifice the world for you and watch my senses die

The tune that is yours and mine to play upon this earth
We'll play it out the best we know, whatever it is worth
What's lost is lost, we can't regain what went down in the flood
But happiness to me is you and I love you more than blood

It's never been my duty to remake the world at large
Nor is it my intention to sound a battle charge
'Cause I love you more than all of that with a love that doesn't bend
And if there is eternity I'd love you there again

Oh, can't you see that you were born to stand by my side
And I was born to be with you, you were born to be my bride
You're the other half of what I am, you're the missing piece
And I love you more than ever with that love that doesn't cease

You turn the tide on me each day and teach my eyes to see
Just being next to you is a natural thing for me
And I could never let you go, no matter what goes on
'Cause I love you more than ever now that the past is gone

Untitled from etcoc on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saturday Haiku; Pond

tree branching
over the water
ducks gather   


Image: "Ducks on a pond"
Artist: Helen McNicoll
Medium: Oil on canvas


Monday, March 18, 2019

Monday Music: Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan Live at Madison Square Garden)

Several years ago, after having written poetry for some time I began writing essays reflecting my own experiences as well as the human condition. My wife suggested I should start a blog to put some of my writing out there. I thought about it for a while and wondered what I might call my blog. One day while doing yard work it came to me, I'll call it Not Dark Yet,  after one of my favorite Dylan songs. And so it began on New Year's Eve, 2009.

Here is Bob Dylan along with Eric Clapton performing "Not Dark Yet," live in New York at Madison Square Garden on June 30, 1999, with Eric Clapton accompanying on guitar.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Hymn of St. Patrick

For St. Patrick's Day, here are two videos. The first is the Hymn of St. Patrick (also known as St. Patrick's Breastplate) sung by the Choir of Keble College. The second is a short documentary on the life of St. Patrick.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Cherry Blossoms

[This week's haiku is in honor of the 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival today, March 16, at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens]

river banks
cherry blossom spring
gladness sails

Image: "Arashiyama" (1935)
Artist: Hiroshi Yoshida
Medium: Japanese Woodblock print
From the series Eight Scenes of Cherry Blossoms


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Have We Become a Nation of Day Laborers?

From college profs to the loading docks, we're seeing changes in the workplace

[The following essay was first posted in 2013 with the title, "Are we becoming a nation of day laborers?" It continues to be relevant as noted in the recent article in Quartz, "The gig economy is quietly undermining a century of worker protections."]

It happened this past Sunday. I was reminded once again by three different news articles of how our political and economic climate favors industry at the expense of the worker. There was a time when unions could see that a worker was justly compensated and given a pension to ensure that he was not just tossed aside when his productive years were over.  There was also a time when laws created safe work environments and protected workers against exploitation. Though those laws have some lingering benefit, there is a rising sentiment on the part of some that regulation is an infraction upon our liberty. Furthermore, industry is always figuring out loopholes and other ways to work around having to treat its workers with the dignity and worth that they deserve.

The first reminder was in the “In Depth” section of the Sunday edition of The Birmingham News. On page 19A there was an article by Alena Semuels that first appeared in The Los Angeles Times describing how workers are sacrificing more as employers push for “more efficiency.” The article gives an example of a worker whose full time job unloading trucks went to a temporary one, in which he does not know from week to week how many hours he will work. The company, I am sure saves money by not having to pay benefits that would go to a full time employee. The article further describes the growing workplace harshness that is being brought about as employers make sure that not a minute of time is wasted on the job. “Businesses are asking employees to work harder without providing the kinds of rewards, financial and psychological, that were once routine.”

After reading that article, I turned to the “Business” section. There on page 1C, above the fold, was the headline, “Belle Foods to reduce full-time workforce.” The local supermarket chain will be hiring 300 part-time workers “in effort to get ‘in line’ with industry standards.”  This trend has been happening for years in every sector as the drive has been to increase profits with each quarterly report. It should have been obvious throughout the first decade of this century as Wall Street profits steadily soared while personal wages remained stagnant.  In fact, many had to work two jobs just to maintain a living wage. All of that was before the economic crisis of 2008 in which thousands of jobs left and will probably not come back. Yet even in the economic downturn, Wall Street investments have continued to show profits.

Even in the non-profit sector, cost cutting measures are being taken that affect the frontline worker more than the executives.  Hospitals are using more part-time employees and schools are using more part-time faculty – which brings me to the third article that was posted by a friend on Facebook.  “The Ever-Shrinking Role of Tenured College Professors” is an article from The Atlantic  which outlines how universities have been decreasing the number of tenured faculty while hiring more adjunct professors. There again, the school can pay someone to teach a class without having to undergo the expense of providing benefits. The author of the article, Jordan Weissmann, closes with these words:

Why should you care? For one, it's damn tough making a living as a freelance professor (full disclosure: my mother was one for many years). The AAUP reports that the median pay for teaching a single course was $3,200 at a public research university, and just $2,250 at a community college. But more broadly, it's a reminder that rising college costs aren't necessarily paying for a better quality (or better compensated) faculty. Moreover, unless the burgeoning ed-tech industry finds ways to remake at least parts of college teaching, this chart shows us how schools will attempt to do more with less resources over time. It's not a particularly pretty picture. 
We live in an era in which too many workers feel that they should just shut up and be thankful for what they have.  Corporate leadership has us under their thumb. “We are the job creators,” they tell us, “and if you vote for anything that raises our taxes or cuts into our nice profits, we just might have to eliminate your job.”  All too often we are even too timid to speak of the common good, a great American democratic ideal which nowadays is spurned by many as sounding too much like “socialism.”  Yet we are seeing an ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else. It is time we called upon that ideal of the common good.

Last fall I posted an essay which looked back to a surprising progressive advocate for the worker back in the 1950s. That progressive voice was coming from Bishop Fulton Sheen over the airwaves of the still new medium of television.  That essay was titled, “Economics as if People Mattered.” You can see that post here.  I am not sure what the way out of our current quagmire is, but I think that holding on to the common good, and doing business as if people mattered will need to be part of the equation.

A view of Wall Street


Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday Music: Hello. Young Lovers (Renée Fleming)

Renée Fleming and Paul Gemignani performing "Hello Young Lovers" with the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera.

Though I've seen The King and I a couple of times on TV, I did not recall this number. I found this piece to be lovely and wonderfully captivating. A musician friend pointed out to me that the rhythm of this song is "two against three," a rhythm he particularly liked.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Sunlight Steps

shining through the trees
sunlight steps along the road
cows stop and gather


Image: "Landscape with cows"
Medium: Oil on canvas


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Canadian Artist Helen McNicoll

"The Farmyard"

Last month I began a series of haiku drawing inspiration from paintings by Canadian artist, Helen McNicoll. I stumbled upon her work when I saw a painting of a winter scene. The painting was that was so impressive that I had to find out who the artist was. I discovered that the painting in question, “Montreal in Winter” was painted by Helen McNicoll.

Montreal in Winter"
When I began to do some research, I found that “Montreal in Winter” was not was not typical of McNicoll’s work. An impressionistic painter working just after the turn of the 2oth century, the artist was noted for her luminous rural settings. She studied art in Montreal, and then went to London and Paris to further her studies. One of the first Canadians to achieve success as an impressionist painter, McNicoll is known for her advanced impressionistic technique in her study of light and air, and her bold use of colors. [1]

McNicoll’s paintings are full of life and light. Her work consisted primarily “of working women and maternal themes in outdoor settings.” [2] She made an astounding contribution and influence in her short career, dying at the age of 35 due to complications from diabetes.

"In the Shadow of the Tent"

"Picking Flowers"

The brief video below presents a slide show of her life and accomplishments. To read more about her life and career, go here and here

I will continue to present some of her work in my Saturday Haiku posts on this blog. Paintings featured so far:
    Montreal in Winter                                       Ducks on a Pond

    Reflections                                                      On the Cliffs
    Market cart in Brittany                                September Evening                  
    Moonlight                                                       Footbridge in Venice                       
    Landscape with cows                                   Farm Yard in Brittany                

1. See “Helen McNicoll: Her Life and Work,” by Samantha Burton,  at
2. See Dictionary of Canadian Biography at


Monday, March 4, 2019

Monday Music: My Blue Heaven (Mary Lou Williams)

Read about jazz great Mary Lou Williams in Smithsonian's Folkways Magazine, Mary Lou Williams: Jazz for the Soul. From the article:

Mary Lou Williams lived and played through all the eras in the history of jazz: the spirituals, ragtime, the blues, Kansas City swing, boogie-woogie, bop or modern, and musics beyond—playing the new music of each era, a claim that is difficult to dispute. She had perfect pitch, was entirely self-taught (her mother had never allowed a teacher to interfere with her), and often as a child spent twelve hours at a stretch at the piano.

And here is Mary Lou Williams at the piano:


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Birmingham Bards & Brews

On the first Friday of every month (except December) something exciting takes place at the Birmingham Public Library.  It's a gathering of local poets and artists and it offers the public a chance to hear a word for our time.  

Last Friday night we heard poets young and old speaking from their heart about life, the world, and the times. We heard reflections about relationships (familial, romantic, and spiritual). We heard rhyme, free verse, rap and slam poetry as people gave voice to their own experiences of life.

Here is how the event was presented on Bards & Brews Facebook Events site:

About Bards & Brews:

The Birmingham Public Library is hosting a series of poetry slams and open mic nights. Sign up and music begins at 6:30 p.m. and call time is 7:00 p.m. at the host location. Typically held on the first Friday of each month, each slam and open mic will be emceed by performance artist and poetry slam events director Voice Porter. A vendor with a liquor license will provide free beer for sampling and bottles for purchase. Participants must be 18 years or older. Musical performances before each show. Word up y'all!

Bards & Brews is made possible by a generous donation from the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library.

People gather at tables and in rows of chairs

Refreshments are available: chips, dips, cookies, punch,
and selections from a local brewery

Local musicians begins the night

A Spoken Art Form

For many, poetry has been confined to the printed page. Often those pages are seen only in classrooms or read in quite solitude. Too often the words remain unseen on the printed page, closed up on forgotten shelves. Poetry is, in fact, a spoken art form. For me, one of the values of attending Bards & Brews in Birmingham is a chance to hear voices I might not otherwise hear. I can experience something of a life lived from a perspective other than my own.

Last Friday I heard words from my elders as well as the voices of youth. I heard one gentleman speak of his father, a WWII veteran, and heard him express his gratitude for "the greatest generation." I heard a young rapper tell of life as he experiences it from day to day. I heard an actor presenting work that he will debut in New York City in a couple of weeks. Not all of the poets were captured on camera, but you can see a few of them in the photos* above and below. 

Anna Weaver

There was one poet who traveled all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina, Anna Weaver, whose goal is to recite her work at an open mic event in all 50 states. I think she said that she has visited 30 states so far. She blogs at Open Mic Tourist. Perhaps she will soon tell of her trip to Birmingham.

Voice Porter

Bards & Brews is emceed each month by performance artist, Voice Porter, who always brings enthusiasm and professional aplomb to the occasion. He always plugs local talent by getting on his "SOAP" box: "Support Our Artists, Please."

If you are a poet, it is important to share your work in public. Bards and Brews is one place where you can have that opportunity to read what you are writing. You can also find inspiration from others who are writing.

Often the open mic event rotates to other library branches. Last month it was at Iron City, a local entertainment venue, and next month it will be held at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

If you find yourself on a first  Friday of the month looking for a night on the town, Birmingham's Bards & Brews is a wonderful creative outlet well worth your time.


* All photos are from the Bards & Brews Event site.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Moon upon the Meadow

moon above the trees
mist rising in springtime air
cool grassy meadow


Image: "Moonlight"
Artist: Helen McNicoll
Medium: Oil on canvas

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