Archive for the ‘22. Local Poets, Local Heroes’ Category

Little Apocalypse, a poem

August 11, 2017 2 comments


RT has been uncharacteristically silent these past few months as various matters tangential to his writing but nonetheless important (for instance, his health) have continued to preoccupy him. The good news is that he has made significant progress on tablets 5 and 6 of Gilgamesh, hoping to finish the poem by fall. He has even at odd moments set down a brief poem.

This particular piece was inspired by Peregrine, the recently (and first) published collection of fellow scribbler, Tom Donlon. Tom’s impeccable craftsmanship and domestic themes have won RT’s admiration, especially since his poems have a way of opening out on broader perspectives.  Sadly, Peregrine (Franciscan University of Steubenville) is not commercially available, but the poem that sparked this piece, “Tsunami” is available in the collection, ONLY THE SEA KEEPS: Poetry of the Tsunami (Bayeux Arts, 2005, available on Amazon). 

A fine poet and a fine collection. Here is RT’s response:



(for Tom Donlon)

the voice of the day proceeds carefully

through the clouds, the

ritual of its trajectory a carpenter’s pencil

sketching out the pilot in his craft, the

child tottering through its first step, the

ballet lessons and headless Barbies. 


stillness of sermon, like sitting in traffic 

on route 9, tsunami of grace overwhelming 

the driver, pushing aside everything else, 


only the fact of its words shining in the long

silence, to be approached on knee over 

snow, rough tezontle stone,

tearing postulant flesh—almost as 

if with obsidian knife, the truth pouring out—

as once before jadeite gods opulent

in the carven glyph, now overturned

in the high, thin air glinting with dust.

, our lady of waving grass, 

Marina, one of the native gift to Cortés;

the horse rearing muscular like an angel,

panicked eye, flaring nostril—

Calmese! the ships are burning.

Copyright, Eric Quinn, 2017


Drawing: Cortes and Mallinali meet Mocteczuma II, November 9, 1519. Unknown Aztec artist. Public Domain. 

Molly Hunt–Local Poet, Local Hero

October 16, 2013 3 comments

File:Egyptian - Royal Seal of King Sahure - Walters 571748 - Side A.jpg

Molly Hunt is remarkable, a poet struggling to overcome some of the bigger obstacles the world can toss in our way; she has kindly volunteered one of her poems for The Rag Tree. By all means, visit her web log, Maple Warrior, and read more of her powerful work.   RT





Papa has red hieroglyphics on his forehead.

We study them closely—

*****A cross.     

*****A bird ascending to a cloud.

*****A flowering plant in a pot.

We’re a family that loves ancient mysterious symbols,

and we all see something different.

I am anxious for a pic

in his striped red shirt;

he’s crazily handsome this evening.

Even with the bobby pin to keep his hair away.

I do sometimes think he’s a saint,

but if it’s a stigmata, there was no ecstasy with this new mark.

And when I’m not admiring the bizarre aesthetic,

I am still terrorized.



It’s only been twenty-four hours.

Mom rushing into my room, saying something urgent; I

can’t quite comprehend through my ear plugs.

Until I do.


My debilities be damned,

I am a homing device for my father.


The pool of blood on the front walk

looking precisely like a spilled bottle of ketchup

in a cheesy horror film.

(He and I had been at the fridge the day before

looking for oils to soothe my skin.

He’d joked about using ketchup; I’d shuddered.)


Mom whisking him away,

but I had to get a glimpse,

hear his voice before they disappeared.

*****He spoke reassuringly and calmly,

*****but I could not see his face

*****behind the dripping towel pressed to it. 

And the brand-new flattering beige shirt Mom had picked out for him,

that we’d delighted in and played with earlier in the day

(me teasing him while he explored all those secret pockets boys love)

was now splattered with leopard spots of blood.

(Car engine. They are gone.)



Dizzy, alone, I pick a careful route back into the house.

Close the door. What next?


My illness-compromised brain thoroughly addled, I deliberate.

*****At the sight of a blood-drenched rag on the floor,

*****impulse takes over.

*****I disappear it into the garbage;

loosed, I attempt to carry out his evening chores,

her morning chores, as if

that would bring them back;

and we could resume as if little had happened.

*****I ricochet from one painful-to-use phone to another for

*****updates from Mom trying-to-sound-soothing—long line,

*****power outage at the hospital,

need for CT scan, stitches, broken nose.

It would be late, at best.

Midnight, I force myself to bed, but

find myself catapulted out at dawn,

nearly crashing into Mom coming to tell me she was off to pick him up.



Upon their return he was not yet handsome again.

Dried blood everywhere, wan, glued to the couch.

An unusually bad fly season had begun;

I hovered, ridiculously waving away the ones on his wounds,

and picking the loose hairs from his face.

The three of us huddled together in the living room,

the way people do after a trauma,

sharing our respective experiences,

me overriding all over-stimulus signals.


Their bodies have dimmers like some lights;

they could doze.

My dimmer is broken,

it is only set to increasing electrification.

So all I know to do is retire to my cave and write this poem, as

if that might help.



Papa is eighty-two. When did that happen?

How do you carry your undeserved crosses every day, Mom and Pop?

It appears as if Papa’s is now emblazoned on his forehead;

Mama, don’t you dare do the same.

(How blithely I had imagined a different future for all of us—

including my caring for you two, one day.)


We never can really know one another’s experience.

That seems lonely. Mom once sagely pointed

out we nonetheless love.

True, yet ultimately we have to do our own suffering,

as much as love may want us to take on that of another.

*****It seems the heart can’t help but love,

*****like water can’t help but flow downstream,

though eddies and rocks in the river sometimes deceive or distract.

Papa’s hieroglyphic evolves, a display of colors,

and settles finally into a scar—

*****a reminder, a

*****sign of honor, a mystery.

Will we decipher anything?

*****Or do we keep going, without the key?


–September 9, 2013



Copyright © Molly Hunt, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Published w/ author’s permission.

Photo: Royal Seal of King Sahure; Walters Art Museum. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Van Gogh–Acknowledgment, Support, and Protection

September 7, 2013 3 comments


RT has finished his brisk stroll through  Van Gogh: The Life, by Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The book plunges its readers into the fine detail of Vincent Van Gogh’s life while keeping an eye on the larger issues at play in Van Gogh’s philosophy and work. It is those larger issues that have drawn RT back to the keyboard to discuss what happened to this extraordinary man.

To begin with, Naifeh and White’s book offers a different conclusion to Van Gogh’s story than many people may be familiar with: it makes a plausible case that Van Gogh may not have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Other than exonerating VG from the charge of suicide, what difference might this make in the understanding of his life?

It seems that the three things that were missing in the artist’s life are 1) acknowledgment; 2) support; and 3) protection.

Acknowledgment. Van Gogh’s artistic gift and, later, genius were never acknowledged during his life. He was a member of the unofficial Post-Impressionist group (whose members included Paul Gauguin and George Seurat), but his work was never shown at any major exhibit or salon during his lifetime. He sold just one painting before his death: The Red Vineyard (purchased in 1890, the year of VG’s death, for roughly $1,000, current value). Until near the end of his life, both the public and his family (with the exception of his brother, Theo) refused to acknowledge his status as a practicing and gifted artist (and this despite an enormous output of work–a lifetime total of 2,100 artworks, of which 860 were oil paintings). In January 1890 (VG died in July), a major (and enthusiastic) review of VG’s work did appear in the Mercure de France.

Support. Van Gogh’s financial support during his prime years as an artist was provided by his brother Theo, The stipend he received was enough to cover basic expenses and the costs of his art supplies (an expensive item). Until the year of his death, he earned no money from his art, and there were no public or charitable funds available to support his work.

Protection. Most of Van Gogh’s last ten years was spent alone (though there were significant interludes with Theo and others). He was often harassed and heckled by boys, who would shout insults, throw stones, and destroy his art supplies as he worked. Many of the communities in which he lived regarded him with suspicion and hostility. Partly, VG’s quarrelsome and abrasive nature drove people away, and his descent into self-loathing despair (signaled by his mutilation of one of his ears) resulted in his commitment to an asylum, but surely his status as a near-vagabond without official sanction or place in society contributed to the feelings behind his ostracism.

Without question, things have improved for practicing artists today. Around the world, college-level training and MFA programs have proliferated. There are many sources of funding for artists available from government at all levels and a large number of foundations. Major museums around the world display the work of the great artists throughout history (including of course Van Gogh) and help educate the public about art and the struggle that artists endure as they create their work. Success as an artist carries not only considerable monetary reward with it, but also the prestige of creating beauty in the world.

But RT has to wonder.

In many places, not least the United States, there is little practical support for artists or writers. Art is often seen as a cop-out, an excuse for failing to undertake the burdens of earning a living via a regular job and paycheck. People openly wonder if such a thing as art or even beauty exists–and point to the beginning efforts of young artists as evidence for their claims. Even older artists with decades of experience have trouble selling their work. How, after all, does one establish a standard for enduring art?

This is not true everywhere, however. RT points out the work of Art Council England, which between 2011 and 2015 will award £1.4 billion in public money and £1 billion in National Lottery funds to support working artists in England. In contrast, since its founding in 1965, the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts has awarded about $4 billion.

What needs to be done to help working artists and writers?

1) An increase in art funding for practicing artists and writers, generally. This strengthens local communities not only economically, but by encouraging the spread of culture and beauty in areas lacking local resources.

2) The creation of a funding mechanism/organization outside the control of Congress. The politicalization of the grants process will be diminished if grant decisions are made by local councils of artists and citizens (with appropriate financial oversight).

3) The creation of a national Independent Artists/Scholars Network. Such a network would administer tests and peer-reviews of scholars’ and artists’ work independently of government, higher education, and grant-making organizations. The IAN would aim to be self-funded by artists and writers and would be almost completely under their supervision.

From RT’s perspective, such changes are desperately needed. To his knowledge, no organization, at least in the United States, aims to acknowledge, support, and protect artists and writers throughout their careers and lives.



PaintingBridge at Arles (Pont de Langlois); Vincent Van Gogh (March 1888). WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Berkeley Arts Council–Martinsburg, West Virginia

June 25, 2013 1 comment




Well, folks, it could be just another arts organization start-up, what with the economy being the way it is and Martinsburg and West Virginia not having the best reputations in the arts world. Things could peter out or, worse, develop into a runaway arts success story, with the emphasis on the word “success.”

But RT isn’t inclined to think so. The Berkeley Arts Council is starting in a relatively humble location, downtown Martinsburg, but one that is filled with seasoned artists in every medium and a local population of people who, thanks to the town’s railroad background, have a mechanical genius. There’s  something about this town that’s sympathetic to artists–and their needs.

And then there’s the poetry. RT is a believer in the early origins of art–the need for beauty is buried deep in the brain, and it can emerge in the talk of a bricklayer as suddenly as in the writings of someone with an MFA. RT has heard some profound poetry erupt in this locality.

The truth is, local artists need support as much as the people they teach; RT hopes that the BAC will help make the life of art easier to those already practicing and more appealing to those considering art as a career. And he hopes other local arts organizations will follow suit.

Here’s the BAC website link: check it out and think about what could be done in your area to improve support for artists.



PhotoArgonauta nouryi world record size shell (from private collection). WikiCmns; Public Domain.


The House by the Side of the Road

June 15, 2013 3 comments

File:Appletons' Steuben House.jpg

A friend handed RT the following poem this morning. RT had never heard of the author, Sam Walter Foss, who will probably remain confined in the limbo of “minor” poets, the quality of this work nothwithstanding. But, apart from the pleasure and instruction that it offers, “House” reminds the practicing poet of several truths:


1) Simplicity is the most important characteristic of accessibility;

2) Traditional rhyme and structure can sometimes help bring out a poem’s message;

3) Most poems are, at some level, didactic.


Besides this, RT notes the use of 8-line stanzas (rather long), run-on lines, and the missing refrain at the end of stanza 4. And just what is the cynic’s ban? Could our author be Classically read? Could the simplicity conceal learning and thought? What is clear is that this poem offers a deep satisfaction, a harmony with time and place.   RT


The House by the Side of the Road


THERE are hermit souls that live withdrawn

In the place of their self-content;

There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,

In a fellowless firmament;

There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths

Where highways never ran-

But let me live by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.


Let me live in a house by the side of the road

Where the race of men go by-

The men who are good and the men who are bad,

As good and as bad as I.

I would not sit in the scorner’s seat

Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.


I see from my house by the side of the road

By the side of the highway of life,

The men who press with the ardor of hope,

The men who are faint with the strife,

But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,

Both parts of an infinite plan-

Let me live in a house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.


I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,

And mountains of wearisome height;

That the road passes on through the long afternoon

And stretches away to the night.

And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice

And weep with the strangers that moan,

Nor live in my house by the side of the road

Like a man who dwells alone.


Let me live in my house by the side of the road,

Where the race of men go by-

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish – so am I.

Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.


Sam Walter Foss

Drawing: Appletons’ Steuben House; source: Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900; WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Poem in Your Pocket Day



RT is carrying a poem around with him today…join the fun!

(reposted from Charlie Chat)


Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Let’s raise the stakes


looks like a new computer is in the works, and, who knows, maybe a new book too…  RT


Let’s raise the stakes.

Sick…and open doors


what’s in a door?  RT (who is still getting over a head cold)

(reposted from Ravelyn’s Brewery)


Sick…and open doors.

“We Must Send the Ring to the Fire.”

December 26, 2012 1 comment


J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the greatest work of English literature written during the 20th century. Many things contribute to its greatness: to begin with, a command of English prose that is simply unrivaled; next, an understanding of language and history that enables Tolkien to place his story in the intricately detailed and beautiful world that he imagined, Middle Earth; and then, a plot and structure that pull the reader relentlessly forward to the story’s powerful, satisfying, and heartbreaking conclusion. Beyond these technical achievements, TLotR offers a balanced and comprehensive view of the world, one that encompasses both the darkest impulses of the human heart and transcendent visions of earthly paradise. Tolkien draws from a multitude of English sources going back to Celtic literature, placing them in a Biblical framework that has at its origins the struggle between Good and Evil. Above all, in its respect for English tradition and in particular the gifts of ordinary people, TLotR is perhaps the most characteristic work of English fiction ever written.

Not often acknowledged, the English tradition of prophetic writing includes such varied material as Blake’s poetry and prose, George Fox’s Journal, Le Morte D’Arthur, and Beowulf. In all of these works, we are in the presence of a peculiar genius, one that acknowledges the deep roots of English storytelling while placing it in a framework that links it to the larger concerns and struggles of humanity. Genius is never comfortable, and prophets make uneasy companions, but England has plunged its greatest imaginations into a commonplace milieu that lends them geniality and humor. Whether we are sipping beer at The Ivy Bush, enduring yet another confinement in a stinking 17th century prison, or listening to a scop recite to his harp, hard-nosed reality is never far away. But some realities cannot be contained in the limited world we have constructed for ourselves. To make any sense of the intensities in our lives, we must turn to the poet.

We have less tolerance for encounters with the sublime than earlier generations possessed. Such moments are committed to the university–or to the asylum. This is the chief lesson that modern poets–far more of them than we like to admit–have to teach: our lives have become ugly, stripped of the dreaming that heals us, unable to create much of significance with the wealth we accumulate. It is the artist who teaches us to dream and the English artist who links our dreaming most plausibly to everyday routine.

A fine and necessary art, the art we English speakers have inherited. Why don’t we do more to encourage it?       RT

Photo: A Page from The Fellowship of the Ring with a Copy of the Ring Lying on it; WikiCmns; CC 2.0 w/ attribution; author: Zanastardust.

The Great Dream

December 1, 2012 2 comments

File:I dream of the beautiful, the great unknown, by Kilburn, B. W. (Benjamin West), 1827-1909.jpg

Not many people are permitted to dream

the Great Dream;

imaginings of money, power, success–these are the common inheritance of mankind, but the desire to heal at the root, to understand the workings of the world even to their finest detail, to express the strangeness and the good of our lives–that is dangerous. Such dreamers–not different from angels–are hidden, and find their friends in those who let them work out their beauty in peace and in chaos. They risk everything–and something more.