“Syntax” by Steve Tobin. Copper, bronze. 

1a: the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses)

1b: the part of grammar dealing with this

2: a connected or orderly system : harmonious arrangement of parts or elements [i.e. the syntax of classical architecture].

[Thank you Merriam Webster.]

This is one of my favorite sculptures. A harmonious arrangement of parts or elements. Say, perhaps, letters of the alphabet which permit us to code abstract concepts and concrete objects into recognizable patterns, enabling us to share information of many kinds. “Syntax” is constructed of hundreds of cast-bronze letters, joined together in such a way that the overall form is unified and calm while the letters themselves make a chaos (the letters do not join into recognizable words).

Steve says that this piece encompasses all the things human beings who use speech could express in words. Well, maybe most things. And using Romanized alphabets. No Cyrillic letters in here, or ideograms, so far as I can tell…but the potential exists in this sculpture. I like the central hole: it suggests depth, or the kind of gravity that black holes supposedly possess, pulling everything into themselves that passes the liminal boundary–all the things unsaid.

Lately, I’ve been working with my students to help them see the connections between rhetoric and grammar, the logic of these linguistic elements, grammar’s many constituents, which my students tend to see as an unruly rabble or a horde that demands strict rules in a language that no one understands. After a day of words words words, and no time for poetry, I’d like to sit next to this sculpture for 15 minutes and breathe…in silence.

Sonnets & talking about the arts

Poet Kim Bridgford is reading this evening at the West Chester Poetry Center in West Chester PA, but I can’t attend because I am tutoring a student. If you haven’t heard of Bridgford, however, you might want to look up her work. For one thing, she is currently the director of the Poetry Center in West Chester; she’s also an educator, scholar, editor and online publisher or the journal Mezzo Cammin, the major force behind the Women’s Poetry Timeline, and an excellent poet whose sonnets may change your mind about “old-fashioned” forms.

Her new book includes sonnets about classic films. Her last book featured a series of sonnets responding to items in The Guinness Book of World Records.

Cool inspirations and material for a centuries-old poetic form. If you aren’t familiar with Marie Ponsot, she’s another poet who’s masterful at contemporary language and situation while using classic forms.

I’ve been reading Peter de Bolla’s book Art Matters and thinking about art and the arts. His book explores plastic and visual arts (sculpture, painting), music, and literature and tries to posit the argument that there are–or could be–ways to discuss the inexpressible “aha!” the audience feels when encountering a significant work of art. He suggest we are possessed of a cultural “mutism” that keeps us from putting into words what it is that moves us about a work of art.

Instead, he says, art criticism and various statements about poetics and aesthetics clutter up the field of discourse so that the “average” person–the non-scholarly, non-critic viewer or reader–feels voiceless or inadequate to the perceived task of describing why he or she gets an almost physical reaction to art, or to one work but not to another work. Good point, that. It follows the I-don’t-know-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like school of art criticism. More people might enjoy talking about the arts if they felt up to the task.

Perhaps you read sonnets in high school and felt ho-hum about them. Perhaps you think old movies are uninteresting. The idea of reading Bridgford sonnets about Hitchcock might not intrigue you very much. But suppose you read one of them and, much to your surprise, you felt a kind of shiver when you reached the last line. You hadn’t expected the poem to end the way it did. You also understood the poem on the surface, its storyline so to speak, and you “got” something more from it that–you cannot explain.

Mutism. Possibly you experienced it while standing in the mural room of MoMA where Monet’s “Waterlilies” triptych is mounted, or at the foot of “Winged Victory” at the Louvre. Or when you first read Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” or saw an Ansel Adams photo full size, up close. I’ve experienced it many times: Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s “Suite Otis” rendered me speechless when I saw it. I had had some experience talking about visual art and literature; I had little vocabulary for dance. I was, simply, wowed.

De Bolla says what I experienced was a somatic response to art followed by mutism. I haven’t finished his book yet, so I don’t know if he will offer a solution to the problem of how to describe the indescribable. I also am not convinced that the language is necessary. I feel quite satisfied with the frisson.

More about art soon…Steve Tobin’s installation at Grounds for Sculpture is this weekend, and I intend to be there.

100 Thousand Poets, and change.

 Reading, Pennsylvania has had its ups and downs. Recently, it made the national news for the sad distinction of being the poorest city in the USA. But like many struggling cities, it also has its share of citizens who are devoted to keeping the city not merely afloat and economically viable–a tough task in tough times–but also vibrant culturally. Where rents are cheap, artists can find studio space. Colleges can expand because there’s vacant space for parking garages and buildings ripe for re-tooling. Reading’s been host to quite a few poetry events lately, as a result of the aforesaid artist spaces and college expansions. (See GoggleWorks for one example of studio & performance space:

I spent the day at the Reading venue of the global event “100 Thousand Poets for Change.” On this overcast but mild day, there was a little disorganization at first, not uncommon for new festivals…but the  poets found one another, and before long there was a lively little crowd seated and standing near a performance space for what was billed as a series of featured readings with musical interludes but which became an open reading with music as background. And train sounds as background. And car and crowd sounds, and it didn’t matter because the audience members were paying attention to the readers.

At intervals, I wandered away and bought food from the vendors. Reading has some good ethnic food establishments, judging by the Vietnamese spring rolls and the falafel and such.

I sat on a park bench with my friend Marilyn Hazelton, a tanka poet and practitioner of haiku and haibun, and we discussed the young performance poets and the uses of structure in poetry and in life. We had a moment envying the young for simply being young and energetic, and then we spent a few more moments on what we’ve learned and the value of aging. Both of us are teachers, as are Craig Czury and Heather Thomas, two poets who were instrumental in putting the poetry aspect of today’s gathering together, so we also talked about teaching. Sometimes a quiet talk with a good friend revitalizes me. After our conversation, I felt energized enough to read a few more poems to the crowd. A man my son’s age shouted “Good stuff!”

All in all, a good way to spend the first Saturday of the autumn season.

Reading Reading

I love the wordplay inherent in presenting a poetry reading in Reading, PA: a Reading reading.

This Saturday, Reading is hosting on of the sites for a day-long, global poetry event called 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I’ll be reading around 5:30 pm (645 Penn St., if you are in the neighborhood, and you may want to bring a folding chair).

But by all means, come earlier and stay later: there will be music and poetry and other interesting goings-on all day.

Sat, September 24
100 Thousand Poets for Change and Street Music Festival
Courtyard and walking malls in the 600 block of Penn Street, Reading, PA

Sat, September 24
100Thousand Poets for Change
600 Block of Penn Street


The screech owls were very noisy at 5:45 am, so I couldn’t go back to sleep. Thank you, owls, for reminding me to post this notice about the reading.

Thanks, Dave Bonta!

I’m still trying to get things set up here, virtually, which may take some time since  A) I am technologically inept; and B) it’s early autumn and I have a ton of garden and yard work to tend to before the cold sets in.

It’s all Dave Bonta’s fault, though I may have to blame Celia Lisset Alvarez a little, too, and my offspring. My son refused to rework my existing page at another site. He is “too busy” to spend time on his mother’s home page, (I even offered to pay him!). He told me I ought to learn html myself.

Dave told me that months ago. He’s the webmaster-poet-naturalist extraordinaire behind via negativa (, the morning porch, woodrat photoblog, moving poems, and qarrtsiluni (

Celia began writing her blog, Writing With Celia, to force herself to get into the creative writing frame of mind and simply to do more writing. Her posts include cultural commentary, books, movies, education, feminism, and tips on writing. She’s writing more than I have been lately, so I guess perhaps she is onto something. (See her blog at

Then there’s my daughter, who also bears some responsibility for encouraging me in this technological adventure. She kept a lovely blog, pigsabroad ( while spending a semester in Australia. She says that if she can manage a blog site, anyone can.

I spent three hours weeding and deadheading and shearing shrubs today in the cool, sunny, dry air. What I ought to do now is grade papers from my freshman English class, but instead I am trying to alter the blogroll on my website.

Thanks a lot, Dave Bonta…

Chapbooks still in print

I’ve had five chapbooks of poetry published, but as is not uncommon in the world of small press publications, only a few are still in print. Finishing Line Press published The Minor Fauna in 2006, and it is still available through More info at

The Minor Fauna by Ann E. Michael

The Minor Fauna, poems by Ann E. Michael

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