Haiku for Memorial Day

My great grandfather the Civil War veteran.
Yankee ancestor,
Had Reb been a better shot
I wouldn’t be here.

I’ll pull out an old poem in honor of my last direct ancestor to be wounded fighting to defend our freedom.

In my case, we must go back a bit.  All the way to the Civil War.  My great grandfather, Frederick N. Ball, was serving in General Sheridan’s Army in the campaign to take the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  When the Battle of Cedar Creek broke out, Sheridan was several miles away in Winchester.

As Sheridan was riding furiously back to rally his troops to victory, my ancestor was crawling back to safety after having been shot through the side early in the campaign.

The family story relates that he stuffed a rag in the hole in his side and made it to safety.

Thankfully, he survived.  Otherwise, this blog would be sadly empty today.

What good is poetry?

"Ciardi Himself," a collection of essays on poetry by John Ciardi
“Whenever we have let great language into our heads, we have been richer for it.”

I stumbled upon a great find while wasting away time in a used bookstore recently.

America poet John Ciardi published a collection of essays on poetry back in 1989.

Finding this book coincided with a discussion I’ve been having with a colleague who has expressed a desire to better appreciate poetry. I had been coming up short with a simple and direct explanation for what I knew in my heart to be true.

This one passage was worth far more than the 4 bucks and change I spent on Ciardi’s book:

“Because it is an act of language, a good poem is deeply connected with everything are and do. For language is one of the most fundamental activities in which human beings engage. Take away language, and you take away most of our ability to think and to experience. Enrich language, and you cannot fail to enrich our experience. Whenever we have let great language into our heads, we have been richer for it.”




Poetry strikes a blow against tyranny

Boris Johnson, former mayor of London
Former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, just won a poetry contest for the best dirty limerick making fun of the president of Turkey.

My favorite story of the week proves that poetry need not always be moping about over lost love, or waxing ecstatic about a new sweetheart.

Sometimes poetry can strike at the weak underbelly of tyrants, and expose them to well-deserved ridicule.  It’s a story that should warm the hearts of freedom-loving people everywhere.

A few weeks ago, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, blew a gasket over an offensive poem about him read on German TV by a German comedian.

Like tyrants everywhere, Erdogan just can’t take a joke.

He demanded Germany prosecute the comedian. As unbelievable as it sounds to us in America, where we enjoy the freedom of speech enshrined in the Bill of Rights, German Prime Minister Angel Merkel called for the German comedian to be charged under German law.

In response to the think-skinned Turkish dictator, and the weak-kneed German prime minister, the British publication, the Spectator, ran a poetry contest. The rules: basically, the best dirty limerick lampooning Erdogan wins.

There are a lot of political subtexts going on in this story, and you can read more about here.  In short, Turkey had once shown promise of evolving into a free, western-style democracy, but Erdogan has been amassing power, and is turning the country into an Islamist dictatorship, where blasphemers are punished, and objective journalists are jailed.

This is especially relevant as Turkey lobbies to join the European Union, while at the same time becoming more like a sharia-governed caliphate everyday.

The colorful and wild-haired Johnson, while retired as mayor, is currently leading the fight to get Britain out of the EU, and could run a strong campaign to be the next Prime Minister.  He reportedly dashed off his winning entry during and interview.  The poem got entered, and subsequently was named the winner.

For posterity, and the historical record, here is the text of Johnson’s prize-winning poem

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.

Now, whatever you think about good taste, you’ve got to admit that’s one darn good dirty limerick.

Stephen Murray, the British writer and free-speech-advocate, who created the contest had this to say:

“I think it is a wonderful thing that a British political leader has shown that Britain will not bow before the putative Caliph in Ankara.  Erdogan may imprison his opponents in Ankara.  Chancellor Merkel may imprison Erdogan’s critics in Germany.  But in Britain we still live and breathe free.  We need no foreign potentate to tell us what we may think or say.  And we need no judge (especially no German judge) to instruct us over what we may find funny.”

Amen.  God save the Queen.  And don’t tread on me.


When spring starts to fade

"When the dizzy petal peak is past"


Passion like a flower must expire.
Nothing can be rigged to spare desire
From life’s rigors — magic nor petitions.
Petals fall to various conditions.

When the dizzy petal-peak is past,
Some folks act as if the bloom could last,
Pick some wilting lilacs for their table,
Haul them homeward just to show they’re able,

Plunk them in a fruit jar lately washed
Clean of last fall’s bounty, cooked and squashed —
Like they thought the glass itself had power
To delay the spoiling of the flower.

It may work a day, two days, or so,
Then the smell and color start to go.
Nothing glassy can preserve desire;
Passion like a flower must expire.

Spring comes early in the Northwest.  By this time, many flowering trees are spent.  the blooms that were so intense in late March and April are brown and gone.

As I walked through town tonight, I couldn’t miss the signs of the season moving on.  Trees that a week or two before were full and fragrant were now brown and empty.  Flower petals were scattered across the grass.  The heady first-flush of spring was long gone.

Here’s an old poem that seemed right for the season.