October 2014


The “Muse” at Ten: A Retrospective



This month marks the tenth year since the first “Muse-Letter” appeared on this site, though it was simply called a Newsletter at the time. But when one reader commented after a couple of issues, “I’m not sure it’s just a “newsletter”. You’ve created something that seems to deserve a description with more élan,” I changed the title to a word that was not found in any standard dictionary. In turn, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek definition for it.

muse-letter \’myüz-‘le-tər noun


1: a direct piece of correspondence addressed to a person or organization, containing essays, reviews, and poems, in the course of which, the sender becomes absorbed in thought; turning something over in the mind, often inconclusively


2: a letter from a poet, or one who envisions oneself as such, in which he or she “muses” on the news, or that which is perceived to be news


In reality—and reality is always getting in the way isn’t it—if you Google the word, it pops up in quite a few blogs and other places. So I hardly coined something new. And while I can’t speak for their missions, the goal of this Muse-Letter, has always been to offer an eclectic mix of subjects for consideration (and entertainment), that I have found interesting and by extension, think others might as well. Though in so saying, I’m reminded of the unabashedly ego-centric Walt Whitman, and the first three lines of his classic poem Song of Myself:


I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you


As I said once before… really?


Anyway, what “I have assumed,” has run the gamut from noting in the first issue (October, 2004 Newsletter) that Arthur Miller was mounting his last play—he would die just five months later— to the most recent issue, (September, 2014 Muse-letter), wherein I indulge in a game of free associations on the extinction of the time honored phone booth and other once common objects and icons of everyday life.


In between, there have been reflections on anniversaries of historical and pop-cultural events of varying degrees of significance. These have included… the 100th of Grand Central Station and the sinking of the Titanic… the 65th of Jackie Robinson breaking “the color barrier”… the 50th of: JFK’s assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the “I Have a Dream” speech, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Marilyn Monroe’s death, Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie, the World’s Fair in New York, Barbie doll. 40th anniversaries have included… the Lunar Landing, Kent State, Woodstock, the Sgt. Pepper album, the first ATM. (How did I miss Earth Day?).



Then followed, a treatise on Bob Dylan turning 70, the assassination of John Lennon 30 years after, the 20th anniversary of “Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day,” and last but not least, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, wherein I reprised a video tribute I had put together originally in 2009: Wave of Flags: 9/11 in Malibu (


Invariably, they are suggestive of how on the one hand time flies, and how on the other, it really doesn’t. Not when you consider all the ground that gets covered over a long haul. How today bears so little resemblance to yesterday, given the enormous changes we see in lifestyles, technology, beliefs, perceptions; ours and that of the outside world. And there is always an “irony ore” to be mined in such transformations. (And always the temptation and sometimes lame attempt, at a play on words. Words. What a concept.).


But along with the big stuff, there’s a lot of little stuff that has grabbed at least this one man’s attention. The changes in a box of Crayolas over years, for example. Which resulted in my offering The American Experience Through a Box of Crayons (September, 2010 Muse-letter), in the course of which, I lament the expulsion of Raw Umber from the box.


Other such folly?

— writer’s bloc (Six Authors in Search of a Character February, 2006 Muse-letter)


— shaving (Six Blades in Search of the Ultimate Shave March, 2006 Muse-letter)


— the absurdity of assassins (Assassins Say the Darnedest Things August, 2006 Muse-letter)


— science vs. religion (Christ On Ice? May, 2006 Muse-letter)


— social media and communications (Old Words of Love Sung Through New Applications December, 2013 Muse-letter)


— Superman (Superman: The Twenty-Second Coming July, 2006 Muse-letter and Kal-El VIII July, 2013 Muse-letter)


— women’s names (What's in a Name? Brooklyn Decker! March, 2010 Muse-letter)


…to name a few.


And speaking of names, I’ve been known to drop one or ten. Usually in the context of some sort of personal encounter that showed a side of them, not usually seen or reported on in the media. These have included Dick Clark, Gloria Steinem, Gerald Ford, Maria Shriver, Helen Gurley Brown, writer/satirist Christopher Buckley (son of William F.) Frank Robinson (baseball Hall of Famer and first black manager in baseball history), Sid Caesar, Jan Murray, Mort Sahl, famed photographer Richard Avedon and social activist/comedian Dick Gregory. I never did get around to referring to my Cary Grant encounter. Until now.


When on his birthday in a modest restaurant many years ago in Beverly Hills, and while he was pulling out cash to pay for the tab (he an alleged tightwad, though it was after all his birthday), stopped to sign a wine cork for us. “I never signed a wine cork before,” he exclaimed in a voice that sounded like it might have come from a comic doing an exaggerated impression of Cary Grant, as he handed it back to me.


As to why we are so fascinated by celebrities and the celebrated, is an interesting question in itself worth exploring on another day. After all, they are just like you and me. Only different. And we mourn the absurd death of Joan Rivers, coming as it did from a seemingly routine endoscopic procedure. Or the shocking suicide of Robin Williams. We think somehow, we know these people.


Other obsessions over the years, have included art appreciation, and the two questions that it invariably raises, especially when discussing abstract and conceptual pieces: What is art? What makes it worthy of attention?


I have shared thoughts on some of the recognized greats, usually in the context of a particular exhibition that may be hot at the moment, at a major museum or gallery. They have included Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper (whose painting Early Sunday Morning, I incorporated into the Domenica Press logo),



Jackson Pollack, Rene Magritte, Edvard Munch, Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and Red Grooms.


Then, as another Muse-Letter category all its own… there’s my love affair with the Statue of Liberty. It has resulted in five pieces appearing here over a seven year period: The Statue to do a 360?, Up in the Crown No More, Up in the Crown No Once More, Scenes From a Statue, and the last when it reopened on July 4th after a long shutdown caused by hurricane Sandy— Liberty to Reopen on the Fourth (June, 2013 Muse-letter).



And there are of course the poems, which are addressed in a piece to follow below.


Ultimately, “The Why?” of these letters, has to do with attempting to stay awake.


Once, a student asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”
“No,” answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?” “No,” Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake,” Buddha replied.


Though one can’t image Buddha staying awake to follow our body politic and pop-culture sine curves. Or staying awake while Helen Gurley Brown, over lunch, pitches him on the benefits of advertising in Cosmopolitan.


He probably would not have gone to see Blue Jasmine, so he could not have predicted that Cate Blanchett would win an Oscar for her title role in it. As I immediately did, while the final credits were still rolling. Nor would he have proclaimed that Bullets Over Broadway would be a runaway Broadway hit, as I so incorrectly did. Though that was far from the only thing I ever got wrong over the past ten years.


At the top of the heap, and of a rather serious nature, was the strong sense that in the wake of the Newtown massacre, some form of a gun control bill would finally come to pass. After all, 90% of Americans, according to polls, were in favor of it. I even referenced Victor Hugo’s dramatic quote in a piece entitled Ergo…Hugo (January, 2013 Muse-letter), as it seemed so apropos to what one was hearing in discussions over the airwaves and on the street.


    Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.



Well, apparently not.


It turns out, that in this case, nothing is more powerful than the statement “nothing is more powerful …”


Anyway, the beat goes on. And I’ll try to stay awake to hear it, and muse upon it. And to those who have taken the time to read and/or comment on what “I have assumed” over these last ten years, thank you.






Quote of the Month



                                                   “I followed the course
                                                   From chaos to art
                                                   Desire the horse
                                                   Depression the cart”



        —Leonard Cohen
               Book of Longing







A Reread on Creativity



In this whole spirit of a ten-year retrospective, and on attempting to be awake to matters large and small, I went back to read a book that the late great poet Ted Hughes (husband of Sylvia Plath) called—“A brilliant guide to awakening and training our vast, unused resources of intelligence and ability.”


First published in 1998 and a New York Times bestseller, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael Gelb, promised “Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.” I must have tripped on a few of those steps, since I’ve too often fallen down a flight of stupidity. And I still haven’t figured out TiVo, so perhaps a reread was in order.


To cut to the chase, they are, (drum roll)…


1. Curiosità— an insatiably curious approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning


2. Dimostrazione — a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes

3. Sensazione — the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

4. Sfumato (literally “Going up in Smoke”) — a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

5. Arte/Scienza — the development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. “Whole-brain” thinking.

6. Corporalita — the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise.

7. Connessione — a recognition of and appreciation for the interconnected- ness of all things and phenomena.

The book was not only personally interesting, as these “steps” (or Seven Da Vincian Principles as they are alternatively labeled), particularly seem to resonate in poetry— the reading and writing of it; which I am wont to do—but are applicable to dealing with the stuff of everyday life.

Once I got past the blurb on the cover by Deepak Chopra—I am decidedly not a New Age type—my curiosità was piqued and I found the book to be insightful. Though the author readily admits that many of these steps or principles, will probably be intuitively obvious to the reader.

But in the end, it is the Applications and Exercises at the end of each chapter, wherein one is asked to put down the book and try these seven on for size, that for me, made it all worthwhile. Though as to how much further I might have inched towards genius …the jury is still out. (And out an awfully long time, come to muse on it.).

If your curiosità has been piqued as well, you can click on this ungodly Da Vinci Code for more info.







A Collage Poem from a Decade of Poetry

ften referred to as a cento (in Latin, meaning “patchwork”), or a found poem, a collage poem is one that is composed of lines taken directly from other sources. Often, other poems.


The goal of such an exercise—forming a “quilt” of lines, so to speak— is that when they are stitched together, they form a new free verse poem, that takes on an interesting life, meaning, or sensibility all its own. Often they are composed in homage to other writers or poets, as is the case here.


A friend and writer/poet in her own right, Joanna Migdal (My Quicksilver Lover; "A beautiful book and a marvelous project" —Molly Peacock), as a tribute on the tenth anniversary of these Muse-Letters, has stitched together lines taken from my poems that have appeared here, or in my book Shots from a Passing Car, also now a decade old.


I am thankful and humbled. Especially as her last such project, Goodnight Noises Everywhere, was an homage to women poets of the past—heavyweight household names including Emily Dickenson, Sylvia Plath, Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emma Lazarus— coinciding with Women’s History Month last March.


It follows with footnotes, to each line’s original source.


Zano, the Poetry Man


I stepped out into the night to hail a cab 1
Across from the Avenue of Alliteration 2
Compelled to go in search of words I never had in mind 3


It was all winter and white walls and wantonly young .4
A yellow smear of taxi, 5
One ride of passage. 6
The sound of the ticking clock, a deafening roar. 7


The words of love it seems have been used up 8
For reasons that no one can put into words. 9
It’s about time; it’s always about time. 10


Is it that we have but one summer, one chance 11
To pummel the night into submission 12
If one is to be lost and found at all? 13
Lack of direction ends in errant sight. 14


Who knows as to when and if the road might end? 15
Call me a man with a mission. 16
Arrivals, departures, the search of the chalice. 17


We are all amusing ourselves out here, 18
In need of our own creation 19
In a world dark with knowledge. 20
It’s quite apparent the world wants fuchsia— 21
It drives the Greek gods crazy. 22


Life is about moments taken in half moon bites; 23
The dreams so soon forgotten. 24


It’s not as if I hadn’t written a poem about it: 25
My wayward obsessions and bacchanal feasts,26
Savoring old tastes played out on new tongues 27
With nary a ripple in the sheets28
Or nary a spark nor cinder of shame.29


Look at me; I’m more than this, 30
Only now do I know what all the groping was for 31
The chance to become once again invincible.32


But I, monarch metamorsphose from the marital cocoon, live but once.33
So touch me…with reckless abandon.34
Play the heart as only you can in a bid to woo and win the day.35


Always there is new magic to be found 36
In the alpenglow of an August sunset37
Seeing it as though for the first time,38
Everlasting ever in our faces.39


And there will be no turning back.40



                                        —Joanna Migdal

1. Owed to a Cab
2. Shots from a Passing Car
3. Mourning Coffee
4. Museum Piece
5. On the Avenue of the Americas
6. January in Amsterdam
7. Stale Mates
8. One Red Rose
9. Going for Walks
10. Of a Certain Age
11. Cherry Horses
12. A Return to Yankee Stadium
13. Woodstock: 35 Years After
14. Lighthouse Sonnet
15. Kenyan Walkers
16. The Poetry Man
17. Executive Travel: A Sonnet
18. Jesters
19. Unnatural Selection
20. Collars
21. Corporate Colors
22. Ants Across the Acropolis
23. Toast
24. Tin (A Tenth)
25. Squirrels: A Sequel
26. Owed to a Cab
27. Oysters Ordered in the Afternoon
28. Hotel Right Bank
29. Corporate Colors
30. Blue Sky Sessions at Morning
31. Oysters Ordered in the Afternoon/ Mourning Coffee
32. Sort of True Confessions
33. Oysters Ordered in the Afternoon/ Mourning Coffee
34. Touching/ Squirrels Making Bad Decisions
35. Cards
36. The Fledgling
37. The Poet’s Lot: A Wife
38. The Third Avenue El
39. The California Sun
40. Corporate Color





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