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A writer is so like a spider ….

On Facebook, there’s a video making its way around Facebook that gives us a view of a spider at work on his web. As I was watching it just now – fascinated, though spiders are not my most favorite creatures – I thought how like a writer this little guy is. He starts to spin his web without a thread in sight. In effect he spins on faith. It’s a faith very much like ours when we pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Often we don’t know what the words will be, how the story will end, or what is the best cadence and flow for each subject we chose to address or the story we are inspired to tell through poetry or fiction. We proceed in the faith that the perfect word, the perfect ending, the perfect cadence will come to us. We have confidence (perhaps a shaky confidence at times, but confidence all the same) that our writerly thread will be there as needed.

Note: Given a message on this post received elsewhere, this is NOT about writer’s block, something I never had. In fact, if anything, this is the antidote to potential block.

If you are viewing this post from an email, you’ll likely have to link through to The Poet by Day to watch the video.

The spider collection is under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Details on each photo are HERE.

THE ART BEAT: Kudos to Dutch Nature Artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer on her newest book

8103372-9c1f4a2a29abdb8bf0d1c7398b7d8cabPAULA KUITENBOUWER is a Dutch nature artist. Her particular special gift is to help us appreciate the beauty of the natural world. I’m pleased that she’s compiled a portfolio of her art into a book that includes twenty-four of her drawings along with thirteen short explanations. This master of the tools of her trade shares with us the kind of beauty that can only be found through sustained observation and a meditative approach to art. Paula’s work has inspired a number of my poems but the poem featured below was really fun to write.

Several years ago Paula wrote an explaination to go with a colored sketch that featured a beetle.  Since Paula is a good writer as well as a fine artist, the first line was both an homage to her unutterable respect for life and absolute poetry filled with the promise of story.

“I found a Carabidae beetle in a bucket with water and regretted its death by drowning… “

The line put me in mind of Isak Dinesen‘s unforgettable opening for Out of Africa,

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . . “

Something about those evocative sentences lets you know there’s a good story to come. And there was.

“It lay there for at least an hour and I hoped so much it would give a sign of life. Then I did the most crazy thing imaginable; I turned it on its back, squeezed it gently, and gave it heart massage (don’t ask). Three drops of water came out. I have no clue why I did such a weird thing. Would somebody tell me he or she had given cardiac massage to a beetle, I would have laughed out loud.” [Paula Kuitenbrouwer]

Check out Paula’s fine art at Mindful Drawing.


after Paula Kuitenbrouwer

the garden floating in violet and ruby hues,
by the side of the house, a beetle floats too,
so jewel-like, amethyst and brilliant against
the dull gray water, it does not move

it lies there still as the dead of noon across
a bone-colored desert, and her hand so white,
wing-like flutters against its rigor, laying it
on the table, by a pad to sketch with pencils

that minuscule life, no will to release it
into whatever beetle heaven there might be,
laying tender finger to knead a tube-like heart
holding her breath, willing air into spiracles

wishful thinking? a flicker from the antennae?
slight movement of a leg? perhaps, perhaps
some healing pressure, one gentle push,
three drops of water, success in late hours

to savel a beetle, to sketch in varied colors
with time to hug the child and sip hot tea …
a creature rescued from death by drowning
and cherish the mindful drawing for a memory

– Jamie Dedes

© 2012, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credit ~ David Wagner, Public Domain

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This video was created and posted on YouTube by BooUrns28. It’s a tour of Coney Island and includes some of his thoughts and memories delivered in sterling Brooklynese.  If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, you’ll have to link to The Poet by Day to see it.

The lagoon and tower at Dreamland Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, 1907.
The lagoon and tower at Dreamland Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, 1907.

One belongs to Coney Island instantly . . . “

I’m playing with writing a poem about the Coney Island of my childhood and youth. I know “the good old days” weren’t what they’re cracked up to be and nostalgia is an unhealthy indulgence. Occasionally, however, it provides momentary relief from the questions and tensions of the present.

The materialistic 50s and rebellious 60s: Lugging bags with bathing suits, the requisite portable radio, beach blanket and towels, hopping on the BMT, enduring summer’s outrageous heat and humidity, and heading for Stillwell Avenue and Coney Island, a place of delicously unhealthy food and all that is weird but engaging.


The raucous Coney Island rides were never to my taste, but some of the strange shows, the boardwalk, the people-watching, the beach, riding the waves, the carnival games, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and french fries, and holding out for Surf Avenue and Shatzkin’s potato knishes . . . . . . these were fascinations. 

The old Coney Island was once so much a part of American iconography and honky-tonk subculture that it’s probably on your radar even if you’ve never been there. It’s the stuff of artists rendering in everything creative: photography, movies, music, fine arts, books, and poems. Link here to a short film, In Memoriam, Coney Island 1952, which was an International Venice Film Festival prizewinner. The narrator is Henry Morgan. This movie catches the flavor of the place as I and my contemporaries knew it with its incredible crowds and all that is odd, funny, vulgar, dubious, kitschy …  and yet, somehow perfectly wonderful.

© 2016, words, Jamie Dedes; photo credits ~ Dreamland Tower, public domain photograph courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress, Nathan’s Famous photograph courtesy of Willyumdelirious under CC BY 2.0 license.



“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” Joseph Brodsky

Well life happened – as it usually does until it doesn’t – and I missed Banned Book Week, September 25- October 1 – but it’s never too late to ponder banning and the unreason that often leads to it. One of the more humorous examples is:

How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes

If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore

– Shel Silverstein from A Light in the Attic (Harper Collins, 1981)

I wouldn’t blame you if you are surprised to think that a work by the recipient of a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award and two Grammy Awards would be banned. Consider also that Shel Silverstein’s books have been translated into thirty languages and have sold over twenty-million copies. He may have written for children but adults are enamoured of his writing too. So why was A Light in the Attic banned? According to Cunningham Elementary School in Wisconsin, Shel’s book would encourage children to break dishes in order to avoid having to dry them. Apparently some people are missing a funny bone.

Ginsberg’s Howl was famously condemned as obscenity. Publisher Lawrence Ferlighetti and City Light’s Bookstore Manager Shig Murao were arrested, Ferlighetti for publishing obscene literature and Murao for selling it.  There was a protracted and very public trial. Ultimately, it was determined that the book was protected under Freedom of Speech. The judge also pronounced the book “not obscene.” Here is a clip Howl, a movie about the trial. James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg.

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Not too long ago we celebrated the life and work of Gwendolyn Brooks.  In this video she reads her poem We Real Cool and explains why some chose to ban it …


Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was withdrawn from libraries for “explicit language. Six poems from Les Fleurs du mal by French poet Charles Baudelaire were considered an insult to public decency.  Baudelaire and his publisher were fined and the poems suppressed. The Roman poet Ovid’s Ars Amatoria – essentially a relationship guide in a series of three books compossed in elegiac couplets – was considered “licentious.”  Some speculate that Ovid was banished from Rome for it.

Some poets suffer worse than banishment, banning and fines.  PEN America reports HERE (scroll down) on writers and poets around the world who are on trial, imprisoned or murdered for the perspectives revealed in their work. Such poets often remind us of social injustices that remain simmering but unaddressed in a back corner of our minds. They create awareness of current injustices and inspire us to act. They call on us to hold ourselves and the powerful to account, often pointing out the ways in which we are complicit. That these poets and their work are found so threatening is a testimony to the power of words. There’s some solace in that.

© 2016, Jamie Dedes; illustration in the public domain