Michael Macklin

There’s nothing else I want to write about right now, but words elude me, and others have said so much, so beautifully. I’d rather let Michael himself speak here, and direct readers to his words and words of his more eloquent friends.

God, our hearts ache.

We lost Michael Saturday night; he was at the New England Young Writers Conference with his students, doing some of the things he loves best: teaching, mentoring, and modeling what is best in being a writer and person. His obituary appeared today in the Portland Press Herald.

My memories of Michael go back 12 years or so. He was such a big part of why I love the Maine poetry community, and of my ideals of what a generous-hearted poet for all the ages should be. He was a character; I don’t smoke but I’d usually smoke a cigarette with Michael. He made it look so very delicious–his gusto for life was enriching and, in this one instance, corrupting. Bless him. He was a faithful confidante, and reliably wise. He cared deeply and didn’t pretty things up. Once I poured out my guilt about some very uncharitable thoughts I was nurturing towards someone in my life. I said I’d probably come back in the next life as a paramecium. He gave me that level, “seeing to the heart” Michael look, and said in that John Wayne cadence of his: “what….makes ya think….you’ll do….THAT well?”. He could shock one out of self-pity in a way somehow both tender and hilarious. Last summer Michael zoomed up to my house on a motorcycle. He was so full of boyish joy. That visit was an unexpected gift of laughter and memories. He promised to give me a ride on the back of his bike when he gained more confidence. I’m holding out for that ride.

Only a few weeks ago, a poem of Michael’s was featured in Wesley McNair’s
“Take Heart” column.

I had the pleasure of being a co-editor/publisher at Moon Pie Press when we brought out Michael’s first collection, “Driftland”. I’ve always loved the sample poem “Before Coffee” featured there.

You can hear Michael’s resonant, soulful voice reading his poem “Jazz” here; “Two Lanes”, here.

His alma mater, Vermont College of Fine Arts, posted a tribute Tuesday, along with his poem “Palimpsest”.

There’s so much more to say. I’m just too sad right now to think of more. I’d love for you to share memories of Michael or more links as comments to this post. Most of all, may love and light and comfort surround his wife Donna and son Gabe, and all of his family and hundreds of friends who are feeling this great loss.


The Theme is: Wonderful Indian Food

Looking in on happy diners at Westbrook’s “The Dancing Elephant”

On Wednesday, I could no longer resist the great things I’d been hearing about Westbrook’s newest restaurant, The Dancing Elephant, 855 Main Street, Westbrook. The Portland Press Herald’s review, entitled “Dancing Elephant’s Indian Food Like Heaven on Earth” , is recommended reading if you are thinking of making the trip. Shonna Milliken Humphrey has written an informative review and knows her Indian food.

I arrived at 4:30 when the Dancing Elephant was just opening for dinner. The space is so elegant and well-designed to evoke a sense of comfort and refuge from the busy street. I was greeted by the friendly owner, Iqbal Hossain, and his radiant and sweet daughter Onika brought chutney over to my table and shyly agreed to this photo. 

There are a variety of seating arrangements for pleasing window-eaters as well as private booth people. The maroon walls and chair coverings harmonized wonderfully with the wood of the tables, chairs, and floors.

A sunny and elegant space.
Coconut soup loaded with tasty shredded coconut.

The main course, lamb korma, was beautifully balanced in a velvety sauce that, at medium, was the perfect level of heat for me. Naturally the rice was cooked to perfection.
Oh Happy Fo

a trove of Indian delights
in South Portland!

Right on Route One, in an unlikely-looking little shopping plaza, is a store that has everything you need for Indian cooking, entertainment, body, and soul. 
Clean, colorful, organized, and flavorful!
Just walking into the store is therapeutic–the sweet aroma of incense, the radiant smile of Jaya Punjabi, the owner, the tempting treats for the eyes and the tastebuds transport the shopper to an exotic and uplifting mood.
Aisles of Indian specialties at Masala Mahal.

You can purchase premium, reasonably priced and authentic ingredients for any Indian recipe you would care to make, and there is also a wonderful supply of ready-made frozen Indian specialties that are AMAZING and far, far better than the selections in the “exotic” or “healthfood” freezer in one of the large supermarkets. All of the wonderful Indian breads are available in frozen form and I can attest to their tastiness and “homemade flavor” and texture when baked.

 The sweets are exotic, varied, and delicious!
Jaya Punjabi, Owner

Masala Mahal is at 798 Main Street, South Portland, ME. 
Do visit soon and discover this wonderful Indian treasure for yourself!

The owner is so friendly and knowledgeable, and she keeps a wonderful selection of Bollywood films, Saris, incense, beauty products, and jewelry in addition to the amazing food.

Poem for May 14

Lost Explorers
It is worst of all
when we don’t know
When nothing is left
but an old hat, a tin of fish,
a paddle, compass
or some twine.
No tracks, no bones
nothing human for the stars
to shine down on
or to receive our tears.
Only dread imaginings
of their last breaths,
or the hope
that haunts our dreamings
where they live, where we
see them hiking back, carefree
and full of songs
learned in the place
to which they will lead us
the place to which
we will never want to go.
–first published in Animus

In Gloucester, Poetry and Prose on Writing and War

Thanks to Henry Ferrini and the Gloucester Writers Center for this photo of yesterday’s readers.

In opening, Gloucester Poet Laureate Ruthanne “Rufus” Collinson read a vivid and touching poem about a dear friend from college, being with him the day he received his draft notice, and years later visiting the Vietnam War Memorial with her daughter, and finding his name on the Wall.

Kevin Bowen, former director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences
  read poems and–in Vietnamese, follwed by English translation– a piece from a Vietnamese poet; there is an interview with Kevin on the website for “Voices”  .  I’ve been immersing myself in novels set in WWI, so I was interested to read  this from Kevin: ”  I think the poetry of the Vietnam War does hearken back to poetry from World War I. The themes of betrayal, of the enormity of war, of its brutality, the creation of an enormous gulf between past and present, the world before and the world after the war, they are there. “

Bowen and his fellow poets were unsparing in brutal detail; the work makes it clear that the war is very present for them, a well of horror continually yielding fresh images. In the poem “Body Count: The Dead at Tay Ninh”, Bowen writes of stacking bodies beside the mess tent. “Their bodies black and crisp curled in the purple light. Dawn, we flew them out in bags,/ mopped up the mess for chow.”

Marc Levy, the next reader, served as an infantry medic and Vietnam and, as he read, there was an electric intensity in the room as he made the war very real for us through his words and images. As Marc writes in his essay “Whatever You Did in War Will Always be With You”, “That was thirty-seven years ago. Or was it last night?” Hearing his poems left me eager to watch a video, “The Real Deal”, featuring Levy reading his works accompanied by a background of sounds and images from the Vietnam War. You can read his poem “Dead Letter Day Poem”  online.

Fred Marchant, accomplished poet and educator (he is the director of Creative Writing at The Poetry Center of Suffolk University), opened with an amazing poem by William Stafford, sharing that Stafford was a conscientious objector in WWII. The poem contained a terrifying image of the atomic bomb “mushroom cloud” as an immense snake rising up from the earth; I wish I could find the poem and share it here but it’s well worth looking for.

Marchant’s 2009 poetry collection from Graywolf Press, “The Looking House”, was named by Barnes & Noble as one of the five best poetry collections of the year. You can read two of these astonishing and hard-hitting poems here.  The review of the book in the Christian Science Monitor notes that Marchant was one of the first Marine officers to become a conscientious objector. I need to share his photo here because I kept thinking, as he was reading his searing verse, that he has the face of ….maybe an angel who has passed through hell without losing his light. Stefi Rubin took this photo, which appears on The Poetry Foundation website, and I hope she will not mind me sharing it here, so you can see what I mean.Fred Marchant

Helen Garland, wife of the late Joe Garland (author of Unknown Soldiers), shared some moving reflections
about Joe, their correspondence during WWII–a contact which Helen later discovered was redemptive for Joe–, their experiences with his post-traumatic stress disorder, and the writing of this book, a compelling mission in his life. Most of us were in tears, as was Helen, when she closed her portion of the talk with a poem.

Scouts Bob Richardson, George Ruder and Bob Coleman

Martin Ray, who arrived in Vietnam in 1971 as an Airborne Ranger Combat Engineer, discovered a new dimension of the war and of humanity when he enrolled in a basic photography course and began taking his camera around Saigon at every opportunity. He speaks of the images of his subjects rising up to him from the developing tray and asserting their common membership in the Family of Man.  “I went there to test my manhood and came home to test my humanity”. As he read poetry and prose reflecting on his war experiences, the audience circulated several of his eloquent photographs of the people of Saigon.

George Kovach (editor/publisher of Consequence), spoke about the mission of his magazine, of which Kevin Bowen and Fred Marchant are contributing editors. The Spring 2012 issue is just out; copies of the journal were available for perusal and purchase, and, with its focus on the cultural consequences of war and injustice,  it’s clearly a valuable addition to the selection of literary journals focused on social issues.

The final featured reader was Aldo Tambellini, a visual artist, filmmaker, poet and peace activist still vibrant and visionary at 82. He shared his experience of surviving an Allied bombing of his village when he was a teenager in Italy; and he read some powerful poems that brought the reading full-circle, as he had not been a combat veteran, but a civilian witness to and victim of the horrors of war. I’d encourage you to explore his website to learn more about his genre-stretching and boldly imaginative creative works and to experience his authentic voice through his writings.

This event made me hungry for more of what literary Gloucester has to offer, and also eager to deepen my acquaintance with the works of these artists, all of whom were new to me. What a rich afternoon; out of pain, such gifts.

Poetry from War Veterans, Sad Facts of Nature, Bra Stuffing, and the Mean Streets of Gloucester

This day really ran the gamut, and I don’t want to trivialize the serious, really meaningful parts by sharing everything but I’m going to share everything anyway. If I put “bra stuffing” in the tit(t)l(at)e I might get more readers, after all.

Got up today determined to get a cool summer job, so I put in the paisley turquoise and green skirt and the bangle (both acquired yesterday from The Dress Code, a hub of Gloucester culture); I have a nice aqua top but the waist to bust ratio wasn’t cutting it. You know those pesky socks that get separated from their pairs? I’m so glad I held on to mine. I helped nature out a bit with one green-striped fuzzy sock and one purple one. I gave Harold an unnecessary speech about how things have not changed so much in the food service business, and took off into the gorgeous, clear-blue-sky day towards the paradise that is downtown Gloucester.

My first encounter of the day was with a VERY relaxed friendly looking couple (did I mention it was 10:30 a.m.?) sitting on a bench outside a tavern across from the water. They greeted me in a friendly way so I said “I’m looking for a job! Do you have any advice?”. I elaborated that I wanted a “fun job”, someplace with food and a bar, and they held forth. Jackie, a 60ish hippie complete with gray pony tail said “don’t be insulted, but it’s all about the cleavage”. Ann, a funny and clearly wise woman who has spent a lot of time squinting into the sun, agreed. “We were in the tavern business. We always loved to have a woman bartender with…a friendly personality”. They shared their thoughts on several places I should try, and I decided they were my good luck angels for the day. A really sweet, cool pair. In 15 years or so it might be fun to join them on that bench.

I walked down the waterfront street and back up Main St. collecting applications and trying my best to simply beam friendliness and competence to everyone I met. After about an hour I passed Dogtown Books, a leathery-dusty-old papery-smelling haven of bliss, and chatted with the utterly charming owner Bob Ritchie. I want you to click this link and see his website right now. It says something about the way this man does business: http://www.dogtownbooks.com/

By which I mean, it’s much better just to walk in and meet him and his ever-changing towering piles of wonderment in person.

I HAD to scope out the poetry and New England history sections, which meant I bought some books: an elderly copy of Spoon River Anthology, an anthology of Russian poetry including lots of Ahkmatova, and a really nice book about the history/architecture of Portland; an out-of-print volume put out by Portland Landmarks a few decades ago. It’s more source material for that book I really am going to write. I’m in the note-taking phase. Please don’t ask me about it. Thanks.

While I was browsing, a very elderly and loud, disheveled, bent-over, eccentrically dressed–which is to say, clearly brilliant–man returned a large volume of Milosz (are you still there? It took me a while to find the right spelling), and proclaimed “I have no use for contemporary poets!”. I gave him the side-eye but decided to let it pass realizing that if I engaged with this man I might be a long time getting dis-engaged.

 I will never return a book by this poet. Just saying.

As I checked out, the Frowsty Old Formalist was still browing, and I admitted to Bob, in a whisper, that I did, on occasion, write poetry, and did he know about the Writers Center? (There is no apostrophe anywhere in that title. I checked. I’m not sure what that implies. By which I mean both the lack of apostrophe and my checking).

Bob praised the Center’s events enthusiastically and reminded me there was to be a reading this afternoon, featuring the poetry of war veterans. I’m so glad he did remind me. More on that.

After this nice interlude I drove to Rocky Neck, THE OLDEST WORKING ARTS COLONY IN AMERICA, because I heard the hippest eateries were out there. I applied at the Mad Fish Grille and now it is the only place I really want to work. I can’t overstate how cool this place is–right on the water, with a deck, a dock, a patio, and even the “inside” part, which is mostly all bar, shows the harbor from every table. They have just opened for the season and might be adding more staff and I sat there and filled out the app in painstaking detail and I just need to work there. They have live music. It has a tiki bar vibe, but tasteful. I’m so glad I checked to make sure I tucked those socks in before I approached the manager. You have to see it so click here and say a little prayer for me. http://www.madfishgrille.com/

Sad part of the day: when I got home, Harold told me that Fred, who is an INDOOR CAT, walked out onto our tiny balcony and snagged a sparrow right out of the air. He trotted in with his prey and Harold tried to save the little bird but, as he kept repeating, “you could see the life just fading out of him”. Harold’s been depressed about this most of the day, and I am, too, if I let myself think about it. I’m also thinking that now that Fred’s had a taste of this sport, I’m going to have to keep the cockatiels caged unless I’m looking directly at them. We still love Fred, he was just doing what cats do, but we’re sad. The sparrows were building a nest next door in the air conditioning housing. Fred is grounded until further notice.


To top off this very eventful day, I walked a sunny mile to the poetry reading at the Writers Center, and the poets were all amazing. The reading was wonderfully well-attended and, in speaking with other listeners at the reception afterwards, I discovered that we were all so profoundly affected by the readings we couldn’t talk about it yet. The poets were, for the most part, war veterans, with one widow of a veteran who was recently deceased and left an incredible legacy of creative work, and one war survivor who survived a bombing by US bombers when he was a 14 year old boy in Italy. I’m going to have to write more about the event tomorrow, because it was so intense, and deserves more thoughtful treatment than I can give it so soon after the experience.

I’m thinking I should take out the part about stuffing my bra. It makes me sound really shallow and it’s probably a blow to my reputation, if I ever had one, of serious feminism.

Still, I’ll leave it in, because no one can tell me what not to write. Nyeah nyeah. Going to spend some time adoring the pets now, and try to persuade Harold that a funny movie might ease our grief and guilt over the little sparrow, just a bit.


That’s internet slang for “looking for work”? How did I learn this? Why, http://www.internetslang.com/, of course! Did you know there’s internet slang for “person from Zimbabwe”? “Zimbo”. I kid you not. But, I digress.

I am looking for work! Please tell everyone you know within 15 blocks of 326 Main Street, Gloucester, MA. I’m interested in doing pretty much anything that involves working with nice people, learning something new, wearing cute clothes and NOT PRACTICING LAW.

You know, it’s ten years since I stopped practicing law (with a few exceptions), and people still harangue me about it. “Why did you go to all that work and spend all that money not to use your degree? Why would you change to a job with lower pay? How can you stand working for people younger than/less educated than/ less whatever than yourself? Don’t you hate not having status at work? Aren’t you embarrassed when RUDE PEOPLE LIKE ME won’t stop prying?”. (OK, I made that last part up). My answer? MYOFB and DPYN (don’t pick your nose).

This is my final answer. I practiced law for FIFTEEN YEARS!!!! I only went to law school for three (of the most miserable) years (of my life). I’ve paid my dues. Most of the work I did involved hideous situations in which children were hurt, hearts were broken, bad guys got off, and I had to sit knee to knee in jail visiting rooms with people I normally would not touch with a stick.

 Furthermore, my favorite jobs ever have been, in descending order: 1) telemarketer ( I worked them over with my perky voice. I can make myself sound really busty. Lonely old men buy lots of vitamins).

2) singing waitress (the guitar player and I saved enough change to go on a bargain weekend in the Bahamas),

 3) ed tech,

 4) college instructor, and

 5) horse stable mucker.

I could go on for quite awhile before I reached “lawyer”, “paralegal”, “legal researcher”, or “law clerk”. For one thing, the hype around the profession is completely misleading.  I never had those shoes or that briefcase or those legs. One time I had breast milk leak through my cheap blazer when I was standing in front of the bench and, on the same day, pulled a Pampers out of my briefcase, while the relevant file waited for me at home in the baby tote.

Those of you who know me must SURELY be itching to interrupt about now and ask “what about POET? Surely your most true, core calling is that of POET!”. So let me address that, briefly. “Poet” is not a job. If a stranger on a plane asks you what you do for a living, and you reply, “I”m a poet”, you sound incredibly pretentious, plus you are lying. No one “makes a living” being a poet. So there.

Why all this blather? Because I STARTED to write about my morning, and I got distracted.

This morning, I put on a short (for me) skirt, high (for me) heels to show off my tan (for me) legs, and walked downtown to look for work. Not the kind of work where you trot off with a leather case full of  CVs and letters of reference, but the kind where you walk in, ask if they’re hiring, and fill in a one-page, two-sided application with an iffy pen while you sit at the bar and hope you are sending out friendly and competent vibes. These legs would be nothing without Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, so thanks, guys.

Midway through my journey I dropped in to my favorite gently-loved clothing store, The Dress Code, to ask for job tips, because they know absolutely everyone, and: lo and behold! a new order of kicky skirts had just come in, all in my size. Now, you know you have to look good to feel good and you have to feel good about yourself to get any kind of a decent job so I bagged a few career essentials:
They all have a little lime green thing going on so I had to add this amazing bangle,( only $3, in case my husband decides to read my blog, which he never does).

There were fantastic strappy sandals in this exact same color but they were $30 and I did not buy them, in case you ARE reading this, Honey, after all.

I’ll probably be strolling out tomorrow to fill out lots more of those flimsy, hopeful applications because it’s summer, and the seasonal places are opening up, but, on the other hand, I’m 50, and a chunky monkey, and I haven’t waited tables in 28 years. The last time I did it, I had to put down my tray every 15 minutes, walk up by the front door, and sing Your Cheating Heart, while the industrial dishwashers hummed discordantly in the background.

Do I still have it?
We’ll just have to see about that.

Why can’t I give up? and the war to end all wars

Trying to keep a blog?
I think my expectations for myself have been too high. I’m setting them realllly low. Not going to try for engaging, quality writing or anything like that.
Just going to toss in notes here and there about whatever I encounter that I want to share.

Lately I’ve been a little obsessed with reading novels and watching films set in the WWI era. It’s no surprise that there is such an avalanche of creative output based on a uniquely horrific mass slaughter the likes of which the world had never seen. 

I just finished watching a great PBS series: Birdsong http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch/birdsong_ep1.html

You only have until May 22 to watch the first episode for free, and May 29 for episode 2.
VERY DARK and gritty WWI battle sequences and a touching, if painful romance. This series really brings home the not-to-be-forgotten fact that war is hell, and WWI was a special, hideous hell–with reverberations still very keenly felt in the UK. If you are interested in this era, there is a wonderful mystery series set in the years just following WWI, and featuring psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs–a women deeply affected by the horrors of the war. The author, Jaqueline Winspear, has taken great pains with historical detail and you can read more about this author and the series here: http://www.jacquelinewinspear.com/maisie-dobbs-world.php

There is another fantastic BBC miniseries (isn’t there always?) set in the 1930s in rural England, and many of the characters have been catastrophically damaged by The Great War, and struggle with these losses and wounds even as storm clouds of war loom on the horizon of the coming years. This one, South Riding, based on the books of Winifred Holtby 

are previewed here: http://video.pbs.org/video/1900084603 aired last May so is not available for free viewing on the PBS site. I purchased the episodes quite cheaply on Amazon and I loved watching them in sequence after Birdsong.

I am a huge fan of the actress Anna Maxwell Martin, who stars as Sarah Burton, a visionary educator who takes on the administration of a down-at-the-heels rural school for girls and gets more adventure then she bargained for.

I hope this entry helps someone discover some meaningful and thought-provoking entertainment.