The Hermit Poet

December 25, 2006

Christmas Wishes

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:13 pm

Merry Christmas to all my friends, family, and fellow bloggers!

I am home in Penticton celebrating with my family.  I spent part of this morning visiting my father in the hospital and read to him Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales — one of our favorite family traditions.  He enjoyed it quite a bit and I enjoyed the chance to visit.  His voice was weak, so I did most of the talking, but he laughed at our favorite parts.

When I got back to the house, we opened our gifts.  My nephew Thomas, as usual, seemed to walk away with the best loot.  This year I also came out with more than expected.  The microwave was an unexpected gift — I don’t have one currently and haven’t had time or cash to pick one up.  So it will be a welcome addition to my place.  I’ll have the luxury of reheating leftovers without having to use the stove or the frypan all the time.

Given my budgetary constraints, I gave rather simple gifts this year, but tried to find things that would be fitting for each member of my family.  To my mother, I gave a Lazy Susan for the dining table — a convenience which will aid not only dinner time, but also Scrabble matches.  To my sister, I gave a framed copy of “assembly” – one of my poems from the Babbage’s Dream manuscript  – which describes the joy, beauty, and mystery of programming — an appropriate gift I felt for someone who makes their living as a web programmer/designer for a library.  To often in such settings, people forget that the programmer may share the same love of literature and art as the other people in more visibly “artistic” roles.  To my brother-in-law, I gave a card game based on spaghetti westerns — we’ll give it a try later today and see how it plays.  To my nephew, on the verge of two, I gave a set of beginning books and picture books which hopefully will be well-received.

In the end, I find that it’s not what was given or received, but rather the thought and care that each gift reveals.  Certainly new shirts and socks will find their use.  But the time spent with my family and the laughter and peaceful contentment of being together is far more valuable.

For one who has spent much of his life away from home, coming home is a beautiful and moving experience.  In this season where we celebrate birth, life, and hope, I am grateful for both the personal spiritual meaning this day holds for me and my family, and also for the social-cultural impact this season has on us, drawing out good feelings and compassion from us as we turn our hearts and thoughts toward others.

Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy your time together with your loved ones.  And for those who are away from home (and I’ve been there many times myself), know that we think of you and wish you the best.

December 21, 2006

More Outbound Mail

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:19 pm

I put the finishing touches on my PhD applications for two more schools, sealed up the packets, and mailed them off today.  For better or worse, the applications are heading across the border just in time for Christmas.  Of course, it’ll be up to them whether they’re going to be naughty or nice…

Sent out:

  • PhD application for the University of North Texas
  • PhD application for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

No mail today for me — a disappointment.   I’ve got a lot out right now (especially with this week’s submissions) and probably won’t start hearing from anyone until mid-January.  Till then I’ll have to make do.

Still need to take care of some website work, course materials for my upcoming classes, and some more poetry submissions (although I am starting to run a bit low).

December 20, 2006

Go Little Bundles of Words, Go Out into the World…

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 2:56 pm

More poetry submissions sent out today:

  • Hayden’s Ferry Review
  • Colorado Review
  • Boulevard Magazine
  • Black Warrior Review

Ok poems — do your thing.  Strike fear and joy into some editor’s heart.

Older Than Babbage’s Machine – The Antikythera Mechanism

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 10:07 am
While Charles M. Babbage’s invention of the Analytical Engine still marks the foundation of modern computer science, evidently there have been ancient computing devices (not quite programmable like Babbage’s machine) such as this one found on the Antikythera shipwreck, the remains of an ancient Roman vessel bearing Greek loot.  The mechanism evidently had 30 gears and 3 dials, could accurately represent what the sky looked like (configuration of the moon, sun, earth, other 5 planets) at any point in the past or future given a date.

A recent Washington Post article features the following details:

“We have gear trains from the 9th century in Baghdad used for simpler displays of the solar and lunar motions relative to one another — they use eight gears,” said Fran?ois Charette, a historian of science in Germany who wrote an editorial accompanying a new study of the mechanism two weeks ago in the journal Nature. “In this case, we have more than 30 gears. To see it on a computer animation makes it mind-boggling. There is no doubt it was a technological masterpiece.”

The device was probably built between 100 and 140 BC, and the understanding of astronomy it displays seems to have been based on knowledge developed by the Babylonians around 300-700 BC, said Mike Edmunds, a professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University in Britain. He led a research team that reconstructed what the gear mechanism would have looked like by using advanced three-dimensional-imaging technology. The group also decoded a number of the inscriptions.

The mechanism explores the relationship between lunar months — the time it takes for the moon to cycle through its phases, say, full moon to full moon — and calendar years. The gears had to be cut precisely to reflect this complex relationship; 19 calendar years equal 235 lunar months.

By turning the gear mechanism, which included what Edmunds called a beautiful system of epicyclic gears that factored in the elliptical orbit of the moon, a person could check what the sky would have looked like on a date in the past, or how it would appear in the future.

The mechanism was encased in a box with doors in front and back covered with inscriptions — a sort of instruction manual. Inside the front door were pointers indicating the date and the position of the sun, moon and zodiac, while opening the back door revealed the relationship between calendar years and lunar months, and a mechanism to predict eclipses.

Research continues on the device at the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project and has lead to at least one international conference (more scheduled no doubt).
You can also read more on the mechanism here.

Fascinating, eh?  Somewhat akin to the Voynich manuscript.

December 19, 2006

More Poems Headed South for the Winter

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:40 pm

Submissions sent out today:

  • Third Coast
  • Bellingham Review
  • Sou’Wester
  • Harvard Review
  • Gettysburg Review
  • Pleiades

And the poetry submission machine grinds on…

What I Know About Abstraction

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 1:53 am

Due to some weird type-setting and my overly long lines in the version that was sent to them, I’m offering this updated version of the poem (shorter lines) which appears in the latest Portland Review — this version at least should be readable.

What I Know About Abstraction

The Moon is made of hammered tin. And tonight, Sorrow
must be the bone gray sparrow I found lying in the fields
east of the freeway: one wing broken, one eye the color
of rusted steel. And by it, eager for flight, a white paper cup
wrestling with the evening wind.

Down at the water’s edge, I know nothing of the two men rowing.
All night they skirt the shore, the bridge, the abandoned docks.
The same shadows returning till I think they are twins
in their dark raincoats, their eyes a blur. One pulls an antique bottle
from his sleeve, which might be Hope,

and throws it as far as he can into the deep, then lies back
and sighs, as if to say There is nothing more that can be offered
to the world tonight.
Will it float? Will it sink? Who knows?
Tomorrow, I might see it grace the gravel beach, shattered
by the waves, or whole. Something inevitably returns with the tide.

Something like the cup now flying in the wind, a white glow
in the dark which could be Truth or any star before it fades
behind clouds or is lost beyond the stand of sycamores where Love
is no doubt digging ditches row after row, building a cemetery
at the edge of the world.

I am certain of this, leaning against the rail on the hill
that oversees this town, where Memory might be last year’s bicycle
painted red, the tires losing air with each turn. And the girl
on the corner in the borrowed dress is Sleep, the one
the last drunk will carry home in his arms before dawn.

First published in Portland Review, Winter 2006.

December 18, 2006

Things in the Mail, Things in the Air, Things in My Chest

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:46 pm

Newly Arrived

My contributor’s copies of Portland Review and the latest California anthology from Tebot Bach, Blue Arc West. I have 2 poems in each. Actually, the 2nd poem in Blue Arc West was a surprise — I hadn’t realized they had taken it. Furthermore, it’s better than I recall — a nice surprise. The anthology as a whole is very very good. I’m reading it and enjoying it quite a bit.

  • Portland Review – “What I Know About Abstraction” & “In the Country I Call Home”
  • Blue Arc West (anthology) – “After Neruda” and “Pomello”

Other Mail Received

  • Bucknell Visiting Poet Fellowship is a no.
  • Converse College (another teaching position) is in the middle of selecting candidates.
  • Stanford says that they’ve received my Stegner application and will begin reviewing it shortly (along with the 1000s of others no doubt)
  • University of Wisconsin Press writes to say “no” to my manuscript, but a handwritten note says it was very strong (and this year no “semi-finalist” note, although if I got a handwritten note again, I’m assuming it did reasonably well)
  • Check for a reading I gave at the North Vancouver Teacher Librarians Association

Sent Out

  • PhD application to USC (yep, finally finished that annoying statement of intent)
  • 2 new poetry submissions to Poetry and New England Review (aiming high with these ones!)
  • poetry manuscript to the Dorset Prize, Tupelo Press — despite all the bad press and animosity toward the editor of late, I still think it’s worth a shot

New Writing

  • 2 new poems for my series entitled Letters to the Unknown Wife — inspirations drawn from recent power outages and storms, as well as the view from my window of the nature reserve and the distant bridge which leads out of the city
  • more emails to friends far and wide, some more philosophical than others. I stole my own lines from one of them to write a poem
  • another 15 envelopes addressed to various journals to be sent out tomorrow

Received by Accident

  • I’ve managed to catch a cold right before Christmas. I’m not a happy camper. Congested and throat somewhat sore.
  • Inspiration for more writing. Strange how a letter from a good friend can open doors. Lately I’ve been blessed with wonderful chats and correspondence from friends. Ron Villaneuva shared a new lyric form he created for his NYU workshop which seemed perfect for a couple ideas I’d been exploring. I haven’t had a chance to tackle it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

December 12, 2006

Pictures from My Recent Road Trip to Penticton

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:21 pm

Not necessarily in order.  These are some of the sights along the way — reaffirming to me at least, that this is beautiful country.





December 11, 2006

Alma Mater on the Map (and in the News)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:02 pm

From a recent LA Times article (Dec 9), we get the following glowing comments about my alma mater, UC Riverside:

For Morton and others who believe in the power of literature, a true picture of the IE’s ethnic diversity and struggles may be just what the place needs. “What’s striking about the book is the sheer quality of writing coming out of the Inland Empire, especially the writing program at UC Riverside,” said Mike Davis, an author and urban theorist known for his apocalyptic works on L.A., “City of Quartz” and “Ecology of Fear.”

Fontana-born Davis, who has a piece in the book, said the Riverside program is turning out some of the best young writers in the country. Students at the more celebrated UC Irvine program (where Davis once taught) have the writing chops but not the multigenerational, multiethnic life experiences of kids in the IE.

“This is the future now,” Davis said. “This is where young voices are apt to be most interesting.”

It’s nice to see that UC Riverside is finally getting the recognition that it deserves. It makes me proud to be part of that genesis. As my friend Ky-Phong notes in his email, hearing this makes me want to step up my game even more.

Read the full article here

I had a good friend who attended NYU at the same time I was at UC Riverside.  Whenever she returned to LA during a holiday break, we’d compare notes on our experiences in our respective programs.  And more often than not, I came away feeling that UC Riverside was providing me with the better experience.  While I didn’t have Philip Levine as a teacher (which might have been fun — or brutal), I did have more time on a weekly basis with each of my professors.  And more than that, I established real friendships with them — something that might not have happened at a larger program.  The feedback I received and the personal conversations I had with them as I worked on my manuscript and other projects were invaluable to me.  In fact, this is where the real education happened.

December 8, 2006


Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 4:45 pm

I admit, I’m a Scrabble fanatic.  I’m not quite at the tournament level.  I don’t play for money.  But I do play a mean game and usually find it hard to find a good match.

When I headed back to Penticton yesterday, it was in theory to spend this weekend visiting my father in the hospital and to help my mother out around the house.   In actuality, I wanted to arrive early and fit in a couple games with my Uncle Neil and his partner Ruth, who evidently cleaned house in the Scrabble matches that happened between them, my mother, and my Aunt Peggy, while I was away.

Now you should realize that my Uncle Neil is a used book dealer and a writer.  Ruth is an accomplished poet and artist.  The two of them play Scrabble on a regular basis and are quite skilled as players.  They’re well-read, intelligent, and talented people with a great gift for language and games.

So I was quite happy last night to trounce them in two consecutive games.  I won the first game by a 30 point margin with no bingos (7-letter words) and despite not drawing any letters worth more than 4 points.  The second game I won by a handy 70 point margin, scoring 196 in a four person game.

Hmm… I’m itching for another game already.

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