Sunday, June 12, 2016

dead poets

By Fred Owens

In my life, writing is work and other arts are self-expression, like playing the piano. I am not very good at the piano but it makes me happy. And drawing. I enjoy drawing and painting and if I pin the drawing to the wall for a while, then I enjoy looking at it.

That used to be called domestic art, but now I would call it self-expression.

I remember a painting in Aunt Jean's living room, hung over the couch, a still life with flowers. Aunt Jean did it herself and it looked just about perfect in that spot, in her home.

The trouble is if you put Aunt Jean's painting on public display in a gallery, I think it would be an insult to her memory. It just wouldn't look good in public.....

So the distinction for me is between public and private. I really want the whole world to read my writing, but I play the piano for my own pleasure.
dead poets
Robert Sund, the poet of Ish River, died in September of 2001, only a few weeks after the twin towers were attacked in New York City on September 11. I remember all the TVs were on at the hospital, except in Robert's room. I was glad he did not have to watch that terrible news, he was dying and beyond all that.
Robert died of lung cancer at age 71. Hundreds of people knew him and loved him and came to visit him in the hospital. But Jeff Langlow and I were the only two of his friends that came to his wake.
The way it worked out, Robert knew he was dying and he calmly made plans for friends to create a trust to keep and publish his poems. That was done. And for his body to be cremated and celebrated with Buddhist ritual on a propitious date. There was to be no wake, just cremation and then Arthur Greeno was to keep his ashes for the time being.

Except Jeff Langlow and I didn't know that. Jeff was a carpenter who lived in his home-made cabin up by Blanchard, deep in the alder woods.  He and I both went to the funeral parlor the day after Robert died. We both showed up at the door at the same time that evening and we asked the undertaker for the viewing.
The undertaker took  us past the carpeted parlor in a hushed voice and showed us to a small empty room in the back. And there was Robert deceased and lying on a hospital gurney, just as plain as pumpkins.
Robert was all cleaned and washed the way a dead person is treated in that special manner, but he was only wearing a hospital gown that barely covered his knees.
His hands were folded reverently over his stomach and wrapped with Buddhist prayer beads. His bare feet draped over the edge of the gurney.
His feet are bare, I said to Jeff. Then I said maybe they should put a blanket over his feet, his feet will get cold. But Jeff said, he's dead and where he's going he won't need shoes and he won't ever get cold.

That was the wake of Robert Sund. No one else came and we weren't supposed to be there either.
You come into this life barefooted and you leave it that way too.
A New Book about Robert Sund
There is a new book about Robert Sund. It is a collection of his unpublished poems and journal entries, plus memories from friends of times with Robert, and interesting black and white photos. It is the very best Robert Sund book, because Robert was more than a poet. He was a creation of his own community, and his community -- his friends -- speak for him now.
The book is called a flutter of birds passing through heaven

Where are you from?
Dear Reader, Where are you from?  What do you call yourself?

Everybody is from somewhere and maybe you want to ask them. I ask people all the time, where are you from, although lately that can get too political, so I changed it. Now I ask people, "Where did you grow up?" The funny thing is people smile when I ask them where they grew up. Try it yourself and see what happens.
Trump News. I wrote something about Trump but it was too weird, so I deleted it. I tried again, it was still too weird. Maybe Trump is contagious, arrrgh!

Memory. I challenged my girlfriend to a recitation of the names of Jane Austen's six novels from memory. She declined the contest, and then I began to recite, but I only came up with five titles. We were out on a walk. I have a dumb phone. Her phone is only half-smart. We did not have access to Google  -- how primitive! I wracked my brain but could not remember the sixth title.
Of course when we got back to the house and the domestic wi-fi we found the answer instantly on Google. It was Emma. I had forgotten Emma. But looking this up on Google seems like cheating.
Events. We can get instant news from the atrocity in Orlando, but there in no need to declare an instant reaction. Do not act or speak in haste. do not jump to conclusions....... Go outside, take a walk, read a book..... let the media and the police do their job..... then react and say your words.

Subscriptions. Frog Hospital is free and hundreds of readers have enjoyed reading 25 issues every year since 1998. but if you really insist on paying for a subscription, then you will be remembered in the editor's bedtime prayers. To subscribe, you must go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your contribution of $25 or $50. Or mail a check for $25 or $50 to

Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
thank you very much

Thursday, June 02, 2016

You Can't Write

by Fred Owens

A quote from Somerset Maugham in Of Human Bondage....."There is nothing so terrible as the pursuit of art by those who have no talent."

Maugham certainly had talent, so he must have been referring to some other writers he knew. This is something I have wanted to say upon reading a snatch of someone's effort. I look up from the page in my hands and say to the would-be writer, "You can't write.... maybe you can surf or cook, but you can't write."

I've even thought that about myself. It's comforting in a way, to say I don't have the talent. I know I have the effort and dedication and discipline and determination, but I might just lack the talent.

I'm sure I have some talent, at least a little..... but isn't it a little like baseball? "Son, I know you love the game, but you can't hit a fast ball and you're never going to make it to the major leagues."

In Maugham's book, Philip, the main character, studies art in Paris for two years, making great effort, but he has doubts about his ability and asks -- insists -- that a renowned artist judge his work with complete honesty.

The artist reviews Philip's work and declares that Philip is destined for mediocrity. Philip took that for truth and abandoned his quest to become an artist ..... he went on to become a doctor and he seemed (but I haven't finished the book ) to have found success in that career.

So if you have this nagging fear that you can't write, it could be true.
Is Death Funny?
Is death funny? Everything else is funny, so I made inquiries about death, to see if it was funny too. My friend died of a heart attack, what they call a massive heart attack. His wife told me it happened in the bathroom at his house. He was standing in front of the mirror brushing his teeth when the heart attack struck. He dropped like a stone, falling so heavily that his head banged against the sheet rock wall and left a dent.

His wife rushed to his aid and called 911, but he was dead instantly.

I called her a few weeks and I asked her if I could write a story about her husband, and it would be a funny story.... you know, "funny as a heart attack."

She became upset and angry at me for suggesting such a thing. I quickly backed up and apologized.

Some months later she forgave me. She said, "You're a writer and you thought you had a good story. I'm sorry I could not help."

I was glad she forgave me, so instead I wrote this story..

A Buddhist Walked into a Bar

Rick Epting walked into the LaConner Tavern one night in the late spring of 2002. He had been in town for the poetry festival. His poet friends were gathering at Nell Thorn’s pub, but Rick decided to go down market and have a Rainier on tap at the LCT as the locals called it.

Gordy Bell occupied a stool midway and he gave out a Hey to Rick, so they joined company and began to drink the beer, paunch and paunch, side by side. Gordy was a hands-on working man of a liberal persuasion. He ran LaConner’s public works crew, fixing potholes and such. There were two men on his crew, Lynn Berry, wide and squat, an expert with the weed-whacker and twice as smart as he looked, and that other younger guy Brian who looked good but wasn’t really that smart.

Anyway, Gordy had but public works aside for the day and was enjoying the view – although sitting on a bar stool all he saw was the bartender and all those bowls of lottery tickets – meaning he enjoyed the view in his mind, maybe thinking of some good day he had out on Skagit Bay on his boat, and secret places near Hope Island where he could trap the best crabs.

It was that far-away look that grabbed Rick’s attention, and the reason he grabbed a stool next to Gordy, Rick being a word guy, and Rick being a guy who had spent most of last two days listening to poets who were all gathering at Nell Thorn’s to detox from the word-fest with plenteous booze.

“So, Gordy, how does it look?” Rick asked. Gordy raised his glass in response. “I just finished the poetry festival,” Rick began, “I got all these thoughts buzzing in my brain. I got that feeling like a balloon head. I’ve been a musician, you remember Future Pastures? That was my group. Then I helped with the Ducks when they played at Rexville Grange, or you can go back all the way to the beginning of hippie world at Toad Hall in Bellingham, I was there. Then I worked at the newspaper. I interviewed various Berentsons serving in public office. I visited Bud Norris in his county commissioner some-time-Democrat, sometime-Republican office with his feet up on the desk. I convinced Norris to deny the nuclear power plants proposed for Sedro-Woolley, although I can only a take a little credit for that one – but I was part of it. And the Food Co-op, I helped get that going when all they had was 25-pound sacks of brown rice and a cup full of brewers yeast, when the broken down hippies – I mean the hippies in their broken down cars – came in from Walker Valley to spend their food stamps and one of them always needed a jump start to get back to camp. I helped that to go. And I prayed, or I should say I learned not to pray. I learned to be a Buddhist, which means I learned to be the Buddha, I learned we’re all the same inside, what do you think, Gordy?” Rick was very earnest.

Gordy smiled beatifically and said, “Let’s move over by the window, we can watch the tide come in, it’s a 12-foot tide today.”

The LaConner Tavern sits on Swinomish Channel and the back part of the tavern, past the bar and the pool tables, opened to picture windows of the ever-changing current of the channel – four movements of the water, and those four being in, out, up and down, meaning the tide comes in and then it goes out, the water rises and then descends, in a rhythm that only the stars can truly understand, those four movements joined by the sublime non-movement, slack tide, when the surface of the water takes on a mirror finish on a windless day and stillness reigns.

So Gordy steered Rick over to a table by the window and the waitress brought them two more flagons. The sunset burnished the sky over the Swinomish Reservation across the channel. “There be Indians,” Gordy intoned, pointing across the channel.

“No, I can’t see them,” Rick replied. “You can’t see them with your eyes wide open,” Gordy said.

Rick closed his eyes and began chanting, “Om, Om, Om.”

“Now, see the salmon,” Gordy said. “They come up from Padilla Bay in flocks and herds and schools, splashing and leaping, mad with sex and desire, salty and driven by wind, they come into the channel and then down the channel, and past the tavern right here, and they go around to Hole-in-the-Wall and then up the river.”

“I can’t see any fish,” Rick cried now in anguish.

“Close your eyes,” Gordy said. “Forget about now. Time goes forward and backward just like the tide. There was lots of salmon back then. Turn your head back one hundred years. Can you see the salmon now?”

“Yes,” Rick said, “I see them leaping!”

Jimmy Schermerhorn walked in to the bar, saw Gordy and Rick and came by to say Hey. Jimmy didn’t drink anymore, he just came in to use the men’s room, but he pulled up a chair for the moment. “Hey, Rick, how did you like the poetry festival?”

Rick said, “It was awesome. The poets chanted and we could see the salmon leaping.”

Later, Rick drove back to his home in Mount Vernon and Gordy went back to his bar stool. He asked the waitress, "Who was that guy I was talking to?”

Subscriptions. Frog Hospital is free and hundred of readers have enjoyed reading 25 issues every year since 1998. but if you really insist on paying for a subscription, then you will be remembered in the editor's bedtime prayers.
To subscribe, you must go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your contribution of $25 or $50. Or mail a check for $25 or $50 to
Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
thank you very much

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital