Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I saw a wonderful exhibit on William Butler Yeats, at the National Library of Ireland, when I was there recently. There were display cases containing drafts of his poems, letters, photographs, gifts from others that became subjects of poems, photos of various male and female friends, playbills and books.  There were areas where videos played (one on his interest in the occult, another on Yeats and the women in his life, on the Irish Literary Theatre, and one as an introduction).  One area had a place to sit and listen to an audio presentation of his poetry and a screen on which was projected the particular poem being read.  It was a delightful exhibit — and I didn’t have enough time to see it thoroughly.

But I grabbed the brochure for YEATS: The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats, as the exhibit is titled.  On the back of the brochure is printed

Explore our Yeats online exhibition

So when I returned home, I checked out the website and — WOWY-ZOWY! — it’s just like being at the exhibit in Ireland.

After clicking and getting into the site, there’s a map of the exhibit at the bottom right of the screen.  You can click an area and — whoosh — you’re in the area, in front of a display case or video screen.  Click on an object in the display case and a close-up with description appears.  (I clicked on a lapis-lazuli carving that was hard to see up close in the actual exhibit and online I was able to see it in detail and with views from all sides.)  Click on a video screen and see the video.

Click her to go to the exhibit.

This is an amazing exhibit — and all at your fingertips.  I’m not certain how long the exhibit will run: I’m presuming, at least, through the end of this year.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Steve McDonald’s poems are always a joy for me to read.  He writes about ordinary people — and the everyday things and natural world around them — with open-hearted empathy.  His writing is well-crafted, lyrical and, as I said before, a pleasure for the reader.

Steve's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Nimrod, RATTLE, The Crab Creek Review, The Paterson Literary Review, Spillway, Blue Unicorn, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and The Cresset.  His work has appeared in Best New Poets 2010.  Steve is Professor Emeritus of English and former Dean of Languages and Literature at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.

Of his first book, Where There Was No Pattern (Finishing Line Press), poet Maurya Simon said it “brims with life…McDonald is a poet graced with a deft imagination, a poignant sense of mortality, and true insight into human pathos.”

What I enjoy in Steve’s poems is his humility and humanity, and how he’s able to transform these into avenues for grace.  For example, he’s a regular guy who has to mow his own lawn — but, as a poet, finds a way to uplift the chore into moments of spiritual insight (from a poem in his first book).

His new book, House of Mirrors (Tebot Bach) is now available and already has garnered kudos from other writers.  Judith Pacht, author of Summer Hunger, praises Steve McDonald’s way of “[making] the ordinary extraordinary as he examines nature and ourselves in unflinching detail.  In House of Mirrors, we move from the wonder of a spider and its intricate web to the machinations of the human heart…These are elegant poems — moving and redemptive.” Dorianne Laux, author of The Book of Men, lauds Steve’s new book’s “attention to language and empathy for its subject matter, the human in all their many guises.”  Ellen Bass and Joseph Millar, distinguished poets, concur and add more praise.

Steve is a superb craftsman.  He has an excellent sense of when and how to use poetic techniques to enrich and expand his poems.  I especially like, in “Rain” from his new book, House of Mirrors, how he furthers a reader’s sense of the rural landscape (besides using “fields” and “wet soil, bladed tillers and chisel plows” — what you’d expect in the country) by including farming images as part of his description of an elementary school: “the corn-silk yellow of caution lights,/ a crop of children,/…parents hovering like harvest moons.” 

For information about his new book and to order a signed copy, click here

Here are three of Steve's poems.

        by Steve McDonald

No sidewalk, just the garbled lyrics 
of a muddy path, just rain humming
                                        I will wash the brown earth, 
          and a mother, perhaps twenty-five, 
                          and a son, perhaps seven. 

She is holding his hand, urging him 
past fields darkening into thunder,
                           past roots 
                                         anchored in folds of wet
soil, bladed tillers and chisel plows
                           crammed into long low sheds. 

In the distance
            the corn-silk yellow of caution lights, 
                           a crop of children, 
                                         an elementary school, 
parents hovering like harvest moons. 

           It rains harder.

                                         Hoods up, heads down, 
                                         mother and son 
dodge sink-holes of mud-
filled puddles. A roadside flower stand 

gathers its bouquets—carnation and daisy, 
rose and mum—buttons its coat. 
                                               Rain blossoms 
                                               from rusty gutters.

Mother and son pass
              bicycles tangled like razor wire, 
                            a broken fence, a grocery—migrants
huddled against the weather,
              fingers stuffed
into damp pockets, stories rising
like steam from wet earth. 

           The rain says pour.

Crates of oranges, 
            flats of strawberries, lean in, 

    by Steve McDonald

When limestone faces 
wear rivers of cracks,

weathered grimaces 
and frozen grins

create only questions, 
awaken memories

of a parent,
perhaps, whose

series of strokes
left lips uncertain:

the legacy, a hieroglyphic
glance, shards

of shattered Rosetta stone,
the chance for communion 

with the one who is gone,
gone. Just a bed, 

a shroud of sand piling
upon a craggy face,

a sheet of wind sliding 
over the body like a lover,

silent yet ready
with the riddle, 

the one it will carve
in stone. 

      by Steve McDonald

Once, when a boy, I awoke alone
on the sun-baked boulders at the edge 

of the canyon falls to find a snake, 
green and yellow, curled on the rock 

next to me, asleep, it seemed, or nearly so, 
although its eyes were open, or perhaps 

I was asleep and dreaming, for I did not move, 
just gazed through eyes that seemed to have opened

in a way they had not opened before, 
the snake and I waiting and watching 

as the steady elegy of the waterfall 
spilled into the sun-filled pool. And then,

it seemed,  I awoke again to find myself
at the edge of the off ramp, waiting

for the light to change, waiting to turn 
into the coffee shop for a cup of green tea

and a pastry to ease the burden 
of the long drive home, and as I waited

and watched, a yellow motorcycle swung 
like a scythe from one lane to the next, 

then pulled to a stop in front of me, 
and the rider, a boy in a red jacket, 

rested his foot on the earth, one lover 
leaning into another, then bent at the waist 

as if to embrace his bike, the full moon 
of his helmet rising above the curve 

of his jacket, and emblazoned 
on his helmet were scriptures of death,

one bone-white skull after another 
so that when he surveyed the road 

to his right and then to his left
all I could see were rotating skulls, 

empty eye sockets, dark nasal cavities, 
and I wondered why one would enwreathe 

his head with death, what need that might fill, 
and then I thought of the snake, its gaze

upon my gaze, and the pool, and the fall
of the water, and my own awakening,

and my eyes opened again to this boy, 
the skulls adorning his head my invitation, 

it seemed, to quicken him with imagining, 
ensoul him with wondering, as together 

we waited to spill into the pool of evening.