Thursday, December 29, 2011

Expunging the visible world

From an obit for Helen Frankenthaler in the WSJ:

Frankenthaler belonged to the second generation of the New York School, whose guiding light was the critic Clement Greenberg. Greenberg held that the essence of modern painting was the expunging of all references to the visible world and an emphasis on painting's purely formal elements—the flatness of the canvas support and the colors arrayed across it.

I post this just in case you're lying awake at night, wondering why "modern painting" doesn't interest me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

From the mailbag:

The end of the year does not mean the mailbag is overflowing with copies of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

"RHE, have you ever wonder why nobody cares? Maybe because no one can understand ennything you say?"

I have. There was this one guy, once, who understood something I said, but he died.

"Yo, could you write a sestina about Un ballo in maschera ?"

Yo. No.

"Who's better, Auden or Frost?"

Lou Brock. I'd give up Ernie Broglio just to get him on my team.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Year in Review

 I did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 I did not get a 10-year extension from the Angels (or, come to think of it, the Devils).

 I am not going to be the Republican nominee. Probably.

 I did not read any of my poems at the Super Bowl halftime show. (N.B. I have written new poems since then.)

 Neither Brad Pitt nor Tilda Swinton is playing me in a new biopic. (On the plus side, neither is Cee Lo Green nor The Swedish Chef.)

 My new budget is deadlocked in committee. If it isn't passed (and funded) soon, I may have to shut down.

 Last time I looked, at least 3 of the authors on the NYT bestseller list were dead. (In several more cases one just couldn't tell.) This offers me promise for the future.

Friday, December 09, 2011


I don't know most of you who follow this blog -- don't know you at all, so you must be here simply because you like the poems. That's the best kind of reader there is. So thanks. If you have a passion to read more of me, when I'm being prosy or foolish or speaking ex cathedra -- the categories are not exclusive -- I am on Facebook. Sorry, Mr. President, I don't tweet.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

From the Mailbag

Dear Dr. or Professor Epstein,

Is marriage between two siblings, one adopted and one birth, forbidden by the consanguinity laws?

Who exactly do you think I am? In any event, I'd refer all such questions to Jerry Lee Lewis and Dick Clark.


How long are you going to keep this up?

How long you got?



Try a comma after the W.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the mailbag

Are you for real?

No, I'm really not.

I like your poems very much and they sound intelligent but I don't understand them. What do you think I should do?

Read them just because you like them. I understand them, mostly, and it hasn't helped me all that much.

Are you available for children's parties and bat mitzvahs?

Sorry, I can't do balloon animals. The screechy sound the balloons make paralyzes my central nervous system.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From the Mailbag

Here and at the other places where I read your comments you are such a know it all. You think you know everything don't you?

I don't know.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Now What?

A little late for art,
a little weak for song,
I try my best to write,
and still it comes out wrong.

I looked within my heart,
I ate a peck of dirt.
I asked for extra light
and never shaved my shirt.

For every ancient blight
I found acoustic cure,
then shared it. Every part
of me was sound and sure.

It's late now, and the night
concludes a damaged age.
I guess I ought to start
to fill this empty page.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From the mailbag:

RHE, you've got a lot of gaul.

Yes, they said that to Caesar, too. Come see me again in March, sometime around the Ides.

I took one of your poems to class. My teacher said it was blank. I told her it wasn't and tried to show her, but she is a teacher and does not listen.

Many teachers are honorable practitioners of a noble profession. Not all. You should have told her it was a printer error.

Why do you like Kipling so much?

Aw, come on--this is just too easy.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Poetry Proper 3

is now available online. I'll bet you can't imagine why I'm telling you this.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Thanks to those who, mysteriously, are "following" this blog, especially since I know almost none of you, so, as Gatsby might say, there's nothing merely personal about it. Much obliged.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Today's Reading

Said Job, It's tough but someone has to do it.
He boiled. His kids went AWOL. And the grass
Shrank as if cursed, a mumbo-jumbo lawn.
A snapshot of its photosynthesis
Was all he had: he propped it on the mantel.
The mantel broke. The rooftree split. His wife
Yelled and drank and tore up the laundry room
And split for Abu Dhabi. Praise the Lord,
Said Job, who had the faith, a nasty rash,
And more regrets than camels. Said the Lord,
Aha. This was a test. Had it been real,
The seas would have been emptied, deserts spun
Like bubbles in a centrifuge. His kids
Returned for dinner, fired up their bongs,
And lived in expectation. Job believed,
Yet noticed that his lawn was not the same.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Good Morning, Betws-y-Coed

Here is the world on fire,
Sun or flames at morning,
Roofs ignited dawning,
Cries in bedrooms, smoke
At short-order breakfast windows.
Pity the children, widows,
The crippled aunts with one hand free,
And the anxious dogs barking, Liar! Liar!
And the diving ducks breaking the lake.
All the new men aflame,
Nothing the sun will see
Set them aboil and aburn.
Look, from laburnum and briar
Smoke is getting away,
And the sun clears the jacketed hills,
And the wild aunts concluding their tea
Pray for rain and cull their banished yards.

The railway is escaping.
The broken chapel rooftop, sleeping
Doves enough for level spirits,
Shines as good as gold.
Water is on the move.
The aunts are dressing, according to their merits,
And the roadway coils into the wood,
At least as good as gold and old
Enough for kestrels born to love
A tamed town, a tired, to remove
The sun with drapes and scrub the singing floor.
You hear, the slam of every door,
And the aunts march, visiting the cold.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

from the mailbag

Yes, I can write limericks. As it happens, I had occasion to improvise a couple this week. No, I rarely do, and I don't think the local paper would be interested. Perhaps Posterity will publish my occasional verses as the final volume of my Collected Works. After all the Major Poems, of course.

I get some very odd emails.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Critical Updates

I’ve changed the voice commands. The poem starts
When anyone says “Artemis” or swears
By Zeus’s thigh. It finishes when rain
Intervenes, the puddles ex machina
Providing an escape. Between the prompts
Poetry sleeps. Hollering “Blood-dimmed tide”
As your Camaro races by won’t work,
Nor liquid-sifting nightingales atop
A satellite dish. I have allowed for that.
Nor saying “Venus” when you really mean
The foam-born goddess who made Helen fall
For that blond curly-headed twit, then watched
A local Hector dragged around in dust.
You can’t say “whale-road,” can’t pretend that Danes
Are good for more than video games. You must
Burn your own child to smithereens to save
Earth from the sun when what it needs is rain.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

No, Really, I'm Not

This woman in her vinyl raincoat runs
Up to me--it’s not raining--and she asks,
Are you The One? (I hear the capitals,
The edge of majuscules, the sharpened height
Of serifs as they play about her eyes,
Wide to let all the light in that there is.)
I’m not. I thought I was once, but I’m not.
She coughs. No one should make mistakes like that,
She tells me, and she takes 2 backwards steps:
You might have missed your chance to save. The truck
Repaving Colorado beeps reverse,
And I shall never know what I have lost.
Her raincoat’s black, of course. I know she keeps
Asafoetida bags about her flat,
Merde du Diable; I know she cannot sleep
Because she has misplaced The One, the leaf
Marked with a grosgrain ribbon and a spoon.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Scrambled Egg Principle

It has been justly observed, that discord generally operates in little things; it is inflamed to its utmost vehemence by contrariety of taste, oftener than of principles
--Johnson, Rambler 99

I had a girlfriend once who liked her eggs scrambled hard. I liked mine scrambled loose. Instead of saying that we liked our eggs cooked differently, she insisted that she scrambled eggs correctly; I scrambled them wrong. From this I derived the Scrambled Egg Principle: Do not elevate differences of taste into differences of principle. I see that, as usual, Johnson has anticipated me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Garden Plot

Come, leave your tools, those blades and hoses.
There have been daisies, will be roses,
Whether you feed and clip and spray.
Sufficient flowers strew the day
In which we laugh, while overhead
The sun approves when clouds are bred;
Gather you hoses: now I stay.
Tomorrow I may be away.

You will be gone, like every she
Of every plant and every me.
Each flower fades; no flower cares,
Caught by the frost and unawares
That frost took Mom and Pop and Sis,
Took first that neighbor, then plucked this,
And will take you. As well you know.
If you must leave, well, all must go.
I shall come later. Come I will.
A garden grows where we keep still.

You unappreciating drone.
If I be gone, and you alone,
I’ll find a mate who strokes and clucks.
Your hand is empty. When it plucks
A rose, the rose dissolves. The dew
Runs by your fingertips. Me too.

Alone God made the gardener first,
His rising state, and not his worst.
I’ve been alone with these before,
Not less with you. Not any more.
If you push on, then I must turn
The water on. My roses burn.

O little man, you spray too much.
Kid gauntlets on, you lose your touch.
Plants love like us; earth claims us all:
Rise with the spring, in autumn, fall.
You’ll make a fine mulch, fat and pure:
But love comes late, and death is sure.
Come straight inside: be quick, be bent.

The roses speak: I hear the scent;
And I shall come before I go.

How sweet the prick

When roses blow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

You Call This a Miracle

The sun shines, the stars shine, the breezes blow.
Yes, yes, the grasses do their stuff: they grow.
Leaves cycle through their tricks: first come, then go.

I'll bet the brook is babbling, birds are tweeting.
M. Nature, smiling, seems to bear repeating
With equanimity. Wow. It's just like meeting

Old Uncle Albert, who keeps telling stories
Worn when Trajan, new to his martial glories,
Heard them and giggled. As do all old tories,

Then praise the miracle of repetition.
And you are dead and given up to fission.
The oldest story. Used without permission.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ripe for Recruitment

Under the bridges, then, where can be found
Men lost, bootless, unready hands on fire
And hair they use as lockpicks. Or The Last
Piazza, where the contract killers meet
Their lawyers, to insert a venue clause
And limits on assignability.
Down by the tracks, it's far too popular,
Crowded with scads of housewife-realtors
Who need time off for Botox and mojitos.
The Polo Club will take an application,
But not call back. And Kitty's 24
Prefers you dazed, emetic but aroused.
Or there's the crossroads. Sandwiches and smokes
Purchase apparent assent. Fruition is
Another matter: these are not the deans
Of Mayhem College; often they forget
Objectives, falling asleep on wiry doormats
Stamped with cardinals and black-capped chickadees,
Right at their victim's feet. Such tasseled shoes.
Nothing says loving like a drunken bum
Sprawled at the doorstep, hunting knife in hand,
Asking, if kicked, for dollar bills and beer.
Try beneath bridges. Covered in newsprint there,
Soldiers with stories, drumheads fast asleep,
Forage for excess, settle for skinny sweets.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Marcus Antonius

I threw it all away for love,
They say, but never what "it" is,
More important than what I kept,
Some qua superior to bliss,
That never, ever rhymes with "dove,"
And much more manly. Jesus wept.

You ever ride in a trireme, bud?
Better to fall on your sword or asp.
Drink while you can. Our day was done
The instant Old Baldy learned his grasp
Would not slip though slick with blood.
She can be my Rubicon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Late last evening

"Uh...Mr....uh...Upstum, this is Obviously Phony Name at Market Research Interminable with a short survey about your political opinions."

"I'm not an Anarcho-Syndicalist."

"So are you planning on voting in the upcoming mayoral election?"

"I'm not an Anarcho-Syndicalist. I'm not even a Wobbly. And I can't spell Czolgosz."

"All right. Well, Mr....uh...Ippstern, how would you rate the possibility you will be voting for Chris Romer in the upcoming mayoral election--absolutely certain, probably absolutely certain, or maybe absolutely certain?"

"If I can't vote for Baxter B. Stiles, I'm not voting. Goodbye."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waiting for Monday

He rose, but he did not feel resurrected.
He wasn’t doing Easter any more,
Just Sunday morning. If they wanted eggs,
He’d scramble; if they needed chocolate,
No problem; but what sermonizing dead
Itinerants had to do with plastic grass
And chicks collapsed in marshmallow--well, he

Knew, he really did. Osiris was
His middle name, practically, he wore
A golden sprig upon his sleeve and let
Sleeping gods lie, if that helped them advance,
Kings for a day in topiary groves.
Okay, he saw the sunrise--prairie light
Again this year. No matter where you are,
There always is an east. It’s over there,
East for a day. It’s always over there.

The children flexed their sugar-ridden thews
And made the windows clamor, all those panes
So light could be admitted and diffused.
It would move west. Perhaps the children, too.
And all of them would run out at the sea,
Awaiting new gods, who’d rise up from behind,
Out of the desert where the gods are born,
Into a heartland, where the gods subside.

Friday, April 01, 2011

From the mailbag:

RHE, you write like a dead guy. When you wake up, let me know.

Dear Unknown Correspondent,

That's just creepy. That would make me...what? Jesus? Osiris? Whitney Houston? A zombie?

Thursday, February 24, 2011


So Auden married Erika, der Mann's
Daughter, because that's what a bugger does,
Which doesn't seem to have disturbed the plans
Of anyone, except the beast that was.

Nice story. Famous names. The gentile touch
Of charity, and no Mann shared his beds.
Just don't believe that we believe too much
Of what such great men portage in their heads

From Alpha to Omega. There were those
Abandoned, which was not the fault of verse;
A little more, perhaps, a debt that prose
Has not repaid; but when the starving curse,

They do not mention villanelles or myth
Or those who aimed intentions, one by one,
At celebrated, artificial kith
And never felt contrition from a son.

Monday, February 21, 2011

From the mailbag

Dear Richard Epstein,

I accidentally read one of your poems while looking for the real Richard Epstein. I hope it never happens again.

Best wishes,
[name withheld]

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Are you a famous poet?
There are no famous poets, not in the sense you mean.
Okay. Are you famous for a poet?
That's a good question. Well put.
Well what?
Are you?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Non serviam

Everyone reverentially quotes JFK's famous inaugural "Ask not..."; no one seems to think about it. If people did, they'd see it's just plain wrong. It's those who live in fascist, monolithic states whose purpose is to serve the state: their primary question is, What can we do for our government? In the US it's supposed to be exactly the opposite. The government exists to serve the citizenry, not the citizenry to serve the government. We should be asking what our country can do for us, not what what we can do for our country. Of course the answer usually is, and should be, "Leave us alone."

P.S. No, I don't believe calling it our "country," rather than the state or the government makes any difference. Are you really going to draw some mystical distinction here? Do you really think that the citizens of a country exist to "serve" it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Note to poets everywhere

If your poems are not more interesting than you are, change vocations.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dead Grandpa Encounters Eschatology

It's grand here, says the sublime
Old Gentleman. No need
For innocence or crime,
Legs up to here or seed.
We're much too clean for lust,
And all our loins are dust.

I miss my loins, he says.
They kept me concerned at night.
They danced to fill my days.
I never asked respite.
I'd dance for stamps and coins,
Could I have back my loins,

Dead Grandpa says, but no
One flashes him satin knickers.
They book no titty show
For arrivisted slickers.
Dead Grandpa hums a psalm
Extolling holy calm.

Here at the Pearly Gates
He met a sadder sack
Just yesterday, called Yeats,
Who blessed the golden back
Of trollops, drunks, and tarts
And claimed the healing arts

Began in carnal sweats.
No disembodied voice
Can order man, said Yeats,
Who in a cloud of noise
Ascended. DG swears,
And trudges up shiny stairs,

Dodging the falling roses,
Hoping it isn't peace,
Among all posthumous choices,
In which his travails cease,
A beer, a broad, a sleep.
Dead Grandpa's climb is steep.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Dead Grandpa, the Fauvist

The elder statesman of the neighborhood
Remembers giant elk and sabertooths
Engaging in the parkway. He recalls
Splashy bonfires from the age of ice,
Thick blue-gray sheets encroaching on the huts
His parents built from fronds and fallen logs,
And, oh, the wolves--foundation of the blues,
He tells the little children, who step back,
Hoping the white-coat men with nets will show.
He notices. He tells them of the times
He drove off fierce triceratops and saved
The vegetables for winter. Where were you,
He queries, when we carved out the first wheel,
When Og and I invented tempera
And wooden teeth and book reviews? And salt.
The kids have heard of black-and-white TV
And know that WWI preceded II.
They do not need a grandfather who laid
Great Caesar's ghost to rest and lent his ears
To Phoenix, over coffee, every time,
Until the bird was old enough for school
And snub-nosed scissors, juice boxes, and gym.
Old and burned and born again and again,
He lives the story of the Ice Age, too,
The story of true love and painted caves,
Of Artemis and pharaoh's swanky graves;
But giant elk are scarce today. Old Og
Has gone to dust, there, blowing down the block,
And Grandfather will follow, given time.