Saturday, July 18, 2015

Of Poetics, Polemics, and Politics

In the last post on this site, I put up a clearly political poem, “Endorsement”, and stated in emails to some of my correspondents that I had done so in a “What Would Neruda Do”?  moment.   I did not mean to imply that my work was the equal of Neruda's, nor even to suggest that this poem was meant to emulate any of his -- I simply wished to remind readers and other writers that he was not afraid to take a political stand and to let his poetry reflect that position.  Too often, I fear, we are using our pens "just for pretty", as the old New England boatbuilders said of adornments to their craft.

No one responding to my emails took an opposing political view to mine, and many thought the poem a pretty good one.  From the standpoint of one judging purely on the merits of its poetics, it may not be.  A few didn’t care for it’s lack of metaphor and other good and wonderful devices which made Neruda’s work stand out during his time and ours.  Perhaps we mortals should be more careful in invoking the name of San Pablo.  But as a bit of possibly memorable political communication aimed at 21st century Americans, I think my piece may still have some merit.

I did get a few comments, though, suggesting that as poets we are only able to “preach to the choir”, so it may be pointless for us to even delve into the political and, worse, when we do, we too often engage in mere rants and screeds.  Of course, there’s truth in that.


If we, having developed our craft to whatever little level decide not to speak to whatever little audience about injustice as we see it, then I believe we are complicit in that injustice.  Yes, we must say our poems in the very best way we can, but we must say them.  And they must, occasionally, actually be about something that matters.

     ~ RM    

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Against the Wall


However fine are their qualities
and however fine ours may be,
if we empower as leaders
those bought and sold,
we, too, are bought and told
that this is the golden-
hued freedom we dumb
bastards fought for
and all the bleeding was for naught
and the dying fools.
We are buying that it’s cool
to sell the nation to the corporation,
build more jails, close more schools.
We can all just stay tuned
to the one station that broadcasts
the coronation, see the placement,
on that paid-for head,
of our crown of jewels.

~ Ralph Murre

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Chicken Shack, or The Coop

bookmark: murre, from basho's road

photo: sharon auberle

Some of you will remember Norbert Blei.  My friend, my mentor, my publisher.  One of the people most influential in my writing life.  Wrote a bunch of books, published a lot of other people's books, stayed in touch with the wide world of literature and literati,and raised as much hell as he could to save the environment and a disappearing way of life; all from a not-too-reconstructed chicken coop in the Wisconsin woods.
Since Norb's death, his property has been sold, but thanks to his children, The Coop has been donated to Write On! Door County, and relocated to those grounds where it will serve as sanctuary and inspiration to other writers, young and old.
I attended a fine dedication ceremony last Saturday along with about 150 other folks, many of whom paid tribute with their words, their art, their music, and at least one original dance, choreographed just for the day.  Here's the poem I wrote for the occasion:

The Cock o’ the Coop
(On the studio of Norbert Blei)

Beyond Ellison Bay, in may-apple May
and blue-sky July gone by,
or in the gray of dim December,
south windows searching for sun,
there would have been Leghorns
I suppose, utilitarian,
clucking and cackling
in this chicken house.
Good layers, Leghorns.
Might have been White Rocks and Barred Rocks,
brooding.  Rhode Island Reds.  Perhaps even
Sunday-dinner Wyandotte, Orpington, or Jersey Giant.

For certain --

one Bantam rooster, crowing
doing his damnedest
to wake the neighbors

~ Ralph Murre

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Observations on Earth Day

Starlings in America

The watchman stood alone on his blue hill
and watched, then, as he does now.
Saw them coming.

A few Vikings, some kook in a coracle.
He saw three ships come sailing in
from Spain.

They traded trinkets for coconuts and corn,
traded pox for potatoes.
A syphilitic wife will change your life.

The sun rises and the sun sets.
Their God was nailed to a tree
where they could keep an eye on him.

They brought original sin, brought a savior
and took silver, brought guns and took gold.
Brought alcohol, took tobacco.

They brought ponies and plunder,
were crazy for beaver
and a quick way to China.

In time, they brought steel and steam.
A steel knife will change your life, too.
The sun rises and the sun sets.

They brought bulldozers and drag-line buckets.
Tore the Earth.  Tore the Good Earth.
Put it on Mr. Peabody’s coal train.
Brought languages,
took languages away.
Brought starlings.

Brought Studebakers and Scotch Tape.
Duct tape and red tape.
They brought refrigerator magnets,

scotch and soda, the cotton gin, wrinkle –
free polyester.  Bourbon and Bud Lite and
a bomb that bloomed in the desert.

They taught children to hide under desks.
Atomic strife will change your life.
The sun rises and sets.

Edsels come and Edsels go.
The watchman stands alone on his blue hill.
Do not be hopeful,

he calls out at last,
but do not be without hope.
They brought Schubert.

~ Ralph Murre

Little Eagle's RE / VERSE: Fare thee well, Ellen Kort

photosource unknown

Please find a few words about the passing of our friend at:
Little Eagle's RE / VERSE: Fare thee well, Ellen Kort:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Funny Thing . . .

A funny thing happened on the way to the podium.  As the result of a process totally mysterious to me, I have been named poet laureate of Door County, Wisconsin.  While I was sure that this was some gross miscalculation or simply a hoax, apparently the county board didn't get the joke, and I was installed yesterday at the board meeting.  Another funny thing:  Flu.  I haven't been sick for years, but the night before my big moment, I was struck, hard, by some nastiness.  I could not attend.  Luckily for me, the out-going and outgoing laureate, Estella Lauter, said a few very kind words on my behalf and read the poem I had written for the occasion, an imperative piece which is as much a note to myself as to the assembled board.
In awe of the three who have held this post before me; Frances May, Barbara Larsen, and Estella Lauter, I humbly submit:

To the Duly Elected,

the newly elected, and those selected
to serve many times before –

I ask you to speak for the farmer as he tills,
for the builder as he builds.
Speak for the bagger of groceries
and speak, please, for the trees.

Speak loudly to save quiet places.
Speak, too, for the ferryman,
the fisherman, the schools of fishes.
Remember the one who taught you to read.

Remember the ones who wash dishes.
Be strong for the weak, the unhealthy.
Speak up for those in need.
Speak up for the artist and the scene she paints.

Speak, please, for the creek.
Be wary of saints and the wealthy.
Speak out against greed.
Speak for the nurses and nursery-men.

Represent those who scrub floors.
Represent those who pull weeds.
Speak for the firefighter, the all-nighter cop,
speak for the crop in the field.

Listen to the one who voted against you.
Listen to the wind in the night.
Listen to your heart when it says to stand fast,
listen close when it tells you to yield.

~ Ralph Murre

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je suis, aussi

artwork: ralph murre

je suis ecrivain
je suis iconoclaste
je suis artiste
je suis chaque homme
je suis, aussi, charlie

~ ralph murre

Thursday, January 01, 2015

(Slow) Running Things

photo: ralph murre

How slowly the writing comes these days, as evidenced by the fact that I haven't posted to this site since May.  Have barely written anything else for anywhere else.  Forgive me re-running this 10-year old piece, still possibly appropriate for the day:

Running Things

Another year
Another chance to get it right
To do the things I shoulda done
Tear down that fence I built
Quit the party
Let running things run

Another wave rolls up the beach
Tumbles stones
Polishes what survives
Shorebirds – hungry – rush
Consume the dazzled on the sands
End the safe, crustacean lives

Another day
Another chance to see the light
To see the clouded, rising sun
Copper flame in pewter bowl
Embrace the certain, coming toll
Or be a running thing, and run

~ Ralph Murre

On a brighter note, and concerning two friends for whom the writing seems to be coming along very nicely, I want to refer you to two new blogs that brighten my days considerably.  The first, a self-titled site by Mary Wehner, can be found at and the second, called The Poet At Large, is by Al DeGenova, and is at  Beautiful.
Both sites are new enough that you can easily read them from their beginnings, an exercise quite definitely worth your while. Links to both will remain in my right-hand column under "Good Places".
Happy New Year to all.     ~ RM 

Monday, May 05, 2014

the poet, at seventy, observes

and the aged

   discuss at length
 their aging
   the raging pains
and nagging
   the sagging
and the gravity
   their long-lost
youth,  naïveté
   as though
there was forever
   to converse
they heed
   no call for terse
nor feel a need
   for brevity

~ ralph murre

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

small talk

Little Eagle Press

~ proudly presents ~

small talk

A fine, new book of the shorter poems of Bruce Dethlefsen,
past Poet Laureate of Wisconsin.   Here’s your chance to see what a terrific writer can say in ten lines or less, and to see why Little Eagle, always very selective, jumped at the chance to publish this jewel of a manuscript.  There’s a lot of wry humor in these 92 pages, as well as good doses of poignancy and pathos.  Add a liberal sprinkling of the drawings of Ralph Murre, and we feel you’ll agree that this is a winning text.

a sample:


at night
my mother bathed me in a white tub
scrubbed me with white soap
rubbed me in a white towel
hugged and plugged me
into pajamas and the white sheets

an act so kind
so common
it barely even happened

small talk can be ordered directly from the author

Bruce Dethlefsen
422 Lawrence Street
Westfield, WI   53964

at $15. per copy, plus $3. for shipping & handling.
( For shipping fees on orders of multiple copies, please

Thursday, April 17, 2014

all it has to be

this river
is not long
nor swift
nor all that deep
but it flows true
from dream to dream
and it’s all it has to be
and it does all a river needs to do

~ ralph murre

Monday, April 07, 2014

Gone Blind -- Arvinson Log post # 600

Gone Blind  (2014)
Justice! they cry
What’s it mean? sez I
ain’t it just another name for revenge?
She’s often portrayed
as a blind chick with a sword
as untoward as blind rage
or blind drunk on a binge
Oh, she looks good
sittin’ here on this page
but she lights fires, you know
and if we’re not burnt
we’ll be singed
To invite her
we’re gonna need courage

let us try
one more time
for courage

Justice! they cry
Save me from it, sez I
or I and my kind
will swing in the breeze
and a lonely trumpet play
and the harpies will
tug at our flesh
‘til sometime late in the day
if anyone knows
that we aren’t on our knees
begging the unknown in the sky
begging, please
Let us try
one more time
for courage, for courage

Let us try
one more time
for courage

For I and my kind
by choice have gone blind
and our names
are signed to the checks
and our names are in the fields
of oil and blood
and our spirits
are dragged through the mud
as Old Glory waves
and we salute the ones
who send children
We salute, and dig graves
for our children

Let us try
one more time
for courage

Justice! they cry
but does she ever forgive?
And if it’s an eye
for an eye
how will grandchildren live?
Just look at her there
Sweet Justice – how fair
though she seems only to care
for the sound of alarms
It takes courage, too
to not take up arms
it takes courage to say
Let her go, now
we’ll start new

let us try
one more time
for courage

~ Ralph Murre

Friday, March 21, 2014

at evening


could I be
a sundown man
enfold you
unfold you
the colored rays
of our shining
the western sky
at evening?

~ ralph murre

Sunday, March 02, 2014

as Mardi Gras approaches

Delta Blues

There, on the edge of the shelf,
in the sad and beautiful frames of generations,
the black and white portraits of us,
the sepia of our flesh,
the glisten and the dance.
There, the mouth of Old Man River
speaks to the sea of a continent stolen,
but Mother Ocean says, “Africa
I’m here for her children. Europa –
I’m here for her children.  And Asia’s,”
she says.  There,
where those two meet day in and out,
night after night, in throes
of love and fight and blows
of gods of wind, there
in a mixed-blood flood,
she takes away a few of those
she’s brought on her broad back,
but carries them now in her womb
from that Crescent City where the water
rises above the tombs.

“Shall we gather . . .”, sings the old man,
“On that beautiful shore . . .”, says the sea.

~ Ralph Murre

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Grandfathers

the grandfathers
their hands flinty with work
reaching down to take mine

smell of oil and liniment and wool
smoke rising
snow falling

their heavy shovels
and plaid coats
the names of old countries

~ Ralph Murre

If that sounds like an old one to any of you, well, it is.  Kinda.  In the spirit of revise, revise, revise, I boiled a fair to middlin' nineteen lines down to nine, and I think I like it even better. If I keep going this way, someday, I'll say nothing at all, and that may be best.   ~ RM

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

In That House

In That House
". . . any room was full       
of such choreography . . ."
~ Michael Ondaatje
each of the chambers
of his heart
held a dance
his inner ear
a symphony
the optic nerve
told of roses
and rose windows
remembering that day
in that far away
when her eyes whispered

and still
the quick step
of all these
a waltzing
and that fox
still trotting
the way she does
in that house
full of the choreography
of whispered

~ Ralph Murre

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gratitude in Dark December

There's nothing more gratifying for a writer, I suppose, than to be read -- and to have a person or two in some way moved by the reading.  A couple of years ago, I penned "In Dark December" which has been published here and there in print and on line, and which I've read at several events.  Well -- people seem to like it and it's been spreading on the internet and by emails and now I get references to the piece from far and wide. Thanks to friend Kris Thacher for the above photo, showing the poem posted on the Poetry Pole on Candelaria Road in Albuquerque, New Mexico; a far piece from my digs in Northeast Wisconsin.  Sometimes, I think, a piece of writing can be bigger than its author, and that's certainly how I feel about this poem.  Grateful to have had my pen on paper -- my hook in the water -- when this one came swimming by.  Grateful, too, for the friends, new and old, who have helped keep this alive.    ~ RM

In Dark December
by Ralph Murre

Whatever you believe,
whatever you do not,
there are sacred rites
you must perform
in dark December.
Do this for me:
Pull together
the kitchen table,
the folding table,
and that odd half-oval
usually covered
with bills and broken pencils
and red ink.
Pull together family and friends,
cool cats and stray dogs alike.
Turn off everything
except colored lights,
the roaster,
the toaster, the stove.
Cook.  Bake.  Eat.
Yes, even the fruitcake.
Eat, crowded around
those assembled tables
with mismatched chairs.
Reach so far
in your sharing
that you hold the sun
in one hand,
the stars in the other,
and no one between is hungry.
Now walk together,
talk together,
be together
on these darkest nights.
Give and forgive.
Light candles and ring bells.
Sing the old songs.
Tell the old stories
one more time,
leaving nothing out,
leaving no one out
in the long night,
leaving nothing wrong
that you can make right.

~ first published in Peninsula Pulse                                                        

Saturday, November 09, 2013


I don't know about the streets of Heaven, nor am I likely to find out -- but parts of County Trunk Q were paved with gold this morning as a sheath of shed tamarack needles clung to the wetted roadway.  That's good enough for me.     ~ RM

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallows Eve

With appropriate dark
And this damp chill
Tomorrow begins November
We shall wear brave masks tonight


Tuesday, October 15, 2013



No man, you tell me, but everyman, I tell you,
and woman and boat, every Wisconsin farmhouse
and apartment in the Bronx; an island.

That blue circle of horizon, the dangerous passage,
those days the ferry cannot cross from my shores
to the quiet cove of yours.  The sea between.

~ Ralph Murre

That's the little tug Neverwas in my sketch above, departing Rock Island, Wisconsin, in the early afternoon of long ago, and getting a friendly wave from an unidentified guest at the Thordarson Boathouse, where Sharon Auberle and I were recently privileged to read to a sizable and receptive audience from our book Wind Where Music Was.  Headliner on the program was ferryman Richard Purinton, who was introducing his Thordarson and Rock Island, an absolute "must read" for anyone interested in the history of the region and the biography of the man.  I predict that this wonderfully researched volume will be the standard text on the topic for a long time to come.     ~ RM  

Friday, September 20, 2013


digitally derived from seed co. photo

Like a Melon, Love.

She weighed it in her hand
in her heart
this chance
this could be

as a cantaloupe
this fruit
this thing
bought on faith
before it could be
cut open.

smelled of it
felt of it

~ Ralph Murre

That first line (italicized) is a snippet
borrowed from Louis de Bernieres