Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In Praise of the Traffic Report

And now here's Arnie Pye with "Arnie in the Sky!"
I frequently listen to National Public Radio (man, ten years ago I never imagined I'd be saying that), and was recently struck by the polar contrast in tones between the reporting of world/national/local headlines and the rush hour traffic updates.

A bomb went off in Baghdad today, a soft, yet firm voice will announce. You'll be told the time at which it occurred; perhaps a vivid term such as "bustling market" will be employed to set the scene. You'll be informed of how many were killed in the blast, how many merely maimed. The local correspondent might make mention of broken glass, rubble, and panic, and you'll hear recorded audio of anguished families' screams. A translator will relay an eyewitness's account of the big BOOM, the screams and panic, the human misery and bafflement at the swiftness with which an unbelievable horror has consumed his or her life.

Nothing is ever mentioned regarding how this development might be affecting the late afternoon commute.

And next comes the traffic report. An voice that's almost invariable male -- tinged with a peppiness suggesting optimism in the face of adversity -- will mention that a vehicle fire shut down 476 W for most of the afternoon, but don't worry; they've got most of it cleared away and traffic is picking up.

No mention of the accident's cause. Nothing about how many people were injured or killed. Nothing about the grief of friends and loved ones. Nothing about the guilt of the survivor in the driver's seat, or the tragedy of the victim's inability to pay off the hospital bills once they've put his head back together. Only the most relevant facts of the immediate occasion -- only the information which matters most to the majority of listeners at that very instant is relayed. "There was an event, but not so significant that you'll have to take another route home."

Lately I've been experiencing a degree of information overload, which might explain why the traffic reports are suddenly so refreshing to me. Maybe we'd be better off if all current events were reported with the same integrity as the traffic updates.

"A military strike against Syria now seems inevitable, but Breaking Bad will be airing as scheduled."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Milemarker Quandary

Conall McCabe, Second Quandary

This blog's three-year anniversary is coming up. Cool. That's a fine time to admit to a crisis of purpose.

I originally started Beyond Easy because I'd been writing about virtually nothing about video games for however many years and I wanted to write about something -- ANYTHING -- else. (This change of attitude was most likely spurred by the accumulated fallout of the Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIII experiences.) At the time, writing miniature essays about whatever I happened to be interested in during a given week was positively liberating. But the price of freedom is the danger of aimlessness, and I fear this blog is becoming less interesting because of its lack of focus. I'll admit that it often feels like an obligation -- a prompt like WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING, ANYTHING doesn't exactly put the lead in my pencil.

So where can I go from here?

Specialization? Question: on what subjects can I claim myself an authority, or claim to offer a unique and relevant perspective?

Oh, god. That's a line of self-examination that will lead me to the fabled quarter-life crisis. I'm not sure "blogger as columnist" is an act I can pull off.

Current events? I am increasingly fatigued by the Twitter/Tumblr engine of outraged punditry. Besides: other people already have it covered, and they do it better and enjoy it more than me.

Vanity pieces? In other words, move toward treating Beyond Easy more like a journal (of the "Live" variety) than a topical blog. Sadly, this is what I think I've been closest to lately. I'm still not at the point where I'm posting elaborated Facebook updates about what I did over the weekend and what products I'm consuming, but I fear we're still on the arbitrary chatter side of "freeform." This probably isn't a direction to go any further in.

Mothballs? All things being equal, the kind of writing I enjoy most lately is fiction. Lately I'm wondering if it mightn't make me happier to focus exclusively on that, regardless of where it appears or who might end up reading it. I'd certainly perform more efficiently on this front if I didn't have to pull myself away once a week or so to jury rig a blog post. Putting Beyond Easy on hiatus is always an option.

But I'd also prefer not to work in a complete vacuum (which is more or less the experience of writing fiction unless you're dealt an excellent hand) if it can be avoided. At the very least, maintaining a blog keeps a communication channel open. 

Comics? There's a thought. Stick to writing fiction. Instead of blogging, take breaks from prose by drawing comic strips. There's more Sisyphus strips I'd like to do. I have ideas for another 8EB mini-arc, and cubeblockhead comics are always fun to draw. Unlike blogging, drawing comics tends not to tap into the same well as writing fiction, and it would give me something I can easily share with friends and my adoring public. (Pause for prolonged drag on cigarette followed by barely audible sigh.)

So I'm open to suggestion. And I hope you'll help me out.

If you're reading this, I'm curious to know: what am I doing (or what have I done in the past) that works? If you read this thing from time to time, what kinds of posts do you enjoy reading? Which ones do you skim and skip over? Would it be better if I updated more often with shorter pieces, or irregularly posted longer pieces? Should I just chuck it all and do more comics? Should I just say nuts to all this and go off-radar altogether for a while?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why don't we do it in the road?

"No one will be watching us."

It was always one of my least favorite Beatles songs. Henceforth I will associate it with the August afternoon when I watched two cicadas mating in the driveway for like fifteen minutes, and I will smile.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Catalogs and Caterwauls

Forgive me if I've already boasted about this (how often do I have cause to boast about anything?), but this very blog has the unique distinction of being the first Google web search result for the phrase "joyless elitist luddite."

I feel honored by the recognition -- when you're on the tier of Internet celebrity that I currently occupy, recognition by a brainless, uncomprehending algorithm is usually the best you can hope for -- but I don't think I deserve it because it's not wholly accurate. I'm not really a Luddite.

There's plenty of evidence to the contrary. I'm not on board with the Singularity. One of my favorite books that I read this year was Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget. I don't own a smartphone and don't want one. I am also sometimes sufficiently crazy enough to wish for a moratorium on "disruptive" technologies so that humanity can take a few minutes to settle and try to figure its shit out. (It is this same fanciful idealism that compels me to try to solicit representation for a new novel.)

But I'm not really a Luddite. I'm not strictly opposed to the fruits of the digital flourish. Why, right off the top of my brainpan I can think of two recent examples where I've felt a profuse appreciation of technology, and I'm sure you're eager to read them.

ONE. One half of my day job over the last year has been to maintain a small library at a Quaker center. It's important to understand (particularly if you are in its employ) that the organization, like most nonprofits, does not have a lot of cash to throw around, especially after 2008. The library is a luxurious but nonessential component of the institution and contributes virtually nothing directly toward its bottom line, and so it hasn't had much of a budget for a while. Digitizing the card catalog was a renovation the library couldn't afford to make.

See this?

This is the card catalog. It's an exemplary specimen of what my former colleague Lawrence might call a classical database. Its essential function is the same as the digital version: it is a tool for collecting, organizing, and accessing data, and it does so without modern exorbitances like computer chips or electricity. (In fact, it represented a tremendous I.T. breakthrough in the eighteenth century.)

Anyone born after the 1980s has probably never seen one of these things, but there was a time when they were found in every library. Prior to the early stages of the digital revolution, this was the most effective tool at the library browser's disposal for locating a book on the shelf. The sight of our catalog sets certain visitors aflutter with nostalgia. "I haven't seen one of these things in years! This is such a treasure!" they'll spout, gently running their hands over its surface and opening the drawers to take a fond, familiar whiff of dust, wood, acid-free paper, and typewriter ink.

I always smile and nod and concur without looking them in the eye. But honestly? I hate this fucking thing.

People who feel nostalgic for old-school card catalog have obviously never had to maintain one. When a new book is added to the collection, it requires at least four index cards. One card (at minimum) is for the subject heading. One card (at minimum) is for the author, one is for the title. And there's a fourth card for the master list, so the collection's steward knows what cards the book is represented by in the public catalog. Each card needs to be formatted differently. All four (at least) cards have to be filed in alphabetical order in their proper drawers. And this is just for one book. It takes forever and it's a huge pain in the ass.

If we had a digital database, the process would consist of:

1.) Enter information into appropriate fields.
2.) Hit "submit."

You can make a case that the automobile has robbed from us the art of horsemanship, that electric lights have deprived us of nighttime, or that modern medicine has bereft us of the sphincter-tightening thrill of having wriggling leeches affixed to our limbs. But updating from an index card database to a digital database is a total net gain. It is technology at its best, providing convenience at the elimination of a tedious and absolutely unedifying task. (Go on, make the case that data entry and filing improves a human being beyond helping him earn a paycheck. I dare you.)

TWO. I don't consider myself a "birder," but I'm really into birds. I go outside and pay attention to my surroundings. I find myself especially noticing birds, so I guess that's why I've taken an interest in them lately. If I were really serious about it, I'd start carrying a field guide around with me, learn and refer to all the local birds' Latin genus/species designations (had you clicked on the link in the last section, you would know that the same person who devised the modern taxonomical system also invented the index card!), and aggravate people at parties with florid, wine-scented sermons about my last fruitful afternoon in "the field." (Experts refer to it "the field." Amateurs like me call it "the woods.")

When I'm outside and see an unfamiliar feathered creature, my only recourse is usually to try committing its shape and markings to memory so I can consult All About Birds the next time I get myself to a computer. If I can't can't get a really good look, or if it's small and indistinctly dull-colored, then there's really not much I can do.

Usually a bird's sound makes a more significant impression than its appearance, but remembering birdsong is usually more difficult than remembering its physical details. I can't whistle; I can't read or write musical scales, and I have no innate propensity for tone or timing. (Some of you are thinking that this explains some of my taste in music or my stilted, discordant prose. Don't think for a moment that I don't what you think.) So I'll get a sense of the song and try to remember it by consciously humming it to myself for a while; and between then and the time I sit down at a computer to check it against likely candidates, the bird's song has been invariably and unrecognizably scrambled by way of a two-hour, one-man game of telephone.

Though I've never gone out with the sole intention of looking for it, there's been this one bird I've wanted to see for a while. It's called an indigo bunting.

Passerina cyanea

There's really no deep meaning or poetical inside joke about why I'd like to see an indigo bunting in its natural habitat. It's just a very photogenic bird I happened to notice in some pictures.

One afternoon last May, my friend Dave and I were out walking in the woods (actually, it was really more of a field), and a strange song rang out ahead of us. I turned toward the source, and a cerulean blur darted across my vision, partially camouflaged against the sky. It was only visible for a few moments before disappearing into the trees and perching on a high branch somewhere out of sight. I didn't get a good enough fix on it to identify any features other than its color. It was just a very blue bird. It didn't go far; it remained in the general vicnity for a while, staying hidden, but telegraphing its presence with a long, low, melodious call.

Dave happened to have his iPhone with him, and you can guess where this is going. My first guess was indigo bunting, but the songs didn't match up. But we got a positive ID when we compared the song we heard to a recording of an eastern bluebird, and found that they synched up almost perfectly.

Sialia sialis

It's fortunate we managed to identify it when we did. I haven't seen another eastern bluebird since then, and the indigo bunting remains at large.

But it's really mindblowing: we used a pocket-size device to retrieve information on birds and bird calls from a computer network via electromagnetic signals from a remote source. HOLY COW.  Flying cars aren't the future. This is the future. Imagine telling somebody from 1990 that in twenty years everyone carried a personal Batcomputer around in their pocket. I get to do stuff like this so infrequently that I'm still amazed by it when I do.

Anyway, this was a really cool thing that happened, and it happened because my friend happened to be a smartphone owner who carries his device in his pocket more or less at all times. I'm glad it was available at that moment. And I'm certainly not unastonished by what our gadgets enable us to do (and when and where they enable us to do them).

But I'm still uninterested in owning one myself. I'm glad to cut myself off. It's a necessity. I need times when the answers aren't always at hand. Going out into the unbuilt parts of the world is something I find very refreshing and edifying, and it's not the same if I'm in the habit of carrying the Internet around with me wherever I go. I need time where answers aren't at hand. I need to be able to speculate, wonder, and drift, and I tend not to do that as much when there's an Internet connection in the vicinity. When my mind lands on some frivolous, but compelling thought -- say, what was the trick to finding Jason's mother in Friday the 13th on the NES? -- I will drop what I'm doing to look it up; and since I'm already sitting down and thinking about it, I'll refresh my memory on some similar games in the NES library, like Nightmare on Elm Street and Rambo. And while I'm at at it I'll check my email -- I'm always checking my email and never expecting anything -- and glance at the latest stories on BBC News and check on the Twitterati's hot button issues and inside jokes of the week, and I do this because I can do it and I've gotten so used to doing it that it's become something I always do. I need extended periods of time where it's out of reach -- times when I'm not tuned in to the NOISE. I need less NOISE, not more. There's too much NOISE in my life already because I welcomed it in and because I love the NOISE, but good god does it tire me.

More convenience at the expense of inviting more NOISE is too high a cost for me.

And this is precisely the familiar joyless hippie elitist Luddite out-of-touch douche line, isn't it? There's probably no use pleading the fifth at this point. Google had me figured right after all.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

One Minute, Please!

Image borrowed from a science teacher from Jersey, who
doesn't know where it came from either.
As new communications technology continues reshaping society according to the ineluctable, inscrutable, and sacrosanct Will of the Market (blessed be Its numbers), we commonly hear people voicing their displeasure about the broken promises of "Web 2.0" and its networked gizmos. The usual grievance runs something like: "contrary what we were told we were buying into when we all moved our lives onto the Internet and the Internet onto our phones, we're now more alone, more scatterbrained, more rushed, more stressed, and less satisfied than we were before."

It's pretty much all true, and we might as well get used to it. There's nothing we can do. Progress cannot be stopped, and in retrospect we'll look silly for expressing apprehension at the unfurling of its grand designs for its anointed people. Someday one of our descendants will activate the "social history: 21st century" node on the Mens Mentis Alvarium global neural network and engage in a one-way interface with our archived kvetchings about the frustrations and inconveniences of our primitive excutaneous "devices" with a sort of nuanced glee that our 21st century capacity for irony is of yet too unsophisticated to appreciate. Instead of focusing on our dismally lonely and demanding present, we are better off taking the example of our unborn successors and looking to the past so that we might derive amusement from our great-grandparents' exasperation with the quote-unquote technology of their own era. (The PLEISTOCENE era, am I right? Snicker, snicker, so alone, snicker.)

So! Here is a short piece from humorist Robert Benchley called "One Minute, Please!" I read it in a book called The Benchley Roundup; the good folks at Down with Tyranny spared me the trouble of having to transcribe it myself, and were also so kind as to attribute a likely date of 1930 to the piece.


"One Minute, Please!"

I am known as a bad business man from one end of the country to just a little beyond the same end. Practically every one in my class in kindergarten went into business after graduation, and when I say business I mean business. Whenever I see them now they are always dressed up in stiff shirts and are making marks on the backs of envelopes. Get me a hundred of my old schoolmates together and let them talk from 9 a.m. until almost dinner time and I won't understand a word they are saying. It is only around dinner time that I begin to catch a glimmer of sense and then they have to come right out and say "Martini" or "Green turtle soup." At this point I join the party.

But not until I have had it said to me eight or a dozen times that I ought to be more businesslike. "Good old Bob," they say (those of them who remember that my name is "Bob"), "you are just a sucker to be so impractical. Why don t you let us take some of your money and triple it for you?"

Leaving aside the question "What money?" I am frankly at a loss for something to say. Here I am, just a dreamer, and there they are, captains of industry, or, at any rate, second lieutenants. They have the advantage of me.

Of course, if I wanted to, I might point out that out of a possible $5000 which I have made since I left school I have had $3000 worth of good food (all of which has gone into making bone and muscle and some nice fat), $1500 worth of theatre tickets, and $500 worth of candy; whereas many of my business friends have simply had $5000 worth of whatever that stock was which got so yellow along about last November.

I was sympathetic with all the boys at that time and even advanced a little cash in a sparing manner, but I couldn't help remembering the days during the summer when I had to sit and listen to them say, "Well, I made $650,000 over the week end. What will you have, Bob, old man?" And all the time I was, in my old impractical way, sinking my money into silk neckties (which I still have) and throwing it away on life-giving beefsteaks.

I do not intend to dwell on this phase of life's whirligig, however. Who can tell, perhaps some day even we spendthrifts may find ourselves short of cash. In the meantime, those of us who have nothing but fripperies to show for our money have had a good laugh. At least we've got the fripperies.

What I do want to dwell on is the point that there are still a great many practices which are considered businesslike and efficient and which any one of us old dreamers could improve upon and speed up. Now you sit still and read this. I have sat still and listened to you long enough.

First, there is the question of business telephoning. During the last five or six years there has spread throughout the business world a method of telephoning which, so far as I am concerned, bids fair to destroy all channels of business communication. If it keeps up, I, for one, will go back to the old Indian runner and carrier pigeon methods. I won't stand for this another day. In fact, I stopped standing for it a year ago.

I refer to the delayed-pass play, so popular among busy executives. In this play your busy executive, when he wants to get me on the telephone (why he should want to get me on the telephone is a mystery), says to his secretary, "Get me Mr. Benchley on the wire, Miss Whatney." You see, he hasn't got the time to get me himself, what with all those stocks he has to tend to, so he has Miss Whatney do it for him. So far, pretty good. Miss Whatney looks up my number in the book and gives it io the operator at the switchboard, thereby releasing the busy executive for other duties, such as biting off the end of a cigar or drawing circles on his scratch pad.

The scene now changes and we see me, the impractical dreamer, sitting at an old typewriter with nothing to do but finish an article which was due the day before. My telephone rings and I, in my slipshod, impractical way, answer it. And what do I get for my pains?

"Is this Vanderbilt 0647? Is Mr. Benchley there? Just a minute, please!"

Having nothing to do but wool-gather, I wait. In about two minutes I hear another female voice saying, "Is this Mr. Benchley? Just a minute, please, Mr. Kleek wants to speak to you."

Remember, it is Mr. Kleek who is calling me up. I don't want to speak to Mr. Kleek. I wouldn't care if I never spoke to him. In fact, I am not sure that I know who Mr. Kleek is.

"Just a minute, please," comes the voice again. "Mr. Kleek is talking on another wire."

Now, fascinating as this information is, it really wasn't worth getting up out of my chair for. Mr. Kleek could be busy on eight other wires and my life would go on just about the same. Am I to be called away from my work to be told that a Mr. Kleek is talking on another wire? I think this out as I stand there waiting.

Finally, after several minutes. I hear a man's voice.

"Hello," it says gruffly, "who is this?" I am not only to be told to wait until Mr. Kleek is ready to speak to me, but I am to be treated by Mr. Kleek as if I had infringed on his time. At this point I frankly flare up.

"Who is this yourself?" I snarl. "This was your idea, not mine."

Then evidently Miss Whatney tells Mr. Kleek that she has got Mr. Benchley on the wire, and he is somewhat mollified. But I want to tell you, Mr. Kleek, that by that time I am not on the wire any longer and you can stick that telephone ear-piece into the side of your head. Furthermore, from now on, the minute I am called to the telephone and told to wait a minute, that Mr. Anybody wants to speak to me, I hang up so quickly that the hook drops off. If Mr. Kleek or any other busy executive wants to speak to me he can be there within four seconds after I answer or he can put in the call again. I may be just an old wool-gatherer, but I want to gather my wool somewhere else than at a telephone receiver.

It is possible that the telephone has been responsible for more business inefficiency than any other agency except laudanum. It has such an air of pseudo-efficiency about it that people feel efficient the minute they take the receiver off the hook. A business man could be talking with Ajax, the mechanical chess player, on the other end of the wire and still feel he was getting somewhere, simply because to anyone passing the door he looks as if he were very busy. There is something about saying "O.K." and hanging up the receiver with a bang that kids a man into feeling that he has just pulled off a big deal, even if he has only called up Central to find out the correct time. For this reason business men use the telephone exclusively when almost any other form of communication would be quicker.

In the old days when you wanted to get in touch with a man you wrote a note, sprinkled it with sand, and gave it to a man on horseback. It probably was delivered within half an hour, depending on how big a lunch the horse had had. But in these busy days of rush-rush-rush, it sometimes is a week before you can catch your man on the telephone. The call is put in, but he is out. You tell your secretary to keep calling, but, if the man takes any kind of care of himself at all, he is out most all day in the fresh air. So day after day the secretary keeps calling and, in this way, autumn turns into winter and winter to spring. Perhaps you never get him.

A busy executive said to me the other day in an exasperated tone, "Aren't you ever in? I have been trying to get you on the telephone for five days. What do you do with your time, cut lawns?" You see, I am the one who was in the wrong. I was the impractical one.

I might have told him about that new invention called the "typewriter," whereby, if you can't get a man on the telephone, you can drop him a note which will reach him the next morning. Or I also might have told him that I was in my office all the time, but was so busy working that I had left word with the telephone operator not to bother me with time-wasting calls from business men. In either case, dropping me a note would have saved him four days of telephoning. But apparently note-dropping is considered a relic of Civil War days and is not to be considered in the bustle of modern business. You must use the telephone, even if it doesn't get you anywhere.

The telephone is the particular pet of the go-getter who won't take no for an answer. He has a passion for long-distance calls. Let us say that his organization is getting up a dinner in Chicago and wants to get an after-dinner speaker from New York. The go-getter is, of course, chairman of the dinner committee because he gets things done. He guarantees to get the New York speaker. "Leave it to me," he says, knowingly. And, even as he says it, he is putting in a long-distance call for New York. Bingo -- like that! The New York man answers and gets the following:

"This is Ferley of the Autumn Coat and Suit speaking! We're holding a dinner here on February 10th, and you're coming out to speak for us! -- O, yes, you are! I won't take no for an answer. . . . O, yes, you can -- I'll call those people up and tell them you're coming to us. . . . Now, not another word! -- See you on the 10th!"

With this he hangs up and reports to the committee that he has the speaker sewed up. The fact that the New York man can't go to Chicago on the 10th and has no intention of going doesn't enter into the calculations at all. No one is supposed to be able to resist the man with the telephone personality. He sweeps everything before him.

The only drawback is that, two days before the dinner, when it is found out that the New York speaker meant what he said and really isn't coming, the go-getter has to go-get somebody through a local agency to do card tricks for the diners. "That's the trouble with dealing with these literary guys," he thunders. "You can't count on them!" And he puts in another long-distance call just to quiet his nerves.

And so it goes through life. There are the doers and the dreamers, the men who make every second count and the men who waste their time with nothing to show for it. The first are the business men of the country, the others are the impractical fellows who write and draw pictures. Or perhaps it is just the other way 'round. I always get these things mixed.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Clubs: Three Kingdoms & Lalka

First! Sorry I haven't hit anyone up for chess just yet. Until the end of the month I'm in a situation where I need to plan in advance to sit down at a place with an Internet connection. I will contact people individually and set up some games, though. Promise.

So. Last October -- just as our "Let's Read Pierre" experiment was winding down -- I found a message in my email inbox from Mr. Jon B, who asked if I had any interest in joining him in bum rushing Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the tremendously famous and influential classical Chinese novel. We finally began reading in May, and finished in late July. (Ten weeks, about 200 pages a week. I can finally brag about having read a novel longer than War and Peace.) After the impending jump, you can read an abridged version of our email discussion (mostly unedited, so my contributions in particular might seem rather half-cooked), but first I'd like to put out an invitation.

At some point in the not too distant future (during the fall, perhaps?) Mr. B. and I are planning to read through Bolesław Prus's The Doll (Lalka), acclaimed as Poland's greatest novel by no one less than Nobel prizewinner poet Czesław Miłosz. (If you've been keeping track, I've posted a couple excerpts in the past.) Even though I read it for the first time nearly three years ago, I'm eager to revisit it again -- but more than that, I just want more people to actually read the damn thing. It's easily one of the best novels I've ever read, but virtually no one in my neck of the woods has even heard of it.

So! If anyone's interested in participating in another "Let's Read" event, please let me know! I can promise it will not be a repeat of the Pierre debacle -- had I known at the onset what a hot mess of a novel it was, I wouldn't have dragged anyone else in with me. The Doll is a much better book than Pierre, I assure you. (I can't help myself from adding that Pierre is a very compelling book if you already have an unhealthy preoccupation with Herman Melville, but is nevertheless a clusterfuck.)

In the meantime, here's the abridged version of our two-man Three Kingdoms book club.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Comic: Art Deviant

Hey! Did I mention I updated the comics page? Hey, I updated the comics page.

Click to read!


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Solemn-sweet pipes

Sound spectrograph from UF's E&N Dept.

Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion and Writer's Almanac fame) is such an excellent curator of poetry. His Good Poems collections consistently surpass their titles' claim, and it might surprise you that Keillor never relies on the famous poets and canonical pieces. (But it shouldn't surprise you; American verse is in better shape than people give it credit.) You can turn page after page without seeing a familiar name (provided you're not in a creative writing masters' program), and when one of the more well-known poets does turn up, they are usually represented by a poem that you (and the anthologists) have skipped over.

One that caught my eye today in Good Poems: American Places was a little gem by Walt Whitman I'd never seen before. (Friends, I have sinned: I own Library of America's Whitman volume and have never actually read it cover-to-cover.) Seeing as it's a lazy summer Saturday (soon to be a hazy summer Sunday, and not much later a misty autumn Sunday), I thought I'd share it with you.

I Heard You Solemn-Sweet Pipes of the Organ
Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

I heard you solemn-sweet pipes of the organ as last Sunday morn I
   pass'd the church,
Winds of autumn, as I walk'd the woods at dusk I heard your
   long-stretch'd sighs up above so mournful,
I heard the perfect Italian tenor singing at the opera, I heard the
   soprano in the midst of the quartet singing;
Heart of my love! you too I heard murmuring low through one of the
   wrists around my head,
Heard the pulse of you when all was still ringing little bells last
   night under my ear.

Speaking of ringing little bells, the tinkling ground crickets have just woken up in Jersey and Pennsylvania to raise their strange tintinnabulations through the remainder of the summer and into October.