This week: a poem:

Life without War

for Ursa Kanjir


I’ve lived my life without war, or pestilences, without

any real interference to the flow from birth to death.


How many people can say that?

Can Ursa, my young friend, say that?


She’s from Slovenia, right next door to Croatia,

Bosnia-Herzegovina, one war after another,

for land, for power, for nothing.


Yet the lives of ordinary people, like Ursa’s,

are interrupted, changed, up-ended, destroyed.


And for what?


Back to essays next week.

Sincerely, David



I want to tell you about a poet I’d wager not a single person who reads this blog has ever heard of. His name is Andrew Suknaski and the name of the book is WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS.

Andrew Suknaski is a poet of the Canadian prairies. Wood Mountain is a town in south-west Saskatchewan where Suknaski grew up. WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS is about the history and people of Wood Mountain. The book is full of poems with people’s names as titles–just as my own JUDEVINE is–“Jimmy Hoy’s Place”, Jim Lovenzanna, Soren Caswell, Vaslie Tonita, Louie Leveille, etc.

There are also poems about Indians–Sitting Bull, The Teton Sioux–Ukranians, Polish, Roumanian, English, Serbian, Chinese, all the different ethnicities that made up the Wood Mountain of Suknaski’s childhood.

These poems deal with, as Suknaski puts it, “a vaguely divided guilt; guilt for what happened to the Indian (his land taken) imprisoned on his reserve; a guilt because to feel this guilt is a betrayal of what you ethnically are–the son of a homesteader and his wife who must be rightfully honored in one’s mythology.” Few places these days do you find such an honest statement of the conundrum we all find ourselves in.

WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS first came out in 1976, a year before my own THE CHAIN SAW DANCE was published, which was the first small book of JUDEVINE poems. Suknaski and I have a lot in common. We are both intensely interested in our immediate neighborhoods and in the people who live there. We are both storytellers.

I first read, as best I can remember, WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS when it first came out. How I found out about it I can’t remember now. I read it again over the past couple of weeks, reading it as slowly as possible. It’s 36 years later and I still think it’s a great book, and a book that expands the embrace of what a poem is.

Suknaski somewhere has been called a “documentary poet.” Okay. If you must. I was once called a “folk” poet by a stuffy academic poet. “Documentary poet” “folk poet”: both an academician’s way of putting down something not understood.

Suknaski’s other books, among many others. include East of Myloona (Thistledown, 1979), Montage for an Interstellar Cry (Turnstone, 1982) and the new and selected poems edited by Stephen Scobie The Land They Gave Away (NeWest, 1982).

One blurber said, “Since the mid 70’s, Andrew Suknaski has been one of Canada’s major writers of the sense of place and the ethnic experience. As [Toronto’s] Globe and Mail has said, “If Canada ever needed an argument for the regional artist, Andrew Suknaski is it.”

Get some of these books. Read them. Discover something new. The point is, there are thousands of poets out there waiting to be read. Try something other than what the New York Times or The New Yorker or some other New York centered rag, on-line or off, tells you is good poetry.

I wish I could send this notice to Suknaski but he died, at the age of 69, on May 3rd of this year.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill


Dear Friends,

Thanks to all of you who wrote in response to last week’s blog. Rest assured, I am not about to change my direction–I don’t direct my direction. As Theodore Roethke said once, “I learn by going where I have to go.”  And since I’m aging, growing older, my poetry just naturally . . .

Your responses hearten me. They give me courage.

This past week I visited with an old friend, she’s 90 this year, in a parking lot of a grocery store in the rain about growing old and dying. She and her much younger friend both said what you all said, Don’t stop telling the truth about our lives and this life. Not to worry. I won’t.

A couple of people pointed out that the USA is a death-denying culture. Another said There is a tendency . . . to pretend we are not subject to aging and dying and we turn away from embracing this part of life. Ain’t it da troof! We are all caught up in the youth cult until we get old enough to understand that can’t be for us anymore.

Another person said, I share a common thread with your poems and celebrate that you put your and our fears [of dying and death]–and our amusement at the aging process–into words.

Yet another person said, [A] Happy Life is a life of acceptance. Resistance does not postpone the inevitable.

One person said, I’m in my 50s and find it very comforting to have a scout out ahead. It’s fun to think of myself as a scout out ahead there somewhere trying to find the trail. I never thought of my job in those terms.

Another person said, Hey what about the blues– isn’t that blue–‘down’ stuff really uplifting in the end?, which made me think of a note I wrote in 2010 for my latest play, A SONG FOR MY FATHER. Here are portions of it:

A Program Note




David Budbill

I was talking to a woman years ago and I said something about being blue and she said, “What if you never get the blues?” If you never get the blues, this play is not for you. If you’ve never had any conflicts with your parents, or watched helplessly as the parents you love grew old and died, if you’ve never felt guilty about anything, this play is not for you. But if you’ve had these experiences, these feelings, or if you can imagine them, then, I hope, A SONG FOR MY FATHER is a play you can relate to.

If you get the blues then you know how much better playing, singing or listening to the blues can make you feel. My goal with this play was to write a blues song, a song for my father, which would do what the blues do: look straight in the face of the way things are. . . .

A SONG FOR MY FATHER . . . is meant to do what Greek tragedies did for the ancient Greeks. It’s meant to release in you powerful feelings of sadness, foreboding and grief and in the process, like the blues, make you feel better, refreshed, lighter, happier.

Thanks to you all. More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill



Dear Friends,

I’ve got a problem. I need some advice.

In recent years, I’ve been writing mostly poems about growing old and dying. (Some people say that’s all I’ve ever written about.) I have the distinct feeling that people don’t want to read such stuff. They don’t want to deal with death and dying, even though both are inevitable.

My last book, HAPPY LIFE was on the bestseller list for 29 weeks, and here, almost a year from its publication date it still pops up on the list from time to time. I wonder if one of the reasons it is so popular is because of its title. What do you think?

Also, this: after a reading this spring, during the Q and A, a woman commented that the closer to death I get the brighter my outlook on life becomes. She thought my early poems, the JUDEVINE poems, were a lot darker than the more recent stuff, even though I now deal with death and dying more than ever.

For those who know my work, do you agree with that?

I’m asking all this because, even though I’m older now, my attitude increasingly is one of greater gratitude for this life. Take for example the poem:


I see more and more clearly

as I grow older how gratitude

is at the center of my life, at

the center of all life, how it is

the core of living. Without it

life is bitter and inconsolable.

Yet, it seems so hard to really

be grateful for this life, most

especially when we are young,

which is why we need to be

grateful for the older ones

who can teach us

how to say thank you

for our lives.

On the other hand, here’s another poem, a quite recent one:


I can feel myself slipping, fading away, withdrawing

from this life, just as my father did. When the pain

you’re in is so great you can’t think about or pay

attention to anything but your own pain, the rest of

the world, all of other life, doesn’t matter, slips away.

I think about my friends with dementia, cancer,

arthritis and how much more pain they are in than

I am, but it does no good. Their pain is not mine, and

therefore, no matter how magnanimous I might want

to be, their pain is not as important to me as my own.

My question is: who wants to read that?

Answers, responses gratefully appreciated.

More next week.


Sincerely, David

25 June 2012






Dear Friends,

Is anyone out there having trouble with infestations of flea beetles in their gardens? Any suggestions from anyone will be greatly appreciated.

I’m a long time gardener, more than 40 years, yet I’ve spent most of this week battling the pests. I do know about reemay row covers, but I don’t use it. I’m not sure why.

Also, I’ve begun watering my garden–morning, 6:00 a.m., and night, after 6:00 p.m. I hate to do this. It’s much better to have rain, which soaks the soil much better than watering. I water a total of 30 to 40 minutes a day, but that’s barely enough, probably isn’t enough. On the other hand, it’s so hot and dry and early this year, it’s only mid-June, that I figure I’ve got no choice.

All this, I’m afraid, is yet more signs of global warming which here in northern Vermont is making itself know in many ways. There are oak trees beginning to grow in the woods around here. That’s unheard of here in the north-country. And the maple syrup producers are seriously worried about the future of their industry. Sugar maples are a sign of the north. If they fade out so will the maple syrup industry. Also there is a fear that the quality of the syrup will go down, as it did this year, the syrup getting buddy and dark earlier and earlier in the season.

I moved here more than 40 years ago because I wanted to live in the north, a cold climate. 40 years later I’m wondering if the south–or at least the mid-west, where I’m from–is coming to meet us here.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

18 June 2012