All posts by C.S. Giscombe


The Mixed Blood Project

This will be my last post for Lingua Franca. It’s been a good experience but I need to put my shoulder to some other wheels.

Last month, in Berkeley (at University Press Books), we launched the third issue of Mixed Blood, the national publication I started with two friends at Penn State. (Mixed Blood began auspiciously—it’s the result of a series of late afternoon conversations at Whiskers, the company bar at Penn State. The publication continues to reflect the interests and involvement of i…


Reading in the Waiting Room

“The Timbertoes,” from “Highlights” magazine

My ophthalmologist’s office was crowded. The doctor was behind, there would be a real wait. The place was packed with people (including myself) in unfashionable shades, post-op wear. I found a seat then realized that I had not brought a book or a newspaper.  I was at the mercy of the magazine rack and a meager rack it was—Sports Illustrated, Highlights for Children, and a glossy publication about bat conservation.

As a child, I had never cared for Hig…


Moving Around, Needlessly or Not

In her anti-automobile screed of a few years ago, Katie Alvord wrote, “Coming after railroads, cars acquired what Wolfgang Sachs calls ‘a restorative significance’ for the rich. The train, he writes, threatened the wealthy’s sense of place and power: ‘What the common people welcomed as a democratic advance, individuals of more privileged position greeted with a snort.’ Indeed, the Duke of Wellington expressed disapproval of railroads in 1855, saying, ‘They only encourage common people to move ar…


Poetry in the Marketplace

Apollo, god of poetry, courtesy of Stephen Vincent

My friend Stephen Vincent, a Bay Area poet and raconteur, was in Turkey last summer and snapped a picture of the sculpture of Apollo at Nemrut just as the sun was coming up.  Beardless Apollo, the god of light, prophecy, healing and plague both, and music. And poetry. Shelley wrote (in “Hymn of Apollo”), “I am the eye with which the Universe/ Beholds itself, and knows it is divine.” At a poetry reading in San Francisco last week Stephen…


Reading Denzel Washington in English 141

A few years ago, following a stunningly silent moment in a class discussion, my creative-writing students let me know that race was indeed a taboo topic on campus, at least in polite conversation. (To be fair, creative-writing classes have often and famously suffered from an overabundance of politeness.) My response was to begin teaching a course I called “Race, [Creative] Writing, and Difference,” the title borrowed from the Kwame Anthony Appiah-Henry Louis Gates Jr. volume. We read some litera…


Something Incomprehensible

Sitting on the runway at Dulles, about to fly up to State College on one of United’s Dash-8s, I found myself behind two rows of university students, one on each side of the plane. It was the day of the Penn State-Ohio State football game and as we backed away from the terminal, the young people began a familiar cheer: They shouted, “WE ARE,” and waited for the response, for the small plane to rock with a matching-in-pitch-and-intensity, “PENN STATE!” The response didn’t come—a few …


Queen Charlotte Meets Haida Gwaii

Queen Charlotte

In Prince George, British Columbia, poetry readings are raucous and well-attended.  Five hundred miles north of Vancouver, P.G. is a first giant step on the way to the Alaska Highway or to the coast at Prince Rupert, or to the Peace River country.  You never know where poetry’s going to find a place to flourish. I read at the College of New Caledonia and the next night Sarah de Leeuw read at Books & Co.; we’d not met before but we came to each other’s events and, at the books…


A Girl Gets Sick of a Rose

“Freight Cars Under a Bridge,” Charles Burchfield (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Recently on the radio I listened to a piece about the planned phaseout of nuclear power in Germany. Wind-based energy will call for “an expanded power grid” and “new high-capacity overhead lines.” Eric Westervelt, NPR’s man in Berlin, said, “The rise of the ‘Not in My Backyard,’ or Nimby, movement was perhaps inevitable.”

The acronym began to appear in print in the U.S. in the 1980s. In my relatively brief career on th…


Haf Owre, Haf Owre to Bonny Aberdour

Early in my life I learned some things about geography—by which I mean here where places such as cities and countries are and where border-lines are drawn—from unlikely sources: stamp collecting, an obsession with railway schedules, and popular songs and rhymes. Years later I’m still interested by the ways places appear in song and how the language of songs—and poetry—documents place.

Last summer I found myself in Budapest with my daughter. I had earned some extra money that year so we were taki…


Pharaoh’s Chickens

Egyptian vultures, also called Pharaoh’s chickens, by the Rev. Francis O. Morris (1810-1893), hand-colored wood engraving from A History of British Birds (1850-1857)

For a series of poems having to do with memory and mnemonic devices I found myself reading recently about chickens. Poultry is no stranger to poetry. As every schoolchild knows, “Hiawatha’s chickens” is Longfellow’s term for the wild birds of the forest; and Williams has told us that the location of the red wheelbarrow, upon…