Thursday, March 30, 2017


me with my mother and father in front of the house I grew up in, in April (Easter?) of 1966, two months after I got out of the military and stopped shaving, and only weeks before my mother died from a heart attack during an operation for the cancer that was growing inside her (but which she never revealed or complained about to most of us as she kept a smile for everyone but our next door aunt who she'd run over to cry with and then put her smile back on)...I was visiting from a Brooklyn apartment supplied by a patron (a woman editor who believed I was was going to write "The Great American Novel") with my wife Lee (taking the photo I assume)...the night my mother died in Saint Michael's hospital in Newark, soon after this shot was taken, with me beside her but when she called out for my oldest brother and me and I said I'm here ma, she didn't recognize me, I made a vow to shave the beard and did and to never have one again, a vow I've kept, as silly as it may seem...I miss her every day...him too most days...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


William McPherson, or "Bill" as I knew him, was a dear friend who I am very sad has died. We met at a dinner party in DC in the early 1970s, when I was still living there. He was the editor of The Washington Post Book World, which I told him was better than the New York Times Book Review, except for reviews of poetry books, which I thought were terrible. He challenged me to do better and sent me Ann Sexton's new book to review. I wrote a mostly unflattering piece and he put it on the front page of the Post's book section. Walking through Dupont Circle the day it came out a woman screamed at me because of the review, and another later spit at me!

Those people cared about books, and so did Bill. I reviewed more books for him at The Washington Post for years, even after I left DC. But when he won a Pulitzer for his critical writing, he came to visit me in the city just as I was giving up the only office job I'd ever had, and for less than two years, to try and make acting in movies and TV my poet's day job. He took heart from my risking that move, and with two children to support on my own, and subsequently quit his prestigious and financially secure job at The Washington Post to write his first novel, TESTING THE CURRENT. Which won acclaim (read it and you will see why), as did his second TO THE SARGASSO SEA.

Forever after, whenever we saw each other, and often in our correspondence and phone conversations (and in his inscriptions to me in his books), he would bring that up, even after living the life of a freelance writer led to his financial decline (see his obit in the Washington Post here), for which I always felt a little responsible, though I know in the end I'm not that powerful and he was a man who made his own decisions, often as unexpected as mine, which is just one of the things we shared.

Bill was a handsome, witty, highly intelligent, impressive wordsmith and, in my experience, a generous and kind person. I am so happy and grateful he got to write those novels and live the life he'd wanted to. My condolences to his daughter Jane, his grandchildren, and all his family and friends and fans.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Since first meeting him around 1970, my encounters with Iowa poet John Sjoberg—whether in person or through correspondence, always infused with his kind and gentle spirit—left me feeling filled with a kind of childlike sense of love.

There was an innocence and artlessness to his presence that translated to his poetry. His work wasn't what is sometimes called "faux naif"—because there was never anything "faux" about it, in my experience—but genuinely and uniquely a product of who John was, in the way that Satie's music or Henri Rousseau's paintings, are the results of who they were.

John's published output is minimal, compared to most poets (let alone a graphomaniac like me), but choice, as they used to say. Because no individual poem of his is duplicated, either in its approach or its outcome, and thus can't be compared to any other.

I'll leave you with three examples from his first collection (I believe), HAZEL, that he inscribed and sent to me when it came out in 1976 (a lovingly produced work of art itself and example of independent fine book printing and design, by Cinda and Allam Kornblum and their Toothpaste Press out of which later came Coffee House Press):

3's INTO 4'S

rattling leaves
wind blowing
music from a cello.

thin sensitive features
music from a cello
a lamp burning oil.

a slow drop of water
a second drop of water
a second drop of water
music from a cello.

a second drop of water
a slow piece of music
a raft, floating
a ball of string.

a lamp burning oil
music from a cello
the end of a long shaft
a slow piece of music.


Penguin Bread.
Penguin Bread.


my head is green
the songs here, the bird songs
here & here & here
are my heart.

the tractor engine beats,
drives fall corn up into the granary.
my whole body can feel it. i wonder
if they'll take me into town
in a  wagon.

i'll stop at your house
in a bushelbasket,
grinning from ear to ear.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


I never do assignments that people post and request on the Internet but for some reason did when I got one that said go to the nearest book and open to page 56 and point and copy the sentence. There's a bookcase next to my little desk and the closest book to me is VISIONS OF GERARD, Jack Keroauc's elegiac lyric memoir about his brother who died when he was a precocious child.

But when I opened it to page 56 I found a blank page (because it's the back of an illustration in my hardcover first edition once-library-book that a friend from my DC days, Deb Fredo, gave me back in '74) that was that. But I skimmed the following pages and on page 62 found this full-to-overflowing memorable Kerouac-ian passage that I had marked (and assume the mistakes are intentional though some seem not):

"I curse and rant nowaday because I dont want to have to work to make a living and do childish work for other men (any lout can move a board from hither to yonder) but'd rather sleep all day and stay it up all night scrubbling these visions of the world which is only an ethereal flower of a world, the coal, the chute, the fire and the ashes all, imaginary blossoms, nonetheless, "somebody's got to do the work-a the world"—Artist or no artist, I cant pass up a piece of fried chicken when I see it, compassion or no compassion for the fowl—"  

Thursday, March 23, 2017


One of my favorite poets and people, Joanne Kyger passed after a full life of over eighty-two years. If you don't know her work, you should. I see she's being classified as "A Beat Poet" in some obits (because she was married to poet Gary Snyder back in the day—who is often associated with "The Beats"—and of course they were friends with those who basically were considered "The Beats"), but her work was too unique to have it classified with any group.

I didn't spend much time in her presence over the years, but occasionally since I met her around 1970, around the time the photo above was taken (the fuller version). But we corresponded and I think read together at least once, and she was one of the first poets I asked for work for the anthology I put together in the 1970s called NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Here's a great quote from what I selected for that:

"When there is nothing to seek, then
            there is ease."

And here is a poem from 2003 that's being quoted around the Internet since the word got out that she'd passed, this was included in her giant collection ABOUT NOW:

Night Palace

"The best thing about the past

                                           is that it's over"

                              when you die.

            you wake up

from the dream

                                             that's your life.

Then you grow up

                         and get to be post human

                    in a past     that keeps happening

                ahead of you


A lot of photos taken last Monday at The Gotham Comedy Club Poetry In Motion reading/performance, but these are two of my favorites: me reading from my 1982 book ATTITUDE, and hanging at our table with poet and dear friend Rachel Diken, who also read, my oldest son Miles, and his girlfriend Hannah...

Monday, March 20, 2017


For those who came out for this tonight, thank you, and for those who missed it hope to see you next time. The event was an explosion of creative energy: pointed, powerful, poignant, and often funny as hell. But most of all inspiring and comforting. Because everyone on the bill brought the kind of compassionate heart coupled with no-bullshit realism that make us a community of not bleeding-heart liberals but kick-ass love-generators. Let's keep making it happen.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


It's always been my intention, since I started this blog, to bring my personal experiences and connections to some topics of the day that catch my attention. I am so happy that many news and Internet outlets are referring to Chuck Berry in their obituaries as "The Father of Rock'n'Roll" because he was. His influence on me was enormous as his music hit the radio just as I was hitting puberty.

I posted the photo of the cover of the first anthology I had poetry in, CAMPFIRES OF THE RESISTANCE (Bobbs-Merrill 1971), because in my bio for it the first thing I mention is the influence of Chuck Berry. I attended the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop on The G.I. Bill and received an MFA in Poetry in 1968 and the title of the collection I submitted for my thesis was "Sittin' Down At A Rhythm Review." Which I thought summarized the workshop experience for me. Most of the professors had no idea what the title referenced.

But here's a video of Berry singing and playing the song that title came from—"Roll Over Beethoven"—in 1958, several years after the song came out, and as usual he is working with the house band, or local musicians (in an obviously foreign venue as the way he does his intro implies) and expects them to keep up with him as he sings his own lyrics and melody in a way unique to this performance (very much like a jazz musician, and like many rock'n'rollers who would follow in his footsteps, in one way or another, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among many), listen to the way he changes the ending chords to minor ones distinct from the record...

His performances alone were templates for how to showcase rock'n'roll guitar virtuosity, and if that's all he had done would have given him the right to be called "The Father of Rock'n'Roll" but listen to the lyrics and the chords and the melody and acknowledge he was the great innovator who combined genres of earlier music—jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, pop and even country—into a guitar driven explosion of exuberance that changed not only music but culture and society...forever.

Long live rock'n'roll!  

Saturday, March 18, 2017


In 1981 I received my second National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant for Poetry. It was the start of the Reagan Era and the right-wingers were encouraged to start dismantling government programs that didn't directly benefit the wealthy and corporations. So two rightwing Republican Congressmen got up on the floor of Congress and called for the elimination of the NEA, and used my grant as their main reason for what was wrong with the federal government supporting the arts, saying it rewarded "pornography" because of my poem "My Life"—a ten page list of aspects of my life so far which included some graphic and at that time "deviant" sexual terms and what some consider "foul" language.

The problem with their subsequent campaign to use my poem as the impetus for outrage was that the parts they objected to were censored in newspapers and magazines and bleeped out on radio and TV, so no one could ever actually get what they were objecting to. Which is why the following year they used the visual arts to condemn the NEA, in particular the photo of a crucifix in a bucket of alleged urine. It was easier for people to use their imagination when they saw the image and become outraged, if they objected to the idea.

I had moved to L.A by that time and was called by the NEA to ask if I'd be willing to testify before a Congressional committee, but when they heard I was now on the other side of the country, they decided to save the expense of flying me back and putting me up and went with some East Coast visual artists and performing artists instead. But I remain proud and a little guilty at the fact that it was a poem of mine that was first trotted out to discredit the NEA. And by the way, my first grant from the NEA was in 1974 and was based on an earlier series of poems called "The South Orange Sonnets" that a Democratic Congressman praised on the floor of Congress and got mentioned in the Congressional Record where he called me "a major American poet."

Different strokes, as they used to say.

Friday, March 17, 2017

That's a photograph I took of my late cousin Paddy, who was the last Lally to live in the place behind him, an expanded version of the home my paternal grandfather, also Michael Lally, grew up in, in the late 1800s.
The cover of my first CD, WHAT YOU FIND THERE, designed by Jennifer Baxendale (recording of me reading my poetry in a studio outside L.A.) with my grandfather's birthplace, and a silhouette of me from a photo (taken by Rain Worthington) of me walking down Church Street in NYC in what would become known as Tribeca but back before anyone lived there legally, with my long hair and 1980s overcoat.
And the back of the CD. "Where Do We Belong"—an obviously very long poem—is about my Irish roots and first visit to the homeland. The poem is also in my book CANT BE WRONG.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


don't remember who took this photo
of Eve Brandstein & me in L.A. in the '80s
when we founded and ran a weekly poetry reading
(and monthly in NYC for a while)
(it was called The Temple Street Poets originally
but then we had to move so changed the name
appropriately since we moved several more times before
ending up at Cafe Largo when it first opened
helping that club find an audience)
which was on hiatus for a while
until Eve brought it back in both L.A. & NYC
and added story tellers and comedians and music makers
and at which I will be reading some poems this coming Monday
and would love to see you there:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


So the alleged "blizzard" didn't necessarily dump as much snow as they predicted everywhere, but it did some places. I looked out my window yesterday and thought it wasn't so bad. But when I went out in it, discovered otherwise. The snow was icy and very heavy and quite stubborn, hard to remove, if at all. And the wind had caused it to drift in odd ways that made the top steps of the porch of this old house I have an apartment in not look too bad, but the bottom steps invisible, just a big heap of whiteness impossible to gauge the depth of. I miscalculated and got a boot full of snow, and my boots are pretty high.

And it was slippery as hell frozen over, and cold "as a witch's tit" as they said when I was a boy, though for counter-sexism's sake we could say cold as the devil's dick I suppose. But somehow it also felt oddly peaceful and benign. The contradictions of Mother Nature, especially since her being so abused by the polluters and climate-change deniers. After many days of summer and/or spring weather, the animals and insects and trees and plants are now confused and most likely unable to sustain their usual rhythms and ecology.

Nonetheless, we are here, this is what's happening, and acceptance is the first step to changing it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


These shows are always rewarding, full of humor, insight, inspiration, artistry, poetry, storytelling, comedy, and much more....

Thursday, March 9, 2017


these are my paternal Irish immigrant grandparents
who lived down the street from us
c. 1952, not too long before they passed
with my oldest sibling Tommy
who'd become Father Campion, a Franciscan friar,
and the silhouette of I'm pretty sure my sister Irene on the porch behind them

my grandfather "Iron Mike" was a man of few words
my grandmother I remember dearly
she was kind and loving but also had a terrific wit
and self deprecating sense of humor

the last time I saw her was not long after my grandfather died
she told me she couldn't stick around
because she could hear my grandfather
giving the angels hell for not making his favorite dish right
she died not long after that

I loved them both

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


the youngest of the women above is my mother in her teens
to her right is her mother, my grandma Dempsey,
and sitting is her mother, my great-grandma Ward.
I wish I knew what that is she's holding in her lap,
from their styles and ages I'd guess this was taken c. 1919
(they all belonged to the daughters of the grand army of the republic,which may be what the medals they're wearing were about, and may explain the tags (names?) on the bouquet(?) in my great grandma's lap)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


When I was a teenager, back in the 1950s, before James Baldwin became a household name in the later '60s, he was one of the handful of writers whose work I sought out and devoured, every word he published I looked for to read.

I saw him a few times in bars and knew people who knew him, but never met him. I was sad when later in the 1960s and early '70s his reputation suffered among young radicals, like I was, because he didn't seem militant and revolutionary enough for those times. And I was sorry when he passed.

Now, many decades later, Baldwin is being rediscovered by an even younger generation, through the Internet and now this documentary, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, directed by Paul Peck using mostly James Baldwin's words in interviews and at a famous debate at Oxford, and by Samuel L. Jackson reading from Baldwin's never completed last novel—mostly notes—and letters to his editor about it.

The film works so well, I think, because it excerpts short clips and passages of Baldwin talking, and snippets of historic news and TV footage, all edited to keep the jump-cut nature of modern-media audiences satisfied. The historical footage alone creates a reality hardly matched today.

I have only a few caveats, mostly about the leaving out of some historical truths that I have to assume Peck didn't want his audience to get distracted by, like that Malcolm X's assassins weren't white (the editing implies they were), or that Malcolm and Martin Luther King Jr. grew close at the end not only in person but in perspective as each shifted their focus from activity solely against racial oppression and more toward commonality and economic inequality. (Which I pointed out in my own writing from the moment King was assassinated after he decided to lead a march on Washington for that very cause).

But the power of Baldwin's words and intellectual charisma overwhelms I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO in a way that left me wanting more, and wanting to go back and reread Baldwin's books. My advice about this movie: Don't miss it.

Monday, March 6, 2017


I never met Robert Osborne, but I feel like I knew him just from watching him introduce movies on TCM for decades. He was so genial and likable while sharing his knowledge of the details, large and small, of the making of the movies he introduced, and then added a coda to, that I wished I could spend time with him personally, sharing movie stories and movie love.

In a way I felt like I did know him, just from his TV presence, which says a lot about his ability to communicate to his audience of classic-movie lovers, like me. And I liked him, too, because he was so committed to preserving the movies of the so-called "golden age" of the 1930s and '40s (as well as other decades), movies that I grew up on, either seeing them in theaters when I was a boy, or on TV when that device entered my world.

It was obvious he was ailing, from the ways he aged on camera and then hosted fewer and fewer movies over the past few years. So I was already missing him before the news broke today of his death (this my be the most thorough obituary, from Variety).

He was eighty-four and lived, it seemed, a life he loved and felt fulfilled by. What more can we ask? He will be sorely missed by his family and friends and fans, including me.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


me reading from my books of poems CANT BE WRONG c.1997 (when it came out) in a San Francisco bar I forget the name of,
the other reader that evening was Malachy McCourt, who was a delight as always...
no small hands that evening...

Friday, March 3, 2017


I don't know why Laura Dern isn't in this poster as she's the fourth actor in this quartet of powerful performers—along with Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley—who make watching this show a treat, at least for me.

The story line is full of contrivances and the usual gratuitous sex (and the hint/threat of gratuitous violence), sort of a REAL WIVES OF SAN BERNADINO (or wherever it's supposed to be set) meets TRUE DETECTIVE.

Reese Witherspoon would just about steal the show if it weren't for Dern (full disclosure I knew her in my Hollywood days as a serious actor and a sincere person, who probably wouldn't even remember me). The two of them should have a spin off when this thing ends they're so much fun to watch as rivals.

But Kidman and Woodley hold their own. The editing and the rest of the acting is pretty good too. And the storyline, despite the obvious plot points and stereotyping, is almost one of those so bad it's good kind of campy narratives.

And all that after only the first two episodes. You go girls.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


My first born, darlin' daughter, Caitlin, at her high school graduation, can you believe she just turned 49?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


You can't be "a country united against hate" when your AG is a racist, your VP attacks LGBTs, and your top advisor is a White Nationalist.

You're not making "communities safer for everyone" by doing the NRA's bidding and making it easier for mentally ill folks to buy guns.

Pay attention: "Access to healthcare" is not healthcare. I have "access" to Ryan Reynolds. But he's not covering me.

"We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism form inside America." Yes. And let's start by putting a stop to Radical White Supremacist Terror.