Thursday, June 28, 2007

Humane is a Tricky Concept

Art Beck (Dennis Dybeck)

—Art Beck, San Francisco

After weeks of bitter insomnia,
you finally collapse and begin
to dream of the sacred forest and huge
thorn trees that scream all night.

Burglars, sent by your starved dead
wife to steal your hidden breath,
rummage the bedside drawers. But
you've already — slipped into the wood

through the old cracked bark — begun to swim
with the dark pulsing sap into the tunneling
taproot and the blind greed for earth and the diamond

of dazzling light at the core where all of us
always live. That frightening place, the blinding
flash, the eye that can't bear our touch.


—Art Beck

is a tricky concept. A word we take visiting to some
very dark places. The CIA practices humane interrogation.
Lethal injection is humane — as were the electric chair

and the long drop, before. The Humane Society gasses our
unwanted pets. The ancients were being human as well
as humane when they sacrificed a half pound or so of

ritually slaughtered calf to the nectar nourished
gods — enticing heaven to share and absolve
carnivorous guilt. Our slaughterhouses with their

conveyers, hooks and pneumatic machines are inhumane
but efficient. As are cats who play for hours with their
prey, just to savor their own cruel saliva.

But are they inhuman as well? The really big, wild
cats, after all, don’t toy with their kill. Hunger
is too insistent. It’s the sleek, Purina fed housecat

that revels in torturing the starved trembling mouse,
the peeping crippled sparrow. And the ordinary
guy with a bit of a Budweiser gut who patiently

chomps a pizza on his gently rocking boat and nurses
his excitement — waiting for the nibble of a really big one,
the still ignorant pull on the barely visible line.

The kind of fish we all want, the kind that fights
desperately against the thin steel in its craw
and runs again and again from the fisherman,

full of hope, then ever so slowly,
losing hope, ever so slowly reeled
in by his brand new, slick equipment.


Thanks, Dennis (Art)! Art Beck is a San Francisco poet and translator who has published three books of original poetry — most recently Summer With All Its Clothes Off (Gravida, 2005), and selected poems of Luxorius and Rilke in two translation volumes. His work has appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, including Translation Review, Two Lines, Artful Dodge, Alaska Quarterly, Tule Review, and the 2004 Heyday Books anthology, California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present. An on-and-off lifelong project has been translating the complete poems of Luxorius — a 6th-century North African Roman poet whose work was literally lost for 1000 years, until the single manuscript containing his 90 extant poems resurfaced in 1615.

In the mid 1980s, the company Dennis worked for sent him to Sacramento on a temporary assignment that ended up lasting some two years. During that time he formed enduring friendships with many Sacramento poets and continues to regularly participate in Sacramento events and readings. For the interesting story about how "Art Beck" came about, go to

Here's a picture of Art (Dennis) reading at Luna's Cafe in Sacramento:

•••Speaking of Luna's: tonight (6/28), at 8 PM, Poetry Unplugged presents Gene Bloom, Leslie Bally, Julie Valin at Luna's Cafe, 1414 16th St., Sacramento. Open mic before and after. [See the new issue of Rattlesnake Review for poetry from Gene and Julie.]

•••Also tonight (6/28), 7 PM, head up the Valley to hear Connie Post, the current Poet Laureate of Livermore, who is this month's featured reader in the Writers Read series at Colored Horse Studio in Ukiah. Post has been a published poet for over 20 years, and her work has appeared in many anthologies and journals. She has published five books of poetry, has presented at many Bay Area readings, and received numerous awards. Her most recent book is titled Waking State. In May 2005, she presented her poetry on the nationally syndicated radio program, “West Coast Live”. She also presents poetry and discussion on the subject of parenting, poetry and autism to local colleges and affiliated groups. In March 2007, she was the keynote speaker at a state conference in Sacramento for special education. The featured reading starts at 7 PM and will be followed by an open mike session. Refreshments available. Donation requested. Colored Horse Studio is locate at 780 Waugh Lane in Ukiah. For more information call: (707)275-9010, (707)468-9488 or check online at


—Art Beck

Exhaustion and then
a trivial artfulness
while something bruised
quietly licks its darkness

and waits — not at all sure
it can heal.
The shouters have shouted
the curious into submission.

The know it alls own
it all. The fruit’s been plucked
the trees are bare and their roots

inch deeper to escape, certain
that only what earth accepts
can ever hope to blossom.



Medusa encourages poets of all ilk and ages to send their POETRY, PHOTOS and ART, as well as announcements of Northern California poetry events to (or snail ‘em to P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726) for posting on this daily Snake blog. Rights remain with the poets. Previously-published poems are okay for Medusa’s Kitchen, as long as you own the rights. (Please cite publication.)

SnakeWatch: Up-to-the-minute Snake news:

Journals (free publications): Rattlesnake Review14 is now available at The Book Collector; contributors and subscribers will receive theirs in the next couple of weeks. If you're none of those, and can't get down to The Book Collector, send two bux to P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726 and I'll mail you a copy. Next deadline, for RR15, is August 15. VYPER6 (for youth 13-19) is in The Book Collector; next deadline is Nov. 1. Snakelets10 (for kids 0-12) is also at The Book Collector; next deadline is October 1.

Books/broadsides: June's releases include Tom Miner's chapbook, North of Everything; David Humphreys' littlesnake broadside, Cominciare Adagio; and #3 in B.L. Kennedy's Rattlesnake Interview Series, this one featuring Jane Blue.

ZZZZZZZ: Shh! The Snake is sleeping! There will be no Snake readings/releases in July or August. Then we return with a bang on September 12, presenting Susan Kelly-DeWitt's new chapbook, Cassiopeia Above the Banyan Tree. See the online journal, Mudlark, for a hefty sample of poems from her book; that’s Also coming in the Fall: new issues of the Review, Snakelets and VYPER [see the above deadlines], plus more littlesnake broadsides from NorCal poets near and far, and a continuation of B.L. Kennedy's Rattlesnake Interview Series—including an anthology of interviews to be released for Sacramento Poetry Month (October).