This is just poetry. It won't save you, but it may locate you so that a rescue party can be sent out. — Dean Blehert

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Rude Riddle

How is flatulence after eating cherries
like a crooner tripping on the stairs?

Both are Bings
that go thump
in the night.

Note: Some poems have no redeeming social value, unless a good groan can be as wholesome as a laugh. For my friends, the pun-impaired readers, the crooner here is Bing Crosby. And in my poems, it is logical that if things go bump, Bings should go thump. Why the cherries? I had BING cherries in mind, and cherries, eaten late, may cause farts in the night, which are perhaps "thumps" (smothered, as they are, beneath the blankets and against the sheets). Well, I just couldn't be satisfied with a single spoonerism. Had to double it.

Is it a poem? For whom? I don't know, I'm just the writer here.

When people ask me how many poems I've written, these days I answer "About 100,000" -- just a guess, but not far off. But that answer is based on my estimate of ALL the stuff I've kept (not counting obvious prose works). And I keep almost everything. If it sits on the page like a poem ("Sit! Good boy!"), I call it a poem. I don't throw back the little ones (how unsporting!). I count the puns, the jokes, the lampoons, the witticisms, the limericks, palindromes, riddles, etc. And (in the other direction) I count the long discursive essay poems, slightly denser than prose and taking riskier leaps of logic, but still, to some readers, too prosy for what they're used to calling poetry.

I've had people who admired many of my poems scold me for mixing my "true" poetry (or "serious poetry") with witticisms and puns that "trivialized the serious poetry". In my printed poetry letter, DEANOTATIONS, that went out to a few hundred subscribers for 20 years (1984-2004 -- sample issues can be seen on, I would follow a lyrical poem, even a tragic poem, on some topic with a silly poem on the same topic, playing leapfrog with emotions and attitudes. I had the idea this might do us some good, free us up, enable to move into and out of our customary mind-sets more easily.

But I've never bought the idea that "serious poetry" is superior to silly jokes. I don't know that a fine poet is better than a fine stand-up comic or that Lawrence Olivier beats Laurel and Hardy (I prefer L & H myself) or that the Beatles need to roll over for Beethoven any more than Beethoven needed to roll over for Chuck Berry.

What I do is write, and if I'm feeling "profound", I try to do the profundity justice. If I'm feeling silly, I try to do the best silliness I can do. I do recognize that sometimes I feel fraught with poetry ("inspired" -- though I do all the breathing around here) and pour poetry onto the page as smooth as milk from Vermeer's maid's pitcher (that thread of pearl). (Just thought I'd throw in that fancy simile, since that's my favorite painting. If this were a TV show and if Vermeer were a corporation, I'd probably be mailed cartons of, say, Vermeer cigarettes for smoking the product on my show. But probably no one will send me a Vermeer original for mentioning it in my Blog. Life is not fair.)

But I digress: So sometimes the poems pour out. I used to believe that was the only kind of poetry -- back in high school and college -- so I'd wait for the "right time" to write, and one day I'd go for a walk and feel noble and lofty and infinite and bubbling up with ideas, words, perceptions, rhythms, like a character in a musical about to burst into songs, and I'd go home and write, as quickly as I could move the pen, seven or eight poems whose eloquence surprised me, finding voices I didn't know until then were mine and thoughts I hadn't realized I'd thought.

And that was so much fun that I'd try to extend it, force out a few more, and find myself squeezing, dribbling the last drops onto the page in the form of trivial wit, puns, self-conscious thoughts about having nothing to say, a sort of afterbirth. Then I'd reproach myself for thus polluting true inspiration, and hover over myself for about 8 weeks until the next burst of poetry bubbled up.

Later I discovered that I could simply decide to write, then write. And that the trivial stuff didn't have to be tossed or invalidated, that it was fun in its own way -- especially after I found that many others got a kick out of it.

I also discovered (from critiquing groups and from being dilligent about inviting feedback from readers and maintaining communication with them (you), that if I were going to decide what to write based on the opinions of my fellow man, just about anything I could write would be wrong -- or right -- for large numbers of readers. For one thing, there are many who reject a poem that lacks rhyme and meter. And there are many others who consider that rhyme and meter are antique encumbrances that ruin a poem.

So I soon learned that I might as well go with what pleased ME. I listen to the opinions of writers only so long as they are talking about ways I can get the poem to do better what I intend it to do.

I still have days when I come up with ideas that strike me (and later many other) as brilliant, followed by days when, having reaped that crop, I'm fallow. But even then, I can play, can generate out of sheer determination a sonnet here, a limerick there, a terrible pun, a brief comment on a politician (who knew, for example -- before the dictionary told me -- that there's a word, "algor" -- so close to Al Gore -- that means "a chill felt before a fever", and what could be more appropriate!), etc.

And here's the funny thing: Sometimes one of these relatively "uninspired" or "artificially induced" poems or trifles turns out to be terrific. One of them became my single most published poem, "How Poetry is Done"; I was going to leave it in my notebook -- my back burner -- but my wife read it and cracked up and said "This is great!" So I polished it a bit and sent it off, and the rest is as close as my poetry has yet come to being "history".

And sometimes, in the middle of a fallow period, playing with words as idly as a child toys with his food, I come up with "the real thing", some realization that opens me up.

In other words, when I don't reproach myself (or let others reproach me) for my trivial stuff, when I treat it all as poetry, I have a lot more fun, get a lot more written and come up with more of what my more serious friends would call the real stuff.

(The major change in my attitude toward writing came when I realized that what opened me up as a writer was having someone else to receive the communication, and that when, as I wrote, I put someone else there -- as we all do when writing a letter to a friend and/or a lover -- THAT'S when I had things to say. And when I got in better communication with the embodied people in my life and freed myself of most unwillingnesses to communicate, I found myself always in a state similar to what I used to call "inspired". And for me that's the only reality required to make poetry real poetry. Whether it takes to form of a pun or a sonnet or an epic is irrelevant to me if you're there and I can find you with something.)

Therefore I often throw groaners at you and hope that you won't think less of yourself or me when you enjoy them, if you do. But will you still respect me in the morning?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I'm a Facile Fossil

La Brea Tar Pits: Full of mammoths,
saber-toothed tigers and other
cherished skulls:

Spines of out-of-print species.

Please teach your children to survive
and to remember our poems
so that we don't have to
write them all over again.

Note: The transition from lost species to lost poems is "spines" -- possessed by fossils and books. But the real burden of the poem is to suggest that nothing is lost, if, in fact, we survive to rewrite, as needed, our poems.

Since my full name is Maurice Dean Blehert (I've never used the first name for much), and since a skull used to be called placed on a desk or shelf as a "memento mori" (reminder of death -- to encourage profound contemplation), and since a Maurice usually becomes a Morry on the tongues of pals, I suppose this poem is a memento Morry. (People who make such puns, however, seldom have pals.) Well, in the immortal words of that other Dean (Dean Martin), "That's a Morry." (For those born too late, Martin's sung words were "That's amore.")

Profound or Prolost?

"You're so prolific!"
Not pro-choicic?

Note: I'm also in favor of friendly dogs -- that is, prolix (pro-licks).

Poetry -- a Kind of Loafing?

Some were paid in beauty,
some in strength,
some in jewels.
I got poetry.

Now that a billion poems
won't buy a loaf of bread,
I choke on poetry
while others starve
on bread.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Each madman's epically mad:
His oddity is the ill he had.

Note for the pun-impaired or pun-resistant or simply civilized: While some of the people society calls "mad" are very dramatic about it, perhaps even epic in the scope of their madness, I'm playing here with the two epics used to describe most madness: Psychiatrists spot an oddity and define it as an illness: Hence the madman's oddity (a word suggesting "Odyssey") is the ill he had (Iliad).

The poem has another meaning, which is that one's oddities are based on past ills (not necessarily illnesses).

(Since the Illiad features the sack of Ilion (Troy), I suppose it suggests a sacro-iliac problem.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Child's Thought?

If I could, with a thought,
destroy the planet,
I'd only do it once--
just to see.

Note: Oddly enough, the people most careful about their thoughts are those whose thoughts are LEAST likely to impinge on anyone -- even upon themselves. These are people who, after many years or decades or centuries of being careful what they say to others (for others are dangerous to them), have become so careful that they don't even trust themselves, so are careful about what they think, lest they give themselves away to themselves.

They are so painstakingly fortified against any possibility of their thoughts making them responsible for anything in the universe, including their own states of mind, that they can no longer create (at least, not knowingly and willingly) effects on others or on themselves. They can't stop their own thoughts or start them, are simply the victims of automatic thought patterns.

Such people are more likely to destroy a planet with their inability to think than with a thought. Those whose thoughts are powerful -- who can turn an idea into a reality, who can decide things and have those things come to pass -- are those least likely to destroy a planet. It takes a high level of responsibility to do something like that, and people with high levels of responsibility are not likely to go around knocking off inhabited planets.

Though maybe a very powerful child with a lot of curiosity...

No, I think such a child would be more likely to create some new planets. Just to see.

Just some thoughts. My own, but you can have them if you want.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fuels Enter In Where Angels Fear...

To help us break our dependency
on OPEC oil, we have developed
the bookburner. It runs best on poetry
books and magazines, which,
like oil, consist mainly of compressed,
refined fossils. Plenty of fuel.
But we must proceed cautiously
and not commit ourselves to this
energy source until we've established
contingency plans for containing
potential spillage of raw poetry
into the community, contaminating
our children with literacy.

Note: I wrote the above during the FIRST Gulf War, at a time where most poetry still was published in printed form on burnable paper. These days most of it is on the Internet, harder to burn, but still, mainly, kind of fossilized.

Agreeing to Disagree

On both sides of every war,
rabid enemies agree
about death.

Note: When we think of war, we think of disagreement, as utter as disagreement can be; yet war is mainly a matter of agreement, even "war on terrorism". Imagine something is moving somewhere in this universe, and you decide to oppose it: First you have to be on the same time continuum (not, for example, in some parallel universe or in its past or future), then you have to position yourself almost where it is (carefully gauging its motion so that you can position yourself in front of it and oppose it), and you have to be a lot like it, sharing its solidity (or lack thereof) or somehow managing to constitute an opposition to it. And you have to be of comparable force, close enough in scope that you can create an effect upon it, can perceive it -- even to disagree with me here, you have to wrap your mind about these words first, putting your eyes about in the same place mine are now with respect to them.

All this is magnified with the complex disagreements we call wars: We have to place armies to face the enemy armies. We have to learn how they fight and have comparable resources. Think of two huge armies digging in opposite one another, or the battle between two submarines, the crewmen of each going through similar routines on similar instruments, listening to each others beeps against the same watery silences.

The more the differences between the two sides, the less like war it is -- more likely a rout, the German tanks crushing horse-riding Polish cavalry. A real, all-out, murderous, long-lasting war requires far more agreement than one is likely to find between man and wife -- in a GOOD marriage.

Which makes me think we have wars because we WANT to have wars. Because it takes an awful lot of work to have a war, and much of that work is towards achieving an agreement with the enemy. And if we can achieve the fine agreement required to poise force against force with such exactitude that they can remain balanced long enough to become a solid thing, a war (very much like a wall), then we must be able to achieve the far simpler and cruder agreements that permit people to go about their businesses peacefully.

But then, "we" is a broad pronoun. Me, I am not at war with terrorism. And it seems to be working: I don't feel terrorized. Perhaps I lack imagination: It's hard for me to understand how well my nation is able to agree with terrorists. Especially about death, which seems to be the gold ring on this merry-go-round or gloomy-go-round.

Death for the other side, I suppose. But how can you use death as a threat effectively without first agreeing about what a terrible thing it is. Which, since it's a part of living, makes life a terrible thing -- that ends in death. In other words, to fight terrorists, we must be terrorized -- or dead. After all, how could we be terrorized if we didn't consider death a big deal?

I wonder if, instead of blowing up our buildings, the terrorists had flooded our communication lines with great works of art -- poems, paintings, movies, dances -- would we have been able to respond? Thank goodness, they just killed some of us. We knew how to respond to that!

It's so easy to agree about death, which is a lot like agreeing WITH death.

How long will this agreement last? Don't hold your breath.

(Inhale and exhale if you disagree and don't have a horn to honk.)

Saturday, June 9, 2007



Can I help you?
Is there something I can do for you?
What can I do for you?
Have you been helped?
Have you been helped yet?
Is there anything you need?
How can I be of service?
Can I be of use to you?
Can I help?
Is there anything I can get for you?
Can I get you something?
Is there anything you'd like?
Have you found anything you want?
How can I help you?
Can I help you?
Is there anything I can do for you?
Can I help?

Note: At the end of my last posting, I referred to "Can I help you?" as "another story." Here's that other story: I wrote this poem when I realized how -- if taken literally -- the most banal questions of hotel clerks, waiters and waitresses and others who "serve" us become voices of deepest despair. We want to be of use, don't we? What greater despair than coming to doubt whether we are of any use to anyone, wondering weather any of our attempts to help have done any good.

Most artists (and particularly poets, since poetry seldom sells, and the fact that people are willing to pay money for an artist's work assures him that SOMEONE thinks it is of use) -- most artists from time to time slip into this despair, wondering if anyone cares about their work, if anyone notices it -- but really fearing that their work is of no use, doesn't help anyone, doesn't befriend anyone, doesn't make anyone's day or life more joyful or aware or alive. We, too, are a service profession.

Such despair is not just sad: It's dangerous, since when we feel we have failed to help others, we are likely to attack others. Those who are most rote in asking "Can I help you" are also most bitter. Want to stop terrorism? Persuade the terrorists that they are needed and could contribute to the welfare of others. These are people who once wanted to help, but failed. Or they are still trying, but with mad desperation.

Please, is there SOMETHING I can do for you? Anything at all? (Blow myself up, perhaps?)

Reminds me of an old elementary school joke:

"The whip!"
"No! Not the whip! ANYTHING but the whip!"
"The whip."

By the way, there's a great study of how a person recovers from failure to help others -- it used to be on our TV screens every week, for about 12 years. It's the NYPD BLUE series, and it shows over those years (if viewed in sequence, as is possible now for seasons 1 thru 4, available on DVD) how a cop named Andy Sipowisc moves from below despair up to being a responsible guy who knows he's of use to others.

It shows him, at first, out the bottom (a vicious drunk). It shows, gradually over the years of the show, how he became a cop because he wanted to help (make the world a bit safer, provide justice, etc.), how as a result he must confront a great deal of stupidity and evil (the two being hard to separate), both on the streets and in the police bureaucracy, finding most of his efforts wasted: He occasionally achieves small vengeances, but seldom is anyone helped. He becomes increasingly bitter and cynical, etc., until all he has left is, when sober, his keen sense of when he is being told a lie.

You get all this just by getting to know the guy (better than just about anyone else in books, movies or, certainly, TV), and you see him gradually climbing out of it.

At first his attempts to fight his despair lead to more difficulties. When you put in order on a messy life, a lot of confusion and pain and terror emerge, pounce on one like the Furies of Greek mythology. Similarly Sipowisc's attempts at sanity lead him into relationships with others who are then endangered by his rages or by the criminals he deals with. But he persists (with help), and bit by bit, finds moments of hope, people he can help just a little (though he's inclined to make a snide joke of it at first -- always best, think the despairing, not to get one's hopes up, just to have them shattered). In one episode, just the sight of birds taking off from a rooftop (after a missing child has been located) lifts a weight off him.

By the end of the series, he's in pretty good shape as people on this planet go. He's handling what comes up, helping where he can, taking responsibility for the training and supervision of others, caring for a wife and son, and when he helps, he knows he's helped, and that the people around him are surviving better because he's there.

After all, it says on police badges that their purpose is "to Protect and Serve." Some police (the ones we call "bad cops") don't have a problem with this, since they became police for other reasons: To be powerful, to be in charge, to beat up "scum", to keep down people they fear, to stop things -- mainly anything that moves and isn't under their control. These are guys who gave up on the possibility of helping people long before they became cops. They saw a scary world and hoped, by becoming cops, to be even scarier than that world. (Often they succeed!)

But for a cop who really does want to protect and serve, the reality of the job can be devastating.
And in a small, less dramatic way, I suppose if a waiter really wanted to help others, he'd find it discouraging to think that all he could do for them is feed them mediocre, overpriced meals. He's seen people served the best he can offer who chew quickly at reluctant mouthfuls while ignoring one another or insulting one another, thousands of sullen faces refusing to look at the faces around them, eating without tasting.

I remember the mixed feelings I had about being a cab driver (NY, 1970 and 1974): On the one hand, the help I gave people was obvious and palpable: They wanted to go somewhere; I took them there. On the other hand, most of the people who hired my cab were frozen solid in ancient attitudes, stuck. And all I could do for them was move their bodies from one avenue to another.

It is remarkable how little most people are changed by moving them from one point in New York City to another.

The distance from the top to the bottom of a poem is far less than the distance from Lincoln Center to Canarsie or JFK or Harlem or Times Square. But I hope my poems move you more than my cab ever moved anyone.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Found Wanting

The waitress asks
if I want anything else--

as if I wanted what I already had,
as if I could remember wanting.

Note: This poem is perhaps a bit too simple, needs more context for most readers. The waitress's question simply jolted me into awareness of how far I'd become estranged from my own desires, how much I was ordering the food I was used to thinking I liked and eating it without much enjoyment, how little "wanting" had to do with my life at that point. One orders apple pie because once as a kid it tasted great. One "enjoys" eating it (even though the crust is like sugary cardboard) because one is supposed to, as if telling oneself with each mouthful, "This is apple pie -- YUM!" -- or one gobbles it down without noticing it except to score a point for oneself in the battle against the universe for having achieved another apple pie a la mode. Buddha said we should rise above desire, but first I think we need to rise TO desire and learn, again, to live with gusto.

Then there's the clerk who asks, "Can I help you"...but that's another story.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Consolation: Birth is Not the End

When my time comes to live,
give me a simple burial in plain flesh,
don't make a big fuss--give me a name,
milk, trinkets to toy with. Don't
grieve long for me. I am not lost.
I go but to another kind of death.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Free of Decisions

We are here to give. Even the beggar,
busy being a self-fueling belly,
can only give. He gives his street
an ugliness, a shadowed intricacy
that must be looked at or away from--
in either case requiring of us a decision
until habit slips him into a hole
in our universe before we can see him,
as we, too, become free of decision
and rich with shadowed intricacy.

Note: The hard-to-confront complexity we call a "street person" or "beggar" is, for must of us, a shadowy presence: We don't usually look at or recall a person, a face, an individuality. Such a person makes him or herself hard to confront. The point here is that we, too, become harder to confront as we erect automatic defenses about ourselves that permit us, for example, not to notice such people. The poem says it better, but over-explaining is such fun!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Friendly Fire

Booby-trapped, mined, burglar-alarmed,
draw-bridged, alligator-moated,

Such a monstrous rightness
clicks on to defend us when we are
betrayed. Save us, I pray,
from our machines.

Note: I've had this experience. Perhaps you have too: You've been around the block, think you know yourself pretty well, see yourself as tough-minded and free of delusions and self-righteousness, but then something goes really wrong: You get betrayed, double-crossed, jilted, dumped. And you're smart enough to know better -- to know, for example, that the person who did this isn't worth the grief, that violence, vengeance, self-pity get you nowhere except deeper into the hole, that there are other, better possible futures, that you got yourself into it, refused to see things that had been obvious from the start... -- you know all this, yet find yourself a spectator to all the mechanisms of childishness, all the automatic defensive devices switching on, all the traps sprung. There you sit reminding yourself that all this is foolishness while you dream elaborate dreams of vengeance, of having the last word, of taking her back and forgiving her with wise and wonderful magnanimity that brings her to tears, of torturing her, of going off into the woods and living in a hut and meditating for the rest of your life, of jumping off a bridge (that'll show 'em) -- what a revelation! All that insanity is still with you, lying in ambush, waiting for the opportunity to pounce, not at YOUR command, but when life says "Boo!" You thought you were grown up and beyond all that, but you're pricklier than a Swiss Army knife with all blades extended.

Such experiences are valuable if they lead you to find a way to do something about them. (I found ways to vanquish those machines or most of them. You might say I've built up my spiritual immune system and have high resistance to being a victim. I wish the same for all of us. Here's one of many web sites that deals with the methods I found workable.)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Walls and Freedom

If we knocked down all the walls,
we'd be free--until all the ceilings
smashed us into all the floors.

[Note: Well, we could demolish the ceilings and floors too. That'd work.]

[Note: Not that I'm opposed to eliminating some walls, but a game requires barriers as well as freedoms.]

[Or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein probably never said to Bertrand Russell: "I am the wall, Russ." (Can't you hear Russell Crowe?)]

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Not a Penny for my Thoughts

In the good old days most poets
were consigned to oblivion. These days
even oblivion won't take poets
on consignment.

[Note: Most of you probably know that when a bookstore agrees to carry an author's book in stock, that book is said to have been "taken on consignment". Bookstores (especially the large chain stores) are usually reluctant to carry poetry books by living writers who aren't famous. But only because bookstore customers are reluctant to buy them. I can understand that. Who could possibly afford poetry? That's why I usually give it away.]

Friday, June 1, 2007

Deja Vu Manque

In my dream, dying, I was reborn,
not in the future, but in the past,
to be the same person all over again,
but with subtle variations--but not
too subtle to be first,
and even later, when I'd been persuaded
I was nowhere but where I was,
nor had ever been elsewhere, still
certain things didn't fit:
I met you in the wrong place
or at the wrong time or not at all,
and even when not at all,
I knew you were supposed to be,
were somewhere,

Days of Our Lives

Poets Who Give Their Poems To Strangers:
Next On Oprah!

Two people share a seat on a bus,
but one is having a good day,
the other a bad day.

The moral: take care
in choosing your side of the seat.

She seemed mysterious, standing there
(waiting, as was I, for an elevator),
swaying slightly, eyes far away,
smiling. Then I noticed, obscured
by her earings, the earplug, the wire
leading to her small Sony--heard (tiny
and far away, but free of mystery)
the music to which she swayed.

Back from a morning run, dripping sweat,
my reek fills the elevator. All day
people will ride up and down here.
Later, meeting me for the first time,
they will feel they've known me before.