The rich get richer (what a surprise)

Maybe the answer to the closing the ever-widening and positively despicable gap between rich and poor — a chasm into which more and more of the middle class are tumbling — lies in the title of a book by P.J. O’Rourke and songs by Aerosmith and Motorhead: EAT THE RICH.

Maybe the answer is for people to truly understand what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said “That man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest,” which echoed the wisdom of Lao Tze: ” He who is contented is rich.”

Or maybe we should ponder the remarkable wisdom of W.C. Fields — “A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money” — and listen to this stimulating but sobering speech by my favorite socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, on tax breaks for the wealthy (and other outrages):


Portrait of the artist

OK, exhale! The literary world, as well as the less literate crowd drawn to these semi-literate ramblings, all of you, you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to hear who had the best comments to make about the psychedelic photo I added to my ABOUT THE AUTHOR page.

Go ahead. Click on it. It’s still there. Enjoy one more laugh, one last laugh, before I make the photo — taken with a cellphone camera, then manipulated with Photo Shop — disappear.

A few weeks back, I asked for comments — Like it? Hate it? Don’t care? Get a face transplant? — and promised to pick a winning comment fpr special mention in “World of Wonders.”

Some of you — not to name names, but we’re talking about my writer friends Steve Hart and Christian Bauman — offered literary comments that sailed right over my head.

Steve’s offering:
You know how damned lifelike Pickman’s paintings were — how we all wondered where he got those faces.
Well — that paper wasn’t a photograph of any background, after all. What it showed was simply the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas. It was the model he was using — and its background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail. But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life!

H.P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”

Bauman got literary, too:
You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and, well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them.
George Orwell, “Down and Out in Paris and London”

Daughter Laura, who was raised to be honest and blunt, went for the honest and blunt approach:
The photo of you on your Web site is extremely scary. It makes you look old and sad.
She went on to kindly suggest that maybe her artist/photographer sister might be able to take a better photo of me.

Friend Lynn, who knew me in high school, offered this interesting insight:
Can’t say that I like it. It doesn’t define your finer qualities nor could you be identified by it in case of an emergency. That said it does shows a slightly out of focus wild side of you.
Lynn scores some points here, by suggesting that it might be impossible for any photo to capture my, ahem, “finer qualities,” and she also racks up big-time bonus points with the reference to my “wild side!”

Friend Adrienne went for the clever and funny but supportive approach:
An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.” -Andy Warhol
Need I say more? Ok. How about “I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.” -Andy Warhol Just kidding! You are looking a bit Warholesque in this photo.
However the most fitting in describing you would be: “I lived to write, and wrote to live.” -Samuel Rogers

Friend Keith Strunk, my co-conspirator in staging the annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, also went for tactful, but with a clear message, basically suggesting that the wacky Warholesque portrait doesn’t at all match my warm and friendly personality — and that the photo in question would not enable people to recognize me as they passed me on the street — not unless my head was blue and green and red and all psychedelic swirls.

Former workmate Chuck Pizar scores humor points by suggesting that photo makes me look like a combination of Max Headroom:

and Flattop from the “Dick Tracy” comics and movies.

But another former workmate, Laura Evans, wins induction into the World of Wonders Hall of Fame for this:
You know I never realized you bear a resemblance to The Hoff aka David Hasselhoff of Knight Rider and Baywatch fame.

And to prove her point Laura included this link:

The best response of all, I won’t describe in detail, except to say that the instructions for taking a true author photo of me included the suggestion that the shot be snapped with “a backdrop of nature – stark winter nature. (Bare trees with either gray or blue sky.)”

This thought was on my mind when son Matthew and I scaled a mountainside in southern Vermont a few weeks back, nearly killed ourselves on our way down the icy slopes, and he took this picture — on a cellphone camera, after our adventure, just to document that I had survived — scraped, sweaty, slightly out of breath (and, in case anyone’s getting the wrong idea, this description also applied to 20-year-old Matthew) — our wilderness adventure. So here’s something closer to the real me —

Is that really a photo of David Hasselhoff mountain-climbing in Vermont?

The howling wind

There’s a girl I once loved who lived in New England. Through the years I’ve thought of her whenever I’ve heard the Dylan song “Girl from the North Country,” especially the part about wondering whether she remembered me at all and the line about hoping she had a coat so warm to keep her from the howling wind.

I was in New England on New Year’s Day, as it happens, dealing with the howling wind and incredible cold on a mountainside outside of Weston, Vermont, walking across the grounds of the Benedictine priory there, and thinking three things: 1) I’ve never been so goddamned cold in my life; 2) I notice that the goddamned monks aren’t walking around in this weather — they’re in that building over there, all snug around their fireplace while they chant their goddamned Gregorian chant; and 3) There’s a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons — That oppresses, like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes.

Here’s a photo of the Weston Priory grounds in winter, looking deceptively calm and peaceful:

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve felt the urge to seek shelter in a church. So wasn’t it ironic — and practical — that I found myself  praying….Oh, my God, please let the door of that chapel or at least the visitor’s center be unlocked, even through it’s New Year’s Day, and, God, if the door’s unlocked and I manage to get inside, please, God, let there be heat….Amen.

The door was open.  There was heat. There was a comfortable sofa. I sat there contently for an hour, thawing out and reading a copy of The Catholic Worker, the legendary newspaper started by social activist Dorothy Day, who was a friend of both my old friend, the great gentle poet Robert Lax, and Lax’s best friend, the great peacemaker Thomas Merton.

At last I got up my courage, put on my coat, wrapped my scarf around my neck, put on my wool hat and gloves, opened the door, and stepped out into the swirling snow. Three riders were approaching, the wind began to howl, and I found myself thinking that it should be the other way around, that heaven should bathe us in divine warmth and that hell should be, well, as cold as hell, and don’t the winds hit heavy on the borderline between faith and doubt, between past and present, between love and the memory of love.

Do good things come to those who wait?

To get an answer to that question, I guess readers of these essays will have to wait and see.  Come to think of it, so will I.

November was frantic and December was chaotic and January so far has been…What’s a good word?….Ominous? Apocalyptic? Nostradamussy? Did I just invent a new word? The economy collapsing all around us…layoffs and a just-announced one-week furlough without pay at my own job…probably a big friggin’ meteor heading toward us from behind the blinding sun…wars and rumors of war…icebergs melting…Old Faithful no longer so faithful…publishing world still hasn’t recognized its obligation to publish “Half  Moon” and “Gloryville” and “The Dogs of Arroyo” by Nicholas DiGiovanni… it’s like Dylan sang back in the 1990s because he knew this was all gonna come down like a hard rain a-faillin’…ain’t no use jivin’…ain’t no use jokin’…everything is broken.

So that may explain why, much to my surprise and chagrin, I’ve paid only about a half-dozen visits to my very own World of Wonders in the last two months. But now that’s going to change.

Spring training’s right around the corner, maybe the meteor will miss us, Obama’s about to become president, and Dylan’s still touring, and things just have to get better, right? So here’s some of what I’m going to write about and I hope you’ll want to read about in coming days:

Poets Joe Weil,  Maria Gillan and Rita Dove. Dylan expert Michael Gray. My latest quests for arts-colony invitations and arts-foundation money (and why is it that I just now realized the similarity between “arts colony” and “ant colony).  Ray Bradbury. Niagara Falls. The future of newspapers. Puerto Rico. Louise Gluck and her recent great poem in the New Yorker. Extremely cold weather. New Year’s Eve in Vermont and a January 1st visit to the Weston Priory. A commentary on Thomas Merton’s relationship with his lady friend. More about my much-missed friend Robert Lax. More reasons why I want someone to offer me a job in Vermont. An account of a dinner conversation in which I explained to my wife why I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton. Musings (I’m being inspired by the Muse) on the nature and meaning of true friendship. A long overdue report on a bunch of fine writers I got to meet at the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival this past October. Some (I hope) catholic commentary about the Catholic Worker movement. Some talk about books I’ve read recently. Some thoughts on recent and upcoming books by writer pals Steven Hart. Christian Bauman and Bathsheba Monk. Further explanation of why I’d like to live forever, even if that meant outliving all of my friends and family. Thoughts on whether I really do remember being in my mother’s womb. Thoughts on whether my late father and other dead people I once loved really do speak to me in my dreams. And, most important, of all,  my thoughts on the Yankees’ acquisition of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett.

And much, much more! So stay tuned!

Sarah Palin, Bob Dylan and the Federation of Light (and, oh, did I mention the Apocalypse?)

OK. I admit it. My name is Nicholas D. and I am addicted to continually checking to see how many daily, weekly and monthly visits have been recorded by the ever-increasing legion of fans who faithfully read World of Wonders.

OK. I’m indulging in a bit of hyperbole. “Legion” might be a stretch and “fans” might be overstating my case. But I started this blog and this Web site just about three months ago, and all I can say is I’ll be damned — hundreds and hundreds of people have found this site and taken the time to read my writing, and the number (and this I’m not exaggerating) of visitors has ALREADY DOUBLED for the month of October.

Doubled? Doubled! How did that happen? I’d like to think it has something to do with a spreading public perception that I’m a provocative, witty, entertaining and shockingly under-published writer of essays and fiction.

But I also know that whenever I write about certain topics, search-engine generated visits soar. A lot of people google various terms and expressions and topics related to death, for example. A decent number of people have found my site when they looking for information about my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.  A lot of “hits” have resulted when I wrote about the great singer and activist Pete Seeger or when I’ve described my travels in the great state of Vermont.

But four topics have proven to be the hottest topics of all: Bob Dylan, UFO visits by the Federation of Light, Sarah Palin and the Book of Revelation’s description of the Apocalypse. Anytime I mention one of those topics, I generate hundreds more visits to my Web site.

So that’s why it’s incredibly fortunate that I just happened be browsing the Web and found this news report that I’m sure everyone’s already talking about:

Sarah Palin has announced that she’s left Todd Palin, and is moving out of their home in Alaska, and is moving to Malibu to live with her new boyfriend Bob Dylan. What’s more, when Bob Dylan and Sarah Palin held a joint conference this morning in Alabama, where Dylan was performing and Palin was campaigning, they also announced that Palin had been appointed ruler “of Alaska and Russia and all of the rest of those other countries that I know are out there” by the leaders of our great alien masters, the Federation of Light, and that Dylan had been give the job of writing the new world anthem.  Palin also added, and I quote,”Thanks to the great folks with the Federation of Light, and I’d specifically like to mention Andy the Alien and Eddie the E.T. and Ray the Ray Gun Operator, those great alien mavericks, we’ve also managed to postpone what would have been the Apocalypse if we hadn’t complied with our alien friends of the Federation of Light!”

Don’t believe me? Can thousands of readers of Nicholas DiGiovanni’s World of Wonders be wrong?

Say “Cheese!”

Got a few nice emails from the person who handles the blog on the Web site for the largest employer and only industry in Cabot, Vermont  — asking for permission to post the essay I wrote here recently titled “Curds and Whey.”  I guess this proves the old saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a whey…” Anyway, check in about a week at and you should find my essay about touring the Cabot creamery!

And miles to go…

Whose woods these were I already knew — they surrounded the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in South Shaftsbury, Vermont, just north of Bennington.

Here’s a photo of the house:

The place is located on Route 7A, which must have been a dirt road when Frost and his family lived there in the 1920s but is now a two-lane, paved 50 mph roadway. And there’s not much in the house that actually belonged to Frost — just a sofa and a couple of bedroom dressers from OTHER houses Frost lived in.

But the place has a nice, informative display, filling the walls of two rooms, with photos, historical information, commentaries on Frost’s poetry, Frost’s own cagy comments on the commentaries, audio interviews with Frost — and, best of all, the news  that right there in the house’s dining room was where Frost sat down at the dining room table and wrote a poem you may have heard of:

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

In the above photo of the front of Frost’s house, those two windows at the right — one now partially blocked by the tree — are where Frost looked out from the dining room and across the road to a field, also now blocked about 90 years later by a row of trees, as he wrote his poem.

As the museum exhibit makes very clear, Frost mocked critics who read too much into his poems. On the other side of the spectrum from those critics are people who think of Frost as American poetry’s answer to Grandma Moses — an updated John Greenleaf Whittier.

The critics, of course, are much, much closer to the truth, although on one level Frost was certainly a nature poet. But Frost’s poems have a somber side, both in tone and theme, and their simple beauty and plain talk often mask something disconcerting… and dark…and deep. Frost denied it, but tell me “Stopping By Woods…” isn’t (possibly) about suicide and (certainly) about death. 

I recently discussed Frost’s beautiful “The Oven Bird” with a colleague and told him I thought the poem was deep down an existential, almost Zenlike contemplation on the moment in time and point in space that’s exactly between then and now, here and there, living and dying.  

Anyway, I will never forget the feeling of knowing I was standing in the very room where Robert Frost wrote that great poem. It was the same feeling as visiting Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, and looking up at the window where she once looked out at the world, and imaging catching a glimpse of that odd and reclusive genius flitting past the pane in her long white dress.

Here’s a link to the Frost museum’s Web site, which is Frosty enough to quench the thirst of even the most devout devotee of the great poet:

You can even buy an apple-tree seedling grown from an apple tree planted by Frost himself! And so, in conclusion, not his famous poem “After Apple-Picking,” but another Frost poem inspired by apples:

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what has made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.