The Hall House Benefit Sponsored by Verbal Supply Company

            Photo by Geoffrey Berliner

            Photo by Geoffrey Berliner

Poet- Philip Levine,
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1996
Philip Levine (born January 10, 1928, Detroit, Michigan) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet best known for his poems about working-class Detroit. He taught for more than thirty years in the English department of California State University, Fresno and held teaching positions at other universities as well. He was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States for 2011–2012

Photo by Eddie Vega

Photo by Eddie Vega

Poet-Dennis Nurkse is the author of ten collections of poetry, most recently A NIGHT IN BROOKLYN, THE BORDER KINGDOM, BURNT ISLAND, and THE FALL, from Alfred Knopf. He is the recipient of a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim fellowship in poetry, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships, the Whiting Writers Award, and prizes from The Poetry Foundation and the Tanne Foundation. He served as poet laureate of Brooklyn from 1996 to 2001.


Reading - Saturday November 8th, at 1:15pm at Littlefield; 622 Degraw St, Brooklyn, NY 11217

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Verbal Supply Company hosts a reading to benefit The Hall House in Bridgeport CT. Hall House serves a host of social and educational programs that benefit the lives of children, youth, families, and senior citizens. Verbal Supply Company engenders community dialogue between diverse writers and the public via live readings that reveal today’s intimacies, vulnerabilities, problems and concerns of the individual. Please join us for a remarkable line up of poets which will include Philip Levine and Dennis Nurkse and a guest poet.

To purchase tickets

 (877) 435-9849

TOMATOES - by Diane DeSanders

This post was contributed by Diane DeSanders - check out her writer's page on our website:


With so much snow and below-freezing weather this winter, I look forward to a lower insect population this summer, fewer aphids, spiders, stink bugs, mosquitoes, ants. A partial list.

I grow tomatoes in Brooklyn. I first put seeds into those large half-barrels full of potting soil a few years ago when we first got into this house, and now I don’t even have to buy plants again as new seedling volunteers appear in spring in such numbers that I can spend hours losing track of time in thinning, feeding, staking, watering, and they just grow. Day by day they clamber and they sprawl. They make the little yellow blossoms, then the tight green bubbles that grow and fatten and redden, And then lo and behold: tomatoes! Tomatoes fat and juicy and as full of that particular garden-tomato taste you don’t get at the grocery store, as delicious as those in any French market.

No one pays me for this. No one judges me on the results. No one cares. There are no career advantages. There are no agents, no editors, no deadlines other than what Nature provides. Many might think it pathetic to be spending one’s time on such a homely, unprofitable task. It’s something I know I can do. And I have learned some things. Everything leads to everything else.

I dig in the dirt out there almost in secret. It’s mine.

The first tomatoes of summer often have something wrong – blossom-end rot most common in my case. The first time I thought some horrible nasty, evil, subversive worm was corrupting my life. But then research revealed no worm, simply a lack of calcium in an early stage. There were other possibilities (temperature changes?) that I can’t recall, but all easily solved.

Then of course I put in garlic, chives, marigolds, basil, and other things that are supposed to repel bugs.

Might as well see what happens if I put in some Asian eggplant, some broccoli, some dill, oregano, rue, thyme (Fresh lemon thyme is a wonderful thing!). And now my work is cut out for me! I had to buy cages and ladders for climbing things. Then I started getting the catalogs – dozens of catalogs for seeds, plants, gardening equipment, even giant greenhouses. I call the companies but it never stops!

I’ve spent time reading about companion planting, growing from seeds (Monsanto must be stopped!), organic gardening, the benefits of different types of vegetables, etc. 

When we first bought this house in Brooklyn four years ago, we planted a four-foot-tall apple tree from Home Depot.  Now it’s almost twenty feet, and after pruning, and after birds, squirrels, and bugs, we are getting maybe fifteen good apples out of it. But it’s young yet. We have high hopes.

I figured since I am out there all the time anyway, I might as well try some Irises, tulips, daffodils, a rose bush, a fig tree. When we started wrapping the fig tree with burlap for winter and putting down mulch, I figured I should keep a seasonal calendar of what I’m doing.

People walk past and smile at me. My neighbors have been inspired to garden also. We talk about the weather over the fence. They gave me a ripped-out blackberry bush from their place upstate. It needs an acid soil, so I compost now and am reading up on that. Work has to be done out there almost every day during the short growing season that we have here in Brooklyn. I can’t leave town!

My life has changed radically from the New York City life I once so enjoyed and so craved.

I might be out in the back yard in an apron and straw hat in the fall. My grandson, now thirteen, comes home from school on his bike, and I can’t help but imagine his brain imprinting a snapshot of Grandma/me out there. Might that happen?

Might I be inadvertently passing down a bit of something of me – something of Us -- something so long gone that survives in me – something that may or may not actually matter?

In fall the plants are mature and the tomatoes come many and fast but smaller, and I often have to pick them green to ripen on window sills when the cold hits. I remember my mother did that.

The prettiest and tastiest tomatoes that are good for slicing come of course in the heat of summer. You have to watch to be sure to pick them before they start to split their skins.

But when the tomatoes are just right, when you bite into your salad, if you’re as old as I am you might have visions of the tomatoes of your childhood, visions that include your stylish mother carrying a hoe, visions that include barbed-wire fences and horned toads, visions that include your Aunt Lee’s farm in Brady, Texas, with chickens and cows, with cats in the barn, and with a giant oak tree full of mockingbirds.





Baseball begins (can the warm be far behind)

I try to live and let live with the weather: warm, cold, whatevs = all good.

 'Why would you want to live some place without seasons?'

I get it now.

I have never hated a season more than I have hated this winter.

I'm done with winter.

For-EVER (?)

I want warm.







BASEBALL begins...

Can the warm be far behind?

(Please say it IS so, Shoeless Joe.)


'Boocock's House of Baseball' (2005)

Boocock is a Babe Ruth hologram based on flickery footage circa 1927. With supporting data points by Jimmy Stewart in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ 1939.


and bonus: Yankee fans around NYC recite Walt Whitman's (slightly reworked)

"O Captain! My Captain!" to celebrate Derek Jeter's upcoming last season:

and bonus bonus, Boocock as Jeter:



Phil Hoffman Story

"No words for this.  He was too great and we’re too shattered."

Mike Nichols said that.

And it's true. No language will take away the pain. 

Yet people I know have Phil Hoffman stories to tell.

Maybe telling those stories will help us get through this?

This is mine:

I was supposed to be in Troilus & Cressida with Phil Hoffman and – get this: I turned down the role because the director/friend who offered me the role was directing me in another show at that time.

You read that right.

I had an offer to play Phil Hoffman’s boyfriend in Troilus and Cressida, and I said to the director/friend:

‘I think I need some space.’

I know.

When I wake up in the middle of the night to rank my worst mistakes, that one often tops the list. 

But I still did get to know Phil - just a little bit.

He organized the bachelor party for that same director/friend - at a Ribs & Gravvy-Fries, comfort-food kind of place.

At one point that night, when he went out front to smoke a cigarette with another mutual friend, I joined them. 

We chatted about this and that - nothing particularly intense.  Hoops, baseball. I didn't bring up that we almost worked together - there’s no cool way to say that.

A few people on the street noticed him, but nobody stopped until… 3 cute-not-fancy, maybe even-a-bit-nerdy girls, came up to him, giggly and shy.  He spoke to them - just him to them - low tones; I didn't hear a word, a few gentle chuckles. No numbers exchanged. Nothing untoward. Nice.

Then the girls walked away – blissed. 

He took a drag, looked out toward 7th avenue with that twinkly-eyed smile and:

'Well, those are MY groupies.'

He might have been the most regular guy who also happened to be the greatest actor of his time.

When he wasn't on-location, he was in New York.

Doing theatre. Lots of theatre.

Yes, sometimes the big revivals of O'Neill or Miller. And he worked with almost every star you can name. But he also worked with unknown quantities. Writers, directors and actors who aren't household names. With companies who develop stuff that likely will not have commercial legs. 

He didn't come to New York after he got big somewhere else to pick up his 'street cred.' He wasn't keeping it real.  He was real.

From Stanley Kunitz ‘The Layers’:

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.


The full poem:

Thank you Maria & Sean, Gary & Chuck.


In Favor of Vowels

I saw her on the B-train platform.

She held on tightly to an old magazine containing tips on containing belongings.

Meanwhile she wore layers and was spilling out of herself on all ends.

Inner socks spilled from outer socks. The collar of a ruffled shirt popped from the crewneck, which itself peeked from a v-neck. Inner sleeves protruded beneath outer sleeves. And skirts were swelling below skirts.

Her grey hair refused to remain neatly under the kerchief tied below the chin.

She had painted her lips the color of a stop sign, but unsolicited smiles still escaped in rapid succession, and when they did her lips parted and one could clearly see that some of her teeth hadn’t been able to sit still in their gums either.  They had gone missing.

Her big eyes were restless, darting outward and back to self-consciousness (which seemed to be a thing confined to a small square of concrete by her feet).

When the train came she stepped on, minding the gap, as if taking a train by herself for the first time.

She chose a seat and carefully tucked all skirt-sides below her thighs, being mindful not to occupy more than one yellow hard-plastic seat.

I chose a seat near her.

She produced a chewed-on stump of a pencil from beneath her layers and opened her magazine to an earmarked page .

I could see that she had worked on this magazine as if it were the textbook on proper living. She had marked all rules and tips on the containment of spill-prone items. She had underlined tips on organized wall-boards, advice on storage bins, and opinions on the proper separation of cutlery.

As she moved the pencil over the pages she was mindful to keep her body from exuberance, she was mindful to keep her knees pressed together and her lips from mumbling the words. She was mindful to contain herself altogether.

It cost her considerable effort.

While the train crossed the bridge to Manhattan, after having stolen a glance at the silver river, which had made her gasp audibly in delight, she had to write a note of admonishment to herself.

She pressed the pencil firmly and wrote in the margin of her magazine:


For the sake of containment she had forbidden herself all vowels.


Read More

A brief interview with Dennis Nurkse

D. Nurkse’s latest collection, A Night in Brooklyn, captures a Brooklyn of both the past and present in lyrical poems that are both intimate and political.

Here is Nurkse discussing his book with Andy Kuhn of the Katonah Poetry Series:

My family came here from Europe as the Nazis were coming to power, and we moved back to Europe briefly in the early sixties. My family members got by in many languages, but English was my first language. That’s probably an affinity to Brooklyn: living there is like traveling, being everywhere and nowhere.  My current neighborhood is a place of immigrants, and I like their outlook. They take nothing for granted.

A theme of A Night in Brooklyn is how we make up stories, believe them, and live in them as if they were worlds.

Brooklyn throughout my life has been a place of vastness and wildness. I remember immense ruined factories; neighborhoods where diners sold ake ake, saltfish, cowsfoot soup, comfort food from West Africa; neighborhoods where you would hear Malayam, Quechua, Ladino. I once accompanied a great Irish poet who read in Gaelic in Irish Brooklyn. I remember bars where ex-guerrillas spoke of fighting the Bloody Black and Tans. I love the sea and the mountains. Brooklyn really had the same sense of being beyond measure. I remember teaching poetry to Orthodox Jewish children. One young girl came up with the line “red is the color of dying in your sleep.” The parents were startled, halted the workshop, and consulted a rabbi as to whether the exploration of poetry was safe or psychically dangerous. The rabbi felt that confronting the depths was entirely healthy and the parents invited me back.

The Surface

The sandhogs who blasted the Battery Tunnel
jerry-rigged an escarpment a quarter mile down
but it buckled at rip tide and one journeyman
was sucked into the air pocket, up through the lattice,
through the ooze under the East River, to surface
in daylight—how the hell did he remember
to drop his ninety pound jute sack and let himself float
until a tug lowered a skiff—now no one knows his name—

Mr. Modesto, in for his second hernia, told this story
in the waiting room behind the nurses’ station
at Downstate—view of a gasworks, Szechuan takeout,
cat hunting a spindled leaf, laundry on tenement roofs,
three clouds, one bright, one tinged, one darkening.

Mr. Solaris, like me a recent father, nodded sleepily,
scratching his head and mechanically rolling the dead skin
between thumb and forefinger, perhaps to release the odor.

But Mrs. Hiram Q. Pace, whose brother had Alzheimer’s,
never looked up from her sudoku, and the nameless man
in the seersucker suit with the hairline rip at one elbow,
who had never spoken since the beginning, swept up his Patience
to re-shuffle—how could he shuffle for himself—
so the cards hung luminous between his hands

when the nurse in the corridor cleared her throat
and we each looked up with a question on our lips
but I was the one the crooked finger summoned
to kneel by my wife and hold my breathing child.

Twilight In Canarsie

In these long slant-lit streets, she says,
you will find factories that once made shoehorns,
waffle irons, or pearl cufflinks, and storefront churches
where voices adored the Living God while tambourines
clashed a little behind the beat, and Jiffy Lubes,
and beauty parlors where bored calico cats
licked their paws disdainfully, perhaps a movie house
with posters of Garbo and a marquee with detachable vowels,
a candy store selling egg cremes and roped red licorice,
a little bar with a jar of pig trotters and a lone fly
stumbling in and out of a shaft of daylight, a library
reeking of mucilage, a funeral home with bas-relief columns,
a shoe repairman listening to scores from Chicago,
the tenement where we made love and each thrust
carried us deeper into the past, as if we were an engine
careening back to childhood, then the shunting yard,
the park with its whirling jump rope, the red brick school
that manufactured absolutes, Sphere, Pyramid, Dodecahedron,
while children tried to carve their names clear through their desks,
the cemetery of lovers immobilized by marble wings—

why is it always twilight when we die, she asks,
and Canarsie where we are born again?




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