As for the best newspaper editors

These are ten I’ve personally learned from.

  1. Hugh Macdiarmid, city editor, Dayton Journal Herald: A Princeton alum and former young flash at the Washington Post, he brought his own flair to the Midwest in the mid-’60s. I remember him standing at his desk at the head of the newsroom, a twinkle in his eye and a cigar in his mouth, shirt-sleeves rolled up (a then-trendy striped shirt, not the bland starched white like those folks at the rival Daily News), as he barked out orders to someone at a far-back desk. He went on to prominence at the Detroit Free Press as a political columnist.
  2. Jim Milliken, his right-hand man: Even handed and patient, he was insistent on detail, clarity, and class. He also seemed to preside at the midnight gathering after work at any of several nearby bars.
  3. Harry Perrigo, copy desk chief, Binghamton (N.Y.) Press Herald:  A veteran of the Journal Herald before moving to Upstate New York, Harry usually had a pipe in his mouth and a cool regard for the headlines being submitted by the copy editors sitting at the horseshoe around him. If they passed, he put them in a small clear-plastic canister and then the vacuum tube that whisked them to the Linotype operators. He was a stickler for the accurate headline, including a host of arcane rules of what was and wasn’t acceptable, and he hated puns. Standards have really slipped since.
  4. Russ Warman, sports desk chief in Binghamton: His approach was cornier than I would have preferred, but he was a great guy in an otherwise dour workplace. Someone else wore the title of sports editor, but the actual job was essentially all his.
  5. Doc Bordner, editor, Fostoria (Ohio) Review-Tribune: Retired Army sergeant hunkered down in a small town with a skeleton staff to cover five counties. It was a tough assignment, and he had his nose to the ground. His periodic columns, run on the front page, were always lively and often controversial.
  6. Steve Kent, managing editor, Yakima (Washington) Herald Republic and then the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph: A former Associated Bureau chief, he believed in hiring talent and running with it. He certainly turned Yakima into a sterling newspaper before the company brought in a chief officer who seemed intent on scuttling everything. Coming across a photo of Steve the other day, I’m surprised how young he was – and we looked to him as our older, wiser guide!
  7. Bob Mellis, executive editor, Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle: Again, I was in a situation where we were in pursuit of quality, and Bob brought with him a solid track record at some big papers. He had been the lifestyles editor at one, and he moved me over into that role and all of his expectations.
  8. Bernie Hunt, city editor, Warren: A lively sparkplug from northern England, he rode herd on a mostly young crew, often with a humorous twist. He also had a fondness for beer after hours, which added to his following.
  9. Peter Swanson, Sunday Editor, New Hampshire Sunday News: Quirky, sometimes cranky, he took an aggressive stance toward covering the Granite State in an unconventional way, whenever possible, sometimes even with flashes of brilliance.
  10. Sherry Wood, night editor, New Hampshire Union Leader: Nobody could rival her for her calm under pressure or the range of skills demanded in the position.


Looking back, let me add that all of them were in high-stress situations.

If we were looking at the top tier nationally, I’d have to name paragons at the New York Herald Tribune in its final years or some of the outstanding pros I called on during my stint at Tribune Media Services.


My latest round of revising my fiction has felt somehow different from my previous encounters.

Well, I would include the round with What’s Left last fall, so maybe I can blame Cassia for my new experience. That novel, however, was always envisioned as a much less experimental work than my previous efforts.

The latest efforts have included deep cuts, including major sections I was quite fond of, and changing the tone. But these also meant creating page after page of new material, especially details to develop side characters more fully. Not just what they’re thinking, either, but rather what they’re feeling.

Much of my personal writing has functioned as an exercise to counter the dumbing-down editing required in the newspaper work that provided my income. You know, tone it down to what used to be seen as sixth-grade reading level.

Not just newspapers, either. I see too much pedestrian prose posing as literature and know language can have much more vitality and depth than that, thank you. Harry Potter, at least, has proven that many sixth-graders can read at much more advanced levels than they’re given credit for.

One thing, though. Five years after leaving the newsroom, I no longer feel that dumbing-down struggle as I write and revise, nor do I have to work my own writing into small blocks of time between everything else.

What I am surprised to see, though, is how much of the journalism influence was at work in the just-the-facts approach to my stories. I’ve seen much of my work – both poetry and fiction – as a kind of on-the-run graffiti, jazzlike, with an improvisatory tone and jagged edge. Daily journalism, for that matter, is typically done under deadline. Essentially, I saw the flow of clashing events as the core of the tale.

The biggest change in the recent revision has been the focus on the characters – and especially their feelings. Remember, in journalism, the only feelings would be through direct quotes. Anything else would be editorializing, not that you’d know in what passes for broadcast journalism on most American television stations these days.

Again, I’m going to credit my character Cassia for much of my shift. She’s having me examine that earlier work through her eyes as well as her voice.

In recasting her father’s backstory, for example, I’ve been continuing the present-tense emphasis as much as possible, with a more conversational tone than the conventional literary past-tense would carry. How would she feel about this or that development?

Oh, yes, one more thing. With her, it shouldn’t sound literary. She’s talking, remember?

The emotional element, though, has engulfed me. Engaging the characters on this level has consumed much of my time and thought, including my nights abed or my time on the treadmill or stationary bike during cardio therapy. It’s made for much slower going on my part as far as the revisions progressed. But it’s also led to a much more complete comprehension of the evolving story.

In the end, I’m hoping these move readers in ways the earlier ones didn’t.


As I revisit my copy of The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui Neng, the binding falls apart. How appropriate! The price, $2.95, says everything: this is a volume that has been carried from one end of the continent to the other and back, with a world of spiritual practice and discovery in between.

A sutra typically is a Hindu or Buddhist teacher’s discourse for aspirants.

The scarab, a symbol of ancient Egypt, originates as a beetle, By extension, it also becomes a symbol of transportation in the hippie era, leaping from there to the Hindu and Buddhist texts and back.

Break away from routine – job, home, neighborhood and friends, the commerce of community – just long enough to let the mind clear. Don’t fill the silences with radio, conversation, any music or dialogue but your own. From somewhere deep in the nervous system, atypical even random bits of memory and observation rise in unanticipated sequence. What ought to have been obvious all along suddenly asserts itself, perhaps with bold surrealism or jarring candor.

In a flash, the mind dances, as it will, with whatever engages it. Field notes, the words themselves, appear unadorned, without apology. Here something other than straight thinking presents its original mental hopscotch.

To a generation of Americans, the Volkswagen Bug represents cheap, easily repaired, carefree transport – often accompanied by adventurous first-time experiences and personal growth. In ways, the plain VW depicts a break between the routines of schooling and establishing families and careers to follow. A time, too, of spiritual exploration, with a flowering of Yoga and Zen, especially.

Here, then, the machine serves as a vessel into the Void, where the mind glimpses and tastes “all this fleeting world: a star at dawn; a flash of lightning in a summer cloud; a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream,” in the words the Diamond Sutra (Vajrachchedika).

Listen to this teaching. As Hui Neng insists, “Mirror-like Wisdom is pure by nature.” And persevere!


Ripples in a Bejeweled Prayer Flag
Ripples in a Bejeweled Prayer Flag

Well, these are all at play in my newest poetry collection, Ripples in a Bejeweled Prayer Flag. Take a look at Thistle/Flinch editions.


The output of some artists sometimes falls into an arc of Early, Middle, and Late – and nobody exemplifies this more than Beethoven. For others, it’s often just Early and Mature periods, which can be quite satisfying in its own way – think of the continuity in the evolving symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner, in contrast.

As I, too, have grown older, my appreciation for Beethoven’s late works – the string quartets and piano sonatas, especially – has grown, eclipsing the charming classical period influences of the early work or the relentless drive and passion of the stretch that followed and continues his fame. In contrast, the late works are thorny, cerebral, introverted, brooding, even surprisingly contemporary in their affinity. He sometimes seems preoccupied with the intellectual puzzle – immersed in theory – turning his back on the audience. And, for years, these were considered pieces musicians tackled in private. Fortunately, that part has changed, especially for connoisseurs.

It’s not just Beethoven, of course. You can look at your own preferences in reading or music or painting or theater – take the list where you will. How has your focus shifted or your tastes changed?

Think, too, of your life aspirations, especially if the children have left the home or you’ve entered retirement.

I once desired to learn to fly and to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, but never seem to have the time or money. Now that I have the time, those aren’t among my priorities or maybe even my skill sets. And the writing efforts have taken center stage, in addition to gardening and similar projects here at home.

Think, too, of possessions – for me, collections of books and recordings, especially, I’m now thinning, along with the clothing, since I no longer have to dress for the office.

In some ways, it’s all part of the flesh turning bony. A unique approach of simplifying. You can hear that, too, in Beethoven’s late works – an emerging new strength given voice, even as the muscles weaken.


As Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline stated, the Queries and Advices “provide a means for maintaining a general oversight of the membership pertaining to our Christian life and conduct. … It remains this Yearly Meeting’s heartfelt desire that good order and unity may be maintained among us … the attention of each member of the Society should be drawn at regular intervals to individual self-examination … To aid the members in this exercise, a series of both Queries and Advices is provided to impress upon the minds of us all various principles and testimonies which should guide our daily lives.”

The tradition was for Quakers (the Society of Friends) to ponder a set of these Queries at each monthly meeting for business and have someone draft a summary to be reviewed the next month. (This is in contrast to the weekly times of worship on Sunday, or “First-Day,” morning and, if possible, sometime during the week.) The monthly meeting’s summaries would then be reviewed at the next quarterly meeting – a gathering Friends from nearby meetings – and another summary would be drafted, to be shared in a similar manner at the larger yearly meeting.

When I was living in Baltimore, one Friend suggested that those of us living at a distance from our home meetings sit down and partake in this exercise and then mail our written answers to our home meeting. Although intending to take up this practice, I procrastinated and Winona received nothing until a personal invitation arrived, gently urging me to join in the exercise.

Many of my short essays and poems originate in those responses, now turned from addressing the community of faith to the Source itself and outward again.


As I reexamine just what happened to the hippies and conclude that the movement continues in many strands we now take for granted or simply overlook, I am nonetheless struck by a reaction in seeing a number of men who continue the look. Their long hair and threads may fit the style but for the most part they exude an aura of loser. Or, worse yet, a bum.

Sometimes it’s the cane they need for walking or an indirection or their lonely gaze. Missing a projection of derring-do or colorful theater or cool leadership, they instead seem to be more in need of a handout than any extension of underlying comradeship. In the height of the outbreak, back in the ’60s and ’70s, we often found ourselves pooling resources and abilities, perhaps just for a communal dinner or a party or a rally. There was an unstated mutual responsibility. Here, I feel only one-sided need. Never among them do I see someone I’d consider for a roommate, if I were still single.

Let me add this doesn’t fit all of us older guys in beards and long hair. But we have come through quite a lot over the decades, personally and as the carriers of a vision, to make me feel more like a survivor than a victor. For the most part, it’s been rough. Some of us did find ways to pay the bills without abandoning the style. Some have done it in the inner city, while others kept truckin’ on in a back-to-the-earth mode. Some have evolved into something, uh, higher. More mellow, peaceful, even wiser.

My own experience in the past year of growing out my remaining hair into a ponytail has brought its own perspective. It never seemed to tangle like this, for one thing.


As I said at the time …

You’re home once more, with many fresh laurels, I hope. On my end, the computer’s fixed and I’m dancing with some frequency again. At least between some heavy allergies. (Birch pollen at the moment; pine comes soon.)

I’m still in shock from Sam Hamill’s “To Eron on Her Thirty-Second Birthday” – she’s always a twelve-year-old tomboy in my memory! Impossible, it seems. And that was back when I was still married and my wife studied painting under John Bennett’s wife, Ellensburg, Washington … back in his Vagabond days. Small world. Am still trying to figure out when and where I heard Bill Stafford read. Yakima Valley College, I believe. Will the parts of my life ever come together?

Yes, you certainly are a moon-child, with all of the sign’s gentle humanity. Violet, a variant of purple, the cancer-sign’s color. Star, like the moon, of the moody night. Well-named, it seems! For whatever reason, more of my serious relationships have been with women born under the sign of Cancer than with any other; in fact, there have been no Gemini or Libra, which are supposed to be a natural fit for me. Go figure!


My, what ancient history this, too, has become!


Our first spring in the house, we discovered that our lawnmower wouldn’t work. Maybe we wouldn’t have been able to use in it the Swamp anyway, considering how wet that side yard can be. By the time the mower was back, though, the Swamp had gone wild. Waist-high with growth.

That’s when our elderly neighbor, Ernie, told me he had a scythe, offered to lend it to me, showed me how to cradle it and cut, and just how sharp he’d honed it.

So off I went. He was right, there’s a trick to using it right. But it’s work, all the same. Hard work.

So it’s something I’ve now done once in my life. And, hopefully, never again.

Yes, there’s good reason weed-whackers have taken over.


 in the meantime, waiting to refurbish
the red cobwebbed mower my wife salvaged
from her first marriage. The plot grows waist-high
and matted until our elderly neighbor extracts
a scythe from his garage and demonstrates its use

after which I vow, “never again!” while admiring
its hungry edge and once commonplace muscular skill

yes, before I get a functioning lawnmower
the swamp erupts in waist-deep weeds

on its far side, elderly Ernie laughs knowingly
before lending my his scythe
and demonstrating its use

“just call me Scythemaster”
my girls are instructed
watching me rock the cradle

oh, then, do I ache deeply …

poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson



As I said at the time …

It took eight springs in this household before we were finally greeted by a sequence of designed abundance. First, the pussy willow cuttings. Then the succession of flowering: snow lily, crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, forsythia, marsh marigold, tulip, forget-me-not, sweet woodruff, rhododendron, iris, mountain laurel. Accompanied by asparagus, rebounding after a season of root virus.

That’s not to say that any of it’s as orderly or magazine perfect as my wife would like. One neighbor jested our style’s too organic for that. Actually, it’s more like our budget.

Still, it’s quite an improvement over what we encountered when we first moved in and discovered most of our property was wet clay and neglected. Some portions had been landscaped with black plastic covered with gravel, which only worsened the water problems – extending to our cellar. Other portions were heavily shaded, with several nasty box elders and then a dead elm to be taken out.

While most of the garden has been my wife’s project – leaving to me the actual construction of raised beds and pathways, as well as the composting – I lay claim to a few exceptions: the asparagus bed and two small, heavily shaded panels behind the lilacs. The latter, each about forty square feet, are separated by a wood-chip passage. In our first year here, I shoveled off the gravel and dug up the plastic on one side of the pathway and began our attempts to plant ferns in the beds. Later, I dug up the pathway itself, removing the plastic and replacing the gravel with wood chips. The other panel would follow a year or two later.

I envisioned the footpath leading between two lush expanses of fiddleheads – woodland greenery right at home. A taste of deep forest.

The reality was that nothing wanted to grow there. We enhanced the soil repeated. Bought a few commercial fern varieties, which never quite caught on. My wife stuck in some other plants – lilies of the valley, wild ginger, lungwort, jack-in-the-pulpit – and they’ve taken hold. We transplanted ferns from the woods behind our best friends’ house at the time. Next year, I dug up more from along my commute, as well as the first of several seasons from another friend’s forest. Even so, come springtime, squirrels or slugs would mow down the rising green scrolls, while the surviving fronds remained tenuous and “went down,” as they say, earlier in the summer than I would have liked. In other words, forest undergrowth is hardly as natural as it would appear.

But this spring was different. In the older bed, the ferns came in thick and gorgeous – and after a few of the first fiddlehead stalks were leveled, we encased the plants in chicken wire to ward off predators. It worked. In the newer bed, which still has plenty of room to grow, one can see progress. “It’s where the other bed was last year,” we say, meaning we expect it to catch up. No, it’s not the uniform deck of fiddleheads I expected, nor is it the waist high ferns of a forest where a friend lived last year. Rather, it’s a celebration – at least six varieties (we’re not technical; fern identification is quite tricky) – with Rachel’s other plants and a few star flowers and Solomon’s seals thrown in.

* * *

What fascinates me is the variety of the fronds themselves, and how they now spread through in the bed. Some are fine-toothed, while others are broad. Some are bright green, while others show more blue or red. Some shoot upward, while others spray outward. If some are finely etched, others are painted with a broad brush. There are degrees of delicacy, fragility, and geometric interlocking arcs and angles. While the asparagus comes to replicate a tall fern with its feathery fronds, it spikes from the ground, unlike the uncoiling fern stems. This unfurling, in fact, seems to suspend time in space, especially in a few precious weeks when spring is taking hold. There’s something modest in the way ferns float only a foot or two above the ground or the way they crowd in along a wall or fence; something amazing, too, when they take hold in a boulder or cliff. When I gaze at my two fern beds, I must acknowledge that despite all my labors, this is what I have, or at least what’s survived. It wasn’t the plan, exactly. Maybe that’s what makes it all the more remarkable in my eyes.

A bigger question asks just where my fondness for ferns originates. I don’t remember them from the woods in my native Ohio or boyhood backpacking along the Appalachian Trail. I acknowledged them in the glen at the back of a farm I inhabited while living Upstate New York, and later at the ashram in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I do remember being stung by the scorn of a Californian while hiking in southern Indiana, and then being enchanted in the array within rainforest in Washington State. Returning east, I kept Boston ferns in my apartment windows, vowing if I ever owned property again, I’d have ferns.

So memories and associations fit in here. Tastes of the past, and souvenirs of discovery. A reminder, too, of how forest touches my soul. My wife is moved more by flowers. I, by the gentleness of ferns.


My fondness for asparagus arises in the years I lived in an orchard in the Yakima Valley, where, thanks to an earlier agricultural disaster, asparagus seeds had gotten into the irrigation water and spread everywhere. The green sprouts were often touted as “Local ’Grass.” As a consequence, we had about a month when we could take our knives and, being careful to avoid areas of pesticide use, return with a basket of stalks for lunch or dinner. I learned to glut out in season, realizing it would be another year before we’d indulge again.

Now that we have our own asparagus bed and repeat the ritual, albeit on a smaller scale, we’ve also come to regard the damage asparagus beetles inflict as well as the miracle appearance of lady bugs to the rescue. That, in itself, has convinced us of the value of organic farming.

As for Shiva, he’s the horny Hindu god of creation and destruction, and he wields a wicked blade.