After the Last Snow

Psychedelic DogHe slushed through the yard with the dog, Mosey,
looking for the salsa garden covered with snow.
A foggy down comforter was spread
across the cold compost pile.
Mosey gave it the once-over and waggled on.

Through the grey branches of the bald maple,
the wintry sun dripped a wet, molting light.
“I think I’ve found the salsa garden,”
Mosey barked, wagging through a snowdrift.

He found some green garlic starts,
planted last fall in hope of an orange day.
Over on the frozen patio sat the fable
of a red tablecloth and a bottle of sweet wine,
Mosey dozing in a patch of warm light.

He hears voices, someone’s recipe:
“Fresh cilantro, hot pepper, and black beans,
eight tender Roma plum tomatoes,
an inch of basil, a sprig of rosemary,
a dash of black pepper and a pinch of salt,
a dark green jalapeno,
and a mellow, cool lime.”
Sevenish on the heat scale, he thinks,
two fat, purple candles melting the snow,
Mosey barking, “Let’s go back inside now.”

They entered the kitchen through the side door,
dog wet noses sloshing snow and water,
dripping all over the stale linoleum.

Argument in the Time of Apples

Torqued antipathy apparels dimple Args
dented funny car, idling gear limbed,
oiled, greased, and garbed
wardrobe red, beaming barbs,
wavy hair flames bursting
from the fat winged fenders
of his 1950 hot rod roadster,
and the countdown lights
go green, and the ground springs,
and the asphalt melts to sap;

meanwhile, in lane next whole daddy,

apples in juicy life dangle,
from form below pending,
suspended, the quick nap of a bee,
moistly sloping sap up elegant boughs,
up, wake up, give us blush
pale pink blossoms,
not the false fruit of an inapt poem.
Leaf springs, cracks the bark
of the dormant pome tree
pruned for Verve & Vigor.

Explication:

What is called a season is the mapping of sap
around a wound,
and a poem is a funny car.
After the burled cuts, twisted,
elbow pruned shifting of gears
and squealing of red wheelbarrows,
the melting tongue wanders away,
talking to the bees from a standing start,
showing the pink slip core of reason
dash and flash in a sap sluice.

Word Put Upon Word

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“Stone put upon stone
and chamber beside chamber”
D’Arcy Thompson
“Mud put
upon mud,
lifted
to make room,”
Robert Creeley
word    hod
   put
upon  house
word
 shell
 soma stone
put
 upon
stone
 
put log upon log cube upon cube
 pier upon pier unit upon unit
post up & unus put upon unus
 road upon road  
page   upon page  
wood in face upon face
 paint put upon paint wall put upon wall
 one part upon part upon
 slab on slab load put upon load
hod word onus upon onus
line put upon line word upon stone
bowl put mud in
 hand put upon hand a pan upon a
 tone drum stone upon
note upon note a lifted scuttle
note upon row in a
 sign sing stone mud call
name put upon cut word in
 rune put upon stone bone lifted
end upon end a tune  in

CODA: wind upon wind wave upon wave cloud upon cloud grass upon grass leaf upon leaf sail upon sail hill upon hill cove around cove cliff upon cliff square upon square camp upon camp town upon town city upon city state upon state…wind upon wind wave upon wave cloud upon cloud cove around cove

IMG_2067 Word Put Upon Word

A Shuck of Stone

When the lemon yellow of a doubtful flower tells lies
And the hush pink plum blossoms first fail to surmise
A touch and a kiss turn to stone.

When the steep turn toward the dark cherry dyes
And find winkle’s wake still seeping under the sash
A drink and a dress turn to stone.

To turn to stone is not to die and worm away
A stone never slept nor arose
A stone is a stone is a stone is a stone.

When knickknacks walk and talk and wingding
The livelong night no wonder
A flower turns to stone.

Hearths are made of stone, and wheels, and paths,
And walls, and dwellings, and churches, and busts.
A stone thrown skiffles across water and plops.

When a shuck of stone falls from the sky
Not a soft place on the land to nest
A tempest has turned to stone.

When in spring one feels petrified
Curl and pit and weigh and hurl
Slink and creep and push and pull.

When the angels of spring go stone
Old stones erupt in new waves
And lyrical flowers woe no bloom.

Lenten Surf Season

Work morning and Luke up early helping his dad load plumbing tools,
wrenches and chisels, elbows and nipples, the ladle and the lead pot
full of soft lead that looks like frozen surf.
Luke now taller than his dad.

“Give Dan a call,” Luke said. “He’s drivin’ now.
We’re headin’ inland to work,”
and he ran his rough hand meanly over Jack’s salt matted hair.
“I’m afraid my surfin’ days are near over, kid,” Luke said.

Dan lived with his grandma back in the alley
behind Roman’s, off Devil’s Path.
He was working on an old Chevy beater.
He was a cross between a surfer and a hodad.

“You turnin’ into a hodad,” Jack said,
but it was a question, and Dan laughed.
“All you think about is surfing, kid,” Dan said.
“I have to give Grandma a ride to mass.

Give me a quarter for some gas, go to mass with us,
then we’ll drive down and check out some waves.
You hear Gary got shot? Not coming home, though.
Sent him up to Japan for some R and R.”

“I love the mass,” Danny’s grandma said.
She sat in the middle of the bench seat,
smelling like toilet water and wax.
“I love the quiet, the peace.

I love the back of the church dark,
the hard polished oaken pews,
the altar lit like a halo, the smell
of the candles, the incense,

the smell of Father Dayly’s hands
when he puts the host between my lips
and sets it down softly onto my tongue.”
“I know you do, Grandma.”

“No, you don’t. You boys can’t know
nothin’ about it, how I love the sudden bells.
I love the mass so much,” Danny’s grandma said,
“I’m giving it up for Lent.”

They turned to look at the old woman,
Jack rolled his window down,
and Danny’s grandma saw the salt water in Jack’s eyes.
“But,” she said, spitting it out, and paused.

“Yes, Grandma?” Danny said.
“You go to mass without me during Lent.
You give up surfing for Lent.”
Jack could hear the waves laughing at him.

Rising from the beach and curling over the dunes,
a breeze hisses like a glass blower’s torch.
The spring swell peals across the bay,
the waves a glass cavalry menagerie.

Surfing

An Imperfect Imposition

An Imperfect Imposition   Gloss
       
He goat a haircute,   “Beware enterprises
molted a shive,   that require
and emptoed the moot.   new clothes.”
       
He out cast the let   Ruined good tune,
down at sup-a-dup   raised to put
and unvaled a crune,   bread on table.
       
frumpted and follying,   Commuters fly
and clutched the rolled,   in wingtips aspire
acrested the abridged am-this   cross closed bridges.
       
Daddy-Oh! Pater-pitter-patter Ah, familiar
potairy, roong froom the Gin-is-is in joy of brewcrew
hisses Ink Pour Age.   song of a pint.
       
He rit the hoad alt coomed,   [Readers
sweeat urned his id,   may reply
and snoozled wths sapoozed.   below.]
       
Hairfigged fitted, compred wronged, All quiet
he wroted, a temptwitted,   on the worsted
but ownlie slylents twas loosening, font.
       
ands the suns downsed and moons Only a real fool
arowsis a crewised shell fellowing ignores the full
pips sillied byburds.   loon.
       
Sorry to impose like this is the poet Where should it go:
speaking, but have you a place for thes Recycling, Compost,
amythidst your these is?   or Garbage?
       
Supposing posing, oh, posing:   Climbing
“I am positioned,” the imposing the corpus
poet posited, “I am composed.” ladder.
       
Nonesuchofwhich off course   Maybe end
was teachno techno blareney,   with the “byburds”?
steel eye as I am I am postplus. Too late now?
       
Owl duedew uandeye goal   Reading kicker
quickwick of it?   position player
Illklicked ear, wellclick thr.   diversion.

Badges

Hanging from their necks,
belts, or ties, with photo,
they come from somewhere,
and have some place to go.

She sees them bouncing up and down
the streets, swagging vigor to and fro.
Sometimes they meet and talk,
badge to badge, boar to sow.

She doesn’t get what they say.
Normally, they just proceed,
prancing days, romping nights,
round and round they gambol

through tunnels of sun
sounding golden horns,
steeds indeed, lit up
in glorious gowns a glut.

She had one once, but let go,
repeating the hollow phrase,
preferring not to be badgered,
“And that has made all the difference.”

Badge

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A Clean, Well-Lighted PlaceEvery hour seems happy hour
in this diner on some corner,
the coffee pot fresh and warm,
each table a worn flower.

She passes her reflection
in the silence of the old
jukebox, vacant these many
years, and fingers a grey hair

wistfully behind one ear.
He sees her waiting all hours,
having come to occupy
the booth outside her kitchen.

He orders breakfast, coffee and eggs,
for lunch, her meatloaf and mashed,
later in the afternoon, a milkshake
and fries, on the radio

a Bach organ squeezed, strained
through a deep, golden tuba.
But he did not notice who left her
the short note in her tip jar.

Amid a Bevy of Red Roses in the Bed of a Twaddle Truck

Red Roses

If you don’t get this there’s no need to go radish or knock something over. Red roses remedy the lackadaisical. Would you like a piece of fallen green apple tart, all the way from Wenatchee?

The red roses he gave me I squeezed into gravy he poured on his raspberry pie. By the time we were done on the ceiling there were none of the spiders that had earlier danced in my eyes. In the morning the water was as loose as my garter tossed into the bed of his twaddle truck.

Every day is cusp catastrophe day in the House of Disposition.

He uttered, “Red roses,” with just a bit of a stutter. Maybe he hugged me, but into a pot I was put.

A pan of his ink I placed on the porch with some empty jugs of milk. And never have I smiled as maroon a red rose as he stuck in my mashed potatoes that morning.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways, the roses he sent me were fakes. But I never noticed. I mirrored his psychosis, not to mention my powdered lemon bars.

He sat down to dinner and yarned out a new spinner, wondering did I water his old red roses. He was always away, away on a business trip, away on some sort of boondoggle in his twaddle truck. He was a tinker. He wore red plaid flannel shirts and blue denim jeans all patched in the knees and seams of the seat. But he was handy to have around.

There were years we played games full of crocodile tears, red roses pickled for lapels. At first he was shy, but by the end of the banquet I had removed most of his thorns. Now behind my blue ear sticks a yellow umbrella that shadows my pale ruby nose.

Well, I think we’re ready now. Better put in the extra leaf, and light the buttery candles. These days he wishes plum ditties and fishes, but he’s getting old-timey depression cake frosted with snow.

Soon will come Lent. We’ll clean out the basement, and hold yet another estate sale. Last year we spent the profits on beer and pizza. Then we watched a movie in a tent.

The dishes all washed and put away. Let’s wipe down and pray red roses still hue come our capture and rapture.

The prose poem above is a later version of the more traditionally formatted poem with a different title below:

Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Red Roses Come Over

The red roses he gave me
I squeezed into gravy
He poured on his raspberry pie.

By the time we were done
On the ceiling were none
Of the spiders that danced in my eyes.

In the morning the water
Was as loose as a garter
Tossed in the bed of a twaddle truck.

If you never get this
There’s no need to remiss
Red roses and green apple tart.

He uttered red roses
Maybe he hugged me
And into a pot I was put.

A pan of his ink
I placed on the porch
With some empty jugs of milk.

But never have I smiled
As maroon a red rose
As he stuck in my mashed potatoes.

It goes without saying
But I’ll say it anyways
The roses he sent me were fakes.

But I never noticed
I mirrored his psychosis
Not to mention my powdered lemon bars.

He sits down to dinner
Yarns out a spinner
Wonders did I water his roses.

Those years we played games
Full of crocodile tears
Red roses pickled for lapels.

Behind my blue ear
A yellow umbrella
Shadows my pale ruby nose.

Well I think we’re ready now
Better put in the extra leaf
And light the buttery candles.

These days he wishes
Plum ditties and fishes
But he gets old-timey cake.

Soon will come Lent
We’ll clean out the basement
And hold yet another estate sale.

Last year we spent
The profits on beer and pizza
And we watched a movie in a tent.

The dishes all washed and put away
Let’s wipe down and pray red roses
Still hue come our capture and rapture.

A Lyrical Poem of Vast Beauty Reluctantly Revealed Ridiculously; or, Possibly the Widest Poem Ever Written

Oh
luv
ly
ths
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lss
ly
un
rave
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pling
bling
sling
Sans
snarls
&
pots
&
pans
&
yell
ing
frm
the
top
of
the
stairs
Whn
old
age
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still
like
a
horizone
lies
a
cross
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drift
pacific
blue
Oh pan
acean
ly
on
the
Strand
 ~~~~~~~
summer
still
&
above
the
Strand
grand
avenues
Houses ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
closed
like
shelved
novels
every
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shall
poe m
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care
act
ears
&
song stairs
We inner rupture ths poem
to bring you a comment:
     !    !   !
Well?
"Is this mic on?"
"Another poem? I used to like this blog. Has he lost his YKW?"
~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~ Reply Not every.

Waiter! Waiter! Water! Water! please plea see
Really? This whole woeful willy nilly silly stuffled-stuff is enough to drive a noose guy nuts you know what I mean? Perm it me to clar i fry  !
whn dows Beauty In Ter ?

Keep SCROLLing

RIGHT

What? We are weave ing the har bor for the o pen C ~~~ deep po a fry well try certain ly wide anyways
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KEEP OFF THE
WORDS!
Pls

Flarf Factorial; or, Epiphany Needed

Flarf La La Laufen hahahaha Fralf
LaLaLaLa 1 Larf 2 Larff 3 Larfff 4 Larph
  BEGIN HERE to liss in n!
Once Onup a Clock Tick
Twice Up Ounce Town Down
Thrice Upoff a When Time
Always alotalotalot Tons Too Much
She Wore a RED Flarf Scarf
Reason rain falls in drops
please prod pre tense BeCase
We called the Epiphany Company
to order a new RING! TONE!
they wanted a they wanted a surcharge they wanted a surcharge for first time push button user for first time push button user surcharge for first time push button user
And No Flarf!

And No Flarf!

       
The hour of our notthefirst flarf ing
This space deliberately empty: PLEASE DO NOT FILL or loiter here        
Trust YouR Expectations R2 FLARFLY     FAR FLY
Hour glass is miss ing
Enter nananame & posswrd over twhere     Larlff Larflf
F L a R F all
L a a R F  l ing
THIS HAS BEEN A TEST OF THE FLARF SYSTEM HAD THIS BEEN A FALSE flarf, Well! You are advised to get an EPIPHANY. Get a haircute and a shive and empty the moot.        so-me(w)hat!

Favorite Recipes from “An Eminent Poets’ Cookbook”

Poets' CookbookExpecting a hungry poet to visit for a few days, and worried what you’ll dish up?

Here are a few tasty recipe suggestions, taken from the venerable

An Eminent Poets’ Cookbook

“Ezra Pound Scrambled Eggs and Pine Nut Casserole”

Go to a dark wood and collect a cup of pine nuts. Soak in vinegar. Secure a dozen duck eggs. In an overwrought crockpot, scramble eggs. Add pinch of gall or to taste. Grate one ode over eggs. Sprinkle pine nuts over top. Bake in pre-heated oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with cornbread laced with peperoncini, cappuccino, and a canto of Chianti. Feeds one starving poet.

“Torqued Tongue Dylan Thomas Beer Fried Bread”

Crack a dozen or so large, farm fresh goose eggs into a copper kettle. Pour in pint bottle of fuggles double hopped ale over low heat. Stir and simmer while drinking pint bottle of Fat Cheek IPA. Slow fry half pound of thinly sliced rabbit breasts and pig tongue in palm oil in separate skillet. Add pressed garlic and green tobacco juice and open a bottle of Pig’s Knuckles Lager. Cut thick slices of molasses bread. Slosh bread slices in runny egg batter. Let soak. Turn up heat under rabbit and tongue, careful not to set oil afire. Pour tablespoon of hot rabbit and tongue and palm oil juice into saucepan. Add tablespoon of butter. Dip and douse egg and ale soaked bread in rabbit and tongue palm oil butter mix. Cook over medium-high heat until bread turns crisp. Flip and fry other side. Open a bottle of Curly Hair Ale. Serve bread covered with rabbit and pig tongue open faced with mustards and quart bottle of In My Craft and Sullen Brew Ale. Stout, bracing snacks for poetry reading.

“Richard Brautigan Boozy Brunch Brouhaha”

Catch a bunch of fresh trout with metaphorical flies in the falls of your basement stairs. Gut and clean fish. Cook fish outdoors on a stoop in a cast-iron skillet filled with Saint Francis of Assisi Ale. Drink what remains of ale while cooking fish. Red table wine may be substituted for ale if fish fail to bite.  After eating fish and downing ale or wine, take a long nap.

“Bukowski Barbecued Braised Lamb Brisket with Whiskey Cider Sauce”

Build a fire by setting a match to rejected poems squashed under briquettes in the bed of a cast iron typewriter. Cut and skewer the whiskey cider sauce soaked lamb with pencils and pens. Hold briskets over typewriter fire until charred around the edges and pink in the middle. Eat hot from fire while drinking whiskey neat out of a used beer can.

“Marianne Moore’s Chocolate Moose Palm Balls”

Unstitch three horsehide baseballs and remove innards. Sew baseballs back together with typewriter ribbon, leaving small opening. Into opening, stuff bits of bittersweet chocolate, rolling ball around in palm until baseball is full and firm. Sew baseball closed. Place baseballs on cookie sheet in 90-degree oven for three hours while listening to Yankees game on the radio. Remove balls from oven and let cool. Open small hole in ball. Suck out chocolate through a straw.

“Stolen Plum Tart Dessert”

On an early Fall evening, during suburban supper hour, sneak through neighborhood back yards collecting plump, purple plums fallen from ignored trees. If caught stealing plums, apologize and offer to pay for the plums with poems, one each. Explain that you are a doctor making house calls. Get invited inside the house. Check the kids’ ears, noses, and throats. Whip up a plum whiskey lemon sour and share some TV game shows. Carefully examine family members for poems while your plum pudding cools in the icebox.

“Li Po Midnight Snack”

On the warm summer night of a bloated moon, walk down to the river with a jug of rice wine. Drink responsibly until the jug is empty and the moon has swept down river and over the falls. Return to your shack and sleep until the pony’s whinny wakes you to the smell of scrambled eggs, pine nuts, and hot black tea, and no one is reading poetry.

B Flat Minor Seventh Flat Five

a sharp as brittle as glass Susan and Lisa Above Refugio
spikes strikes oiled wood
tie the ground below
a rose bubbled bottle

easy flats as surf foams
loosen smiles and sea
splashes rock dome
circled cutwater

as soft as flurry breeze
whistles and leaves
as hushed as memory
conjurors breathe

as down inside the chord
fingers fasten figure
for suggestions
in fretted spaces

as sluice and mosey walk
the line above the ocean
in single lens reflex
in frame free accord

The Audience

The AudienceThe audience appeared waving umbrellas from drinking happy hour beer, or hurrying from work or dropping off the kid, driving in from the aloof burb or sliding down from the hep pad on the hill, making a splash, alighting from cab or bus amid the rush. Coming from everywhere, the audience began to cohere.

The audience entered the hall dressed to its drollest: dressed in red down gown, hair whiffed and coifed like a pastry croissant, smelling of perfumes; dressed in jet-black tuxedo, in tight shoes and diminished socks, with small bottle of whiskey packed discreetly in coat pocket, hair polished with floor wax; dressed in polka dot shift over silver flats; dressed in loose corduroy and plaid flannel; dressed in pressed denim pants over soft loafers or heavy boots. In any case, dressed: dressed to the nines, dressed to the gills, dressed to kill or to be killed, dressed like a cat or a pig, dressed and de-dressed and redressed, but not to digress.

The audience performed a wave. The swell rose from the back rows and swept forward down the aisles, rising and falling until it broke upon the stage. The audience pulled at its hair, feet patting the flowered floor. The audience was absorbed in felt. The audience was loosely packed, like popcorn, knee-to-knee, and bounced up and down in its box.

The audience yawned. The audience fidgeted. The audience teared. The audience popped bonbons and sucked jujubes. The audience cheered. The audience hissed. The audience levitated. The audience milled. The audience was blindfolded and applauded by the players. The audience walked out. The audience considered what fun to yearn through the years the discerning one.

The audience abandoned its mess. The audience crawled beneath seats, searching for lost touches. The audience stuck wet purple platitudes under seats. The audience retreated patiently without panic up the slow aisles. The audience left behind a coin purse of cough drops, a pair of plastic reading glasses, an empty bottle of whiskey, a set of earphones, a Moleskine pocket notebook full of lists, a psychedelic scarf, a citizenship test study guide, and a paisley golf umbrella.

The audience walked out into a breezy evening on the neon avenue, and a few unpopped kernels fell from wrinkled lapels. The audience went this way and that, for cigarettes or toilets, for coffee or cocktails, whistled for a taxi or waited for a bus, climbed into a cold bed or gave the babysitter a ride home.

The audience disagreed with the critic’s review in the morning blog. The audience told the coworker all about what was worn the night before. The audience the following weekend was unable to remember. The audience slept through the off-season, dreaming of animated spring costumes, of walking through the park, watching for peacocks, down to the theatre, the marquee illuminating the wet pavement, the hot buttery popcorn freshly popped. The audience awoke and wanted more.

Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith

Stevie Smith is stalwart Poe with a sense of humor.
She bakes you a cake and in it you find a tumor.
She proves the recalcitrant reader’s reasoned rumor:
Literature lulls lap then snap you awake in a trap.

Her darling pencil drawings suggest an eye for style.
She invites dog-eared Ogden Nash for toast and tea
Laced with poem poison and sarcastic want to be.
But it’s the simple truth boldly baldly beingly told:

Life’s humongous pimple the poet is unable
To rouge under, and you don’t require Plato to know
The news that tomorrow your plebian tale may go
Away, vanished as miraculously as it came.

Best Poems Stevie Smith“Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith” is not purely in the manner of Stevie Smith. She uses periods, but not necessarily at the end of every sentence, so sparingly, as if a period was a pound and not a penny. And she doesn’t fancy poetic trickery like alliteration. The poems are not bawdy, nor are her poems explicitly about the body. A typical Stevie Smith poem turns on the irony of ordinary thoughts and word play and the insistence that these are what we might be thinking about. The little poem lifts the wafer upward then drops it into the kitchen sink. Stevie was born in 1902 and died in 1971, so the present tense here is as fanciful as the alliteration – though for Poe, alliteration was more than a fancy; it was a terrible tortuous tinnitus bellowing.

“Best Poems,” by Stevie Smith, (reissued as New Directions Paperback number 1271 in 2014), spreads 165 poems and 108 drawings over 151 pages, including a five-page index of titles and first lines.  There are many Stevie Smith lines that might cause a reader to look skyward and reflect. One memorable such line is this one, from “Souvenir de Monsieur Poop” (23):

“I always write more in sorrow than in anger.”

But who is Mr. Poop? Each Stevie Smith poem is a perfect trap, but we pass through the trap and are undeceived, as postmodern as a bath mat.

Stevie Smith Best Poems

On Jury Duty, Poetry Gaze, and Yu Xiang’s “I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust”

In the Jury Assembly RoomAre you wearing metallic hairspray, metal flake rouge, wire under bra?

A beep enlivens the line. Boots is told to back up and come through again, but again the beep, and she’s told to take the boots off, the line alert to its slowness, more prospective jurors wanting into the foyer and out of the fog, the enormous oak door squeaking and letting in whisks of cold announcing a newcomer.

Are you wearing a hidden watch, steel mesh underpants?

No, no, but again the beep.

Boots takes off a vest and sends it through the scanner and walks silently though the screener.

Impolite beeps like embarrassing burps, almost everyone is caught surprised.

In orientation we learn a body of ennui weeps from the citizen soul, exudes from the body politic’s pores, but so far, the only claim supporting boredom comes from the introductory video. Still, one of the jury assembly room supervisors wittingly promises us boredom. But isn’t that what poetry is for, I wonder, a theory I soon begin to test.

The jury assembly room is now nearly full, around 150 prospective jurors; what are we doing? No one is chatting. Sleep impossible under the surgical lights. The long, narrow room is like the sundeck of an ocean liner sitting in port.

On the south wall of the room, facing the audience, is a large mural, bookended by flat-screen televisions, small and effete by comparison, the mural a colorful painting of a two-horse drawn chariot, one horse brown, the other blue, whip driven by a jester wearing a mask, and riding in the carriage, a kid playing violin, women looking up at trapeze artists swinging in the sky, a trumpet player, on the tailgate another jester – a tuba player in striped motley. An American flag blows from the rear bumper. Above and left of the chariot, a merry-go-round spins, to the right, a lighthouse stands at the end of a long, winding jetty, candy-cane red and white striped. On the horizon, white clouds whip along a deep blue, chatoyant, turning turquoise where the sea comes close to shore, the chariot hurling along a beach road, a border of green grass at bottom.

At break I take a closer look at the mural, signed “Arvie”: a panel painting, a pentaptych, three large middle sections and two smaller end sections. An information label reads, Arvie Smith, Youth in Detention, “There Are No Impossible Dreams,” 2010.

On the two television sets, almost no one seems to be watching, plays a morning cooking show, muted but with captions. What are we prospective jurors doing? Laptop computing, earphones plugged into cell phones, listening devices, reading, writing, trying to sleep, drinking coffee, eating snacks. No one is knitting (needles are disallowed).

I get up and take a little walk. We are five rows deep times 30 or so seats to a section, about five sections, a few couches and tables at the far west end, then the bathrooms, a row of laptop stations at the east end, a small kitchen area with a microwave, filtered water, a pop machine, a candy machine, a bulletin board. Outside the kitchen are four, wall-size bookshelves courtesy the County Library.

I reach in my bag and pull out Yu Xiang’s book of poems titled “I Can Almost See the Clouds of Dust” (Zephyr Press, 2013, 151 pages). There are ten sections, 44 poems, most confined to one page, with several longer poems, five notes, with an introduction by the translator, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, “Paris, France – July 2011.”

I look at the first poem, titled “My House,” and enjoy the Chinese original on the facing page. Unable to read the Chinese, I look for characters that repeat, a stranger in a strange land. The English version is also 25 lines, a single, narrow, column-like stanza. The lines don’t rhyme. Words bounce down the page like an oblong stone kicked down a sidewalk. The images are clear. There’s a reference to “Pedro Paramo,” and the last line, in French, repeats the title of the poem. So that’s how it is, a you and an I. Who is you, and who is I, and who is Pedro Paramo? And whose house is this, yours or mine? Yet this poem does not ask questions; it gives answers, as a home speaks, even to a stranger.

The next poem is titled “Street.” So we move from the house to the street. There are three stanzas: 5 lines, 6 lines, 3 lines, one that sings:

“we drink beer, peel edamame”

“Street” ends on a note of love.

Most cases settle before juries are called. Court is expensive.

It’s a wonderful mural, full of color moving across the wall like a screen in a movie theatre, the jury assembly audience as still as popcorn in a cardboard box. Suddenly, though not entirely unexpectedly, we are dismissed for the day.

Jury Duty, Day Two. The mental note I made yesterday to bring a pair of sunglasses today failed. The library-bright lighting hums from the courthouse-high ceiling. I read an essay in the Philip Lopate book, discussing the rhetorical basis of the personal essay. Every text is an argument, Trilling argued. I’m ready for a break already; arguments about argument have lost their allure. I look around at my jury peers. One of my neighbors, Ursula, is eating a banana. Another, Penelope, appears asleep behind sunglasses. I don’t really know their names, nor have I spoken to them. I give them names suggested by the books they are reading. I think of getting up and walking about, but I don’t. I’m sleepy. At break, I go into the hall and buy a cup of coffee from the busy kiosk.

I’m sitting in the back row again, mural right. None of these chairs is anchored to the deck. Hopefully the seas will stay calm. The television plays a piece on the Portland Bridal Show, a silent movie. I put the Lopate back in my bag and take out the Yu Xiang, which I’m now reading for the third time in a week. A young woman a few seats away is reading sheet music, a musician, it seems fair to conclude, as I warm up for a case. I return to my Yu Xiang book of poems. But somehow seeing the girl with the sheet music has made Yu Xiang seem so distant, and China and poetry so complicated. I text Susan, no answer. The jury room supervisors call a break. Good, I’m exhausted from the Lopate. I get up and move about. No one is talking in the jury waiting room, no conversations, more quiet than a library, an odd silence, given the size of the waiting crowd. I remember another jury duty I served, some years ago, when the room bustled with games and conversations. Citizens today are electronically put to sleep.

My name is called and suddenly I’m on a case. I finish the orange I brought from home. The adrenalin kicks in, from the orange or from being called, I’m not sure, but I feel awake, alert, refreshed, and healthy.

I make it through the selection process with 14 of my peers (12 + three alternates). The case begins. Judge Franklin Mahon Coughca provides an overview and instructions. The prosecutor explains the dispute: a poet is accused of writing wrong poems.

The defense doesn’t take long, in essence, “so what?” I’m inclined to agree, but I remember my duty and try to be impartial and unbiased and all that. I want to hear what the jury of my peers thinks.

The jury deliberates:

The twelve jurors: a Waitress; a Plumber; a Bassoonist; a Car Wash Attendant; Penelope; a Receptionist; a Care Giver; a Hairdresser and Masseuse; an Architect’s Assistant; a Bank Teller; a Computer Programmer; a Street Sweeper – plus three alternate jurors, a gas station attendant, a financial analyst, and a blogger.

As it turned out, I’m only an alternate juror, but on the strength of my being a blogger, I’m asked to volunteer to take notes.

from my Notes:

Yu: Are there any dogs in his poems, apartments and balconies, flies? These things are all elements of an engaging poem.

Ursula: Some of these words appear to be spelled backwards. What’s that called?

Care Giver: Is there a woman converging the real with the imagined?

Penelope: Is there a water closet?

Computer Programer: Is there a business side?

Bassoonist: Is there music?

Receptionist: I hate poetry, always have. What’s the point? If you have something to say, say it, in as few words as possible, and clear, so everyone can understand exactly what you mean, and then shut the hell up.

Hairdresser and Masseuse: Well, but poetry is like art, I mean, isn’t it? Isn’t there always like some secret message, some code, like a moral to the story?

Car Wash Attendant: This one looks like a sign of some kind, like telling people which way to go, you know?

Computer Programmer: If you think about it, there’s only letters and spaces. That’s it, that’s all there is to it. Case closed.

Waitress: But they’re not all the same size.

Architect: I think all of these poems are wrong. I say he’s guilty and let’s go home.

Plumber: Maybe we should read some of these poems out loud.

Computer Programmer: I always thought poems were supposed to rhyme until I met my wife.

Architect: Poems can rhyme or not rhyme. That’s what I don’t get. How do you know if it’s even a poem? Could be some sort of laundry list or grocery list or something. You know what the problem with poets is? They don’t make anything.

Yu: We must look for keys and keyholes, and personal pronouns strewn in shredded syntax.

Street Sweeper: Did the poetry police not violate his rights?

Yu: This is my body.

Penelope: These appear to be poems of procedural polity.

Ursula: There’s a bit of rhyme, punctuality, is that what it’s called? The words have sound.

Bassoonist: They look ritually safe to me.

Penelope: A poet should be culturally accountable.

Waitress: I knew a poet once. He was one of these guys always taking pictures of his food with his cell phone. I guess he published the pictures online or something like that. And the poems were like captions or something, you know? Like subtitles. To the photos. I don’t know. He seemed like a nice guy.

Yu: Do you take this wolf to be your wife?

Plumber: I do. I mean, I would, if I could.

Ursula: One might as well ask about law and order on a different planet. I don’t understand how they could not have resolved this dispute out of court.

Bassoonist: But that’s neither a question nor an answer, not much of an argument.

Yu: That’s an interesting sentence.

The Verdict: The jury finds the poet innocent, but nevertheless he’s sentenced by Judge Coughca to 1,000 years of community service, to be served as an adjunct instructor of the research paper, with no hope for tenure.

The judge thanks the jury for its service, and we walk back down to the silence and security of the jury assembly room.

I take the Yu Xiang from my bag. I’m thinking of poetry gaze. In a land where poetry has been devalued beyond zero, isn’t every poem a sigh of dissentire? What is poetry gaze? I feel like Yu Xiang is watching me reading her poems. But she does not care what I think, nor even what I might be feeling. Then again, her poems are like

…a door that says:
Be careful! You might lose your way”

(Yu Xiang, from “I Have, 2002,” p. 67)

+++

Eleanor Goodman interviews Yu Xiang.

Yu Xiang talks about her writing in a dialog (In Search of a Transient Eternity: Chinese Poet Yu Xiang BY Fiona Sze-Lorrain & Yu Xiang) at Cerise Press.

The Feng Shui of Car Chit Chat

I say I’m thinking of a book She tells me where to turn.
on lost practices to places. There’s a space, she says,
She offers or a poem about expecting me to pull into it
true and correct directions, and park, and when I don’t,
and tells me to hang a right she hums a bit vexatiously
at the light that turns green. at our dual needs to control.
The real question is how to We’re in the car a long time
enter a poem without hurt, to and from, back and forth.
and once in, to sweep clean She prefers driving modus,
the wrecked words of glass handling the stick so softly,
littering from here to there not to foreshadow distance
the streets of conversation. the clutch to engage slowly.
We unload the grocery bags. The winds tipped over a pot.
She holds the milk and wine. A couple of chairs blew over.
There are flowers for a vase. The clocks tell the electrical.
The car off cackles and cools. I map a plan from the guitar
The house is an ancient map to the kitchen, avoiding trills,
in a bottle tossed must ocean. my socks stilled in tambour.

Hamlet’s Status (A Play in Six Posts)

Hamlet, at his computer. Enter Polonius:Hamlet's Status

Polonius: What friends thou hast, add them fast, Lord Hamlet.

Hamlet: Polonius advises us to link our souls with hoopla,
When twice this same moon updates us,
But still to me she hath not chatted.

Polonius: Light lord, thy status in disconnect must be,
Causing you this dark and dour distress.

Hamlet: Fish not, sir; I fear she hath deleted me.
What post supports this knotted matter?
False light quickly fades, casting us in dark shadows.
Let the clouds betide, let the rains come
So thick and dark not the bark of the ark stays dry.

Polonius: Despair not, care not, Lord, care less than not.
Some new compeer will soon light your night
With comely links and notes bright.
Light be your aim, Lord, light your audience,
And this will give light to thee.

Hamlet: Nay, sir. In this book of faces there is but one for me,
And I am trapped in this light box like a wench in a nunnery.

End

Of the Quest of Sir Petersilie of Pestlebrawl of the Order of the Snail; or, The Slug that Slew the Knight Errant

“There has been much scholarly debate about the significance of these depictions of snail combat,” (“Knight v Snail,” Medieval manuscripts blog, British Library).

Sir Petersilie of Foolsbrawl in a Field of SnailsOn the sticky tricky trail of the obliviously slow sung snail
In abstruse night hauled from mused sleep our noble knight
Loyally hassled by Bona Fide his gallant gabbling vassal squire
Sheathed and studded leaves amid the rustle of first light
Abysmal metaphorical lack-a-back his lazy credo
Squaring his mail nailing his welds into steel mental spikes
For Bona Fide dressing Petersilie was indeed a close battle.

Busy poets to the court replace rusting escutcheons
This historical tourney near the end of futile modernity
Before joust was just jest and chivalry a corporation
Stood tall Sir Petersilie of Pestlebrawl upon staid steed
Auguring from the Order of the Snail mortal welcome
This his last Quest for the Wholly Exulted Wooly Grail
To hold the sacred secret of the sweat and dour secretion.

In satirical slime he spent his time a woed scholar of the decoy
Stout by hearty ales microbrewed behind the berfrois
Ate merry and many a fatty but delicate foie gras
And escargot whilst knights jousting with snails roiled
Scrolls of marginalia snails dressed in natural snail mail
Pacing against mace married his demise bored sweet and torus
The fused self-complacent snail did fain cant and tilt.

4120159349_b798c17b54Thus domesticated rusticating finished his failure ne’er-do-well fall
In the finals tourney he slipped tumbled and sprawled
In a nest of snails and Bona Fide let go and abandoned all
For a seaside rest fishing pole and white winter flounder
And all around whelks of waves swelled and bulged
The salt tide rising on Petersilie couched in a conch
Dreaming of collations and juxtapositions.

Notes on the Difficulty of Reading a New Poem

Poem WalkingWhat happens when we encounter a new poem? New poems can seem impenetrable. But maybe the idea is not to penetrate. If the poem is new, the reading experience is also new, unfamiliar, foreign to our eyes and ears, to our sensibilities. What happens when we read a poem?

In the darkroom, the developer slides the photographic paper into the chemical bath. Slowly, an image emerges. Reading a new poem is a similar process in as much as the full picture does not immediately reveal itself. But that’s as far as that analogy might go. A poem is not a photograph.

The poem as montage, as mosaic, the narrative line pieced together stitch by stitch. Begin anywhere.

Poems are made with words, usually, and words have two basic kinds of meaning, denotative and connotative. With regard to connotative meaning, words suggest, have associative meanings, colloquial twists, and personal meanings. We have our favorite words, and words we find distasteful. “Are you going to eat those adverbs?” “No. I got sick on an adverb once, in grammar school.” Cultural, contextual meanings. We can’t control language.

When encountering a new poem, we ask the traditional questions: who is speaking, with what voice, and what is the intended audience, remembering not to confuse the speaker with the author, the audience for ourselves. What’s the speaker doing, talking about? What the diction, what the tone, what the setting, what the irony?

Here’s the poem under question: “Foxxcan Suicide (Stylish Boys in the Riot),” by Russell Bennetts (the editor of Berfrois). We look for help. Suicide we know. Painless, as the song says, though we doubt that, and that song is not about suicide. A soldier’s choices are limited. Are a reader’s choices similarly limited? Does “Foxxcan” suggest Foxconn, the so-called Foxconn suicides?

I recognize Starnbergersee, from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but is a single word enough to create an association? Why not? Eliot’s poem is fragmentary. “Foxxcan Suicide” is fragmentary, or so it seems. What if picking up on an Eliot reference is wrong? We could ask the author. No. What can the author know of the reader’s experience? Words are out of control once they hit the paper. The poem is a reading experience. And something more than Starnbergersee reminds me of Eliot: the many references, obscure to this reader, though I know who Axl Rose is, sort of, but I can’t say I know him, though he’s from my home town, big town. And the Roses had a label: UZI Suicide. So? Threads, though, links. And I know who Legacy Russell is, though not well enough to get the three asterisks at the end of that line, asterisks that point to no footnote.

Still, I like the new poem. I like the fragmented narrative. I like it for its changes in diction and speech, its orality, its lyrical last stanza, or paragraph, the socio-economic comment it ends on. I like the almost hidden poetic characteristics, the rhyme, for example, of “Legacy,” “easy,” and “please me.” Gradually, more of the picture seems to emerge: the teen spirit (Nirvana). Maybe it’s language that has become suicidal. The poem casts this reader as a kind of outsider, beyond the pale. Maybe I just don’t get it. “Well, how does it feel?”

Some time ago, in a workshop with David Biespiel, we used a kind of shorthand response technique as a way of quickly getting at new reading experiences. David called the technique, “What I See.” You had to tell it, what you saw, in 25 words or less, or so. Kenneth Koch taught a similar kind of technique, an attempt to get at the poem’s “idea.” What’s the idea, Koch asks, of Blake’s poem “The Tyger”? The speaker is asking questions of the wild animal, but of course the Tyger does not respond. The questions the speaker asks seem to have something to do with who made the Tyger, the maker’s character. Blake uses images of a blacksmith to try to picture the Tyger’s maker. For Blake, the blacksmith would still have been a powerful and practical individual, a maker of things useful, but his work was being subsumed at the same time by larger manufacturing forces that would come to be known as the Industrial Revolution. And that revolution would give way to more: “Stylish Boys in the Riot.”

What happens when we read a poem? From the Paris Review Interviews, this one with August Kleinzahler:

INTERVIEWER: Recently Poetry posed a question about the social utility of poetry. Does that interest you?
KLEINZAHLER: No. I agree with Auden that “poetry makes nothing happen.” Nothing else needs to be said about it.

November Day Along the River

How are you? You are how
this is too easy
a still gift of photographs
almost like a real letter.

You like flowers, flowers like you, like
Peonies, purple green red yellow mopped hair
Marigolds, red orange bites
Red geraniums in a real clay pot
and those little white hanging threading flowers,
I don’t know their name, whispery white.

I am 1,000 characters
all so small you can’t see them
like tiny little squiggly bugs.
You are 1 bodacious character
like a lobster on the ocean floor under
blue waves under an orange sky,
or a swell cat, an orange tabby
with blue eyes,
who never scratches but purrs
and curls in your lap for a nice nap
on a hot sunny summer day,
a sleepy breeze cooling powdery sky.
Evening comes and a glass of white or red wine
and dinner and the sun goes down
and the moon comes up
up and up and up and up
so the path is lit.

But now is not summer
now is the beginning
of a long winter
without you.

Poetryphobia: Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Life Of Poetry”

The Life of PoetryMuriel Rukeyser’s “The Life Of Poetry” covers the poetic experience, its many uses and resistances, during the 1940’s. Her view of poetry comes from the experience of war, by her participation in freedom efforts prior to the war, and by disappointment the war did not bring peace, and also by science, which suggests a new age for poetry, and by the growing use of popular arts (radio, movies, songs, dance). Muriel argued that US culture feared poetry, where poetry is emotion. Emotion is feared because it calls up and recognizes harm, and asks for reparation for harms done. But who wants to do that? So poetry isn’t a popular art form. It’s not an art form at all. Once poetry becomes an art form, it freezes on the surface: No myth but movement, no still lives, no basket of fruit and the hovering fly that never dies. And the poem is not a “place” (154, 174), the mind not a hunk of meat. Both are energy. The emotion of poetry creates empathy and argues for change. She was writing about silicosis as early as 1938, advocating for victims, explaining the disease. Empathy is recognition, which is also emotion, of the audience, which she prefers to call the witness. What is witnessed? Relationships: between images, sounds, symbols, people, things. And relationships are constantly on the move. Nothing is fixed, not in time, not in space, not in mind.

We probably do dislike poetry, at the least ignore poems, or even scorn poetry, treat poets like vaudeville clowns, but it would seem a bit overwrought today to say we fear poetry. But when Muriel says we fear poetry, she means we are separated from emotion, and the thought of reconnecting to our emotion scares us. Human nature probably does not improve over time, in spite of technological progress, and we may be further removed from emotion today than we were in 1949. The culture Muriel’s talking about does not value emotion, the emotional. The sections of “The Life of Poetry” devoted to the popular arts and the uses of poetry in the sentimental suggest lost opportunities. The popular arts fail to go deep enough. Sentiment is unlike emotion. Emotion is a weakness because, once it is unleashed, it is uncontrollable. Control is a value. One attempts self-control, and when that doesn’t work, control over others. Allowing the working class, the miners and laborers and factory workers and garment sewers and waitresses, weekend release over a couple of beers and a country western song playing on a jukebox, evoking tears, or the equivalent sentiment found in church prayer, is acceptable. But no emotion. Control yourself. Get sentimental if you must. It’s ok to vent. You can wear it on your sleeve, your troubles, but don’t freak out. And self-pity also is sentimental.

“There is difficulty in breathing.
Yes.
And a painful cough?
Yes.
Does silicosis cause death?
Yes, sir.” (Rukeyser, Collected Poems, “The Disease,” 86:87)

Emotion is the weary heart wearing and tearing on the poet’s sleeve. This doesn’t play well in boardrooms, where emotion is kept submerged through charitable donations and the branding of giving, or in churches where the sacrifice is symbolic, or in marriages of competition. Emotion is not anger. Anger is the sediment of sentiment, frustrated or undefined or ill-defined desire. Poetic emotion sublimates repressed desire. Poetic emotion is the sublimation of antithetical cultural values. For example, the auto has ruined the country, the countryside, the culture suffering in detrimental reliance. Without definition, this ruin devolves into road rage, the driver’s psyche full of potholes. Sentiment is nostalgia for a 1957 Chevrolet, road trips, surf safaris. The car is a catastrophe, the planet hit by an asteroid, impossible now to see the earth beneath the asphalt. But the smell of the new car still intoxicates, Whitman’s rooms full of perfumes. What to do about it? Robert Creeley, “I Know a Man”:

drive, he sd, for  
christ’s sake, look  
out where yr going.”

The novel as middle class entertainment contains emotion; that is, the novel packages emotion, places limits on emotion, surrounds emotion with form. As for the dime store novel, mysteries, detective stories, noir: the term “hard boiled” is born of sentiment. The so-called seedy section of the city boils with sentiment. The sentimental love to visit, but they don’t want to live there. It’s good to have someone to look down on, to criticize, to arrest. Likewise, poetry as craft is sentimental where it deliberately obscures to imitate emotion. The merely personal or found fabrications or wordplay that does not touch the human condition is entertainment. Not that entertainment isn’t useful; it is, but it’s not poetry. Poetry is the marriage of play and work, where play pays dividends and work pays nothing but a release of emotion, which spells trouble. Muriel describes a workshop exercise (179) that might be called “where’s the poem”? The poem exists in the imagination of the witness, and that’s not craft. A poem is not words.

There is a war between play and work, between worker and exploiter, between the divided selves. Poetry acknowledges the war and becomes a tool to make people whole again. Emotion is the stain of war that poetry seeks to clean. There’s another reason emotion is devalued, suggests Muriel. Emotion connects to nature, to trees, to roots, to the land and to animals. That’s seen as cutting into profits, though it need not. To reach down into the emotion that connects the human to the planet requires a reevaluation of the relationship. Today’s eMotion is backlit. That’s not the emotion Muriel is talking about. Muriel’s emotion sews together symmetrically a sensorium distorted by technology as in a funny mirror. Muriel’s emotion deals with alienations and depravations, goods and evils.

Important poets for Muriel included Whitman and Melville. Whitman is the poet who discovered good, and good is his breathy line, the form of the discovered self, the freed self. To Melville passed the work of dealing with evil. Muriel foreshadows the current crisis in the Humanities by juxtaposing poetry with science, comparing methods, making good use of science. Imagine your kid comes home and tells you he’s decided to study to be a cave wall painter, and he’s going to work in caves, painting on walls by the light of a torch. Fear of poetry is about resistance to emotion, but more, about the resistance to the imagination, about inability to even recognize the imagination.

“The Life of Poetry” is not an academic book (a good thing), but it’s not an easy book. For one thing, the references to popular culture are antiquated, and some of the references are obscure. For another, there’s evidence on every page the writing is the work of a poet. But by the last two chapters (the penultimate “Out of Childhood,” and the last, beginning “The Meaning of Peace”), the prose becomes familiar, the writing a little less fearful.

The Bad Hop Boat Poem

You watch
Baseball
and recall
the hit
that took a bad hop,
bebopping
between your legs
like a line
impossible
to scan,
bouncing
over your glove
touching
the dirt.
No one is listening.
Even the umpire
shook his head.
“Shake it off,”
Coach called
from the critical
dugout.
“Bad hop,”
the gracious
pitcher said.
But no, even now
you can not
accept the excuse,
because you
fear the ball
& the poem,
as you explain:
“I was thinking t i l l e r
of a boat f  u
on the high o d
C’s.” l  d
A e
Infield poem b  r  u  n
error full o w
confuses v o
a boat with t h e b a l l
o
 “E6,” says C C C C C w C critic.
C C C C C C
C C C C C C
C C C C C C
C C C C C C

66 Breaths of Barstow for Babs


talk
desert
deepens day
drifts
west
cool
prose
sand
morn
crossroads
family
1957
trunk
$300 bra-pinned
Route
66
Los Angeles cures
ocean
butterfly
tomato
sunrise
donkey birds emerge
cowboy hat floats salt sweet
evening hills
angel hovers
sky metallic blue
orange
sea falls ten-pound raindrops
children embrace
across country blows highway
tumbleweed
train side
winds
south
distance
silver
water
ardor breeze

At the Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Man

The frizzled farmer pushing the pulling, tired draft horse,
his jeans ballooning like pantaloons pinched into rubber boots
sunk and stuck like squash in the shallow fall mud,
his arms swollen loofahs lifting pumpkins up to the children
riding on sweet smelling, dry hay bales in the wagon,
has a “Head like a prize pumpkin,” as Joyce’s Bloom thought
of Tom Wall’s son, and Tom, the frazzled farmer,
declaring this his last pumpkin patch harvest,
prods the horse (whose name is Wally) and wagon to a stop.

The pumpkin picking party hops to the ground and disperses,
and the children caper around the pumpkin field,
Papas and Mamas and Nanas snapping photos orange and blue,
until the farmer calls the pumpkin pickers back to the wagon.

The farmer is a frayed man, his wife explains to a group
waiting patiently at the scales, fretting this pumpkin crop falls sparse,
but that’s just his way, and anyhow, who can talk at a time like this,
all these potential faces, all fat orange cheek puffed, twist handled hair,
heads picked and packed, jugs full of orange pie mash and seeds?

Out in the pumpkin patch, empty faces pass into ooze,
a few pumpkin seeds carried up by blackbirds
and dropped in the next field over, that fallow acre
empty of people picking and parsing
for the right ripe pumpkin, the perfect possible
face, in bed of wet gray hair, muted mouth,
flute feature deadpan face.
A field of plump birds erupts in applause
as a curtain of spitting rain starts to fall.

Dear Reader: “Charming Gardeners,” by David Biespiel

There used to be a public telephone booth down on the corner from our place, the kind the caller entered through a panel glass door and dropped coins into the phone, outside the cleaners, across from the realtor’s office, the street corner just a dot of commercial activity in an otherwise residential neighborhood. The telephone booth got hit with graffiti occasionally, or a pumpkin around Halloween, and the glass was often in need of repair. The door broke and was discarded, the telephone book disappeared from its chain, and finally the box was taken away. The booth attracted activity, some locals opined of the nefarious sort. The booth might have represented to some a stranger. At night, a small lamp lit the booth. Outside the booth, a couple of newspaper stands added to the tiny urban pastoral. One day, out walking, I passed by the booth, and the phone rang.

On the corner across from the phone booth stood a blue mailbox. The mailbox got more business than the telephone booth, but not enough, apparently, for it too was taken away. The newspaper boxes that stood next to the phone booth have also been removed. The cleaners closed, and for a time the corner reminded me of an abandoned gas stop on a two-lane road bypassed by a highway. Bit of an exaggeration, that, but not much, for like the telephone booths, many of the mailboxes in the Southeast Portland neighborhoods are disappearing, and the small bookstores, like the newspaper stands, are being rooted out, also. Last year, one of my favorite small bookstores, Murder by the Book, at the west end of the Hawthorne district, met its demise.

Really? Are we to read yet another letter on the disappearance of newspapers, books, newsstands and bookstores, and poetry?

Not at all. Some things don’t change, among them, Emily Dickinson’s one way missive: “Her Message is committed / To Hands I cannot see.” And what better way to illustrate the stubbornness of the staying power of poetry than a book of poems in which each poem is a letter to someone? We save letters, but first we have to write them, send and receive them.

Poetry, as John Cage said of music, occurs whether we intend it or not, but we won’t have the unintended poetry of letters if we stop writing letters. The democratically accessible form of the letter is still with us, even if mailboxes are becoming scarce. Is an email not the same as a letter? An email is a phone call compared to a letter. Letters don’t have the immediacy of an email. Letters are not immediately delivered, and we don’t expect an immediate reply. We might wait weeks or months for a reply, or years. But we probably wouldn’t resend the letter, noting “2nd request” in the subject line, as we do with emails. Letters can be a bit of a hassle to write, requiring a kind of toolkit: paper, pen, table, envelope, address, stamp, mailbox. Letters, perhaps, require more of an occasion than emails, occasion to write, more of a purpose. If you really want to get someone’s attention, you don’t send them an email; you write them a letter. Letters are more difficult to forward than emails. And the letter might be returned, as emails are sometimes returned, too, as undeliverable. Or a letter might wind up in the dead letter post office, and you might never know if your letter sent was ever received or read.

Melville’s Bartleby worked in a dead letter office before going to work as a scrivener for the lawyer who narrates the tale. Where have all the scriveners gone? The poet Charles Olson’s father was a mailman. In “The Post Office: A Memoir of My Father” (1948), Olson describes how, through office politics, misunderstandings, and general stubbornness all around, his father had his mail route taken away from him. Olson explains the importance to letter carriers of personalized routes, but also explains how the letter carrier is important to the community of people on the route. Olson explains how the mail carrier becomes a confidant reader and the most knowledgable person in the neighborhood of personal affairs:

“Mail, over any length of time, will tell secrets a neighbor could not guess. Nor do I mean the reading of postcards or the ‘lamping’ of letters. Nor what a man hears over a coffee. Or that a man’s mail does not always come to his house, or a woman’s either. It lies more in the manner in which people look for, ask for, receive their mail. And talk about it” (43).

Olson insists this is “not to be mistaken for nostalgia,” for the post office was akin to the military, and letter carrying is hard work, hard on the body. Yet the loss of Olson’s father’s route was both the loss of valued labor and the loss of an identity. Not for nothing does a man wear a uniform.

Another Charles and poet, Charles Bukowski, explains further, in his novel “Post Office” (1971), about his days as a letter carrier in Los Angeles, in bitter, sardonic, and laughing prose, what carrying the mail is all about:

“There were 40 or 50 different routes, maybe more, each case was different, you were never able to learn any of them, you had to get your mail up and ready before 8 a.m. for the truck dispatches, and Jonstone [supervisor] would take no excuses. The subs routed their magazines on corners, went without lunch, and died in the streets” (10).

But the point here is that bit from Olson about “how mail is received.” That’s the poetry. And try giving someone a poem, not publishing a poem, but just give someone a poem, as a letter, and see how he or she receives it. You’ll learn more about that person than you might learn sitting over coffee or beers talking about children or baseball.

I’ve often felt about poetry what the poet Marianne Moore said in her distinctive poem titled, simply, “Poetry”:

“I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.”

But fiddle is a perfect word to describe the activity of poetry, where the gig is a jig of restlessness, and I like to fiddle, more and more these days, if fingerpicking the Telecaster qualifies as fiddling. And I like to watch a fiddler at work, pushing and pulling the bow. In any case, we might get very little actual fiddling at a poetry reading. By the time the poet takes the mic, the fiddling part is over. He puts the bow aside and starts to talk. But the poem as letter suggests an importance Moore’s definition seems to discount. Don’t go near the water if you don’t want to get wet.

DB ReadsThe rectangular space of the swimming pool, the opening of the swimming hole, the lake or ocean cove below the cliff as a page. The poem as a dive, form, and a form of competition, an argument. The poet, a high diver, slips into the water, no splash, no wake, surfaces, swims to the ladder, climbs out, takes his seat. The poet David Biespiel has been a diver. I don’t know if that matters much to the enjoyment or understanding or getting at his poems, overall. But I thought about it as I walked down to Powell’s Books in the Hawthorne district a week ago to listen to David read for the launch of his new book of poems, “Charming Gardeners,” the poems conceived and formatted as letters. I listened, observed what I could of the audience, doodled some, was distracted by the books on stacks surrounding the podium and audience – some funny titles out of context, ironic when juxtaposed to the reading, the room holding the Young Adult category of books:

“Hideous Love,” “Wild Boy,” “How to Love,”  “Pretenders,” “Frozen,” “Sick,” “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” “Chasing Shadows,” “Captain Cat,” “A Taste of the Moon.”

I need to get back over there and browse through some of them.

The last time I was at Powell’s on Hawthorne for a reading was to hear Patricia Marx, of the New Yorker, upon the launch of her new novel, “Him Her Him Again the End of Him,” (2008). There were about 12 people in the audience on a bitter winter evening. I was there with Eric in support of some high school assignment-deal. Patty tried playing a recording of some kind, but the technology failed for some reason. But I enjoyed her, nevertheless. A live reading is like live music, better than radio, but only in some ways. Because listening to the radio at home, you can get work done around the house. But in a reading you have to sit still and be polite (Biespiel’s was not a Beat reading accompanied by a jazz combo) and not fidget, sort of like being in church, the folding chairs as uncomfortable as pews. This isn’t always the case, depending on venue. The Robert B. Laughlin lecture Eric and I attended (out on another high school assignment junket) back in 2005 sported a rowdy crowd of all ages and disciplines, as the rousing Q&A following the lecture showed.

DB Notes 2Poems as letters, or letters as poems, I’m not sure which comes first, but the idea raises the hand for a question. What is the intended audience? And is the reader a voyeur, as David, perhaps jokingly, suggested? And recall Emily’s note: the writer can’t see the hands of the letter holder, not unless the writer is also the letter carrier. The epistle is an old form. David said something about the letter as poem narrowing the audience, the focus now on an individual, not a song to nobody in particular. William Carlos Williams: “To Daphne and Virginia” [his daughters-in-law], the beginning of the second verse:

“Be patient that I address you in a poem,
there is no other
fit medium” (“Selected Poems,” 1968, 134)

DB Notes 1David read five poems at Powell’s on Hawthorne the evening of the book launch reading: “To Wendy from Yellow Hickory”; “To Buckley from Berkeley”; To Wiman from Walla Walla”; “To Lenney from the Greenbrier Hotel,” and “To C. D. from D. C.” These are lengthy, traveling poems that talk and click along like a train (though most of the travel is by plane), engines full of breath. I was reminded of Whitman, the way he adds on, continually, one thought giving rise to the next, unafraid of repetition, commenting on the landscape, ideas, people, as he goes, adding comments, evaluative, reflective, and several of the poems mention Whitman. In “To Buckley from Berkeley,” for example, which begins, “Dear Bill” (as if we are on familiar terms – you see the extent to which the trope can travel), the letter goes on for 18 lines before we get a period, and what follows is this: “That, Bill, and also this:” followed by another 41 lines before the next period. (If unfamiliar with Buckley, enjoy an introduction by viewing video of segments of his TV show, “Firing Line.” Here, via YouTube, he talks with poet Allen Ginsberg, and Ginsberg, another Whitman influenced poet, reads a poem, which he seems to have mostly, impressively, memorized; he wrote it, he says, while on LSD, but watch Buckley’s, famous for his facial expressions, reactions. A better introduction to Buckley is his book “Buckley: The Right Word,” a book I enjoyed.) But some find Whitman an old coot, and Ginsberg, too, and, as entertaining as he was, Buckley was an old coot, too. Even as a young man, Buckley was already an old coot, conservative, tight blazer and tie. Maybe it’s hard to be a cootless poet. But a drift toward cootness was something Ginsberg and Buckley shared.

Anyway, I am very much enjoying “Charming Gardeners.” It’s an encyclopedic book, chock-full of references of every kind, both personal and general. It’s a book that strikes out to find America, an act that may or may not require preparatory reading. There’s a “Postscript” of explanatory notes. The note to the letter-poem “To Hugo from Sodo,” for example, explains that SoDo, in Seattle speak, refers to the area south of downtown Seattle, an area I’m familiar with. It’s an industrial district. From the I-5, drivers can see SoDo sprawled out along the waterfront, the new stadium now an iconic part of the scene. The Seattle Mariners used the acronym in a marketing campaign, “Sodo Mojo.” More poets should attach notes to their work. Marianne Moore often provided her readers with notes. Then again, while sometimes the notes help, sometimes we feel the bottom fall away even deeper. “Charming Gardeners” is so full of references that it will take a long time to read – if one is to track all the references down. But that’s the idea. It’s a watershed, full of names (“…the law firm / Of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassidy, and Corso,” for example – funny, that) and locations all around the country, and events, historical and local. Other topics: baseball, the Civil War, God, cities, politics, illness, love.

That day I was out walking and walked by the telephone booth down on the corner, and the phone rang. Are you not interested in whether or not I answered it? And if I did, who was on the other end? There’s no chance to answer it now; the telephone booth has disappeared. This is why we should continue to write letters. Whether we turn them into poems or not is a different matter. But most people like reading letters; most people like to get mail. But someone has to start the chain. For a poet, a letter ensures, maybe, at least one reader.

Related Post: Walt Whitman and a Letter of Ourself - How a letter I wrote to one of my sisters came back to me, some 40 years later.

Big Sur Slide Poem

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The Root of the Matter

A
poem
in the shape
of a tree. A poem
about a tree in the shape
of a tree. Some will argue it’s neither
a poem nor a tree, not a real tree, anyway.
Critics will argue the tree is not a poem, because
it has neither rhyme nor stanzas, though the lines do
present shape. Some will say, as a critic once commented
following an investors’ viewing of a B movie still in the editing cut
phase: “Does anyone else feel a better use of this particular roll of celluloid
would be to cut it up for guitar picks?” Some will say the tree should be cut down,
or yanked out by enormous
dentistry-like heavy equipment,
the kind used to clear cut forests.
Thus we arrive at the bare tap root
of
the
ma
t
t
er.

Bukowski and the Three Flies

From his father’s crap he falls
into the bar and plops his basket
down on a stool and asks
for a tall Falstaff.
Three flies fasten to him,
ogling the brew.

One runs her fingers through his thick brew
and pules until he falls
into her arms and she pulls him
off his stout cask
and steals a sip of his Falstaff.
Another asks,

touching his face masked,
with slender pink nails running the rim of his brew,
tracing the scars on his face,
when did he first fall
spoiled and askew.
The third takes off his shoes and hums a hymn,

tenderly rubbing his feet, humming,
his feet half-soled with beach tar, trash
cans, hums for three hours until Buk is as sober as
an oaken church pew,
and the bar flies all fall
to the bottom of a glass stuck with Falstaff.

Bukowski from the floor asks for a pint of Falstaff,
singing a rum tum hymn,
swatting the air for the flies just fallen.
The stout sober poet stands ajar and asks
for just one last brew.
He rises and drifts like a hot air balloon falls,

and bewildered asks
for a full glass of Falstaff,
a newly fresh falling brew.
Buk’s humming the fly’s hymn,
up again, like an upright cask,
but his hoops break apart and the large man falls,

misses the last call, and the bartender hoses and flushes him
and the fallen Falstaff and the flies from the bar, a huge task,
washes out the flies and brew, and into the gutter they barrel.

99 Bottles Over the Wall

On the tabletop of the sea sat a few empty bottles
surrounded by the detritus of discussion.
No burning butts, though,
the bar under water, the talk polite,
as if no riptide of innuendo threatened to drown out the quip.

Paddling out is hard enough; now
how does the stranded entrepreneur get back to the strand,
having drifted so far out?
The question is rhetorical and impossible, an impassable bottle.

This great bottle business denial,
all in the business of passing bottles,
unable to pass on this impassability business.

Across the bar there is no mission statement:
free to wander and listen to the swimming voices, sailing and selling, tacking back and forth, bantering and bartering.
Eventually, all sink, subsumed or consumed,
bottled in the great Ocean of Business,
no need for pain or pleasure, fear or courage, emotions or metaphor, opinion or belief,
swallowed within the immense immortal impassable snorkel bottle.

Your Poem Will Start in 21 Seconds

Green and pink building with red lamp post.Your poem will start in 21 seconds.
You can skip this ad in 5 seconds.
Or now: click away. Or watch video:
A two-tone building, seen from the street, light lime green with aqua-mint green trim over sunned-pink, with red double lamppost, a scotch of blue sky, a wedge of blue, a swizzle of blue. Just past noon shadows. Jet black ladder.
Your poem will start in 21, 21 videos Your poem will start in 21 days Your poem will start in 21 years Your poem will start in 21 centuries Your poem will start, but it will not end: The rest of the poem is below the paywall, mercifully.

Hummingbird

The Secret GardenAnna’s hum must be a drum
Syllabifying wings she pauses
Asks for a brush of water.

Gusto the loin cat curls
Garnished in the parsley
Paws brown under yellow

Orange marigold sprinkle.
Curling green garlic stalks
Stop hear the red head hum

Oiled garden buzz
Quicken the quiet morn humus
Yeses of soft dry feathers.

Break blossom drift
Brood across rouse salsa
Word warm worm release.

Two Ocean Surfing Poems at Berfrois – and a gallery of old ocean photos

“Ray, 1956″ and “Watermarks from a Night Spring,” two poems with themes of the ocean, surfing, and working, were posted at Berfrois a couple of days ago, along with a few old surf photos.

Paddle on over to Berfrois and check out the surf poems.

And below find a gallery with more photos from the late 60′s thru mid 70′s. Most of these photos were taken with an Exakta 500 single-lens reflex camera (East German), with a 120 portrait lens, both purchased used and cheap to take surfing photos at local spots on Santa Monica Bay. Most are scanned from slides, Kodachrome or Ektachrome, and one is from a black and white print. The portrait lens was an affordable workaround at the time used as a kind of telephoto, and it worked ok. The camera was abused though, tossed in the sand, and over time the shutter began to stick. The photos starting coming out black. Some viewers may feel these the best photos. See etched drawing on one of the black slides. These are not “big” waves, and the surfers are locals, but the ocean is huge and alive and old and every morning new. Click any photo to see the gallery. And don’t forget to check out the poems.

Related: Watermarks from a Night Spring & Ray, 1956

Kirill Medvedev: “It’s No Good”

Kirill Medvedev’s poems are easy to get into. He explains situations, tells stories about people. You don’t mind listening and want to hear more. He’s contemplative and calm and reasonable, even when he’s making a wakeup call, dissing and dressing down, asking why things can’t be rearranged. The vocabulary isn’t hard. The figurative language is sparse. “I don’t like metaphors,” he says (74). The poems are slim, fat free, figureless. In some lines, he’s almost like a stand-up comic, in his delivery, his next move always a surprise. But the poems challenge in other ways. If you’re not laughing, you might be his subject, and the venue seems either oppressive or empty tonight. Medvedev’s concerns are the Man (government, politics, power), Work and Money (economics, business, family), and Free Time (culture – what we do when we get off work – trust, honesty, values). He puts those concerns into his poems, essays, and special pieces he calls “actions.”

It’s No Good: poems / essays / actions” includes selections of Kirill Medvedev’s writing from 2000 through 2012. Published in December 2012 by Ugly Duckling Presse, you can get a copy as a giveaway incentive with a new print subscription to n+1. While Medvedev, like Faulkner’s Isaac, has renounced his copyright, the English translations from the Russian original are copyrighted by Keith Gessen, who provides an introduction, and several other translators. “It’s No Good” is an argument. What’s no good? The title is from Medvedev’s first book of poems. Gessen explains the Russian title, “Vsyo plokho,” can be translated into “Everything’s Bad.” Medvedev is talking about the predicament of a nascent generation, and poetry becomes the window through which everything can be thrown.

Poetry, for Medvedev, is “an authentic way of seeing, the degree of its expressiveness the only criterion by which you can determine its quality” (125). This would seem to be a good, and it is: “I am, of course, exaggerating,” he says. “I’m forcing reality to fit under my favorite rubric of ‘it’s no good.’ It’s not entirely true; some things are good; there are oases” (124). The problem, why everything might be bad, is that our contemporary predicament includes more than poetry. But to know what poetry is and what you are trying to make with it is not a bad predicament. It’s a good start to know

“…your own worth)
…to determine
THE CAPACITY
to see and accept yourself
as you are” (74-75).

And then what? “We need to do away with this false notion of ‘poetry as private activity’” (136).

Charles Bukowski is precursor to Medvedev’s poetic attitude. Medvedev translated Bukowski from English to Russian, but he knows he’s not Bukowski, nor does he want to be. Bukowski is rude and raw, cusses in his poems, drinks to excess, and is apolitical and not socially engaged. He’s an outsider, sits alone at the end of the bar, but when he talks, he’s clear. What Medvedev has in common with Bukowski is an absence of compromise, honesty (which means speaking clearly of your predicament, your situation, in a contemporary voice), and a disdain for the various fine clothes and perfumes that poems are sometimes made to wear:

“everything is
nothing, everything is
nothing, just the way it
started, I kiss statues
and the flies circle singing
rot, rot, rot” (Bukowski, from “Song of the Flies“).

Bukowski, a son of Los Angeles, grew up in good weather, but the Great Depression hit from without and from within. He grew up in a “house of horrors” (see “Ham on Rye“).

“From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State” (see Randall Jarrell, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner“). Yes, from mom’s syrupy womb, we all slip and fall into our father’s house, a country governed by an attitude, and if your father happens to be temperamental, poetry may be one of the few options available to escape his pincer plier grasp. “I’m a child of the Russian intelligentsia, I’m a person of culture” (122) Medvedev says (his italics), another difference between him and Bukowski, I thought, until I got to his definition of culture. Culture, for Medvedev, is connecting to the predicament of the weary. He speaks a kind of “Weary Blues,” as Langston Hughes wrote. The Soviet Union has collapsed, but there are problems with the renaissance. In the Dylan song “It’s All Good” (“Together Through Life” 2009), the phrase is used sarcastically. The phrase is a political speech, an aphoristic tip of the hat to the power of positive thinking folks, an advertisement for soap or cigarettes, Faulkner’s lament that the US has found no other place for the artist than to use his celebrity to sell something. The phrase it’s all good suggests art must remain a positive thing, to clean up everything bad. Art must not contribute to the bad. Medvedev’s title “It’s No Good” is an opposing viewpoint to the hollow socio-political phrase “It’s All Good”; or is it:

“so everything’s all right.
although, maybe the fact that
everything’s all right is the problem?
no, that’s not a problem.

or maybe it’s that when everything’s all right,
that just doesn’t sit well with me?
no, it sits well.

(then what the hell?)” (note: ellipsis in penultimate line is part of the poem, 213).

What’s a good poem in Medvedev’s view? You don’t hear Medvedev talking about craft. A good poem must be new (if what you’re into is craft, your poem is old at conception), and a good new poem must contemplate a new audience, one that didn’t exist prior to the poem. The poem draws a crowd (184). This may sound like a fad or pop art call-out, but it’s a great challenge to “light out for the territory ahead of all the rest,” as Huck said, to avoid the old ways of getting civilized. This is the reason Medvedev turned away from the traditional forms of writing, publishing, and hobnobbing in the literary world. Most of “It’s No Good” was published originally on his website following his renunciation of his copyright. He explains why he started a blog. And “It’s No Good” ends with selected poems originally published by Medvedev on his Facebook page. Imagine John Ashbery or Billy Collins starting to self-publish their poems on a Facebook page. Imagine the look on their literary agents’ faces. These guys have agents, but it should be noted that very few poets have agents, because there’s no money in poetry: a poet could craft a manned spaceship to Mars in a poem, solve the riddle of dark matter in a metaphor, steal the Pope’s hat in a trope - there would still be no money in his poetry. So why shouldn’t Ashbery and Collins earn a bit of dough with their poems? It’s all good.

It’s not that Medvedev did not have status as a poet. He studied at the Moscow “Lit. Institute,” was published as a poet, journalist, and critic, is a translator, gave readings, but apparently, with regard to those things, “it’s no good.” Contemporary poets like Medvedev take risks, and there’s a certain kind of toughness required. Poetry is no good; it’s all good. Throughout “It’s No Good,” Medvedev talks about past Russian writers, imprisonments during the Soviet era, all sorts of harassment, the risks of failure and loss, and particularly the political engagement that often results in exile, censorship, or worse (Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, comes to mind; and in the US, the McCarthy years of blacklisting and the numbing that came from the naming of names), and Medvedev speaks clearly, eloquently, and with great empathy for oppressed individuals and peoples. And throughout all of this he emphasizes a perhaps obvious but powerful point: you don’t have to be a politician to participate in politics. This is why the anthologized poem is effete and a waste of Medvedev’s time and energy (198). One of Medvedev’s poems, titled “How’s This for a Poem?,” is made from the text of a press interview with a crane operator given after he was fired from his job for trying to help organize workers. Medvedev gets out the caps in the last stanza:

“BUT IT’S ALRIGHT life goes on
and as for me, given all the free time
Surgutneftegaz has accidentally presented me with,
I INTEND TO USE IT EVERY SINGLE DAY
TO FIGHT FOR PEOPLE’S RIGHTS – THEIR HUMAN
RIGHTS” (note: caps are part of the poem, 220).

“It’s No Good” doesn’t so much end as stop. Because it’s now today, and we are free once again to move about. Or are we? In the last section of the last poem a young widowed mother soothes her child to sleep in a working class nativity scene. She wants her child to grow strong to continue the fight. The fight for what? We’ve been through two decades of “It’s No Good,” witnessed, of course vicariously, the exploitations and losses, the external chaos that seems to galvanize the internal despair, wars and fights, and the competing interests of groups and individuals. That’s all a reader can do, witness vicariously, but a writer like Medvedev is both a reader and a person of action, a true poet, which for him means to influence change. But what if the child wants to “light out for the territory”? Can that right be subsumed too? But there is no territory that is not somehow enabled by connections, Medvedev would say. How should we act, behave, in a fatherless state – this is now Medvedev’s concern. Father Bear has finally wandered off for good, isn’t coming home anymore. We are free to move about, must move about.

And once up and moving about, then what? “No work of art is a thing in itself, as bourgeois thought claims,” Medvedev says. He carefully considers the values of pure art, straightforward utterance, the new sincerity (or the new emotionalism, which sounds like the breakout of memoir here in the US), and dismisses them all as avoidances, enablements, co-optations. Nor is art “a divine reflection, as religious thought claims, but evidence of all of society’s defects, including the relations of the dominant and dominated. The task of innovative art is to insist on the uniqueness of the individual while revealing the genuine relations between people, the true connections in society, and, as a result, to forge a new reality” (199-203, 237).

Joyce comes to mind, who at the end of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” has decided to leave his country and home and family:

“—Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning….

Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Joyce was on the run from two masters, the Church and imperial Britain (“Ulysses“), but while Joyce would have, in Medvedev’s view, influenced literature, he would not have influenced politics. He would not have made a difference in his reader’s lives. And what difference he did make might now seem a disaster given how buried and anthologized he’s become in the academy, how many lives have been lost to peer review, a country with a stingy father and stiff immigration laws. Again from the final poem in “It’s No Good”:

“…for the moment
the progressive labor activists have a higher political consciousness
than the intellectuals,
than the professors,
it’s just too bad there are so few of them” (271-272).

“It’s No Good” is full of history, past and present, stories and anecdotes, commentary, reports of daily events. It’s significantly more than a book of poems, more than mere literature. It’s a book to be read and re-read, a book that encourages reflection on one’s place and activity in the web. Gessen’s introduction and the many footnotes throughout are helpful, and there are many paths pointed out for further reading.

Kirill Medvedev, “It’s No Good.” (2012). Edited and introduced by Keith Gessen. Translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen with Mark Krotov, Cory Merrill, and Bela Shayevich. n+1 / Ugly Duckling Presse, Eastern European Poets Series #30. ISBN 978-1-933254-94-4.

30 Jul 2013: Interview with Kirill Medvedev at Boston Review
30 Sep 2013: “Kirill Medvedev’s Personable Provocations” at The New Yorker Blog

The Business of Poetry

I’m in a meeting about meetings.
Someone is talking about needs:

“…Clear purpose…
…Keep to agenda…
…Stick to schedule…
…Out on time…
…Take notes…
…Dress code…”

I note, doodle, jot down words,
drop seeds of wild silly weeds
into the creamy hirsute carpet;
someday the seeds will sprout

…into poems…

the night janitor will sweep up.

The priest talks of the need for prayer in despair.
The scholar talks of the need to be read by peers.
The senator talks of the need for dough and polls.
The bag lady quietly appeals for a change of where.
The therapist theorizes the need of rest from care.
The bartender talks of the need for a road to hear.
The mother yells just wait until your father comes
home, until the evening comes when Dad disappears.

Who knows the source of this need from long ago,
the need for poems and to live like a fat soiled pig
sloughing off in a muddle puddle wallow of words,
but the meeting adjourns with predicable promises
of more to come, of more to come, of more to come,
and someone breaks an egg over the speaker’s head:
a detailed SWOT Analysis called for pastry and pie,
but the speaker is silent, not a word, about poetry.

The Art of the Bus Stop

It was to be his last day, he dreamed, a phantasmagorical dream
recurred, after a cup of coffee, in wakeful brain, a near belief in seizure.

How would he spend his last day? He should limit his options,
if chance proved him a fool tomorrow, build a hedge of porcupines.

But if today’s feeling did not pass, his options were not so limited.
He could fly anywhere, stay in a Six Star hotel in bikinied Marseilles,

fly to romance Rome and get in line for a final Papal blessing,
parachute into the Mojave desert, jump off Saddleback Mountain,

surf the Banzai Pipeline – like in the old days, take the board out.
Who would dare cut off an old man on a wild wave on his last day?

He got his surfboard out of the deep basement, his lovely wife still sound asleep.
He walked down to the bus stop. He waited with his surfboard on the poetic bench,

beneath the ancient acacia tree. The bustling bus came but the discreet driver said no
to his putting the untethered surfboard in the bike rack on the front of the bus.

He went back to waiting at the busy bus stop, and this is how he passed
his penultimate yesterday, talking to bussers about the art of surfing.

Related Posts: Winter is icummen in, Lhude sing Line 15
Reading Roland Barthes’s Writing Degree Zero on Line 15

Poetry Footprint

Poetry High FiveAccording to the Global Footprint Network, the Ecological Footprint is “the metric that allows us to calculate human pressure on the planet and come up with facts, such as: If everyone lived the lifestyle of the average American we would need 5 planets.” There are several footprints currently being measured, carbon and water, for example, and we are encouraged to measure our own personal footprint and to reduce the size of our footprint, “to tread more lightly on the earth.”

Maybe poetry does not have a footprint, but a handprint. A print that shows who was here, and this is what they saw, what they heard, what they tasted, what they touched and felt, what they smelled. But also, what they and those close to them thought about this sensorium of experience, how they responded, how they changed, what they promised and what they betrayed, how they might have wronged and how they might have been forgiven. To do all of that, poetry needs a wide spectrum of possibilities. Some of these possibilities might lead listeners, readers, away from well worn paths, into uncharted waters, rough seas, or lulls, or blank spaces with no echo. Other possibilities might lead readers back into cities with crowded sidewalks, or into libraries full of musty, dusty books. Or into parks, or taverns, or beaches, or mountains and lakes and rivers, or nurseries or old folks’ homes, or orphanages or prisons, or churches or corporations, or onto ships or bicycles or cars or helicopters or surfboards. The point here is that any of these possibilities, for any individual listener, might wind up a dead end, but it can’t be wrong if it widens the spectrum, for the wider the spectrum, the greater the possibility of poetry.

I sometimes wonder if human nature improves over time. In other words, are we better than our ancestors? We might like to think so. Technology and medicine, the comforts of modern housing and transportation, what we call advancements and improvements resulting in higher standards of living might lead us to think we are smarter, more accomplished, in a word, better than our ancestors. But what of our essential nature? Has that improved? Does it improve? Can it improve? I have doubts. I think we’re probably the same inside as we’ve always been. It’s the same old heart beating in the same old chest.

In any case, what inspires this post is another skirmish posted in the poetry war, an internecine, academic argument. I’ll just point to David Biespiel’s response over at the Rumpus, and interested readers can follow the trail-links from there. Like most wars, it’s sometimes hard for an outsider to get what it’s all about, but like most fights, this one’s about territory and who’s to have the final word. But it’s also about values, what we value in poetry, and whose values ought to prevail. It might be important to remember that what we value is not necessarily what’s good for us. What we value is simply what we want.

There is something about poetry to value, to want, that is relevant to the discussion. One of my favorite books of poems is “Paroles,” by Jacques Prevert.* Prevert lived in Paris during World War II, during the German occupation. Writing in 1964, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in his translator’s note introduction, said, “I first came upon the poetry of Jacques Prevert written on a paper tablecloth in St. Brieuc in 1944…a poetry (his worst critics will tell you) which is perfectly suited to paper tablecloths, and existing always on as fine a line between sentiment and sentimentality as any that Charlie Chaplin ever teetered on.” That “perfectly suited to” is important, for it values a poem for its success in achieving its purpose. Even if we might think the purpose is bad, it can still be a good poem. This is a sentiment many critics find difficult to stomach, but it’s vital to the health of a wide spectrum of poetic possibilities.

But there’s another reason I like Prevert, and that has to do with the idea of sitting out at a sidewalk cafe table writing a poem on a paper napkin, not even a paper tablecloth, a poem someone might read, or no one might read. Poetry was a way out of oppression for Prevert, and poetry remains a tool today for release from the natural malaise that comes from everyday life, even if that release is only temporary, and even if that malaise is from human pressure. The release comes in the act of writing the poem, not from the possibilities of someone else reading it or of having it published or some fantasy of poetic fame, but from the existential act that says, I am here, and this is what that means, for now. The act of poetry leaves a tiny Ecological Footprint. That sidewalk cafe napkin poem might be a good way to “tread more lightly on the earth,” even as it adds to the size of the poetry footprint.

*Jacques Prevert’s “Paroles” is Number 9 in “The Pocket Poets Series,” first published in the City Lights Books edition in July 1958, in San Francisco. I have the Sixth Printing, February 1968.

Related Post: Bukowski for President! David Biespiel and Poets for Democracy

Dictatorial Decree

Already the sun slipsSun,
filches off
at a sneaking speed.

The despot rising
declares a natural
state of emergency.

The pompous papa
prays on the instant
for a sum of leniency.

Alas, mere poet, see?
The sun protracts
your high-pitched misery.

Tonight a summer
full moon calls
a ball of lunacy.

The sun dictates the noon,
casts down dress codes
on the darling horology.

The moon denudes the day.
The night goes without
a blanket of authority.

A Pith Zany

Nook EveningAnd what he did last just
before his personal power
rose and surged
then tweeted out
was check his e-mail.

“Heaven will be full of spam,”
he decried, “because
everyone wants to be there,
while hell will be whiteout,
an empty inbox.”

“Or the other way around,”
I replied.
“Oh, that’s pithy,” he said.
“And there’s nothing I dislike
more than an epiphany poem.”

The Look of Love

Climbing bolt eyes tightened so tight the threads
strip, and the tongue, a dirty oiled belaying bolt,
slips and slaps, and the whole edifice collapses,
as if a plumber has grabbed the head by the ears
and sucked on the nose with his plunger.

The smith smites a bass anvil,
     hammering
          the hot steamed milk face
     forging
          the steel bridge nose,
     sculpting
          terrible white teeth,
     drawing and cooling
          the pendant tongue,
     punching
          eyes opaque blue,
     curling
          thick creamy hair
around the handle of his hammer.

This hyperbolic happy acid oozing 
cold blue face bowl of plum pits,
bonbon pate of goose liver. 
“Don’t look at me!” cry the eye bolts expanding, 
lips stressed taut, ears hung like life rings. 
Far back on the tongue, a bitter spot to nap. 

The old couple lives now in a window box. 
The sash opens and a hand appears. 
A palm with a long curved neck 
pours water clear and concise. 

An electrician comes to replace the eyes. 
He breaks both sockets unscrewing the cold bulbs. 
Memory starts to flicker, the call of a far-off bird. 
In brackish blue eyes the tiller tongue feels spaces, 
loosed from its mooring, and on the sail of the nose, 
beating upwind for a kiss, ripples of sound,
the soupy surf ringing in his ears, 
snores an old surfer paddling about
on a dinged, wax-worn, sun bleached board, 
wanting to swim with you.

Watermarks from a Night Spring

Embers of a partially burned ocean
In a box in a dank basement molting notes
A weathered surfer slowly descends the creaking

Worn stairs, dark swells yawning
Fish eyed and barnacle knuckled he climbs
Finds and opens the box, peers in, smells the pages

Runs salted fingers over the raised words
Rusting paper clips, chiseled letters in Courier font
Fading beached seagulls washing away in an incoming tide

Wired spiraled journaled waves
Bleaching across the page ink in water
Blistering sun burnt tattoos on old shivered skin

He can no longer read without bottled glasses
He chuckles, the tide receding washing scouring
White out rocks across words stuck buried in red tide pools

Breathing with a snorkel
The surfer leers over the smoldering sea
Takes up the seaweed soiled waxed manuscript

And paddles out of the basement
Walks down to the beach and what remains
Of the water and casts out the paper fish net

Into a set of scaling waves
Lit with a lustrous industrial moon
The waves curling letters in blue neon.

(Click any photo to view gallery)

facephenom

facebrick


facebrick facebuilt facebroke faceblind facedearth
faceboss facetomb facepop facedough facetious
facestitch facetouch facebotch facebach faceberth
facestill facestone facequiet facepiece facemirth
facebush faceface facephone facespill facer
facecross facetoss facemoss facetaste facemill
facevalve faceback facade faceplay faceout
facetone facemoan faceme faceyou facepull
faceposh facerush facemush facebrush facetilt
facsimile factotum facecap facemask facetome
facedrone facetill facetree faceroad facelift
facesky facefront faceit facebuck faceroam
facethis faucet facet facetrick faceroom
faceless facemuse faceup facestop faceboom

Home Run for John’s Birthday

I pitch my brother a tricky slow
curve that floats warbling past the pink
hibiscus and slides away under
the Chinese elm, but he goes with the pitch.

The yellow plastic bat darts
like a startled fish, and he sends
me back, back, to the wall –
and the white, holey ball
whiffles over the roof,
landing in the olive tree.

Happy Birthday, John!

Without you tonight

A seeking breeze softly slips
under the sleeping cherry tree
a cursory note, “I am too busy.
Too, too, toodle-loo,”
smiles, hushes, and sounds off.
A branch snaps, and a cat recalls the night
when the owl, the nightingale,
and the toad went out walking.

The moon follows the trio into the tea garden, pulling
behind the sounds of the rollicking ocean waves.
In the garden, two women sit talking:

           “I wrench or hammer or pull or push
           To disassemble and repair
           To build in empty air
           The sound truth that is not
           Sound enough.”
 
           “I don’t believe the truth
           That there is no truth
           There are two truths
           The one you reject
           And the one you embrace.”

Drowned out by the singing waves slopped with frothing beer,
An old, lost surfer takes a hearty long piss on the briny rocks
At the water’s rough edge and mutters a half assed poem
To pass the night in song outside walking the dark beach
While the women sit talking with the cat in the cove of the garden
Under the cherry tree awakening and petals falling all
In one great breath the ocean waves belly laughing full.

Surfers

Salad Days

Lettuce make someone happy      souperfied.         Greens and reds     raised and cooked      in summer sun.         Old gourd melon face      turn round      and around.         Squash      straighten out      cute little zucchinis.         Carrot tops      fuzzy green      pointing      poking.         Turnip cold heart      don’t be rutabaga.         Radish reaction      thistle never do.         Wilt    silly    salty    pinch    potato eyes.         Watching.     Asparagus more of this stuff.         Spears      dollups     thin slices of pink water.         Peas take your jackets off and stay awhile.         Ouch cucumber splinter onion oils mix.         Tear drops      sea salt      keeping with tradition.         Corn      fits in hand      like a hammer handle.         Colorful beans      leggy for you and me.         Chives purple heads and slippery mushrooms.        Tomato baseball radio garlic.         Bread      olive oil      hot  green  jalapeno.         Pepper corn      and squeeze curve of lemony         raspberry wild balsamic vinegar.         Tossen flip      thistle make summerone happy.

The Pine Jay the Scree of the Mock Orange

Still LifeThe cryptic cat her cautious criticism
of the green salsa garden plot proffers:

“Are you a nested poet, then?”
the hoity-toity cat simply asks.

“I have my cri cri critics,”
the Pine Jay stutters,

pouring herself another glass
of mock orange soda syrah.

“Are you going to mix
silver with orange, then?” asks the cat.

“I would rather arrange the orange
against this blue windswept evening.”

“That would encourage a paraorange
gown,” cynically suggests the cat.

“Scr scr scree!” the Pine Jay screes,
her voice trailing off like a jet’s vapor.

“Mock, mock!” the cat converses,
though alone now. “I never did like orange peel.”

In the Yakima Valley

On the road again, 
and on the car radio,
another Country Music song:            

     I’m 44 now, soon 45
     The way I been livin’
     Lucky alive
     So much has been given
     And taken away
     Who knows what will happen
     Today

Late summer, almost fall
Red rust brushed peaches
Dark dust green grape leaves
Swelling purples under blue blouse sky:

     Woke up this mornin’
     Didn’t know where I was
     Wrote a letter to Heaven,
     Reachin' out for you
     But you weren’t there
     And Heaven didn’t answer either 

Signs along the road,
wood weathered grey,
in the Yakima Valley:

     Antiques
     Fresh Cherries
     Walla Walla Sweets

Later at the Grey Inn Motel 
Eating maroon cherries from a bottle 
Drinking brown beer
Thinking one thing is clear and sure:
Nighttime falls

     Lento, Largo, Larghissimo 

Yes, darkness comes
Slow like snows, 
Like muted yeses, 
Like mouth harp nos,
Like in Country Music songs,
Driving through the Yakima Valley.


Note (in response to one reader's question): 
The Country Music song lyrics in the poem 
are taken from an original song I wrote in 2004. 
So, no, I didn't hear the song on the radio, 
though I did often find myself 
driving through the Yakima valley, 
and I wrote the song on one my Yakima trips.
I've explained the age range used in the song
in a comment below.

Ray, 1956

He feared drowning. He fell asleep on the bus,
sleeping past his stop, and on down to Redondo Beach,
the waves breaking, hard on hearing.

He slept past the beach break at El Porto,
his head bouncing against the beach-side window,
his tools jiggling in his toolbox at his feet,
past the Manhattan Beach Pier,
the Hermosa Biltmore Hotel,
the Hermosa pier, on down to Redondo.

The bus driver would have to speak up.
The evening water was glassing off,
the Strand bars filling with surfers,
their cream yellow and orange and blue surfboards standing
against cars, walls, wet, dirty sand waxed.

He dreamed of fish, bottled beer, oysters.
He dreamed of broiled eel,
of yellowtail garnished with scallops,
dreams he did not understand.

A giant squid rose from a thick gelled water
and reached up for him, and he quick stroked
in his sleep on the bus to dog paddle away,
back to Shively, the house near the railroad tracks,
where he’d built out the basement room in knotty pine.

He awoke on the bus in Redondo Beach,
at the end of the line, foggy out now,
the sound of the surf muffled
in his ears. Flying fish eggs
surrounded his tired and dozed head,
his hair closely cropped,
his clothes dirty from the day’s work.
He’d returned the car, a ’56 Plymouth,
and salt filled his ears.

Selections from Foulings Phonebook

Selections from Phonebook for Foulings Neighborhood of SE Portland:
     
     1: Foulings Tavern: 33 Foulings Street, Eastgate-3218.
     2: Jack Foulings, 33 Foulings Street, Eastgate-3218.
     3: Foulings Car Repair Shop: 20 Third Ave. No phone.
     4: Foulings Music: LP Specialists. Fourth and Foulings.
     5: Foulings Grocery: Corner of Foulings and Third.
     6: Flowers by Joyce: Sidewalk outside Foulings Grocery.
     7: Joy Number, 19 Foulings Street, Apt. F. Eastgate-3550.
     8: Foulings Cafe. Breakfast Daily, 5-11. 27 Foulings St.
     9: Foulings Books. Call for Appointment. Eastgate-1022.
     10: Foulings Plumbing, Repair and New: 9 Foulings Street.

Cowboy Guitarist