Abaft the Blues Fest

Red-orange earworms admonish taptoo! fashion,
now clear the drum is an old, beat suitcase
rigged with foot pedal, and, too, there they are,
tin bells on his curled toes, as literal as pencil lead,
as calloused as an oak pew hymnal.

Lavender fresh, she sang at Hop’s Hootenanny,
sipped mint juleps from a food cart pulled
by a calico cat in zither shade by a stream
under an old willow, but the bell pull string broke
under the weight of his monolog cartogram.

On top of it, academic aristocracy whizzed
by dressed in pressed berets and scholarly drafts -
what difference they followed the leader or not?
Collectors yodeled passwords, unlocking a juke joint,
and raspberry chords popped up oily fishes.

No need now to call placid plumber, three blue
hydrangeas wilting in bath humid heat,
down by the river, down by the wash,
down by the singing and the top posh posts
written with plush plumes of lacks and noods.

Safe sound spillway falls, noise overflows,
ears carp and loud lips cop bad press,
but dolce glissando this urgently close still
makes some sense, and at the first aid tent
they polish their moonstone eyes.

Paste fast food milk turns cast iron sour,
and butter curdles her chlorine-yellow hair
as they stuff bitter newspapers with trust,
dogpaddling thru pull duck old cobwebs,
but empty, golden juke boxes near finish him.

On Line 15 on the way back home, the night
quietly spinning, the river sparkling crinkly
as the bus crosses the Hawthorne Bridge,
a lone accordion pulls and lulls images only
understood asleep or listening to music.

Sidewalk Chalk Pastel with Haiku

Over at Miriam’s Wellan invitation to a haiku. And why not? As it happened, I was working on a post of pics that lacked captions, not that they needed any, but a bit of word garnish on a gallery augments the gadzooks. The haiku, posted on Miriam’s site, came in walking stride:

a            long            old            side            walk

a            child’s            pastel            chalk            drawing

blue             orange            bird             feathers

Oh blue bird’s posit
bald caw clears scald orange glory
down green wave evening.

Oh quick bird’s message
clear and cold sweet morning wake
again post evening.

Oh to be a bird
who sings each morning sunup
and feathers sundown.

Oh drifted droop bird
lands on hand chalk covered walk
feather dust bath wash.

Oh rabbit molt moon
rises on sun’s dwilting back
enough for one day.

Oh quiet streetlamp moon
paper birds rise up to you
words fall to sidewalk.

Oh artist angel
dance brushes painterly dust
sidewalk chalk drawing.

And don’t forget to check out Miriam’s Well.

 

Allotment of Melancholy

ThistleAt the far end of the abandoned allotment,
amidst a nest of thistles and thorny briers,
melons grew, in the shade of a holly tree,
and cauliflower, collared by an old cement
wall, its once smooth patina worn rough,
sand and gravel flaking and falling off,
hairy creepers and mosses bolting on.

Cheated out of sunshine in the afternoon
shadow of the dark green holly, the melon
flowers withered, and fruit refused to set.
Only one in nine survived, a random vine
lucratively climbing up the wall and thru
a fence, squashing into a square section
of wire, hanging tentatively in the sun.

The melon was watered by an old woman
named Irony, who rummaged the once
lusty garden for volunteer fruits, herbs,
and vegetables. She gathered mustard,
chamomile, rosemary, whatever she could
find in the wild thickets. Irony, shaped
like a thorn, rode a bicycle to the garden.

She carried water in a jug in the basket
on the handlebars and put her cuttings
in saddlebags that hung over the back fender.
She noticed a morning glory had sprouted,
threatening the melon. She pulled the invasive
vine away, uncovering on the wall names:
“Adam Hugh Penelope & Lily – 1943.”

The names were scratched into the cement,
crudely, as if with some blunt instrument
improvised for printing, but deep enough
to still see as the wall face peeled away.
To every season there is an allotment
of time, a measure of sour spoils
as soon sprout start to diminish.

Sea Chanty at the Wave Door Inn

FishA pip with ivory key opens Flat 9
a single berth frigate thick
anchored against treachery.

…Sing, slosh, go quick

Somber sailor stows weary bags
samples and strolls up Dolphin Bridge
across dreary docks and yawning yachts.

…Boil, boys, go quick

Away across the bay retired
fishing boats lean satisfied
old fishermen falling fence grasses.

…Sing, blast, go quick

Genteel joint jangles with jazz
brittle black guitar soft in the breeze
smooth nickel strings flat wound.

…Sing, quaff, go quick

Ballasted double scale bass mast
cherry kit pearl edged march snare
weather polished saxophone droops.

…Sing, dogs, go quick

He takes the troglodyte trail
blue green seaweed fills slowly
night sky triple dotted whole notes.

…Sing, land, go quick

Guzzles bottled bitter ale
blue taxi breezes by rigged for rough weather
spills yellow over green street.

…Sing, loop, go quick

A reenlistment party whoops adrift:
One tells a tale of an antediluvian mermaid
singing in the surf to the drunken sailor
early in the glassed off morning.

Baseball Poem with Hidden Asterisk

Baseball ParkSnug spring dusk. Players hustle greenly
across warmed grass, balls plashing infield,
confetti falling, false plum blossoms.

Easy out in plain outfield, long armed
lob. Bang of whisked bat. Runner heels bag,
rests at two, fair, perfect diamond view.

Call strike three. Up from his robot squat,
knob catcher under rule huge empire
leans away and lanky batter sulks.

Twisting bat tulip pitcher, swollen
cheeks sun flowered, peers down math model,
algorithmically base template.

Reality catcher’s secret sign,
two and two make three in the slanted
sunbeam most lumbered cat in ball world.

Drops for short nap in dugout dark brew:
shadows, spat seeds, bubblegum, oiled gloves,
olive green browns, seasonal farm tans.

In the stands, bums, basic blue collars,
salt peanuts and choice beers, high above
button down box seats where line the fouls.

Blowy the crowd sings, “Euripides!,”
rising in unison how still rushed
crouched outfielder backing to close fence.

Coiled for spiraling ball with odd red
markings. Where do you want to begin,
at the front of the pitch, or the end?

 

Related Posts:

Baseball and the parts of speech

Baseball Breaks Sound Barrier

Baseball Drought Hits Northwest

Fickle Moon

Plum blossoms fall in a cool moonglow,
and the calico cat cleans alone
in the delicate shower,
thinking, “How silly is this want of words,
where so much moonglow goes to waste.
She’s in the house, behind the curtains,
can’t see me awash in falling petals,
her face stuck in a moonless book.”

Another moon passes with more moonglow.
The ocean sky fills with gleeful moons.
The cat bats at the sweeping beams,
catching moon drops in her paws,
wiping moon balm across her lips and whiskers,
chasing yellow shadows in her tea garden,
thinking, “The television emits no moonglow,”
and cherry blossoms fall.

Another moon passes, and again she misses the moonglow.
Another moon passes, no moonglow for her.
The ocean sky rises and falls with full moons,
but no moonbeams come her way,
no moon drops fill her hands,
no moon balm wipes her lips.
The cat’s tail brushes daylily flowers,
and she bathes in a lavender mulch.

A loony moon glowers along,
heavy with a surplus of moonglow.
“Here, Kitty…Here, Kitty, Kitty…,”
but no moonbeams come her way,
no moon drops wet her palms,
no moon balm soaks her lips,
and no cat graces her garden,
ripe plums soon falling.

Chatterbox

IMG_2356 BoxesChattering swing of ratchet wrench
Hatted on hexed nut box bolt head
Alloy heat threaded hatchet hoax
Treat tears time tender torpid box
Tightly drawn reach of technical
Entity rat tatting chattel
Rat a tach tech teacher hat chat
By the stunned thwacked beach
Or far inland brine dry valleys
Xylophone loops accordingly roll.

IMG_2358 All the World's a Box

Walking thru the park one day

One
Hundred
Concrete years
In a body of water
Two women walking
One in turquoise taupe
The other in peach mauve
Briskly yelling into cell phones
Their voices trailing off like crows
Squirrelly trees stiffen tall tail stillness

Writing is hard work, the experts tell us
If a day is lost to writing the reason
Is probably you did not want
To write, after all
You probably
Wanted
A park
Bench
To sit
Still.

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
yth
nss
rth
lss
ly
un
rave
lling
pling
bling
sling
Sans
snarls
&
pots
&
pans
&
yell
ing
frm
the
top
of
the
stairs
Whn
old
age
 ______________
still
like
a
horizone
lies
a
cross
a +
drift
pacific
blue
Oh pan
acean
ly
on
the
Strand
 ~~~~~~~
summer
still
&
above
the
Strand
grand
avenues
Houses ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
closed
like
shelved
novels
every
 [_] [_] [_]
wandoor
a
 ||||||||||||||
page
un
||||||||||||||||| |||||||||||||||||||
cut
Every
home
a
pot
ten
shall
poe m
full
.%
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
You & me let's Beat it out-a-hear let's go let's get lost golast golest golist goloose golinked goleaked
know
wht
?
Yssssh
awe
s
last
lest
list
lost
luster
&
plural
 paisley tiediedlies
Do
a
log
ist
ics
s
egi
there
s
con
verse
say
shuns
reveal
Alphabet The didrest hidrest hadrest hardrest
he awrecked up awent walking
composing each step ed
re member patters n
shapes saw assign
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