The ballplayer, the blonde, and that's Toots between them. The marriage lasted nine months.
And in the background Al Jolson sings "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye."
The ballplayer, the blonde, and that's Toots between them. The marriage lasted nine months.
And in the background Al Jolson sings "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye."
Kristi Jacobson has made an excellent 85-minute documentary (Toots, 2006) about her grandfather, Toots Shor, and the eponymous joint he opened in 1939 at 51 West 51st Street. Among the cats who went there during the following two decades were Jackie Gleason, Whitey Ford, Edward R. Murrow, Jimmy Hoffa, and the two fellows pictured above. I recommend it.
"The sexual organs are the most sensitive organs of the human being. The eye or the ear seldom sabotage you. An eye will not stop seeing if it doesn't like what it sees, but the penis will stop functioning if he doesn't like what he sees. I would say that the sexual organs express the human soul more than any other limb of the body. They are not diplomats. They tell the truth ruthlessly."
-- Isaac Bashevis Singer
"Proverbs, like the sacred books of each nation, are the sanctuary of the intuitions."
"Fear is an instructor of great sagacity, and the herald of all revolutions."
"He is base -- and that is the one base thing in the universe -- to receive favors and to render none."
"As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success. But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me, I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies."
-- Emerson, "Compensation"
This is how much it has rained here today: some streets are so full of water that you can't cross them by foot unless you're wearing rubber. My favorite: water so deep and murky that it is no longer possible to see the S and the T painted white on the pavement beneath. STOP had been erased by water. All that remains is OP.
Thank you, David Lehman, for so graciously inviting me to blog here today and for inviting my poem into your anthology. Even more, thank you for reading the book it appeared in. I have no doubt that you are permanently deluged. That you managed to get to what I'd written is something that should give us all some hope.
I love to carry paradox in my mind until it practically bursts.
On a whim, I typed "paradox" into an online dictionary site and was taken to "Ask Jeeves."
But I hadn't asked Jeeves. So I found a way back to "paradox" and at that very moment an ad popped up with the following message:
Try that with the cookie jar.
John Cage couldn't have planned this any better.
Some have suggested that there might be more than a little paradox involved in the bookends that are my recent book titles: Whore and The White Bride, which I just saw in hardback for the first time yesterday. There was no master plan afoot, as the poems began. These were the titles, from individual poems, that kept nagging me until I had to listen, until the manuscripts had constellated around them, until they had informed what was there.
Paradox is at the center of the poem "Whore" because, once you begin to track it, paradox is at the center of the etymological linkages and what the word has become. It has a weird cultural stability that is somewhat at odds with its center. The subject of fascination in "The White Bride" appears to be a conflation of statue and flesh--in any case, immobile: beyond still. And finally, the phrase is a way of describing the moon, as it emerges on a dim, cold evening.
When I was very young, it seemed to me that God was the moon--there was that face, and the way we could drive for miles and the moon would still be there--as though watching over us. I grew up with a warm feeling about the moon even before the entrance of stories about its pull, especially on females.
But in the season of this poem, the moon is just a rock, around which we should build no other fantasies. The moon is not aware of us, bears us no celestial goodwill, but rather, indifference. There is nothing protecting us--from ourselves.
And so this bride is a rather chilly figure--below which, the world is nervous and strange, and mostly happening at night. Still, there are moments of the most intense connection, even beauty.
In both books, there's a kind of triangulation between title and (in each case) two epigraphs, and it's right here that the territory gets really clear--and really paradoxical.
What I love about the territory of paradox is very similar to what I love about the territory of eros--though perhaps one generates a more intellectual excitement and the other a more physical excitement, both generate a kind of emotional excitement because both demand a questioning and expansion of boundaries, both thrive on a displacement of categories, and both throw us into a state of wondrous disarray.
OK. I'll admit it. Not only am I incredibly blog-shy, I'm a blog virgin. This is my first time. And of course, of course, it would be with all of you, who suddenly seem so adroit and ahead of me, like that best friend of mine who snuck off to kiss the hay-blond boy in the middle of an ice-skating party on a frozen slough when we were twelve--and I suddenly felt abandoned. And jealous. Not even so much of the fact that she'd gone off with this particuar guy, but of the fact that she'd gone off to some experience I also longed for and would have to wait to have for many--well, but that's another story.
But seriously, this is like coming to a party with a blindfold on. I have no idea who is out there, who might be reading this. Or not. Oddly, this is never a problem for me when I'm writing a poem, or even when it's published. Maybe it's a comfort.
Meanwhile, some of you are removing your blindfolds. Are we all blindfolded? Is that where it starts?
I imagine that as soon as you speak, you become one step less blind. But maybe this is an exhibition of a basic confusion, like that childhood illusion that if you close your eyes, no one can see you.
What is the "compulsion to repeat"?
(a) the impulse to keep doing the thing that scares you -- in an effort to master the fear
(b) the wish to make the same mistake twice, and be forgiven
(c) the reason why Hitler copied Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia
(d) the need to repeat the same futile action and the madness of expecting a different result
(e) the rhetorical strategy of using the same word (or an anagram of it) in every sentence of a paragraph
This poem was ruled ineligible for the BAP challenge because the poet left out a letter of Louise Gluck's name and the resulting poem was one line short. Nevertheless "She Who Disbands Armies" so impressed us with its comic vitality and high spirits that we happily post it here. -- DL
She Who Disbands Armies
“‘Haven't you ever heard of Lysistrata?’
‘Yeah, isn't that a mouthwash?’”
Lysistrata blue balled soldiers with names like
Ulysses and Kinesias by holstering her half-inch clit—
instead of unsheathing, their swords were cockblocked.
(Suggest the need for hookers, less freedom. Suggest Jennys rubbing against
each hand peacefully for the cause.) The gunners return to war; now
gleeful to cooperate with those camel-fuckers.
Looser this time, nothing to lose. Calendars without Caesarians.
Über this cloud is no watching God—just more frustrated men. Finally, man
claims his own humanity. Pressing against his canvas, advancing.
Kickback some green to Nietzsche. He was right: no one slept last night.
-- Amy Lawless
I woke up on a Friday with an insatiable hunger for a European man. I had been in Paris and my body was in rapture. I spoke to my friends all afternoon about going out hunting. The creature I drug home that night left me covered in bruises. I feel a sense of sadness for him, for how large and hard he always is, how he has to walk around the city in a constant state of arousal.
That night at Le Royal, his blues eyes found mine, and later that night on the street we introduced our bodies:
Sonnet of Endowment
He had the magic head in his pants the whole night.
It was revealed on the west side of Christie
Street between Stanton and Houston. The He-Goat
shivered after the reveal, his mouth
beginning to nip the lips in front of his.
There were 30 degrees of cloth ripping,
buttons finally freed of their straightjacket
string. The magic head is young and violent,
always ready to open its mouth and scream.
It fucks the mind while fucking the body.
The He-Goat speaks: My magic is painful.
Sap is life-giving liquid. The body
and the grave. She wraps her bruises in yellow
feathers while noticing the mess of her nest.
There is something difficult about the overly emotionally available man when you have been behaving like a wild Indian. He wants to pin you in bed, tells you he wants to take care of you, asks you to take advantage of his apartment, tries to feed you watermelon and chocolate on a Tuesday night. He adores your haircut, is dying to go down on you for hours, appreciates even your shortcomings. The difficulty comes when you want to be on the run. You want to be in multiple beds per month, you want to entertain yourself all day in the office with the texts of at least a handful of men playing games as you play the same. You want a collection of stories to tell your girlfriends via email or brunch. And his story is always the same: he loves the idea of you (but probably has no idea of who you really are.) Sure, not wanting this devotion could perhaps make one an asshole. But you can feel when it’s real, and you can feel when you want it, and sometimes you just don’t.
After being completely drenched by this type of man, who is definitely crazy by the way but totally adoring, I woke up feeling strange. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I allow this man to worship me, to cook me vegetarian meals? Am I really this fucked up? Am I a derelict of intimacy? Is my ex still dementing my emotions?
Deep in thought, I listened to a few songs my ex before my ex had written about me. I became peaced out and melancholy, sent him a text in admiration, and then fell into a slumber with my terribly romantic and hairy feline. My roommate woke me and asked me if I would like to join her out at Sweet and Vicious where she was meeting a man who she had spent a late platonic night with after a bbq. Sure, I had nothing else going on. I put a very small amount of energy into an outfit and downed a glass of wine before heading out.
Still questioning my intimacy issues, I decided at some point in the evening that I wanted to do something wild, something to remind me of why I enjoy not being attached to any particular man. I wasn’t sure at that point what I wanted, but it became clear after entering a club that I wanted a man to pour myself all over that I was not attached to. I wanted a closeness that was far from intimate, but similarly satisfying in its animalistic impetus.
I ordered more whiskeys than I should have.
Lucky for me, the dance floor was full of men from Paris. Not only am I partial to The French, but I find them easy to bed. You can simply make eyes with a French man, and he approaches you with the intentions of a French kiss (at the very least). After conversing with maybe three, the leader of the pack (read: the hottest) approaches me and quickly starts to try and kiss me. I asked my roommate if I could before we put our lips together. (She had mentioned he was dreamy so it was only right to get clearance.) She answered by turning me toward the dance floor by the shoulders and pushing me forward.
Once we were in full-blown make-out on the dance-floor, it was only a matter of time before we were shoved up against a wall of the club frenching our lives away. After a bit of this, and his hand up my dress, I realized it was kind of ridiculous. I said, “We can’t do this any more.” He said, “You’re right,” and took me by the hand to lead me out of the club. For the record, what I meant was: “we can’t be making out against a wall in this club with your hand up my dress.” What he meant by agreeing was, “let’s go somewhere else.”
I grabbed his hand and we walked straight out of the club to hail a cab. I never asked where we were going (sorry, mom!). The cab we caught was playing full blast Pakistani music. Seriously, deafening, it was amazing. He called himself, Happy Cabby. We went to his apartment, a stone’s throw from my work. The elevator ride up was shared with a definite psychopath. Terrifying, really.
Once inside, I paraded around checking out the space. I ended up on the balcony where I chatted the French man up, finding out he was actually a Jew, hence the name, David The French Jew. He was wearing the star of David on his necklace and turned out to be a dude in Finance, working in a French Bank.
It was all very chill and natural, despite the obviously approaching nakedness of the evening and the very late hour. Once I realized we were close to f’ing, I swallowed an Ambian to make sure that after, I could sleep.
Side Note: We found a million prescription pill bottles in the bureau belonging to the owner of the apartment.
The sex was dirty and hot. He was huge. We are both Scorpios and brimming with lust and this much was obvious. It lasts for a long time, and is followed up by sweet kissing and hand-holding and a movie on the television. Of course, I pass out quicker than immediately, thanks Ambian!
We both woke up around noon and felt amazing. I commented on how relaxed I was, and he said, “it’s great, isn’t it?” I was thrilled to be sprawled about a bed with my limbs extended. We decided to watch a horrible movie.
For the next four of five hours, we laid around naked and ate delicious European chocolate. Was I in heaven? Or just in the bed of a French man I met at a trendy downtown Manhattan club? When I left, I gave him my number but did not take his.
You’re actually a lot more approachable than you look, Coco told me while his muscles clung tightly to his bones. It’s the eye area. The eye area looks far more intense than the mouth speaks. The mosquitoes arrived with the moisture in the air, kissing flesh and leaving welts. While my eyes stared dark, there was a French man throbbing still in my underpants, an Italian man wrapped with long, heavy limbs around my heart. This night is a throw away, I thought after ordering the same beer he ordered to add to the plot. I am here to write about the others, to write about how they did it to me and where, and you are here to do it too perhaps, though the scope of the work is too broad. Interrupt the writing of the others to become one of the others, or walk away now Coco, walk away to your room, do a yoga pose, it will offer you more peace than me. My mother is a Buddhist he says like a parrot, his blue eyes sparkling.
I have my doubts as to whether anyone's been reading my blogging. That's fine. I'm used to not being read. I write poetry, after all.
I just want to say in closing (I first typed "losing" -- har,har) that I like the Best American Erotic Poems as a book a whole lot because it makes me think about what I consider Erotic and what I deem merely graphic. Besides, it’s a good read, that’s for sure, and that’s nothing to be taken for granted. There is also Lehman’s wide scope. He’s produced a fine and various collection, and it contains tons of audacious poems that I am very happy to get to know. I’ve also been exposed, on reading the volume, to many writers I was heretofore unfamiliar with, and for that I am grateful. I think editors of anthologies (especially Lehman) are to be commended . . . hell, it takes a lot of work to put a book like this together. Such books help to make us think. And let us never, as readers, take such gifts for granted.
Let me show you a poem that I think combines Eros and the Erotic. It’s by Maurice Manning and it’s from his first book, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (Yale, 2001). You’ll probably find it pretty tame.
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
They kicked him out
for a long list of terrible reasons:
his ways had grown old and mighty odd,
his heart had grown dangerously sick with God,
and they claimed his Ole Dreadful Daddy was a skunk.
Of course, there were other, more minor crimes, which,
nonetheless, had very serious implications. For example,
he stopped saying the word me,
he refused to watch TV,
and he had the cold audacity
to believe his generation was lost by its own accord.
Consequently, they confined him to the thirty-seven acres
and told him his punishment was work
of the lifelong, back-breaking variety;
and The Church of the Socially Concerned and Aware
sent out the Missionary Woman to comfort him with prayer.
They thought he deserved a life of toil and woe, but to tell the truth,
hard labor and banishment had been kind to Booth.
He does not mind the work or the sweat on his brow
or possessing only beehives and a one-eyed cow.
And the Missionary Woman, as it turns out,
has the finest legs in all of Christendom--
dear Lord, how he loves them!
How strange, his crimes should finally bring him ease;
his hearth is bright an the praying does not cease.
Most readers would most likely not conceive of this poem as having anything to do with sex. It’s about a lot more than sex, right? This kid has been sent off, punished, and now he’s got day and days on end of hard work before him. But the saving grace of the poem is the discovery of the Missionary Woman’s “legs.” They are fine enough that Boone’s “crimes . . . bring him ease” as he can view her legs (“the finest legs”) while praying ceaselessly. And “how he loves them!”
This is beauty. It is a moment of pure Eros, and it is erotic. Why? Because it’s a moment of connection and seems yet to be entirely happenstance. Yet, it’s also a beautiful occurrence that has been arrived at by means of fate.
Oh, long, long ago, when I was an adolescent (13 years old, to be exact) and completely in the dark about the affairs of the sexes, I used to scour historical romance novels. I read hundreds of them. These books were one of the few resources I had on hand to learn anything about sex. Had I been a sexual being at the time, I may have simply sought another person. But I was interested in sex in a most detached and analytic way. (I was very much still a child, and knew no tangible physical longings.) I just wanted to know what people were so excited about. What was this act that had everyone so enthralled? It seemed “sex” must transport people to other realms, almost automatically, as if once the penis entered the vagina (as my mother patiently explained when I asked about how babies were made), the couple would be (together!) raised to unprecedented realms of pleasure.
I was lucky enough to be one of the few kids who had not been sexually molested. (When you teach writing, you discover that a great many (many more than you’d expect) students have been subject to some kind of sexual abuse when they were children.)
All of this is to say that my present view of sex as encountered in my poems more often addresses the irony of just how much attention is paid to it! The poem David Lehman decided to include in the Best American Erotic Poems anthology, “Me and Men,” is an explicitly anti-erotic poem. The speaker very frankly dismisses the erotic power that the men in the poem have had over her. She says, at one point, “But more often, I liked best not being with them, / driving alone and thinking only of the fact of them.” This is sad. Sad both for the speaker of the poem and for the state of sexual relations today. Has sex become more about thinking than doing? Is the truly erotic not necessarily private? Or is the “erotic” to be merely summarized by a bawdy limerick? Is it just about getting naked? What’s so interesting about getting naked? Unless, it’s you getting naked with someone you’ve long been wishing to get naked with? Is the erotic (or, Eros) not about resistance? About waiting? What about desire? The nakedness of the other not yet real, but imagined? The very nakedness of the other’s mind and self as exemplified by the body?
What’s the difference between Eros and the Erotic? Are they not kindred? Or are they one and the same? It’s love that interests me most. As a poet and as a person. Therefore, I will provide you with a poem that I find very full of Eros and very Erotic in the way I like to think of the Erotic. It is Emily Dickinson’s poem # 520:
I started Early -- Took my Dog --
And visited the Sea --
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me --
And Frigates -- in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands --
Presuming Me to be a Mouse --
Aground -- upon the Sands --
But no Man moved Me -- till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe --
And past my Apron -- and my Belt --
And past my Bodice -- too --
And made as He would eat me up --
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve --
And then -- I started -- too --
And He -- He followed -- close behind --
I felt his Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle -- Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl --
Until We met the Solid Town --
No One He seemed to know --
And bowing -- with a Mighty look --
At me -- The Sea withdrew --
What I like very much about this poem is that there is a particular individual it addresses. And that its power is arrived at through metaphor. And this may explain my qualms with poems that deal very explicitly with genitalia. It would seem that such poems would very much like to shock us. So that when we readers accidentally open a door (or page) upon a tawdry coupling (or tripling), we’ll find our moral legs knocked right out from beneath us. Does this mean we ought to find everything we’ve considered decent (if love is, in fact, decent) now a tad wearisome? Shall we join the animated party? If we do, will it, at last, make us more exciting and interesting people?
I think not. As a reader, I’d prefer not to join in. I don’t take much interest in poems centrally concerned with sex, or poems that merely contain sex, unless I’m made to become invested in the emotional stakes of the piece. I’m not interested in being titillated. I don’t want merely to observe; I wish to take part, in my heart.
David Lehman was kind enough to include one of my poems in his Best American Erotic Poems anthology. And then he was kind enough to ask me to blog here.
I have my vices. I drink and I smoke and I eat fried foods.
But the truth of the matter is, I don’t generally consider myself a writer of erotic poems, nor do I tend to blog. It makes nervous. Hell, they both make me nervous (erotic poems and blogs). I mean, my parents might read my “erotic” poem in the anthology, and then they also might read this very blog entry. (Damn you, Internet!) Still, my parents may be more “erotic” minded than I am. I remember being 10 years old and scowling down at a newspaper advertisement that displayed the image of a woman’s deep cleavage (along with her head) and declaring it “gross.”
“That’s not gross,” my father replied, annoyed. “It’s beautiful.”
Erotic poems are supposed to lusty and fun. Scratch that: they are lusty and fun. So I begin to feel like a bit of a party pooper when I think that certain poems are perhaps too explicit. I prefer sex in poems to be conveyed by what T.S. Eliot termed as the “objective correlative.” I don’t think most people would consider Eliot erotic, and maybe I simply empathize with his terrified regard of the “Arms that are braceleted and white and bare / [But in the lamplight downed with light brown hair!]” It’s the sheer mammalian (hairy) aspect of it all that makes me want to wipe down the surfaces of my apartment with Clorox Wipes. And so is it that I simply like for my poems to be sanitary?
They (my poems) are not sanitary, of course. (They wouldn’t be poems if they were.) They may not be graphic, and they may not have folks rucking up against one another in the privacy of barnyard shacks . . . but things happen in them. I guess I just prefer to convey physical intimacy through metaphor. I like the sex in my poems to be implied. I like for the sex in my poems to be the kind of sex that's equally part of the mind. -- CM
Richard Rodgers had been writing music, with Lorenz Hart's lyrics, since the two collaborated on the Columbia varsity show in 1920. Following that happy experience, the pair continued to write musicals but without commercial success, and Dick got so discouraged that he thought very seriously of giving up composition and taking a job. A man named Mr. Marvin (first name unknown), a wholesaler in the baby-clothes business, offered to hire him. But Rodgers felt that his luck was about to change and he decided not to go into the apparel field. It was 1925. He turned twenty-three that year. And he and Hart had their first smash hit: "(We'll have) Manhattan." So things worked out for the best.
Freud came up with great titles, which poets like to steal, and the best of these is
(a) The Interpretation of Dreams
(b) Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious
(c) Civilization and Its Discontents
(d) The Problem of Anxiety
(e) Totem and Taboo
For extra credit, identify the names of two poets who have written "The Problem of Anxiety."
There are people who are too intelligent to become authors, but they do not become critics.
W. H. Auden, "Reading" (in The Dyer's Hand, 1962)
A definitive example of the spontaneous aphorism:
"One is irresistibly reminded of an incident in the French Chamber when capital punishment was being debated. A member had been passionately supporting its abolition and his speech was being received with tumultuous applause, when a voice from the hall called out: 'Que messieurs les assassins commencent!' [Let the murderers make the first move.]"
--Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents
OK, everyone. What do you suppose has "irresistibly reminded" Freud of this incident?
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.