The Proverb of the Burning House (or How to Save the Orgasm)
The orgasm is like a woman who has just emerged from a burning house. She folds her scorched limbs in front of her chest and shies away from anyone who tries to touch her. A doctor might suggest special ointments to be applied to her tender flesh. But only by you, Love. No one else. Otherwise she will never heal.
News from the Orgasm
Wherever you go, Love, the orgasm talks to you nonstop, as if needing to keep you up to date. The orgasm knows things. It knows what you are only beginning to realize. Life lasts a moment. And she is that moment.
The Last Orgasm
remembers you. Of course she does. How you thought you would just sit for a spell, draw sunlit plums or several peaches or something as simple as a silver spoon. As if you could just trace the outlines of love instead of touching me. That once, once upon a time, back then, on a summer day beneath the blazing sky on the saddest day of an angel's life . .
QuickMuse has branched out into the serialization business with a "special serial agon": [On January 4, 2007] Kevin Young and David Lehman each wrote a quartet of poems about the recent famous dead (James Brown, Robert Altman, Gerald Ford, and Saddam Hussein). [The poets were given prompts and were limited to fifteen minutes per poem, with their keystrokes stored in real time.] Read Young’s poems here and Lehman’s here. We’re proud to announce that these sequences [were] published in New American Writing 25 (2007).
"Berlin never learned to read or write music. He played the piano...using just the black keys...Born in Russia and subject to excruciating poverty, Irving Berlin...began his musical life leading a singing beggar into cafes. Blind Sol let Berlin sing with him once in a while, and the young boy found that he enjoyed the experience so much that he began singing in the cafes himself....In 1906, Berlin became a singing waiter at Pelham's Cafe, inventing risque lyrics to parody current hits. Two singing waiters at another cafe had published a song aimed at Italians and the song had been successful. Pelham's decided it had better get in the song business as well and had its piano player compose a similar song. Berlin's lyrics were used, and so his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy," was published on May 8, 1907, three days before his nineteenth birthday."
What if Irving Berlin and Frank Sinatra had been the same person?In France they were, and his name was Charles Trenet.
I’m taking a break from my posts on Ammons to share my newly revived passion for Trenet.While I’ve always enjoyed his lighthearted songs and his buoyant singing, I’ve only recently begun to appreciate his range and versatility.Trenet (1913-2001) wrote and performed hundreds of songs over the course of his more than sixty-year career; best-known in the US are “La Mer,” memorably recorded by Bobby Darin in an English version called “Beyond the Sea,” and “Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours,” recorded by Sinatra among others as “I Wish You Love.”But there are many other superb songs by Trenet that never crossed over to English.And while Trenet himself spent time in Hollywood, he didn’t achieve the level of transatlantic stardom accorded to fellow performers like Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, and Charles Aznavour.Yet in my opinion he was the greatest of all the French chanteurs, offering an incomparable blend of nostalgia, humor and joie de vivre, shot through with unexpected streaks of melancholy.
It may in part be a measure of how close-knit the French cultural world was in the 30s and 40s that Trenet associated with the likes of Saint-Exupery, Artaud, Cocteau, Colette, and Max Jacob.He harbored serious literary and artistic aspirations of his own, publishing novels and verse along with his copious chansons. A gay man compelled to keep his sexuality hidden for most of his career, he often called attention to the line between the performer’s mask and the poet’s soul.One of his most beautiful songs, “L’Ame des Poetes,” imagines a crowd of people singing the poet’s words after his death, “not knowing for whom his heart beat.”Here’s a video of Trenet singing it sometime in the 1970s:
You must take notes and observe the orgasm carefully.
Once you have learned to recognize the orgasm, you will know that the orgasm abandons you only by enveloping you. (How small you become in such an expanse, my love.)
Sometimes the orgasm mistakes a nude buttocks for a loaf of bread and takes a swift bite from the soft flesh, leaving tiny teeth marks.
The orgasm can become more desirable in absentia . .
When the orgasm leaves for its annual seaside vacation, it rarely takes more than 7-8 days to return. During its absence, you feel as if water is filling your ears. At night you dream of whale songs.
Neither your family nor your culture gave birth to the orgasm. The orgasm comes from beyond and prefers to remain invisible, though sometimes it can be seen crawling across your skin like a small, red wave.
Few have ever witnessed the sudden and inexplicable flight of the orgasm.
The metaphor for your life? Getting stuck in city elevators, riding up and down for hours. The orgasm takes no responsibility for this.
Orgasms can never be replicated. Each is as unique as a fingerprint with its many whorls
Even now the orgasm is working in your life. A shadowy stranger, an afterimage of you, it leaves wet footprints on the tile floor. You must learn to distinguish which footprints are your own, and which are those of the orgasm.
The orgasm is your only hope. Even now, the orgasm is licking the surface of your tiny black heart.
Yesterday I wrote about Ammons’s poem “Mechanism,” an exploration of the inner workings of a goldfinch.Ammons wrote about many other birds as well, including blue jays, swallows, terns, and grackles.One bird seems to have captured his imagination with special force.In a 1983 interview he responded to a question about the function of the poet by saying “I think of the hermit lark, a shy bird with an unlocatable, indescribable sound.I identify with that in myself and in the poets I read, too.” The hermit lark appears in several Ammons poems, including one simply called “Hermit Lark”:
Shy lark! I'll bet it took a while to get you
perfect, your song quintessential, hermit lark,
just back from wherever you winter: I learn my real
and ideal self from you, the right to sing
alone without shame!
water over stone makes useless brook music; your
music unbearably clear after rain
drops water breaking through air, the dusk air
like shaded brookwater, substanced clarity!
I learn from you and lose the edginess I speak of
to one other only, my mate, my long beloved, and
make a shield not so much against the world,
though against its hardest usages, as
for tenderness's small leeways: how
hard to find the bird in the song! the music
breaks in from any height or depth of the spiral
and whirling up or down, jamming, where does it
leave off: shy bird, welcome home, I love your
song and keep my distance: hold, as I know you
won't, through the summer this early close visitation
I have avoided your wide English eyes: But now I am whirled in their vortex. My blood becomes a Damaged Man Most like your Albion; And I must go with stone feet Down the staircase of flesh To where in a shuddering embrace My toppling opposites commit The obscene, the unforgivable rape.
One moment of daylight let me have Like a white arm thrust Out of the dark and self-denying wave And in the one moment I Shall irremediably attest How (though with sobs, and torn cries bleeding) My white swan of quietness lies Sanctified on my black swan’s breast.
Ammons is probably best known for two stylistic innovations:his eccentric use of the colon and his liberal incorporation of scientific language in his poems.Both of these devices are on full display in a poem called “Mechanism.” The poem falls into two parts, a short introduction to his general concept followed by a long, thickly layered description of a goldfinch.Here are the first four stanzas:
Honor a going thing, goldfinch, corporation, tree,
morality: any working order,
animate or inanimate: it
has managed directed balance,
the incoming and outgoing energies are working right,
some energy left to the mechanism,
some ash, enough energy held
to maintain the order in repair,
assure further consumption of entropy,
expending energy to strengthen order:
honor the persisting reactor,
the container of change, the moderator:
What Ammons calls in the title and in line six a “mechanism” is called by the simpler name “going thing” in the first line.Both names refer to a wide array of phenomena, as the little list in the first stanza implies: “goldfinch, corporation, tree, / morality.”What characteristics could these four things possibly have in common?Goldfinches and trees are both living organisms, but corporations and morality?There’s an unlikely pairing.Yet for Ammons all these things exemplify what he calls a “working order,” any dynamic system that takes in and puts out energy, that organizes and repairs itself, that staves off entropy and chaos.Living creatures, businesses, and abstract value systems all possess these features.Notice that the poem begins with an imperative; we are being instructed to “honor” all these mechanisms, not because they are all equally beautiful or good, but because they all work, they all have achieved a kind of self-sustaining balance.(Ammons was working as a sales executive at a glass manufacturer when he wrote this poem, so he would have been especially aware of the importance of balancing what comes in and what goes out for a corporation.)
See what happens when you serve a horny, bored poet a plate full of summer gourds at your poetry conference? She plays with her food.
Hullo, peeps. This is your roving, raving European correspondant, your coeur déspondant, your very own pain in the arse Jill Alexander Essbaum, with an overdue update. I've been lax in posting. And by lax I don't mean an airport in southern California. (Nor do I mean lax as in -ative, because that would be déclassé.) The sore fact is that once you remove the spangles of travelling about from my sash, I fear I'm just an ordinary ole gal with not too much terribly interesting to report on. But then again-- ain't that the point of blogs?
I'm back in Switzerland until further notice. Switzerland is one of the hosts of this nonsense (I beg one thousand pardons, if you are a soccer fan, for referring to it as nonsense). Downtown Zurich is crammed to capacity with kiosks, food stands, hat vendors, face painters, booze sellers, widescreen televisions, and foreigners. Train schedules have been altered, added upon, increased. Much whooping can be heard in the Hauptbanhof after hours. Switzerland, as I understand it, is out of the tournament already. Anyone want to clue me in on who I should root for?
While in the US, I participated in two literary festivals. The first ever Pilcrow Lit Fest, as headed by the stunning Amy Guth, and The West Chester Poetry Conference, as headed by the formidable Mike Peich. Highlights of that shindig included a phenomenal reading by Richard Wilbur (did you know he used to be a hobo? I think more poets ought to hobo. Especially if it leads to the gorgeous output of verse suchlike Mr. Wilbur's), loads--scads, even-- of social hours intended to create camaraderie and build poetic bridges, ostensibly (and possibly, to get us good and sloshed before the readings), and workshops and seminars for all interested. I was a member of the Millay critical seminar (headed by Jennifer Reeser). Millay is one of my favorite poets. She is utterly underestimated by the critics, still. And we tend to read the wrong Millay, imho. Yes, "First Fig" and "Renascence" are both impressive. But fuck me running and call me a cab: If you ain't read Fatal Interview, then you ain't read the best of Millay. (...)