Every now and then life intrudes into the toy department.
-- Sportscaster Vin Scully [left, in his Fordham days, before he began calling the BrooKlyn Dodgers' games on the radio in the 1950s] on why LA shortstop Rafael Furcal was absent from tonight's game. Furcal and his wife were forced to evacuate their home in an area of La Canada Flintridge threatened by the massivefires.
When I was very young, say, around seven or eight, I went in
for cowboy flicks.I usually went with a
pack of boys my own age; we paid our dime and watched a double feature. The
National Anthem was played and sometimes there’d be a yo-yo contest.There were usually one or two cartoons, a
serial of Superman or Captain Marvel and always Movietone Newsreels.I had no use for Tom Mix or Gene Autry or Roy
Rogers.I liked Randolph Scott, I guess
because I admired his perfectly chiseled features and the fact that he didn’t
sing.But I’ll talk about the male stars
of my past at another time.
Now I want to discuss the females that I had begun to want
to watch, the many on whom I developed a crush.I was nine or ten when I thought Esther Williams [left] was hot. It was her
swimming, naturally, that did it for me. In those days I liked women who evinced
some athleticism. I never really thought of them as women, but as grown up
girls.Esther Williams could swim. That
was it for me. I thought her face a little broad, especially when she wore a
swimming cap. The crush was short lived. I moved on. Athleticism ceased to be a
necessity, since almost none of the female stars was athletic, at least not on
screen. That is, with the exception of Ginger Rogers, whose dancing I considered a
kind of athletic event. (As I grew older I ceased to think of it as merely
that.) I should also mention Betty Grable [below right: the GIs' favorite pin-up girl in WW II], who does a terrific solo in “The Gay
Divorcee.” But this and other Rogers/Astaire movies I saw sometimes as many as
ten years after they first appeared.It
wasn’t simply Rogers's athleticism
that got to me, it was her energy, her perkiness. That’s it: she was perky,
despite those eyes that could be a shade soulful, a little hurt.
Other Perky cuties I had a crush on were Janet Blair, Joan
Leslie. I have not seen Janet Blair since I was ten years old, so I can’t say
what effect she would have on me now, but I recently watched “Flying Down to Rio”
and took a good hard look at the young Ginger Rogers [left] but was not overwhelmed. More
overwhelming was the seemingly endless Carioca dance numbers with Fred and an
ensemble of hundreds (it seemed). And most overwhelming was Dolores Del Rio [below] to
whom I had paid no attention when I was a boy.
Ah Dolores! I ran into her once
in an elevator in Mexico City back
in 1953. I was with my father and he noticed her right away and practically
fainted on the spot. She was then 48 and I was 19.She was still beautiful, but not the way she
was in “Flying Down to Rio.” She was darkly glamorous,
which is about all that I could be certain of in the few seconds we were on the
elevator. In “Flying Down to Rio” you noticed the
playful intensity of her eyes and her perfect features. But more about the true
beauties next time.
-- Mark Strand
Mark Strand is the author of numerous books of poetry, most recently New and Selected (Knopf, 2009) and Man and Camel (Knopf, 2008). Read more about Mark Strand here.
Poetry criticism at its worst today is mean in spirit and spiteful in intent, as if determined to inflict the wound that will spur the artist to new heights if it does not cripple him or her. Somewhere along the line, the notion took hold that poets were reluctant to write honestly about their peers. But in the absence of critics who are not themselves poets, surely the antidote is not to encourage the habit of rejection without explanation, denunciation without reasoned argument, and a slam of the gavel in high dudgeon as if a poem were a felony. Hostile criticism, criticism by insult, may have entertainment value, but animus does not guarantee honesty. As one who knows from firsthand experience what a book reviewer faces when writing on deadline, I can tell the real thing when I see it, and the hysterical over-the-top attack is often the product of a pose. Every critic knows it's easier (and more fun) to write a ruthless review rather than a measured one . . .
From Ashbery to Zapruder: The Best American Poetry 2009 launch reading on September 24. Details here. (Books will be available for purchase.)
And don't miss the first time ever reading by the North Atlantic Poetry Organization Tea Club. Details here.
From the forthcoming film by Bill Hayward, Asphalt, Muscle and Bone, about a man at risk, the persistence of imagination and the impossibility of love. Produced by Bill Hayward and Anna Elman. Follow Bill's blog here.
Like a leaky zeppelin, National Night Out descends upon our
cities the first Tuesday of every August. Some neighborhoods ignore it. Others,
unfortunately, embrace it. This often leads to street blockades and forced
mingling in the name of community and fun. The sad truth is the same hollow
feeling that follows one home after an awkward wedding will very likely escort
one through the streets after such a gathering. For poets the great pothole of
awkwardness is met when an unfamiliar neighbor asks, “What sort of poetry do
you write?” For the record, “human poetry” is my answer.
As an editor, I often field a similar query, “What kind of
poems do you publish?” Protocol suggests the professional editor should be
thoughtful, forthright, and “creative,” given the possibility of a sale at
hand. But in all honesty, we simply publish poems we like. An astute reader
might be able to identify a Conduit
type, but I believe that same person would testify that we cast a wide net.
Nevertheless, I can think of four, five, or maybe six poets who, as a group,
might best represent the Conduit
poetic sensibility. Since their membership in this unholy cabal is unbeknownst
to them, I’ll keep their identities secret. Well, except for one, the author of
this week’s poem, “Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975,” Noelle Kocot.
Although we first published Ms. Kocot in “Drunk Genius” (#6)
and then again in “Pedestrian” (#7), “Big Bang” (#9), “Extinction” (#13), “Gray
Matters” (#15), and “Last Laugh” (#19), I had never had the pleasure of meeting
her until last November in New York. That’s not to say we aren’t friends. We have forged a friendship over the telephone and through letters. But it’s her poems that
get her published. She’s an incredible poet, a true poet, prolific and
profound, vulnerable and victorious in her pursuit of love and wonder.
"Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975” first
appeared in our “Pedestrian” issue and was later included in her award-winning
book 4 (Four Way Books). As this poem
demonstrates, the sestina is well suited to follow the poet’s searching mind
and to contain, just barely but perfectly, the unwieldy stuff of life.
-- William Waltz
Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975
How can I conjure the vivdness of the plastic Blue and orange chairs we'd slump Into every morning before the tyranny of fractions, Each afternoon after the sadism of lunch? We'd just played "Boys against Girls," "Girls against Boys," slamming each other's small
Into a schoolyard fence, as if to add to the body Of what American feminism had become, its piles of plastic Dolls dismembered like Bluebeard's wives, only this time by
girls Of single mothers slumped Into plaid couches, too tired or too drunk to fix those
cleanly cut-out lunches Like the ones beamed into their living rooms through the
Blue-rimmed eye of the cathode ray refracted By those radio ballads that sent everybody Who'd ever broken up to sobbing in their McDonald's Muzak
lunches. Why is it that everything smelled like plastic As the yellow heatwave slumped Against my salmon-colored building where the girls
Were jumping rope (the older girls Skipping double Dutch)? Could it have been the fractious Yentas looking on from sweaty beach chairs clumped Together in the shade, their widowed bodies Already melted and annealed to a tanned and cracking
plastic? The housewives who went on serving each other lunch
Like it would never end? I would soon be off to lunch Myself at Jewish camp with a girl My age named Rachel, offering her what I'd plastic- Wrapped the night before, her six-year-old fractions Of hands fumbling over my body In return before our midday swim. No Cold War, no economic slump
Could touch us in that Brooklyn; Brooklyn,
the word itself seems holy, a Cabalistic lunchbox Yawning open for all the world to fathom its great plastic Letters stretched bodiless Across the level see-saw of the summer heat like the broken
balloon of a girl's Insides, her future a fractal- Patterned leaf dangling from her family tree of dusty
And the shoulders on the bodies of the girls Who hadn't been pinned to their beds at night slumped in the
lunchroom Nonetheless, its fractured spoons and forks still scattering
across the dance floor of my dreams, a threnody of plastic.
With this post, I conclude my week-long stint as guest blogger for Best American Poetry. It has been a pleasure writing for this venue and for this audience. My thanks to David Lehman for the invitation, and to the staff for keeping an eye on the technical side of things--and for reading what I wrote.
Ron and Ruth were talking about Thomas Aquinas. As soon as
we walked through the door, after Ron introduced Ruth and me very briefly, Ron
had said, “Ruth, there’s a question about Aquinas I’ve been wanting to ask; let
me ask before I forget.” And then the two of them were off and running into a
theological thicket where I could not follow and frankly did not want to.
Nothing against the Heavenly Doctor, mind you: I’ve read a
pound or two of Aquinas in my time, though I’ve never found him terribly
appealing (Augustine and Duns Scotus are more my speed, not that it’s a horse
race). But Ron’s question was something very specific about a particular
passage in the Summa Theologica. I
was lost before the question was out of his mouth. Ruth, on the other hand,
rode it like a surfer rides curl; she could quote chapter and verse, and
pursued the problem Ron raised as adeptly as a trained theologian. As we sat
down, the small room filled with the intensity of their talk. Ignored for the
moment—for about twenty minutes in fact—I looked around
Out the casement window several ragged-looking palm trees
were visible. Beyond them there was a brightening of the air, a sort of aura,
that indicated water that I could not see from here; we were not far from the
shore. This description might indicate we were in a balmy sub-tropical region,
but in fact it was Weymouth in the United Kingdom; the water just out of sight
below the window frame was the English Channel. As Ron and I had driven into
Weymouth, I had noted the presence of palm trees along the beach with surprise:
this hardly seemed the place for them; and indeed they hardly seemed to be
prospering. Yet there they were—and they were just one among many surprising things
about this place, and this day.
On September 24, 2009. at 7 PM, in the New School's Tishman Auditorium (66 West 12 Street, ground floor), series editor David Lehman will host a gala launch reading for The Best American Poetry 2009, and it's free so we hope everyone will come except for freeloading ill-mannered creeps but there aren't any of those, are there, in the soi-disant poetry "community." Among the contributors to BAP 2009 who have agreed to take past I mean take art I mean take part (steady, girl) are John Ashbery Mark Bibbins Suzanne Cleary Billy Collins Mark Doty, Margaret Gibson, Douglas Goetsch, Michael Grabell, Dolores Hayden, Jennifer Michael Hecht reading the late Sarah Hannah's "The Safe House," Richard Howard,
Phillis Levin, James Richardson, Mitch Sisskind, Tom Sleigh, Craig Morgan Teicher, Matthew Zapruder. I'll be there! Look for me. -- Molly Arden
When I go away from you The world beats dead Like a slackened drum. I call out for you against the jutted stars And shout into the ridges of the wind. Streets coming fast, One after the other, Wedge you away from me, And the lamps of the city prick my eyes So that I can no longer see your face. Why should I leave you, To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?
The place I spent my boyhood was landlocked; we were far
from the ocean, and from any other kind of major body of water, whether
significant lake or river. There were not even streams in that terrain: the
water table was deep and did not break through the deep and fertile layers of
soil laid down there millennia ago when our region was a shallow sea. Once
those waters departed, there was nothing to replace them except what fell from
the sky. The rich soil was not colonized by farmers until deep well technology
made it possible to drill through thick layers of limestone to tap the aquifer
In the absence of natural standing water, our countryside
was dotted with artificial ponds; these had started as watering places for
livestock and fulfilled that function, but the landscape rapidly adopted them
as part of the ecology. Unlike in drier and less arable regions, our little
lakes did not sit uneasily or anomalously where they were constructed; they did
not look like constructs at all, but quickly settled in and became necessary
not only for cattle but also for a large array of flora and fauna that arrived
with amazing speed from sources that were not immediately apparent. They were
appropriated and integrated in such a way that one could hardly imagine the
area without them. From the air, one could see that they speckled the landscape
like scattered flecks of mica.
A quarter mile from our house, on the other side of a
gradual upward slope (at the top of which my father had built his barn), there
was one such pond. About five acres in extent, it was of medium size by the
standards of that place, and well located, with an enormous oak tree just
behind the dam providing both stability and, at the right time of day, shade.
That was clearly by design, as the oak was older than the pond. Other, smaller
trees—willows, mostly—had sprung up in the meanwhile, but not so many as to
make any area impassable or inaccessible. The water was deepest by the dam; on
the other side, there were extensive shallows where our cattle came to wade
out, cool themselves, and drink. This they did on a very regular schedule, in
the early morning and near sunset. They were often accompanied by their bird
familiars, cattle egrets, which during the summer followed the herd
continually, eating insects flushed out of the grass by the movements of the
cattle; sometimes they rode on cows’ backs, picking bugs off the coats of the
black angus my father favored and bred.