It’s true Conduit may have too many slogans for a budget-deficit endeavor,
but we insist. One of my personal favorites states that it’s published “when
least expected.” This refers to our irregular schedule. Conduit is a biannual that has been publishing since 1993, yet only
recently did we publish our twentieth issue. No, the math doesn’t quite add up,
but nevertheless we persist.
The idea for Conduit came to me, just before I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, when I realized that few of my many talented associates were getting published. Because there were fewer venues to publish then and even fewer willing to take chances on unknown voices, or so I thought, I determined the remedy for such a malady was to start a magazine, to start “the only magazine that risks annihilation,” and thus Conduit was born. From the beginning, we’ve championed the young, the unknown, and the unaffiliated. It’s a joy to publish one’s heroes as we have, but it’s almost sweeter to find a wildflower among the weeds.
Carley Moore’s “The Match” is the first poem in our twentieth issue, “Humans ‘N Nature.” I can’t say I know much about Ms. Moore aside from she writes a no nonsense cover letter and polite emails, but we took a fancy to her poem right away. And when the time came I knew “The Match” had to lead the issue off. Plainspoken as it appears, the poem welcomes, calms, disarms, and even comforts before dispatching the reader to that beautiful, yet slippery, precipice where reason and unreason hang in the balance.
-- William Waltz
At the stairs to the top of the volcano,
you warn me, “Secrets are small fires.
Let’s be more primitive. Let’s tie ourselves up.
Let’s wait for the monster.”
We do. We tie. We wait. And we wait.
This waiting is more like a highway than a staircase.
This waiting is more like waiting than I thought it would be.
There are things that are right about the moon,
but it’s not enough. You want to live underneath the volcano—
to stop hanging out in other people’s hallways.
You want to take the kitchen chairs out of the kitchen.
It’s not unreasonable, but then you cut your heel on the crust of the volcano.
You beg to be put to bed and I do it.
I pretend to know what you are.
You are something that lies down and offers itself.
You are small and almost wooden—a match trying to move to the fire.
You are my arm reaching to turn out the light.
-- Carley Moore
THE JILTING OF GRANNY WEATHERALL: Two
gerontophiles fall in love with the same Granny. Liza, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania
Jon Hamm and January Jones. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.
Click here for Bruce Handy's behind the scenes view of the show and its creator, Matt Weiner, in Vanity Fair.
Only 1% of the deep sea's floor has been discovered. I'll repeat, (written out for our memory), one percent. How much of our brains do we use again? Well, they now say it's much more than the now mythological assumption of 10% but we know there's an ocean of untapped potential there. William James insisted in 1908: "We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources" (The Energies of Men) How many deep sea creatures do we still discover each year? The new psychedelica frogfish is completely covered in swirling concentric stripes and the US scientific journal Copeia says its "overall impression...was of an inflated rubber ball bouncing along the bottom". The Lion's Mane Jellyfish resembles the victorian skirts of a woman in the throes of passion, the see-through single blob with eyes creatures who live below any visible light remind us of middle of the night loneliness, volcanic vent tube worms and crabs, perhaps bleached white by the 400 f.+ degree temperatures, look like rage that has long past, nudibranchs, hallucinatory florescent pink, green, orange, blue and purple soft creatures can dance, be toxic, change sex, and the "spiral poo worm" speaks for itself. Woo me in these unfathomable fathoms of discovery, show me photographs of deep sea creatures and the other great unknown, deep space, and I will be ecstatic, forever transformed.
There are many great unknowns in our little universe, including unknown poets. Writing what you don't know you know is a familiar consolation of the art of poetry. Poetry seeks out the unknown, seduces it into the light. David St. John, in addition to his regular classes, teaches film and poetry, music and poetry, and the vast cross-over unknown divide between the arts. One of our great poets, former Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz who said he was "living and dying at once," enticed all the paradoxes of the unknown's mystery. Today's west coast award-winning poet is Lynne Thompson ( Beg No Pardon, Perugia Press, 2007 ). Her work haunts the future and the past, and so too, defies anonymity. Here's one, from her variety of styles:
Come Back Mister Scissorhands
In my dreams, his name is Hunger Unspoken. His name
is House Still Sleeping, is Cigarette, Wolf, and Cold Coffee.
Under my lids, his name cascades like snow,
slips away like black jade, one minute paraìso
then suddenly cara-de-cão or ninho des vespas
and I am as old as I am. In my useless reveries,
I speak more softly than the dying
when I call to him: night horn? root of a scream?
Knowing, finding the unknown, being known, and even un-knowing ourselves in poetry's act of reinvention, we discover language engendered by motive. Andre′ Breton's meditation from Mad Love reinforces what happens when (and how) we seek out the unknown: "Desire, the only motive of the world, desire... I wander in the superb bathroom of vapor. Everything around me is unknown to me... I am looking for you." One of the very best "unknown" (amazingly not yet fully published) poets, William Wadsworth brings classical knowledge into the contemporary realm, his passport-crossing over desire's many borders. I love the end of "The Authority of Elsewhere" found in his chapbook The Physicist on a Cold Night Explains, Breakaway Press, 2003.
...I wander out
beyond these premises to prove
that extravagant darkness is what I love.
I am told there is a fabulous beast
which certain populations east
of here consider sacred,
or so, according to some authority, is not an unfounded
fact. The authority of elsewhere sleeps in my bed,
she is undercover, she is naked,
she leaves every word unsaid.
What we love can be synonymous with who we are and with how we use language. In Heather McHugh's brilliant essay book Broken English she wrote " if you think you know yourself, you haven’t looked far enough --- into that distance where your strangeness is. You hold more than you know, and that is how knowing opens.” Tupelo Press poet Karen Ann-Hwei Lee address her readers by saying " We are still strangers, but love will help us navigate the unknown."
There's so many vibrant unknown presses, sites, magazines, and it seems it is our duty to seek them out --- to seek them out ( the process of poetry itself), like Darwin (below) in search of the next rare beetle:
"One day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one."
I would like to bring your attention to just a few and thank you in advance for listening to this week's blog. Once again, apologies to the many poets not yet mentioned: I will keep you in mind. Thank you & Cheers! Elena Karina Byrne
Our filmmaker/photographer friend Bill Hayward sends this crash of color and caution:
am sending along this crash of color just because...
Here, from the New York Times, is Alessandra Stanley's preview of the new season.
(To the left: Christina Hendricks as top secretary and chief voluptuary Joan -- the greatest piece of ass of all time, as boss Sterling tells her, even if she is unmaried on the wrong side of 30
From Stanley's review:
The show’s period clothes, cocktails and allusions to Hitchcock, Bob Dylan and Frank O’Hara are no longer new. Neither are the narrative feints that spike suspense by deflecting it — though the trick continues to work. There are still mysteries to even the most closely examined lead characters. Peggy; Joan (Christina Hendricks), the office manager; and even Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), the weaselly account executive, are so familiar, yet they remain enigmatic — protected by a thin, exotic veil of weirdness.
And, most of all, so does Don’s beautiful wife, Betty (January Jones), who is in the last stages of pregnancy with their third child and worried about her increasingly senile father, Gene (Ryan Cutrona). Betty is even more concerned that her brother and his wife have designs on their father’s property.
Don, an incorrigibly unfaithful husband but a loyal spouse, decides that the old man can live with them. Gene repays the hospitality by instructing his granddaughter to read aloud to him from Gibbon’s history of the fall of the Roman Empire. When Don comes home, Gene asks acidly, “How’s Babylon?” >>
Busy men doing important
Flying private into Minneapolis
LAX, checking into Four Seasons Laguna,
CNN on HDTV, the toilet flushing;
A few – very few, actually – die suddenly
Of coronary infarction on the double beds
But far greater numbers furtively masturbate
To glowing screens, then watch basketball
Until dinner. Busy men? Important work?
“So it seems to them!” the cynic mocks --
But if I indulge facile Sinclair Lewis-style
Animadversions toward executive sales types
Must I not then too inquire: “Eschewing
The rat race is well and good, but what great
Poems hath the unraced rat written or will write?
And btw, what hot girls is he fucking? Is he busy?
Important work?” Ha, I’m laughing! O God!
-- Mitch Sisskind
With a Marianne Moore poem, "Nevertheless"
1. We admitted we were powerless over metaphor, simile, imagery, meter, assonance, consonance, rhyme, and narrative —that our lives had become unmanageable.
you've seen a strawberry
that's had a struggle, yet
was, where the fragments met,
2. Came to believe that a Poetry greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
a hedgehog or a star-
fish for the multitude
of seeds. What better food
than apple-seeds--the fruit
within the fruit--locked in
like counter-cruved twin
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the Muse as we understood Her.
hazel-nuts? Frost that kills
the little rubber-plant
leaves of the kok-saghyz stalks, can't
harm the roots; they still grow
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of the truth, of lies, of what we perceive, know, don't know, and a fearless inventory of ourselves.
in frozen ground. Once where
there was a prickly-pear-
leaf clinging to barbed wire
a root shot down to grow
in earth two feet below;
5. Admitted to Earth, to ourselves, animals, and to another human being the exact nature of our longings, our wrongs .
as carrots form mandrakes
or a ram's horn root some
times. Victory won't come
to me unless I go
6. Were entirely ready to have workshops remove all these defects of character
(until we graduated, then it would be our closet friends).
ties a knot in knots till
knotted thirty times,--
7. Humbly asked our intellect, our heart, to remove our shortcomings.
the bound twig that's under-
gone and over-gone, can't stir.
8. Made a list of all poems and persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
The weak overcomes its
menace, the strong over-
9. Made direct amends to such poems and people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
... What is there
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
... What sap
went through that little thread
11. Sought through drafts and drafts, through prayer and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with Language as we understood It, praying only for knowledge of Language's will for us and the conscious and unconscious power to carry that out.
to make the cherry red!
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these poetry principles in all our affairs of being alive.
(Keep coming back! It works if you work it.)
For earlier installments of Greg Santos's interview with Canadian poet Jason Camlot, click here:
GS: Rob Allen was your teacher but also a colleague and a
friend of yours. The whole last part of
The Debaucher was dedicated to him, as well as your poem “Bewildered” from
Attention All Typewriters. Could you
talk about Allen’s influence on you and your work?
JC: Subtle, I suppose. He wasn’t an overbearing mentor in any way. I was his roommate while I was still an undergraduate and he seemed to have no qualms about that. He wasn’t much of a father figure, in that way. But he was probably one of the first people just to treat me like a writer. Like a peer. Even though I wasn’t his peer by any means. But he treated me that way. That was worth an awful lot when I was young, that’s for sure. In treating me as a peer that meant just allowing me to be around him and to watch him. You hear rookie hockey players talk about what it’s like to be in the dressing room with veterans and seeing how they prepare for the game. . . I still don’t know what that means exactly but I can sort of understand by analogy. When I lived with Rob, watching him how he went about his day and when he read, when he wrote, when he thought, and so that was influential. I like his writing a lot. I suppose I was influenced by him more than I know because he worked well in short lyric forms and he was in certain ways a lyric poet but he also worked very well in long serial forms. One of his teachers at Cornell was A.R. Ammons. He introduced me to Ammons as well in poems. So I think he was a major influence in the way I approach poetry formally, as well. Although, like I said, it was always a subtle influence because he never imposed anything on me. He let me hang around his bookshelf and I would pull things off myself. Occasionally he would give me a book but it was usually a Gilbert Sorrentino novel. Who he just adored. So, he was a great influence but in great part by being a great friend.
The Newer Critics
They arrived at doubt
through an excess of certainty.
“Avuncular” was a dish
of humble pie for them.
They were the first generation
of new critics taught
by the first generation of new critics.
Their smiles were pointed.
They called a place like this
“Harvard on the Ohio”
and tried to get Hardy’s novels
into every conversation you had.
I’d say I liked Hardy’s poems
better, watch them flatten
their hands on their cheeks,
and swoon, like they’d wandered
into a painting by Munch.
They didn’t like Munch,
but recommended The Monk,
if you needed a trashy read.
-- Jim Cummins
Turner Cassity was an American original. A one-time student of Yvor Winters, he was, with Thom Gunn, the least Wintersian of that crowd. His inimitable guerrilla-style humor -- darting in sideways like a velociraptor with a devastating quip, then darting away -- took no prisoners, and was as sharp as anyone's I can think of, save possibly James Merrill's.
When Turner died last month, there was very little to-do; scant notice was taken in the press. The ship had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. Meanwhile, one of our greatest, crankiest, strangest, densest poets of high polish and high wit -- in other words, as Auden might have put it, "something amazing" -- passed from sight.
Here is a poem of Turner's that ran not too long ago in The New Criterion. The poem takes a while to warm up, but then it's like a fire in your hand.
Crystal but Not Crystal Ball
Upon the sapphire is the light a star?
Who is to say it is not compass points,
Or non-Euclidean geometry
Upon the rounded blue? As sign a star,
The shining asterisk is star but less;
Is radiance without the consequence—
Astrology without prediction: twelve
In one, one fate and one mortality.
If you would have your charting different,
Examine then star rubies. Theirs is truth
Extrapolated from the blood, the flash
Of heat across the chill of mineral.
The East and West and North and South of love;
Its novel proofs, its parallels that meet.
That's the headline caption in last Wednesday's Los Angeles Times front story about Clinton's mission in securing a pardon for the two captured reporters who illegally found themselves over the border in Korea, thereby sentenced to twelve years hard labor. " Making It Formal" caught my attention, or rather the setting caught my inner eye. Kim Jong II and President Bill Clinton and six other formal, official-looking officials, in nearly all black, sit in sober repose for the historically-pertinent photograph. Beneath their feet: a bright chartreuse green carpet covered in giant flowers, reminiscent of the Hello-Kitty items my daughter loved when she was a little girl. Behind them, a massive all-wall painting of the raging sea, in the glory of its green-lit waves, white foam and scattered seagulls—perhaps something one would see in a tacky Las Vegas lobby, themed for exotic beach lovers who never made it to the beach. This is poetry.
The intuitive art of juxtaposition makes lively play of the mind's associative practices. Juxtaposition, like metaphor, carries-over one image to the next, one idea to the next, one insight to another. Yes, it is anything but "formal" however, I think it is the key to shifting our perceptual attention toward formal subjects, especially dark ones. Juxtaposition delightfully alarms us : they interrupt and disengage, present dissonance as part of the rhythmic and imagistic variety within perception. From lack of immediate recognition comes recognition.
L.A. poet Douglas Kearney (Fear, Some, Red Hen Press; The Black Automaton, Fence Books 2009) fevers his subjects into the natural chaos of juxtaposition. I listen and re-listen to the musical build toward repeating images some of the poems have, until they almost become something else. The "hidden" subject is the juxtaposition the reader must make when confronting forms of allegory. In his poem "The Six Cities" a child "un-becomes" through identity, race, ecology, and geography in order to become the place he is, "a city, a green one.'
...teach your child that people can be places, can be coppices,
can be groves, a stand of trees. and I learned this. I’ve been so many places
in my life; once, perhaps a city with emerald colonnades and spires
like a thousand jackets hung on steeple-backed chairs.
but that wasn’t it. I was a forest whose roots hadn’t destroyed
a green city but had tasted it into themselves, even as I did,
when I found myself at the mouth of the place you are called river.
and when I drank to be changed, I became a gully. right there,
in the hollow below the city that was not there at all—
but distant, like a place in a brochure. still, we had become several
rushes, so to dream of paper would be to dream of children un-becoming—no,
I am riverbank, silt pulled slowly back into the current, where the salmon,
weary in its crimson envelope says: children are a place; drift too long
they will be behind you. you look at me to name the place we become.
Juxtaposition moves the poem into sensory action and dislocation. The shifts of consciousness work as leaps of faith and gladly kills predictability.
Judith Taylor (Curios, Sarabande 2000; Selected Dreams from the Animal Kingdom, Zoo Press 2003) unleashes this art of indirection. Here's her poem from Slope #25:
The Cards’ Last Laugh
The doll’s dilemma: should she be lyric or play the sax?
If you wander, there will be a sequel, not an exit.
Shall we try and solve the riddle of fossils and decorative clothes?
Ship ahoy! The wind’s insistence that you walk across the bridge.
It doesn’t matter if you button up, it always comes undone.
Sometimes I think
we could have gone on.
All of us. Trying. Forever.
But they didn’t fill
the desert with pyramids.
They just built some. Some.
They’re not still out there,
building them now. Everyone,
everywhere, gets up, and goes home.
Yet we must not
diabolize time. Right?
We must not curse the passage of time.
Above please find a poem from The Next Ancient World. August doesn't auger, we just have to let it sit there waiting for a breeze and meaning nothing. Day by day by moment by moment always choosing.
Yours very truly,
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on August 12, 2009 at 04:45 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Bill Evans would have been
eighty years old this Sunday, August 16, 2009,
and on that day
at 8:30 p.m.
at the Cornelia Street Café
in downtown New York,
there will be a tribute to the master
featuring Andy LaVerne, pianist, student of Bill Evans, and jazz educator
AND Bill Zavatsky, poet, friend of Bill Evans, and others.
Go to www.CorneliaStreetCafe.Com for more informnation and directions.
think the presupposition of audience, which is a determining factor for any
kind of poetry, is an interesting question to ask about poetry that’s written
in English and Quebec. I taught a
graduate course on English language poetry from Quebec last summer and we
looked at this book by Carmine Starnino called With English Subtitles and the
thing that I found interesting about the book was the vagueness, the
strangeness of his presupposed audience. He seems to be talking to some imagined international audience of
intellectuals. Or he addresses you very aggressively and idiomatically as
though you grew up on the same street as him.
It’s all over the place in terms of the presupposed audience and I think
that’s pretty typical of a lot of English language poetry written from
here. Partly because there’s license to
imagine any audience because there is in a sense no local audience for poetry,
per se, I mean there is because there are a lot of students here and there are
a lot of readings, so that is one audience. But in another sense I think it allows you to imagine yourself into all
kinds of fictional or to presuppose all kinds of fictional audiences. The fact is in many ways my audience is
David McGimpsey or the few poets that I actually share work with and that’s
probably typical of poets anywhere. In
that sense it is an Anglo_Quebec audience because it’s David McGimpsey or it’s
Todd Swift because those are poets I send my work to, so it’s the individuals
who may get things that others wouldn’t because they’re from here.
GS: Who do you consider influential over your career as a poet?
JC: It changes all the time. I’m always looking out for new poets. My colleague whose office is next door, Judith Herz, is always sending me the names of poets she’s just discovered so I really appreciate that. I think when I was young, poets who were important to me were songwriters. Bob Dylan was a huge influence as soon as I started writing songs, and the Beatles. As for poets who have been influential on the poetry I’ve actually published when I was an adult, I’d say, Elizabeth Bishop. Zbigniew Herbert is a Polish poet who I’ve read and loved for quite a few years. A lot of Montreal poets, like Layton and Cohen, whom I discovered as soon as I left Montreal and started reading seriously. Peter Van Toorn, another local poet whom I read when I was quite young and really dug and loved. A.R. Ammons, Robert Creeley, a lot of Modern American poetry. There are others but those would be a few names that just popped to mind.
some minx’s token
laid on our tongues, some civilization’s content so absolute
we can row a canoe seaward into its azured vault vocabulary,
we can salt backwards in minutes to
that what he gave us was more knowledge
overwhelmed by seeing us,
a violent sorrow
and this sorrow that I have by right
is yours, man and woman both, which
Empowered him out of nature
in some loneliness-allure crossing the face twice,
like the cuttlefish turning over its colors,
blame due of blame,
that first lights on him, then us, following in
our bodies’ grammar, profound language found
by our carnal stings or unbitten lusts
word over word,
the ugly part of beauty
moved from the gut to resume the shape
of Cordelia in his arms,
unfinished storm-flower where the darkness folded up
and you asked yourself Will it eat me?
like the feeding earth- worm of conscience, swallowed by its
own red sound,
Faith, half asleep in your arms, that
What you know, you know,
even before it is named, even before it benchmarks who you are.
by Elena Karina Byrne
Antioch Review, Winter 2008
forthcoming in Burnt Violin, Tupelo Press 2011
I was in a typical hotspot L.A. restaurant with a friend, also a poet, ordering sushi. I asked for the spicy tuna roll without the cucumber. "That will be an extra charge of 50 cents to take the cucumber out," the beautiful waitress said, looking around the room as if she was bored or feeling apologetic disdain. My friend leaned forward aghast: "An extra charge to take something out?" I thought about it for a moment. What comes out of a poem, what is missing from a poem, is as important as what is left in, and certainly worth more than 50 cents.
In one of her best-known essays, The Aesthetics of Silence, Susan Sontag might as well be talking about poetry when she says, "Silence and allied ideas ( like emptiness, reduction, the 'zero degree' ) are boundary notions with a very complex set of uses... the artist who creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical: a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or eloquent silence." Here's excerpts from exciting new poet ( http://issuu.com/didimenendez/docs/osissue2summer/6 ) Kelli Anne Noftle's poem "Afterlife" and the second, "Parasomnia" ( forthcoming in The Journal) :
I placed you in a shallow dish,
watch the water touch your body, touch my hand.
Preservation holds our minds in salt,
light, formaldehyde. I say crystallize and you're
tongue-tied. Heaven opens just wide enough to slip through.
They told me you were impossible to care for...
The reader pauses to consider the relationship between the "you", the "I" and the "They." Then comes the shift of focus. Each "pregnant pause" like a black hole draws us into the poem and its caesura's and enjambment's positive enslavement of time. What is not in a poem is kinesthetic time tethering the poem to some outside understanding of itself. This abstract absence created in a poem is also a kind of liminality, what Wikipedia defines as " a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the 'threshold' of or between two different existential planes, as defined in neurological psychology." Here's one on sleep-eating.
Experts say that loneliness is prone
to peanut butter. That we’ll walk in our sleep at least
once. The second hand on the kitchen clock tells
the dream it can go forward. That delicious ticking
in the mouth. When you remember
eating, it’s almost three days
after. You’re sitting in a coffee shop chewing
on a straw. It doesn’t taste like peanuts, but there’s something
oily in the plastic.
How does it go in the fairytale? Someone’s been licking
the linoleum. Someone sliced a bar of soap
and polished it off with your wine.
This elliptical dream tastes like sleepwalking to the edge of the cliff. Both Matthea Harvey and Southern California's Sarah Maclay use the prose poem's averted subject matter and self-voyeurism as a way into implied silence. Another truly marvelous poet from our neck of the woods is Martha Ronk who re-establishes and uses the instinctive language of omission (betwixt and between) and that "luminal space... in the area between two images... the transitional space."( from "Poetics of Failure")
My pals have heard me quote this little bit of Flaubert apcrypha before: "It is not the Houses that are built but the spaces between the Houses."
In writing a review recently of William H. Pritchard's latest essay collection On Poets & Poetry, I got a chance to reread Randall Jarrell's sweeping-gorgeous-funny-breathtaking poem "The Player Piano." I just can't believe the way this poem sounds, the way it moves! It has a totally original music that, in all its wandering colloquialisms, touches down into strong feeling and odd mystery. As Karl Shapiro wrote (and Pritchard reminds us), "Jarrell was the only poet of his generation 'who made an art out of American speech as it is, who advanced beyond Frost in using not only contemporary idiom . . . but the actual rhythm of our speech.' " That's huge! Who wouldn't kill to do that?!
The poem was published after Jarrell's death and is spoken by an elderly woman, a grandmother:
The Player Piano
I ate pancakes one night in a Pancake House
Run by a lady my age. She was gay.
When I told her that I came from Pasadena
She laughed and said, "I lived in Pasadena
When Fatty Arbuckle drove the El Molino bus."
I felt that I had met someone from home.
No, not Pasadena, Fatty Arbuckle.
Who's that? Oh, something that we had in common
Like -- like -- the false armistice. Piano rolls.
She told me her house was the first Pancake House
East of the Mississippi, and I showed her
A picture of my grandson. Going home --
Home to the hotel -- I began to hum,
"Smile a while, I bid you sad adieu,
When the clouds roll back I'll come to you."
Let's brush our hair before we go to bed,
I say to the old friend who lives in my mirror.
I remember how I'd brush my mother's hair
Before she bobbed it. How long has it been
Since I hit my funnybone? had a scab on my knee?
Here are Mother and Father in a photograph,
Father's holding me. . . . They both look so young.
I'm so much older than they are. Look at them,
Two babies with their baby. I don't blame you,
You weren't old enough to know any better;
If I could I'd go back, sit down by you both,
And sign our true armistice: you weren't to blame.
I shut my eyes and there's our living room.
The piano's playing something by Chopin,
And Mother and Father and their little girl
Listen. Look, the keys go down by themselves!
I go over, hold my hands out, play I play --
If only, somehow, I had learned to live!
The three of us sit watching, as my waltz
Plays itself out a half-inch from my fingers.
For part one of Greg Santos's interview with Canadian poet, click here -- and read some of Camlot's poems here and here:
GS: In your poem “The Death of Roland As Peanuts Panel” you’re referencing the French epic poem, Le Chanson de Roland, which from my understanding is one of the oldest major works in French literature and you juxtapose it with Charlie Brown. It’s a very funny idea. You have this balancing act between a comic and a work of literature. Is there a line that divides popular culture and literature?
JC: There’s certainly a line for people who write about culture. I think if you’ve ever read a review of a
David McGimpsey book, you’re aware of that.
One way to re-sk your question is, which is better poetry? Chanson de Roland or Peanuts? I think you could have a pretty serious
debate about that. I don’t know if
you’ve read Le Chanson de Roland but it’s a pretty ridiculous poem in a lot of
ways. There are historical reasons for
that but it’s a very cartoonish poem and there are historical reasons for that
as well. The Debaucher is a lot about
rhyme and humor and about death. I
think that the Peanuts and Chanson de Roland convergence was more about
the death element of the book than anything else. There are two sections about the death of Roland and I witnessed
the death of my friend and former teacher, Rob Allen, the year that I was
writing that book and in different ways I was thinking about the dearth of my
vocabulary, formal poetic vocabulary, for somehow making sense or even just
formalizing what I was witnessing. I
did turn to Le Chanson de Roland because it was a very formulaic
representation of death so it seemed to me in certain ways consoling because
there were obviously protocols at work in the way his death was being represented
but at the same time it seemed empty and existentially cartoonish to me as
Peanuts does. I felt as alone as
Charlie Brown in a panel while I was reading it. The convergence there just had more to do with how much certain
Shulz panels move me and seem to be about death in as or more interesting ways
than Chanson de Roland but it seemed like a natural convergence of two rather
flat paneled ways of formulaically representing death. There are other attempts to represent death
in that book so it seemed like one way among a series that I was experimenting
GS: In the last line of your poem “Summer Caravan” it reads “Please, Professor, let me get a laugh.” How does humor play a role in your poetry and in contemporary poetry in general?
JC: I’ll tell you first, in my own poetry it seems to me a part of a larger interest in tonal registers. I write a lot of persona poetry and a lot of poems are really exploring either gradual or quick shifts between tonal registers. Sometimes it’s a drier drollery. Sometimes it’s more laugh_out_loud type humor but it seems part of this larger interest in the continuum of tonal registers that can be achieved poetically. That’s what my real investment is. Also, I find the absurdity of life is probably best expressed through humor and that’s something, I don’t know if I’m interested in, but something I just happen to believe in.
A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs David Lehman. Nextbook/Schocken, $22 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4250-8 (From Publishers Weekly, August 10, 2009): As part of the publisher's ongoing Jewish Encounters series, Lehman, poet, anthologist (The Oxford Book of American Poetry) and critic (The Last Avant-Garde),
melds dreamy personal reflections with impressive archival excavation
for a thorough look at the popular early-20th-century songwriters and
what made their work quintessentially Jewish. Delving into the iconic
hits of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Larry
Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, among selective others,
Lehman ponders how these Ashkenazi Jews, mostly raised speaking Yiddish
in New York as cantors' sons, melded their particular wit, melancholy
and sophistication with the rhythmic richness of African-American
music—a blending of blues and jazz. In their many beloved seminal
hits—e.g., Berlin's “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (1911), George
Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” (1923), Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Oh,
What a Beautiful Mornin' ” (1943)—these sons (Dorothy Fields being the
female lyricist exception) of refugees from anti-Semitic rumblings in
Europe “were conducting a passionate romance with America,” Lehman
maintains. The author himself grew up in the Inwood section of New York
City, under the warm spell of these songs; by the time he graduated
from Stuyvesant High School and attended Columbia, where many of these
songwriters had met, rock and roll was supplanting that old-time magic.
Digressive, nostalgic and deeply moving, Lehman achieves a fine,
lasting tribute to the American songbook. (Oct.) "I'm so proud I'm bustin' my vest" (Bushkin/DeVries) -- sdh
As part of the publisher's ongoing Jewish Encounters series, Lehman, poet, anthologist (The Oxford Book of American Poetry) and critic (The Last Avant-Garde), melds dreamy personal reflections with impressive archival excavation for a thorough look at the popular early-20th-century songwriters and what made their work quintessentially Jewish. Delving into the iconic hits of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Larry Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, among selective others, Lehman ponders how these Ashkenazi Jews, mostly raised speaking Yiddish in New York as cantors' sons, melded their particular wit, melancholy and sophistication with the rhythmic richness of African-American music—a blending of blues and jazz. In their many beloved seminal hits—e.g., Berlin's “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (1911), George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” (1923), Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' ” (1943)—these sons (Dorothy Fields being the female lyricist exception) of refugees from anti-Semitic rumblings in Europe “were conducting a passionate romance with America,” Lehman maintains. The author himself grew up in the Inwood section of New York City, under the warm spell of these songs; by the time he graduated from Stuyvesant High School and attended Columbia, where many of these songwriters had met, rock and roll was supplanting that old-time magic. Digressive, nostalgic and deeply moving, Lehman achieves a fine, lasting tribute to the American songbook. (Oct.)
"I'm so proud I'm bustin' my vest" (Bushkin/DeVries) -- sdh
I just got back from ten days at a writing retreat in New Hampshire, so I'm a little gaga from culture shock. Ten days of peace, quiet, beautiful surroundings, and a gourmet chef placing wonderful concoctions in front of me every time I sat down, is bumping up against laundry, barn-mucking, and a heartbreaking loss.
Toad Hall is a private, non-profit writer and artist retreat about an hour north of Dartmouth. It is run by poet and publisher Maria van Beuren, and it is a marvel. A rambling New England house in the middle of 100 wooded acres, it provides space, comfort, and good company for groups of invited guests during the summer. Maria makes sure everyone is happy, extremely well-fed, and comfortable.
I thought I was going to get a lot of writing done, but I spent most of my time wandering through the woods and sketching, and that's okay, too. There was a lot to sketch: birch groves, a pond, carpets of fern, Maria's gorgeous gardens. It was a visual feast, and I discovered that artist and sculptor Ken Flynn, another guest, was right: there aren't enough kinds of colored pencils to capture the many varieties of green you see if you really look.
There were real feasts, too. Each evening, we gathered for a gourmet vegetarian dinner cooked by Rebecca, a local chef and magic-maker. I could definitely get used to this. And anyone who thinks vegetarian means boring or tasteless needs a forkful of Rebecca's fabulous ratatouille - a miracle of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, and - swear to God - poached eggs. It's a concoction to dream about.
Needless to say, it was hard to leave, although I was starting to miss everyone back home. Sadly, my culture shock at having to actually do chores was nothing compared to discovering when I got back on Sunday that our sweet old German shepherd, Moses, had passed away the day before.
Rick had waited until I got in to tell me because he didn't want me to drive upset and grieving, a good move, I think. Moses, who was 12 1/2 (ancient for a shepherd), had been fine on Friday - spent the evening outside with the other dogs playing, then snoozing on the grass. On Saturday morning, though, Rick could see he was ailing - he was not interested in getting up or eating, although he did not seem to be in pain and drank some water. Rick had to go out for a little while, and when he got back, Moses was gone. We spent Sunday digging his grave under the pine trees near our greyhound Holly, and we buried him with his favorite yellow ball and dog blanket.
Moses was something of an insider in the literary world, although he was terribly discreet and never gossiped about the writers he'd known. He had belonged to Priscilla Hodgkins, the former associate director of the Bennington Writing Seminars, and many of Bennington's MFA alums remember him fondly. When Cilla moved two years ago, she was unable to take Moses with her, and he came to live with Rick and me on our farm.
He was a joy. An enormous joy, literally - he weighed over 100 pounds, and had paws the size of tennis racquets and a tail that could sweep off a coffee table with one wag. One of my friends called him "courtly and gentle," and that really captures him - sweet, dignified, and kind. He got deafer and more arthritic over the two years he lived with us, but he never lost his dignity or his lovely, loving nature.
Certainly it is a mercy that he went so peacefully and quickly and didn't suffer, but we will miss him. And anyone who thinks dogs don't have souls never met Moses.
Sweet are the uses of adversity
--Shakespeare, As You Like It
No, "Fear Factor" is not a television show, but a mantra of our times. Politics thrive on fear. We fear for our lives, our freedom, our health, our earth's health, our happiness... A recent study showed antidepressants are the most popular drug in the U.S. This is alarming and not surprising and dims our future light a bit, don't you think? Something perceptually shifts beneath our feet. Joshua Clover, as so many others, pokes at our “blindered view of the future,” so, shall we, consider philosophy's idea that our existence belongs to those who respond with angst? Heather McHugh, Thomas Lux, Michael Ryan and others have written about angst and authenticity, perhaps a more familiar breeding ground for poets, theoretical physicists and artists. At Sarah Lawrence College I remember the stories: Plath's empowerment with her angst and anger with her own subconscious; John Berryman being too drunk to speak, yet suddenly "sober" on stage when ready to read; Theodore Roethke's battle with depression, a pair of pants found under the books and papers on his desk, etc., etc., and etc. The Urban Dictionary tells us angst is a brooding "transcendent emotion " and "An 'Angst Culture' is also rising in the Scandinavia, where more and more people become 'Angst.' " Transcendent, transgressive? Personal angst (health failing, grief, loss of financial ability to survive, etc.) , collective angst (war, environmental destruction, social/cultural pressures...) has come together in language, language alive in an urgent need to move, to translate. James Wright told us he "wasted" his life; Sharon Olds knew the sorrow of family, the soul like a tiny hotel soap slipped between her ribs; Sappho's love shook her heart, " Without warning / as a whirlwind / swoops on an oak" ; Lorca's duende called forth "black sounds," brute beauty, the "phosphorescent green anemones" of the soul, the "crushed grass" beneath our feet. Somehow, these days, can it seem our angst is less existential, less forgivable? A. Alvarez's old book, Savage God, "The Art of Suicide" echoes Ophelia's "I was the more deceiv'd" and Hopkin's "But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me/ Thy wring-world right foot rock?", and all that comes with the risk of being alive amidst adversity, real and imagined.
"Bear those ills we have" (Hamlet) with discourse's energy? With imagination's energy? (see Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare 1781 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightmare) For the sake of this blog, I'd like to bring forth just a few poets who recently speak to us on this subject, who come into view from the subtext-mind: poets Cathy Colman, Amy Newlove Schroeder, Marcia Cohee, Lucie Brock-Broido, Lucia Perillo, Sholeh Wolpe, and Floyd Skloot are, like Virginia Woolf, "writing to a rhythm" that begins in the distressed mind and body.
Pain and anxiety wrangle in the same bed of "otherness." Poet and translator Sholeh Wolpe (The Scar Saloon & Rooftops of Tehran, Red Hen Press, 2004 & 2008; Sin, Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhazad, University of Arkansas Press, 2007) foreground-feels Lorca's idea of the duende, ignites simultaneity between sorrow and joy, and enters the body of alienation in order to speak and be heard:
But mark this— I do not belong anywhere.
I have an accent in every language I speak.
Cathy Colman's first book, Borrowed Dress, which won the Felix Pollak Prize, chosen by Mark Doty, gave us unexpected beauty within the myriad contexts of insight and philosophy, art and personal intimacy. Her fabulous forthcoming second book, Beauty's Tattoo (Tebot Bach, 2009) includes some poems that view illness which creates an exiled "other" self . The first poem, "Half-Life: Postcard To Atom," opens the metaphorical trap door, not to the basement or attic, but to the sky:
I’ll tell you what I’ve inherited: years that go in both directions./
There is no salt divinity here, no rain.
All night I dream of a new body.
not next to me, but my own.
The by-product of this struggle is a profound eloquence. Colman addresses this by telling us we are our own rescuers in her poem "Letter To A Stranger" :
and you’re calling to yourself
before you die of exposure, “Over here,”
just over this bridge’s sudden amnesia,
“I’m over here.”
Another wonderful Californian poet, Amy Newlove Schroeder,(the new 2009 Field Prize winner with her book Sleep Hotel) like Cathy Colman, takes personal angst as the fractured self to task by bringing it into the universal realm of what makes us authentic. Here's a seized moment that comes from darkness, what Randall Jarrell called, "darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness./ And we call it wisdom. It is pain."
Stolen from the Night Factory
nights were the worst—
I was not hollowed out—I was belled
gazing out the window at the empty branches of the imago tree
my brain a rising sun over a blasted horizon
the steel-wool conviction of it
interrupted capital, interrupted stream—a dam in my mind
all closed, all fired, all friendless and stupefied
not even the covered wagon of days to come—
I want to end with Lucie Brock-Broido's poem-excerpt, "How Can It Be I Am No Longer I" which energizes what is lost by what is found:
I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling
Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned.
That I would be--- ... fanatic against
Let us bliss-back into ourselves through language. Let us be fanatic in our writing, against all things vanishing!
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.