Have a lovely holiday!
to pick up a few books for your holiday gifts. Won't you consider books by the fabulous guest bloggers we've hosted over the past year? Or the books they've recommended? Or the books by our wonderful roster of correspondents? And I'll make a special pitch for David Lehman's latest, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters American Songs, and Yeshiva Boys. Remember, many of the songs you'll be singing this week were written by the songwriters profiled in A Fine Romance. How about that!
ps. And The Best American Poetry 2009 makes a fine gift too!
|A Christmas Carol|
|by George Wither|
So now is come our joyful feast,
For some A Christmas Carol, (Alistair Sim’s version please) is the definitive Christmas film. For others It’s A Wonderful Life holds the honor of best film to watch during the holidays. “Marry Christmas Bedford Falls! Marry Christmas, Mr. Potter!” James Stewart bellows returning from a parallel, yet horrible, reality to face charges for bank fraud in “the real world,” whatever the hell that is. Both have the Christmas spirit for sure. But for me the films to watch at Christmas all star Barbara Stanwyck.
First there is the not very well known Remember the Night (left). Fred MacMurray and Stanwyck star in Preston Sturges’ screenplay. (No, they don’t plot the murder of her husband, though Stanwyck does play a shoplifter.) In the interest of transparency I should mention it’s a romance, the protagonists meet cute, overcome obstacles, fall in love, observe traditional male and female roles (and I mean traditional for 1940) and live in an America that may have only existed in the mind of Preston Sturges and his contemporaries in Black and White Hollywood, USA. Oh yeah, transparency. I should reveal that in the singular nature of my love life, I'm not extraordinary nor remarkable. I’m single and stand alone. And my proclivity to indulge in sentimental notions around Christmas makes my opinion not only biased but most likely hooey, as they used to say in 1940.As hokey as some of the sentiment is, and as obvious as the plot line of a shoplifter bailed out and brought home to Wabash, Indiana by a prosecutor for a heartwarming Christmas is, the film knocks me for a loop every time. The key and the heart of the film is Stanwyck. MacMurray’s family is seen through her eyes, and their homespun values melt her cynicism in moments that pierce what passes for my veneer of sophistication. Perhaps the fact that I’m approaching the age of fifty-five and have little to show from my love life but a collection of snapshots, cards and memories that linger but do not nourish should disqualify me in the holiday movie round up. Or could it be that that same status should make me Chairman of the Christmas movie board? For the purposes of this blog let’s hope it’s the latter. The two other films to look for are Christmas in Connecticut and Meet John Doe. Though the latter is not set at Christmas its climax takes place on Christmas Eve and that’s close enough for me. In Christmas in Connecticut (right) Stanwyck plays a columnist that has created a fantasy world of a farm in the country, a loving husband and a handle on domestic details that surpasses anything Martha Stewart ever cooked up. When asked to take in a wounded Vet for Christmas by her publisher she attempts to con them both but ends up falling for the Vet, played by Dennis Morgan. The look in her eyes as she gives herself over to her longing is spectacular. But her speech at the end of Meet John Doe, a wonderful Frank Capra film, where she begs Gary Cooper not to jump from roof of the City Hall, is the topper of them all. She’s suckered Gary Cooper into playing ‘John Doe’ so that her ruse of writing a John Doe column for a powerful paper won’t be uncovered. Cooper plays along at first but when he realizes he’s been a stooge for a power hungry Nazi-like bad guy, Edward Arnold, he tries to reveal the scam but is thwarted in his attempt to do so. Abandoned by all those he’s touched across the country he decides to keep John Doe’s promise to throw himself from the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve to protest man’s inhumanity to man. What he doesn’t know is that Stanwyck, Arnold and his cronies, and some loyal supporters are there waiting for him. Sick with the flu, and desperate to stop the suicide Stanwyck throws herself into his arms and begs him not do to it. The depth of her plea is staggering and when she calls him “Darling” I fall to pieces every time. In short: If Barbara Stanwyck’s character from any of these films walked into my life I’d sweep her off her Black and White feet and never give the bright and shiny world a second glance. I’ll be home and alone for Christmas this year but Barbara Stanwyck, with a little help from her friends, will give me hope. And that’s gift enough for me. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
In the old days -- that is, in ancient Greece -- the male citizens of Athens used to gather each year in the amphitheater and, together, recite the Iliad from memory. Poetry was really popular! Well, it's still popular, relatively speaking, as I will now show.
In this video Venezuelan actress Mercedes Brito tells what coming to Hollywood from Caracas has taught her. There are a number of interesting things about Mercedes Brito. First, she's absolutely bilingual, which I always find kind of spooky. Second, she has 250,000 Facebook followers, and whenever she posts anything on her Facebook page at least a thousand people immediately comment on it. So take it away, Mercedes Brito ---->>>
Mercedes Brito is huge, right? Well, not so fast. Most of her fans are probably Venezuelans -- and as Mercedes Brito herself admits, America is a whole new ballgame. That's why, when Mercedes Brito goes against Jorie Graham in a Youtube faceoff, Jorie Graham kicks her ass ----->>>
Yes, at the time of this writing Jorie is beating Mercedes by a score of 2700 views to 640. So I hope I've restored your faith in the public's taste. But let's not get carried away. To provide a bit of perspective, here once again is the all-time most popular kitten video, with 14,000,000 views and counting --->>>
This week we welcome actor, poet, and songwriter Michael O'Keefe as our guest blogger. As an actor, O'Keefe has garnered both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. He's appeared in the films Michael Clayton, Frozen River, The Pledge, Ironweed, The Great Santini and Caddyshack. Television audiences will remember him as "Fred" on Roseanne. Other TV appearances also include The West Wing, Law and Order, House M.D., The Closer, and Brothers and Sisters. He's appeared on Broadway in Reckless, Side Man,The Fifth of July, and Mass Appeal, for which he received a Theater World Award. As a writer his lyrics were in the Grammy winning song, Longing in their Hearts, which was composed and sung by Bonnie Raitt. He's also written with Irish singer songwriter Paul Brady and numerous other composers. His writing has appeared in BOMB, Lake Affect and Chaparral. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College. Michael O'Keefe's new book of poems is Swimming from Under My Father (Noble Swine Press, 2009). Find out more about Michael here.
In Other News . . .
Jessica Piazza has agreed to spend more time with us as she wraps up her road trip.
Thanks, Jessica and welcome, Michael.
Yesterday, my lovely friend Meaghan took me (along with our friends Bree and Adrian) to the most remarkable place. It’s called “the Cathedral of Junk,” and it lives in a backyard in South Austin.
I can’t explain it. I have pictures, which I’ll post below. If you want to read about it, you can go here: Cathedral of Junk article.
However—while this spectacle is unique, perfectly representative of Austin and, yes, dumbfounding—the reason I’m posting about it here is because it reminded me a little of my last post about where artists get their material. That post, of course, discussed personal material as inspiration.
This one will be about junk.
Or, as some people call it, “found” material. As poets, so many of us use other people’s words while creating our own pieces. Whether beginning with an epigram or including a line from a book, movie, or bit of conversation we overhear into our work, whether using other writers’ lines in a cento or, like some more experimental poets, simply transcribing some other linguistic piece (I’m thinking Ken Goldsmith’s project of transcribing the New York Times, and other such endeavors), “found language” is so common in poetry that I don’t even really think about it much.
But it’s hard not to, sometimes. Poetry has a dismally small audience (I’ve mentioned this before, yes) and sometimes it’s hard to remember that we intend our poems as conversations…with other poems, at the very least, since what came before us informs what we do. But more than that, most of the poets I know are trying to speak not only about, but with, the world around them, asking readers to see everyday things as extraordinary. The fact that some of those everyday things are actual bits of language the people themselves produce, well, that’s a sort of a gift, isn’t it? Here—the act of creating this way seems to say—here’s something you’ve said on the subway, or that exists on your bookshelf, or in a pamphlet, or on a bathroom wall or a graffiti-scrawled train car—here, let me show you how cool it is. Everything, anything, can be wonderful.
That seems to me to be the project of the Cathedral of Junk. It’s a pretty fantastic one, actually. But if you read that article I’ve linked to, you’ll see that neighbors complain. The city tries to shut it down. It’s basically a mess, right, but that doesn’t stop people from coming, climbing, loving, being utterly awed by it. How very, very cool.
Pictures follow. But, your question! Which, today, is only partially a question:
Have you tried to work with found language? Maybe you’ll post a little of it here, in these comments, for us to read?
-- Lyn Hejinian
-- Patricia Carlin
The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east: we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
Meanwhile we did your nightly chores,--
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold's pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.
Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro
Crossed and recrossed the wingèd snow:
And ere the early bed-time came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
As night drew on, and, from the crest
Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,
The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank
From sight beneath the smothering bank,
We piled, with care, our nightly stack
Of wood against the chimney-back,--
The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom;
While radiant with a mimic flame
Outside the sparkling drift became,
And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree
Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free.
The crane and pendent trammels showed,
The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed;
While childish fancy, prompt to tell
The meaning of the miracle,
Whispered the old rhyme: "Under the tree,
When fire outdoors burns merrily,
There the witches are making tea."
The moon above the eastern wood
Shone at its full; the hill-range stood
Transfigured in the silver flood,
Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
Took shadow, or the somber green
Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
Against the whiteness at their back.
For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where'er it fell
To make the coldness visible.
In twenty years I’ll write your poem
In twenty years: how can I wait
made of the moment’s trash
I lie down on the floor like a man wiped out.
It’s dark, a night without stars, I’m completely empty.
Crawling through the wreckage, I come closer.
Because he is someone else. The discovery
Has the rose of the people lost its petals
Closer, and a light. Closer, and paintings,
Suddenly the beard stops growing. Telegrams
Now I know we’ve been cut off cold.
But your powerful shade casts off and moves on.
— Carlos Drummond de Andrade (from A Rosa do Povo, 1945)
<< In the raw data of a census, you can see who lived next door to whom, their households with grandchildren, lodgers, slaves; how they are marked as illiterate, what language their parents spoke, how they lived in close density to one another in a Northeastern city, or were among the very few people in a town, named for an animal, on a prairie. The Statistical Abstract of the United States is an historical compilation of census data. In its tables you can see the large trends in our society over time--how people marry or don't, what they die from, how they go to school. We are all something like and unlike the societal changes that we see in statistics. Here is our history.>>
Stephanie Brown, whose poems have appeared in BAP and on this site, and who recently offered an astrological reading of Grace Kelly's career, comments on her poems (such as "The Census: 2010") in the new Ploughshares. Take a look!
Josh and I got into our first heated debate of the trip today. Not a fight—since it was approached in a largely intellectual manner—but certainly it was a passionate discussion containing several points on which we vehemently disagreed.
Here’s how the story goes:
We left Marfa behind us (sadly, determined to get back there someday, and soon), and began the seven(ish)-hour drive to Austin. Josh and I love each other dearly and find each other infinitely fascinating, but after four days of nonstop togetherness we were definitely ready for a conversational lull. Today, we spent much of the drive listening to podcasts of NPR’s This American Life. (Which are so damn good, by the way, so if you ever have a long car or plane trip, think about downloading some. Yay Ira Glass!)
Somewhere around the time the landscape transformed from desolate desert and mountain to a greener, hillier central Texas, we were between podcasts and Josh brought up an interesting point. “You love This American Life because of the stories,” he said. “But your poetry isn’t particularly narrative.” And thus started our long, meandering conversation about the nature of storytelling in poetry.
And This American Life actually fed into it all perfectly. On one episode, we learn about a 52-year-old man (Jerry) who’s exhaustively listed his every daily activity since he was 10-years-old. From the interview, it seemed likely that he was autistic, or in some way challenged, but that wasn’t the focus of the piece. After detailing how his friends and family thought the lists were insane, how they mocked him and/or tried to talk him out of doing it, the reporter eventually wrapped it up with his own opinion, which was that Jerry did it so he could feel like he’s done something with his life. In other words, it was his way of telling his life story.
I met Lisa Vihos when David and I visited Lakeland College in Wisconsin last October. We were in a workshop together and I loved her poems. Later we talked about food and cooking and I was thrilled when she agreed to contribute a recipe. Lisa's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Free Verse, Lakefire, Wisconson People and Ideas, Seems, and Big Muddy. She loves to cook for family and friends (see how happy she is in the photo above, with her sister and dad?). Lisa maintains a weekly poetry blog here. And here's what she has to say about this week's recipe for spinach pie:
It helps immensely to properly follow the thawing instructions as written on the box. Take it out of the freezer two hours before you will use it, just like it says. Do not try putting the phyllo in direct sunlight for a 20-minute speed thaw. Plan ahead!
Have all the ingredients mixed and ready before you open the phyllo package. Don’t be leaving your phyllo exposed to the air while you are melting butter or mixing spinach or anything like that. If you must leave your phyllo unattended to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, or help a child tie a shoe, make sure to cover the sheets with a clean, dry dish towel to protect them from the air.
Work quickly and stay calm. A few sheets may stick together. A few sheets may end up in shreds. No matter. If you keep your wits about you and just keep pushing on, you will end up with a spinach pie. I have made a whole pie from shreds and a few well-placed sheets that kept their shape! Remember, butter is your friend and can be used to glue everything together if need be.
In the making of spinach pie, as in life, there are no mistakes! Only reminders to pay closer attention to detail next time. Be quick, but not sloppy. Mend when mending is required. Do not skimp on butter. Stay calm. Be kind and gentle. Do not tear into fragile things. Share. Spinach pie tastes best when eaten with friends. Yasoo!Lisa’s Yaya’s Spinach Pie
1 lb. package frozen phyllo dough
3 10 oz. packages frozen chopped spinach
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
24 oz.. container small curd cottage cheese (sometimes, I only use ¾ of it and I eat the rest for lunch)
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1.5 sticks of butter, melted (approximately - if anything you will need more)
3 Tbls chopped fresh dill (optional)
Remove phyllo from freezer at least two hours before you will be making your spinach pie and leave it on the kitchen counter to thaw. (Read the instructions on the box. They know what they are talking about! See “A Note About Phyllo” above.) Preheat the oven to 375. Melt 1.5 sticks of butter on low heat and keep it melted but watch so it doesn’t burn.
We’re still in Marfa, though we made a quick zip over to Ft. Davis, which was a great little town. We stopped at a rattlesnake museum. And the fort itself, an old military post from the mid-1800s, was incredible. There was an elderly couple who worked there as volunteers for a few months, hiking and covering the fort museum, while on a cross-country RV journey. (Josh named them Earl and Sherry, because we didn't catch their names but, man, did they totally look like an Earl and Sherry.) Also, there was a really interesting, nice guy named Doug who breeds and trains camels, and brought three of them to the fort for a kid’s event they’d had earlier. I’m in love with camels.
Before the fort, we took the early half of the Chinati Foundation tour, where we saw a bunch of installations of Donald Judd’s art, along with other artists’s work permanently installed in the buildings on the foundation’s property.
Partially because of these great sights, this post will be mostly photographs…but also partially because I’m exhausted and I want to take a nap before we eat dinner. Josh's blog will probably cover some more crucial details eventually, plus is just an interesting read generally.
However, I will say that seeing the art this morning reminded me of a conversation we had over drinks with Tim and Caitlin last night. (Who really are awesome, by the way. We had a great time with them.) Tim’s interested in concrete poems, which are rather out of vogue these days. But some of his poems are political, and concrete or more art-based poems can be interesting, I think, in terms of “poetry as monument.” The artifact of the poem becomes a testimonial the same way a memorial statue or a plaque might. And funny enough, Tim has had plenty of his poems shown at art shows, even when literary journals might not be as responsive.
It’s a question, then,
whether visual artists are simply more open-minded to mixing genres without
re-labeling the work. Because,
sure, we poets often collaborate with artists, but for some reason I feel like
we don’t generally call these collaborations “poems,” where an artist might more
easily call them “artworks.”
It’s a question, then, whether visual artists are simply more open-minded to mixing genres without re-labeling the work. Because, sure, we poets often collaborate with artists, but for some reason I feel like we don’t generally call these collaborations “poems,” where an artist might more easily call them “artworks.”
So, pictures. But first, your question for today:
What’s your favorite piece of writing about art? Or animals? Or forts, for that matter?
And more below....
As the lunch hour drew to the close, we asked Auden what he liked best about New York, and he said Jewish jokes. He asked if we knew any. I said I was from Los Angeles and couldn't really do a good accent, but my aunt from Brooklyn and my father told some good jokes. He laughed at the couple I told him, and then he told one of his favorites. A man from the Upper West Side goes to his psychiatrist. The doctor listens and tells him he is depressed and hostile. The doctor suggests a hobby or a pet, something to bring him out of it. The man says he lives in a small apartment; it would be difficult. The doctor says even a small pet would do. After several weeks, the doctor noted improvement and asked if the man had bought a pet. "Yes," the man said. "What kind?" "Bees," he replied. "Bees?" the doctor said, puzzled. "I thought you said you had a small apartment. Where do you keep them?" "In a cigar box," said the patient. "But how do they breathe?" the doctor asked.
"How do they breathe?" said the patient. "Fuck 'em."
from "Lunching on Olympus" by Steven L. Isenberg [The American Scholar, Winter 2009]
Monday night’s reading marked the concluding Poetry Forum of the semester, and though ordinarily preoccupied with finals, MFA students were strong in number. Mark Doty was no disappointment. His most recent book, Fire to Fire, won the National Book Award in 2008; he has received numerous awards both nationally and abroad. Doty began the evening with poems he considered fitting for writers. One poem surveyed the inevitable interaction between reader and text: in this instance, a previously owned version of Song of Myself, complete with marginal notations. Whitman offers, “What is the grass?” And Doty ponders the question noted by a student: “Isn’t it grass?” In another poem for writers, titled “Pipistrelle” Doty recounts his experience spotting a bat in
Doty’s poem can be found here:
Click here for Bennett’s poem.
Doty discussed his “Theories and Apparitions” from Fire to Fire, confiding in the audience: “I made a theory and a couple of days later I thought, well, that seems incomplete.” He read one such “Theory of Beauty,” in which he invented names for bird cries. Consider these examples of the grackle: “Fire crackers with a break report” and “Imperious impure singing.” Doty’s “Apparitions” are inspired by moments when “poets of the past intrude into the present.” “Apparition (Favorite Poem),” published in The Best American Poetry 2009, is based on a young man’s recitation of a Shelley poem. For the living poet, these lines are chilling: “He makes the poem his own/ even as he becomes a vessel/ for its reluctance to disappear.” This poem inherently questions the value of poetry, moving the reader (listener) to go home and commit her favorite poem to memory. Other apparitions include the likes of John Berryman, Homer, and Darwin.
Doty is inspired not only by other writers, but also by images and found text. One such poem began with a photo in “National Geographic” of a frozen baby mammoth, the first-ever poem from this perspective: “I am still one month old and forty thousand years without my mother.” Magazines are a mine for Doty, and he shared a found poem from “The Iris Catalog,” featuring a menacing flower called the “Anvil of Darkness.” Doty inquired, “Can you imagine growing something called the “Anvil of Darkness?”
Following the reading was an engaging Q & A, which began with ruminations on Wordsworth and Whitman. David Lehman, the moderator and Poetry Coordinator of The New School MFA program, asked if Doty was aligned with Whitman. Doty responded, “Whitman is a tutelary spirit,” and explained the appeal of Whitman’s “warmth of embrace,” as opposed to Wordsworth’s analytical approach, which often forgoes a direct address. In considering the traditions of these great mentors, Doty reflected on his own work: “I want things to be located in particular relationships and periods of time.”
The moderator asked how the word “theory” fit into Doty’s practice. Was it a synonym for poetry? Doty connects theories to observation: “one looks at experience and comes to understanding based on a study of the evidence the world provides.” Comparing theories to apparitions, Doty noted, “We as a species are theory-makers… What is it that contradicts us but an apparition? An apparition confounds a theory.” Doty also considered the haunting moments when an admired poet enters your life: “When you know someone’s work it becomes a lens through which you see your experience — for example, I’m in a John Ashbery poem!”
When asked how he jumpstarts his imagination, Doty discussed his reading preferences: “I read stimulating texts that are not poems, such as art history. I am reading Tiepolo Pink by Roberto Colasso. It just makes me want to sit down and start scribbling a poem. Music can do that. Gardening can do that.” Doty touched upon the different ways in which he approaches prose and poetry, explaining that his poems have a longer life span, or remain in the works for a good deal of time, whereas prose requires his committed concentration. When writing prose Doty does not write poems, but works diligently to complete a draft.
Instead of leaving the audience with an assignment or writing exercise Doty encouraged students to read as artists: “look for what you can appropriate.” The dexterous student might practice such appropriation by turning to the pages of Fire to Fire.
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.