Won't you join us?
Crawford. Oh my, what a delightful
foray into high camp, which I now understood, at the age of my Saturn Return,
full of education and experience, at my first professional job. Joan, interviewed
late in life, answering questions with gusto, swearing, grinding out her
cigarettes in an ashtray like the pugnacious broad that she was. Drunk and
sentimental, she reminisced about the one that got away, Clark Gable. So sad!
So sad that she could never keep a man!
So delicious was this silly, freaky book; better yet were the dead-serious
marginalia written by some earnest follower of Joan’s life and career. Mommie Dearest, the movie version starring
Faye Dunaway, had been released: “No wire hangers!” we shouted at each other. The
people I worked with understood the camp value of Joan: we loved Conversations with Crawford; we took
turns describing the awful late-career movies we rented: Torch Song, Queen Bee, Johnny
Guitar, Female on the Beach. There were other stars we pondered and talked
about: Susan Hayward and Barbara Stanwyck, for instance, but nothing at all
could ever match Conversations with
Crawford, or those bizarre films. What an odd coincidence it was to find
out that our head librarian was the daughter of Jean Rouverol, who had written
the script for Autumn Leaves, where
the very masculine late Joan has an affair with a boyish and dangerous Cliff
At my Saturn Return, I went to an astrologer. It was accurate,
all of it, including how I would have trouble finding love, that the placement
of Venus meant that I would have trouble with my femininity. I would have to
learn to be more feminine, as in receptive
and yielding and related. What sounded like horrible language to the equality-minded
part of me (and probably to you, reading it) sounded true to the side of me that
shared a birthday with Joan Crawford: it’s a lonely future you face when you
find out that you can be castrating and critical, when you can clearly envision living life as a lonely drunk, or in some
version of Whatever Happened to Baby
Jane, or when your perfectionism starts to drive you crazy, and when I looked
into the abyss, this was the person who stared back at me.
I could define who I am in a completely different way, using other famous figures whose lives influenced mine, along with a better list of books and films that shaped my life. That list would flatter me, of course. It’s suspect and embarrassing, yet also true, that I did make life decisions based on Joan’s cautionary tale, and this happened because I discovered that I shared a birthday with her. I contemplated Joan Crawford’s example up to the time of my first Saturn Return, ages 28-30. At a Saturn Return we have to face ourselves and change what needs to be changed, or we risk staying in stasis, or moving backwards and making things worse. When I reached that age I felt compelled to change because I didn’t want to end up, like Joan, with the cleanest kitchen but the loneliest heart.
-- Stephanie Brown
A poem by Gary Lawless:
Treat each bear as the last bear.
Each wolf the last, each caribou.
Each track the last track.
Gone spoor, gone scat.
There are no more deertrails,
no more flyways.
Treat each animal as sacred,
each minute our last.
Ghost hooves. Ghost skulls.
Death rattles and
Each bear walking alone
in warm night air
For the past two months, I've been spending a lot of time with a couple of black bears. Lily (left) and her cub Hope are part of a study by the North American Bear Center. A webcam and microphone were placed at the entrance to Lily's den so she could be observed giving birth to and raising her baby. And observed she has been, with over 90,000 fans on Facebook and more tuning in on the NABC website and on Wildearth TV.
The study is being conducted by biologists Dr. Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield and is part of a larger, years-long study of black bears in general. It is one of the only truly scientific studies ever done on black bears, and Dr. Rogers' explicit goal is to replace much of our misconceptions about bears with scientific facts and data.
Mommie Dearest was
a shocking story of a drunk, a harridan who punished others for her personal dissatisfactions. As I recall there were debates about its
veracity; Joan had her defenders and loyalists and her detractors. It seemed
true and believable to me. In my late teens and early twenties my friends and I
started to read about astrology in things like Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. We would read those canned descriptions
of the sun sign and its attributes and of the famous people who shared one’s
sign — my friends shared theirs with, say, Grace Kelly or Gloria Steinem, while
I was left with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Doris Day: Aries women,
described as childish, masculine, and bossy. Even worse, I found out that I shared
my exact birthday, March 23, with the now infamous Mommie Dearest.
Our shared birthday became a joke and a
ribbing and a dig among my friends. We took up an interest in Joan and her
weirdness. Over time we read Joan
Crawford: A Biography; we read Joan
Crawford: The Ultimate Star; we perused Joan
Crawford: Jazz Baby, The Films of Joan Crawford, Crawford’s Men. I discovered
that she had camp value, as did Bette Davis (and Doris Day, for that matter). I
didn’t quite understand how to define camp, but wanted to know. I read Bette
Davis’ This ‘n’ That, I read Doris Day: Her
Bette Davis met her match with Gary Merrill in real life and
in All About Eve, but the marriage, I
read, did not last, nor did Joan’s love affair with Clark Gable. I found both
of these men really appealing, so these facts made me sad. I saw that they had
ended their lives alone. This was the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and I was
taking in feminist thought from the world around me, mostly by osmosis, and
making up the rest. Like most Aries women, I was a strong, fearless, and
directed person. I didn’t particularly need feminism, if you will. I also fit
the worst descriptions of an Aries woman. I was oblivious, brash, and selfish.
I was a drinker and a carouser—I had my own campy qualities, but did not
realize it yet. I was able to dominate men in a way that made me hate them for
it and made me miserable. It seemed to me that this was Joan’s problem, too,
along with her anger and her perfectionism.
-- Stephanie Brown
Our favorite photographer, the incomparable Bill Hayward, sends along this photo and reminiscence of Ai, who died last week: From my book of portraits of the collaborative self...Bad Behavior (Rizzoli). She had just the morning before won the National Book Award for her book of poems, Vice. Over and over she said, "I suppose I should be using one of my dark lines but I feel so good today."
Kristen McConnaughey is writing an article about Ai for OSU's Newspaper, The Daily O'Collegian.and would love to hear from Ai's former studets. You can e-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
We don't have a guest blogger this week so we'll be using this space for updates and random news. If there's something you think is worth mentioning, well, that's what the comment field is for. Fire away.
You can listen to David Lehman's Valentine's Day 2010 lecture on Jewish songwriters at Chicago's Spertus Institute here.
Meanwhile, in case you missed these great posts, these links will help you catch up:
Jim Cummins on Karen Finley
Amy Lawless on Nicholson Baker
Jerry Williams on Ai
Terence Winch on St. Patrick.
Brett Eugene Ralph & Kiki Petrosino
The KGB Monday Night Poetry Reading Series
Hosted by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez & Michael Quattrone
Presents . . .
Monday, March 22 @ 7:30 PM
Admission is FREE
85 E. 4th St.
(Between Bowery & 2nd Ave.)
New York, NY 10003
For the complete KGB spring lineup, click here.
Brett Eugene Ralph & Kiki Petrosino
When I was in high school and
college I started seeing work in literary magazines by a woman with this exotic name who wrote what every
other poet seemed too afraid to write—disturbing poems, violent, sexy, unspeakably
moving, grief-stricken, harrowing, cutting, beautiful, and yet the verse seemed skillfully controlled and peaceable. For me, most other poets sat in the back seat
and Ai drove (which is ironic because she never in her life, from what I
understand, possessed a driver’s license).
I sort of mythologized her, and I knew I wanted to be her kind of poet—if
the world would let me be one—fearless. I
know it might sound extreme, but why waste time on flowers when you have
knives? As I learned more about Ai, I
read her many books, felt her influence growing in me. Years and years later, I ended up at
We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that's where I'm floating,
and that's what it's like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?
This poem by Sherman Alexie appeared in Hanging Loose 56 and was reprinted in
The Business of Fancydancing, his
I’ve watched the Children of The Third World
starving on television. I’ve heard the
stand-up comic ask, “why didn’t the cameraman give that kid a fucking
sandwich?” I know all the mothers of America have told their kids: “Clean up
your plate. There are people starving in
India.” When I was young, living on the
reservation, eating potatoes every day of my life, my mother would tell me to
“clean up your plate or your sister will get it.”
A woman writes to a man who used to live here. I write back, pretending I’m the man she’s been searching her whole life for. “Do you still love me,” she writes to ask him, and me.
I do not speak my native tongue. Except that is, for the dirty words. I can tell you what I think of you in two languages.
was the first poem of Sherman’s to appear in Hanging Loose, twenty years ago this spring, when he was still a
student. We had the good sense to ask for more immediately and that quickly led
to a request for a manuscript. The
Business of Fancydancing, his first book, was published in 1992, leading The New York Times Book Review to say
“Mr. Alexie’s is one of the major lyric voices of our time.” Not bad for a first book from a small press,
We’ve published six books of Sherman’s altogether. The newest, Face, is Small Press Distribution’s best seller of the past ten years. Of course, he’s also published an amazing number of story collections, novels and journalism, made movies, entertained countless audiences, and won many awards. I suppose that’s the reason for a question I began hearing a while back: “I guess Sherman has changed a lot over the years, huh?” They don’t mean “I guess Sherman doesn’t live on commodity cheese anymore.” They’re longing for me to say, “Yeah, he’s become a monster of ego, impossible to please.” When I say that’s absolutely not true, the disappointment is palpable.
The other question I hear a lot, from smirking interviewers, is “Say, how did an Indian from out West ever come to publish with a press in Brooklyn?” I’m often tempted to say he was tied to a pony and led into the fort by John Wayne, but I usually just point out that he was a college graduate and so he knew how to put stamps on an envelope.
My favorite recent question came when Sherman made his second appearance on The Colbert Report some weeks ago. Donna Brook and I accompanied him both times. We were waiting for him to show up at the studio when one of the producers walked by. “I remember you,” she said. You’re Sherman’s parents, aren’t you?” Either we’re looking more Indian or Sherman’s looking more Brooklyn or her eyes were closed.
-- Robert Hershon
My feelings just took a turn for the better,
While thinking of white flowers turning into strawberries,
Of clover turning into bees, of crowds of wisteria
Swelling and swelling.
People often think I have a friendly dog but it is just me:
My wide arm-span for folding tablecloths, my feet that seem worn
Not just by me, but many.
I had this feeling once before, when I was walking through rain
And wet leaves in shoes that were red and navy.
Much of me hadn't been tried out, and I liked that.
-- Angela Ball
[from NIGHT CLERK AT THE HOTEL OF BOTH WORLDS, University of Pittsburgh Press]
According to David Fassler, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24. Only accidents and homicide claim more victims in this age group. "Research demonstrates that the majority of people who commit suicide are struggling with untreated depression of other significant psychiatric disorders." But what of those suffering from "treated depression"? What of those whose parents put them on drugs before they reached the age of consent? What of the human guinea pigs on whom psychiatrists experiment with different admixtures of anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, not knowing which combination will work and which may prove lethal? I am not questioning the integrity or good faith of the doctors -- just suggesting that the blind faith we have in chemical science ("meds") is not really justified. They operate in the dark just as artists do.
A doctor with all his instruments
is not as good as common sense.
A starling on the branch of a tree
may know what's best for you and me.
We substitute sound for sense
when we confuse truth with science.
-- Blake Williams
I have been perusing James Schuyler's new book of uncollected poems, Other Flowers, the cover of which sports a wonderful "mirror" photo of the poet by Joe Brainard. Some gorgeous poems here, including one ("Having My Say-So") that Amy Gerstler has chosen for The Best American Poetry 2010.
Tom Clark's blog is always a pleasure to visit, especially when a masterly three-line poem by James Schuyler is paired with a beautiful photo of a red-eyed, orange-bellied, blue-winged starling:
Ah, the Omega, my last day of guest blogging at The Best American Poetry. Thank you, Stacey and David for allowing me to be me here for seven days! I had the time of my life.
I'd like to leave you with a poem my friend Maggie Wells wrote and sent to me while she was living in Paris last year. I understood this poem to be an account of an ex-patriot's observations near Notre Dame de Paris. I post it here with her permission.
We met for Mass at Notre Dame under
the clouds of the French, inside the cold
roll of Le Seine. Our bones needed God. Our
bones had been hitting the bones of others
under the skirt of skin, so many bones
in collision; the soft whisper of God
was the necessary cartilage. The center
of the skeleton is actually
the forehead. Applying Holy Water here,
just in the center, just an index finger
dab, will allow God in.
He will seep in there,
whisper to the skull first. The shoulders will
slump with white swirling air, the gut free
of the fist grabbing at it, kneading it
like Challah. Should the Holy Water drip
to the tip of the nose, you will not breathe God.
God can only breathe you, and he will only
sing to your bones, play them like a harp to match
his perfect pitch. Kneeling was the only choice.
It was the place the body lead us towards,
our eyes avoidant of each others, our chests
always pointing in opposite directions.
The royal blue streaming from our hearts outward
was never intertwined. When it was pale,
it was more fluid. The darkness of the color
has sent the expulsion into a rage.
Kneeling is for God and Sex and speaking
to children. Kneeling is for prayer, for keeping
the body still, allowing the electric
royal blue its force uninterrupted
with gait or saunter.
The ceiling of the church
rained black gold; it stuck in our hair—covered
us like northern snow. There is no reason
to speak under black gold, in this place,
surrounded by the humming glow of candles
in circular dances with the dead
and the living. When the procession comes,
the smell of bodies and sage also arrives.
The smell of flesh under robes, le fleche d'or,
the wetness of it in battle with the smoke
yet in harmony with the booths wherein
humanity pulls off at least one mask
and slaps it against the wall. The smack of mask
can be heard under the choir swells, coming
from nowhere we are allowed. When the church
falls quiet of Earthly noise, a priest sweeps
the stone floor of the masks that were removed,
he does this in private, telling no one
of the sadness he collects.
OK so I don't know about you but I'm sick of being indoors! I know you're all so inspired by my blogs you just want to sit in one place and write poems for the next 72 hours straight, or the next 72 years straight.....but it's a beautiful day today (at least in Brooklyn). It's going to be 72 degrees today in New York. I myself am still in sickbay, slowly getting better from a bad bronchitis that tends to plague asthmatic poets with higher than average intelligence/looks. I'll pull through. I always do. Carry on world, carry on world. I'll be right beside you.
Firstly, here's a lovely poem by Alex Smith.
The story of Nietzsche and the horse—
That Fred was walking down the street
When he saw a man brutally beating his mount,
So he walked up, pushed the man away and then, having stopped the abuse,
Turned to the horse, wrapped his arms around its neck, and began to cry—
Is often told as the tale of a man finally losing his mind to late-stage syphilis.
But anyone who has ever known a horse knows that Fred was not a madman,
But a man of exceptional sanity.
Lucky Numbers: 00291 510805 22555
I'm really looking forward to the release of this:
Against Religion is a collection of Lovecraft’s writing (from letters mainly) about religion. This is what Sporting Gentlemen, the publishers, wrote about Lovecraft:
Against Religion contains the major writings on religion, materialism, and spirituality by master horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Including an introduction and notes by celebrated Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi and a foreword by noted atheist and writer Christopher Hitchens, this essential editions brings a new voice to the religious debate, and Lovecraft’s clairvoyant writing on the topic is as prescient today as it was during his lifetime. H.P. Lovecraft is the author of numerous weird tales, among them The Call of Cthulhu. His recent inclusion in the Library of America marks his unique contribution to the horror genre, and his continuing influence on writers in all genres today. S.T. Joshi is the author of H.P. Lovecrtaft: A Life, and the leading scholar and editor of Lovecraft’s work. Christopher Hitchens is the New York Times bestselling author of God Is Not Great, and editor of The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever.
It should be out next week—and here is a link to where it is on sale now at Lulu:
3. Here is an awesome poem by Angela Veronica Wong. I'm always a fan of Veronica's work, especially her narratives! She is the author of two chapbooks, All the Little Red Girls on Flying Guillotine Press and to know this on Cy Gist Press.
boys in uniform
ironing is my least favorite household chore
and i am not particularly good at it. my mother
says men are better at ironing—something
about having more muscle. it is christmas
else’s children. living alone is bizarre; for dinner
i had a potato and a handful of dark chocolate
chips. yesterday i had cherries and oatmeal.
his shirts out to be pressed. i can’t bring myself
4. Here's a link to a new cool poetry blog. Lots of energy and talent and passion on thethe poetry blog.
OK see you tomorrow. Hint, tomorrow is my last day of guest blogging, so make a cake or at least cookies!
I am currently in San Francisco, where the San Francisco Ballet is preparing the premiere of my ballet The Little Mermaid. Today was my first rehearsal with the orchestra and tomorrow will be the first rehearsal with the dancers and the orchestra.
The ballet was originally written for and commissioned by the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen for the anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen and opening of their new opera theater in 2005 (this ballet was the first ballet production done in this new theater).
The following year the Hamburg Ballet commissioned me a revised version of this work, premiered in 2007 and since then it became part of their repertoire. The last performance of the San Francisco ballet on March 28th will mark the 70th performance of this ballet world-wide since its original creation in 2005.
When John Neumeier sent me the first draft of the libretto in 2004 he added in the letter, which accompanied it, that I should use this libretto very freely -- as a source for inspiration and as a suggestion for the structure -- so that in return the music could inspire the choreography and vice-versa. During the work on the ballet we met many times in New York, Hamburg, Baden-Baden and Copenhagen - and sometimes talked for hours on the telephone, an ocean across from each other, so there was always a mental link between us. Yet we also spent long stretches of time working separately and sometimes our visions of the Mermaid and her world would slightly depart from each other and it would take some effort to adjust each other's perspective. In some ways it is like two parents raising a child, or raising a Mermaid in this case. In fact the work went through so much transformation, as we went along, that the original libretto that I received from John bares little resemblance to the final work.
Neither the music nor the choreography of The Little Mermaid suggests the Danish culture of Andersen's time as this would not only be false but it would artificially cage him into a time which he has outgrown. At the same time, it was very important for me, in order to understand Andersen, to gather as much information about Danish culture and his life as I could. John Neumeier and I even studied the score written for one of the Andersen plays called "Agnete og Havmanden" (Agnete und der Meermann) with the music of Neils Gade, which was staged (to complete fiasco) shortly before Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid.
One of the peculiar qualities of writing theater music is that you need to find a balance between achieving what you intend to create artistically and make it work organically together with the dramatic requirements of the theater. If music becomes a servant of the dance as has happened with many 19th century ballets then there is a big problem. The other difficulty is the length. With The Little Mermaid we have three full acts, and to sustain the best quality within the span of an almost three-hour-long production, where the overall architecture needs to hold the structure together, was my highest priority and a challenge.
In some ways our Little Mermaid is a very intimate work. It is about personal transformation and about relationship between a creator (Andersen) and his creation (Mermaid). A lot of the material is written as chamber music. Yet, it is also a larger than life story of love, death, personal identity, time and timelessness. It deals in three levels - under the ocean (Mermaid's world), on earth (human world) and above earth (after-world), and for this the large canvas - full orchestra is needed. Just the ocean with its multiple depths, layers, colors, shifting movements requires a large mural and a full pallet to work with.
In Andersen's tale Mermaid has a most beautiful haunting voice. I was searching for a very special sound. I even thought of using a singer, but it did not feel right as it was too real, too hot-bloodedly human. I needed the voice from the dreams, haunting, fragile and powerful at the same time, strange and expressive. Mermaids in different world's tales can lure the sailors and cause ship-racks, because when men would hear their singing time itself would stop to listen and one could completely loose oneself and die for their magical voices. I found the timbre I was searching for in the sound of the Theremin, the very first electronic instrument, created in the 1920’s by Leo Theremin. The instrument is incredibly expressive – think of a mixture between cello and flute to have an idea of its sound. Also, there is something very mysterious in this instrument, as it is played by moving hands in the air, no strings attached, no keyboards. The instrument itself is an electromagnetic field, created by its antenna. There is something magical about creating the sounds from emptiness. The instrument also is an outsider of the standard orchestra just like Little Mermaid is an outsider of her surroundings, and to represent a creature who becomes a spirit of air – the theremin seemed most appropriate. For Mermaid’s human nature – I have chosen a solo violin. Thus, there is a duality between the solo violin and theremin, representing the dual nature of this chimera. The ballet’s orchestration is for the full symphony orchestra and is highly multilayered, presenting different levels, similar to the ocean’s complex co-existence of different worlds.
With all due deference to Mr. Bill Maher, I present some "New Rules"..."Trippers and askers surround me,
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait."
From Song of Myself, from Leaves of Grass, Walt WhitmanNew Rule 1: Read more Walt Whitman. This section above was read idly on a busy New York morning, did a fair bit of calming my own nerves. I am so scared about what's happening in our country and abroad. Not on a moment to moment basis, from wars, to having a scandalous governor, it's important to remind yourself "But they are not the Me myself." How does that apply to you? Well, the events of the day are not the same as you. One must continue breathing in and out, in and out, aware, awed, displeased. But throughout all of this chaos, I am still me, I still bear witness to the day. The universe is one - don't get swept down to the letter, down to the level of paralysis: this isn't a game of Freeze Tag.
New Rule 2: No more films about poets anymore! Unless they're good. I napped so deeply through Bright Star, I wondered if I should start marketing it for insomniacs. Sure, the performances were good. Sure the costumes were superb, as was the cinematography.... but the story [as written and performed by this cast and crew] didn't transform into one worthy of film. Maybe you liked it. I felt it was a typical young love story aside from Keats' genius, which was barely a piece of glitter upon my nap. I felt Keats' character arrogant and he seemed to care so little, while Fanny's devotion and infatuation bordered on the manic. Keats' BFF Charles Armitage Brown, played superbly by Paul Schneider. He is the only one who actually got suitably upset about the whole stinking chain of events. Again and again he barked "I killed John Keats." If I had been in the room wearing my Martha Washington bonnet, I would have tapped his shoulder lightly with my hand and whispered "No honey, it was the tuberculosis!" But I shan't say more since as I mentioned, I slept right through the thing.
New Rule 3: If you haven't watched this Youtube Video, please do. I don't know anything about it, but it's pretty special.
Yours despite the fact that I'm having an Andy-Rooney-ish type day,
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.