In case you've been away, Mitch Sisskind brings back The Stud Duck . . . David Lehman picks up an ASCAP Deems Taylor award (read the comments for Sammy Davis Jr's tribute verse) . . . and Laura Orem puts on the ole feed bag . . . Jeff Oaks concludes a fantastic week of posts, preceded by Erika Meitner's fantastic week of posts, preceded by Jessica Piazza's frenzied Thanksgiving week posts, preceded by . . . what the hell, just scroll through to catch up on all of our guest bloggers . . . you don't have to be Jewish to love latkes! . . . overcome performance anxiety with sex advice from poets . . . stay alive with Jennifer Michael Hecht . . . and Meet the Press with Nin Andrews. Reading around we like the hover project and Culture for Amateurs, start-up sites by our former Peace Corps volunteer friends Leigh Wells, Rob Shore, and Luke Meinzen (sorry that it took me so long to get to this) . . . Have I forgotten anything? Chime in in the comment field below. Oh yes, The Best American Poetry 2010 makes a great holiday gift, get your copy here.
If you are reading this, you are probably a friend of Dean Young and/or a friend of poetry. And you may have heard that our friend is in a precarious position. Dean needs a heart transplant now. He also needs your assistance now.
Over the past 10 or 15 years, Dean has lived with a degenerative heart condition--congestive heart failure due to idiopathic hypotropic cardiomyopathy. After periods of more-or-less remission, in which his heart was stabilized and improved with the help of medications, the function of his heart has worsened. Now, radically.
Click here for more details.
I didn't like Allen Ginsberg when I first read him. I didn't get why those long lines and weird language was necessary. It wasn't until I read the "wrong" book of his--the book that nobody else seemed to talk about--that I "got" him. Kaddish had me weeping by the end, and I realized there might be other ways to approach poets than the one that people urge you toward. The other realization was that my initial sense of a poet could be completely wrong. I might not be as smart as I think I am. Of course I have had to learn this lesson many times in my life.
I remember Carl Phillips' work was once so impossible for me to read that I perceived it almost as garble. I turned away from it toward the other thousand poets whose lines were clearer. But his name refused to go away, and it became clear that I had to deal with his work somehow, so I did what I often do: I assigned a book of his for discussion to a class. That would force me, I thought, to come up with a way to read it. I took out the line breaks so I could "simply" read the narrative or argument. Then I tried to put them back in without looking at the original poem. That little useful exercise taught me an enormous amount about the relationship between the sentence and the line. What had seemed like a simple relationship was suddenly changed into a much more sensual one, in which music and sense constantly dance around each other.
Similarly students often say they can't make heads or tails out of his poems. They can't read them, they say. Having gone through it myself long ago, I love this moment. I get to talk about sentences and sentence structure and how meaning can get interrupted and layered and turned toward music.
"Why didn't anyone teach me this stuff?" they complain at some point.
"Someone did," I say. They sigh. They do remember that someone in high school talked about this stuff.
"So we now have a chance to go back and think about it again. Think of it as an opportunity," I say. "This time let's try to think about sentences like artists."
Then we all begin again to read, this time more patiently:
A Kind of Meadow
by Carl Phillips
by trees at its far ending,
as is the way in moral tales:
whether trees as trees actually,
for their shadow and what
inside of it
hides, threatens, calls to;
or as ever-wavering conscience,
cloaked now, and called Chorus;
or, between these, whatever
falls upon the rippling and measurable,
but none to measure it, thin
fabric of this stands for.
A kind of meadow, and then
trees—many, assembled, a wood
therefore. Through the wood
path, emblematic of Much
Trespass: Halt. Who goes there?
A kind of meadow, where it ends
begin trees, from whose twinning
of late light and the already underway
darkness you were expecting perhaps
the stag to step forward, to make
of its twelve-pointed antlers
the branching foreground to a backdrop
or you wanted the usual
bird to break cover at that angle
at which wings catch entirely
what light’s left,
so that for once the bird isn’t miracle
at all, but the simplicity of patience
and a good hand assembling: first
the thin bones, now in careful
rows the feathers, like fretwork,
now the brush, for the laying-on
of sheen.... As is always the way,
you tell yourself, in
until you have gone there,
and gone there, “into the
field,” vowing Only until
there’s nothing more
I want—thinking it, wrongly,
a thing attainable, any real end
to wanting, and that it is close, and that
it is likely, how will you not
this time catch hold of it: flashing,
flesh at once
lit and lightless, a way
out, the one dappled way, back—
Thanks to Stacey and David for asking me to guest blog this week. It's been a blast.
So she says Princess Leia's pop gave up the ghost.
I said that's a hell of a way to describe Eddie Fisher.
She said I never heard of Eddie Fisher.
Did you know he had a national television show sponsored by Coke?
He was for the spokesman for Coke.
I get it, she said, but what was the big deal?
Well, he could sing. This was back in the early 1950s.
Name one of his songs.
OK. O My Papa.
Never heard of it. Tell me about the scandals.
He left America's sweetheart Debbie Reynolds for America's top femme fatale, Liz Taylor of the violet eyes.
Thaink of it like this: he was Brad Pitt and he left Jennifer Niston for Angelina Jolie.
I get it now, she said.
Say have you noticed that Liz Taylor narrates the Montgomery Clift puff piece on TCM and Paul Newman narrates the one about her? Clubby set.
I heard he also married Connie Stevens. Eddie Fisher, I mean.
Carrie Fisher's Papa?
I hear he wrote two autobiographies about getting laid.
Actually, he sounds like a really fun guy from a different era.
NA: I read that NYQ Books only publishes books by poets who have published in The New York Quarterly magazine. How does that work? Do you solicit manuscripts from these poets after they have published in the journal?
RH: We do not solicit work. We rely on two very simple concepts to select manuscripts. The first is prior acceptance for publication in the magazine. Prior acceptance gives us a good starting point for manuscripts as the editorial vetting is already done, and done at no cost to the author such as in a contest scenario. The second concept is that we also do not accept unsolicited manuscripts—an invitation must be extended. The invitation gives us a modicum of control over how many books we consider at any given time, and most importantly it allows us to better coordinate the books we are looking for which keeps the press as eclectic as the magazine. The vetting and the invitation process allow us a starting point of already knowing the author and their work.
NA: Do you then solicit poets to submit to the New York Quarterly? Or are you, as I would imagine, already overwhelmed with submissions?
RH: We work very hard to keep the selection of poems for the magazine to just that, the poem for the poem’s sake for the sake of the magazine. The way that a poet begins to get noticed for inclusion in the books is when we start accepting repeated submissions from them, then we say to ourselves, maybe we should just do a book of their work. I have found so far that having the books for that added venue is a very nice option because some people I just want to publish more of their work than publication in the magazine will allow.
NA: I also have read that the NYQ Books is a new press. How long has NYQ Books been in existence? Why was the press started? What were some of the first books you published?
RH: The concept of NYQ Books has been around since the magazine began in 1969. It was something that the founding editor, William Packard, told me was always a dream of his. Then after his death, we found several proposals for an NYQ Books in the records that had been drafted by him. The name, NYQ Books, comes from Bill. After much research and consideration and dreaming on my own part, we began the press June of 2009 in celebration of NYQ’s 40th anniversary.
We made the decision to start the press in order to provide a venue for book publication for many of our poets who have been overlooked by the more mainstream presses. We put these books into publication right alongside more established poets and are not concerned about sales statistics. To accomplish this goal, we began our idea with two basic premises.
The first premise was to say to ourselves, “Poetry doesn’t sell.” And while this statement sounds self-defeating and is open to all sorts of debate and sounds like a cry of desperate mediocrity, there is an element of truth to it which immediately removes any grand expectations that we will sell thousands of copies of each book we publish. By removing this expectation, we can publish and keep in print books that don’t immediately sell right alongside books that do, and we are hoping that eventually the press will work as a single organism, some books supporting the others—but keeping all in print.
The second premise which dovetails with the first is to publish what we want and what fits the scheme of the press as a whole, to base our decisions on the poetry itself and eclecticism of the press rather than on how well we think a book will sell or what book won a contest.
Many of the principles of the press, such as not worrying about the sales potential, reducing the overhead and risk, and maintaining the books in print have been made possible by print on demand technology which was not available in Bill’s time. As well, print on demand is more eco-friendly.
NA: What kinds of books are you most interested in reading and publishing?
RH: The goal of the magazine has always been to present anything, any style, any school, any genre of poetry to our readers—to never limit what we consider or present. And so it is with the press. I am very pleased that we have what I would consider academic type poets right alongside poets such as the experimental poet Richard Kostelanetz or a cab driver or a high school teacher. We are looking to mix it up and be known for our eclecticism. I don’t want to be known for any particular style of poetry. I want readers to identify with the NYQ Books brand when they read something from a poet that they liked, and will then turn around because of that brand and try something else, something new.
NA: How many books do you publish each year?
RH: With the publication of Adam Hughes’ Petrichor on December 1, 2010, we will have 28 books in print. That is 28 books in the 18 months since June 1, 2009—I am very proud of that fact. Our plan was to produce as many books as we possibly could right up front—to “front load” the program, to allow books to build off of the others and establish a broad, eclectic base. We need to slow that number down at this point, and I am thinking right now that we will probably settle, speaking practically, into a number like 14 a year—but we probably will not stick to that too closely since there are so many books we want to publish, given the funding and the time.
NA: What are some of the proudest moments for the press so far? Could you provide some links to reviews, blogs, awards, etc. featuring NYQ Books.
RH: It sounds hokey, I know, but the proudest moment for me personally was when that first book proof was delivered. And I am privileged to relive that experience with each and every book that we produce. To hold it, smell it, read it cover to cover after putting it together is truly something amazing. Every book is that special to me, because each one is unique and can only do what it does in the world for the word. That is what this is all about, putting the work of poets into the hands of readers. I am also very proud of maintaining the same eclecticism as we have in the magazine. I am also rather proud of the website, which I built myself. It is simple and clean and touts an author section where each author can log in and find their sales and royalties for the previous months. The authors can update information about readings, and we also have “Reviews and News” where there are links to all things pertinent to a book including awards and reviews.
NA: It’s always hard, it seems to me, to get poetry into the hands of readers. Do you have any secret recipes for doing just that? Any magic for distributing your books?
RH: Our business plan is “keep it simple.” To this end we actually limit distribution channels rather than having more. This seems counter-intuitive, but by limiting the channels, we are also limiting risk, investment, and time expenditure. If we keep those things in check, then we can produce more books, and concentrate on getting the books out to readers rather than all of those not-fun-things like inventory, sales tax, accounting, fulfillment of orders, etc. To this end we are somewhat unique in that we do not sell the books directly—no storage, no inventory, no sales tax, no shipping—let the distributors handle all of that. In addition to Small Press Dsitribution, we also have several agreements with Ingram to get the books out to a worldwide market.
NA: What is the best place for a reader to find NYQ Books?
RH: The best place is at our website, http://www.nyqbooks.org. All of our in-print and forthcoming books are listed along with links to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, and Small Press Distribution, as well as the international Amazon sites. As I said above, we do not sell directly to the reader. This reduces the risk we take on inventory, removes a very complicated accounting stream that would involve sales taxes, fulfillment, etc. Some of our books get placed into bookstores that are relevant to the author, but these vary by book and will be the topic of a new page linked to the book’s page on our website in the near future. We would also like very much to begin a relationship with independent bookstores in various major cities who would be known for carrying all of the books in the series, but this has been slow to start mainly because of the time commitment on our end to start it. I hope this is coming down the road even if it is just a few around the country.
Raymond P. Hammond is a poet and critic who, originally from Virginia, now resides in Brooklyn and works at the Statue of Liberty National Monument as a law enforcement officer half of the week and as editor-in-chief of The New York Quarterly the other half. He holds an MA from New York University where most of his classes were intense studies of poetics with William Packard at the Chelsea Gallery Diner over a hamburger. He has two books: an old chapbook of poetry, Glacial Reasoning, and a new book of criticism, Poetic Amusement.
but A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs picked up a Deems Taylor award last night at the annual ASCAP award ceremony. "I'm just a lucky so and so," said David when accepting his award.
Here's David with Julie Flanders, one of the four judges who singled out his book for recognition:
There were cocktails, there were hors d'oeuvres, there was music. As the guests arrived, pianist Richard Miller tickled the ivories of Harold Arlen's piano, which resides in the ASCAP gallery. He played "When a Woman Loves a Man" because he knew it was one of David's favorites. Here's David with Arlen's piano:And here's David with Thelonius Monk III, on hand to pick up Robin D. G. Kelley's award for the biography of his father, the one and only Thelonius Monk:
My father has been dead for ten years today. I woke up in the dark hotel to a phone call: a nurse saying, “Your father’s condition has changed.” I’d spent the last three days with his second wife watching him die, so I knew what she really meant by “changed.”
"Changed, changed utterly,” I hear echoing in my head now, but that morning there was only a kind of exhausted silence. It had been hard work to sit with a dying man, someone I had such complicated feelings about, and his wife who kept assuring me that I was her son now too. That morning all I knew is that I had to find my clothes and get into them, get into the truck, drive across town to the hospital, and then do whatever was next. As I drove past the McDonalds and Burger Kings, past the little dull plazas of my childhood, past the big, 24 hour Wegmans, a voice on the radio said it was Emily Dickinson’s birthday.
And because I knew it, I recited “Because I could not Stop for Death”
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove –He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –
Everything in it rang and glittered with new, personal resonance. I didn’t cry then; that only happened months after the funeral. But the poem kept me company there as I silently drove toward the body that used to be my awful, angry, complicated father. The weirdness of being in my little truck driving through the place where I’d grown up, the bizarre look everything had, as strange as “Gazing Grain,” the strange way time in the last three days had been stretched, it was all there in the poem.
Part of my job is to set up big, public readings, but I hope the real work goes on off-stage, in the cramped rusting quiet of a student driving back home maybe, when a poem or sentence refuses to be forgotten, when the reader finds him or herself saying the words over and over again for the pleasure and the pain they bring.
There are a lot of ways to tell a story and one way is that sometime after my friend SH took her life I was teaching Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems in the MFA Program at the New School and happened upon Bishop’s translations of the Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s great poem, “Don’t kill yourself.” It made my brows raise because I hadn’t quite ever thought of just saying, “Don’t kill yourself,” and furthermore, saying it twice. Stacey recently posted it on this site, but here it is in full again.
Don’t Kill Yourself
Carlos, keep calm, love
is what you’re seeing now;
today a kiss, tomorrow no kiss,
day after day tomorrow’s Sunday
and nobody knows what will happen
It’s useless to resist
or to commit suicide.
Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill yourself!
Keep all of yourself for the nuptials
coming nobody knows when,
that is, if they ever come.
Love, Carlos, tellurian,
spent the night with you,
and now your insides are raising
an ineffable racket,
saints crossing themselves,
ads for better soap,
a racket of which nobody
knows the why or wherefore.
In the meantime, you go on your way
You’re the palm tree, you’re the cry
nobody heard in the theatre
and all the lights went out.
Love in the dark, no, love
in the daylight, is always sad,
sad, Carlos, my boy,
but tell it to nobody,
nobody knows nor shall know.
Is that a great poem or what? The first time I read it I loved the lines that I loved but I was sorry it said what it says instead of what I wanted it to say.
Drummond de Andrade will never be considered a truly great poet because his last name is too long and hard to remember, but he did have a way with words. He’s a Brazillian poet, lived from 1902 to 1987 and here, in this poem, he is in what Liz Lemon on 30 Rock would call a Relationship Lizastrophe, a heart-storm tizzy having had an actual encounter with another human creature (of which there are nearly 7 billion, but all of them oddly alone). Can I translate this poem to prose for us? It says:
Carlos, me, stop freaking out. You’ve been kissed. Maybe you’ll get another kiss tomorrow, maybe not, ad infinitum. Nothing can be done about this exciting series of possibilities. The only way to stop it would be to kill yourself, so do not do that. Just stay and hope for more kisses, even sex.
You are freaking out because you have spent the night feeling enraptured by love, a common thing in the world. (The word “tellurian” just means earth-thing, thing of the earth.) Your insides are going nuts with panic and emotion, also pretty normal. The feelings and hormones and thoughts going on my head right now are a cacophony, like a symphony of prayers, old record players, Catholic signs and wonders, commercials for soap and better living. There’s no way to make any sense of this racket inside.
Meanwhile you are walking around town, looking normal but with such a banged up heart that you are identifying with every passing tree. When someone lets out one of those moans that might be anything, might just be the sigh of sitting down, it’s such a relief. “Oh!” someone cries out and you agree. “Oh,” me too. And the lights go out in the theater. Me too.
Carlos is alone and says to himself that love, especially in the light of day, is always sad, and it is true, but it is not all that is true, and he knows it, calling himself a boy to hint that someone too young to know is trying to know, while nearby, also inside the poet, is the sublime and graceful knowing. See what he says, in the last lines? “tell it to nobody, nobody knows nor shall know.” He’s closing the poem there, tucking his scarf into his overcoat. But also he’s counseling himself to keep the crazy hidden, keep the despair hidden, he says, "Hide it" but he’s telling us.
He knows it's safer to keep it to himself, but he still manages to get it on paper and hand it out across the century to me, and I can take it and I can say thank you Carlos Drummond de A…. I wish I could remember your name. I get stuck on the Andrade part.
Now friends, what I wanted the poem to say was less, “Self, don’t flee from feeling, even though it is so scary that you almost feel like running off a ledge,” and more, “Friends, selves, countrymen of the realms of gold, sisters of outrageous despair, Don’t kill yourselves.”
I wanted to say: We have to talk to each other. We broken. We need to keep drinking tea or wine and tell each other the one thing we don’t have to trance out to hear: I was there. It sucked. It was insane, the things I said to myself to stay sane. You too? Got a hot hot brain from coping too long all up in your head alone? Don’t kill yourself. Come over and drink coffee or beer with us and tell us. The people who do not ever feel this way pity us. Maybe you don’t want to be pitied, but I’m ready to accept that being someone who has a hard time feeling okay is often awful, as awful as other awful things, and that’s how it is for me, so pity away, ye normals, and freaks come sit by me.
That’s not what I ended up writing in my poem. But I’ll tell you more about that later.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 10, 2010 at 01:46 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Fear of opening one’s eyes.
Fear of glaring light.
Of black sand, the stepping onto.
Fear of babies’ soft heads, abandoned shoes.
Of open mouths, that bees will hive there.
Fear of flowers that refuse to be named.
Of cut hair fallen to the floor.
Of tear-sipping moths, the ones that come at night.
Fear of locusts, the roar.
The slow will of animals.
Fear of shriveled fruit.
Of reaching one’s hand into river
Which is the soul’s digression.
Fear of snake children, their translucence.
Of yellow stains on the ceiling.
Of cooking young goat in its mother’s milk.
Fear of passing unnoticed. Also
Fear of being stared at in the street.
Of combustion, especially the body’s.
Fear of forgetting to breathe.
Of the bird in your chest, that it cease
Or fly from your mouth into radiance.
-- Claudia Burbank
The poem first appeared in Hotel Amerika.
For more than a year now I've resided only a few blocks from the little cemetery where Marilyn Monroe's crypt may be found. This cemetery is in the middle of the busy Westwood area of Los Angeles, near UCLA, but it can't be seen from the street. You have to know where to find it and you have to make some time to go there. So one day last week, on my way home from the library, I set aside some time. It was easy, because I really don't have anything very important to do.
I found Marilyn's crypt without difficulty and placed a dime on top of her brass name plate. There was quite a bit of change there already although none shows in this picture. The truth is I've never been very interested in Marilyn Monroe. But whenever I think of Laurette Luez, the actress pictured below -- and I think of her quite often -- I remember Marilyn as well. You see, it was Laurette Luez who thought of a new name for Norma Jeane Baker.
Laurette was in the same "freshman class" of Hollywood starlets as Marilyn. She had a theory that an effective name should unconsciously call to mind some powerful association. In Laurette's own case it was "Suez," which she hoped would suggest smoldering exoticism. For Marilyn it's a little trickier. One explanation might be the link between President James Monroe and the so-called "Era of Good Feeling."
Very well! Laurette Luez starred in a film called "Prehistoric Women," made in 1950. It had first first produced as a silent in the 1920s and was remade again in the late 60s. It's a great film in its way and I recommend it to anyone who has a chance to see it. One of the best scenes is a catfight between cave girl Laurette and her rival -- I'll have to look up her name -- who was actually even hotter than the lead actress. A cunning bit of casting there!
And now, the dénouement! One day in 1988 I was speaking with Roger Corman, the famous low budget producer and director, for whom I had just written a script called "Quest of the Sword Mistress." The film was going to be shot in Peru and before he signed off on it Corman wanted to make sure there were enough breast reveals -- one every ten pages or so. Corman seemed to me like a deeply bi-polar individual. Sometimes garrulous, sometimes dour, and often a bit sadistic with the poor schmucks who were reduced to working for him. In any case, as he leafed absently through the pages of my script I heard myself asking, "Roger, did you ever see a movie called Prehistoric Women?"
Corman looked up immediately. Suddenly he seemed sharply focused, hyper alert. Then a dreamy, wistful look appeared in his eyes. "Laurette Luez -- "
"She was....very beautiful."
"I would not dispute you, Socrates."
"Did you know that she married the director?"
"I did not know that."
The moment quickly passed. "Mitch, just make sure we see some breasts before page thirty --"
Laurette Luez died in 1999. Her grave is in Milton, Florida. Have a great day!
I'm posting this late because I've had no time at all to compose or even think straight. It's the last day, for me, of classes this term. I've ordered pizzas for the two classes, an Advanced Poetry class and a class called The Writer's Journal. I've fielded last minute questions about projects. I've given advice on life, love, what to read, and how to dress for graduation.
When I'm harried and losing my sense of time and direction, I often turn to Stevie Smith, the British writer. She lived from 1902 to 1971. She always either gets me out of the rut I'm in or makes me laugh at the rut I cannot escape and might as well embrace.
One of my favorites is Our Bog is Dood
Our bog is dood, our bog is dood,
They lisped in accents mild,
But when I asked them to explain
They grew a little wild.
How do you know your Bog is dood
My darling little child?
We know because we wish it so
That is enough, they cried,
And straight within each infant eye
Stood up the flame of pride,
And if you do not think it so
You shall be crucified.
Then tell me, darling little ones,
What's dood, suppose Bog is?
Just what we think, the answer came,
Just what we think it is.
They bowed their heads. Our Bog is ours
And we are wholly his.
But when they raised them up again
They had forgotten me
Each one upon each other glared
In pride and misery
For what was dood, and what their Bog
They never could agree.
Oh sweet it was to leave them then,
And sweeter not to see,
And sweetest of all to walk alone
Beside the encroaching sea,
The sea that soon should drown them all,
That never yet drowned me.
I’ve been reading again about insects because my poems have been slowly filling up with them over the last couple of years. Until I realized I wanted to be a writer around age 17, I thought I’d be a biologist, specializing in entomology. I was a shy kid, so I was always looking at the ground. My childhood was full of butterflies, moths, cicadas, grasshoppers, fleas, lightning bugs, beetle after beetle after beetle. For a few years, I raised monarch caterpillars in an old aquarium that I’d daily stuff with milkweed leaves; I’d watch the whole process of their transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis. It was better than tv! On the days the butterflies emerged, I’d take the aquarium out to the front porch. I’d take each monarch out one by one in my cupped hands. Some would stay on my fingers for a minute or so, flexing their wings in the sun and air. Some would fly off almost immediately. I loved doing that. I probably should start doing it again. It made me feel as if I were doing some direct good in the world.
So you can imagine that I have a particular attraction to poems with insects in them—Dickinson’s Fly, the white spider in Frost’s “Design”, Whitman’s spider that “launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,” Plath’s Beekeeper poems, which I reread this past summer and completely fell in love with again. So often the insect seems to represent a kind of boundary beyond which human knowledge, human morality fails or is devoured. I like Muriel Rukeyser’s poem that acknowledges the incredible difference between the speaker and the roach (and by extension, of course, the Other we might be afraid of) but keeps on trying to reach out.
Born December 8, 1943, James Tate is the paragon of Sagittarians. To honor the poet we asked Mark Shulgasser, a.k.a. the Blue Zenith, for his star-studded analysis.
James Tate may be aware of sharing his birthdate with the Roman poet Horace. The latter’s immortal carpe diem lyric (Ode XI, Book One) is an emphatic exhortation to renounce low divinatory preoccupations. While instructing the maiden to seize the day rather than dwell on Babylonian lotteries, Horace nevertheless invokes Jupiter, the planetary deity of Sagittarius.
To chastise conventional astrology only to employ a celestial metaphor, is Tate’s strategy in "Consumed" (in The Oblivion Ha-Ha). Tate indicts "magic,” whether “astrology or the tarot," but then himself plays the astrologer, with a threatening vision of a “dark star” passing through you, changing you forever: “You are the stranger / who gets stranger by the hour.”
Tate’s “stranger / who gets stranger by the hour” reminds me that Sagittarian Beethoven's only song-cycle is "An die ferne Geliebte" -- "To the distant beloved."
Arthur C. Clarke seizes astrology's irresistible paradox like this: "I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarian and we're skeptical."
Tate’s “The Lost Pilot,” an elegy addressing the father he never knew, sounds the fundamental Sagittarian note. The unheard address is an echo of the opening cry of the Duino Elegies by the all-star Sagittarian Rainer Maria Rilke (“Who, if I cried out, would hear me / among the angelic orders?”). Rilke, too, seems to reject astrology in the ninth elegy (“under the stars, what use? the more deeply untellable stars?”) only to offer new constellations in the tenth: “New stars . . . Rider, Staff, . . .Fruit-Garland. . . Then, further, towards the Pole: / Cradle, Path, Burning Book, Doll, Window. “
A profound connection with horses or frequently dogs is not uncommon among Sagittarians. Tate writes that he "once worked with 120 Alaskan Huskies." I think of dog-gone Sadges like William Wegman, Charles Schulz, James Thurber. This interpenetration of the human and the non-human, what could be stranger, is parsed relentlessly by Sagittarian anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss:
“Cattle, like dogs, form part of human society, but as it were, asocially, since they verge on objects. Finally, racehorses, like birds, form a series disjointed from human society, but like cattle, lacking in intrinsic sociability. If, therefore, birds are metaphorical human beings, and dogs, metonymical human beings, cattle may be thought of as metonymical inhuman beings, and racehorses as metaphorical inhuman beings.“
Thank you, Mark, for this stellar discussion.
Hi, everyone. It's been a while since I posted anything. An update - I'm doing fine. I finished up chemotherapy on October 12, and except for the fact that I tire easily, I'm feeling better every day. My hair is coming back, too - it's straighter than it was, and the color is salt-and-pepper. Actually, more salt than pepper, but I've been coloring it for twenty years, so who knows how long it's really been that way. While I'm still under the care of my oncologist and will be for a while, my prognosis is excellent.
I weathered chemo pretty well, but it wasn't fun. One of the more annoying and depressing side-effects was how my mouth went wonky. Chemo attacks fast-growing cells, which is why it used on cancer, but it can't differentiate between good fast-growing cells and bad fast-growing cells. Which is why your hair falls out and your fingernails get weird-looking, and the inside of your mouth turns into a horrible petri dish of inflammation and strange tastes.
Nothing tasted right. And food texture was really effed up. Vegetables tasted like wads of wet newspaper, chocolate like ashes. All I ate for five and a half months was vanilla ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches (the only way I could manage bread), mashed potatoes, mac-and-cheese, the occasional hamburger with no bun, and spaghetti with lots of marinara sauce - for some reason, the sharpness of the tomato went down fairly well. Since I love to eat, it was pretty miserable.
So one of the joys of coming off chemo is the return of my mouth to working order. After about a month, I suddenly noticed things were starting to taste the way they were supposed to. The first piece of chocolate I ate that tasted like chocolate was a cause for celebration. And each day, things got more and more tasty. You can't imagine how good a salad can be, especially if it's been months since anything green passed your lips. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was almost back to normal. I could eat. And boy, did I. I won't tell you how many plates of turkey and trimmings I had - it's embarrassing.
Now, all I do is shove stuff in my face. It's glorious. Although my clothes are getting tighter and tighter, and soon I will have to be rolled wherever I go, I don't care. Do you know how heavenly a bagel with lox cream cheese is? And sausage and mushroom stuffing with gravy? And a tuna fish sandwich? And a whole bag of Hershey's kisses with almonds? Ohhh, baby.
Getting better is great.
December 7th, as many of us know by heart, is Pearl Harbor Day. It’s also Willa Cather’s birthday (1873). If you want a poetry prompt, I’d say open to page 96 of one of her novels—the closest to hand will do—and, using only the words on that page, write a love poem to someone who never understood you.
This morning was bitterly cold. My phone told me that it was 18 degrees, but the wind that was gusting off the river made it much colder. My dog Bailey, who loves to walk, today gave me the look that meant Holy Crap, let’s go back. I agreed. He half-ran all the way back, pulling my fat monkey-related flesh behind him like a millstone. Yesterday I saw a whole tree full of puffed-up, slightly sad robins, but today I don’t think I saw a single bird. Certainly none were singing. I’m hoping they all found warm chimneys or vents to huddle near.
Even the heron who usually fishes near the 40th Street Bridge has disappeared. The whole stony bank where I used to see her has been scoured and changed by the river, which swelled with runoff last week. Gone are the floating branches and the great fallen tree where I’d seen her standing for much of November. The river water is still thick and brown with mud. Here is the last picture I have of her.
Information The boat is the story the ocean tells. The village listens intently and sings for fish. The road carries the carts in only one direction. Where it ends the railroad seems propelled by lights. Information The edge of night is propped up against the farm. The chickens are filled with a secret storm. Only the valiant lady is allowed to rest. Soon she will begin a search for tomorrow. Her guiding light is a man filled with wheat. Information The beards get on the train and remove their hats. Or they don’t remove their hats but instead open their books. Inside their books there are no boats. The women are all modest. In one, a rooster crows.
The boat is the story the ocean tells. The village listens intently and sings
for fish. The road carries the carts in only one direction. Where it ends the
railroad seems propelled by lights.
The edge of night is propped up against the farm. The chickens are filled
with a secret storm. Only the valiant lady is allowed to rest. Soon she will
begin a search for tomorrow. Her guiding light is a man filled with wheat.
The beards get on the train and remove their hats. Or they don’t remove
their hats but instead open their books. Inside their books there are no
boats. The women are all modest. In one, a rooster crows.
Bob Heman has been publishing his Information in many journals and in a couple of books for several years. The Information just keeps coming. He has been the editor of CLWN WR (formerly Clown War) since 1971.
It’s a little grim in Pittsburgh, although, as my parents always said, somewhere probably has it worse. There’s a thin continual snow falling, and gusts of wind blast the old windows of the English Department offices. There seems to be a little draft of cold air everywhere I turn. A high whine of it sneaking in through the warped frames. The sky’s overcast, one big load of cold water vapor.
It’s our last week of classes here, and many of us are using the little energy we gained this weekend (from not having to plan classes) reading dossiers for a personnel committee meeting tomorrow. There is so much hidden work in being a good faculty member, work I never dreamed would be so taxing when I was an undergraduate and then graduate student. Committee meetings you have to attend, letters of recommendation to write, book orders to get in three months before you have to teach the class, syllabi to organize and think about, course descriptions to update for the registrar, faculty activity reports, and on and on. Each thing in itself can be a pleasure, but they begin to accumulate after a while. Suddenly you’re in a whirlwind of details to remember. I end up making lists of things not to forget, then I immediately lose those lists and have to remake them. I begin to make piles on the desk of Immediate Concern, This Month’s Concern, Next Term’s Concern. Inevitably they get shuffled into one another. No one trains you how to keep yourself focused on your own writing at the same time.
Around the end of October, I remember we all began saying simultaneously “I’m sorry. I’m losing my mind.”
Jay Schauer, HotWax Sensei, sends this plea. We're intrigued:
Here's what's happening: Our startup company, HotWax, seeks a staff poet. I'd be very grateful if you could pass the following info along to anyone who might be interested.
HotWax wants a staff poet.
Why doesn’t every company have a staff poet?
Poets shine light on the beautiful and the unexpected. Poets look from the inside out. Poets audit words, looking for the truth behind them.
Why wouldn’t a company want this? Shouldn’t there be a poet on every staff? Isn’t a poet’s role as important as an accountant’s?
Fame, Fortune, and an iPad!
Here’s what the lucky candidate will receive
* You’ll be HotWax’s first staff poet...a one-year position
* You’ll receive an insultingly small salary. We do mean small.
* Your picture, bio, and poems will be featured on the HotWax website
* You’ll get 500 HotWax business cards with your name and title
* You’ll get your own extension on the HotWax toll-free line (855 4HOTWAX)
* You’ll get a HotWax website — free for life
* You’ll get your very own 32GB iPad
Your staff position includes responsibilities
* You’ll need to write at least 4 poems for HotWax during the year
* We’ll suggest topics, but you can choose your own
* These poems must be at least one word long
* HotWax will have the right to publish your HotWax poems on its website, use them in advertising etc.
* We might include your name or image or poems or all three in our marketing
* You’ll be invited to online staff meetings to opine about HotWax’s past, present and future
This is the
Day of the Duck!
That's right! The bullshit stops now! It's been fifteen years since the last issue of The Stud Duck rolled off the presses -- and we think it's quite enough time, thank you very much. So an entirely new issue of this amazing literary magazine is going to hit the newsstands before Christmas. And we don't mean Christmas of 2020 or Christmas of 2015. We mean less than three weeks from today!
Jerry Pudnik is the Publisher of The Stud Duck.
Yes, issue number seven of The Stud Duck is coming your way. Not just in cyberspace either. We're talking about real paper and real ink. And it's going to be FREE too -- but only if (and it's a big if) you can get your hands on one of the very limited number of copies we can afford to print in this sinking economy. So keep your eyes right here on The Best American Poetry to find out how you can get your copy of The Stud Duck 7 come Christmas!
But that's not all! Not by a long shot!
We're inviting readers of The Best American Poetry (that means you) to have your work appear in The Stud Duck. Poems, stories, non-fiction memoirs of prom nights or bar mitzvahs gone awry, photographs, drawings -- please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will judiciously select ten submissions for inclusion in The Stud Duck 7. Judges decisions are final!
Plus, the ten worthy authors will each receive a valuable copy of one of the original Stud Duck issues from the mid-nineties! Squirrel it away, pass it on to your children -- or you can make a mobile! But one thing is certain: unless you've got a time machine, there won't be any more where these came from!
All submissions must be received by noon Pacific time on Monday, December 13! That email address again one more time: email@example.com
Mitch Sisskind is the Editor of The Stud Duck
Words of wisdom:
And that's a fact
But everything that dies
Someday comes back!
And how about what the old prizefighter told his son in Sylvester Stallone's film entitled Rocky Balboa:
"It's not how hard you can hit that matters!
It's how hard you can get hit and keep
Right on both counts! The Stud Duck is back and The Stud Duck is moving forward! That's why the new subtitle for The Stud Duck is going to be "Man muss immer weiter gehen" -- which means "One must always go further" in German!
Though much is taken,
We are the champions
We are the champions
Of the world!
Man muss immer weiter gehen!
Immer weiter! Immer weiter!
Issue Number One of The Stud Duck, 1993 -->>
"They all laughed at Rockefeller Center
Now they're fighting to get in
They all laughed at Whitney and his cotton gin
They all laughed at Fulton and his steamboat
Hershey and his chocolate bar
Ford and his Lizzie
Kept the laughers busy
That's how people are
They laughed at me wanting you
Said it would be, "Hello, Goodbye."
But oh, you came through
Now they're eating humble pie
They all said we'd never get together
Darling, let's take a bow
For ho, ho, ho!
Who's got the last laugh?
Hee, hee, hee!
Let's at the past laugh
Ha, ha, ha!
Who's got the last laugh now?"
-- Ira Gershwin (1896-1983)
Extra credit: Who wrote the music for "They All Laughed"?
With special guest host David Lehman
Series curated by Laura Cronk, Megin Jimenez and Michael Quattrone
Reading starts at 7:30pm
Admission is FREE
KGB Bar * 85 East 4th Street * New York, NY 10003 * Phone: 212-505-3360 * www.KgbBar.com <http://www.kgbbar.com/>
Alex Phillips is poet in residence in Cushman Village, Amherst, and is an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts. His book of poems, Crash Dome <http://www.factoryhollowpress.com/store.html> , is just out from Factory Hollow Press.
Star Black's poems have been anthologized in The Penguin Book of The Sonnet, 110 Stories: New York Writers After September 11, and The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1880 to The Present. Her collages and hand-made books were recently shown at The Center for Book Arts. Her sixth volume of poetry, Velleity's Shade <http://www.saturnaliabooks.com/?q=node/77> , was recently published by Saturnalia Books.
James Tate is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award. His books include Ghost Soldiers, Return to the City of White Donkeys, and Dreams of a Robot Dancing Bee: 44 Stories. His first volume, The Lost Pilot, was selected for The Yale Series of Younger Poets. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
We will be back on February 21, 2011. Stay tuned for our Spring 2011 line-up!
Today's the anniversary of the end of Prohibition, General George Custer’s birthday, and the day, in 1945, five navy planes took off from Florida on a routine three-hour mission and were never heard from again. Flight 19’s disappearance still haunts people. I remember being told about the Bermuda Triangle, that there was a section of the earth where people disappeared. In the 70s, when everything was somehow linked to aliens, I thought that the Bermuda Triangle might be a transit point, a kind of interstellar teleportation station. My mother and I had just discovered psychic fairs and there were a number of books about making contact with higher powers. I walked around, listening to people read auras, lay out tarot cards, recommend candle rituals to clear out negative spiritual energies. I wanted desperately to have a psychic power. One guy did tell me I was a strong telekinetic, but he also kept touching my shoulder in a way that creeped me out. Sadly, no one appeared to whisk us away to another planet.
Cleaning the house last week in preparation for Thanksgiving guests, I was surprised at all the little places where I’ve tucked away books and notebooks. I literally have books everywhere. My favorite group of books right now is the stack I have on the toilet tank. One friend loved the idea of keeping books there. It’s so boring in the bathroom otherwise, she said, so much sitting around wasting time.
This week we welcome Jeff Oaks as our guest blogger. Jeff's chapbook, Shift, was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2010. A recipient of three Pennsylvania Council of the Arts fellowships, he has published poems in Bloom, Court Green, Ploughshares, and elsewher. His essay on Wonder Woman appears in My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009). A new essay about his dog and midlife crisis will appear in the upcoming issue of Creative Nonfiction. He teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also manages the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series.
So this is my last blog for the week. I meant to blog last night, but I ended up out late--we went to see a documentary film that my friend Katy Powell worked on with the photographer and filmmaker Richard Knox Robinson, called "Rothstein's First Assignment: A Story About Documentary Truth."
The film was an experimental documentary about Federal Security Administration photographer Arthur Rothstein, who was sent to Southwest Virginia in the 1930s to photograph people--ostensibly to capture mountain families and their way of life before they were displaced to establish Shenandoah National Park--as part of Roy Stryker's team of photographers (which included Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn, among others) who were employed to publicize the conditions of the rural poor in the United States.
The film used oral histories, photos, letters, books, and self-reflexive tactics to not only question the nature of documentary, but also establish a link between Rothstein's work and the eugenics movement, as many of the families that were evicted from their houses and moved off their property were institutionalized at places like the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded, in Lynchburg, where many of them were also forcibly sterilized. (For more on the eugenics movement in Virginia: a radio story from WVTF, a web exhibit from UVA's Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, and Paul Lombardo's book Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell.)
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
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.