This week we welcome Caroline Malone as our guest blogger. Caroline eaches literature and composition at South College in Knoxville, TN. Her poems have appeared in Boulevard and The Dos Passos Review. Follow Caroline's blog here.
As much as I try to stay in the moment, it seems all my
attention, as an editor, goes to the forthcoming issue as soon as the current
issue is shipped across the country and over the seas. So, writing these posts
has given me the excuse to read through our catalogue, which, despite
commonsense and the laws of economics, is now twenty issues deep. It’s been a
thrill to re-discover poems, not that I had forgotten them, not at all, but,
like re-connecting with old friends, I had forgotten how satisfying it was to
be in their company.
We tend to think of forgetting as a malfunction of some
sort, yet much of what we forget is evidence of a functioning memory. The world
would be too much if our brains didn’t slough off the vast majority of it. But
I can’t help thinking that how we remember by forgetting resembles how we write
poetry. Memory selects but a handful of sensations and their corresponding
people, actions, things, etc., to archive in the brain’s wet network. Those
selected inevitably accrue added significance, which is to say they become
concentrated. The poet makes similar selections and cuts with hopes of yielding
Maybe another way of saying it is that the successful poet
possesses the facility for intense focus on the page, extracting from her
experience, imagination, or both, a rich distillate to share with her readers.
This power of focus is one of the things that I love and admire about Mary
Ruefle’s poem “Cardamom Buds,” which first appeared in “Past Imperfect: The
Trouble with Remembering and Forgetting,” Conduit #11. Mary’s voice, strong and
firm, strides, despite her speaker’s somewhat agitated and fragile emotional
state, through this poem, from 30,000 feet to the kitchen counter. The world is
there and the world falls away leaving speaker and reader there, alone.
I almost forgot to write that this is my last dispatch for The Best American Poetry blog. Thanks for reading.
-- William Waltz
High in the sky someone ate a peanut and accepted a complimentary beverage, Mr. Rabbit’s corduroy robe was taken off and put on nine times in the next seat, a spatula was made in a factory far below and one who had lost the habit of marveling took it home and turned things over. Undoubtedly I still loved you and man remained an inexpressible island of grief. It began to rain, and I don’t know if I was alone or by myself (was I washing my hands or the bar of soap?) but the growing season was over. The rain came nonetheless and I saw with intense thankfulness a few cardamom buds lying on the counter. Nothing else mattered! I was no longer a zebra lost among birches, and the great beauty of my upward striving was received with intense thankfulness by no one in particular. Tea was in order. I sat at the counter and let life sketch me. I blushed at first, believing I took up too much space. I crossed and uncrossed my legs. I folded and unfolded\ my hands. I couldn’t move much more than that, for on the other side of the room your ghost stood, waving a palette. Come over here! it cried, I’ll make you as small as you like! But I stayed where I was, and dropped the cardamom buds in my tea, certain the summons couldn’t possibly apply to me.
On October 12, three inches of snow draped the broad
shoulders of our white pine like a moth-eaten shawl. Three inches of snow
covered the lush green lawns of summer across the Twin Cities. Three inches of
snow were the most to have collected here this early since 1977. For much of the
citizenry, this was a near disaster, a cruel reminder of things to come. In
short, it was downright terrible, but terrible is such a lovely word.
I suppose there really isn’t a bad word, a word without
qualities, so in a sense all words are wonderful. But as Mr. Orwell might have
said, some words are more equal than others. We all have our favorites and
those that go unloved based on our unique palette of beliefs, hang-ups,
interests, and eccentricities. A friend of mine loathes the word slacks and will break out in a sweat at
the mere utterance of ointment. The
more equal words work as poetry works, first suggesting one thing and then
another. They resemble a rope ladder hung from the top branch of a tall oak
Thanks to Dara Wier, we have “The Terrible Poem,” which can
be found in Conduit #20. Since 1977,
when her first book came out, Ms. Wier has written eleven books of poetry
including her new and highly anticipated Selected Poems. To the delight of all who’ve kept up with her
prodigious output, Wier’s poems keep getting better and better. From line to
line, they surprise and startle, they yearn and crack wise, they disarm and
console. Often kaleidoscopic in nature, Wier’s poems are fearless—not
reckless—not to be different but to be true.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying Dara
and James Tate to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Afterward we wandered over
the Ashbery bridge, which spans the interstate separating the garden from a
city park. On the park side we found a couple cooking salmon over a campfire. A
sight I had never seen before or since. It was one of those charmed moments
when the unexpected blesses you with its occurrence, and by doing so it
enlivens you, much like a Wier poem.
-- William Waltz
The Terrible Poem
Love lives just sit there on the sidelines.
I’ve never told a soul what it is I believe. Things never will never stop getting stop more stop long
stop, ago. Everything material in theory is able to cast a shadow. Everything’s shadow is a different shade of black with
violent overtones. If someone says a sheep is nothing but a big box of mittens I don’t think it will enable me to sleep better tomorrow. The girl placed a cocoon in a glass jar too small for what
emerged. I placed a hermit crab near by, next to, a fire. We look for something beautiful and do unmendable damage. I have a clear memory of something I’m sure hasn’t happened. It’ll take a while to drag the freaks away from their cribs. Hey baby, say a while will you while will you while will
you. That is our lullaby, that is our unnamable anthem, you are
At the risk of offending our other issues, I’ll admit that Conduit #6 is one of my favorites. Not
only was it our first perfect-bound edition, but “Drunk Genius” featured poems
by Russell Edson, an interview with Terence McKenna, and our first and only prize
winning poem, “Mister Hymen” by Terri Ford.
It was our first and only because of the generosity and then
the untimely death of Saul Astor. As much as we wanted to continue the prize on
an annual basis, we couldn’t without his kind help, so Terri Ford stands alone
atop our MountOlympus.
“Mister Hymen,” which can be found in Ford’s book Hams beneath the Firmament, charmed and amazed us, and, although
the competition was stiff, our choice was easy.
The case of the triumphant Miss Ford illustrates the it’s-a-small-world
phenomenon, which is one of the windfalls of being an editor. We’re all
familiar with this minor miracle of chance, where one meets another and both
know a third and through one another other lovely people are introduced. And so
by some strange coincidence Terri Ford knew the nephew of Scott Bruno, our art
director at that time.
A year later while visiting Scott in Cincinnati,
we arranged to meet Terri, our champion, for dinner. She brought along the
nephew and another friend, whose contact information I would later forward to
his future publisher. We had a wonderful conversation over mulligatawny and
lamb vindaloo and thus began a friendship.
The next day we had the pleasure of
seeing Terri read her poems to a high school class. This included the
breathtaking image of Miss Ford throwing over-sized granny panties into a crowd
of shrieking teenage boys. And so it goes; without Saul Astor and “Mister
Hymen” none of this would have come to pass.
-- William Waltz
Relent, says he with his cigarillos, his splintered windshield.You fain think he’s neat, is boss, is mustang,
yup.When he covers
your north with kisses,oho
the hymen hies, bucolicinland
edelweiss, unmown and springing.This thump and wag hath no repose&
when, how soon, he’s
you, as foreordained, givein.What he broke’s not glass, but a low grief, volcanic and inactive years.See him run.All
of the villagers run from heat, and you spread, spread.
During the glorious summer of 1993, my dear accomplice Brett
Astor and I were awhirl in the air-conditioned confines of a Massachusetts copy center, cutting, pasting, and assembling the premier issue of Conduit. At the risk of sounding like an
old geezer, I must report that those were the days when the copy center was the
creative epicenter of many college towns.
Fueled by dreams and caffeine, we arranged the work of ten
promising poets between our blue cardstock cover. The production values left
something to be desired certainly — I was broke and impatient — but to this day I
stand behind the poems in that inaugural issue. Of those ten poets, five have
been lucky enough to have had books published and then well reviewed. I think
the others deserve the same -- including today’s poet, Greg Bachar.
I’ve known Greg for nearly twenty years, yet I’ll never
forget the first time I visited his rathskeller of an apartment in Amherst.
On three or four desks and tables and covering a good portion of the floor lay
what seemed to be innumerable writing, reading, and publishing projects in
various stages of completion. Ambitious, prolific, tenderhearted, original,
Greg is a poet in the truest sense.
Maybe it was the years spent in Europe as a boy or his voracious appetite for the Surrealists, their contemporaries,
and their literary antecedents, but much of Bachar’s work has a continental feel
to it. Daniil Kharms comes to mind, for there is a beautifully bureaucratic
sense of humor at work, which is tempered by love’s twin demons, loneliness and
melancholy. “Finally Myself” first appeared in our “Last Laugh” issue (#19).
-- William Waltz
No one knows that I am nobody. They think that I am
somebody, and treat me as such, with equal parts fear and apprehension. To be
somebody doing nothing is one thing, but I am nobody doing something, and that
confuses them. They think it odd that a somebody like me would do what I do.
None of them listen when I try to tell them I am no one and that although I am
doing something, they might as well think of me as doing nothing, since it
would be easier to be seen as a nobody that way.
I want to marry a real nobody, someone who means nothing to
no one anywhere. That would be something to me, and she would be my everything.
My nobody girl, how everybody will love her, thinking her a real somebody like
me, but it’s nothing, really, just a little of this and a little of that, some
crumbs and a piece of ice tied to black string.
That, to me, is something. Being a nobody, nothing suits me
friend and colleague the recently departed John Parker once told me a student
of his believed that poems were written in code, which, once broken, would
reveal the poem’s true meaning. This young man also believed there was a
Rosetta stone of a book hidden somewhere in the library that decoded most of
the canonical works. I would have enjoyed hearing John’s reply to such
week’s poem is by the magnificent Dean Young. Mr. Young’s poems have appeared
numerous times in the pages of Conduit, for which we are honored, thankful and,
at times, downright giddy. “Original Monkey” first appeared in our
“Neighborhood Gods” (#12) issue and later in his book Elegy on Toy Piano.
uses a typewriter and white-out. His poems come with smudges. I like this. I
can’t help wondering how his poems might be different if he used a word
processor as 90% of the poets who submit do (or how the poems of the other 90%
might be different if they didn’t). I like how Dean keeps sending us poems, how
he feels at home between our covers. And, of course I love that he selected Zoo
Music as the winner of the Slope Editions Book Prize, not just because he made
me a winner but because he was a judge with whom I truly felt an affinity. I
was glad to tell him just that when we finally met.
often point out the humor in Dean Young’s poems, yet anyone who has ever
laughed at him knows that behind every chuckle there is either agony or
anger. Dean’s poems are long-legged animals running through the tall grass,
following his instincts. His path is neither frantic nor methodical, but he
always catches his prey. Sometimes it’s a monkey. Meaning, meaning in good
poems can’t be seen straight on. One must look askance.
working on my vanishing point. I'm
practicing my zenith. I
used to rely on a piece of glass to
plunge into my heart but that's nothing compared
to my monkey. Usually we
meet on a bench by the whortleberries to
weep and watch the lambs disappear into
the chasm. Hey, it's a rotten world for
a monkey too. Just because you've
got opposable thumbs doesn't
mean you can untrip the trap. My
monkey though is very self-involved so
when the glass doesn't work and
the invisible girders are groaning and
I can't get back to the old country of
the great works of Western art restored
to the luminosity of Looney Tunes, I
call my friend who's drunk again\ like
me like me and my moonbeam. Wrong
answer. Wrong ballistics report. Wrong
club membership. Wrong draconian countermeasure.
Wrong emergency room where
the client in the party hat blinking
blood says, It's nothing, it's
nothing. I'll be the judge of that. We
can see that once the work of interpretation is
done, the dream is the fulfillment of a wish just
as the injury is the fulfillment of a wish and
vibrating at the speed of E flat and
unloading heads into the furnace and
realism which is a form of surrealism on
a time-delayed fuse so what I'd like to know is
who's making all these helpful wishes? My
agony is no sillier than yours even
if it's riding a tiny unicycle. All
I'm asking for is a fellow monkey to
accompany my original monkey in
his bridal sadness. Once he was one among
many in tree. Once my piece of glass was
part of a larger piece of glass which
was part of a larger piece glass which
was…okay, you get the point. As
if back there somewhere was
something immense and intact.
Although I’ve been urged, now and then, to go there, I’ve never
been to Hell. A good Minnesotan might say, “I hear it’s nice there in the
winter.” They say war is Hell, and I’m pretty sure they’re right about that, so
that means there’s a little Hell here on Earth. Two arid locales come to mind,
and, in case we forget while the “battle” over heath insurance rages, dozens of
other wars churn around the globe today.
Of course, Hell is a state of mind, really, not a place, and
it befalls us all from time to time. And, as is the way with most things, Hell
comes in degrees. There’s the burning, piercing Hell of torture and war, and
then there’s the low-grade fever variety that catches us between what we have
and what we want, leaving us feeling either stuck or adrift.
Thankfully, this is in the province of poetry, and this
week’s poem, “Hell,” by Sarah Manguso, marches in triumphantly. “Hell” first
appeared in our “Dumb Luck” issue (#14). It was then selected for Best American Poetry’s 2005 edition,
edited by Paul Muldoon, before appearing in Ms. Manguso’s Siste Viator.
In this lovely prose poem, full of humanity and humor,
Manguso uses short declarative sentences and longer winding ones that arrive
just where they should to the reader’s great pleasure. Somehow she manages to
say things, wise things, you wish you had. She does this often, yet the poem
doesn’t prescribe a remedy, it is a remedy.
-- William Waltz
The second-hardest thing I have to do is not be longing’s
Hell is that. Hell is that, others, having a job, and not
having a job. Hell is thinking continually of those who were truly great.
Hell is the moment you realize that you were ignorant of the
fact, when it was true, that you were not yet ruined by desire.
The kind of music I want to continue hearing after I am dead
is the kind that makes me think I will be capable of hearing it then.
There is music in Hell. Wind of desolation! It blows past
the egg-eyed statues. The canopic jars are full of secrets.
The wind blows through me. I open my mouth to speak.
I recite the list of people I have copulated with. It does
not take long. I say the names of my imaginary children. I call out
four-syllable words beginning with B. This is how I stay alive.
Beelzebub. Brachiosaur. Bubble-headed. I don’t know how I
stay alive. What I do know is that there is a light, far above us, that goes
out when we die,
and that in Hell there is a gray tulip that grows without
any sun. It reminds me of everything I failed at,
and I water it carefully. It is all I have to remind me of
My family and I made our annual trek to the Minnesota State
Fair last week. As is our custom, we paid tribute to the grand sow and her
litter, to king kohlrabi and his edible stem and all the other blue-ribbon
vegetables, and to Princess Kay of Milky Way and her court. (Kay is Minnesota's
state dairy princess.) Well, not Princess Kay and her court per se but to their likenesses sculpted
in butter and refrigerated in the dairy barn. As we waded down Dan Patch
Avenue, through its sweaty throngs, a voice on the public address system
floated over our heads announcing that something important was about to happen
in the swine barn.
Not only did this serve to remind me of the time I paid the
PA booth at the county fair five cents to make the following announcement, “Jim
Jarrells, you girlfriend is waiting for you in the pig barn,” but it made me
realize that this blog is a public address system of sorts, and so, with your
kind permission, I would like to make a public plea, Would whomever I last loaned Bob Hicok’s Plus Shipping please return it! No questions asked. I
make this petition because I love that book and it’s out-of-print and the
Internet prices are steep. This tells me I should keep better track of my books
and that Hicok’s poetry is in great demand, as it should be.
The same qualities that make Bob Hicok a great poet also
make many of his poems small living planets revolving around their own glorious
sun. Bob’s poems demonstrate a keen intelligence, a restless yearning for
meaning, heart, humor, and generosity. Years ago, immediately after reading Plus Shipping, I wrote Mr. Hicok. A few
weeks later I received a telephone message thanking me and saying that he had
just mailed poems to Conduit. That
was my first and last message of its kind from any poet. I’m very pleased to
report that since then we’ve published Bob Hicok no fewer than six times,
starting with the “Big Bang” issue (#7). This week’s poem, “Wistful sounds like
a brand of air freshener,” first appeared in “Holy Hootenanny” (#17).
-- William Waltz
Wistful sounds like a
brand of air freshener
I will go to Belfast, Maine,
and read my poetry to crabs. I’ll stand on a platform of some kind in the company of wind and look at pennants waving and think of the claws of crabs waving in the wind of the Atlantic and be sad. It’s not that I don’t have enough sadness, but I’m always
looking for better, more aquatic or tastier sadness, for the kind of light that comes when the sky tilts its head at dusk and wonders, in colors we understand as language, why this
all has to end. I could doff a Bogart hat and wag a tough
cigarette between my lips, smoke muscling up from my mouth as I say,
it just does, sweetheart, it just does, but the psychology of the fedora escapes me. There’s bread and calisthenics and lice and
radar and jars of blue stuff in stores, and maybe what I’m doing when I cry to certain songs at seventy miles an hour, is
proving I’ve noticed that out of the nothing that could be here, everything is. So I will go to Belfast,
Maine, and wonder what it’s like to stand beside Main
Street in the winter, I’ll put my head against the brick buildings I’m betting live there year-round and describe the tropics to them by having warm thoughts, and if you’d like to meet me there, I’ll be the man in the t-shirt that has an extra sleeve in case the third arm I need shows up, because so far, I’ve dropped almost everything I’m desperate to hold.
Like a leaky zeppelin, National Night Out descends upon our
cities the first Tuesday of every August. Some neighborhoods ignore it. Others,
unfortunately, embrace it. This often leads to street blockades and forced
mingling in the name of community and fun. The sad truth is the same hollow
feeling that follows one home after an awkward wedding will very likely escort
one through the streets after such a gathering. For poets the great pothole of
awkwardness is met when an unfamiliar neighbor asks, “What sort of poetry do
you write?” For the record, “human poetry” is my answer.
As an editor, I often field a similar query, “What kind of
poems do you publish?” Protocol suggests the professional editor should be
thoughtful, forthright, and “creative,” given the possibility of a sale at
hand. But in all honesty, we simply publish poems we like. An astute reader
might be able to identify a Conduit
type, but I believe that same person would testify that we cast a wide net.
Nevertheless, I can think of four, five, or maybe six poets who, as a group,
might best represent the Conduit
poetic sensibility. Since their membership in this unholy cabal is unbeknownst
to them, I’ll keep their identities secret. Well, except for one, the author of
this week’s poem, “Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975,” Noelle Kocot.
Although we first published Ms. Kocot in “Drunk Genius” (#6)
and then again in “Pedestrian” (#7), “Big Bang” (#9), “Extinction” (#13), “Gray
Matters” (#15), and “Last Laugh” (#19), I had never had the pleasure of meeting
her until last November in New York. That’s not to say we aren’t friends. We have forged a friendship over the telephone and through letters. But it’s her poems that
get her published. She’s an incredible poet, a true poet, prolific and
profound, vulnerable and victorious in her pursuit of love and wonder.
"Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975” first
appeared in our “Pedestrian” issue and was later included in her award-winning
book 4 (Four Way Books). As this poem
demonstrates, the sestina is well suited to follow the poet’s searching mind
and to contain, just barely but perfectly, the unwieldy stuff of life.
-- William Waltz
Brooklyn Sestina: June, 1975
How can I conjure the vivdness of the plastic Blue and orange chairs we'd slump Into every morning before the tyranny of fractions, Each afternoon after the sadism of lunch? We'd just played "Boys against Girls," "Girls against Boys," slamming each other's small
Into a schoolyard fence, as if to add to the body Of what American feminism had become, its piles of plastic Dolls dismembered like Bluebeard's wives, only this time by
girls Of single mothers slumped Into plaid couches, too tired or too drunk to fix those
cleanly cut-out lunches Like the ones beamed into their living rooms through the
Blue-rimmed eye of the cathode ray refracted By those radio ballads that sent everybody Who'd ever broken up to sobbing in their McDonald's Muzak
lunches. Why is it that everything smelled like plastic As the yellow heatwave slumped Against my salmon-colored building where the girls
Were jumping rope (the older girls Skipping double Dutch)? Could it have been the fractious Yentas looking on from sweaty beach chairs clumped Together in the shade, their widowed bodies Already melted and annealed to a tanned and cracking
plastic? The housewives who went on serving each other lunch
Like it would never end? I would soon be off to lunch Myself at Jewish camp with a girl My age named Rachel, offering her what I'd plastic- Wrapped the night before, her six-year-old fractions Of hands fumbling over my body In return before our midday swim. No Cold War, no economic slump
Could touch us in that Brooklyn; Brooklyn,
the word itself seems holy, a Cabalistic lunchbox Yawning open for all the world to fathom its great plastic Letters stretched bodiless Across the level see-saw of the summer heat like the broken
balloon of a girl's Insides, her future a fractal- Patterned leaf dangling from her family tree of dusty
And the shoulders on the bodies of the girls Who hadn't been pinned to their beds at night slumped in the
lunchroom Nonetheless, its fractured spoons and forks still scattering
across the dance floor of my dreams, a threnody of plastic.
Assembling an issue of Conduit sometimes feels like building a
giant electron telescope and pointing it toward deep space. We never know what
our mad invention will reveal until we peer through the viewfinder. We do know
that the efforts and imaginations of many are required to bring our collective
dream into focus every six months. In the case of the current issue, “Humans ‘N
Nature,” over forty people helped to calibrate its searching eye.
For the majority, it was their
first time in Conduit, but for a dozen
contributors it was their second or third or fourth time between our covers.
Last week I mentioned the joy of finding a wildflower among the weeds. Another
great pleasure is to champion, over time, a writer whose work we admire and
whom is, presumably, fond of us.
One such poet is Sabrina Orah
Mark. Three of our issues have featured her prose poems, including “The 10
Stages of Beatrice,” which can be found below and in her forthcoming book Tsim Tsum (Saturnalia Books). To our
enormous satisfaction, “The 10 Stages of Beatrice” was selected by Heather
McHugh for the Best American Poetry 2007.
Ms. Mark’s recurring characters,
Beatrice and Walter B., inhabit a world fecund with Old World charm and inanimate objects of mysterious significance, and, in the process of
rendering this world, Sabrina Orah Mark has created a timeless fable full of
longing, humor, and tendernes
-- William Waltz
THE 10 STAGES OF BEATRICE
Stage 1. — Belonging.
In the first stage
Beatrice is precisely labeled and timed. She is able to divise complex graphs,
answer questions in the order that they're asked, and construct coherent
narratives without nostalgia or actual fear. There is no display of loud
sobbing, nor are there visions.
Stage 2.— Happy.
Beatrice, during the second stage,
believes she is alive. The possibility that she is not alive, in this stage,
never enters her mind. This stage is only possible if the spectacle comes to
Stage 3. — Walter B.
This stage is also called "the
latch stage." It is Beatrice at her most historical and strange.
Stage 4. — Romance.
Beatrice is hunted, captured, and
softly strung to a tree. In this stage words are used to intoxicate, supply,
and deceive. These words are rarely interesting. Gifts are exchanged that are of
Stage 5. — Dread.
Beatrice is covered in feathers and
twigs. She believes she is a nest. This stage, if it occurs in winter, is also
called "The Babies."
Stage 6. — Slice.
The sixth stage often appears in
Beatrice's hand like a long instrument with a blade at the end. She will eat
cake, during this stage, until she has visions.
Stage 7. — Cryptozoology.
In the seventh stage Beatrice wears
a green dress with large white pockets in which to store the evidence. If this
stage is mingled with the second stage, ecstasy is achieved.
Stage 8. — Crowded.
Beatrice is behind glass. In this
stage Beatrice is blurred by the humans who observe her without caution.
Stage 9. — Poland.
Beatrice gathers her grandfather
into her arms. She recites him from his memory. The ninth stage sounds like
this: tsim tsum, tsim tsum, tsim tsum.
Stage 10. — Return.
In the final stage Beatrice watches
Beatrice feed the babies with a spade.