In my studio, I used to have portraits of my favorite poets hanging on the wall next to my desk. One day, I realized that most of them either committed suicide or subjected themselves to suicide-like circumstances (like Pushkin who was repeatedly trying to subject himself to a duel). How could it be that the most sensitive people who bring so much joy to others through their writings, would give up on life?
Suicide is still a taboo theme in our society. Yet, it daily kills more people than disease or war. Looking for answers, I came across the diaries of Sylvia Plath, who killed herself at the age of thirty at the height of her powers as a poet. My String Quartet No. 8 ‘Sylvia’s Diary’ is written in honor of Sylvia Plath.
World Premiere Info: 17 November 2013 Rochester (USA) University, Kilbourn Hall, 3 PM World premiere: Lera Auerbach - String Quartet No. 8 “Sylvia’s Diary“ Ying Quartet
Today I'm thinking about these lines from John Berryman: "Fall is grievy, brisk. / Tears behind the eyes // almost fall. / Fall comes to us as a prize / to rouse us toward our fate." (From his Dream Song 385, which someone has put online here.)
I've been listening to Jon Appleton's The Russian Music this fall. The first disc, mostly: the piano concertos. They ripple and roll. They're a bit akin to Philip Glass (his Metamorphoses -- also well-suited to fall, if you ask me.) But this piano music is moodier. More Russian, I suppose. Though when I ran across the Berryman quote (above) in my commonplace book, it made me think of Appleton, too.
It occurred to me to share the first track with you, the one I've been loving so much, "Julia - I Con Fuoco," though YouTube failed me. I found a young Jon Appleton playing the synclavier, which is a very different thing entirely. I found Moscow Meat, a short film about Jon discovering Russian composers in Vermont. And this short interview with Jon, filmed about a year ago in his home in Vermont:
But he speaks there a great deal about electronic music, and while I have no problem with his electronic work, it's his analog work with which I have fallen in love.
Then I realized that you can hear that first track at the publisher's website. Go to Jon Appleton - The Russian Music -- click on the image of the cd cover, Jon holding a fur hat in front of a wintery wood, and you'll be whisked to another webpage where the first track will automatically play.
might not think of this 1981 dab of pop schmaltz served up by the Philly duo
Hall & Oates when you think about the National Security Agency but the song
makes a point. Other than its obvious message about stepping out on a lover
and the mayhem that ensues, in the context of our Chicago 100,000 Poets for
Change event tonight it’s being used to spread a message that as our local,
state, and federal governments become less and less transparent in their
activities they are spending huge sums of money in their efforts to watch us. (Recent
headlines also show that government employees have also been using their
increased reach not only to spy on potential threats to national security but also
ex-girlfriends and wives.)
worth mentioning that increased surveillance to some degree does make our world
a bit safer, but the larger question is what are we sacrificing for this safety
and where is the line when collectively Americans need to say enough. From the
elevated train you rode to work, to the convenience store where you bought a
bagel, to efforts championed by some health insurance companies that would
require potential customers to provide DNA mapping, technology and our efforts
to make urban environments more livable are colliding in sometimes strange
Poets, artists, and musicians worldwide tonight are getting together to talk
about the issues that affect their communities for the third installment of the
global 100, 000 Poets for Change. Join
us! Details follow. (I’ve also included a journal entry about participating in
my very first 100, 000 Poets for Change event three years ago.)
7pm at Outer Space Studio 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago near the CTA Damen blue line suggested donation $4
On September 28, 2013, thousands of poets around
the world will make their voices heard. To declare the change they'd like to
see most in the U.S. and throughout the international community, events are
being staged worldwide as part of 100 Thousand Poets for Change. This
night of poetry and activism in Chicago asks the questions: What is freedom of
expression? Is surveillance dangerous? Who chooses the information
our government can access and censor? When has it gone too far?
Darren Angle, Barbara Barg, Joel Craig, Nina Corwin, Adrienne Dodt, Rey
Escobar, Cean Gamalinda, Laura Goldstein, Jeanette Gomes, Kevin, Gunnerson,
Nathan Hoks, Felicia Holman, J'Sun Howard,
Noël Jones, Jennifer Karmin, Emily Lansana, Daniela Olszewska, Matthias Regan,
Timothy David Rey, Larry Sawyer, Jennifer Steele, Keli Stewart, Russ Woods, and
Lina Ramona Vitkauskas
-- near CTA Damen blue line, third floor walk up, not wheelchair accessible
by the Chicago Calling
Arts Festival &
curated by the 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Chicago Community Council 2013:
Barbara Barg, Laura Goldstein, Jennifer Karmin, Timothy Rey, Larry Sawyer, Keli
Stewart, and Lina Ramona Vitkauskas
Red Rover Series is curated by Laura Goldstein and
Jennifer Karmin. Each event is designed as a reading experiment with
participation by local, national, and international writers, artists, and
performers. Founded in 2005 by Amina Cain and Jennifer Karmin, the
over sixty events have featured a diversity of renowned creative
minds. Email ideas for reading experiments to us at email@example.com.
About My First 100,000 Poets for Change: Bad Date America
I’m trying to remember when I first heard of 100,000
Poets for Change. I know as a poet I picked up on it much more quickly than the
general populace probably. Anything with “poets” in the title would end up on my
radar eventually. I do remember being on the phone with Michael Rothenberg at
some point talking with him about something else and saying “so, what’s this
100,000 Poets for Change? I mean, 100,000? What do you mean by change? Whose
change? What does that look like?” I remember Michael answering my questions
fairly patiently, if not giving me the impression that I was being too
skeptical. Almost the tone of his voice, from what I remember, being kind of
like, don’t you get it?
I did get it and he knew I did, but I was asking
questions because I was intrigued.
I do think that since being written up by the major news
media (Huffington Post, methinks), poets and the public at large are
taking it much more seriously as a vehicle for dialogue and a motivator for
communities to band together and solve problems with art. Essentially that’s
what it is. But its nebulous qualities are what makes it unique. It’s really
all-inclusive, nearly to a fault. Bob Holman pointed out that the strength of
it lies in the fact that anyone can take the idea and pour it into the mold of
what works in their own community. I agreed.
For Chicago, my plan was to provide some sugar, maybe
some hilarity, so the bitter pill of what was happening in America would go
down a little easier. Everything in the news reminded me of being on a bad
date. It was BAD DATE AMERICA. The idea of being stuck in a clock-watching
scenario and grimacing through every moment of it. The worst bad dates also
involve a CHAIN OF EVENTS that progressively worsens. “Well, at least THAT
hasn’t happened, yet.”
Also, giving the event a conceptual theme might make the
audience feel a bit better about an event involving 15 to 20 poets. It seemed
After coming up with a viable concept, of course I had to
act as MC and participate by reading my own poetry and recounting an actual bad
date experience. I dressed up like a waiter, wore a white shirt and black tie,
threw a towel over my arm, and seated each reader at the front of the room at
the candlelight table we’d propped up just for the occasion. The audience
tittered and gasped and I think came away with more of an understanding of how
art can bridge gaps between communities and also grease the wheels of change. I
After all, has there been a time when more is at stake?
In addition to the complacency on the part of many regarding the evidence that
the earth is in danger of the kind of climate change that could at the least
ruin lives and at the most result in a world war over resources, disruption in
trade and eco-disaster, IN ADDITION TO THAT the United States was still
involved in two foreign wars and the global economy was in the midst of a
recession that had curbed everyone’s enthusiasm for anything. I was astounded
to see that so many local poets and publishers agreed to participate,
including: Kaveh Adel, Barbara Barg, Jen Besemer, Dan Godston, Laura Goldstein,
Ezzat Goushegir, Kurt Heintz, Marcy Henry, Philip Jenks, Jennifer Karmin,
Francesco Levato, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Monica Long, Anthony Madrid, Mario,
Ario Mashayekhi, Charlie Newman, Ladan Osman, Timothy David Ray, Roger Reeves,
Kenyatta Rogers, Jacob Saenz, Don Share, Keli Stewart, Tony Trigilio, and Lina
ramona Vitkauskas. These poets have my
heartfelt thanks and respect for being the first to light the fire.
When I was a girl growing up in north-central Montana, I
spent many hours exploring the prairie and the coulees surrounding the Marias River. Meriwether
Lewis named it “Maria’s” River after his cousin who said “no” to his marriage proposal.
I’ve always wondered if he chose the name because this river was a “dead end”
in terms of the expedition’s search for a Northwest Passage. But now we
pronounce it with a long “i” as if there is an “s” at the end Mariah.
An expert told me the Blackfeet were probably the former inhabitants of the
teepee rings, the circles of stones, that my cousins and friends and I used to
walk among. There are whole villages, groups of two or three rings connected,
and occasionally a very large ring at the top of a hill set apart from the
others. Many doorways and remnants of fire rings are still present. Often I
went with neighbors and cousins, but as I grew older, I liked to wander by
The prairie was a good place for the imagination to develop, and it
has shaped my perceptions in many ways. It provided me with the solitude to sing, pray, dance. I would stop
at the edge of a pond or a quiet spot in the river and become as still as I
could be, so the animals would learn to ignore me, the minnows would return,
and the dragonflies would forget that I wasn’t part of the surrounding reeds or
cattails. I loved looking for prairie asters, sweet peas, or bluebells in acres
of dry grass.
Town was twenty miles away. My class consisted of four
girls, my K-12 school of 60-80 kids depending on the year, and the town,
Inverness, had a few hundred people. The school is now abandoned, the windows
broken, the wooden floors warped. I can vividly remember walking to the lunch room,
performing scenes from South Pacific
and West Side Story in the gymnasium with
members of our music classes, lying on the floor in the back of the small
library reading biographies of Mozart and Van Gogh and Janis Joplin. There are
many abandoned schools on the Hi
Line in north-central Montana, where railroad towns appear every few miles
with names like Glasgow, Malta, Kremlin, and Havre.
Chester was the location of the Liberty County Arts Council
when I was a girl. My family went to most of the events this group sponsored. I
saw my first didgeridoo there, my first cowboy singer, and my first opera. The Calgary Opera performed La Traviata,
or at least scenes from it, on the high school stage, and of all the programs I
saw, this is one that I remember most because I was interested in voice. Shortly
afterward, my cousin applied to a youth choir that toured in Europe, and since
she applied, I applied too when I was old enough. Maybe the influence of this
outreach, alongside a good music teacher, allowed us to believe in our ability.
On the one hand, engagement with family and the natural
world fed my imagination. On the other hand, the community and schools
supported artistic growth to the best of their ability, and it’s this
combination that I wish for every child. Having taught in the Montana Women’s
Prison for the past five years, I see more clearly than ever the importance of
encouragement and of giving young people a way to direct their skills, talents
and energies. I think sometimes that if we could encourage and praise all of
the children, the world would change quickly.
Montana has a history of strong, local arts councils that
have done much over the years to bring musicians, performers, and, eventually, writers
into their communities. There are many small towns at great distance from each other,
and the need for outreach persists in all corners of the state. As Montana’s
poet laureate, I hope to contribute, and I continue to feel grateful for the
adults who made artistic programs possible when I was a kid.
I was recently marveling over this poem by Dylan Thomas, “Who are you who is born in the next room...” (published in 1945) from a series of pattern poems called Vision and Prayer because of what it does or enacts so successfully, and in doing so, how it transcends its arbitrary form. I don’t have the entire series in front of me, so it may be that this particular shape has some relevance that isn’t obvious when it’s viewed out of context because apparently these shapes form a series. What seems most interesting to me is how this writing works so well to set a scene and create a poetic equation with an ending that comes as somewhat of a surprise in a visceral way with such depth of metaphor, while it almost completely resists its own rhyme scheme. It provides an almost perfect balance between meaning and form that still manages to raise interesting questions because of certain effects.
I’m drawn at the outset to the two somewhat cavernous caesuras. The first comes after “In the birth.” It seems appropriate that the poet creates this gap in the line after the word birth (where the reader nearly falls in), and the second occurs after the word “alone.” Both caesuras offer a perfect physical illustration of what is being described (the pregnant pause) because the reader is forced to involuntarily pause after these words, which not only gives them emphasis but reemphasizes in a very graphic way the visual provided a few lines earlier with “I can hear the womb opening.”
From the poem’s opening there is a double meaning established because of the dramatic tension inherent in the first three words. The intentional ambiguity almost has the reader questioning himself or this might also be Thomas asking the question of himself.
Dualities cascade throughout. In the idea that Jesus was God’s word made flesh. The two physically separated rooms exist showing the reader as separate from what goes on in the other room. Also, the mention of a “wall thin as a wren’s bone” seems to underscore a difference between what the speaker perceives as the natural and unnatural world.
It’s quite marvelous that “Wren bone” is an anagram of “new borne.” Other imagery underscores an idea that this event on some level is holy but, again, a duality within the structures finds the reader noticing a shift of perspective in the mirror image of the poem that begins as the lines reach a midpoint and then recede in the second half. The poem’s structure mimics what is described, i.e., the poem itself is turning or shifting. These lines could be read in multiple ways “In the birth/bloody room/unknown to the …” or “In the birth bloody/room unknown to the…”
The poem, although only 71 words, does start with a vision and end with a sort of prayer but is Thomas describing his own thoughts on his own life that started with a similar birth but resulted in the many physical, mental, and domestic problems which plagued him for years? Or is this a meditation on our relation to the natural world and the unnatural, as represented in the poem, is the overlay of religiosity that is placed upon us that begins at birth? Thomas paints a prime moment, birth, which serves as a hinge between these two “worlds” i.e., the natural world and the world of civilization (and all the socialization that civilization demands).
As the wall is a part of the civilized world, the infant is not, yet anyway, and the point is emphasized internally as the rhyme scheme pairs “wild” and “child” together as a final example of the mysterious duality that ripples throughout what might have been a poem that Thomas wrote in one sitting in a very short amount of time.
The visual pattern creates interesting parallels that otherwise might not have existed had the poem been left aligned. The final interesting afterthought is that the form provides the reader with an object to be stared at, which it gives it an element of spectacle. Because of its symmetry the object simultaneously resembles a box, a shape of some sort like a pyramid reflected in water, a crucifix, the human form with arms outspread, and finally and obviously a diamond. Sixteenth Century alchemist Agrippa also included this shape and its opposite, which would look like a jagged hourglass, in his “Of the Proportion, Measure, and Harmony of Man’s Body,” which included diagrams of geometric shapes aligned with the human form. These two shapes comprise the ebb and flow of the alternating patterns in the book.
By starting with such an unanswerable question, by including such vivid imagery (e.g., heart print), and ending with such a violent twist, the poem registers like a minor earthquake and we stare down into its dark abyss and wonder what it meant to the author, as well as what it might mean to everyone facing the riddle of human existence.
Nota bene: See if you can guess which other literary wild child may have served as partial inspiration for this particular song by The Doors.