Subj: My Flu
Date: 96_12_21 15:22:57 EST
From: email@example.com (Reetika Gina Vazirani)
I caught the flu
there is nothing I can do
but entertain myself as u-
sual, it's fun reading your books which out of the blue
put up sprigs of mistletoe
rapid random kisses ensue
achoo, achoo, achoo
it's all a dream on my part I know
but a good one thank you
David I am walking on broken glass it’s so
crunchy! If there's ice or snow
I won't be able to check my email, it’s cold the wind is blow
ing, I blow you good wishes Blow
you in this case has a direct object O-
kay master explainer of interpretive theo-_
ries of our day -- take care of you sweet ego
You friend, Reetika Also
do Not get a Flu
Shot that's how I got this horrible disease the flu
I don't need a doctor I need a lawyer so
I can approach the Nat’l Agency on Flu
with one sentence: I plan to sue!
O, so do go ahead and get a flu shot we can sue
them together just we two
we will threaten the agency execu-
tives: Look you -- holding up a photo
(exhibit A) of you with a silencer to your head, ready for death to
take you The flu
is a silent killer and to kill off po-
ets is a terrible thing for a country to do!
Achoo, is that your sneeze, God Bless You!
-- December 21, 1996
Before I continue with the second half of my essay, I would like to thank Managing Editor, Stacy Harwood-Lehman for giving me the opportunity as a guest blogger this week on BAP. I cannot express what pleasure it is to focus on a single poet during the course of a week. Thank you! Also, thank you to Stephanie Brown for spending so much time responding to my interview questions, and giving me permission to reprint “Stacks” in it’s entirety later in this post. Finally, thank you to Dr. Heather Treseler at Worcester State University for recognizing my sincere love of Stephanie’s work.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to write my first look at Stephanie Brown’s poem “Stacks”. I began with identifying the anaphoric inversion in her poetic line, which continues throughout her list-style poem from beginning to end and expresses the absolute philosophical resilience revealed in specific social and political situations. Librarians are not mere ‘keepers of books’ but represent a connection to community. The long-standing traditional perception that a librarian is a woman who checks books out at a desk is an antiquated image still conceived by members of the public. A librarian, like any other position, is not identified by gender, nor are they only responsible for printed words; a librarian, of which there are many different positions and roles, is involved with the community both in and outside the doors of Stephanie Brown’s “Ancient house” (line 7). Brown clearly states in her litanical verse the role and provisions of the public library:
Place to hide from bullies the
Opinion piece the
Children meet the
Service dog the
Proper and calm welcome the (lines 16-21)
The library is a sanctuary, a place “to hide” and a place for conjecture whether others like it or not. It is a place for children to grow and experience programs, usually free, that they may not otherwise experience. It is a congenial atmosphere, sometimes quiet and calm and sometimes not so much when “Angry crazy shirtless the” (line 15). Brown’s poem pays homage to the history to the institution, both current and past. Her reference to “Librarian casanova Philip Larkin the” (line 23) is the longest line in the poem with the anaphoric “the” hanging like a cliff. Much like the determiner as the surface holding the anvil, here, “the” acts as the edge of influence. Larkin was not only recognized for his poetry and novels, but he was employed as a librarian for over forty years. The dedication to the profession and the public is not always recognized the way it should be. Following the Larkin line, Brown takes us on a rhythmic departure:
Cemetery plot dug open the
Ideas inside the
Spine broken the
Empty station the (lines 24-30)
The nine-syllable line “Cemetery plot dug open the” has a quiet, simple tone that suddenly breaks into two lines opening with long i vowel sounds, followed by four lines opening with anapestic pentameter or hexameter (“Interpretation the”). At this segment of the poem the litany gets louder with Brown’s use of internal rhyme and “the” connects each active noun from one line to the next. Yes, “the” connects each line from beginning to end in her poem, but at this moment, and it is an important one, “the” drives the exaltation of political speech back to antiquity: “Rosetta Stone the” (line 31). Brown does not let us forget where the institution originates; the Rosetta Stone is a symbol of knowledge, language, and war. Napoleon once had possession of the Rosetta Stone, but it was taken from him after he was defeated by the British. The claim of ownership on knowledge, the desire to fight and steal for the sake of knowledge is the
Moment between thoughts the
Information beyond the
Sky (lines 35-39)
These final lines in Brown’s poem address the idea of possibility, the ‘if only’ we chose to recognize the weight of possibility in our individual lives and outer community, all is “Limitless the”. Brown’s “Stacks” allows us to peruse the shelves of past and present, reconsider the gravity of choice and experience. The public library, the stacks, provides an opportunity to be forged as expansive as the heavens. Shouldn’t we take it?
by Stephanie Brown
Democracy is the
Library is the
Temple of learning the
People’s university the
Cradle of civilization the
Ancient house the
Keeping of knowledge the
Private breakthrough the
Tall glass windows the
Moment of eureka the
Bad conduct the
Upskirt photos the
Angry crazy shirtless the
Place to hide from bullies the
Opinion piece the
Children meet the
Service dog the
Proper and calm welcome the
Librarian Casanova Phillip Larkin the
Cemetery plot dug open the
Ideas inside the
Spine broken the
Empty station the
Rosetta Stone the
Tablet and phone the
Doors open the
Rest the energy the time the
Moment between thoughts the
Information beyond the
by Francisco Aragon
this deserted stretch of beach this
And that slick border of sand
would make a slapping sound
were I to run
along the very edge
on my left
as I did after school those years
four of them,
striding to the Cliff House
and back: practice.
this shoreline—a kind of liquid lace
gathering at the corners
of your mouth
that Sunday you ran with me:
the starter’s pistol, mile 1,
off at mile 10…
—The San Francisco
Marathon I finished
at fifteen. Not
this ocean’s palette—muted, barely
green: a fringe of froth
along the top dissolving
into sky, half this canvas
—a kind of absence.
this human invention
—two of them—
wood, tightly woven
And if you were seated on the right, in the distance
and I in the one
on the left
in the foreground,
be facing each other
We might even
In 1998, after a ten-year residence in Spain, Francisco Aragón began a period of activity that included his own literary output, editing, translating, and curating. In 2003 he joined the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) at the University of Notre Dame, where he founded Letras Latinas, the ILS’ literary initiative. In 2010, he was awarded the Outstanding Latino/a Cultural Arts, Literary Arts and Publications Award by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and in 2015 a VIDO Award by VIDA, Women in the Literary Arts. A CantoMundo Fellow and member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, Aragón is the author of Puerta del Sol (2005) and Glow of Our Sweat (2010) as well as editor of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (2007), these latter two winners of International Latino Book Awards. He teaches a course on Latino/a poetry at Notre Dame in the fall and directs Letras Latinas in Washington DC in the spring and summer. For more: franciscoaragon.net . "Unknown Distances" first appeared in Nepantla and was written as part of PINTURA:PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis.
Of a whorehouse in Odessa Isaac Babel wrote
That sometimes groans of pleasure lifted
The whole building six inches off the ground.
So too it was at the Commonwealth Hotel
On the corner of Pine Grove and Diversey
Where as kids we caused such commotion
In the coffee shop that once a bookmaker
Leaned from a phone booth and exclaimed,
‘This is a place of business!’ We laughed
And mocked him but in that same hour
As the hotel began to levitate we sought
His explanation – he was known as
Mister Zah – and he described fucking
As best he could but it was still a mystery.
From the Wall Street Journal, October 15-16, 2016
Not the least of Robert Frost’s accomplishments is that he managed to balance popularity with artistic excellence. Take “The Road Not Taken” (1916), arguably his most famous poem. You probably read it in high school. You will find it in any good poetry anthology. In its wizardry, the poem deserves the highest accolades. The irony is that it has often been loved and quoted for the wrong reasons. The further irony is that this misunderstanding itself testifies to the subtlety and genius of its creator. The critic David Orr has written an entire book—“The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong” (2015), newly in paperback—on this misunderstanding and the nuances of Frost’s design.
Here is the poem:
In the name of Abe – biblical predecessor
of honest Abe, who freed the slaves,
and also Bobby’s dad -- I stand at your gate
with faith equal to doubt, and I say,
look out kid, no matter what you did,
and incredulity gives way to unconditional surrender.
Abe say “Where do you want this killing done?”
God say “Out on Highway 61.”
God directs traffic,
and young Isaac say it’s all right Ma I’m only bleeding.
And Ma say it’s all right boy I’m only breathing.
And Dad unpack his heart with words like a whore.
Young Isaac ain’t gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
Ike no like the white man boss,
and when stuck inside of Mobile to even the score
he looks at the stream he needs to cross
despite schemes of grinning oilpot oligarch arschloch
who wanna be on the side that’s winning.
So he climbs up to the captain’s tower and does his sinning
and has read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books.
He no get where he got because of his looks.
He’s on the pavement talking about the government,
and he knows something’s happening but he don’t know what it is.
A strange man, Mr. Jones. Isaac Jones that is.
-- David Lehman
she broods in her pen:
by Alexandra Lytton Regalado
October cuts furrows of cloud in the Salvadoran sky as papier mache skeletons dance on our mantle, mariachi band of the dead in a glittering box, and a votive of la Virgen de Guadalupe draped in her green cloak next to the American pumpkin we’ve yet to carve. On this Day of the Dead, my children return from a piñata with two baby chicks dyed lime green and tangerine—a strange fad in party favors in El Salvador. The children squeal, watching the chicks rush about, like wind-up toys their beaks open and shut on crumbs of bread, gullets twitch as they swallow water, and tuck their heads into a wing—a bare bulb for mother’s warmth. The next day, we return from ballet class to find one pitched across the newsprint with legs rigid as a cartoon’s. And when the kids ask for a burial ceremony, already the other chick is staggering, asleep at the wheel and suddenly peeping. My daughter strokes the chick’s walnut head and says, Ok, Mami, I’ll go play while you wait for it to die. So I sit at the kitchen table, the limp bird hammocked in my hand—and with each breath I think—this is it, this is the last, and no, another breath—just as the children at bedtime lean into me with plumes of sweet breath, their limbs jerk as they approach the edge—as I hope this is—that they will abandon themselves to sleep, but again they turn and grip me tighter. Outside these four walls is my hot bath, the soup in the pot, a chapter, my other life. So I wish for the bird’s last breath—how like matchsticks are his bones. Now there is no return to the dancing skeletons in their glittering box—this is where I am supposed to dim the lights, and yet I have to describe how my daughter broke a branch of purple bougainvillea, point out that my son scooped up the dead bird and pitched him into the hole in the earth as one would toss a paper cup into a wastebasket, that it was 8pm on a school night and they stood like statues as they clutched my hands and whimpered Angel de la Guardia, the only prayer they know by heart. It ends like this: my children came alive again when it was time to pat down the shoveled dirt—but the next day they did not paint the stones to mark the graves as they had promised.
Co-founder of Kalina press, Alexandra Lytton Regalado is the author, editor, or translator of ten Central American-themed
books. Her poems and short stories have appeared in cream city review, Gulf Coast, Narrative, NANO Fiction, Notre Dame Review, OCHO, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. Her full-length collection of poems, Matria, (Black Lawrence Press) is forthcoming in 2017. She is the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Prize, the Coniston Poetry Prize, and her work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She has a black belt in Kenpo Karate and lives in El Salvador with her husband and three children. "La Gallina" was first published in Radar Poetry.
We're excited to announce the first issue of a new online magazine of art and poetry: Decals of Desire. The founding editor is British artist and poet Rupert Mallin, and the poetry editor is British poet Martin Stannard, who lives and works in China (and who has been a guest here).
Martin Stannard used to edit joe soap’s canoe, a UK magazine that was the first in the UK to draw heavily upon the New York School, publishing among others Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Paul Violi, Charles North, and Tony Towle. One can expect a similar taste to show up in Decals of Desire.
The first issue demonstrates its commitment to both the visual and the written, and kicks off in stunning fashion by featuring 8 collages by John Ashbery, as well as a poem, and extracts from Ashbery’s 1968 essay on the avant-garde. Among other writers featured in the issue are Ron Padgett, Sharon Mesmer and Mark Halliday from the U.S., Ian Seed and Alan Baker from the UK, and Mairéad Byrne, who was born in Ireland, emigrated to the U.S., and now appears to be travelling…. But it’s not all “poetry”. There’s even a short play in there. Variety is almost all.
In terms of the visual arts, Decals of Desire will look back but also across to traditional, experimental and off-the-wall art forms today.
Featured in the first issue is the work of contemporary landscape painter Martin Laurance. Laurance’s work captures the crumbling English coastline through dramatic, captivating studies. The magazine also reviews The British Art Show touring exhibition – a show that claims to represent the “most dynamic” art produced in Britain today, but which probably doesn’t. There is sculpture, too: sculpture of the 20th century is often viewed in terms of form and mass. Decals of Desire outlines how sculptor Alberto Giacometti dealt primarily in scale and human distance.
Other articles include a sideways look at the Turner Prize 2016. Back in 1999 Tracy Emin turned the prize into prime time TV viewing but didn’t win. Will a female artist win this year? And whither the Avant-Garde? In this piece evidence of its existence and withering is found in contemporary dance and the ‘NO Manifesto.’ And in each issue an unusual artistic technique will be explored and the side streets of modern art history revisited.
Decals of Desire can be found at http://decalsofdesire.blogspot.com.
We're already looking forward to Issue 2, which will include a review of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy, an exploration of Catalan Contemporary Art, the Anglo-French Art Centre 1945-51 plus an abundance of poetry and regular columns – featured artists, Decals DIY and more.
Decals of Desire does not accept unsolicited manuscripts or poetry submissions.
It is, as they say over at McSweeney’s, decorative gourd season…. As a dedicated vegetable lover, the characterization of edible squashes as “gourds” grieves me. We portray them merely as colorful fall decorations, forgetting their history and relationship to humans. Those adorable Jack-Be-Little pumpkins which decorate mantels from Connecticut to California are not only edible, but choice, personal sized squashes. Cook one up, add a dash of butter and maple syrup, and you’ll be amazed. The enormous, ribbed, red squashes gracing haybales everywhere are Boston Marrows. A century ago, when you had to feed a large farm family, plus a few hands, you needed a squash that big for every meal. These fruits were selected and grown as a valuable (and tasty) source of calories which would keep successfully over a long winter. How distressing then, that wagonloads of them are left outdoors overnight, at trendy grocery stores across the country, where they are subject to (shudder) frost!
Americans are generally familiar with three squash species in the genus Cucurbita – the pepos, which have a spiny, six-pointed stem, and are represented by the field pumpkin, the acorns, and summer squashes such as the zucchini:
Peduncle (stem attachment) of Curcurbita pepo the maximas, which have a warty stem, and are represented by hubbards, buttercups, and “giant pumpkins”:
Peduncle of Cucurbita maximas and moschatas, which have button stems, and are best known by the popular butternut.
Regardless of species, all domestic squashes are uniquely American – generally South American. They evolved somewhere warm, and they do still thrive in the heat. However, humans dragged them on up to North America, and along the way we selected for squashes that managed nicely in our more varied seasons. It’s useful to ponder their biology a bit, in order to understand how we should be caring for them.
Consider what the squash is. Each squash is a pepo – botanically, a great big berry which contains a number of seeds. As long as the fruit remains intact, those seeds stay dormant. Once the protective shell of fruit is gone, seeds which are subjected to the right conditions will germinate. Seeds that germinate either grow or they don’t, they get to reproduce and pass down their genetic structures or not, depending on whether they’ve germinated in a fortunate time and place.
Imagine yourself as a pumpkin. Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in a field in the late autumn sun. The nights are cold, freezing even, and each cold night the water in your cells freezes and breaks cell membranes. As the day warms, that cellular water thaws, then freezes again at night. Eventually, all the cells break, and you collapse as a hunk of goo, sheltering those seeds until spring. This works for you, the pumpkin. After all, what the pumpkin wants is to pass on its genetic information. When things begin to warm up in the spring, the seeds will be conveniently planted just under a nutrient rich layer of pumpkin goo, and up they come - happy baby pumpkins.
What we want, however, is to eat those pumpkins (or to keep them as table decorations at least until Thanksgiving is over – I won’t judge. Much.). In order to prevent them from decomposing, you’ve got to keep them warm. Comfortable room temperature warm. You, standing around in your shirt sleeves warm. Leave one outdoors, subject to freeze and thaw cycles, and you’ll have to shovel it off your front step. Those stores displaying squashes that have sat outside in October are selling you damaged goods. It’s probably fine for your Halloween Jack-O-Lantern (you’re going to let the kids butcher that anyway), but not for a Blue Hubbard, a Triamble, or a Buttercup. Bring those babies in.
It’s more accurate to think of processes and chance when discussing evolutionary success, but it’s more poetic to talk about what the pumpkin wants. It’s more human. We come to care more about the world around us when we imagine ourselves in the place of its inhabitants. That’s one thing poetry can do for us, it can put us in the place of another organism. One of my favorite plant poems does just that. Mark Doty’s “Amagansett Cherry” reminds us that plants have their own agenda, and they don’t much care about ours.
Praise to the cherry on the lawn of the library,
the heave and contorted thrust of it, a master,
on its own root, negating the word weeping
(miles to the nearest tears),
requiring instead down-fountaining,
or descending from a ferocious intention.
Whatever twists the trunk
subsumed into pink explosiveness, and then, all summer,
the green-black canopy. Prefer it unbent?
I have no use for you then,
says the torque and fervor of the tree.
Mark Doty’s “Amagansett Cherry” is available in his collection Deep Lane, by W.W. Norton &Co. http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Deep-Lane/
LYCANTHROPES IN LOVE
by Steven Cordova
The first man is in a chair, his barber behind him
shaving the hairs
off the back of his neck. There's another, a second man:
He's in the very next chair,
also having his neck, the upper regions of his back,
He is bigger, less effete than the first & no doubt
that is why, across
the shop's full-length mirrors, the second man is shooting
a look full of the hostility two lycanthropes feel,
one for the other,
when first they sniff each other out.
Still, in hairy, recurring dreams they're bound
to find themselves,
just the two of them
in a dark wood where they will once more expose their
fangs to each other, & then,
their puny arms having become legs,
clawed & roughly padded,
their bodies having become far more the same
than different, they will run,
they will run & run & they will not stop running
until their tongues hang down.
And they will do it again—they will run & run
& run—the very next time
the moon grows full.
Steven Cordova is the author of Long Distance (Bilingual Review Press, 2010), and his poems have appeared in many journals & anthologies, including Bellevue University Press, Callaloo, and Northwest Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. "Lycanthropes in Love" was first published in The Good Men Project.
Poems I Will Never Write
I recently taught a terrific student who loathed titling poems. Her resistance was neither principled nor practical; instead, as a fanatical rewriter, she had difficulty calling a poem finished, and so titling a piece felt, as she once reported, “Like stamping DEAD on a deer’s forehead.” I provided poor solace. I tried to help, nonetheless. I gave her leads, notions, poems with titles I admire: the Table of Contents from Wallace Stevens's Harmonium, a copy of Alice Fulton’s Sensual Math, and links to the websites of Matthea Harvey and Ross Gay. I offered to buy her a Titleist ball cap (a joke she knew wasn’t funny, but she laughed a student laugh).
Nothing mattered. She remained desperate, and often when handing me a new poem, she would say bitterly, “You title it.”
One day, I asked her class what titles do, and students generated the following list:
It’s a good list. It’s an even better list when we remember, generally, that a good title performs a few of these operations at once, and that a bad title performs too few or too many, and that some of these operations don't play well together.
As a follow-up, at the beginning of each term, I now require early poets to come up with a list of ten titles for future poems. Quite a few of these titles will eventually be slapped onto poems, but not all.
Fascinated by the results, inspired, I have taken to composing titles for poems I will never write.
Cartoons © Felicia van Bork, 2016.
More fantabulous answers by superb poets, including some scary responses... Part III of III... Find Part II here.
Question 9: List five events in your life that mattered to you during the writing of your book.
Max Ritvo: I read the book Ardor by Roberto Calasso, which is about the Indian Vedic tradition. This religious tradition encouraged its devotees to spend their entire lives in ritual dance to commune with the gods, to the extent there was no time left over to build permanent buildings of worship. Which feels to me like a life writing poems. The Vedas spent much of their time addressing the creation of the world and the fundamental ecstasy of desire. They do so using hallucinatory Freud-like myths in which a god has sex with his interior monologue, Speech, only to have the child rip out the womb of Speech itself and force it on his father's head as a turban so he may never impregnate such a potent womb again. This is all I could ever aspire to have my imagination create. It also is a religion that focuses around the guilt and complication of eating meat, and I am a vegetarian. So Ardor's blood runs strong through this book. Grazzi, Roberto! On a less literary note: I got dumped during cancer. I got married to the most wonderful woman in the world. My illness is now terminal. I am in great pain and on many drugs. All of these things made me feel very strong feelings, and so I wrote poems about them. Since my mentation has certain very idiosyncratic features, the poems cohered into a meaningful whole with kind of a narrative around them. And this, my friends, is Four Reincarnations!
Chris Santiago: Akita. I wrote the first draft of the long title poem as I was graduating from Oberlin and moving to Akita, Japan, to teach English. It was a relatively isolated part of the country, with even more snow than my home state of Minnesota. That experience of isolation— living in another language, one I could hardly read or understand—was a gift. It gave me solitude, distance, and perspective.
Manila. From Japan, I was able to backpack around Southeast Asia. At least a few poems came out of this, including “Photograph: Loggers at Kuala Tahan,” which is about getting drunk with some loggers we befriended in the Malaysian rainforest. I also traveled to the Philippines a few times. My uncle Flu put me up and showed me around. He took me on some adventures, introduced me to his network, and regaled me with stories, many of them harrowing.
Los Angeles. After Japan, I lived in LA for fifteen years and worked several odd jobs: I worked in a call center; I read scripts and rolled calls at Miramax; I was a substitute teacher in South LA and Long Beach, and a graveyard shift editor for a wire service. I also dealt with mild depression, and would go one or two years at a stretch without writing a poem. When I met my wife, Yuri, it was, as Karl Ove Knausgaard says about meeting his own wife, like day broke. After we had our first son, the poems started coming again.
Minneapolis. A few weeks after I defended my dissertation—which included an earlier draft of TULA, my mother died unexpectedly. Up until that point, it had been a season of joy: not only had I finished the program at USC, but I had gotten a job teaching literature & creative writing. The job was even back in my hometown, where my mother and father were still living when she died.
I was, of course, devastated. Part of me wanted to set the manuscript aside—it was hard for me to look at it. It became clear to me how much the poems had to do with my mother, how she tried to transmit our family’s history to me, through songs and stories. The fact that I never learned her language is the seed the book grew out of: I never learned it, but when I hear it spoken, it’s like a music and a home.
But my circle—from USC, from St. Thomas, from Kundiman—gently kept the pressure up. After Daniel Slager called me to say that A. Van Jordan had picked TULA for the Lindquist & Vennum Prize, I called Yuri and cried for a long time. I’m grateful that my mother was at least able to read a draft of the manuscript.
Megan Snyder-Camp: Falling in love with the Pacific Northwest coast and wondering about the origin of these bleak place names like “Dismal Nitch” and “Cape Disappointment.” The birth of my daughter. Sitting with writer, Native Studies scholar and enrolled member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe Elissa Washuta at a bar one night and her rattling off a long list of books I needed to read (she was right). My husband losing his job. Driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike with my dad, a trip we used to make all the time but hadn’t in many years. Encountering the term “ruin porn.”
Clint Smith: It’s impossible to disentangle the poems in this collection from the broader racial justice movement that stemmed from the death of Trayvon Martin, and later Michael Brown. These poems are shaped by and responding to the political moment from which they are birthed. These poems are also deeply informed by my work both a teacher and researcher in prisons over the past two years. I teach creative writing at a state prison in Massachusetts and in my doctoral program, I am being trained as a sociologist focusing on the relationship between prisons and education. My proximity to both the people I worked with in the prison as well as an extensive engagement with the social and historical literature outlining how the prison system came to be very much inform my political, and inevitably artistic, commitments.
Tony Trigilio: The Boston Marathon Bombing. Boston, where I lived for ten years before moving to Chicago, already was a big part of the book. The Marathon bombing occurred very early in the composition process, while I was only a few pages into the manuscript. This is a violent book at times, and it has to be, because it documents the politically turbulent year, 1968, when these Dark Shadows episodes first aired, and the painful world we’re living in now. The Marathon bombing is the book’s first violent act. Even when I wasn’t directly writing about Boston, the bombing shadowed just about everything as I wrote the first section of the book.
Gun violence in Chicago. I’ve lived in major urban areas for almost three decades, and I’ve never seen anything like this. The body count we experience every day is heart-wrenching and infuriating. The episodes I watched for this book originally were broadcast in 1968, and I imagined the book would document the global violence of that year (all but ignored in the show’s fictional, soap-escapist seaport town of Collinsport). I just didn’t anticipate how violent my own city, and at times my own neighborhood, would become as I wrote the book.
Posted by Alan Michael Parker on October 03, 2016 at 12:35 PM in Art, Auden, Book Recommendations, Book Stores, Collaborations, Feature, Guest Bloggers, Interviews, Latina/o Poets, Movies, Music, Overheard, Photographs, Poems, Poetry Forums, Poetry Readings, Poetry Society of America, Poets House, Science, Translation | Permalink | Comments (0)
David Lehman, "For I Will Consider Your Dog Molly" from Operation Memory (Princeton University Press, 1990)
Your indifference to it all,
To everything around here:
Dust motes, the microwave --
What thought have you given
To them? Very little, or none.
Be not surprised therefore
When a picture stays blithely
In its frame as your teeth
Fall out and the stoical toilet
Gives not a shit on that fatal
Morning or blazing afternoon
That Achilles predicts for us
In Book XVI of Homer’s Iliad.
The Best American Poetry Blog is pleased to announce that Resurrection Biology, the first full-length collection by featured blogger Laura Orem, is now available for preorder from Finishing Line Press.
Some words about the collection:
"Maybe if we look deep enough we will see ourselves looking deep at ourselves," Laura Orem writes in Resurrection Biology, and in perfect reply this collection of poetry looks deeply (widely and passionately, too) at both the beauty and terror of living with and battling illness. Weaving together the past and present, politics and music and medicine, Orem's poetry is at once narrative and lyric, formal and explosive, playful and grave. Hers is a vulnerable, brave poetic, and this book is required reading for anyone with a memory, a body and obstacles to overcome.:
Jessica Piazza, author of Interrobang and co-author (with Heather Aimee O'Neill) of Obliterations
Laura Orem’s Resurrection Biology is a close-up glimpse of the world, the one in which we now live and the past, which inhabits us: from the arctic to Gaza; from a woman’s ravaged body to a nameless boy shot and left to die in the snow; from a famous castrato to a feathered man; from the dog, unfed on the porch, to the mammoth still sleeping in icy Neolithic dreams. Look hard at this world. As Orem says,"You can stand it. Stand it some more."
Anne Caston, author of Prodigal, Judah's Lion, and Flying Out with the Wounded
Order your copy today!
I built this room by myself
And put into it only things that would
Matter to me: around an eyelid
Window to view the last
Quarter moons, I stacked books,
Only those read or intended
And music which outnumber
Books. I hung just a few paintings,
One by my sister who until recently
I didn’t know I had (both
The paintings and the sister). The bed
Was a single, large enough
For another to lie near to me;
Especially in the case a wife arrived.
The apparatus to cook and clean
Didn’t take up much space; no TV
Nor radio; no phone. I let
Jesus Christ into this room, but
Under another name; others came
And went through the door. I had
No intention to leave once I set up
Stakes. You see, everything in it was mine.
What others brought, I took in:
The fecund flowers, the pollinated corn
Presented by mutes and midgets,
Kings and sailors, friends
And foes, too. I shaved twice a day,
Once for an imaginary walk
To the bank, the other to see myself
Better, or at least more than I did
Before I built this room. Aware,
Not from letters to desist, I would
Leave: not to build or sell---
To walk hand over hand, clouds
Over skies, stars over suns, hand
Over hand, again in one language.
-- Michael Malinowitz
In June, 2016, Terrance Hayes visited Florida to read and teach in the University of Tampa low-residency M.F.A. program. In the course of his presentation, he made a comment about syntax and sound that struck me as important, and worth exploring. Despite our both being distracted by the seventh game of the N.B.A. Finals later that evening—a game to ruin any Davidson College professor’s mood—we agreed to correspond via email, and this conversation ensued.
Terrance Hayes is the author of five collections of poetry, including How To Be Drawn in 2015. His honors include a 2010 National Book Award, a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship and a 2016 NAACP Image Award for Poetry. His website is terrancehayes.com.
AMP: Welcome to the non-place of email. Let's dive in, over our heads.... If I understood correctly, sometime in your artisitic development, you began to associate the extension of syntax with the production of a different kind of music within the poem. Is that an identifiable moment? Would you care to elaborate?
TH: I was drawn to syntax early in my reading life. It was the feeling something beyond words was being communicated in the bones of poems. Certainly that was my experience of Keats’ “To Autumn”— specially that first stanza. When I first read it in college, I didn’t associate its power (mellow, carnal oozing power) with the fact it was a single over brimming sentence:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
The same feeling came in certain passages of prose. I remember a college professor beginning to sob as he read Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes in Ulysses. It’s one of the longest sentences in the English language (4391 words according to Wikipedia). I must have associated the sentence’s breathless charge with his emotional reaction. There were no periods—he couldn’t take a breath to collect himself. I’m still trying to create that sense of charge and “o’er-brimm’d-ness” in my work.
AMP: I love your description of the “o’er-brimm’d”: that’s a great ambition. In that passage, Keats also holds it together contrapuntally, via end-rhyme and those almost-parallel caesuras in lines 7-9, which lead us to read backwards into memory as we move forward in the sentence. Is that something you do too? Or, rather, what’s your way of managing the length and breath of such a charged sentence?
TH: I see “contrapuntal” and “caesuras” and get a tad nervous. Especially when thinking about my early drafts of a poem. I mostly follow something closer to what Frost called “the sound of sense”:
“Now it is possible to have sense without the sound of sense (as in much prose that is supposed to pass muster but makes very dull reading) and the sound of sense without sense (as in Alice in Wonderland which makes anything but dull reading). The best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from voices behind a door that cuts off the words.”
I am trying to find the sense in a sentence: its sense of rhythm, its sense of verbs and nouns, its sense of thought and sound. I work in units of sentences as often as I work in units of line and image.
AMP: Cool, those connections that you draw between a sentence’s musical properties and its meanings....
“Rhythm” is a term that I tend to fudge when I’m discussing sound and sense; it’s such a difficult concept. Maybe I can ask you to consider an example from Frost, and talk a little more about rhythm.
In “West-Running Brook,” Frost observes of the water:
It has this throwing backward on itself
So that the fall of most of it is always
Raising a little, sending up a little.
I think that one way to read these lines is as a discussion of rhythm, the riffles in the water “contraries,” as Frost calls them elsewhere in the poem. Would such a metaphor be consistent with your use of “rhythm”? Or are you thinking of the rhythm of a sentence in another way? Could you elaborate upon your use of the term?
TH: The word “rhythm" is fluid. Sometimes I’m thinking about varying the length and speed of a sentence. As in the first poem in my collection Wind In A Box. (Is it self-important to refer to one my own poems?) That’s sort of an exercise in staccato sentences. And in the ways punctuation impact a sentence. A series of periods, some slashes, a dash:
WIND IN A BOX
This ink. This name. This blood. This blunder.
This blood. This loss. This lonesome wind. This canyon.
This / twin / swiftly / paddling / shadow blooming
an inch above the carpet—. This cry. This mud.
But most times I’m thinking of rhythm as a kind of pattern. As in the ways subordinate clauses and repetition can expand a sentence. Especially the way lists can expand a sentence. The catalogues of Whitman and his Beat progeny, for example. Ginsberg spins wildly creating a fog of image that first long, elastic sentence of “Howl.” That first sentence is one of the most technically dazzling dimensions of “Howl.” I don’t know if that answers your question. I agree rhythm is a difficult concept. Because it is such a personal/intuitive concept.
AMP: Now that we’re talking about sentences in your work expressly, I’d love to hear you comment upon one or more of the poems in your latest book, How To Be Drawn. In light of this conversation, I’m especially interested in the formal play in “Who Are The Tribes," the “Portrait of Etheridge Knight…," and “Some Maps to Indicate Pittsburgh”—all of which use words inside boxes and/or charts. Care to dig in a bit?
TH: The notion of “formal play” is on the mark. What it suggests is I’m just playing—or trying to play outside my given tendencies. Since sentences are my default inclination, the poems you mentioned are instances of trying something different. Of trying to shift my focus. They are genuine, intimate experiments. Meaning I don’t see them as natural extensions of the sentence. Though you’ll find maybe some syntactical play, the attention is given to form. Not that I’m Jordan—I’m no Jordan, but it’s akin to asking Jordan the relationship between his dunks and his work on his jumper or his defense. He was, when he developed his jumper and defensive prowess, only trying to broaden his skills…
AMP: So what’s next, in terms of formal play? Is there a kind of poem you’re working on, that you haven’t been able to write?
TH: Great question. I’m mostly/usually concerned with the last poem and the next poem. The last poem was accompanied with drawings. The next poem is presently several scraps waiting to find a shape. The poems of late have been pretty long. The poem before the last poem was over 1200 words. So I’ve been trying to work my way back to compression via sonnets lately. But I don’t know. I don’t mind not knowing.
AMP: I’m going to highlight a phrase from your latest excellent response, and take the conversation in a slightly different direction.
You write, “The next poem is presently several scraps waiting to find a shape.” Do you think this is true—that phrases, or scraps, or oddments, are “waiting to find a shape”? Maybe the shape is yours, and you have certain shapes internalized that wait for the scraps you collect by writing? Or… maybe there are shapes waiting to find scraps… in the culture? Care to comment?
TH: Yes, I mean scraps waiting to find a shape. As in what I suspect happens in quilt making. I’m just gathering bright bits of thoughts and conversations, imagery in my notebook. Waiting to stitch/thread something compelling together. Usually the brightest bit becomes the poem’s heart, its engine.
AMP: You mention your notebook. Could you talk a bit about how your process might elucidate the quest for “o’er-brimm’d-ness” in the syntax? How do you handle, literally, the writing, so as to facilitate in the composition process the ambitions you identified earlier?
TH: I have to talk about basketball again here. I can’t say I’m handling the writing so much as continuously practicing with it. I am trying to broaden my facility with it. I am practicing form, of course, but I am also practicing thinking and feeling. It’s all practice. That’s what Thelonius Monk says. For me, poetry is all practice. Occasionally practice pauses for a game—which is to say, some of my poems get published— but my habit is practice. I’m practicing to sustain my strengths while strengthening my weaknesses. I like a long sentence, for example. So I have to push myself towards new challenges with long sentences. One of my challenges/experiments in How to Be Drawn was to push myself into longer poems. These days I’m trying to work my way back to the sonnet. It all takes practice. One can fail in practice. One can experiment and scrimmage. There is intimacy and measure. Practice is a laboratory, a workhouse, a habit. For me, poetry is the practice of language. —June-September, 2016
It's my lunch hour, so I go for
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET'S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, èè bell' attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they'll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.