So a poem is in my head today, and I thought of you.
The Song of Wandering Aengus - W. B. Yeats
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
This is what happens when you carve a hazel wand to use as a fishing rod. You catch a magic trout who turns into a glimmering girl who calls you by your name.
Not much on her beauty, my friends, but the repeated bliss of her magically knowing his name. It is nice to be known, to be called out specially by the uncanny.
And what a fantasy of certainty and conviction. Certain that he needs her, convinced he’ll find her. Then five full lines on what that pleasure will look like and how long it will last.
It’s a story about a god of Irish Mythology, Aengus, understood to be a god of love and poetic inspiration. I think Yeats made up this particular story, but his theme sure is looking for one's love and having a blissful reunion. Also, a lot of bloody kin-killing.
His story begins when the Dagda (and important father god) had an affair with Nechtan’s wife, Boann. To hide the affair, the Dagda made the sun stand still for nine months so that Aengus was conceived, gestated, and born on the same day.
When he grew up, Aengus tricked the Dagda out of his grand home, the Brú na Boinne (famed for its passage tombs). He arrived after the Dagda had divided his land among his children. There was nothing left. So Aengus asked dad if he could live in Brú for "a day and a night", and the Dagda agreed. But Irish has no indefinite article so “a day and a night” is identical to “day and night,” so Aengus, pointing this out, took possession of the Brú permanently. Theft by grammatical interpretation!
Aengus famously killed his step-father for killing his foster-father; slew a poet for lying about his brother’s sex life; killed his foster mother for jealously turning a horse goddess into a pool of water, etc.
He fell in love with a girl he had seen in his dreams. His mother searched Ireland for her for a year, then his father the Dagma did the same. A year later the King of Munster found out where she was.
Aengus went to the lake of the Dragon's Mouth and found a hundred and fifty girls chained up in pairs, with his girl, Caer, among them. The girls were regularly turned into swans and Aengus was told he could marry Caer if he could identify her as a swan. Aengus did, then turned himself into a swan, and the two flew away, singing. Their song put all listeners asleep for three days.
Aengus had a foster son Diarmuid, who died young. Aengus took his body back to the Brú where he breathed life into it whenever he wanted to talk.
Shall we worry about shame and money, health and the health of our friends? Or shall we spend some time with Aengus, doing things he might have done? Lately I've been thinking of the sea-dark wine, and the winedark sea. The sea cold fish and the fishcold sea. It does the trick, poor Odyssus wasting all that time in clever exiles, weeping on the shore when we first meet him. Penelope weeping in their bed.
Today though, Aengus and his transformations. Well, I guess I just felt like talking. Hope you are well. Check out my new website if you want jennifermichaelhecht.com. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on March 21, 2014 at 12:17 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (11)
So good to talk to you again! Much have I traveled in the realms of gold - though not overland, nor by sea. Just Brooklyn and the realms of gold. Still, many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
A coupla times I felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise — Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
So yeah, sorry I've been a little silent, was on the peak in Darien. I'm bragging and much ashamed for it, but I have been using thinking to thwart actual deaths, and am moved by it. Still broke, if anyone's counting, as I've bitched about here over many a hitch, but happy anyway.
Have a look at my new website and some fascinating, moving responses to my new book against suicide, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. (Maybe peek at my new poetry book too: Who Said, Copper Canyon.)
Anyway, was reading a great newish poet, Anthony Madrid and felt like I had to rush to share some with you:
I TOO HAVE BEEN TO CANDYLAND
I TOO have been to Candyland, but I found myself missing the death cult.
I missed the spectacle of the wounded bones being opened and instrumented.
Bill Varner, when he was still just a boy, wrote a stunning line of Arabic verse.
He wrote: “The crescent moon is a scimitar; the sun, a severed head.”
¡Gran cantar! and this, when he still had to keep his books in a locker!
And he’d never even held hands with a girl—God! Penn State in the 1980s!
In those days, we all sat at the feet of a pig poet, deaf in one ear. One of these
Dreadful “white-haired lovers”—oh, but he knew how to touch fire to fuse!
That little stick of fire apt to launch a poetic career! But what is it now?
Merely a billowing cloud of humidity floating out of a tree.
Every turtle, snake, and bird is “born again”—oh, isn’t that so? The first time,
Out the fêted cloaca—and the next, through the top of the shell.
The “I” is Greek, the “it” Italian, and Dickinson is our Ghalib. But that
Ridiculous piece of dirt you’re kissing on can never be anything but.
Shut your eyes to what a worm he is, concentrate on his caress—but know
Every half-truth is bound to call up its suppressed synoptic double.
Close your eyes and moan softly, your head full of packed cotton—but know
Every hidden camera’s cockpit must one day be delivered of its black box.
This is from Anthony Madrid's 2012 first book, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say. The whole book's great.
Love to you all, even the mean one. I can almost hear the thaw! Soon we will be miserable, but warmer! And perhaps intermittently delighted by the sun. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on February 22, 2014 at 11:58 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1)
Hope you holiweeked nicely, fattened up for the frost. I never really took down my garden from this summer, I’ll wait for a warm day and try to turn it all over. It's looking a like a tomato’s idea of a haunted house. I was getting gorgeous tomatoes as late as October but then what Keats said happened, Autumn set budding more and still more, later flowers for the bees, until they thought warm days would never cease, for summer as o’erbrimmed their clammy cells. So there are a lot of green tomatoes out there in various forms of shock (they dreamed warm days would never cease).
Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot, I’ll tell you more about it later.
Right now I want to tell you a quick story and then introduce a great new poet, Lisa Marie Basile.
Sometimes for no reason to do with when they were written, two books come out at once. Happened to me in 2003, with Doubt: A History, and The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France. One was with Harper and one with Columbia Univ Press, so pretty different audiences, and it was very tricky to try to get word out about them at the same time.
Now it is happening again, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It has come out at the same time, late October, as my new poetry book, Who Said, 7 years in the making. Of course prose is going to get more attention, but it’s been hard not seeing reviews or responses to Who Said.
I wake up this morning and Garrison Keillor has put up one of the poems from Who Said, and reads it, on his Writer’s Almanac podcast/website. Of course I’m super happy about this.
But it made me want to say that this poem and maybe two others in the book deal with suicide. (One or two say goodbye in somewhat cryptic ways; one that imagines Socrates not killing himself, then stepping back from the public stage -- becoming locally known for his figs.)
It just happened that GK picked this one, just at the moment Stay, the argument against suicide, was getting some attention.
Last time I posted I showed a bit of what Who Said is about. [Click this link or on the side of this website “Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Lion and the Honeycomb” to see this, and all my posts.]
I guess I also want to say that the poem GK chose is the very first thing I wrote on the subject.
I wrote the book because I wrote a blog post (here on BAP) after two poet friends (they were friends too) took their own lives, less than two years apart, and that blog post went a little viral and was published in the Boston Globe. I got a lot of emails about it which made me feel I had to pursue thinking this through, so I wrote a book proposal. But I wrote the poem after only one of them had killed herself.
I first published it here, on this site. Its ideas really are at the heart of what I say in the blog post (even for all its historical take on suicide), and also at the heart of what I say in the book (even for all its research and further thought).
True, It doesn't mention the second big idea against suicide: that you owe it to your future self to stay alive. (I have good stats that most people [one large study showed 94 percent 25 years later] who are thwarted in very serious suicide attempts [like they jumped from a killing height and somehow survived], are glad they survived and don't do it again. and other suggestions that you shouldn't let one of your moods murder all the others]. Still, it shakes me up to read the poem now.
Hearing Garrison Keillor read it is, for me, a stunner.
So that's my story.
Now I present to you the wonderful Lisa Marie Basile. She’s got a new book soon, her first poetry book, apocryphal – out in 2014 with Noctuary Press. Here’s a poem from that book.
today my father came to pray
black denim & brown suede
a little tattoo of something holy
only he isn’t holy
he was raised at church & in fields of flora
in the back seat of the family Ambassador sedan
his eyes the color of that caballero tan
pinching his sister those pretty curls
setting fire to stacks of Playboy magazines.
when he prayed he did so in Italian. & i know this
because i’ve dressed as the Madonna before:
a little pushup bra,
with some bubble gum & beach spray.
when you hear a man’s apologies
you are embarrassed by his honesty,
makes you feel petty, small
I love the deft depiction of a situation and an inner life, both strange and secret and yet exceedingly well observed.
Look her up, she's had some interesting press lately.
Oh and if you're interested from my last post, it all worked out, I was on Hardball on Friday, with Ron Reagan.
Here comes 2014 friends! Don't kill yourself and I will return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 30, 2013 at 01:58 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1)
I find it hard to believe that, down that long road, *nobody* said it would be easy. I think someone’s given me a hard wrong on that account. I was gonna say bum steer, but despite the fun of saying bum, and thinking steer: I don’t know what a bum steer is. Wait, I’ll google. Back. It’s about steering a boat backwards requiring a lookout at one end shouting info to the guy on the other end (who does the actual steering) via a bucket train of informing shouters. It went wrong badly often, because: telephone game.
Anyway, easy’s been a bit of a hard wrong because the heat's been out for days – we’re not part of the national freeze-off, our furnace just said “yo Ima die” on the day before Christmas when people who fix things for a living are off somewhere living.
So we got to light a fire in the fireplace, which beguilingly calms both my son and I. Daughter and husband enjoy it, but me and the lad have a couple of tight spots in our ghost machines and need a little maintenance. Like the fire. Tinker tinker.
Turns out that having a lovely fire for the sake of a cozy evening is totally different from maintaining one so your children don’t become CuteCicles. BrooklynIce. FrozeAfriend. A LOT of work. Wood is maddeningly short lived, you’re not burning some logs, you’re feeding a maw, who has to be tempted to stay gorging because we need the heat of the beast.
Guess what? Tomorrow, (Fri 27, 7pm) I’m going to be on Hardball with Chris Matthews, (guest host Michael Smerconish, who I really like - can be tough, but contemplative).
I was supposed to be on on Thurs but they told me if I could do it Friday we could have Ron Reagan with us. I had to reschedule a phone interview to do it but I was like, yes please – I’ve spoken at the same event with him (the Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded me "Freethinker of the Year" in 2009, and they gave an award to Reagan and one to Ursula Leguin, her award was called “The Emperor has no clothes". (TEHNC). Reagan was charming and dishy and great. Leguin silenced the house with a story about how she had always thought the boy who said TEHNC! was a rude, ill-raised child. You’re supposed to go along with the cultures traditions and manners. There were good lies, like royal nudity and the NSA, and that little boy was supposed to lie them along with his betters. Fun way to look at the story but not in this crowd in that moment.
We looked at each other in wonder and went on with things as if she’d given us the opposite speech. Apparently it really is hard to the point of near impossibility to say “Thenk” which is how I am pronouncing TEHNC, the acronym of “The emperor has no clothes.”
So yeah, Hardball on tv. To talk about this Politico article I wrote because Politico emailed me and said, wanna write something for us about atheism and Barney Frank coming out as atheist only after leaving office (though he’d bravely came out as gay in 1987), Politico asked me to talk to him and told his people that it would be nice if he’d call me so we could chat about it, which he did. It was highly wily to have that voice on my phone fighting back at my gentle but persistent questions.
Anyway, I just now (Nov '13) have two books out, a poetry book that took 7 years to write, and a prose book that took 4 years to write, but I’m getting to be on television because of this article I was assigned to and wrote in 5 days. It's got 2028 comments, which is at least a grand an a half more than I've ever gotten before.
This is a classic tale in the writer’s life, and kind of charming though it feels a little ankles over neck nape.
Stay, my prose book (Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It) is definitely getting some attention too. Like this great brainpickings take on it.
But it’s been a hush on the poetry book, Who Said, (Copper Canyon Nov ’13). I’m a poet before anything and I always have been, so it it’s hard, like having a friend away and in danger, you figure all will be well but there’re some minor cords in the swish of your hair. Here’s what I came up with to tempt you to the book: poetry. (Frost's poem follows this one)
Not Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening
“Promises to keep,” was a lie, he had nothing. Through
the woods. Over the river and into the pain. It is an addict’s
talk of quitting as she’s smacking at a vein. He was always
going into the woods. It was he who wrote, “The only way
around is through.” You’d think a shrink, but no, a poet.
He saw the woods and knew. The forest is the one that holds
promises. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, they fill
with a quiet snow. Miles are traveled as we sleep. He steers
his horse off the road. Among the trees now, the blizzard
is a dusting. Holes in the canopy make columns of snowstorm,
lit from above. His little horse thinks it is queer. They go
deeper, sky gets darker. It’s the darkest night of the year.
He had no promises to keep, nothing pending. Had no bed
to head to, measurably away in miles. He was a freak like me,
monster of the dawn. Whose woods these are I think I know,
his house is in the village though. In the middle of life
he found himself lost in a dark woods. I discovered myself
in a somber forest. In between my breasts and breaths I got
lost. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I’ve got promises
to keep, smiles to go before I leap. I’m going into the woods.
They’re lovely dark, and deep, which is what I want, deep lovely
darkness. No one has asked, let alone taken, a promise of me,
no one will notice if I choose bed or rug, couch or forest deep.
It doesn’t matter where I sleep. It doesn’t matter where I sleep.
(for reference see below:) (Oh and I couldnt fix the formating in the above last stanza, should look like the others.)
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
This sort of thing goes on in a lot of the book’s poems. The book opens thusly:
Some half the poems in this book
from an iconic work a way was took
and as when obeying the rules of the dead,
you’re right to ask yourself, “Who said?”
To know which strangers are old friends
There’s a clutch of classics at the end.
Most of you will hardly need them
still our life of nights rereads them.
For those of you at the brick road’s start:
echo’s stolen golden tongue (my heart).
For those who’ve been around before
I’m offering, humbly, a little bit more.
Hey, the heat’s fixed! Now we’re on easy street. Oh so that’s who said It would be easy. From now on, “Most people never said it would be easy!” Change approved. Psyched to go on Hardball, it’s not exactly scary but it do focus the mind.
Okay. Here comes the new year. Even February. Even July. Much of it will be horrible, as usual, but there will be some very good days and a few surprises.
Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 26, 2013 at 05:37 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (4)
It's been about six months since my last post - I've been super busy getting my two new books to press. They both came out last month and it's been very exciting - and sometimes a lot to handle. More on that soon.
Right now I want to introduce you to a wonderful young poet who I met when he was in the MFA Program at the New School, Tommy Pico. His poetry is great; he grew up on the rez and writes movingly about it; he's been a community builder in poetry, starting reading series, putting out a magazine, etc.
Pico has an app coming out in January with his poetry collection on it. I'll tell you more about that when it comes out. For now, here's a poem of his:
1. My mother was voted “best legs” in her senior high school yearbook, despite the fact that she was also student body president and editor in chief of the school paper. Only boys got superlatives like, “Most Likely to Succeed.”
2. Doctors say that Indians are predisposed to a lot of illnesses, like alcoholism and diabetes. At the clinic, patient history starts the first time you get sick. They ask me why don’t I eat, nearly commit me when I say because my great grandfather’s horses were stolen in 1890.
3. Myths aren't told to make things seem down to earth.
4. Thinking all the time vs Giving up (the butt).
5. Cigarette habit that kicks in around the third drink and the right lung.
6. Things that make me want to run: I) Seeing other people run. II) Eating a whole pizza. III) Everyone adoring the same person.
7. Upon being drafted into Vietnam, my father guided tanks through minefields in the jungle when he was very young. I have never not once walked in the wrong direction surfacing from the subway.
8. Waiting to be moved.
9. Waiting to be introduced.
10. Always wanting to raise my hand first.
11. My father's unfinished collection of poetry is called, "In the Days of Tall Cans and Short Hopes."
12. Songs to sing when the roommates are gone vs songs to sing at karaoke vs songs to listen to, pretending.
13. Collections: do they get better, or just bigger?
14. Devin at Blue Olive. James at Pine State. Barry at Cup. Angelo at Dave & Busters. Jean Baptiste at Point Ephemere. Eric at Pop In. Federico at Monster Ronsons. BigGuySF365 at Adam4Adam. Me at Gmail.
15. There must be a word for this in some romance language, for looking down at your legs and seeing mom; for looking down at your hands and seeing dad.
Great, right? Alright, more soon. I've missed you all terribly and hope to now start blogging at you regularly again. As always, don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 16, 2013 at 11:23 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0)
It is going to storm here soon, it’s not due until tonight, but the wind is already doing weird things to the leaves. I'm hoping my little garden withstands it. Here's a photo of my bean stalks yearning up the white fence I gave them, and in the background the first crop of tomatoes.
Here’s a great poem for you. It takes you into something secret. It’s by Marilyn Nelson from her The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems. She's also got a great new New and Selected called Faster Than Light.
Daniel “Chappie” James, General USAF
and for the 332d Fighter Group
Being black in America
was the Original Catch,
so no one was surprised
The segregated airstrips,
They did the jobs
they’d been trained to do.
Black ground crews kept them in the air;
black flight surgeons kept them alive;
the whole Group removed their headgear
when another pilot died.
They were known by their names:
“Ace” and “Lucky,”
“Sky-hawk Johnny,” “Mr. Death.”
And by their positions and planes.
Red Leader to Yellow Wing-man,
do you copy?
If you could find a fresh egg
you bought it and hid it
in your dopp-kit or your boot
until you could eat it alone.
On the night before a mission
you gave a buddy
as a man dictating
There’s a chocolate bar
in my Bible;
my whiskey bottle
is inside my bedroll.
In beat-up Flying Tigers
that had seen action in Burma,
they shot down three German jets.
They were the only outfit
in the American Air Corps
to sink a destroyer
with fighter planes.
Fighter planes with names
like “By Request.”
Sometimes the radios
didn’t even work.
They called themselves
“Hell from Heaven.”
My father’s old friends.
It was always
A whole squadron
raced across the tarmac
and mounted their planes.
My tent-mate was a guy named Starks.
The funny thing about me and Starks
was that my air mattress leaked,
and Starks’ didn’t.
Every time we went up,
I gave my mattress to Starks
and put his on my cot.
One day we were strafing a train.
Strafing’s bad news:
you have to fly so low and slow
you’re a pretty clear target.
My other wing-man and I
exhausted our ammunition and got out.
I recognized Starks
by his red tail
and his rudder’s trim-tabs.
He couldn’t pull up his nose.
He dived into the train
and bought the farm.
I found his chocolate,
three eggs, and a full fifth
of his hoarded-up whiskey.
I used his mattress
for the rest of my tour.
It still bothers me, sometimes:
I was sleeping
on his breath.
Chocolate bars, and eggs, and whiskey turned into the substance of loss, to be taken in, to get drunk on. Cherished. Sleeping on a dead man’s breath.
Stays with you.
Makes you look at your own chocolate and eggs and whiskey with smarter hands.
Okay, stay away from the lightening and count to the thunder.
As to all the good you're doing, keep it up.
Also, keep your chin up (though not out in the rain).
Regarding all that is awful: it might get better,
will very likely change. Don't kill yourself
and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on June 06, 2013 at 03:28 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1)
Weather service says we’re in for a mini-heat-wave in my neck of the brick – temps in the 90s.
Right now a warm cloud has settled on the ground and wets us down. I’ve got the proofs of my two new books to correct at the same time, tricky balance, so I thought I’d set it all down and say hi to you. Also, there are tiny black flies on my heirloom tomato plants, but none on the cherries nor the beefsteak. I am spritzing them with soap and water – the interweb says it will help.
I'm glum about your sportive flesh in the empire of blab, and the latest guy running his trendy tongue like a tantalizing surge over your molars, how droll. Love by a graveyard is redundant, but the skin is an obstacle course like Miami where we are inescapably consigned: tourists keeping the views new. What as yet we desire, our own fonts of adoration. By morning, we're laid out like liquid timepieces, each other's exercise in perpetual enchantment, for there is that beach in us that is untranslatable; footprints abound. I understand: you're at a clothes rack at Saks lifting a white linen blouse at tear's edge wondering.
By Major Jackson
Nice, right? I’m sure there are many ways to read the poem, but here is one: Your earnest partaking in the games of social media and at parties depresses me, as does the pictures you posted of yourself kissing that hipster (aren’t you the funny one). Love among the online rubble of your past relationships, and mine, feels less meaningful, but we better carry on while we are young, before we have an obstacle course of wrinkles on our faces and have to move to Florida. It’s dull there, but springbreakers and visits by families coming in to go to Disney keep things interesting. Today we don’t feel anything, we don’t know what we want, but we do still want people to click “like” when we post. Some nights we do too much to get this and then, by morning, a whole time cycle of our mood is recorded and before our eyes: time melted out into a spill. We are also perpetually enchanted with each other, and we have inner lives that are such a crowd of memories and interactions that we can’t actually translate that inner world into words; my mind is full of people, though right now I can’t think of anyone at all. Of course it is silly and unfair of me to imagine you always online or at parties, perhaps right now you are doing the most traditional thing a woman can do: textiles.
I can relate. Aren’t emotions exhausting?
Anyway, great poem. Enjoy the beastly hot week with a cold beverage.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on May 29, 2013 at 12:41 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0)
White sky out there seemed to call for this poem by Timothy Donnelly, of the wonderful Twenty-Seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit and The Cloud Corporation.
Epitaph by His Own Hand
From the morning he started
peeling his first potato
he felt like he'd been peeling
potatoes for eternity-
all that fell about his ankles
like clouds' inky shadows
smudged across pastures
of an afterlife clearly
put farther away from him
the harder he worked for it.
It's true! Potato peelings look like clouds. Or rather like the shadows of clouds.
Every time you peel a potato you pick up just where you peeled your last potato. Life is just one long potato peel interrupted by weeks of nonsense and then returns, at last, to the spud and the knife.
No, but I like the misery of this little poem. Don’t always gnaw the heel of the bread, stop working hard for your reward.
Instead, look up at the clouds and see them from upside down, as if they were on the ground around your chair, flapping down from your lap as you sheer thin shapes off a bulbous, knotty loaf of the stuff, whatever it is. Busy day.
Don't kill yourself and I will return to encourage you yet again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on May 20, 2013 at 01:39 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0)
Well when it remembers to rain it certainly remembers how to do it! It’s been storming off and on here in the spring of early-twenty first century Brooklyn and just now the birds are whistling hosannas to the sun.
This is the fourth iteration of my newfangled blog here at BAP; the old fang, long in the tooth, deep in the truth, was about poets equally established, Dickinson, Bishop, and Szymborska, Keats, Yeats, and Stevens; the new fangs, familiar with fresher truth and bluer truth, are poets of my age, era-wise; wise beyond error.
I pick the poem first, for the slinky pleasure of it, then ask myself why and type to you my answer. This one is so goddamn dead-on real about where so many of us actually live a good part of our painful inner lives that I want you to read it before I say more. It’s by the wonderful poet Tom Healy, whose deep and compelling book is What the Right Hand Knows.
What do we do when we hate our bodies?
A good coat helps.
Some know how to pull off a hat.
And there are paints, lighting, knives, needles,
various kinds of resignation,
the laugh in the mirror, the lie
of saying it doesn’t matter.
There is also the company we keep:
surgeons and dermatologists,
faith healers and instruction-givers,
tailors of cashmere and skin
who send their bills for holding
our shame-red hands, raw
from the slipping rope,
the same hands with which we tremble
ever so slightly, holding novels in bed,
concentrating on the organization
of pain and joy
we say is another mirror,
a depth, a conjure in which we might meet
someone who says touch me.
- Tom Healy
Isn’t that brill? Being American is such a weird endeavor. First wave first world. For most of history every generation knew famine. Rich or poor, you saw people starve and you either starved too, or at least did without. Food was just not there. Letters home from the New World didn’t only describe what people ate here, they described the shops themselves and sometimes said things like – “There are ten kinds of fruit at the market and five kinds of meat – while you in the old world count as a market a slab of wood balanced between two rocks and displaying three wilted carrots, some sad greens, and a short pile of slightly putrid chicken feet.” They worried over their poor emaciated bodies and dreamed of heaven as an endless feast.
Then within a generation of the first people to have enough food across their lifetimes, we started worrying about the sad avoirdupois of bodies, and fantasize about ourselves as trim as a sail. Thin as a rail. Humanity has a genius for despair. I’ve got a lot to say about this in The Happiness Myth, just fyi.
Then too, fat isn’t our only beastly burden, though it is the one that chases me around the table. There are those who hate their faces, bemoan their feet, decry their dimples, abhor their pimples, lament their foreheads drifting ever up and over, hate their flatbread bosoms, resent their unwieldy ample hills (as Whitman described Brooklyn’s terrain). Then we all die and except for Taft and Eleanor Roosevelt, nobody much cares what we once looked like. Can you imagine Gertrude Stein eating Lean Cuisines? Socrates (often called ugly by his contemporaries) consulting surgeons for a fresher face?
I love Healy’s poem here for its compassion, its sympathy for the human agony of being befleshed. I also love the ending wherein our escape from this horror is in literature where we find, not quite a mirror but at least something we call a mirror, and there find ourselves inhabiting a better body, and asked by someone lither to come hither.
Let us tattoo this poem to the inside of our skulls and when in line for swimsuits or squash-blossom quesadilla, or confronted with dance-class mirrors, let our eyes roll back until we can read the words and see our kinder inner side.
Don’t kill yourself, and I shall return to encourage you yet again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on May 09, 2013 at 04:23 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (3)
Blue skies, pink cherry trees, yellow and red tulips, new-green leaves. As your correspondent from Brooklyn I report that all this color is exploding on the usual grey of asphalt and slate, dark blush of brick and brick-shade paint.
In a matter of days the magical Magicicadas will be here. These are the 17 year cicadas – who we haven’t seen since “the Macarena” was the top of the pops – and they will be creeping out of the ground in the millions on the East Coast, sometimes 1.5 million an acre. The nymphs crawling out of the dirt has been described as looking like boiling water. The males soon start singing for sex and hit an incredible 100 dB, deafening with desire, and the lady bugs flit their wings to them to come hither; then mostly lay their eggs in the sweetly named “chorus trees” where all that sound is singing like a torch of noise. Branches bow with the weight of the fertilized nests. Then within two months (by early July) the adults are all dead and the kids are back underground to suck the sweet sap of tree roots and wait until 2030 to emerge and buzz at us again.
All this puts me in the mind of a great poem by Jennifer L. Knox whose brilliant books are Drunk by Noon, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, and A Gringo Like Me. The poem has nothing to do with cicadas, but it is about the magic of listening with your eyes, and brains.
Babies in Silent Movies
How’d they make it cry so loud?
You know under the ragtime roll’s
a wail that’d peel paint, can see
the blond brows crimped like claws
under the gingham bonnet, cheeks
red hot despite spectrumlessness.
Maybe a lackey’s pinching its thigh
beneath the table. A good mother’d
shrug off the short pricks of pain one
outgrows to keep a kid back then that fat.
- Jennifer L. Knox
Quiet yelling and black-and-white red. I love the rhythm of this, “the blond brows crimped like claws” – it just tumbles along at a double-quick. Behind it there’s this mother making a hard calculation to pinch the baby rich, or rich enough eat, anyway.
She’s right to call the mother good, too, despite the obvious argument against it. Who among us doesn’t have to goose ourself into doing what’s good for us? What would we do without literature to remind us that no one escapes these dear-inflicted pinches? A lot goes on under the table, or out of range of sound and color. It takes so much imagination to know we’re not alone. I try hard to remember on my own, but art is always surprising me with the sound I can’t hear, the shades I can’t see, the unknowable pain of others. And like I say, I’m really trying! Well, I’m awake again now. Here’s hoping it lasts.
Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on May 02, 2013 at 04:11 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0)
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on April 29, 2013 at 11:16 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1)
I’ve been away so long! Been tending a few other fireplaces, to wit, I’ve got two books coming out in the fall; also changes in husband’s work has given me more time alone with my kids, now seven and eight, which, of course, leaves less time alone with words. To be scathingly honest it might be truer to say I simply couldn’t get my blogging fire lit of late, but look now, I’ve got a spark and some tinder, and hope for smoke.
My idea is to return to the blog but with a new focus: poems I love by contemporary poets. In the past I wrote mostly about the greats of our common canon, especially Bishop, Plath, O’Hara, Dickinson, Milton, Yates, Shakespeare, Donne, Eliot, Auden, Wordsworth, Keats, Stevens, Blake, well, you get the type. Now I’ll be offering poems by the living and wonderful. We start with this intense little fascination by Cate Marvin, author of the terrific books World’s Tallest Disaster and Fragment of the Head of a Queen, both with Sarabande.
Why I Am Afraid of Turning the Page
Spokes, spooks: your tinsel hair weaves the wheel
that streams through my dreams of battle. Another
apocalypse, and your weird blondeness cycling in
and out of the march: down in a bunker, we hunker,
can hear the boots from miles off clop. We tend to
our flowers in the meantime. And in the meantime,
a daughter is born. She begins as a mere inch, lost
in the folds of a sheet; it's horror to lose her before
she's yet born. Night nurses embody the darkness.
Only your brain remains, floating in a jar that sits
in a lab far off, some place away, and terribly far.
Your skull no longer exists, its ash has been lifted
to wind from a mountain's top by brothers, friends.
I am no friend. According to them. Accordion, the
child pulls its witching wind between its opposite
handles: the lungs of the thing grieve, and that is
its noise. She writhes the floor in tantrum. When
you climbed the sides of the house spider-wise to
let yourself in, unlocked the front door, let me in
to climb up into your attic the last time I saw you
that infected cat rubbed its face against my hand.
Wanting to keep it. No, you said. We are friends.
I wear my green jacket with the furred hood. You
pushed me against chain-length. Today is the day
that the planet circles the night we began. A child
is born. Night nurses coagulate her glassed-in crib.
Your organs, distant, still float the darkness of jars.
- Cate Marvin
There’s a deep drumbeat, heartbeat, that jogs us down the midnight hallways of this poem. Or is it only the gloaming, night not yet come fully down? There are secrets here, but also confidences rendered, something terrifying yet also the glory of birth, possibilities of life and the awful proximity of death.
"I am no friend. According to them. Accordion,…"
The poem pushes and pulls, accordions, it runs and is rocked to a stop by a chain length, it is intimate but lonely, feels full of regret. If I read it twice I feel less abandoned, less the lark rising of a heart at horror and harmed, alone.
This has been a hard week for the country, the Boston Marathon bombing breaking our collective lungs and leaving us stunning with weary strength. Some people on facebonk, as I like to call it, have said it’s wrong to reel from a crime so common in the world, but I say, then you’ve never been near one, because when you’re near one it hurts like hell. You trauma. You burst. When 9/11 happened I was writing Doubt: A History and I was writing on doubt in the world of the Ancient Jews, and just up to crafting the section on the destruction of the Temple. When I started writing I didn’t know a thing about why that event scarred the people of the Temple so badly, broke their belonging, turned them into the people of the book. After our local disaster (I was writing in the East Village, only neighborhoods away), I knew way too much. It howls you. It hollows your head.
I offer this poem now because I’d been thinking of leading with it for a few days, and given the circumstances felt it was best to keep with what poetry does for readers of poetry, not always to stir us to filmic emotions, but instead to take us into the self and into the self of others, looking around with a flickering flame and finding our way through the strange, strained dream that is living.
Gracious it’s nice being back. I've missed you. Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on April 19, 2013 at 12:09 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (2)
Well the top news is the warm sun has a chilled breeze these mornings and the sprites and delights are back at school. Everyone’s summers were something, busy or quiet, no one’s summer was exactly like anyone else’s. Presumably as long as you noticed some of yours it was as much of hot days as was needful. Here's us fishing in Prospect Park.
We talked about Bishop’s “One Art” in class last week, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” how she smiles and smiles and lies. The art of losing is doable, but it doesn’t even know the word master. Everyone is an ever apprentice to it.
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,
The garden was let get overgrown this summer. About a year and a half ago we got a puppy and she ripped up the grass with her running and digging. It got so bad there was no grass left and groundcover came in that looked pretty and we left it at that.
Go know groundcover will turn into bushes if allowed - take over the whole place. Too hot out and too distracted with kids and books to get out there and keep things in check so now it’s a bit of a job. Maybe that’s a lie about the kids and books, there was just time with weeding out of mind.
People let things get overgrown, I know, it’s not just us. Nature takes your papers and gets lush. Silverware drawer thins, sink goes much with ceramic and steel, gets lush. I tell myself to hush.
I’ve been writing my book and just handed it in for review. It’s smaller than it is large and has a thing to say that, I’d say, got said. Writing it is what kept me --I think-- from writing to you, though as we all know who’ve tried it, feeling up to writing live is not always what it’s been, it goes lush and thin. But it is true that with a book to write that’s what I wrote.
The book really wants to make a few claims about one point. The title is Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. The thing is that suicide gets lumped in with other progressive issues, rights to make all sorts of personal choices, but I think this one is special and needs to be looked at on its own. I’ve found some historical precedent for saying it is wrong, and for some good reasons.
Bishop’s poem starts out thin and gets lush losing first only little things like keys and later losing whole continents and worse, the imagined loss of the beloved.
Now we’ve got two huge piles of weeds pulled up or clippered off. Branches of good things gone too far as well. But at least there’s a little air where the air should be.
What we need is a little air. Bishop’s poem, like most great art, thickens up and then pulls its own weeds.
I lost two cities, lovely
ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
- Even losing you (the joking
voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Write it! Like disaster. After a whole poem of writing it out of disaster. Well, I won’t speak to real heartache loss this afternoon – given the date it would be too much to do-- but will hew to the side of the loss of a season, the welcome loss of overgrown brush, the sweet yet pangful finish of a project. Each lets in a little air, the sudden room for something else. Even just a breath.
I hope you’ve been well. Don’t kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on September 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
We’ve got a white sky here, no snow on the ground, but the air so cold the leaves all look ashen green which somehow comes off looking like another shade of sky-white. A silver shade of jade.
This great earth is going to roll from this end of March to the other and the sky is going to wisp into blue and the sun is going to start batting us around her bright spots. I am a purveyor of fine doubt but this I can guarantee you.
Things are going going going here and that is good. If you’ve been following this blog a while you know that I wrote something here about suicide – an argument against it – which was picked up and published a bunch of other places, even in a print version in the Boston Globe. I’ve also mentioned, since then, that I was hoping to write a book about it. I think I’ve had the title for a few years now. It’s Stay. Now I have a subtitle too, so it goes: Stay: A History of Suicide and a Philosophy Against it.
Anyway the incredibly great news is that I found a wonderful publisher for the book, Yale University Press. And it is the trade division, which means the more popular less academic offices. Which is perfect. So I’ve been writing it. And that is great too, though hard of course, because everything is, especially big things, which a book, almost by definition is. (that’s what she said) The manuscript is due August 2012. Then almost a month later I was given the extremely wonderful news that Copper Canyon is going to come out with my new poetry book, Who Said.
These are two insanely good pieces of news which I’ve been meaning to tell you for about a month now. The truth is I’d been having quite a long dry season at the job of selling book proposals and the economy being what it has been these last few years I had just been feeling so low about it all that when the good news started coming I couldn’t react to it very fast. Part of me was elated, but a large monkey part of my heart and mind were left behind for quite some time. So I’m announcing my news here as if it just happened, because for the part of me that can write to you about it, it did.
Speaking of monkeys, they’ve closed the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. I’m feeling kind of special because I was one of the last people in it, sort of. They just closed it Monday, and I and my little family just happened to visit it last Wednesday. Zoos used to arrange themselves by animal type – the big cat pavilion, for instance, or the bear house – but while that offered a kind of taxonomic lesson, it was better for the animals to be in environments that matched the ones they came from, and it was better for people to learn how animals actually live rather than just how to draw a chart of them. Now instead of the Monkey House you have areas like Madagascar and the Congo. Which are great.
Still if you’re around my age you’ll notice that by now the number of things that have gotten rewritten is hitting new highs. In one of the great magic tricks of all time, regard the brontosaurus, so small at either end, as Monty Python pointed out, so very large in the middle. But really consider its solitary gigantic beauty in all its graceful grey goodness, smell the hide of the boundless beast, marvel at her shoe size, a foot print like a goddess, or a tree stump, and once you can feel the breath of her as she snoops her huge skull into your airspace so that eyes the size of hubcaps can take you in, once you really have her in your sights, witness but she is gone. Science.
Think also what became of Pluto. Now Mary’s Velvet Eyes Keep John Up Nights, yes, but we don’t know what kind of punctuation to use. Is it is question? For all we know it is a question. It is not a question. Period.
Equally marvelous is that when I was a child it seemed half “the free world” was tempted by the idea of bombing Russia right off Europe’s flank. Seriously, millions of people considered that if we just rid ourselves of these demonic slavs peace would reign for all time. It’s hard to know how things are going to look.
I remember reading Welcome to the Monkey House probably earlier than I should have and without question it was my gateway to everything from Emily Dickinson to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. You know a book that greets you like a friend will age, but you don’t expect its titular subject to be retired. Welcome to the Madagascar Area doesn’t have the same awful ring.
Anyway, that’s what I came to say to you today. Cherish your monkey house. Cherish it while you have it. Cherish it when it is gone. It was beautiful to see the box of monkey house and its box rooms of monkey after monkey, clambering and having a look at us. Knowing we are fleeting visitors. It was dim in there, like the monkeys like it, including me.
It was my husband’s idea to go to the zoo. I try to agree to all adventures because my own inclination is to stay home and work, and it takes effort to not work, I’m efforting every day, like a war, as I mentioned in my previous post, to not put myself through the stress of so much work but rather to put myself through the stress of learning to be comfortable unstressed. So I went to the zoo instead of working that day. And now I have a memory of something I’ve seen a bunch of times in my life (I’m from around here) but this time with my two little kids and my husband and the four of us looking in at the wise guys on the other side. And it was dim, like I said, easy to lose a kid, sure, but also easy on the eyes.
It looks like we are all going to have to keep showing up for things because they close them down and you want to get a little for yourself on the way out. Or maybe that’s not my message at all. Maybe instead I want to ask all of us to have the strength to peek under the surface of things just like all the new zoo exhibits try to help us do. There is something worth looking twice at in every day. Someone should make a note of it! I kid. I just want to say I wish I could stay enthralled like I am right now, writing to you. I wish I could stay on top of all this wanting and waiting and feel the emergency of connection like I do, with you, right now, but I know I have to go back to my life now wherein I sometimes feel this white winter sky and nothing else.
But we’ll be okay if we go to the adventure or if we stay home. We just have to try to keep changing and at the same time, try to get used to ourselves. We keep up the existential zoo for each other and I’m writing to you because I need you to keep up the existential zoo for me too. Have faith in your future self to know something that you don’t know, something that makes this whole brontosaurus okay. Keep trying. Snake it til you bake it. Don’t kill yourself, and I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on March 02, 2012 at 11:29 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
I’m sure lots of people reading this blog know we lost a staggeringly great poet, Wisława Szymborska, a few weeks ago. It was Feb 1; she was 88. I can’t help giving us this one of her poems right now.
Here are plates with no appetite.
And wedding rings, but the requited love
has been gone now for some three hundred years.
Here’s a fan–where is the maiden’s blush?
Here are swords–where is the ire?
Nor will the lute sound at the twilight hour.
Since eternity was out of stock,
ten thousand aging things have been amassed instead.
The moss-grown guard in golden slumber
props his mustache on Exhibit Number…
Eight. Metals, clay and feathers celebrate
their silent triumphs over dates.
Only some Egyptian flapper’s silly hairpin giggles.
The crown has outlasted the head.
The hand has lost out to the glove.
The right shoe has defeated the foot.
As for me, I am still alive, you see.
The battle with my dress still rages on.
It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly!
Determined to keep living when I’m gone!
Well at 88 she outlasted a lot of dresses. Still, it sucks. No more of those poems. I had always hoped to meet her. One thing I always Iove about her, evident here, is how much it pissed her off that the world didn't hold meaning in a visible way: how battlegrounds for instance went back to parks, a shudder shared by many but also more subtle situations too, like how you might have been at a railway station one day, even though you weren't, and how odd that it happened anyway, the meetings, the thefts, even without you. "A suitcase disappeared, not mine."
As for me friends, life continues to present itself as a war, a hot war against bleak feelings. Is this feeling thing that is me a biological thing or a thing amid the world with a usage quite askew? I may now know a thing or two about the answers to my offset typesetting, but I also have to dine on a good deal of doubt. What I can see is that life requires a dire pressing forward without leaving a sufficiently convincing trail of flower petals to find one's way back to the beginning.
Instead it's all beginning and all middle, all the time, and you just have to keep rowing even when the scenery changes on one side and stays precisely the same on the other, and other magic tricks of reality. Maybe that's a kind of growing, you're on a riverboat and after some point the inner coast of the river is always the same few houses and yards, while the outer coast starts blurring by peopled with odd beings carrying small electronics. You don't age like leaves falling onto a pile of snow, you age like snow melting off a pile of leaves, you arrive rising up from underneath.
It's the dark side of the year my bleaders, mid february and dark and rainy with a little spritz of spring here and there. As is my habit, I'm speaking now to those of you fighting the darkness like a war, at all costs, this is the season to fight this thing, the darkness of life, life's rotten disjointment. I'm a believer in stories and stories get into your fiber about what you should be doing and how much it takes to feel alright, and I'm a believer in changing your fiber to fit a better story. It just takes a lot longer than your average hot war. It takes gallons of therapy, of one sort or another. And these gallons are gallions and this war is a land air and water war, and we have to fight for a story that makes it alright. We have to fight our own fiber.
Get some Szymborska, let her rock you from the beyond. Plus, you know, keep up the fight with your dress! Seriously. We need you. I need you, on my side. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
The sun came out today. Blue sky and small white clouds. I don’t care, being human is such a poke in the eye. I throw myself out there though and I’m much better. I know in my guts nothing will help but I remember as a dry fact that sun and nature can jigger the register. And it’s true.
Weather this warm on the first of February is all wrong but it feels so right. My tree art is painting pictures with its spinning and is casting constellations of sun dots tripling over everything. The circles of light play over tree trunk and branches and fences and over the ground, so it looks like a burbling stream catching spots of light as it runs vertically as well as horizontally, racing around in a wide circle. In the photo here I capture two or three of the circles of light, in real life ten or more arive at once across the tree and branches.
To my memory most of the great nineteenth-century novelists were crazy for listing the flowers they’d see on their walks, names and descriptions, how each looked singularly and as a sudden mass, scents at onset and in decline. I’m not downright Dickinsonian in my habits but I live such that my lingering outdoors in something like nature is most likely to happen in my own little backyard. This time of year there are fewer surprises than in the other seasons, though nature always has a bit of a show for you, even just the shapes of the dried leaves, but mostly I am delighted by the speckled dalliance of my tree art as it tickles this grey brown season into a little giggle. Also, the pitch black puppy chases the shining spots of light.
I'm going to hear the poets at Cornelia St Cafe tonight, Jennifer L. Knox, Marion Wren and Amy Lawless -- they are going to rock. Maybe I'll see you there.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on February 01, 2012 at 03:41 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Last week I wrote to you. The post started, “I don’t know how I’m going to get the gumption or gusto to write this post.” Then cursor blink. I blinked back. Today I wrote this post, this paragraph being a post-post prolog. This time as you can see I wrote the post, but still I sat blinking at it, mulling should I post it.
I show up just to say Hi, but once I start writing it comes out a bit, I’m gonna say depressed, and I’m not exactly, or I don’t feel like being publically, so I hold back. But then an old friend wrote and told me he was having a hell of a time of it, grieving a bad loss. So I said to my hamletty, hesitating self, ah post your low notes in minor key, they might resound somewhere and who am I to be so strict a censor. Anyway, Dear Bleader,
If April is the cruelest month why are we so sad in winter? If April looks at our sadness and shoves flowers in our faces, shouldn’t that mean we perk up a bit when abandoned to the cold? Forget “At least it’s not raining,” here comes “At least it’s not April.” “At least there are no flowers.” I never saw the best minds of my generation though I felt around for them. Some were destroyed by madness starved hysterical but most, if not quite mudders, could at least keep the tops of their boots above the water.
I used to work all day and some of the night, reading and writing. At some point I noticed as a side note that I was a bit miserable. Counsel was to work many fewer hours. That took long enough, struggling to do that, coming to believe it was better for the work to be at it less anyway. I’d been hiding in there, hard work though it had been. Now I’m out part of the time and part of that time am awfully oppressed by time.
It seems I’m not much in the mood for most things but maybe it is more that I can’t forgive anything for its part in the disappointment, the general wanting for more. Wanting terribly without knowing what you are wanting leads to some interesting investigations, not least a stint with a ukulele. It was orange and I loved it until I started to be mowed down a little lower each practice that got no better, finally I put it up on a shelf like canning for someone else’s winter.
I talk to the departed. If you had stayed, you might have learned, as I have, to shout at the shadow of your marauding paint-splattered mother, and you, sunshine, you might have said to the big-bad dad of speaking, “Hey, you do not do. Not anymore, black shoe.”
They didn’t want to eat the plums in the fridge which someone else was saving as a possible way to shake off the terrible compromises of the night and face the blank, hungry day. They did not want to eat them. They left them behind.
Is that what I have travelled gladly beyond? That is what I have travelled gladly beyond, and at this point will eat any unguarded plums anywhere, without apology. With the desperate hand of betrayal hoping to leave behind, in the plum dish, a little of my excess bitterness for all the plums that by now have been purloined, most often by the fates, from me, and my imaginary better life, from which I lived like a foot for thirty years, poor and white, and barely daring to breathe or ach du.
I took the plums but couldn’t eat them. I’ve still got them. They have become that thing absurd, the dream deferred, now raisins. In the sun I still have some faith, even when through a closed window it can be a warm feeling almost as nice as drugs used to be. Did you read the piece by Donald Hall in the New Yorker this week? It is an essay on looking out the window, old, and between pages on birds and snow he reports on his life with a phrase for each decade, his thirties bad, his forties forgotten because he was drunk, fifties a good total change of life. Each brings so many questions none of which he there answers. We’re in the middle of so many adventures. Life, I’ve long said, is a decent book with a terrible pacing problem.
I love my office but it is not a well-insulated room and sitting thinking and typing gets to be cold work lately.
Well bleads, that is as far as I got before. Now I’ll just add that I do have some actual things to tell you and that if the sun hits me just right I will be back to tell you them soon. Oh and if you feel like coming out, I’m reading this Sunday at 6pm at Le Poisson Rouge.
I know it is a cold, hard season and many places, including my own, have gone without the benefit of snow. But look to your decades, eat your raisons, post your posts. Try not to be drunk through your entire forties unlike Donald Hall. No but seriously, it’s hard, all these slow motion changes and lightening flash results. Everything will be all right. At least it’s not April.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on January 20, 2012 at 01:38 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
I've told you guys before about how Christopher Hitchens borrowed a mite too liberally from my book Doubt: A History, though he cited a lot he definitely did not give credit when it was most painfully due. (I made all that plain in an otherwise extremely positive review of the book and we had some electronic chat about it and suffice to say the man liked my work and just hadn't quite realized how much was indeed mine, i.e. original research and ideas). I'd mostly forgiven him by then and I'd forgiven him entirely upon hearing his diagnoses. I had disagreed with much of his politics too -- I'm not much of a nun hunter and I think taking time out to bash the Clintons exhaustively in a world as corrupt as our is a little jambon-fisted (clumsey in a european way) -- but as he got sicker I thought more of the Hitchens of Letter to a Young Contrarian. And of course his God is Not Great is a hilarious and eye-prying romp through religion's manifold attempts to sway the genuinely curious Hitch, and how they all fail spectacularly. If you haven't read it you really should.
An editor over at the Ottowa Citizen asked me to write up an atheist's take on CH's godless predicament now that the end was likely soon. Thought I'd share it with you.
Hope you're enjoying the warmish cold. Big hugs. Don't give up. Shout "courage" to strangers. Or give up and shout nothing. But don't kill yourself. I shall return to encourage you again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on December 16, 2011 at 01:52 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Okay I thought I was done but I need to do a little more. Essay Part One.
Allow me to put two more bits of notion into our meditation on the rule of bliss and its opposite, the swing-and-the-miss (and solitude, and its opposing number too) (which for me, right now, is you).
Note the first is the excerpt from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal commonly, wonderfully offered in tandem with Will’s poem. Read it like you have been staring hungry too long a tin of grav lox missing its key, and then entered the theater to deliver it as a monolog to the ghost of Stanislavski:
When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up— But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road . . . some rested their heads on stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway... —Rain came on, we were wet.
April 15, 1802
I wandered lonely as a cloud, indeed.
Note the second is that William wrote, and it has been oft repeated, that the two best lines of his poem were written by his wife, Mary, these being, “They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.”
Well the winner is whosoever’s work is long remembered and in this case the palm goes to all three. Also I don’t mind noting that while Will is a good man to go publically gloating about the wonders of his spouse’s mind, he was to himself a little too unkind, as the best line of the poem is the first one, the one that no who hears it, or perhaps speaks it aloud, ever quite forgets: I wandered lonely as a cloud.
The second best lines are indeed the ones Will called out as best, his wife’s apt description of something usually hidden and damn difficult to describe: that there is an inward eye, that things flash upon it, that solitude can be tasty and what is most tasty about it is the opportunity for day dreaming wherein spiced heights of passion and tangential sour lows of gross revenge play out a thousand times. That is the bliss of solitude when nothing, even so divine as love, is suffered gladly to intrude.
The third best lines of the poem are “Ten thousand saw I at a glance,/ Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” I’m kidding of course with this beauty-pageant ranking, but the other lines that describe the wind tickling the lake into a million flickers of lightnesses and darks, then without dropping a stitch switches to tickling the flowers into a million flickers of yellow, lilting in brightness and weakness and power.
To continue, the forth best lines of the event are Dorothy’s: “some rested their heads on stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them.”
I could have stopped the quote at “laughed” which as the moment awakens into full-on magic, as in fairy tales when candles stand up and sing or when the color comes on in the Wizard of Oz, because here the flowers are Pinocchioed into humanity, when the daffodils, giggle themselves from that to they, but I was loath to lose Dot’s repetition about the wind and the lake and the blooms. What was so transfixing to them all, Will, Mary, and Dot, was the oneness of the water and the petals in their response to the wind. It created a scene of simplicity, and unity, and life, and that is the wind we all long to get caught up in.
Our own little heads are heads among ten thousand and when we too are too weary to dance, we rest noggins on rocks and are still parts of the program. The wind blows. Each tiny patch of water responds with a new reflection of the sky or matte introspection. On the shore, each leaf responds, each alone, each uncertain and certain, all in concert. Our hearts respond, each an only, each uncertain and certain, all in concert, and something lifts that often keeps us drastically darkened and lonely, somehow nature and art lift that murky curtain, and we join again the light fantastic.
Such togetherness abounds and is as thick and sweet as candied meat, but what about Crusoe, truly alone, perched on a little dead volcano, watching things of unquenchable beauty, like roving, giant, test-tubes of glass arising from hot pits in the magma, with boiling water spouting out of them like screaming kettles abandoned on their stove. Actually, let’s return to the text for a listen:
The beaches were all lava, variegated,
black red, and white, and gray;
the marbled colors made a fine display.
And I had waterspouts. Oh,
half a dozen at a time, far out,
they’d come and go, advancing and retreating,
their heads in cloud, their feet in moving patches
of scuffed-up white.
Glass chimneys, flexible, attenuated,
sacerdotal beings of glass...I watched
the water spiral up in them like smoke.
Beautiful, yes, but not much company.
I often gave way to self-pity.
“Do I deserve this? I suppose I must.
I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Was there
a moment when I actually chose this?
I don’t remember, but there could have been.”
What’s wrong about self-pity anyway?
Whenever I read this I’m like, "What the what?" I’m a nut for this kind of question and answer, the commitment to the notion that I know this world is of my making, clue one was that it is so perfectly tailored to unnerve me. She tells us it is our fault, this mess we’re in, but that it is okay to cry about it.
We are all back from somewhere, each a Doberman among Chihuahuas, but we are also on our way elsewhere to birdland, when we will look back on sharing dogness and a scene together, Will, Dot, and Mary, will seem something only the impossibly young could do, and what might never again be done.
Then we’ll know that we have passed the lake-afire-with-light part of life and are into a new one this time full of laughing fellows and full on sunny yellow where every glint of golden shimmer is perfectly opposed by one mustard and dimmer. As in the past it is the next ancient world I am trying to get through to, to which I am trying to get through. As I’ve told you before, I may play with a noun or a verb but prepositions must get all their tits in the right bra cups if I am going to proceed.
And I mean to. So, yes, there is Crusoe remembering Will and Mary and Dorothy’s memory, but not quite remembering their communal memory to the finish, leaving him diminished by three lines and the crucial, I repeat, crucial information that the bliss of blank is Solitude, where one has time enough to start seeing picture shows, unasked for but awaited, running unabated upon the inner screen of mind, “that inward eye.” Crusoe remembers the Wordsworths, and later remembers himself remembering, and is then remembered by Bishop, who is remembered by me, who is remembered by you, all of us wandering lonely as a cloud, building up to a bit of a storm.
Which is where I’ll leave you. Get home safe now. DKY and ISRTEYA.*
*Don’t Kill Yourself. I Shall Return To Encourage You Again.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on November 28, 2011 at 04:50 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
I come to speak of daffodils not to bury bulbs of them. Here as we enter the entry to winter I thought I'd hinder the mundane with a bit of verse rapture about how hard it is to do without and how often we already have what we can't quite remember. Let's start again.
For many of us, when someone asks, “What would you bring with you to read if you were stuck on an island deserted of relief, for upwards of decades, lost as a tribeless chief?”, the answer is, “What do you mean ‘if’?
In Elizabeth Bishop’s sublime poem "Crusoe in England" every stone and stanza is a brilliant primer on the primal and the primary, what it is to be human from pram to prime to prim, and back to pram again.
Today I’m thinking of Crusoe’s confession that among the agonies of that wee island of his captivity, beyond rank loneliness and raw despair, beyond rage like a volcano-in-violence and sorrow like the cold, hardened magma the morning after, looking like the very shit of your life solidified, as unkempt as your bedroom, some parts glassy perfection and frozen, others chaos and regret, yes beyond all that, sat the anguish of a forgotten fact and nothing to consult to bring the neuronic nightmare of searching to a climaxed close, an answered ending, a fattened act in the sated sweet repose of Now I Know.
You should go read the whole poem but if you’re already too drunk or not yet drunk enough, read this chunk from the trunk:
There was one kind of berry, a dark red.
I tried it, one by one, and hours apart.
Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects;
and so I made home-brew. I'd drink
the awful fizzy, stinging stuff
that went straight to my head
and play my home-made flute
(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth)
and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats.
Home-made, home-made! But aren't we all?
I felt a deep affection for
the smallest of my island industries.
No, not exactly, since the smallest was
a miserable philosophy.
Because I didn't know enough.
Why didn't I know enough of something?
Greek drama or astronomy? The books
I'd read were full of blanks;
the poems--well, I tried
reciting to my iris-beds,
"They flash upon that inward eye,
which is the bliss..."the bliss of what?
One of the first things that I did
when I got back was look it up.
The island smelled of goat and guano.
Now what I want to say to you, dearest darling bleaders is about what she, he,
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on November 26, 2011 at 11:02 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
How's the ol clacker clangin? I've been writing, for some time now, soundalikes to some of my favorite poems. They're all in my new manuscript (third book if I can figure out what to do with it) called Who Said. A few weeks ago I posted one that leapt from Blake's Tiger, called Spider.
Here I'd like to tempt you with a little ditty switch hitting for a guy who wrote on both a raven and a writing desk, to wit, a take in translation of An Ab Ole. Why won't you just write Annabel Lee? Mischievous fingers! Ahem, pardon my multiple personalities. Also for your orbal entertainment, looka these skulls. In a town like this instead of the Muss Nat Hist you can just take the kiddies to a bone shop. Used to be such a thing as a rag and bone shop, which was much messier than this (or thee). Tant pis. (I include here a rhyme both for those who know how to pronounce it and those who don't). So much the worse.
Anywho, here's the poem, I publish it here out of love for you. You. How the little word sings. The title reminds us of Plath but that aint who I'm plundering.
It was many, many years ago
in this house, with this tree
that a woman lived, whom I don’t know
in a photo you can see. She baked bread
and ate with two fat men
and her picture looks much like me.
I was a child and she was a child
then neither again would be
she in nineteen-thirteen
me near two-zero, one-three.
And we loved with a love that was more
than a love, at the heads of our centuries.
Let me see less than she’ll see
because I know more than she
and, even from here, it near-blinded me.
And with virtue and reason, long ago,
In this picture that looks like me,
A bug blew out of a cough one night,
chilling the woman who looks like me;
So her muscled kinsman came
and took her away from our tree
to bake no more bread for fat men
and escape the brutality.
Yes, a wind blew out of a cloud
one night chilling and killing
who looks like me.
Microbes, heartache, and wars
do not give way to reason nor pause
at the soaring wrought-iron gate
of Brooklyn, nor at the doors of state.
She was here and some time later died,
well before I arrived here or anywhere.
But our love, she for fat men, I for my
small and tall friends, is stronger by far
than the love of those younger or richer
than we, and who could be wiser than we?
And neither the redbreasts in heaven above,
Nor the dolphins down under the sea,
Can ever quite sever my sight from the sight
Of the woman who looks like me.
For the moon rarely beams without bringing
dark dreams to the woman who looks like me;
And the stars never rise but I feel my tight eyes
on a dark dream that looks like me; And so,
all nighttime, I lie down by the side of my
searching self and my self that hides. With a
photo from nineteen-hundred, one and three,
of a woman who looks a lot like me.
Did you like it? I hope so. The sky is so grey it is rubbing itself pink where it touches the trees. Kisses. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to attempt your diversion again and exhort you to take courage! We are going down the long slide, but we'll all go down together. Especially if we each stow each other's verbs in the arches of our shoes or in the gap at the center of our bras. goddago c u nextime.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on October 27, 2011 at 03:23 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
I've been a sporatic spartan latterly, postwise, as I've elsewhere noted, I've got a lot of burners going at the moment and have been working hard to get something done for months and months now, interspersed with my usual state-hopping for secularism, and the raising of dem cute children of mine and now also, a puppy. I just try to keep the kitchen sort of clean and let the rest of it go to hades most of the time. Still, that doesn't leave time for hogging the blogosphere. But now I've handed something in, and am hoping will feel more free to return to our small electronic chats.
Right now I'd like to offer you this book review which I wrote for no reason but the inclination to meet today's inclement weather with a storm of human artistry.
So what I want to tell you about is the terrificly smart, witty, and slightly terrifying new book of poetry by Deborah Landau, The Last Usable Hour. On the cover the silhouette of a chair swings in the open air on a rope looking as if it has hung itself, but also clearly a reference to the Platonic forms. It is a trick she pulls on us to great effect a few times in the book: she seems to say she is giving up but it turns out to be a metaphysical swerve. No, I’m not hanging myself, but I am also not in that chair.
The chair was always empty. Plato imagined the ideal form could exist without its purpose, the human weight. Imagine perfection assless. Hilarious. Precarious.
I speculate that Landau’s poems frighten me so delightfully because she tells secrets, real ones, like being in a hanker for someone not synonymous with the husband, for romance, for instance. The book all happens at night, in a sleepless trance dropping in and out of depths of field. The poems apologize, for their insomnia and their intuitional intrusion like a sleepwalking blond beauty knocking on your door and apologizing for coming right in as she pushes past you and through your house to the yard and dissertates about the stars out there, some of which you have to admit you had not noticed before.
I have always been riveted by expressions of giving up and since I rarely give up I suppose I am most engrossed by people saying they are giving up, but then not actually giving up. Landau gives up beautifully a number of times, like an evening of dance made up entirely of interpretations of the end of Swan Lake. One hypnotic poem, or series part (each page stands alone but is not titled, though four titled sections comprise the whole), starts “In the middle of my wood, I found myself in a dark life.” and after flipping around Dante’s famous line of despair, it tells us of a mood that happens in a comfortable space, made hazy with gin and wine and night, coddled but a bit blank, candle lit, “are you sick” she asks herself without a question mark, “are you all done flirting,/ have you lost your appetites” and then the kind of open speech that makes me love a poet, the final line, “no longer a girl but slinking around nonetheless.” Don’t I know it.
I’m going to give you the next poem (or page-long stanza) in the collection in its entirety.
He keeps me waiting
and I start hysteria a little bit.
I start hysteria against everyone’s advice.
I go into the street to drink air.
I’ve never been so thirsty in my life.
Another mouth, some fresh-minted lips.
See, I can feel blue on half a bottle of jewels.
Sleep then wake then this then that day
and another night back on the bed
lying in an eros dumb and slackjawed.
The sound of hustling advances and retreats
as if someone were shuffling money
or unbuttoning a blouse.
Can you put that taffeta away now, please?
Please put it away.
I love the funny inner language of “I start hysteria,” love how she pulls us out into the street with her and her tentative madness, love “on half a bottle of jewels.” After all, we are all taking something, but what? I like how Frank O’Hara’s “I do this than that” gets so literal here it rubs out the details.
But then my favorite part is the end, where she converts all this potential energy into something kinetic, the whole of life’s rhythms, breathing in and out, day and night, even the back and forth of sex, and of love (the “hustling advances and retreats”), and condenses them all down to sound, to a susurration, a rustling, “as if someone shuffling money/ or unbuttoning a blouse” which is one seriously sexy version of the candy-wrapper theater problem, to which image Landau gracefully switches and then says to life and its crinkle of repetition, “Please, put it away.” Pretty brilliant. It’s a terribly sad little stunner, but it is funny, too, and keeps our misery company.
Well, I haven’t said nearly what there is to say, but I’ll say one last thing which is to note the pleasure of a poet who can tell me that in the city, some days in the summer, “even the little girls reek.”
Here's a link to The Last Usable Hour on amazon.
Read your poetry and don't kill yourself, and I shall return to encourage you again. You may also feel free to encourage me as my doing so does not always presuppose that I am myself sufficienty courageous to meet the day. Coffee helps, and rum too, but only so much.
ps Portrait of a Windy Day
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on October 19, 2011 at 12:28 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Does everyone know this ee cummings poem?
It will rock yer glockenspiel, so read it.
XXX i sing of Olaf glad and big whose warmest heart recoiled at war: a conscientious object-or his wellbelovéd colonel(trig westpointer most succinctly bred) took erring Olaf soon in hand; but--though an host of overjoyed noncoms(first knocking on the head him)do through icy waters roll that helplessness which others stroke with brushes recently employed anent this muddy toiletbowl, while kindred intellects evoke allegiance per blunt instruments-- Olaf(being to all intents a corpse and wanting any rag upon what God unto him gave) responds,without getting annoyed "I will not kiss your fucking flag" straightway the silver bird looked grave (departing hurriedly to shave) but--though all kinds of officers (a yearning nation's blueeyed pride) their passive prey did kick and curse until for wear their clarion voices and boots were much the worse, and egged the firstclassprivates on his rectum wickedly to tease by means of skilfully applied bayonets roasted hot with heat-- Olaf(upon what were once knees) does almost ceaselessly repeat "there is some shit I will not eat" our president,being of which assertions duly notified threw the yellowsonofabitch into a dungeon,where he died Christ(of His mercy infinite) i pray to see;and Olaf,too preponderatingly because unless statistics lie he was more brave than me:more blond than you.
Well there you have it. ee said a thing or two, dint he?
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on October 11, 2011 at 12:45 AM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I've been 1 poor correspondant and I been 2, 2 hard 2 find, but that don't mean that you ain't been on my mind. Everyblogger flaggs in her faithful log flogging eventually or now and again, but in this case it was deeply work specific. There was something I needed to get done and in order to do it I had to stop chatting at the secret societies. You are one of my least and therefore most secret society, I've hidden you in plain sight. So this is what I wrote to you around this time in 2009 (slightly tweeked).
Today is the kind of day the word susurration was born to serve. The trees out my window are full of dry leaves and seed pods and the wind is blowing around the bower. A visiting longhaired cat is glowering at big leaves bumping around with the breeze, and a lone last pepper dipping on its branch like a grounded fledgling flitting around. Riveting programing.
It is reasonable to be seasonably sensible to Keats, at least so much as to respond to the need for an inner struggle to take place in a physical space and that space to be a stubbled field after harvest.
But are we bird, or leaf, or cat? Real or imaginary? I'm the pepper, you're the cat. Sadly, there is no bird. There is a mansion in Asia Minor in which each room is a poem. In the parlor, women come and go talking of Michelangelo, in the kitchen there are cold plums, in one bedroom a girl slumbers in the curve of a colossal marble ear, in another a beauty marries the bed. Out front there is a beak in a heart and a form on a door. Out back is the newly shorn staffs of wheat and corn. And there we are, on a picnic blanket, not forlorn but arguing with our actual demons who are plump and angry and we are grotesque but they are getting tired, even of us. Let's just try to hold on and see what happens after dark.
Posted by Jennifer Michael Hecht on September 16, 2011 at 10:35 PM in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The Lion and the Honeycomb | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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.