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« Alfred Kahn, 1917-2010 by Stacey Harwood | Main | The Draft Dodger Blues (by Larry Epstein) »

December 30, 2010


come on, please don't promote astrology here. it's not only asinine, it's demonstrably false.

I am also puzzled by the promotion of astrology here.

According to the editor, the astrological speculations here amount to a joke, a protest against our unthinking dependence on science, or an effort to prove that astrological signs have a "poetic" validity. (From an interview, November 7, 2010.)

Astrology is no joke. I've often consulted my charts and have found the guidance there quite helpful.

Oh, please. Mr. Lehman and I are both Geminis. So was Yeats; Marilyn Monroe, John Masefield, Alanis Morrisette and two other people I can't remember share my birthday. Beth Gylys--I think--shares Mr. Lehman's. As I have said and written before, HE is a genius; and who do you think the Magi were?

Bob Dylan, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Adam Smith, Blaise Pascal, Annette Bening, Angelina Jolie, Ally Sheedy (HIGH ART is one of my favorite films ever)--and the entire arts staff of the Nashville Scene back in its Springsteen-type Glory Days, when we owned the majority shares in Village Voice Media..

AND--Just yesterday, I was trying to prepare a very sweet young man who is me with proofreading for my syntactical tics, which include a number of parentheticals, self-interruptions with hyphens, etc. and I said that I could blame this on being a Gemini. I learned this from a former student at the girls' school where I taught for a decade: when she went off to Macalester, she did an independent study on astrology, and it IS a science: you have to know all kinds of physics and regular astronomy to do charts properly. She brought me mine, which I still have, and when we were going over it, I apologized for interrupting her at one point, and she said "Oh, that's just your being a Gemini. Y'all are so verbal that you interrupt other people, and yourselves, constantly." Cross my heart.

Furthermore, on January 14, I wrote to one of our best critics, wanting permission to quote him about a poet whom we both admire very much. The letter was so long and circuitous I apologized yet again, saying that aside from Charles Wright, by his own admission, I was the only other Southerner who couldn't tell a straight, chronological, or linear story. Then I added "By my Charles Wright reference, I do not mean that I am "skittery." Far from it. I was "elliptical" before the term existed. Parenthetical. Jamesian. For lack of any better term, a Gemini." So there. Laugh if you will, think me an idiot if you will, but I could have walked straight out of a grocery store rack's trashy book on the subject, meaning from the chapter on Geminis, of course.

And, this same critic, along with another of my oldest friends and best readers, called me, instead "baroque"! "Baroque"! I am so excited that I may begin using this as a valedictory in my letters: "Baroquely yours from Brunswick," for I like alliteration and I am enormously fond of the work and person of Lucie Brock-Broido, who has been publicly and widely described both as "elliptical" (Stephen Burt) AND "baroque." She is not joking in her poems when she talks about cusps, for she is ALMOST a sister Gemini and I wrote her a fan letter--which I have lost in one of the 25 moves in my 53 years, and does this mean I should abandon astrology for the Kabbalah, about which I know nothing except that it rests heavily on numerology, about which I know less, but I have been so haunted by 3's and 13's and 31's in recent weeks--and you can ask many, many people about this, including my current proofreader for "Controversies and Connections," scheduled to run very soon as a wholly unexpected part of the Southern poetry series that has been noted here by David Yezzi but I think it is only fair, in this case, to list those by name who gone to the other side: Samuel Beckett, who boastfully lamented to one of my most important teachers, Seamus Heaney, like him both a Nobel laureate and a not-so-secret sharer of a birthday of April 13th, in Beckett's case a Good Friday, the supposed date of Christ's crucifixion.

I am only citing the names of those who have been recognized as such by others in print or gone to the other side, thus I must say that the very same birthday is also shared by a very important editor, a member of neither Beckett's faith nor Heaney's, but by important I mean important for America, for she toils on behalf of poetry in one of our country's last large independent houses and, like my own, is a poet and memoirist, though the V.I.E. also writes novels, and she has the gall to ask me about my own energy supply?; Bill Matthews, who wrote the foreword for my first book, #13 in the BOA "New Voices" series, saying it was appropriately spooky; Al Poulin, who plucked HURRICANE WALK from the slush pile to put it this series; and I am afraid to go on lest people think I am absolutely crazy, but I not only have the Magi on my side but as I mentioned, Jesus. He is ubiquitous on bumper stickers Down Here, even if he was, like my Husband the Cult Figure, Nixon, and Alex Chilton, a grumpy Capricorn.

And if people are intent on taking these things with dead--so to speak--seriousness, perhaps I should hie myself, like Plath and Sexton and Robert Lowell, to McLean's. None of these poets were averse to writing about themselves as Crazy People, and Lowell mentions being a Pisces in several of his poems (as did Kurt Cobain in his suicide note, poor thing*). But in one of Lowell's most famous lines, "what use now is my sense of humor?," which refers to a stay in what I suppose is now best known as the setting for GIRL, INTERRUPTED, I suggest that those above who lack this quality defer to the late Dixie Carter, at least in her monologue about Crazy People in the South, which can not only be viewed on YouTube but at the end of the first of the three-part "C & C" essay I've written above.

And I view this not as shameless self-promotion but self-protection for, as I say, some people seem congenitally, astrologically, or for other reasons, lacking entirely in the capacity for levity, without which I don't see how one survives in this Mean Ole World; thus the single topic here that deserves complete and utter seriousness is the subject of the asterisk and Kurt Cobain, i.e., death by one's own hand. To say that it is no laughing matter is putting things as mildly as possible, so, okay, I'll at least give you the title, which is HISTORY OF A SUICIDE.

*subject of the V.I.E.'s most recent book; see comment today on HuffPo and perhaps the "Ashbery Resource Center"

Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for her portrayal of "Lisa" in GIRL, INTERRUPTED and gave a famously Crazy acceptance speech, proving exactly what I don't know, but she surely doesn't seem like a Crazy Person to me now, only an exhausting one, like the V.I.E.


You certainly bring to mind Gemini Walt Whitman:

. . . . loth, o so loth to depart,
Garrulous to the very last.

Do check out my writings on Gemini at

especially 7 Literary Ladies under Gemini, and Gemini Women of Letters.

Yes! And remember one of the people I couldn't, earlier, who shares my birthday? Morgan Freeman! And for reminding me of all this, I would like once again to thank Neil White, a personal hero, wonderful friend, and the St. Bartholomew of memoirists. I could go on for pages, but this started long ago, and you can see some of the beginnings via the link below. I wonder when HIS birthday is...;-)

Diann, you are too sweet, funny, smart. 12/5/60.

I forgot to say that Yeats was born on June 13th and Lucille Clifton died on February 13th!

And R.I.P. to both their souls. We are lucky to have had them on this planet and we should be grateful that their words have outlasted them, and will continue to do so.

So much has changed since my original posts, if not my belief in the importance of maintaining a sense of humor. And in astrology, but everyone knows David Lehman is a genius, and if he can believe in it, well, so can I.

On a narrower and more domestic basis, Stanley and I, in order to preserve our sanity, began, about a year ago, something we call the "Blakely-Booth Household Body Count." We don't at all mean to be flippant. We've lost 43 loved ones, 17 by suicide, in 25 months. Even our beloved doctor and priest say they've never heard of such a thing.

"Notes on the State of Southern Poetry" has also met its end. There are two essays I've salvaged for publication on my STILL-under-construction website: "Down--But Not Out--In Mississippi and Elsewhere" (@10,000 words, to be published in five sections) and the retitled "Controversies, Connections, and Coincidences" (@20,000 words, requiring at least ten.) How can I ever thank Mr. Lehman sufficiently for his editorial wizardry that resulted in "The New Black," or Aberjhani, both of whom picked up on the most "substantive parts," which I was too stupid to see?

Well, I'm trying to rectify that in this third and final essay. More about it in a moment.

First, I must ask all to read the following and post accordingly: if at one point, I feared breaking commitments and thus posting on the page maniacally, now I fear that if I don't pull the plug on the page, it will pull the plug on me.

Moreover, I've written nothing that isn't utterly true. It's not that I'm so high-falutin' and virtuous, but a matter of common sense: words are all a writer has, and if she doesn't use them with care and honor, how can she expect them to treat her any better?(

I also have a publisher interested in the entire book as a whole, but he insists that it must contain an essay about the series' termination, so I've been alternating work on a poetic sequence that has been a fully year in progress but I pray is now complete, and the aforementioned essays, none of which require much more work.
Just planning for the appropriate timing.

I'm not an academic; am I right in thinking that all will be missed if I don't wait till after the holidays?

For this particular post at one of the very few b-sites I try to read daily, the timing is perfect: I normally loathe Thanksgiving, a day which seems to me to commemorate nothing but American's worst aspects: gluttony and the genocide of our benefactors, also the start of a six-week consumerist frenzy.

But there are ways and ways to be grateful. Here's the link to a site, for example, through which you can procure, through a single click, and every single day, a mammogram for a woman who can't afford one otherwise:

More selfishly, in the name of Byron, the stars, but mostly in the name of all those things which our culture despises--beauty, joy, love, pleasure, and especially poetry, for it can't be bought or sold--on this Thanksgiving day, offer your posts on the Facebook page I originally created as a supplement to "Notes on the State of Southern Poetry." I knew from the start I couldn't squeeze in everyone I wished, but not that the series, and an interim and outer-rim set of reviews would be either severely truncated or never run.

For slashed ones, you need only visit my "Info" page--please don't laugh at the number of schools I attended in my post-college career--and look at the very last item, which will take you to the NBCC Goodreads Group to which I belong. (I'm beginning to think the BAP b-site, three other journals, and NBCC/GR are the last refuges of the honest reviewer.) Or go to my STILL-under construction website, click on "More Reading," and you'll find yourself immediately in the same place:

As for the "Notes on the State of Southern Poetry," as I've warned, I mean what I say in my resignation letter. It's not easy for me to post things, for I'm constantly nagged by the fear that I'll seem self-promotional. But I've realized that's not the case at all, as I hope you'll understand from my letter; and please ALSO understand that the page was never created for purposes of narrow regionalism, in which I have little interest. A book jacket recommendation from someone who lives in the South meets all criteria, and Messrs. Lehman and Yezzi, have appeared there, also Nin Andrews, Tracy Smith, Jake Adam York, and Jennifer Michael Hecht, my favorite "Bleader." Even if Mr. Lehman hadn't appeared there so many times that he's always welcome, I was born in Alabama--where Richard Yates taught (, and watch for more in the Mississippi and Elsewhere essay; also, I reviewed VALENTINE PLACE for ANTIOCH REVIEW when Judith Hall's assistant poetry editor. So, see what I mean about the permitted degrees of separation?

Thus, here's the link to my letter-- my best thanksgivings to everyone who has helped keep me going through this eighteen-month ordeal, most especially Messrs. Lehman and Yezzi, who gave the series the only national attention either online site has ever received.

Which begs the question: why was it terminated?

Or perhaps not: "Follow the money."

With my most sincere best wishes and gratitude,


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


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


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