Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why I Subscribe to Poetry Daily

I get one email a week from the Poetry Daily website.  It give me news, some links to various contests and conferences, and a list of which poems will be appearing on what days.  The weekly e-newsletter ends with whatever poem had been featured on the site the year before.  I have to confess that I often don't read any of it.  I tend to look at my email at work, and if there are a lot of work-related notes lurking in the inbox, I feel the need to tidy up by deleting anything not vital.  Still I sometimes glance through it, quickly, to see if there's anything necessary or amazing. A while back I found this poem at the end of their missive. It stopped. me. in. my. tracks. At least enough to email it to myself with a note to share it. But then of course that note got buried under the deluge of daily emails. I just now resurrected it.

Problems with the Dictionary

Shouldn't the distance between impossible
and improbable be widened? Might miracle
deserve its own appendix: the ease with which night
becomes winter? There must be a word for it,
a term unique and apropos to star-pocked sky
and village roads blanketed by snow,
a good-natured—but stone drunk—schoolteacher
leaving a warm bar. It is improbable she will drive.
She does. North of town, wind uncovers ice-sheets.
A drift swarms ditch to ditch and the street
becomes impassible (see also impossible). She cannot
u-turn and begins walking home. She forgets
her headlights and roadside crops go miraculous:
snowed-in corn pastures awash in shadows
from her halogen bulbs. Another driver
would not see her. None come. The night is nothing more
than boot-prints in fresh powder, a wobbly path
tracking to back-patio where she frees the latch
and lets herself in. Her high-beams will burn
to sunrise. Her frozen steps will melt beyond definition.

The poet is Luke Johnson. This appeared in Southwest Review, and then at Poetry Daily. You can find out a lot more info on Luke's website, and by reading that I found out he has a blog, and a first book, which I am going to order for myself right now.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Someone in the Room of Writers Walks You Over to Another Guest

I only went outside once yesterday, just up the block to the small organic grocery store, where I paid 10 dollars for some additions to my planned turkey chili--a red pepper, a jalapeno pepper, a can of kidney beans, a can of garbanzo beans.  I couldn't walk any farther than that because of the ice, glittery in the trees, a half inch thick and crackling on the sidewalk. I slept a lot, fighting off a cold, and when I wasn't sleeping or cooking chili I was reading.  Natalie Goldberg's forthcoming book is called The True Secret of Writing. Her book Writing Down the Bones has been hugely influential in my writing and teaching life and habits, and in all of her books about writing since that one she delivers essentially the same message: write as a practice. Keep your hand moving. Write it down first, write more.  Judge/edit/cut later. Walk into the room of writers and make yourself at home there.

The new book doesn't break new ground, but Goldberg, as always, approaches writing from a Zen perspective.  New is not the point.  Sometimes the message, repeated in a slightly different way, will fall on the ears or in the mind in a new way, the way the ocean is always the ocean but at some point the sight of it is imbued with more meaning by the viewer. I have some new writing prompts to take from the new book, and some writers to explore further--another part of Goldberg's practice, and her writing advice books, is the study, admiration, and kudos to other writers.  It's one of the really cool things I get from blogs, from books, from conversations--someone in the room of writers walking you over to another guest and saying here, you two should know each other. Here is one poet she passed on to me:


suddenly nothing but grief
so I put on my father's old ripped raincoat

The other book I was reading is Sharon Old's Stag's Leap, a book of poems she wrote as her husband of 30 years was leaving their marriage.  I started it a few days before, and finished it this morning over breakfast at a cafe called Taste of Heaven. It's an astonishing, complex and powerful work. As I was finishing reading the poem "Years Later" I gasped at the end, one of those beautiful and deadly silver arrows that poetry can shoot into the heart, and as I looked up to the window, I met the eyes of a bearded young man walking up Clark Street. Because of the poem, my stunned reaction to it, I held his gaze, surge of electric blue, and I'll remember that moment, and how his winter cap matched his eyes, and we saw each other, and maybe I'll write a zen poem about it when I am very old.

a sideways gravity in him, toward some
vanishing point. And no, he does not
want to meet again, in a year--when we 
part it is with a dry bow
and Good-bye. And then there is the spring park,
damp as if freshly peeled, sweet
greenhouse, green cemetery with no
dead in it-except, in some shaded
woods, under some years of leaves and 
rotted cones, the body of a warbler
like a whole note fallen from the sky--my old
love for him, like a songbirds rib cage picked clean.

 --from "Years Later" by Sharon Olds

Late at night, I wanted to take a photo of the jeweled ice on the window, because it was all due to melt away by morning:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Two French Brothers

Yesterday I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago to see the exhibit "Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec: Bivouac" and I'm glad I caught it before it was gone--two French brothers, designers, and their simple elegant designs for everyday things: a chair, a vase, a shelf, a rug.  It made me feel like a trip into my living room, much less a journey to a museum, was a venture into new territory.  Or maybe better to say that a trip to the living room is more like entering a museum than I'd ever thought.  Museum of spoons, museum of lamps, museum with the uneven silver tea tray. I liked people watching there, all the Euro folk, and the different tongues and fashionable people.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

News from the First Few Days of the Year

I have three new poems up at Right Hand Pointing.  They all originate a small notebook I write in now and then on my morning commute on the train. When I filled one notebook up I looked through it to see where poems might be working to be born.

While poking around the RHP site I found this digital chapbook by Jeanie Tomasko and liked the poems a lot. Recommended for those of you who don't mind God walking into a poem and taking the whole contraption over.

Here's another Helen Adam video, because I am a bit obsessed.  (I love how she rolls her R's in Rat and Roach in this song.) I also found some sound files to listen to this weekend--Helen at Naropa both reading and lecturing.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Ambassador from Venus

I have been reading Lisa Jarnot's long-awaited biography, Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus. I knew it was on the horizon because I have admired and followed Jarnot's work as a poet (and on her personal blog) for several years now. And while I can't say I am devoted to Duncan's work, one of my first memories of the excitement and possibility of poetry was in a classroom in 1985 or 86, in a workshop with Diane Wakoski.  She read Duncan's poem "My Mother Would be a Falconress" to the class. I still remember how thrilled I was at the poem itself, at Wakoski's evident admiration (and inspired performance) of the work, and how I wanted to write something that layered and potent with meaning.  And the sound of it!

So I have been reading about Robert Duncan, his childhood as the adopted son of parents who believed he was meant to be theirs, that the stars had ordained it. He was at the nexus of so many groupings and divisions in American poetry: friends, and then enemies, with Jack Spicer  (a poet whose work I came to know this past year through his amazing My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.) Great friends with Charles Olson and Robert Creeley.  Great friend of Denise Levertov, another poet Wakoksi introduced to me in that first class I took with her, and then, I am reading, no longer friends with her, after they disagreed about the role of the poet as protester and political force.  In fact, Duncan feuded with a lot of people.  But he also made friends among all sorts of writers, academics, painters, and artists of all stripes, and had an enduring marriage to the painter and collage artist Jess.

So I start the new year thinking about connections. Buying Duncan's biography makes me check out author Lisa Jarnot's blog, where I see that she still teaches poetry workshops out of her apartment.  If I lived in NYC or Brooklyn I would sign up for one. It makes me think of Jack Spicer, and how I should read his work again, and Robin Blaser, friend to both Spicer and Duncan--I bought a book of his work but never read it. I also have a new book of Jess's artwork, Jess: O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoteria. I think of all of these writer and artists, and the ties of friendship, art, and love that bound them together and drove them apart.

I think of re-reading poet H.D.--Duncan was obsessed with her.  I was too, in grad school, and ended up writing a term paper about supernatural portents and signs in her work. Also in Jarnot's book I am reintroduced to Helen Adam.  A generation older than Duncan, this Scottish poet wrote dark ballads she sang to captivated audiences in the Bay area and in New York.  Diane Wakoski read our class one of them, a tale of a man who is tangled and strangled by a woman's living web of hair. Duncan always said that "My Mother Would Be a Falconress" owed its creation to the example of Helen Adam's work. Just a smidge of internet sluething led me to videos of Adam performing.  Now I have to buy a book of her work, too.  It comes with a DVD, as well it should. Oh, and Duncan was an early mentor of filmmaker Stan Brakhage.  I know next to nothing about his work, so now I have another assignment: learn.

A new year. Here's to new connections. Here's to reading one book that drives one to another, reading one writer and being lead to another.  Here's to crazed mystics and damaged pyches and the slow healing of art. To falcons and wolves and dangerous women. To Robert Duncan, sweeping into a lecture hall in a purple cape. He's cross-eyed.  His notes are rumpled.  He might make a pass at you at the faculty party, after. He's going to cover the blackboard with enthusiastic chalk marks; you will not be able to keep up in your notebook, there's always too much, too many connections. But at least you are there too. Find yourself somewhere in the lineage and equation.

Here's Helen Adam.  She tops my list right now of people I wish I could have known: