Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Don't Mention the Moon (A Selection from The Edith Wharton Sentences)

Don’t Mention the Moon

The ink-stained desk at which all his poems had been written resented poetry, it disliked ink, and had no use for wineglass rings on the wood, or the caustic splashes of whiskey.  But it was a desk, and so had little to say about poetry or anything else, and lived its wooden life in the hope that someone other than a poet, a premier, for example, or a CEO, would one day sit down and sign a check, or initial an order to invade a country, anything but the love-sick mutterings or impotent phrasings the desk had perforce grown so resigned to house. “Just don’t mention the moon today,” thought the desk. “For once don’t sit here and write about the moon.”


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Evasion (A Portion Of The Transcripts)

What is it.  What is it with you and spiders? 
Why this

What is it about the ocean, the fish
like needles in the blanket of the ocean?

Why this evasion?

What is it about the mountain, the villages
  of snowdrops

in bloom
  on the mountain?

Beauty.  Rendering.  Love
in all
     its odd-bodied forms.
Go on...

I love the spiders because
who else will, and who

has ever loved me
  like I want to be loved.


Monday, September 1, 2014

And Now, a Word from Louise Gluck

This struck me from an interview with Gluck. (Apparently she rarely gives interviews) in this month's Poets and Writers magazine:

"For me it's tone--the way the mind moves as it performs its acts of meditation. That's what you're following. It guides you but also mystifies you because you can't turn it into conscious principles or say precisely what its attributes are. The minute you turn tone into conscious principle it goes dead. It has to remain mysterious to you. You have to be surprised by what it is capable of unveiling."

That's what I love about writing poetry. The work itself unveiling to you, the work itself letting you know what it needs to say.

Monday, August 18, 2014

From "The Edith Wharton Sentences"

The First of November

“I shouldn’t have had to ruin this umbrella by using it in the rain. A frying pan, or cookie sheet is never more perfect than when it hangs on a shelf in some kitchen notion shop. An umbrella in its stand is the idea of an umbrella, while the same object, flecked with sleet and turned half inside-out in a rough onslaught of November wind, is that idea put forth and the argument lost. Weather and time together win every debate they have ever staged, even against hearty teams such as steel, concrete, brick walls, and hope.”
The shop girl looked at me as if I hadn’t spoken. “Do you want this wrapped as a gift,” she said. So I suppose we understood one another after all. We lived on the borders of the wicked city, it was the first of November, and the weatherman’s promised gale had only just arrived.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

About Time: Thunderbird, Little Red Riding Hood, and Edith Wharton, among other things.

It flows, apparently, and runs, and gets away from me like a horse might get away, by swimming into the ocean.  I haven't been blogging, at any rate.  But rather than offer excuses or explanations I think I'll just start again. And say that I have read a lot of things, young adult novels I read for my day job, and novels and nonfiction I read because reading is what I do.  And poetry, always.  The last book of poetry I read that made me want to right away respond by writing my own poems was Dorothea Lasky's Thunderbird.  A couple of weeks ago I sat on a bench at the Chicago lakefront on a beautiful day.  I read a poem from Thunderbird, and then write a poem in my notebook.  Rinse, repeat.  It was a really good morning.

I also recently read an anthology forthcoming from Viking in March 2015, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation.  Dorothea Lasky is represented, and other poets I've long admired, James Allen Hall, Mark Bibbins, Timothy Donnelly, Matthew Zapruder, Melissa Broder, Matthew Dickman, Ocean Voung, and Michael Dickman, among others.  It's the kind of anthology I wish I'd had when I was 20, and all the anthologies seemed to be filled with poets that were either dead, or, to my 20 year old self, yes, unforgivably old, so much older than I that they seemed to already belong to history rather than the now.

Now, of course, I am older than poets who seemed so old to me then. Still and all it's valuable for young people to have an anthology made up of contemporary voices.

In my own work, I'm writing 3-4 new drafts for my Edith Wharton Sentences each week, and also typing already-written pieces into the growing document. Finishing one manuscript this year has whetted my appetite to complete more, and I think I have a very good shot at being done with the project before 2014 is over.  I've also being working on a series of new spider poems, probably prose poems, if they remain in their current form. I did a mash-up of spider imagery combined with exercises from a textbook on the Little Red Riding Hood story that I found in a thrift store. I go back and forth on thinking they are really great to seeing them as just exercises that should not see the light of day.  Lucky for me they can hang out in a notebook and marinate for a while.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Short Takes on Two Recent Books

The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

Each poem in this book is comprised of three speakers, the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, and each speaker always speaks in this order, although the Dog does not always get the last word, so to speak.  The Old Woman speaks of human concerns, the Tulip is the voice of Beauty, and the Dog speaks for the animal.  Yet they also speak of what they are, woman, flower, dog, just themselves, if those selves could all cogently speak. The trio discuss God, Love, Death, the nature of Man.  I thought I'd had other books by Ostriker on my shelf, but I can't find any now.  I do remember using her book Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America when writing some papers in grad school. This one will remain on my shelf--I love the interplay of the three voices, how their conversations open up the world, and how, when you listen to speakers who are good at arguing their case, your loyalties and opinions shift and change like leaves in the wind.

Here is one of the shorter poems in this collection:

Soften and Melt

The man man made me soften and melt
said the old woman.

The bee made me shiver like a rag
said the dark red tulip.

The bitch made me push
said the dog.

Bay of Angels, by Diane Wakoski

Why do we chew again and again on the bones of old wrongs?  Why are we (are some of us, many of us, most of us?) haunted by old love, love gone wrong, ancient betrayals, decades-old heartbreak?  This can be true, I think, even if our present is relatively happy and drama-free.  Wakoski examines her past with movies and myth as her companions, finding tropes in both that twine and echo in her own life.  In the last section of the book, "The Lady of Light Meets the Shadow Boy," she writes poems that are inspired by a new friendship/mentorship with the poet Matthew Dickman, yet these poems, too, are meditations on the past, and what both poets share from it. I am always in awe of Wakoksi's catalog of imagery: the natural world, the urban environment, jewels, cloth, flowers, cinema, the qualities of light, as well as her ear for prosody and her skill with line-breaks. This collection, along with her previous book, The Diamond Dog, indicate to me another flowering in this poet's career.  Some of the fieceness of her earlier work is not here, but she has replaced anger (which was exciting) with a hard-won wisdom (calmer, but perhaps more beautiful.)  I look forward to her work, always.

Here's the third stanza of "Some Beauty Needs a Dimness." The poet is describing how a winter scene would be different if the sun were out:

                                                Now the 
gold and green and orange snow blowers and shovels
would come out, a reminder of
worldly destruction; the kids in red gloves would
dirty the world with snowballs, the car mufflers
would blow out a column of asserive, lively particles,
some perhaps staining the snow blue. Even the light itself would be
cheerful and lose its sonority.
Edward Weston's pepppers -- wouldn't you shudder
if they were green? Would you ever want to see a Greta Garbo 
film in color?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The World Will Find A Way to Break Your Heart

From an interview with Mark Doty in Tricycle

Mark Doty: Grief does not seem to me to be a choice. Whether or not you think grief has value, you will lose what matters to you. The world will break your heart. So I think we’d better look at what grief might offer us. It’s like what Rilke says about self-doubt: it is not going to go away, and therefore you need to think about how it might become your ally.

I find that line all the time in my notebooks, "the world will break your heart." Or better, " the world will find a way to break your heart."