Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Les Etiquettes jaunes

I picked up a leaf
today from the sidewalk.
This seems childish.

Leaf! you are so big!
How can you change your
color, then just fall!

As if there were no
such thing as integrity!

You are too relaxed
to answer me. I am too
frightened to insist.

Leaf! don't be neurotic
like the small chameleon.

-Frank O'Hara
from "Meditations in an Emergency" published 1957

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jack Gilbert, The Art of Poetry No. 91

Do you think it’s important for American writers to live abroad?
At least at some point—so you have something to compare to what you think is normal, and you encounter things you aren’t used to. One of the great dangers is familiarity.
Is that a danger overseas too? Last summer you went back to Greece.
Linda wanted to finish a book she had been writing; she asked me to go with her. So we went to Paros. Unfortunately, we found the Greece we knew was no longer there. Our Greece was wonderfully bucolic. Very quiet, peaceful, slow, friendly—farmers plowing, a couple of men in small boats, almost no electronics. A civilization that lasted four hundred years is gone now. Gone the way Paris is gone, the way Italy is gone. All gone. Everything that I dreamed of is gone. It was such a blessing to get over there when it still was. All of the things that I loved were on the brink of disappearing without my knowing it. You can’t go to Paris anymore; it’s not there. Greece and Japan aren’t there anymore. The places I’ve loved no longer exist.
What’s there instead? 
Mechanisms mostly. Europe is now rich, busy, and modern.
When you were abroad, did you consider yourself an expatriate?
No. You have to understand I didn’t visit places; I lived places. It makes all the difference in the world.
Was it a solitary existence?
Well, of course at times it was lonely, but I don’t think it bothered me much. I’ve been very lucky. A large part of my life I’ve been with someone—girlfriends, male friends. They’re very, very important to me. I’ve been blessed by knowing and being with them. 
How did your foreign settings—those places—figure into your poems? 
It’s more how those places resonate in me. Rather than writing a poem about those places, they create something I write about.


 Do you think poetry should be performed?
No, God no. But it must be created so that you make something happen. You don’t just fool the audience—make them love you or something like that. It’s an art to make the audience experience what you’re talking about.
When you write, do you read your poems out loud? 

Sometimes. If my instincts register that something is wrong with the rhythm then I work on it, but it’s almost always unconscious.
The hard part for me is to find the poem—a poem that matters. To find what the poem knows that’s special. I may think of writing about the same thing that everyone does, but I really like to write a poem that hasn’t been written. And I don’t mean its shape. I want to experience or discover ways of feeling that are fresh. I love it when I have perceived something fresh about being human and being happy.
Ezra Pound said “make it new.” The great tragedy of that saying is he left out the essential word. It should be make it importantly new. So much of the time people are just aiming for novelty, surprise. I like to think that I’ve understood, that I’ve learned about something that matters—what the world should be, what life should be.
Can you describe your life in Northampton in recent years?
Happiness. I’m in the midst of absolute beauty, quiet. A lot of being alone. I walk in the morning, then I listen to the news, then I eat something and start working.
You’ve said before that you don’t miss being young. 
Oh, of course I miss being young.
How is that different from not minding growing old?
Growing old is a mistake. It seems natural that we die and grow old. It’s part of the bargain. You get to be young for a long time and then you start to get old. It’s also a wonderful time, but it’s a different kind of wonderful.
When I was young, I was very aware of death. I was determined not to die until I’d lived my life. So much so that I used to pray and make lists. I would say, I know you have to take me away. You have to kill me. But not yet. I’d make a sort of bargain—I accept that you will kill me, but don’t let me die before I’ve fallen in love. And then the second prayer was, Don’t let me die a virgin. I started making lists about what I wanted before I died. When I finally finished going around the world, I discovered that I’d lived every one of those lists. 
Are your writing habits the same today as they were when you were young? 
I trust the poems more.
When do you work best now? 
In the morning. But for most of my life I wrote late at night. When you get old your brain doesn’t function as well after noon.
Do you keep to a work schedule?
No, I have an approximate rhythm, but I don’t like the idea of anything creative being mechanical. That’ll kill you. On the other hand, if I was not satisfied with how much I’d written in a year, then I would set out to write a hundred poems in a hundred days. I force myself to write poems even though I don’t approve of it because it does keep something alive. So I guess I have a little bit of a pattern that I live by. For instance, the other day I woke up at one in the morning and worked until four in the afternoon. I do that a lot. I can do that because I don’t have to accommodate anybody but me.
So discipline is important to you?
Yes, because I’m lazy. If you have it in you, you want to create, but I won’t force myself—because it’s dangerous. People who are organized are in danger of making a process out of it and doing it by the numbers. 
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
It depends if you consider laziness writer’s block. I don’t know. I’ve always been able to write at least satisfactory poems, ones that weren’t mechanical. 
Do you feel you have any flaw as a writer?
I can’t spell. I’m hopeless.
What’s your relationship with the contemporary literary community now?
I don’t have one.
Does that bother you?
No. Why? Why would it bother me? Those people are in business. They’re hardworking.
Don’t you work hard?
Not in the same meaning of the word hard. I put in a lot of effort because it matters to me. Many of these people who teach would do anything not to teach. I don’t have any obligations. I don’t have a mortgage. These people are working hard at a great price. 
I’m struck by how rarely I see your poems in anthologies and how 
often I see the same poems by other poets over and over again. Do you think there’s a disadvantage to spending most of your life abroad or outside of literary circles?
It’s fatal, which is all right with me. 

-- Interview portion taken from 'the Paris Review' archived on:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another Obituary

We were filled with the strong wine
of mutual struggle, one joined loud
and sonorous voice. We carried
each other along revolting, chanting,
cursing, crafting, making all new.

First Muriel, then Audre and Flo,
now Adrienne. I feel like a lone
pine remnant of virgin forest
when my peers have met the ax
and I weep ashes.

Yes, young voices are stirring now
the wind is rising, the sea boils
again, yet I feel age sucking
the marrow from my bones,
the loneliness of memory.

Their voices murmur in my inner
ear but never will I hear them
speak new words and no matter
how I cherish what they gave us
I still want more, I still want more.

--Marge Piercy, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Losing Time

The red balloon drags behind me. Hours pull on loose string and the thing unravels and floats back with a blue grey tide, with the sea sand and shells and the blue green weeds that once swayed on the sea floor. Later, they will wash up on shore, brittle and brown.

And it has gone on course, of course. I bloomed. But loose flesh hangs and my rough pink palms rub a scabbed scalp and thick but fragile and sparse grey white hairs sprout from my ears. And the red balloon my mother tied around my wrist is a pinprick pulled away by waves, a pilotless vessel at the mercy of the moon.

--A little ditty I wrote a few weeks ago. Short, and about time and old people (apparently two of my favorite things to write about lately).

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Memory is like fiction; or else it's fiction that's like memory. This really came home to me once I started writing fiction, that memory seemed a kind of fiction, or vice versa. Either way, no matter how hard you try to put everything neatly into shape, the context wanders this way and that, until finally the context isn't even there anymore. You're left with this pile of kittens lolling all over one another. Warm with life, hopelessly unstable. And then to put these things out as saleable items, you call them finished products--at times it's downright embarrassing just to think of it. Honestly, it can make me blush. And if my face turns that shade, you can be sure everyone's blushing.

Still, you grasp human existence in terms of these rather absurd activities resting on relatively straightforward motives, and questions of right and wrong pretty much drop out of the picture. That's where memory takes over and fiction is born. From that point on, it's a perpetual- motion machine no one can stop. Tottering its way throughout the world, trailing a single unbroken thread over the ground.

Here goes nothing. Hope all goes well, you say. But it never has. Never will. It just doesn't go that way.

So where does that leave you? What do you do?

What is there to do? I just go back to gethering kittens and piling them up again. Exhausted kittens, all limp and played out. But even if they woke to discover themselves stacked like kindling for a campfire, what would the kittens think? Well, it might scarcely raise a "Hey, what gives?" out of them. In which case-- if there were nothing to particularly get upset about-- it would make my work a little easier. That's the way I see it."

Haruki Murakami, from the story "The Last Lawn of the Afternoon",
out of the compilation "The Elephant Vanishes"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Simple Ways to Dirty Thinking

1. Up
2. Down
3. Up
4. Down
1. In
2. Out
3. In
4. Out
1. yes
2. Yes
3. YES
4. YES!