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!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Leaving the House

I leave the house for the first time. Or, more accurately, the house rots away from around me. The sun is blinding. My parents look young and happy in the sand. Or they look relieved. They are playing volleyball, just the two of them, and they are doing the opposite of what you would think good volleyball players should do, working together to keep the ball in the air. There is nothing special about them. By this I mean we spill out of their bodies, and then they don't take enough photographs, and then their bodies climb down a very tall ladder into a dark secret door just as they promised.

-Zachary Schomburg, Fjords vol. 1

Monday, March 19, 2012

" [...] For some reason watching this makes her so nervous that just out of television-watching habit she goes to the kitchen and makes herself a little drink, mostly ice cubes, just to keep sealed shut the great hole that is threatening to pull open inside of her again. She takes just a sip and it's like a swallow of a light that makes everything clear. She must just arch over this one little gap and at the end of the day after work Harry will be back and no one will ever know, no one will laugh at Mother. She feels like a rainbow arching protectively over Harry, who seems infinitely small under her, like some children's toy. She thinks how good it would be to play with Nelson; it is bad for him to watch television all morning. She turns it off and finds his coloring book and crayons and they sit on the rug and color opposite pages.

Janice repeatedly hugs him and talks to make him laugh and is very happy doing the actual coloring. In high school, art was the one subject she wasn't afraid of and she always got a B. She smiles in the delight of coloring her page, a barnyard, so well, of feeling the little rods of color in her fingers make such neat parallel strokes and her son's small body intent and hard beside hers. Her bathrobe fans out on the floor around her and her body seems beautiful and broad. She moves to get her shadow off the page and sees that she has colored one chicken partly green and not stayed within the lines at all well and her page is ugly; she starts to cry; it is so unfair, as if someone standing behind her without understanding a thing has told her her coloring is ugly. Nelson looks up and his quick face slides wide and he cries, "Don't! Don't, Mommy!" She prepares to have him pitch forward into her lap but instead he jumps up and runs with a lopsided almost crippled set of steps into the bedroom and falls on the floor kicking.

She pushes herself up from the floor with a calm smile and goes to the kitchen, where she thinks she left her drink. The important thing is to complete the arch to the end of the day, to be a protection for Harry, and it's silly not to have the one more sip that will make her capable."

John Updike, Rabbit, Run page 221-2

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter One
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost …. I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two
 I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three
 I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
Chapter Four
 I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter Five
 I walk down another street.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Keep walking
Though there's no place to get to.
Don't try to see through the distances.
That's not for human beings.
Move within
but don't move
The way that fear makes you move.


"The Egg"

When Myrna first laid the egg we were both really excited. It was the color of butter, with freckles just like Myrna's freckles.

We took the normal goofy photos: Myrna holding the egg up in front of her belly and doing the "I-can't-believe-this-was-inside-me!" face, the egg wearing my A's hat. We felt really warm and proud. Plus it was way smoother and more beautiful than we'd imagined.

Those first couple nights, we'd lie in bed cuddling it between us and go back and forth between looking at each other and looking at the egg.

But then things started to get complicated. There were a million decisions to make, and what you decided was supposed to be some big sign of what kind of person you were. Like, to decorate the egg or not. And if so, would we do it funny, like with a mustache, in the spirit of the hat photos? Or would we do something sincere — Celtic knots or a flock of crows with clouds?

We went back and forth and got on each other's nerves. We finally landed on having our friends write messages, like you do on a cast.

All this was nothing compared to the incubation question though.

Like everybody, we took the first two weeks off to incubate together. But then would Myrna take the next two months off, and fall out of the loop on her big project? Or take the egg to work and freak out about the car ride? Would we each do half the incubating and worry about Swapout Syndrome from our different body temperatures? Which our more hippie friends said was just a lie to get us to pay the big bucks to put it in IncuCare. Was it true that kids come out autistic if they don't get natural warmth? You can hire a sitter of course, but it's hard not to feel weird about some immigrant lady who maybe you're oppressing in some weird way, sitting there in your house all day.

We started out talking calmly and lovingly about the incubation thing. But as the two weeks went by, we started to kind of joke-bicker about it, and pretty soon it was real bickering. We'd lean toward IncuCare and then I'd start to feel like a sellout. Then we'd lean toward Myrna doing all the sitting at home, but then she'd feel like a '50s housewife.

We finally decided she would take it to work. But she said her coworkers were smirking at her and the IncuChair made her legs look ugly. She hated leaving the egg zipped into the ThermoBag when she went to the bathroom, so she stopped drinking water and got awful headaches. In retrospect, I should have been better about it. But somehow the whole debate about what to do had left me feeling brittle and exhausted and so my sympathy sounded fake and my encouragement sounded patronizing.

Then yesterday I get a text from Myrna that just says "come home now" and I zip home from the office. When I get there, the egg's in the front hall in the ThermoBag, and a note from Myrna that just says "Sorry". I call her and call her but no answer.

So I've just been sitting here with the egg. I haven't called my work, just didn't go. I haven't called my family or anybody. I just sit here and stare between my legs at the egg and try not to think about Swapout Syndrome or cracks or the way Myrna looked at me when we first held this egg together.

"The Egg" by Jonathan Curley, posted by NPR during Round 7 of their October 2011 writing contest.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love"

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

lovers go and lovers come
awandering awondering
but any two are perfectly
alone there's nobody else alive

(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes)

not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing

(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating
merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)

"sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love"

life is more true than reason will deceive
(more secret or than madness did reveal)
deeper is life than lose: higher than have
-- but beauty is more each than living's all

multiplied with infinity sans if
the mightiest meditations of mankind
cancelled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)

or does some littler bird than eyes can learn
look up to silence and completely sing?
futures are obsolete; pasts are unborn
(here less than nothing's more than everything)

death, as men call him, ends what they call men
--but beauty is more now than dying's when

e.e. cummings

Friday, February 17, 2012

the actual Present

"It is like a vast grey box in which are laid helter-skelter a great many toys, each of which is itself completely significant apart from the always unchanging temporal dimension which merely contains it along with the rest. I make this point clear for the benefit of any of my readers who have not had the distinguished privilege of being in jail. To those who have bee in jail my meaning is at once apparent; particularly if they have had the highly enlightening experience of being in jail with a perfectly indefinite sentence. How, in such a case, could events occur and be remembered otherwise than as individualities distinct from Time Itself? Or, since one day and the next are the same to such a prisoner, where does Time come in at all? Obviously, once the prisoner is habituated to his environment, once he accepts the fact that speculation as to when he will regain his liberty cannot possibly shorten the hours of his incarceration and may very well drive him into a state of unhappiness (not to say morbidity), events can no longer succeed each other: whatever happens, while it may happen in connection with some other perfectly distinct happening, does not happen in a scale of temporal priorities-- each happening is self-sufficient, irrespective of minutes months and the other treasures of freedom.

It is for this reason that I do not purpose to inflict upon the reader a diary of my alternative aliveness and non-existence at La Ferte-- not because such a diary would unutterably bore him, but because the diary or time method is a technique which cannot possibly do justice to timelessness. I shall (on the contrary) lift from their grey box at random certain (to me) more or less astonishing toys; which may or may not please the reader, but whose colours and shapes and textures are a part of the actual Present-- without future and past-- whereof they alone are cognizant who-- so to speak-- have submitted to an amputation of the world."

E. E. Cummings, beginning of chapter five, p 82, 'A Group of Portraits'
excerpt from The Enormous Room

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Late, by myself, in the boat of myself,
no light and no land anywhere,
cloud cover thick. I try to stay
just above the surface, yet I'm already under
and living in the ocean.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

In order to put myself in her shoes, I exchanged our names in my mind.  I traded hearts with her.  I called the unhappy soul whose fate I pondered her.  Of course, I already knew I wasn't capable of loving anyone passionately.  However, perhaps I was capable of loving hopelessly, capable of a love that didn't depend on me alone, but that fed off the resistance it sought to break down, that was ignited by the indifference of another, a love that literally had to be enough for two: for the one who didn't love, and who therefore was in no way bound by love and for the love of the one who did love, but would always be striving toward an unreachable goal.
It seemed to me you couldn't ask more from life than this: to be capable of such a grand passion.  I no longer mourned for  her.  I envied her.  Perhaps, like me, she hadn't known how to love; perhaps, like me, she hadn't known how to love; perhaps, like me, she hadn't known how to be happy.  However, she'd certainly known how to be unspeakably, unbearably, boundlessly unhappy.

from "am i a redundant human being" by Mela Hartwig

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Memory and Photographs

Part 1-Why I Return to Columbia

The enormous white clouds, the gray sky, the graphite lake, the mats of coffee drying in the sun, the two Indian women with black hats sitting in a grassy field, the alcoholic carpenter, the stone patio where the women wash clothes by hand, the silver scent of eucalyptus, the little white coffins, the German scissors, the shortwave radio playing boleros, the crib beside the window, the lime ovens dotting the landscape like prehistoric dwellings:
What if all the stories you knew about the past fit into tiny photographs the size of slides, black & white with crenulated borders?

Part 2-from Winter on the Sawtooth

I take the liberty to flip through his pictures. Above us, a starling emerges out of nowhere. Lost in the season. Bounding from nest to nest. But so quickly, I'm fixated on these pictures. Not because they are well taken. Josh has a crude eye, and it's quickly evident that everyone, in nearly all of the photographs, is drunk, my son included. My interest is piqued because of the sheer volume. He has so many photographs of Sarah. Pictures in which she is the focus, in which she is posing, in which she is wearing black tights and patent leather shoes, wearing merino wool and a foolish pillbox hat, wearing Levi's and canvas shoes, wearing a loose green-and-white baseball-team ringer T-shirt. And there are pictures in which she exists by accident, as an incidental ornament in someone else's portrait, a blurry figure in the back of a Chinese restaurant. For the few minutes I look, and for days afterward, I'm left with a dark, discomfiting regret that, for all my effort, I can't seem to lose.
"Here," Josh says, "Let me show you a picture from the day I met her."
To have such a thing, I think.

Part 1: Maurice Kilwein Guevara's Autobiography of So-and-so: Poems in Prose
Part 2: Stuart Nadler's the Book of Life

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

a you and a you and a me.

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea.

-e.e. cummings-