Sunday, December 24, 2006
In pursuit of formalities
Or fake religious
For through the stairway of existence
We have come to God's
People who need to love, because
Love is the soul's life,
Love is simply creation's greatest joy.
The stairway of existence,
O, through the stairway of existence, Hafiz
You now come,
Have we all now come to
Friday, December 15, 2006
A Red-Gum Log
Hour by hour the log endured
the metamorphosis of flame,
and when its bark was burnt away
it glowed the colour of its name.
By alchemy the log became
and incandescent in its frame
pulsed rubies, bright as cherry wine.
As they shrank to discombine
in ruby cubes like crimson dice,
the log retained its size and line
then shattered into crimson ice.
-- Mark Allinson
Mark is a splendid Australian poet who works mostly in form and completely from the heart. Umbrella is a wonderful new creation by Kate Bernadette Benedict, also a poet with formal inclinations. The journal is conceived as a wonderfully eclectic mix of light and formal and free verse and prose related to poetry, with a mission to publish work inspired by an overarching (umbrella) idea. I'm very pleased to begin working as Umbrella's Contributing Editor, Poetry.
That's how I'm keeping my poetic fires burning through this difficult season. How about you?
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Maybe we all have one great book in us and need only the time and belief in ourselves to release it. Maybe a book is the testament of hardship endured and transformed into understanding, and we all work at our own books. Whether they reach paper or not.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
Positive, upbeat -- add those to the list of banned poetry words.
And who are these poetry police, you may ask? Well, Frank Zappa did ask, only he called them the "brain police" in one of my favorite songs when I was a Sunset Strip groupie in the 1960s ... but that's another tale. One basically told in the film Almost Famous. They didn't make the movie about me, but about some kids like my friends, only a lot less blonde and perspicacious (another word you may add to your list of approved poetry terms).
Who are the poetry brain police today? Well, check out this group for a start. Then there's always this group of totalitarians.
My point is that when writing, you should beware such arbiters of "good" and "bad" poetry. Why? Well, one example of a famous, well-published and lauded poet of his time is Robert Penn Warren. Does anyone read his work anymore? Okay, he's still got a page at the Academy of American Poets, but does anyone go there for other than academic reasons?
In fact, does anyone go to the Academy of American Poets site at all except for academic reasons?
Thursday, October 26, 2006
For years I labored day and night at a desk that met my wrists with a sharp edge. It wasn't knife-sharp, but it wasn't rounded either. It created not exactly a pain, but an annoyance every time I picked up a pen and wrote on my legal tablets. In other words, it entered into all my first drafts. Who can say what such an effect causes? Perhaps I wrote better, edgier first drafts than I might have if lulled by a rounded corner beneath my hands. Perhaps I wrote less often, unconsciously shrinking from the minor but persistent pain.
I now sit at a desk with rounded edges, ready file space and width beyond my wildest dreams. It's a desk made of real wood veneer (don't laugh) and accommodates within reach two stacks of file trays, an all-in-one fax-copier-printer, telephone, pencil cup and even one of those thingies you can stick on all the bits of paper you don't want to look at but can't afford to lose. Plus a photograph. Plus shelves for more photographs and cabinets for paper supplies. It is my dream desk.
Have I written more or better poetry while sitting here? Yes. Is it the desk? Who knows, but it hasn't hurt -- my wrist, that is -- in quite awhile. Things get put away, or left open, as the need occurs.
A good desk, like a good title, may be one of our best poetic devices. So how's your desk?
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Their submission policy is good and they respond quickly. The February 1 issue, which will celebrate the zine's first anniversary, has a feminist theme.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Friends of mine have organized what is sure to be a moving, vibrant and beautiful choral concert, Love's Perfect Design. The event, to be held on Sunday, November 19 at 3 pm at Grace Cathedral, will honor David Hogan, a composer of liturgical music and conductor of several Bay Area choruses. David died ten years ago in the crash of TWA Flight 800. His daughter, Hilary Hogan, has followed in her father's musical footsteps and is making her SF debut as lead soloist in this event. Hilary and her mother, Terry Hogan Johnson, organized the concert for this tenth anniversary year to honor David Hogan's memory and extraordinary life in music.
Beautiful music made by some of the loveliest voices and hearts I know. They've taken what could be a tragic anniversary and are turning it into a lovely, uplifting performance. Members of several choruses will participate. If you're in the area, don't miss it! The soaring spaces of Grace Cathedral will be quite a place to enjoy these compositions by David Hogan and others. You can order tickets at the linked website above.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
As we blew into the air tubes, she crossed her eyes and ballooned her cheeks so I would forget that my father had demoted me from being fisherman's helper to being Mother's little helper. After we blew up the air mattresses, Mom and I ambled over the white sand toward of San Felipe the tidepools. In black volcanic rock we found pools that shimmered with tiny yellow and blue fish, sea snails and minuscule translucent hatchlings. I poked my fingers in, trying to touch the jewel creatures as they flickered between crevices.
"See this?" Mom said and pointed to a creature made of purple fingers. "It's an anemone."
I heard the word as her finger poked the tentacles and I watched them squirm, like a flower un-blooming. Together we said it: A-nem-oh-nee. Each syllable waved its fleshy finger.
She pointed to a bright red crab with long, spidery claws clinging to the rock. "Remember the crabs we saw under the pier? These rock crabs are their midget cousins."
I knew how they felt. My mother was adept at the spell of naming, revealing the nature of each natural thing with her low, sweet voice. When I could get her to stop and talk, she conveyed marvels: This was not just cactus, but cholla cactus – you knew by its wriggling branches. That fish was not just fish, but butterfly fish, and suddenly it grew wings. She showed me the world one syllable at a time.
We peered down the tidepool, concentrating on a red rock crab. Its eye stalks swiveled and peered at me. It scooted sideways and disappeared into a crevice. She moved to the next tidepool and waved me over.
"Look! Here's a black turban snail shell. It's perfect. See the white tick marks? Like fine print in a phone book."
She lifted an empty orange shell and showed me. I mouthed turban snail and felt the embrace of the whole beach. For a rare moment, everything aligned: word, sense and sound.
"We need a bucket," she said. "Run back and get one, darling."
I ran from disappointment, anxious lest her elusive attention evaporate while I was gone. When I returned, though, she smiled. She reached down and scooped up a small, perfect abalone shell. Showing me its four holes and mother-of-pearl sheen, she said, "It looks like a flute. You could almost blow into it and make a tune." She pretended to blow, but instead whistled a few bars of Bach, the notes swinging away into the wind like birds.
"You know, this place reminds me of a summer I once spent in the Rockies with my mother and brothers. We hiked in five miles with our suitcases to our cabin, but when we got there, the place was littered! Packrats had gotten in and shredded paper on every surface. We made the best of it. Had a wonderful time, just the way we'll have a wonderful week."
Somehow, the prediction gave me chills.
Behind my mother I spotted three village girls. Mom followed my gaze, turned, took my hand and walked toward them.
"Buenas tardes!" she called out in her college Castilian.
"Hola," they responded, smiling.
They stopped a little way off, giggling. Young and dark-skinned, they were so slim that the neck holes of their dresses gapped.
Mom tried again. "Somos de California. Usted habla inglés?"
This brought peals of laughter, and Mom turned lipstick pink, then red. She struggled out a few more words. The girls responded with more laughter.
Mom yanked my hand. "We're going! Rude, stupid girls! Can't they see I'm trying?"
One of the girls, seeing us turn away, ventured a question: "Mi hermano vive en La Cienega. ¿Lo sabe usted?"
I could see there was some mix-up; the girls looked surprised we were leaving, but Mom kept dragging me.
"They're pulling my leg. Peasants!"
The San Felipe girls continued talking and walking after us, but my mother wasn't listening. I looked back. They seemed sorry. I was sorry too, for Mom was as changed as a poked anemone.
"Let's look for more shells," she said, giving me an unpleasant yank.
We collected a few shells, but she was frowning.
After awhile she said, "Let's head back. I want to get on my straw mat with a book. I've earned a break."
She meant a break even from this fragile ocean world, which included me.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Title for this photograph? (comments welcome)
Titling poems is my bete noir (hey, that might make a good title). I have found it so difficult I had to research all the existing articles on the subject, and found there were almost none. So I wrote one, which is often the way I learn something -- researching it and collecting the information in my own article, which can be found here, in a back issue of Avatar Review.
If you have similar problems, and my essay doesn't help, you might try , an amusing website I encountered recently.
The Paris Review will continue to publish portfolios, but will now in addition publish single poems in some issues. According to O'Rourke, the decision was about publishing only poets in portfolio, then quickly unmade because there were simply too many good one-off poems to turn them all down.
They now alternate issues with folios -- featuring not two poets but usually more like four -- and issues showcasing single (and more) poems by the same poet.
They also say they're making an effort to publish both emerging and established poets in both areas. An upcoming issue will consist almost entirely of work that came to us through the proverbial "slush."
So put TPR back on your list of desirable places to publish poetry, if you had crossed them off over the portfolio policy. It's open season again with single poems and for emerging, not already famous poets.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Also, don't forget Kaleidowhirl, Cindy Reynolds' fascinating online quarterly. Get in on the ground floor, before it really whirls away.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Friday, September 29, 2006
How would you like to have had only one date in your life?
I was going to start a magazine that published nothing but reprints, but I haven't yet found time. Here's to all the editors who do find time.
My dad has progressed and is now more confused by simple conversation. He's moving into the realm of advanced Alzheimer's, and in researching what they now call "memory care" for him, I've discovered interesting new techniques in caring for patients.
One of them involves poetry. The Alzheimer's Poetry Project involves reading classic poems to patients, poems they might have learned as children. Gary Mex Glazner is the director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project (APP), which has been featured on NBC’s Today show and NPR’s Weekend Edition. APP's can be started in any community.
Their website states that the project serves people in late stages of Alzheimer’s, those who have a hard time holding a conversation or even speaking. Yet they respond to the poems by saying words and lines along with the poet. They often laugh at a funny poem or weep at a poignant one -- and even people who no longer recognize family members still recognize the poems of their youth.
This wonderful project raised in my mind a sad question -- what will they read to the next generation of patients, people who never learned poems as children? Now that poetry has all but disappeared from schools, along with the rest of the arts, will they try to use mathematical problems to spark aging memories?
Friday, September 15, 2006
Check it out. You, too, could be writing for this nascent encyclopedia of weirdness. My favorite article topic is in the above link: Who is Crispus Attucks? Something every American should know.
And now, on to more serious matters ... like spinach. I must be the only person in the country whose diet was just halved by the tragic news of a tainted spinach supply. I must have been eating about 6 ounces a day of raw spinach -- no kidding. Now it will all be Romaines of the Day.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
It famously happened to Naomi Shihab Nye, who took the occasion of the request for a gentle chide to her correspondent which became one of her best poems ever:
Valetine for Ernest Mann
I'm going to start accumulating an online collection of links to poems suitable for these occasions, in case you get this kind of request and can't remember exactly where you put that favorite and perfectly suitable poem.
The above would be a good one for Valentine's Day. As I often get the request for a wedding-appropriate poem, I would say you could use this lovely piece from English poet Alice Oswald:
From time to time our love is like a sail
And when the sail begins to alternate
From tack to tack, it's like a swallowtail
And when the swallow flies it's like a coat;
And if the coat is yours, it has a tear
Like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
To draw the wind, it's like a trumpeter
And when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions –
And this, my love, when millions come and go
Beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
And when the trick begins, it's like a toe
Tiptoeing on a rope, which is like luck;
And when the luck begins, it's like a wedding,
Which is like love, which is like everything.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Oswald first poetry book, with the above title, is now worth approximately $365 per used copy, according to ALibris.
Would the person who borrowed my copy kindly return it? :)
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Monday, August 28, 2006
"As an ancillary (fund-raising) event to the Northern Arizona Book Festival, the NAZ Resource Center and Artspace will be hosting guest and "ghazal master" Steffen Horstmann (from Mt. Holyoke, Mass.) at our inaugural "Ghazalpalooza" here in Flagstaff on Saturday, September 16 at 7:00 p.m. We invite anyone in the vicinity with either original or best-loved non-original ghazals to contact me to participate directly . yet additionally, we wish to read submitted original and best-loved ghazals from anywhere and everywhere in the world. These poems will be read by "skilled ghazalists" (!), trained to effect the most affectionate and accurate rendering of ghazals from poets unable to actually be present at the event.
"Steffen and poet Rebecca Byrkit will also offer two two-hour ghazal writing workshops to the community on Tuesday, September 12 and Thursday, September 14, at the Artspace (see address below) from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m."
10th Annual Northern Arizona Book Festival, April 20-22, 2007
P.O. Box 1871
Flagstaff, AZ 86002-1871
Northern Arizona Resource Center and Artspace
150 W. Dale Suite #6
Sunday, August 27, 2006
My favorite is the rendering of Naomi Shihab Nye's "A Boy and His Mother at the Nutcracker." First runner-up: Billy Collins' "Child Development." Second runner-up: "Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins. There's some Rumi, some Mary Oliver, some William Stafford -- accessible stuff. The best are the funny pieces. Some of the serious ones don't work as well. I hope they're going to have more of these evenings. Best is to be in a live performance, second-best to listen online. Poetry performances should more often be combined with music.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Working on a new play. Here's a relevant photo.
In other news, I'm having a very good publishing month. I have two poems out in Cranky. Three copies just arrived in the mail, and it's a fine-looking magazine with cover appeal and nice layout. I do wish they'd update theirweb site, though, to reflect that there's an Issue 5).
Also have two forthcoming in Image: A Journal of Art & Religion, two coming out in Caketrain, and an essay coming out in the October issue of Seneca Review.
All in all, I'm a happy writer today.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Send them something. Maybe you too can be on Poe-TV.
We love our poets suicidal, addicted or loony. But who's making a movie about Billy Collins? I think it would be a real Zen fest, a film about a man who sits in a room scrutinizing his bookcase and plants and writing poems that bend time and space in entirely relativistic ways. I'm serious. A cool movie to be made.
Okay, maybe they did make one tiny little film about Billy Collins, but can you rent it on Netflix? Forget it. A $45 DVD is available, however, at Amazon of On The Road with the Poet Laureate.
But that was in 2003. How soon they forget.
Monday, August 14, 2006
It's that time of year, for midsummer viewing of the Perseids meteor showers (am I developing a meteor obsession?). While I can't quite get up two hours before dawn in the next business day or two, I will stay up tonight to see a few shooting stars. The most spectacular Perseid viewing I ever did was lying on a lawn on Kauai at about midnight. The trick, we decided, was to unfocus your eyes and then your peripheral vision widens to near infinity. In that state you can react faster when it picks up a zip of light.
And Stumble has again brought me to one of my all-time favorite Web sites -- though I can't quite figure out what category to bookmark it in. Sounds has a wealth of ... well, sounds. From birds chirping to cicadas to train whistles. I actually collected a number of train whistles -- vintage to contemporary -- for a theater production I was working on. I recommend their collection of saws -- from hand to hack to chain. Also the kissing sounds. You can assemble your own collection, maybe use them as a soundtrack to a slide show or video.
Friday, August 04, 2006
I'm thinking it's half me -- I just want to scream at a narcissist monologue -- and half August. No one can summon a critical or creative thought.
That said, I'll have to justify this blog entry with a web site offering. These photos can be viewed as a mini-vacation -- and you don't even have to do the climbing (or be ferried up in a basket).
Monday, July 31, 2006
On this day in 1964, Ranger 7 radioed to earth the first clear, close-up pictures of the moon. There were 4,000 pictures in all, one thousand times as clear as anything ever produced by earth-bound telescopes. The pictures showed craters three feet in diameter and up to a foot and a half deep. When the pictures were transmitted on closed-circuit TV into the auditorium in Pasadena, California, where lab workers and news people were gathered, people stood on their chairs and cheered.
Take a look at the new moon this evening and imagine being in that auditorium, or even walking on it for the first time. It seemed as though the future might hold anything, as though we were entering an amazing new super-age. And sometimes, looking up at the moon, I still feel that way.
Here are some excellent moon images from NASA.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Saturday, July 08, 2006
2River editor Richard Long put up the question and it already looks as though he'll get interesting answers from some interesting poets. Want to answer the question? Click on the first link above.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
"poemeleon seeks to make visible the invisible. By placing disparate poems alongside one another I aim to highlight not just their contrasts, but their similarities. To quote Forrest Gander: "Like species, poems are not invented, but develop out of a kind of discourse, each poet tensed against another's poetics, in conversation."Porter has assembled in the first issue a truly fascinating collection of work by a diverse group of poets, including Wendy Taylor Carlisle, Catherine Daly, Eileen Tabios, Marilyn Taylor and Bob Hickok.
But what's with the eyestraining type? I could become addicted to this site if my optometrist gives the nod. Or if I can find a better painkiller for those headaches.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Found this via Poetry Hut Blog: Pinsky on the Post. Love the pumpkin poem. Spent a night rather like that last night. Wrote a poem at 3:30 a.m. I used to know a midnight poet who not only dated his poems, but gave them times of night as well. But then he moved on to multimedia.
is better than television. Which is why I lost sleep. I wouldn't stay up for Dave or late night movies or Charlie Rose, but I totally lost track of time through StumbleUpon. Try it out. See what happens. Let me know.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Monday, June 19, 2006
I read one every morning. Beats the so-called news, which rarely has anything surprising to say. This morning's was a poem by a Turkish poet in Atlanta Review, "Moonbath: a Lullaby" --
earth's softest sunbath,
photons fresh in from a lunar landing,
but weary of miles, ninety-two million out
to the iron'rich seas and glassy meadows
of a four-billion-year-old crater-pocked rock
The poem got me to thinking about the salad days of the rocket biz, and about how sad I am that I can no longer get my father to reminisce about his work. He's that far gone in Alzheimer's that he doesn't remember writing the book he wrote on management of rocket projects.
But then I remembered that we're doing The Sixties all over again lately, with recreated "Freaky Folk Music", mini-skirts and moon shots. In August, Europe is taking aim at the golden eye in the sky. According to the BBC, they're ready to "light the blue paper" -- in my Dad's day, it was called "lighting the candle" -- and sending Smart 1 (yes, I know, really lame name) into space.
In 2018, NASA plans to plant another flag on the pocked orb. I suppose that's if North Korea or Iran doesn't get there before us. In the meantime, they have taken down the old Apollo tower because it was classified as hazardous waste. Nuff said.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
We will also, starting in our December issue, be featuring a women poets timeline, known as "The Timeline Project," which will eventually be the largest database devoted to women's poetry in the world.
Sounds exciting, if a bit vague. Actually, they're inviting comments about the idea, so I imagine they haven't nailed it down totally, except to announce that it will be the definitive world database on women's poetry. How about just starting with the world's largest database of women's poetry in form?
The idea appeals to me, especially as they say in their guidelines they encourage experimentation even within the confines of formal poetry. Kay Ryan is what I suppose they mean by formal and innovative -- and maybe some of the more fearless adaptations of the sonnet I've read in Kate Light's books.
Stay tuned. More new discoveries to come. Anyone have any interesting new magazines to suggest?
By the by, I just got six poems -- count 'em, SIX -- in another innovative new journal I hadn't yet had time to blog about: Fringe Magazine. "The noun that verbs your world." Gotta love a litmag with a slogan like that. They describe the journal as innovative, by/for those on the fringe -- sounds perfect. The issue my work will be in goes live on July 1. Read for yourself.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Who cares about labels? And that's one of the things I think the Internet poetry community is able to do well: soften the sharp boundaries between this label and that one. There's too much happening too fast, it's all so fluid, even publishing, that making bins and rules seems unlikely to stick for long.
More on new discoveries soon.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
I don't usually post my poem drafts online, but this was a weekend poem:
My father would have made a good actor:
booming voice, quicksilver moods, ability to forget
one personality as he dons another. Now most
of the lines in the plays he lives are vanishing
he ad-libs from the heart, sometimes with wit.
He forgets the four decades of spite
between them when his sister calls.
He can't remember the no-good son-in-law
I divorced or that he once put the present one
out on the street with his suitcase during an argument.
Are you my son? he asks. Are you
my daughter? Some good things about age
come clear to me in the huge blanks
that cloud our history. I turn
the corner into his room again and say, Hello Dad.
Monday, June 05, 2006
I have a few that are sonnets in disguise (don't tell the editor, in case I send some). They're formal verse in sheep's clothing. It amuses me to send them off to editors I don't imagine will catch on. It amuses me to imagine them being published by one of those magazines that states in their guidelines, "No sonnets, no rhyme."
Stealth sonnets. I call them Cubes. Shhh ...
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Today I used ask.com and was delighted to find myself quoted in a fascinating article about online poetry by Frank Wilson, book editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 21, 2006). He quotes several poets from the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet. What he picked up from me was a sound bite: "online poetry is a participant sport" -- meaning, as I elaborated, but he didn't quote, that more people write online poetry than read it. I meant it as a comment on the comparison between print journal poetry and its online counterpart. But who really knows? We need some surveys, some studies, some investigative journalism here.
I'm glad Frank Wilson has started the ball rolling. I have a feeling eventually this ball is going to get very big. We're at the stage of trying to figure out what online poetry is by the equivalent of a blindfolded committee trying to describe an elephant. This animal of Internet poetry is probably radically different than we imagine. All depends on your yardstick and your blindfold.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The Archive also has other poets reading: Seamus Heaney and Robert Pinsky among my favorites. Includes Pinsky's amazing reading of "Shirt." Having toiled before a sewing machine a few hours myself, this reading gives me shivers.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Modern American Poetry
Academy of American Poets
And interviews and essays on his poetry:
James Longenbach at Slate
I especially like Longenbach's summation of Wilbur's importance with a quote from one of his poems:
"Wilbur's poems matter not because they may or may not be stylish at any given moment but because they keep the English language alive: Wilbur's great poems feel as fresh—as astonishing, as perplexing, as shocking—as they did 50 years ago. There are no other poems like them. Forget anything you've ever heard about the emblematic Wilbur and listen to the last five stanzas of 'For the New Railway Station in Rome.'"
Longenbach quotes these stanzas of Wilbur's:
See, from the travertine
Face of the office block, the roof of the booking-hall
Sails out into the air beside the ruined
Echoing in its light
And cantilevered swoop of reinforced concrete
The broken profile of these stones, defeating
And straying the strummed mind,
By such a sudden chord as raised the town of Troy,
To where the least shard of the world sings out
In stubborn joy,
"What city is eternal
But that which prints itself within the groping head
Out of the blue unbroken reveries
Of the building dead?
"What is our praise or pride
But to imagine excellence, and try to make it?
What does it say over the door of Heaven
But homo fecit?"
"Wilbur's great poems are always marked by this combination of the high wire and the homespun. They usually begin in an occasional, almost off-hand manner: He notices something in the world (sheets hanging on a wash line), then invites us to notice it too. Immediately we're drawn into the poem by the movement of the language, and before we know it, the sheets have become angels, and we're swept up in a metaphysical conundrum that feels at once deeply serious and ridiculously human: Do we imagine angels because we do laundry or do we do laundry because of a higher purpose? The poem's title, lifted from St. Augustine, doesn't so much provide an answer as a challenge: 'Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.'"
Friday, May 19, 2006
I thought they'd never wake up and smell the poetry. This is a poet whose body of work is really worthy of a $100,000 prize. Whatever you think of it, his Collected, which I got last year, shows a mature talent that spans many years and fads and has weathered it all with grace.
It seems odd to me that the magazine is so blandified -- so all-poems-as-written-by-one-person -- and the Ruth Lilly Prize shows more breadth of understanding of the vast diversity of American poetry.
Christian Wiman, the majordomo now at Poetry, said of the award:
"If you had to put all your money on one living poet whose work will be read in a hundred years, Richard Wilbur would be a good bet. He has written some of the most memorable poems of our time, and his achievement rivals that of great American poets like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop."
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Thus could he step into that magic place
Which few can even glimpse with hurried glance
Lifted for a moment from mind's laboured works
And the poverty of Nature's earthly sight.
All that the Gods have learned is there self-known.
There in a hidden chamber closed and mute
Are kept the record graphs of the cosmic scribe,
And there the tables of the sacred Law,
There is the Book of Being's index page;
-- Aurobindo Ghose
The Book of Being's index page . . . that was the stunner. I have been reading Aurobindo's marvelous book, The Future Poetry, in which he describes the different levels of poetic inspiration. I have to think that line is from the topmost level. It's the combination of the majestic Book of Being with index page that catches my breath.
Have you had your Savitri today?
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
We all knew he couldn't live forever -- could he? But the picture of the poet at 100 years old, full of verbal vigor and lyrics might inspired those of us writing past the half-century mark to again consider ourselves young poets. I thought, when I heard the news, that I wish I had sent him my book. It would have no doubt landed in a great pile, but would have added to the visible tribute nevertheless, even if it lay in a corner unread.
I also thought of lines from his poem "The Round", one of my all-time favorites:
I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
"Light splashed . . ."
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
whena new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
May your new life be splashed with supernal light, Stanley. May the new day you now embark on turn its fresh pages with the shake of anemone petals and of late-blooming roses. May it be full of curious gladness.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Stafford wrote his poem after his daily walk. No wonder he was so prolific. Walking is the easiest way to get my creative juices going. I don't know why, but once I'm outside my mind expands along with my horizons. I've been this way since childhood. Perhaps it was growing up in southern California, near the ocean, with moderate temperatures day and night, most of the year. Wandering outside was just natural. Some days, with all the windows and doors open, and our floor-to-ceiling glass at the back of the house, it was hard to tell if you were inside or outside.
I just got back from an evening walk, another lovely way to settle down the creative fire. Watching the hills turn pink and then mauve and then the sky lights up. Arriving at peace, wherever you head, just by looking up.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Friday, April 28, 2006
Time voyages with Thee upon its prow
And all the future's passionate hope is Thou.
This arresting quote came to me as the antidote to watching too much of the news -- or the "olds" as I have taken to calling it. My husband does not find this amusing.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
With that prejudice in mind, and especially skeptical of any such rigid practice as writing a poem a day, I decided to take up a fellow poet's challenge and try to write a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month (an event that occurs mostly in the minds of poets).
Surprised by fluency, I'm racking up two or three poems a day. When as an adult I still spent a portion of every day at the ballet barre doing the same old exercises I had done when I was seven, I thought it was an art form unique for its repetitive qualities. Maybe ballet and piano playing. Can you imagine a painter painting the same strokes every day for practice? Not unless the artist is Chinese, dipping a brush into an ink pot and cranking out the thousandth bamboo leaf.
My daily poems are becoming not an exercise but an obsession with limbering my imagination. Call it the Muse, call it accessing the subconscious, call it whatever you will, but there's a gate that can be somewhat pried if you practice opening it. I won't say what you enter by going through it is a field of genius. But it helps the work. Definitely. Try it for a month and see.
I plan to make May National Poetry Month as well.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Well, obviously The Academy of American Poets takes it seriously. You can sign up to receive an emailed poem a day in April, selected by one of their poets. And they initiated the Poetry Read-Athon for schools, an excellent idea to bring an otherwise neglected subject into grade school classrooms. Let's hope with some sense of fun. Their Celebrate NaPoMo section lists all the basic things poets already do -- and let's face it, who else is reading their site? All very hopeful ideas about getting poetry out into the larger culture, yet largely ineffective.
I decided to take out my resentment of the culture's ignoring of poetry by simply writing a poem a day for the month. Forget trying to do something for poetry. I'm making poetry do something for me. So far, it's working.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
As I survey my direction in poetry -- look out, here comes a major brag -- I feel significantly encouraged. Femme au chapeau has had a series of excellent notices:
The Pedestal Magazine
Small Spiral Notebook
I think I'll keep doing what I'm doing.
Hapy Easter! Hope you wrote or read a poem, took a walk, or otherwise worshipped in the wide style of embracing the earth.
Friday, April 14, 2006
In my case, the local poetry community is lively, determinedly neo-Beat and impenetrable. Too many poets trying to get too many readings too few poets attend, unless Robert Hass or Jane Hirschfield might be there, etc., etc. It's a distinctly clubby atmosphere -- odd for supposed Bohemians, and I don't mean the kind that hang out at the Bohemian Club (or do I?). I've been invited to do few readings and the audiences have been sparse, unless I brought my own.
Contrast that with the democratic, lively, determinedly non-poetically partisan atmosphere that prevails on the Web. Zines abound and are mostly hungry for good work, especially hungry to convert print poets to online poets. With email, it's easy to strike up acquaintances that can even deepen into virtual literary friendships based on dialogues about poems.
Sound like the poetry world dream machine? Except for the lack of pay, I think it is. And since when did pay matter in the poetry world? (Except for professorships, I get that. But for the rest of us.)
I'd like to hear what others have to say. Are we finally at the turning point? Or does online poetry still have far to go in terms of garnering critical respectability?
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Carrigan has given a similar treatment to the beautiful poetry of Ramon Lull. I look forward to Carrigan unlocking more of these treasures for us.
And now, back to Whitman . . . and bailing out the water, which continues to rise around here. Something like 36 straight hours of rain, with the most rainy days in March ever recorded in the SF Bay Area. I'm thinking ark, animals . . .
Monday, April 10, 2006
It's like surfing the big ones, a ride on the North Shore -- like over-flying America without a plane -- like liking everything regardless of personal utility. Whitman renews your faith in similes. He also seemed to be able to see and hear at a distance, which made me suspect supernatural powers. Certainly, his language powers are supernatural. Here's an excerpt from my current favorite:
THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day,
or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads -- all became part of him.
Friday, March 24, 2006
If anyone's interested in viewing relics of the Buddha, including those pearls enlightened beings are said to create in their bodies, you can take a look here. The exhibition is making its way around the world. Hey, I've seen sacred relics around the world. The pearls beat Saint Catherine's finger any day in the week. No grisly factor.
More from Wallace Stevens. Why do I find his use of arcane words so delicious, where in other poets it's just plain irritating. For your dictionary hunt of the day, I offer "lacrustine" (Google it):
The Doctor of Geneva
The doctor of Geneva stamped the sand
That lay impounding the Pacific swell,
Patted his stove-pipe hat and tugged his shawl.
Lacustrine man had never been assailed
By such long-rolling opulent cataracts,
Unless Racine or Bossuet held the like.
He did not quail. A man who used to plumb
The multifarious heavens felt no awe
Before these visible, voluble delugings,
Which yet found means to set his simmering mind
Spinning and hissing with oracular
Notations of the wild, the ruinous waste,
Until the steeples of his city clanked and sprang
In an unburgherly apocalypse.
The doctor used his handkerchief and sighed.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
O commodities trader
with hallucinating toddler soul,
you coax monstrous floral puppies
to romp through museums,
space-age rabbits to eat
silver carrots on plexiglass altars.
Overpaid street entertainer, balloon artist.
Poems about paintings fascinate me, maybe because as the daughter of a painter, I grew up watching paintings grow up. I think my ideal way of going through a museum would be to have a headset that whispered ekphrastic poems into my ear as I viewed the paintings.
Lynne Knight has a fabulous book, Snow Effects, that focuses on an art exhibition that came through San Francisco five years or so ago, "Impressionists in Winter." Small Poetry Press was wise enough to print color reproductions of the art on facing pages, so poem and painting are paired.
Sunspinner is a new zine out of southern California, but I won't hold that against them. Their dual focus is on poetry and fiction, and they also post interviews. High quality work, very attractive site, issues not too crowded and easy to read. And of course, I'm plugging them because they plugged my poem, "Waking Early at Dottie Lou's", which is in the current issue of Kaleidowhirl -- thus proving that everything that whirls does eventually come around. (I have no idea what I mean by that.) (And here's to you, Dottie Lou, wherever you are reading this.)
Friday, March 17, 2006
I'm still hunting for poems about kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Anyone know of such? I did find Naomi Shihab Nye's stunning poem Kindness, but I continue to search. All ideas appreciated!
This winter I've discovered Harryette Mullen (a recommendation of Naomi's). It's intoxicating, recursive and word-wild stuff. Reading Mullen alongside Alice Fulton's intense verbal pyrotechnics is enough to make me believe Wallace Stevens is alive and being channeled through these poets. I can imagine either Mullen or Fulton having written these Stevens lines:
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
Though I think no one writing right now reminds me of one of my favorite Stevens poems, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" -- no poet I know matches the sheer visual spectacle and verbal and philosophical reach of lines like these, from Part 1:
Gave suavity to the perplexed machine
Of ocean, which like limpid water lay.
Who, then, in that ambrosial latitude
Out of the light evolved the morning blooms,
Who, then, evolved the sea-blooms from the clouds
Diffusing balm in that Pacific calm?
C’était mon enfant, mon bijou, mon âme.
And these lines, from Part 2 of "Sea Surface":
And these lines, from Part 2 of "Sea Surface":
And a sham-like green
Capped summer-seeming on the tense machine
Who, then, beheld the rising of the clouds
That strode submerged in that malevolent sheen,
Who saw the mortal massives of the blooms
Of water moving on the water-floor?
C’était mon frère du ciel, ma vie, mon or.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
I've been reading Alison Lurie's nonfiction book Boys and Girls Forever. It sent me back to some of my childhood's most delightful moments. Lurie writes about the forces that may have compelled authors to write children's books, from Louisa May Alcott to J.K. Rowling to Salman Rushdie (yes, that guy. He wrote a kid's book). It interested me that Lurie ascribes disruptions in childhood happiness to the drive to write children's stories. She says in her foreword:
"It often seems that the most gifted authors of books for children are not like other writers: instead, in some essential way, they are children themselves. There may be outward signs of this condition: these people may prefer the company of girls and boys to that of adults; they read children's books and play children's games and like to dress up and pretend to be someone else. They are impulsive, dreamy, imaginative, unpredictable."
But doesn't that describe every writer? And don't about 98.999% of writers have unhappy childhoods? I'd like to see a book about writers with happy childhoods. Now there would be a surprising thesis: that childhood happiness drives art. Could happen!
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Now, I'm thinking, all right! I can keep on writing this way and a few readers are going to like it. Even if it's only the four of us, that makes my ... not even day or week, it makes my year.
Barbara's review stated my poetic interests well. She said, " One of the things I've been observing recently is that poets no longer seem to be constrained by either strict adherence to form or pigeon-holing ('formalist'); instead, many new collections are emerging that I'd call 'semi-formal,' shuffling an equal measure of formal poetry and free verse, keeping the reader on her toes, as she moves along, engaged in either the narrative or the lyric imagery, and then finds herself caught up short, realizing, 'Hey, that's really a sonnet (or a pantoum, etc.), and has to go back and read the poems one more time, paying more attention to form and how the poet worked in the formal elements."
Bless you, Barbara, for saying what's been on my mind for quite a few years.
I could mention a few others doing similar semi-formal things, who have inspired me: Kay Ryan, Kate Light, and the amazing English poet Alice Oswald. Those are poets of tremendous invention and grace, and I'd be lucky to write a poem that begins to do the kinds of things I've read from their pens.
Then of course, there is Elizabeth Bishop, who defied so many rules and creates so many unique formal elements it's impossible to classify her.
These are my standards -- impossibly high, and that's the idea. But thanks to my generous reviewers, I have been encouraged to keep reaching. And reaching is what makes me a happy girl.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox has just been released. Publishers Weekly says of it, "This book is as much Alice Quinn's as Elizabeth Bishop's. The New Yorker poetry editor spent countless hours with the 3,500 pages of Bishop (1911–1979) material housed in the Vassar College library..." A Newsday article calls it a "poet's newly found treasures." I hardly think being housed in the Vassar College Library constitutes being "newly found", and I reserve judgment on whether it is full of treasures.
I'm off to throw away handfuls of my old material, in case, as my husband so amusingly put it, "that asteroid has my name on it." Worse, he named the names of people he will turn to in sorting it all out. I better label my notebooks carefully.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
NEA poetry fellowship applications are due (postmarked) March 1. I must say, they have made the online PDF application form extraordinarily difficult to fill out. I kept trying to use a backspace to delete and being bumped out of my non-saved page. The form won't let you save it as a file, so you must fill it out perfectly from an already printed out and hand-written-on form. They no longer have Word app forms you can download. Messy.
But most people I've consulted seem to think they really only pay attention to the samples. You get 10 pages of single-page poems, or one long 10-page sequence. Period. No two-page poems. It's an interesting process, trying to figure out which are your best 1o poems.
Which would you say are yours? How would you assess "best" for this purpose?
I've been collecting poems on the theme of divine love as it appears manifest in the world around us. Rounding up the usual suspects, Hafiz, Rumi, Sri Aurobindo, John of the Cross, Mirabai and Lalla, with a few contemporary things from Frost, Stafford and others salted in, it occurred to me that most poets don't address topics such as generosity, kindness, service to others and the like. The exceptions are often-quoted because they're so scarce. I think of Naomi Shihab Nye's wonderful poem Kindness. Where are the poets who write about something beyond the narrow confines of the self and its small grudges and complaints?
Friday, February 10, 2006
Lo and behold, my near-stoicism is put to the test by the news that came in the email today. My short story "Fog: Launch Scrubbed" placed sixth in the annual Writer's Digest short story competition.
And yes, I was jumping around my office and wondering who to call first. I'm human. Next, I was wondering when and how I should email my agent about it. Should I drop it in an otherwise casual "just writing to say hi" kind of email, or subject her to the jumping-up-and-down kind.
I gratisfied my immediate share-desire by posting an announcement on a poetry board I frequent and poetry listserv I belong to.
Then I asked myself, "Exactly what does this mean?" Calmer now, I re-read the email and remembered that the story will be published only on the Writer's Digest web site, not in the print mag. Does this mean I should expect book editors to come knocking? Should I list in my bio from now on (when sending out prose, of course). Should I telephone, rather than email my agent -- since now the manuscript from which the story is excerpted is obviously a lot more valuable.
As the afternoon deepened into evening, and I spoke to the editor at WD, I calmed further and realized that what it means is: it's nice. It's great to have your work appreciated.
And that's all I need to think about. It's the same as it was before the email: it's all about the work. And getting it somewhere out there. The rest is up to the reader.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
I can't sleep in case a few things you said
no longer apply. The matter's endless,
but definitions alter what's ahead
and you and words are like a hare and tortoise.
Aaaagh there's no description — each a fractal
sectioned by silences, we have our own
skins to feel through and fall back through — awful
to make so much of something so unknown.
But even I — some shower-swift commitments
are all you'll get; I mustn't guage or give
more than I take — which is a way to balance
between misprision and belief in love
both true and false, because I'm only just
short of a word to be the first to trust.
He consults his map. A huge rain-coloured wilderness.
This must be the stones, the sudden movement,
the sound of frogs singing in the new year.
Who's this issuing from the earth?
The Dart, lying low in darkness calls out Who is it?
trying to summon itself by speaking...
An old man, fifty years a mountaineer, until my heart gave out, so now I've taken to the moors.
I've done all the walks, the Two Moors Way, the Tors, this long winding line the Dart
this secret buried in reeds at the beginning of sound I
won't let go of man, under
his soakaway ears and his eye ledges working
into the drift of his thinking, wanting his heart
How should we evaluate this kind of poetry?
Hint: used copies of her first book now sell for over $80. I wish I could remember who I loaned mine to!
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Some of my favorite neglected poets have been hiding in plain sight, like Roethke, whom nobody studies anymore. Or thye've been masquerading as grass by being so everywhere they're nowhere, like Whitman. Of course, many of my "discoveries" appeared our of my own ignorance, like Bishop -- though I did obsess over her work a bit before there was so much buzz. I have in recent years "discovered" Kunitz, Moore, Rogers, and that never really reckoned Bly. I loved Kay Ryan's quirky, narrow poems before she got the big prize, and before her last book, which kind of spoiled it for me by being repetitive. I loved Billy Collins while he was spurned (and perhaps still is) by the elite establishment.
But I remain puzzled by the biggest "undiscovered" poet in English who's hiding in plain sight: Aurobindo Ghose. Not many modern poets have written epic poems. Savitri is in a class by itself. It's been turned into an opera, studied as a mystical text by thousands of Aurobindo's followers, but I've never come across a critical discussion of it as poetry. Yet by any rational measure, it's a phenomenal work:
* Sheer number of lines (23,837)
* Number of times rewritten (I believe it was six)
* Scope of subject (a myth from the Vedas)
* Length of time continuously in print (since 1951)
It's easy to see why Savitri is hard to approach. Vedic myths aren't exactly the common coin of Western culture. And I have to admit, I haven't read it all the way through. I actually made my way in it with the help of a friend's outline of the plot. And yet any fragment of it I have picked up I have savored. Whether it appealed entirely to my rational mind, every bit of it that I've looked at has appealed deeply to me esthetically and perhaps on other levels too. For example, this excerpt strikes me as universal, and personal in the best literary sense:
A silence sealed the irrevocable decree,
The word of Fate that fell from heavenly lips
Fixing a doom no power could ever reverse
Unless heaven's will itself could change its course.
Or so it seemed: yet from the silence rose
One voice that questioned changeless destiny,
A will that strove against the immutable Will.
A mother's heart had heard the fateful speech
That rang like a sanction to the call of death
And came like a chill close to life and hope.
Yet hope sank down like an extinguished fire.
She felt the leaden inevitable hand
Invade the secrecy of her guarded soul
And smite with sudden pain its still content
And the empire of her hard-won quietude.
Then, of course, there's the sheer awe I feel at the idea that he sustained such limpid imabic pentameter (blank verse) for more than 23,000 lines. Reading Savitri is kind of like reading The Lord of the Rings. You savor it as much for the awesome effort as the plot.
Friday, January 13, 2006
The trouble begins far before the grant application, award opporunity or contest entry crops up. In fact, it begins in human nature itself. Why must we compare ourselves in every direction to know where we stand and what to think of ourselves? It's the antithesis to creating a work of art, that looking furtively around for what others have done and ticking off the marks of what one HAS done. It's hindsight, and not creative vision, and yet I find myself often spending precious time alloted for reading and writing poetry on measuring myself against the wall of others' achievements and find myself not too tall.
I even do it right after I HAVE achieved something. What is that about?
A recent conversation with a poet friend offered an idea for a subtler form of comparison, and one that might be creatively fruitful, instead of sending you off on a pity-binge. It's to read poems that move you and then write back. Write poetry that responds to -- even engages with and references other poems. And you don't even have to cite the other poem as an epigraph. The conversation in question was about Richard Wilbur's Collected Poems, and the subtle dialogues with other, well-known poems my poet friend found in some of Wilbur's poems. We lamented that few people read this literary historical context in today's poetry, and even fewer write into it.
A much better topic to dwell on than to ponder why in yet again another year I haven't won or been nominated for any kind of poetry award.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn,
The great creators with wide brows of calm,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,
The labourers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.
Into the fallen human sphere they came,
Faces that wore the Immortal's glory still,
Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,
Bodies made beautiful by the spirit's light,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,
Approaching eyes of a diviner man,
Lips chanting an unknown anthem of the soul,
Feet echoing in the corridors of Time.
High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss,
Discoverers of beauty's sunlit ways
And swimmers of Love's laughing fiery floods
And dancers within rapture's golden doors,
Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature's face.