I’ve looked with longing at those bath bombs of dissolving soap you dump in a tub of hot water. They fizz into a scented, soothing foam that must be really pleasant to surrender one's nakedness to. Too bad I invariably lose interest before purchasing one. I don’t know - the perishable pleasure, so what? My inner protestant is like, $6, for one bath? Uh, no. And the ring around the bath tub.
Sadly, my son recently gave up piano.
The blank wall where the upright used to stand made me frown, exposing the promise wrenched rudely from my life. There was only a faint dust-line along the wall at the height of the absent instrument. Then I had an idea that exploded like a bath bomb on the brain: bookshelf. I know this appears a pretty obvious idea. It is. But like time-released pain reliever it took a while to dawn on me what my son’s giving up piano might mean. Getting some empty shelves was like the swooniest jasmine bath I’ve ever had. And they’re all mine. Don’t tell my husband but I arranged the books so the shelves look full, when actually there’s room for 10-14 more, depending on which books my new books turn out to be.
I remember various times being abroad and resenting “the automatic friend.” The automatic friend is a person who, for reason of origin or language, is just assumed to be your close buddy. For example, you are both Americans at a hostel in Sichuan. Or you both are native English speakers and find yourselves, separately/together, in Tical. Or, in extreme cases, you are just two white (black) faces on an unfriendly street in Ghana (Norway). In the best-case scenario it isn’t the automatic friend making the assumption you’re best pals, but everyone else, who abandons you to each other.
You two must have a lot to talk about!
The imaginary friend is much better. And even better than the traditional “imaginary friend” who’s a companion to the lonely is the imaginary imaginary friend, who’s completely fictional and gets you out of awkward time with people you don’t want to be with, i.e. who delivers you back to your loneliness, or rather, your solitude.
“I’m sorry I can’t come to the cocktail reception but my friend K. from Novosibirsk is coming through town and we'll be having cocktails in my apartment with the door locked!”
My poem Kansas is up this week at Heron Tree. I lived in Kansas in the late 80s. That's me, driving my tin can past some vast nothingness eons ago.
With the Pulitzer Remix occupying so much of my time over the past weeks, I haven't submitted anything, or really even written much of anything, excepting the 30 found poems I wrote for the project. I know they count as writing, and yet often they felt like busy-ness...
So it was good to have a poem accepted yesterday to Prick of the Spindle, too. Clementine. The fruit, rather than the miner's daughter. I'll tell you when it's up.
To the people who think poetry month is a can of crap, and complain it’s a way for people to get attention, or atone for not writing poetry the rest of the year, or for people who don’t really care about poetry (reading or writing) to pretend they’re literate, I would say when I was a kid I went to Quaker meeting with my family and I remember being told that in “the olden days” Quakers didn’t celebrate Christmas because one should honor God every day, in all humility, without singling out one day to be especially pious and boy was I glad to find out that the Quakers had since given that up.
Also, when it’s talk-like-a pirate-day I don’t get teed off about people talking like pirates, or complain that they’re neglecting to talk like pirates all the other days. I have no desire to talk like a pirate on any day but I don’t begrudge those who do as long as they aren’t harming anyone else and are considerate of those who prefer not to participate.
The #5 tram brings me to the train station but my writing delivers me only to a place bright and desolate.
In late April the sun is still struggling, feeble, and usually it gives up by noon, sailing for southern France. And who wouldn’t? Those whom duty tortures and those who thought German superior to French. Those are the same people.
We looked at a painting that expressed it well. I said to Luisa, it’s beautiful not because it’s pretty but because it’s true.
(Carl Blechen: Landschaft im Winter bei Mondschein)
Being in the middle of my own enormous erasure project, it was wonderful to read Jen Bervin’s book Nets from 2004. It’s a milestone in erasure poetry, taking some of Shakespeare’s sonnets and unearthing new poems inside them.
In erasure there must be revelation, and the presentation of these fine little poems emphasizes that - black words plucked from the pale source, the sonnets set upon the creamy page with nothing placed opposite to distract the reader.
Many of these poems stand strongly on their own, but it’s not possible for me to divorce the poems themselves from the concept and the presentation. So even where some of the poems would not travel so boldly alone, I open my eyes wider and take in the full text engulfing the poem found inside it, and all I can say is “wow.” I really loved these - even the paper it’s printed on is sumptuous.
I don’t buy the oft-touted view that one must find something totally new in erasure poetry, that the found poem should be completely independent of the source text. If that’s the case then why do erasure at all? The source is going to offer possibilities and choices. The source is at the poet’s disposal, and will set limits. The source is not going to predetermine, but it is going to influence.
I love Bervin’s note at the end of the book: “When we write poems, the history of poetry is with us, pre-inscribed in the white of the page.”
Here is an excerpt that should help you decide if you are interested in owning this book, which I obviously recommend.
Trees and bushes are budding here, and the sun, as always, is struggling to shine. ‘A’ for effort, folks.
Speaking of darling buds, my daughter had to explain Shakespeare’s sonnets 18 & 73 for homework last night, so looks like I came back on the right day. I got to explain the difference between “perceive” and “behold,” who “thou” and “thee” are, “doth,” verb endings, and also that “bare, ruined choirs” aren’t bankrupt, naked singing groups, but desolate places.
My daughter asks a logical question. Shakespeare faults the summer for its imperfections, yet says his beloved has an eternal summer within her. So isn't that internal, eternal summer imperfect, too? Stumped me.
When we got to the eternal summer line, I couldn’t help but think of Camus’ invincible summer, which was also internal, and the Beach Boys’ endless one, which was going on outside, somewhere in California. Only one of these summers involved surfing.
Having been away, I didn’t update the links to my poems for the Pulitzer Remix, where I’ve just posted for day 17.
At the Pierpont Morgan museum there’s a display case in the library showing original documents from writers, composers and historical figures. In this day and age, what is more surprising than someone’s handwriting? It's so expressive, and evokes the same intimacy as a lock of hair, or pair of slippers, would.
The first document on the inner side of the case is a short letter from Ludovico Buonarroti to his son Michelangelo, written while the father was ailing. It is a squat, orderly handwriting with squiggly tails. It says, in short, “don’t worry about me; I will be fine.” He dies soon afterwards.
Beside the Buonarroti letter is a letter from Niccolò Machiavelli, who has just had a close call on the battlefield. Perhaps I read too much into it, but there is a sense of tension in the script, as if he wants to do exercise control over his hand but is in a hurry.
JRR Tolkien had lovely penmanship, small and ornate. Each letter is like a separate fruit hanging from a tree in an orderly orchard. In the letter he jokes about how little he has earned from “The Hobbit.”
Though not scrawl, Shelly’s handwriting is less controlled. It most resembles an uneven thicket, where someone has hacked away in places with a scythe.
I was aware before I visited the museum that Virginia Woolf usually wrote in violet ink on blue paper. Her letter lights up the display. Her handwriting seems the most free of the row. It slants upwards to the right, ascending. It comes out swinging. I could not find an image of the letter online, but here is a short note to her nephew, which gives a good idea, although it is less disciplined than the letter.
I enjoy when someone invokes the German language as a sure source of the right word, as in, “I’m sure the Germans have a word for it.” Sometimes they do, and if they don’t, usually one can be manufactured handily.
Despite my job as a part-time German, I invoked the language today with the same hope when I experienced the fear I suffer once or twice daily: the fear of standing up - whether from throwing something away or picking something up - and bumping my head against an open cabinet door.
(Banging your head against an open cabinet or cupboard door, by the way, is one of the reasons people swear.)
Anyone who has stood up only to smash their head against the edge, or worse, the corner, of a cabinet door knows that this fear serves a protective purpose.
As far as I know there is no German word for this fear. But let’s create Dooferunfallangst, or Aufstehenderkopfstossangst. Actually, German asks too much of us here. Let’s go with Fear of Hitting Your Head against a Cabinet Door upon Resuming an Upright Position.
“It’s always ourselves we find at the sea.” I inhaled a lot of ee cummings when I was a teenager, and this line comes back to me as I dig through Independence Day, finding poems. If you gave a group of poets the same page, they’d each come back with different poem.
The shaky thing about this project is everyone’s daily poem is instantly published! Most of my Pulitzer Remix poems wouldn’t be poems I’d submit. They’re just there. In the time allotted to me, I found them. I wrote them down. I bow humbly to my limits.
Today at work, in a different but similar scenario, I repeated my favorite, widely applicable Andy Warhol quote (that I possibly made up): “This is a soup can. We must make do with what we have.”
Time! is my theme these days, as in it's flying. At the moment(s) I am trying to get through The Finkler Question before traveling to NJ tomorrow. As always before a trip, I don’t want to board the plane with a book I’ve nearly finished. I prefer to arrive at the airport with FRESHBOOK. Besides, ahead of my trip, I ordered enough books, deliverable to my mother, for a suitcase library. She has begun reading one, which appeals to my inner thrift-monger.
I found out a couple days ago that my poem “In the Voice of a Minor Saint,” which was the title of my first chapbook, will be published in an anthology of poems about saints. The working title is The Lives We Seek: Contemporary Poems Inspired By the Saints, to be published by Ave Maria Press. I am by far the least famous poet in the table of contents, so my poem title is fitting. Among the luminaries are James Tate, Martha Silano, Dana Gioia, Edward Hirsch, Kelli Russell Agodon, and scads of others, while the saints include St. Anthony, St. Agnes, St. Peter, St. Rita, Big Sur Saints, the patron saint of lost & found, and St. Nick. It’s due out next April, and I can’t wait.
Otherwise, here it is Easter and the family males are en route for home. I’m roasting a chicken. Last year I mistook the lavender branches in the garden for rosemary and we had lavender chicken. In winter those plants look quite similar! The chicken was more whimsical, perhaps, but not as tasty.
I’ll be leaving myself in a week for NJ to visit my mother for her birthday. In the meantime, the Pulitzer Remix kicks off tomorrow - 85 poets writing a found poem a day, each from their assigned text. I will post occasional reminders to read!
I have spent many days alone, the family scattered north and south - Lulu in Berlin, and the boys in the boot heel of Italy visiting relatives. Even the dog spent the last week in the countryside with friends, since work kept me from walking her regularly. Lulu came back this evening, bearing souvenirs from Die Brücke museum and asking for sushi takeout. She brought me this notecard of a painting by Walter Gramatté, who died of at the age of 32 of tuberculosis.
I had a friend over last night who told me of her travails with online dating, and how the most promising of her beaus gave her a book that dealt a fatal blow to a budding relationship. He was otherwise a promising guy, but about three dates in her gave her a “relationship guidebook” for her birthday, which she was unable even to unwrap completely, so horrifying was the title. He knew she liked to read, and meant it as a nod to that, but fell very far off the map and was dismissed from the stage.
My husband and I have many differences, being from different continents, religions and temperaments, but I cannot fault his taste in books. He did buy me a terrible book once, in ignorance, but later read it himself and admitted it was terrible. He also prefers David Copperfield to Great Expectations. Well, in moments of weakness even I prefer David Copperfield to Great Expectations.
Elsewhere, I've lived in Germany for 20 years and never knew it was forbidden to dance on Good Friday! It's interesting how atheist Europe sticks to these fossilized rules, like all retail stores being closed on Sundays, while the fundamentalist Christians in America stop at Sam's Club or whatever after church to pick up some booze.
In the name of confronting what makes you uncomfortable, I spent the night wrenched around myself, my pajama pants creeping to my knees to make my calves cold, my turtleneck too snug at the throat. I lay flat down on my belly because it is my favorite position although it makes it difficult to access fresh air and I wake with a kink in my neck and into my shoulder. Who said fresh air was free? Who suggested sleep should bring rest? And in the morning I woke a 5.55 am, although it is Saturday, to put my daughter on an uneasy bus to Berlin for a week because she said so.
I finished The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes on Monday. I had the day off, which I enjoyed gratefully, and read the last half or so sitting at my desk with all my papers, pens, mugs and other books strewn around as if I were the live participant in a vertical live burial.
Right after I finished I was so befuddled, I sat pressing my eyebrows with my fingertips, wondering if what I thought just happened happened, and came to the inescapable conclusion that it did. It was one of the most affecting reading experiences -story-wise- that I've had in a hugely long time.
One thing that makes The Sense of an Ending so effective is the easy pacing and sympathetic narrator.
You're ill-prepared for the shock.
My daughter walked in to my room right as I had accepted the hypothesis, and said something mundane like, 'I need some money,' then stopped and said, 'What's wrong with you?'
I made a sweeping gesture towards the bed, where the book lay.
'Oh my god,' I explained.
I know there is another very plausible theory about the plot of this book, but I'm not buying it.
Installed on the upper floors of certain respectable taverns in Lisbon can be found a small number of restaurants or eating places, which have the stolid, homely look of those restaurants you see in towns that lack even a train station. Amongst the clientele of such places, which are rarely busy except on Sundays, one is as likely to encounter the eccentric as the nondescript, to find people who are but a series of parentheses in the book of life.
There was a period of my life when a combination of economic necessity and a desire for peace and quiet led me to frequent just such a restaurant. I would dine at around seven each night and, as chance would have it, I was almost always there at the same time as one particular man. (translated by Margaret Jull Costa & William Boyd)
Lisbon has a certain number of eating establishments in which, on top of a respectable-looking tavern, there’s a regular dining room with the solid and homey air of a restaurant in a small trainless town. In these first-floor dining rooms, fairly empty except on Sundays, one often comes across odd sorts, unremarkable faces, a series of asides in life.
There was a time in my life when a limited budget and the desire for quiet made me a regular patron of one of these first-floor restaurants. And it happened that whenever I ate dinner there around seven o’clock, I nearly always saw a certain man who didn’t interest me at first, but then began to. (translated by Richard Zenith)
Há em Lisboa um pequeno número de restaurantes ou casas de pasto [em] que, sobre uma loja com feitio de taberna decente se ergue uma sobreloja com uma feição pesada e caseira de restaurante de vila sem comboios. Nessas sobrelojas, salvo ao domingo pouco freqüentadas, é freqüente encontrarem-se tipos curiosos, caras sem interesse, uma série de apartes na vida.
O desejo de sossego e a conveniência de preços levaramme, em um período da minha vida, a ser freqüente em uma sobreloja dessas. Sucedia que quando calhava jantar pelas sete horas quase sempre encontrava um indivíduo cujo aspecto, não me interessando a princípio, pouco a pouco passou a interessar-me. (Fernando Pessoa)
72 “Anywhere,” where Schopenhauer wished to be buried
73 “the cellulose sky glows but cannot shine” (alt version the membrane unstretched let little light in)
74 “it’s normal to go about crying in those towns,” thought to refer to Saxony
75 dismal park, a stretch between the house and the tram peopled with juvenile delinquents
76 “a gaze like time” (alt version quietness of time)
77 (missing text)
78 che cazzo, an Italian curse, expressing disgust
79 “our motto” refers to the ashes motto, Fahrenheit 451: “Monday, we burn Miller; Tuesday, Tolstoy; Wednesday, Walt Whitman; Friday, Faulkner; and Saturday and Sunday, Schopenhauer and Sartre. We burn them to ashes and then burn the ashes. That's our official motto.”
80 Kantstraße, a cobblestoned side street, languid, morose and antique
81 11/22/63, JFK assassination
82 “our age, overabundant rot” (alt version the era of Sturm und Dreck)
83 Trinkhalle, a kiosk selling beer and snacks, ubiquitous city fixture
84 McPherson, a small, church-pocked Kansas town
85 Sor Ursula, mathematician and former Spanish nun who said, “I am sure only of doubt”
86 “forgotten as the war, and gladly” - the Korean war, often called the forgotten war
87 “9 o’clock underwater” refers to the painting Fish Magic (Philadelphia)
88 I tend to loose friends, thought to mean “lose”
89 Schiller’s rancid wallpaper refers to the chemically-treated wallpaper in Schiller’s Weimar rooms, thought to have hastened his death
90 “the pompous sunset of the West” (alt version orange demise)
91 In answer to JRJ, “if you ‘lived’ another year after your death you would see all your revision was pointless.”
92 “I would go with my despair to an upstairs room” (previous version downstairs)
It is Wednesday, the third day of the work week. And in Europe, work’s over.
Starting now, I have three working days off. I have let the basking begin.
I also have three poems in the new Otis Nebula: Mermaids, Box of Sneezing and Dead Headlights.
Mermaids is composed largely of notes I took last year in New Mexico, where I visited the Oppenheimer nuclear museum at Los Alamos, and the folklore museum, where I found the quote about Columbus. The TB stuff is spun off Oppenheimer, and the Emma Goldman anecdote is something my father told me while I was there. He is an Emma Goldman scholar.
The New Mexico connection is why I like the 2 of Hearts cactus card that is on my page so much.
Box of Sneezing is about the texture and sensation of sneezing.
Dead Headlights began from what was originally a line in a ghazal that I made into its own poem.
When I woke up, the 12-word poem I wrote last night was still okay. And that was a good beginning.
Yesterday the cold came back, along with the filing cabinet-grey sky. But today we awoke to snow, gobs and gobs of it, and still going. It is the best, biggest snow in a long time.
This morning I crossed the park at dog hour, the time of morning when people make the rounds with their best friends. There was a lanky, loping woman with a lanky copper-colored dog. There was our squat neighbor in his woolen cap with his little dog. Squat, I thought, was just the word for him. It does not mean he is overweight, only indicates a certain circumference/height ratio.
On the train, I read yet another review of George Saunders’ new collection of stories. The reviewer said some readers would already be familiar with Saunders' “gonzo ventriloquism,” and it struck me that I dislike the word gonzo a lot, and for me it doesn’t describe Saunders. I do like words that end in “-quism,” though. All two of them.
We saw “The Master” on Saturday and were underwhelmed. The cinematography was good. Each actor was impressive, but the chemistry between them and the story didn’t gel. It lacked the intensity you’d expect in a movie about a cult. The lost soul didn’t seem to need religion. It was unclear what the cult leader wanted in the lost soul, and he didn’t exercise real control over him. There were throwaway moments, like the party where the women were naked. To convey what? Lechery? Lasciviousness? Nowhere in sight!
Add it to the list of big-promise underwhelmers we’ve seen lately: Les Miz, The Impossible, and, yes, Lincoln. Lincoln was the best of them, but dressed-up hokey celebrate America, if you ask me.
I have surely told this story before but it’s one that returns to me. When we were young, my step-brother would buy multiple copies of certain books to show how much he loved them. You’d find three copies of Catch 22 on his shelf, for example, and roll your eyes. But it was also endearing, and I remembered it again today when I got up the chutzpah to rip a page out of Independence Day to do an erasure I could scan and post, but then proceeded to botch the project. I taped the page back in the book, pathetically, black stripes and all, and began cruising Amazon for used copies since I’d like to have one whole. In fact it would be good to have three copies: one as a readable book, one to mark up and underline, and another to rip apart and black out.
It’s not a bad idea to have duplicates and triplicates of things you love. I know when a beloved pair of shoes bites the dust I kick myself for not having bought two pairs. I also think it would be nice to have three copies of certain books I depend on - one in the bedroom, one beside the kitchen table, one in my study. I could also be less lazy and better organized, but there's only so much time to improve one’s character, and the priority is sometimes to improve one's life.
At the moment I find myself in the untypical situation of reading five books simultaneously: an English novel, a book of aphorisms, a fictional autobiography, a series of observations and essays by a French composer, and of course Richard Ford’s Independence Day.
The Pulitzer Remix has hijacked my time. The project has its own Facebook page and every time I check in I feel like I’m in Fahrenheit 451, charged with the care of a single book. “Hello, my name is S. Jane and I am Independence Day.” Or who/whatever.
Though content with my choice, I do suffer book envy. I took Independence Day because I thought it would be interesting to revisit why I’d liked it so much, but it wasn’t my favorite book on the list. That would be the gorgeous and powerful The Confessions of Nat Turner.
Nor is it the book that influenced my life most. That would be The Good Earth, which I read in junior HS and decided if I ever did anything I would someday live in China. There was one scene in it where I believe the mother or father of a newborn hides the child under their coat, proclaiming what a piece of crap baby it is, hardly worthy of ye gods’ attention. I identified with that very strongly and still do. The superstition against pride.
I’m also reading the novel Old Filth, a novel I bought because of the crazy title and came to dread reading, but which is proving extremely worthwhile. And I’m reading The Complete Perfectionist, a collection of aphorisms and such by Juan Ramon Jiménez. It is also a worthwhile read for writers and poets and anyone who happens to be alive.
“The only bad part of death must be the first night.”
“When you’re working on one thing and start to yearn for another, imagine that this thing you’re working on would be the one you yearn for if you were working on the other.”
I’m participating in a project called Pulitzer Remix, hosted by the Found Poetry Review. You can see the blue swag swagging over there to the left on the blog. Poets taking part are assigned a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and set out to unearth 30 poems, whether through erasure or collage or dada. The poems will be posted throughout April.
Some poets steered away from books they’ve read, giving them the distance to find poems independent of plot and character. I didn’t choose that route because I can only use a book I have access to, meaning it’s here in my house, which in most cases means I’ve read it.
My book is Richard Ford’s Independence Day. It won the Pulitzer the year my daughter was born, and I read it almost as long ago. I liked the book very much, but never pursued Ford’s other books. I read a story of his called “Puppy” a few years back that was exceptional, and after Canada came out I read that, too. At the time I was reading it in October, I ran into Richard Ford at the Frankfurt Book Fair, meandering among the French publishers. I looked at him so hard he couldn't avoid looking back at me. I had a “wow is he gorgeous” moment, then turned around walked the other way.
Anyway, here I am getting intimately acquainted. Finding poems is not easy. You need to let go and shake the text up in your head so that it stops being part of something already well formed. Check out Dave Bonta's erasure project on Samuel Pepys' diaries at Via Negativa. He has taught me a thing or two.
My thoughts on clapping are there’s been enough of it, and the act should be executed, if at all, in moderation.
Not that I don’t appreciate good performances. Not that I don’t want to honor what’s honorable.
But let’s not pretend that the school band is Maria Callas.
And let’s not pretend Maria Callas was perfect, or never wished after singing just to mosey on home.
What I don’t like is when clapping becomes a public test of enthusiasm. My aversion to it shouldn’t belie a lack of admiration or fan-feeling. Didn’t you see me last week weeping through an amateur orchestra’s rendition of Bach?
I simply like a gesture delivered in appropriate doses. I like the efficient flutter of clapping that issues the thank-you note and releases me to go.
Especially distasteful is when the wanton smacking together of hands goes from tribute to demand.
What I don’t like is sitting through a string of encores.
What I don’t like is when the performer forgets all modesty. It is nice to be acknowledged, but one should also examine oneself critically.
Have I ever mentioned the poet who, upon receiving the first copy of his book, ripped the pages from the spine and started every poem over?
We went to hear three Bach cantatas (105, 54, 182) today, none of which I was familiar with. Of course they were gorgeous, the music so grave and poignant.
I was annoyed with the prattle of the conductor before they began - what a different world Bach lived in, the church, piety, and blah blah blah. “Your dead gods tell me nothing,” I said with Pessoa.
I went through the lyrics in the handout and made up some fake ones (“Lord, don’t take that beef to court,” “God, you hold the sandpaper and the tanks approach,” etc.) to amuse myself, but when the first strains of music rose I was sure I would weep. I cleared my throat (quietly) instead.
Listening to Bach cantatas is like having a heavy strand of the blackest licorice pulled back and forth through your ears. Rest assured the friction will build and it will get warm enough for those sweet, dark beads to drip down the back of your throat.
A technicolor sunset brings a feeling of baffled insecurity. There’s always a shade of atomic orange, tinged with pink or violet and glossy splashes of black. People make posters of this phenomenon, adding inspirational messages. Maybe I’d have appreciated such sunsets in another age? It’s not that they’re not beautiful - it’s just they require so much emotional coping.
Fremdschämen. Yet another German word you need 8+ words to explain. It describes the feeling of being ashamed for someone else, especially if they themselves are not. It should precede any ingestion of the secret pill that transforms you into a dog, sparing you from belonging to the human race. Silvio Berlusconi is a major producer of this feeling. You can also experience it watching the Eurovision Song Contest.
Dogs supposedly activate hormones that soothe people and cheer them up. I believe this as long as the person is near suicide or otherwise vulnerable to the charm. However, if it is 9 pm and freezing and time to walk the dog, the hormone trick proves ineffective.
Rain manages the most intimate. It finds you, it sinks into you, it gets to know your crevices. Like any erotic attention, sometimes it’s welcome, and sometimes you wish it would lay off.
When I cannot finish a poem despite months even years of trying it makes me feel like I have folded 32,258 origami swans very badly and what should I do should I go out and burn them?
I have a new chapbook. Isn’t it gorgeous? “Inksuite,” it’s called, and the cover art is by Emmanuel Polanco, the Parisian collagist. He recycled the cover of an old book to make this collage, which shows a schoolboy standing in an odd little garden of objects, holding what appears to be a textbook. From above, ink comes raining from a cloud formed by a worn-away edge of the cover. I love the elements -- the geometric plaid, the Sphinx, the one wing, the scribbles, and the gash. Thank you to Emmanuel.
The poems all have to do in some way with reading and books, and also with typefaces and the written word. The poem “On Receiving a Rejection Note One Year and Seven Months after Submitting” is included for its mention of runes, for example. There are poems about specific books, and as always I included some ghazals - “Book of Hours Ghazal” and “Flip-Book Ghazal,” which was recently published by Kestrel.
Charles Dickens wanted a woman with oomph on his arm, but his wife Catherine was reserved and rather a homebody. You might excuse her considering she had 10 children. One would have hoped Charles could have set her up and parted amicably so he could court Ellen Terry, the young actress; instead he belittled and exiled Catherine, and blamed her for so much birthing. Though history points to the contrary, I like to think she was relieved to be rid of him.
Abraham Lincoln remained loyal to Mary, although she was less competent than Catherine Dickens and as dowdy. And Hilary Clinton remains loyal to Bill, despite his womanizing. There’s more to love than sex, the saints say.
The less you know about people’s relationships, the better the relationships seem. Anyone care for more Sylvia & Ted?
“We’ve Only Just Begun,” the Carpenters’ song played at millions of weddings including my aunt’s (later legally terminated), was originally written for a bank commercial. Karen Carpenter, coincidentally, died the day her divorce went through.
John Keats might have happily wedded Fanny Brawne if he hadn’t wasted away from TB. Fanny’s own brother also died of TB a few years later. TB is an ardent suitor. Which reminds me to read The Magic Mountain.
Fernando Pessoa seems to have never loved anyone at all, on purpose.
Erik Satie, too, made a clean break. His one love affair, with Suzanne Valadon, left him heartbroken, and Satie abandoned romance. He died of cirrhosis, and the posthumous excavation of his lodgings revealed excrement on the living room floor. Perhaps he didn’t want to venture too far from the piano? Which remained true to him?
I have a poem up at Barnstorm called Salem, which is of course a brand of cigarette as well as a town most famous for burning witches. I wonder if this potential association was taken into account when the name was chosen, or if it was chosen deliberately for that reason, Salem being a cigarette marketed to women. Many women must go for the subliminal witch message, witches being powerful, and women in general lacking power. But I digress.
Anyway, the inspiration for the poem comes from Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums.
“Mother didn’t put down her knife while eating, even though everything had already been cut into bite-size pieces. She needed it to speak with.” (p. 142)
I found that striking - needing a knife to speak with. Like a microphone, or a pointer, or just the extension of a thought. I love the image of someone speaking with a knife. You will recognize the phrase in the beginning of my poem, but that’s about all it has to do with The Land of Green Plums.
As if part of some cosmic joke, we have had two straight days of sunshine, beginning exactly at the moment a US news outlet said solar energy won’t work there because it’s not sunny like Germany. From the dim northern coast to the overcast border town of Regen (“Rain”), that expert reporting caused the whole of Germany to erupt in a wet, grey guffaw. In fact, from what I’ve read, even the sunniest spot in Germany can’t hold the proverbial candle to the US. How (and where) else could Weltschmerz have been invented?
Anyway, yes. My son asked me at breakfast to please draw the shades, raising the back of his hand to his eyes like a vampire being drained of strength. The sun is confusing. What if it reveals something to us? Like how dirty our windows are, or the cobwebs fusing the piano to the liquor cabinet? Or something even worse, and more personal?
Coincidentally, it is Carneval weekend, what most of the world calls Mardi Gras. The Rhine is the magnet for Carneval partiers - Mainz and especially Cologne. Maybe we’re enjoying this sunshine in preparation for a long, dark period of fasting?
Coincidently, I’m reading Heinrich Böll’s Group Portrait with Lady, set in Cologne. I read it in college decades ago and remembered liking it, despite the lackluster leadership of our literature professor. Re-reading, I find out it is post-modern. Of course it was post-modern in 1984, too, just at that time I didn’t have the faintest idea what that was. So good was our professor! (I’m sure he didn’t know either.) In his defence, he was a German professor and not a literature professor. Which is fortunate because he really sucked at teaching literature. You know that winners of the Nobel Prize for literature don’t win for any particular book, rather they win for a body of writing. Still when Böll won the Nobel Prize, the committee cited Group Portrait as the “crown” of his work.
Knowledge is power. Wisdom is power.
Talent is also power, as is skill, such as that of hackers.
Charm wields power because it is a kind of influence, which is a synonym for power.
Hope is not power, unless it is transformed into ambition.
Ambition is power.
Electricity is power (joke).
Physical strength of course is power, thus "horsepower."
Truth is power if one chooses to bare it, but unfortunately money is also power.
So, I am satisfied. Give me a bowl of wine.
I have not that alacrity of spirit
Nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have.
Set it down. Is ink and paper ready?
Act 5, Scene 3
Ah, Richard III! The bones of the last Plantagenet king were found buried under a parking lot. How extremely interesting. Made being alive today worth it. That and my own glass of wine, and pen, and ink.
Coming home on the crowded UBahn I am glad to find a seat. My knees, if I didn’t turn them slightly, would touch those of the woman across from me. She has firm legs, but lined with blue veins and blotchy. Over them she has put on a pair of low-sheen mustard-colored hose. This is really unattractive, but also fascinating, and I realize it's because clad this way those legs resemble my beloved Stilton cheese.
I recently finished a John Banville’s Kepler, and yesterday began The Infinities, which is first off remarkable for its beautiful deep eggshell blue cover. I’ve read some reviews by readers who find Banville pretentious (because of his vocabulary? because there are Greek gods hovering in the narrative?) but I think he’s marvelous. Take this passage, about a boy getting a clay pipe that blows bubbles:
"At first he could not get the hang of it then suddenly did. The bubbles hesitated on the rim of the pipe-bowl, wobbling flabbily, then broke free and floated sedately away. They seemed to be rotating inside themselves, as if the top was always too heavy, and the iridescent surplus kept cascading down the sides. Sometimes two of them stuck together and formed a fat, trembling shape something like an hourglass only squatter. They were made of an unearthly substance, a transparent quicksilver, impossibly fine and volatile, rainbow-hued. They popped against his skin like wet, cold kisses."
So glad it's Friday.
The Spanish wine I like was on sale.
I picked up two chunks of my favorite cheeses (Fontina & Stilton).
The next episode of Sherlock awaits.
And I'm very happy to share this review of Homebodies from The Rumpus.
AND I don't have weekend duty...
The 2012 word of the year in America was hashtag, which is a good word in terms of sound and suggestion, even though what it denotes is a yawner. Soundwise, with its two tight /ae/s, it is like a dentist asking you to open wide, twice. In terms of meaning, hash evokes aromatic resins and potato products, while tag suggests it's for sale, used. Still, the hashtag itself, referring to the # symbol used on twitter posts, is kind of a sad comment as word of the year, I think. To use two more /ae/s, #flashinthepan.
Germany also had a word of the year: Rettungsroutine. Like hashtag, it’s a compound word consisting of Rettung, or rescue, and Routine, the same in English. Specifically it means going through the never-ending motions of rescuing the eurozone with summits, pep talks, bailout money, and warnings about austerity.
Germany also had an “unword” of the year, which a jury of linguists chooses as the year’s worst or most unfortunate word. In 2012 it was Opferabo. Once again, it’s a compound word. (I guess it’s tough to get attention as a free-standing word anymore.) Opferabo literally means “victim subscription,” or “subscription to victimization.” It started with a weatherman who was accused of rape, who said that in society women enjoyed a sort of “victimization coupon,” their image as perennial victims being an ace up their sleeve that allows them to accuse men of abuse.
The jury chose Opferabo as the eye-rolling word of the year because it stereotypes women as sly users trying to take advantage of a perceived disadvantage, while ignoring the fact that only a small percentage of women who are sexually abused or raped ever actually report it.
If it were my inauguration, Dionne Warwick would be singing Burt Bacharach. Actually singing, whether she felt like it or not. And my inaugural poet would be Charles Simic, who could just read from The World Does Not End. No need to write some pathetic occasional poem. The swearing-in would include plenty of swearing and my speech would not dream of tedium. I would wear a Jil Sander dress and modest heels when it was over I’d throw fateful word confetti from the podium and put a poster of myself up in my room.
Snow makes excellent natural lighting. Every night I walk my darkbrown dog into the park nearby, and even on the open field she is concealed by the dark. But the weather turned a few days ago and we were lucky to get plentiful snow. Even if there's no moon or stars, the snow lights everything from the bottom up and the little landscape and its shapes are easier to make out - the hedges, the basketball net, the swings and trees. And of course the dog is easier to find. And she loves snow.
I thought I remembered a Hawthorne story where light shines from below a town square (?), creating an ominous atmosphere. But the snowlight isn't ominous, just pretty, and reveals everything is where it's supposed to be.
As I mentioned last post, Kathleen Kirk tagged me to write about The Next Big Thing, a questionnaire for writers on a project or book.
What is your working title of your book /story/project?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
In general, from reading. I’ve written a number of poems about books and reading, and a couple years ago when I was reading a stiff hardbound copy of Madame Bovary (?) or The Line of Beauty (?), it occurred to me that the “Note on the Type” at the end of the book was longer than the author’s thumbnail biography, and more interesting. I loved that – it was so full of LORE. So I set out to write some poems on imaginary typefaces, too.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Donald Sutherland would play the imaginary typographer Robert Crèvecoeur. The nuns in Sognidhia would be played by Winona Ryder, Keira Knightly and Natalie Portman, who all resemble each other. Daniel Craig would make a good Thomas Hardy.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published by Dancing Girl Press this year.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It was never written as a manuscript. It came together piece by piece with separate poems over years. Some of them were published in 2007, maybe 2006. A couple others were published this month.
What other books/poems would you compare this story to within your genre?
Nothing comes to me immediately, but some other poems on books would be -
I had a number of poems mentioning books or a specific book or writer, and then I got into the typography poems. I also was writing a poem called Inksleep, which is still under construction, and the word Inksuite came into my head and it seemed too good a word to waste.
Other than that, the poems’ inspirations include the Russian gulag, Wallace Stevens, Chinese cabbage, Roget’s Thesaurus, Jude the Obscure.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There will be a killer collage by Emmanuel Polanco on the cover.
Two of my poems are up at The Bakery. Today’s is Fitting Room Mirror, and is about just that, and yesterday’s was Lines Written in the Cold, which is appropriate because it is ice-crashy cold here. I hope you will read them.
I’ve been tagged by Kathleen Kirk to do the blog meme The Next Big Thing about a project I'm at work on, which I’ll put up later this week. You can read about Kathleen's project here. I’m supposed to tag five folks, but as an underachiever, I will have an even lower single digit.