Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quote #2: Superfresh

"A poem is a form of refrigeration that stops language going bad." – Peter Porter

Well, this is a kind of comic quote, but it’s a good response to those who say poetry should avoid big words, unusual words, obscure and archaic words, and words you wouldn’t use in conversation. There are no “off-limit” words, and even words that some consider overused or “too poetic,” like shards or palm fronds, have their place in some poems. A good poem has its own integrity, and decides which words it needs, and makes those words feel at home, and still wanted in the world.

For example: How can it be ... and ... Crushed Cargo ... and ... Copperopolis ... and ... Dear Departed ... and ... Light Outside This Window ... and ... Simile, Analogy

Sharing a birthday with Walt Whitman

is my daughter
Lulu, who's 11 today.

She's getting books,
heelys and converse
all-stars. I'm sure
mr. whitman would
enjoy the same.

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands; / How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

1st Quote: Valéry

"Sometimes something wants to be said, sometimes a way of saying wants to be used." - Paul Valéry

Rachel tagged me, asking for 10 quotes that jibe with my ideas about writing poetry. I'm going to do them one or two at a time, bitesize, for better digestion all around.

The Valéry quote above is one of my very favorites. In poetry there are poems that tell stories, convey emotion, rant or pack a moral. Sometimes they leave us reeling, mostly because of how the poet delivers the content. Then there are poems that are, let's say, lighter on message and more intent on bringing over the joy of language. They don't have to use verbal pyrotechnics, they may just be expert at turning a phrase. (Of course a poem can also do both.)

Poems -somewhat rashly and randomly chosen- in which I like the "way of saying:"
*end of the tan
*My Translation
*Freeze Frame
*Miss Peach is a Cross Between

Sunday, May 27, 2007


The new issue of In Posse is up on the theme "Poetry and the Body." There are some terrific poems in there. I started to make a list, but it became unwieldy.
My poem "Infirmary" is in the section "The Medical Body."

two rivers

I'm trying to remember the name of a book featured at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year about a woman who was deaf all her life, but becomes able to hear as an adult. When asked what she thought the most beautiful sound was, she said birdsong. Asked what was the worst, she said a crying baby. The baby is interesting, because although there are other louder and more grating sounds -airplanes, jackhammers, techno music blaring from some idiot's car- the baby's crying throws us into the whole why of it, and fingers our sympathies.

I always thought the most beautiful sound was water flowing in a stream or river. On the other hand, listening to the faucet run makes my skin crawl. That's why I say I have two rivers in me.


I like to think in the end
there is no ice, no fire,
only the sound of water.

When day’s empty hand turns
over to dusk, again I hear it
as if it had moved closer -
the waterfall tossing itself
down like a rope, long,
loosely wound, dropping
to the foot of the mountain.

Somewhere far from here,
its stream is untangling.
Somewhere it travels
an unfinished road.

Every night against the silence,
I listen to it tumbling.
I let the sound empty me;
I feel it lower me, dreamless to sleep.
Every night it’s there
in my ear, leaving,

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Carlo took Luisa to see Le Nozze di Figaro the other evening at Frankfurt's opera house. It was her first opera, and Mozart was a good choice. Figaro was, coincidentally, also the first opera I ever saw - with my mother at the New York City Opera. Anyway, I made a big to-do about Luisa going, because she enjoys being fussed over. She wore this beautiful dress - unfortunately you can't see it's a dark dark plum, and I lent her my Chinese purse. Miles and I waved goodbye, and settled in to
watch Indiana Jones on video for the
umpteenth time, pyjamaramaed,
happy as clams.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

that's the highway that goes to the building

This list is a result of my failure at the "5 songs that knock my socks off" tag.

I was in high school when I first heard Talking Heads. My sister came home from college with her punk friends and Talking Heads 77. We went down to the basement and put the record (vinyl!) on and they started to dance to Pulled Up. They danced as if invisible strings were lifting them up from where they bent over the floor. It was fresh and wonderful. I would never listen to Hall & Oates again.

The first time I heard Once in a Lifetime I was lying in bed listening to the radio. I'm sure my brow was knotted as a shoelace by the time David Byrne got to the "same as it ever was" refrain. At that point, I laughed. Not because it was funny, but because I was blown away.
10 Talking Heads Songs that Blow Me Away
1. Mind
2. The Book I Read
3. A Clean Break
4. The Great Curve
5. Once in a Lifetime
6. Don't Worry About the Government
7. Houses in Motion
8. Take me to the River
9. Cities
10. Love Goes To Building on Fire

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

soon to be up to my eyeballs

I won a $10 Amazon gift certificate for a poem a few weeks ago, and turned it into three poetry books. Of course the gift certificate covered only one book, but you know how it is, after $25, shipping is free, which is a trick to get you to buy more. A trick that works. Since my mother comes this weekend, I figured I’d take advantage.

The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart: Poems by Gabrielle Calvocoressi: Not familiar with this poet beyond a few poems, but I liked those enough to try the book. Here’s a link to some of her work.

The Selected Poetry Of Yehuda Amichai: I’m also not terribly familiar with Amichai. I know he’s the most popular Israeli poet, and his focus is “humanity” in a broad and social sense, and I sometimes need to read that. Here’s a link to some of his poems. I will admit that none of these turned me on A LOT, but I have read others in print that have.

Everything is Burning
by Gerald Stern: As for Gerald Stern, whenever I read him I feel I’ve been invited to a feast. And all I can say is feed me more. Here's a poem of his that I've photocopied and taped into my little favorite poem notebook.

headline in today's nytimes

What's furry and thirsty and loves the dark?
(answer below)

The AP also has a story that says: Artillery ... echoed around a crowded Palestinian refugee camp as fighting resumed between besieging Lebanese troops and Islamic militants holed up inside, ending a nighttime lull.

It's unusual to see the verb besiege in the active - usually it's "besieged." I wondered for a second if there'd been a mistake, but of course there wasn't. The next sentence misspelled "pounded" as "punded," though, which seemed less damaging.

Monday, May 21, 2007


I recently finished the 10 day-10 poem forum at Inside the Writer's Studio, but started again 5 days back. I like the format. Sure you'll be pressed but it's not as bad as the 30-day forum. There's space to breathe if a poem comes up you need time with. I also like ITWS because it's a closed board. It's easy to join but you can't just flip through posts if you aren't a member. It's good doing 10:10 again now, also because Michi and Liz are in.

I'm having a really shitty day, and my eyes hurt, but I managed to write a few lines anyway, and that's the point. In fact, coming home I was looking forward to writing, but then found a guy in my bedroom fixing my windows for 350 euros. Carlo had already agreed on the price and repairs, so I was a bit shocked. So writing didn't turn out to be pleasant, with me in a crap mood and a guy in my bedroom. Anyway, here are the 5 poems I've done so far.
5. 1978: And my heart burns in my wrists / burns berserck....
4. Jellyfish: There are rooms underwater / we can't imagine, pellucid rooms...
3. Out of the Nowhere of Afternoon: Noon comes on blue to end the morning...
2. Maestro: The beggar who dregs / the tony avenue ...
1. The Woman who Hates the Word Moist: Because mosquitos skim...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

conjuring gross and beautiful things

I've been writing a poem about a woman who hates a particular word, born of thinking about why people dislike certain words. Leaving language people-creative writers out, when people dislike words it's usually because of baggage - what the words mean or suggest, or sometimes how they look. It’s rare that people hate words simply for how they ride the air - the sound of them.

High on the list are words people hate that are parts of the body, like gland or urethra or cochlea. Some hate buttocks, or they hate lobe or nostril. I should note there are body words people love, too. But I’ll save those for another page.

Next come words that express bodily functions, like secrete, ooze and coagulate. People have physical reactions to those words. Their faces freeze up, or they take a long blink.

Many dislike what oozes from the body, like snot, vomit and fluid. I’m not trying to be gross, but words like these can have more of an effect than curses, also despised by many. Disembodied, the word pus, for example, is a perfectly nice word, and pustule, is even nicer with its deep /tshul/, reminiscent of jewel.

Some people also dislike words that are suggestive of the body if not specific to it, like pungent and moist. People hate moist, but have no reaction to mist, or hoist or joist.

People are also influenced by the look of a word, which means you’ll find people who hate the word kumquat. The –ph- combination strikes some as wimpy or fake, causing them to dislike the name Phil, but not think twice about fill. I include myself among those discomfitted by words deliberately misspelled, like kewt and kwik chek.

The real baggage words that people hate, and are hardly worth mentioning since they're usually political or highly idiosyncratic, are slogan type words that represent something, like green. Too bad for green with its lovely long /i/ and its traditional image of spring. Lorca will be along to haunt them! I knew a guy who hated the suffix –ish, and recall how he fussed when someone said they’d meet him around eightish. Other people hate diminutives. Americans dislike Britishisms and vice-versa. People also hate high-sounding words like hence or eschew, and foreign words like verboten, which are often considered snobbish, no matter how inherently beautiful.

What I find most interesting is disliking a word purely based on sound, forgetting how it looks, what it means or could mean. I dislike the harsh sound of drake, for example. To bring the baggage in, I guess it insinuates the rake and crane of tools and machinery. I believe drake is also a kind of duck, but I like ducks and duck, a word which begins and ends so tidily.

Of course you can also love a word simply based on sound. When I was around eightish, I remember my mother telling me how she liked sewer, and I went off saying it over and over, divorcing it from everything, fascinated by the idea of liking pure sound.

Last year I asked people for three of their favorite words. The answers were surprising and not surprising, but always interesting. Here are some of those:
coffee, succulent, toast, and marmalade, gravity, butterscotch, skin. Gestalt. rue, yes, great, thanks. slug, surf, engine, rauschenberg, phenomenon, onomatopoeia, facetious, tintinabulation, sunshine, smells, jiminy, honky-tonk, mosey, lunatic, madrugada, flabbergasted, strawberry, roustabout, snug, Caligula, bucket, Rorschach, osé, fathom, fossilized; marriage, dystopia, copralite, hawk, serendipitous, hogmanay, luscious, flibbertygibbet, bitch, squeek, ramp, skunk, nebula, light, travelling, chagrin, music, silk, friends, cerebral, myopic, discombobulate, erratic, lolling, certainly, ofcourse, Susquehanna, slip, strozzapreti, chartreuse, Volatile, Ravine, and Lucid, shoes, kids, apprehension. water, anthropomorphize, hi, nevertheless, circumspect, and wherwithal, ausgezeichnet, grin, tentative, elegance

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

about the threatened exodus

I can't really complain about blogger. I mean, it's free for starters, so I find it hard to get pissed off about the occassional breakdown. Also the blogger bar as "a word from our sponsor" doesn't bother me much. On the other hand, rupert murdoch owns myspace so i'd be happy to have a private fistfight with whomever thinks that's the lesser evil. And I have a friend with a yahoo blog and you can't comment on her blog unless you have a yahoo blog, too, which strikes me as a doomed and pathetic marketing ploy.
If you're into layout I understand going elsewhere, but if you're a writer of the mostly non-multimedia type, I don't see the problem. I've never been much of a complainer, though. And with the rest of my life going on I don't have the energy to pack up and migrate.
just thought i'd say.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I gave up on John Henry Days . Things did improve, but near p. 100 one of the aging junketeer journalist characters launched into a rave about what it was like in the old days of covering the Stones, the youth, the nostalgia, the teen spirit, and it was a little too much for me. I had an inkling the passage was designed to be tedious to give the character some form but "supposed to be tedious" and "tedious" are too close to each other, so that was that. I gave up reluctantly. Because my step brother wanted me to read it. And he bought it for me, and he’s broke.

Anyway, as I was going out the door for the weekend I had book panic since there was nothing in my bag to read (as in a commitment-book – I did have two literary reviews) so I stood at the bookshelf quickly fingering the spines in search of something I hadn’t read that was at least mildly interesting and I found Don DeLillo’s White Noise. I don’t know where this book came from. I don’t remember buying it, and I thought I might never read DeLillo. I think this book fell from heaven. It is fantastic.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

maybe it was worth rejection

Thank you for submitting to alice blue. We appreciate your continued support and patronage. Unfortunately we were unable to find a place for your work in this issue. Sometimes this happens. Monkeys press switches and little babies freak out & cry, “pick me!” “pick me!” but it’s all monkeys here so don’t despair. More opportunities skitter towards you with alice blue hypodermics, ice water, and The World’s record for rapid eye movement.
Much love, the editorial staff

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Please read our guidelines with care, as they change.
We are quarterly, usually.
We do not accept simultaneous submissions.
We do not accept unsolicited submissions
during the –ary, –ber and summer months.
We do not accept submissions via email
or read out over the phone.
We prefer free verse informed by tradition, unless it rhymes.
We do not want sacred verse, saccharine verse or sweet-n-sour.
Submit up to but no fewer than four poems.
Poems must be at least five feet tall, or 14 words.
Poems must not go over 17 lines, except long poems.
Poems under 30 lbs cannot ride the cool rides.
Poems may not exceed 25 miles per hour, unless there
are at least three people in the vehicle.

Monday, May 07, 2007

nails america

Recently a shop
opened in the grey stretch I walk from
the train station to my office. It’s a storefront with a sign over the window that says
Nails America in script next to a waving American flag.
So while the periphery of my brain struggles with whether this is a verb-object situation, or if one word is modifying the other, the main station is asking “is America famous for its fingernails?”

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I had two poems accepted yesterday. This was the first time(s) I received an acceptance in which the email subject line was written to tip you off right away.
“Good News from Boxcar Poetry Review!”
“Bateau Accepts”

That was nice, and strange, and I was thrilled to be accepted both places. Boxcar took a poem called “Hive.” And Bateau, a new publication, took my praise poem “Used Books.”

I'm glad a never got a rejection with a clue-in subject line.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I was truly impressed by the NAACP’s plan to bury the N word. There are many offensive N words and I suggest we also bury them, removing any chance of confusion, insult or misunderstanding. Certainly we’ve done nazi to death, too.

Probably many of you remember the political aide who lost his job for calling the budget “niggardly.” There’s danger in N- words. We would do right to get rid of niggling, and Nigella Lawson, too, or at least to persuade them to change and stop making us uncomfortable.

I think the fairest route is to strip all N- words of their N- and move them elsewhere in the dictionary. Best would be to redistribute the N- words among the letters that are under-represented, namely Q, X, Y and Z. Q has just 7 pages in my Merriam-Webster. Y and Z have 5 each, and X has just 2, most of which were made up by science fiction writers.

I'm more comfortable with zuclear threat than its predecessor. And a quisance sounds kind of pleasant. Everything with the non- prefix will now carry the more musical yon-, keeping any chance of offence far far away.

May Day May Day

Yesterday I wrote a poem that was almost a duplicate of a poem I wrote last year. Aside from articles and such, it didn't have any of the same words. It didn't have the same structure, the same images or even the same tense. But it was otherwise surprisingly similar. I understand this happens to F Wright all the time.

There is good news! Caffeine Destiny is not dead. So send them your best poem.
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