Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dilly dilly

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!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter weekend

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. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I’ve nearly finished combing the white through my hair

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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A possible ending

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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Opening sentences of The Book of Disquiet

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)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Appendix II, footnotes

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)

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The review of my chapbook, Homebodies, gone missing some two weeks, has been located.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Extra Texture

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.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


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.

Saturday, March 09, 2013


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. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

For remorse, there is no consolation

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.”

“For remorse, there is no consolation.”

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Independence Remix

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.
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