Monday, November 30, 2009

let us eat cake

So it’s my birthday so the first thing I did when I woke up was bang my head against the door. I look much younger now, like I’m still up for a brawl in the wee hours. Goes well with the twitch in my right eye.

Then I took the dog out in the still-dark and the crazy tincan man was out rifling through trash bins for cans and bottles to return for deposit. His theme this morning was “Arbeit macht frei!” Not only does work set one free, it especially sets the jews free, according to him. It was turning into a great day.

Still, my husband and kids left a present for me on the kitchen table.

And I recently discovered I share a birthday with Allan Sherman, a man I appreciate.

And at work I was presented with a bouquet that included berries and white roses.

People asked why I hadn’t taken the day off and the truth is I don’t have enough free days left to spend on my birthday. So my boss told me to leave early.

Which I did.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Leap, year

Fall was always my favorite season but ever since fall morphed into spring, I've pledged allegiance to spring. I went out this morning with the dog into wet, fresh air, reminiscent of spring, and it was gorgeous, really, but also disorienting. While it's very pleasant and I like it, right under that immediate reaction is the knowledge that I shouldn't like it. The Weatherwoman of the Apocalypse would call it "terrifyingly mild." I could see my breath, at least, so I drew an approximate parallel to March. This must be positive: the last two mornings were firmly set in April. Maybe by mid-December we'll arrive in February, and by January everything will line up right.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

going down the stoney end

I've lived for ages in Germany and always miss Thanksgiving. I managed to be in the states for the holiday about two years ago and although it wasn't the huge shindig I was used to as a kid (due to divorce!), it was still lovely and replete with yummy American food. So just to drum up sympathy, here's a sad list of everything I ate today, not necessarily in order and omitting water.

1. 3 cups of coffee with lots of milk
2. 1 stick of Orbit spearmint gum
3. 2 sticks of Orbit peppermint
4. 1 roll with brie, lettuce and tomato
5. 1 cup cocoa
6. 1 Twix bar (actually two, because they come like that)
7. Cucumber slice
8. 1 Chamomille tea
9. Garlic clove (fried in butter, too complicated to explain why)
10. Stilton cheese (dog ate the crumbly parts from the floor)
11. Italian red wine

Not too festive, eh? Oh well. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

the moorman polaroid

It's that day again. I always remember it because I was born eight days later into a very sad country. The footage of the motorcade has been burned into America's collective unconscious, but here's a polaroid I'd never seen before. You can see it and a number of other related shots here.

Anybody know any poems about Kennedy? I've got one for Jackie; it was published in Snakeskin a few years ago as part of Jessy Randall's alphabet issue.

Jackie O.

O New York orchid
Oysterbed of aristocracy
O gorgeous orphanage

Tack a letter

(like an operatic holler,
like the dark of owl sunglasses)

to identity

O madonna of obituaries
Orgy of national sadness
O strike up the orchestra
Our lady of high offices

Friday, November 20, 2009


For some time an acquaintance at work has wanted me to out myself as a poet, and I have resisted because 1) it's not relevant, and 2) unlike her, I don't think most people see anything positive about being a poet. There's no esteem to be earned from it, esteem that might be earned by admitting to being, say, a passionate cook, or a hobby pilot. Instead, poets in the general imagination seem to be goofy or dreamy or sissy or taking themselves too seriously. This editorial from this morning's Guardian proves my point:

"Who do you call when you want to call Europe? After five years of wrangling designed to deal with the Henry Kissinger question, the EU last night failed to provide a satisfactory answer. The first ever president of the European council is to be the haiku-writing Belgian prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, who is still little known in his own country, let alone the wider world..."

Can you believe it - a HAIKU-WRITING prime minister? What is the world coming to? Really, doesn't "haiku-writing" in this case seem to be a synonym for ineffectual, namby-pamby and/or ridiculous? Or am I being, god forbid, overly sensitive?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

notes on a cocktail napkin

I hadn’t read Ed Skoog before putting my hand up to review Mister Skylight, but I subscribe to the Dive-In School of poetry and this volume came with three good omens.

1) Ed Skoog. You can’t do much better than to be a poet with a name like Skoog. Half a verb, half a Seussian entity.

2) The title. Even before I knew what the phrase Mister Skylight meant, I loved it. When I found out what it meant, I loved it more. For those who don’t know, it’s the code used to alert a ship’s crew of an encroaching calamity without clueing in the passengers. Mister Skylight is a character in this book, one who, when you tell him your disturbing dream, doubles your prescription. This title is an apt metaphor for a country that often feels it’s being left in the dark.

3) The cover photograph. Great impact. But as much as I like the perch, looking either into or out of devastation, I found Skoog’s poems much less lonely than the cover shot would suggest, because the poet keeps “building things where the obscure forest used to be,” that forest being memory.

Even if written in thoughtful solitude, Skoog’s poems are quickly peopled, and thinged, as in the beginning of Canzioniere of Late July:

"Almonds drop and temple the soil. / Carrots grow longways into earth. / The Mississippi carries clouds of soil / in gigantic purling. Winds erode soil, / making it savage to live above dirt, / always shifting. Listen as whispering soil / becomes a tropical opera of soil..."

The speaker in Skoog’s poems seem to gravitate towards company and/or activity. If it sometimes turns surreal, it’s more Bruegel than Magritte.

Take The Carolers, in which a gang of Christmas carolers tempt the speaker from his doorway to join their revelry. Although tempted, he hangs back, but experiences in a kind of dream the carolers’ night as if he’d gone along when they climbed through his Ford “pulling ‘I Saw Three Ships’ through the car like a rope.” (You can read this poem, and four others, over at Dave Jarecki’s blog.)

That’s why I’ve dubbed these “meditative action poems” – there’s always something happening, and the poet participates or just observes, but lets you know what it was like to be there, to breathe there, to experience and think through.

While there is a lot of “happening,” there are quieter moments, too, as well as focused dreams and still, surreal images. One of the most tactile and pleasing comes at the beginning of Season Finale:

"My last look around the house / took so long that the vine / climbing the rosebush climbed / into my eyes. . ."

While I’m generally partial to shorter poems, in Mister Skylight, Skoog shows his strengths and riches in the long poems and sequences – Canzioniere of Late July, Mister Skylight and Memory Loss, a gorgeous poem in which, once again, experience and reflection send the speaker back out into the arms of the world.

That quest for company, to share experience, surely contributes to the sense of hope that finally glows in these poems, but also the poet’s disposition, his “version” of what he sees. In the last segment of the poem Mister Skylight, garbage men hang from the moving truck, throwing in cat litter, electronic appliances, bubble wrap, diapers, and finally –

"the sheet music to “Clair de lune,” / cuttings from a holly, oyster shells / on top, round mirrors of the dawn."

One of my favorite poems in the book is the first one, a preface called During the War. This is a list-like poem of what the speaker was up to during whichever war we’re on, and it sets the reader up for the narratives to come, all the characters and places, the American landscape.

"I lived in two houses, one apartment, / took notes on a cocktail napkin / and a record store receipt my salary / almost covered. / I abandoned my longing / to be more serious, and grew out my hair..."

The notes on that napkin are what you will be served in this book, serious poetry, rooted in places, characters, a culture and time.


This is the last stop on ReadWritePoem's tour of Mister Skylight. The other reviews and information about the tour can be found here!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

rollercoaster, of love

I sat on a bench across from the big drop of the rollercoaster. I liked listening to the people scream. Some of the screams were enthusastic, like the man who went down with a series of monosyllables – something like whoa-hoo-ya-di-ya! Others seemed sincerely surprised - one guy erupted in a kind of gurgling wind-up at the top of the drop, then paused, then resumed screaming halfway down. Of course there were the glass-shatterers, mostly female, who let loose at one rippling pitch all the way to the bottom.

I had a sinus headache that kept me off the ride, but the rest of the family went on. The line was long, and I’d experienced a great deal of screaming by the time their turn came. Still I laughed like hell when I saw my husband round the uppermost curve, and heard him scream bloody murder into the plunge.

(this is a re-post in honor of finally getting the photo scanned)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Opium is the opium of the people

A man walks into a bar.
The man walks out of the bar.
The man crosses the street in front of the bar.
The man is a comedian.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Afternoon of an acquaintance of a faun

I’m not living virtually much right now. My computer broke. It wasn’t me.

My computer “broke” a couple days before the washing machine took the same route and a few days before my husband had a small (one-vehicle) accident with the car. He pleads “no comment” when asked about the repair cost. I didn’t pursue the query, especially as we’re having a jillion-dollar heating system put in this week and are thus very brokely.

The accident took place just a day or two before another of my son’s teachers called to complain about his work habits. I grounded him.

The teacher (the English teacher, no less) called the same day I stupidly left my 1,000-page copy of The Kindly Ones on the train. It’s only as big as an elephant. Somehow I just overlooked it.

There is the feeling I’ve had my share of bad luck.
Or at least my capacity for surprised dismay has diminished.

In any case, I went to the lost & found at the train station Monday and they had found my book! Bookmark still tucked in p. 280. And, with a little arm-twisting, my son has been good the last few days. Ok, so he has nothing else to do.

Still, one can hope. The computer repairman is at the house …

Monday, November 09, 2009

like a cat in the dark

There’s nothing really new about downloading music. More than 30 years ago my sister and I were doing it in our bedrooms and then sharing “files.” The downloading process in those days was all about being poised for opportunity. It was low-tech. It was done with one of those old tabletop cassette recorders, the kind that lie flat, and we’d sit like birds of prey in front of the radio waiting for a song we liked to come on. When it did, click! Push play/record and you had the world’s crappiest download on a shitty cassette with plenty of fuzz, the DJ interrupting the end of the song, the dog barking and your mother calling you to dinner somewhere in the middle of Stevie Nicks’ “Rhiannon.” This operation was probably just as illegal as downloads nowadays. You are allowed, however, to download music directly into your brain via memorization. You can even write the words down, as long as you don't try to pass them off as your own. And you are welcome to sing them very loudly in front of the mirror in your room with your high-tech hairbrush microphone bristling with static, as long as the door is closed.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Chapter Summary

A Very Long Chapter of Little Significance
A Heavy Brush with Foreshadowing
Wherein We Encounter Juan, Whom We’ll Never Meet Again
The Hour between Sardines
Nothing Happens in Geometry
Things That Matter Not One Whit
Lather, Rinse, Repeat (if necessary)
Employing A Scientific Metaphor
Chapter 9
Being A Short But Pivotal Chapter, Perhaps Too Hastily Staged
In Which We Are Annoyed by The Word ‘Boudoir’
Sing O God of Fury
Chapter Meant To Atone for The Bad Writing of The Previous Ones
A String of Seemingly Irrelevant Events
DNA in the Argentinian Criminal Justice System
The End

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

if death smells like nutmeg

I have a poem called “Training” up today at Linebreak, the clean, well-lighted site that offers its poets a whole week in the sun. Click on the sound icon you’ll hear Aran Donovan read the poem (thanks!).

It took me years to write this poem, literally, from writing down the first few ideas, to revising, to putting the poem in the ice file, to revising, to throwing up my hands, to finally coming up with a way to “solve” the poem, which is what I call finding the wording that lets the poem say and do what it wants to.

I was inspired to write it way back when after reading a poem by David Ignatow that began “I must train myself to no longer exist…” You can see where the title comes from. His poem is here! Read it. He’s one of those wonderful, unique poets no one reads enough of.

Such a long wait for a poem to finish itself I also had with “Curtains.” I had the beginning in my notebook forever and ever, and slowly built a body but never seemed able to find a satisfying ending. It languished for a long time even though I was fond of it. Finally, I don’t remember how, but the heart’s “monstrous socket,” came to me, the pain caused by having to be involved emotionally with the world, and not being able, really, to wrap yourself up in heavy curtains.
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