Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thoughts on clapping

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?

Sunday, February 24, 2013


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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ways to feel

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? 

Wind makes me feel alone, in a good way.

Friday, February 15, 2013


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

You can order the chap at Dancing Girl Press for $7 (plus postage). You can also do DGP’s bundle deal and order any five books for $25, which is a good way to discover new poets. You could even include my previous DGP chap “Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair” in it! I also recommend J. Hope Stein’s “Talking Doll,” which I just read, and “Boom of a Small Cannon” by Mary Ann Samyn. I loved both those chaps. You wouldn’t have to leave the letter S!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine is the patron saint of epilepsy

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?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

To think with

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.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

the blood-sucking sun

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.

Song of the day: Was a Sunny Day

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Wild Horses

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.

Monday, February 04, 2013

They paved paradise

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. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013


the swaying pines of the neighbor’s yard, the gloom of their green,

the purlieu of dust, a close inspection of fingernails, parcels of money for allowance, lunches and tutoring, 

the stoic pose of the radiator, the aftermath of caffeine, 

a spent tube of handlotion, hours of go-nowhere evaluation, the patron saint of long silence, a stack of CDs, 

vines of dead wisteria, the busy noises of other floors, 

stray sheets of paper, a crumbling copy of Alice in Wonderland, a wave of fatigue, beloved jar of buttons, the poison of feeling secure, 

the click of the dog’s claws, melodrama of teenagers, the shape of the keyhole, an almond, the key, 

bathtub of blue water, landscape of mussed bedding, the vague passage of time, the damp of washed hair, the smell of soap, of toast, of pencil shavings, 

an empire of bookshelves, the deepest of breaths, 

the chance of good luck, of ill luck, the dire lack of sun, the sweep of a sleeve, the fur-grey of February,
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