27 December 2005

A. R Ammons: more snow

[from The Snow Poems to which I am currently addicted]

can there be a dwelling for man
with no cock to cry the days
in: I hear from across the lake
in quiet spells
dogs barking or crows cawing: or,
even, though terribly early,
geese going over, high over:
in any case, it is not the
rooster, wing-thubbing and crowing:
do you not miss the biddies:
yellow butterballs
peeping about the hen’s legs
and beak:
do you dwell securely where
there is no cackle to the lay
and no offal dog neither
good Lord not even a guinea:
I need pig and fowl: company:
and the goat!
what is the flavor
of anything without
the bright-eyed,
big-balled billy: or the
fucking sheep: who can do
without it:

The book is still out of print.

26 December 2005

Wright to Silko

[from The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Leslie Marmon Silko & James Wright Letters, edited by Anne Wright]

June 15, 1979
Wright to Silko

I am somewhat taken aback to realize that I have made more or less workable versions of exactly thirty new pieces. At least I have revised them and copied them into a larger notebook. Now they will have to lie there by themselves for a while until they change. They almost always do. A poem is a very odd duck. It goes through changes—in form and color—when you leave it alone patiently, just as surely as a plant does, or an animal, or any other creature. Have you ever read a book by someone which you know has been written too quickly and impatiently and then published too soon? Such books always remind me of tomatoes or oranges that have been picked still green and then squirted full of artificial colors. They look nice on the supermarket shelves, and they taste awful. I remember reading such books and feeling the glands under my chin begin to ache. They made me feel as though I were getting the mumps.

A. R. Ammons

Christmas (the phoniness of it) always lands me in a foul mood, so I began reading The Snow Poems by A. R. Ammons. I have read more negative comments on this book than on his others. Naturally, I find The Snow Poems delectable. A few outcroppings:

[from "Ivy, a Winding)"]

        at three I realized
        that my interpersonal relationships
considered for example as a cottonball
of interweavings and
closeness (a warmth, as of a
mother-centered, father-peripheried
group) were going to be sheared off,
cut through
and that I was going to be a bit of
lint blowing in the irrelevancies of
dissociation: as I grew older
I learned this
more thoroughly:
I write for those who have
no comfort now and will never have any:
I'm delighted that the comfortless are
a minority and
that rosy tales amble otherwise for others:
        I'm not making a fuss:
        I note the determination:
        it is a strict script
written in the injustice of
necessity: I forgive
the injustice, nearly: I no longer cry
to be another, not myself, or seldom:
you who have no comfort are welcome here, here
with the chaff
alongside the abundant reaping, among
the weeds, after the gleaners:

[from "The Hieroglyphic Gathered, the Books"]

would a collection
of clarities
be clearer than a clarity
or as the collection
grew would the
single clarities remain
clear and
a great darkness commence
to surround
or would opposite lobes of clarity
annihilate themselves
into continuum emptiness: . . .

the good of images is
that they make no
statement and the bad
is that they make (evoke)
numberless statements:

[from "Light Falls Shadow and Beam through the Limbo"]
[for you Rush Limbaugh fans]

Light falls shadow and beam through the limbo
limbboughs, short and long mixtures,
staff and heading, balling the
boughs, cluster, white bass clefs
churning rotund
thunder and up there sparkling and
bellying out
skeins and scads of treble felicities,
cones and points:
tree as music in the light,
the scoring of the permanent
a presence not regular but hastening
or not like the imagination or
the wind . . .

and though we ourselves see and do not
know what we see and cannot tell why
we are here attracted to enchantment
and scriptures intermingling substance
and light—

The Snow Poems is out of print.

24 December 2005

email difficulties

Since December 21st, I have been bombarded with spam to the degree that I may be throwing away good email along with the bad. If you have written to me and received no answer, please try again, email Mike, or post a blog comment.

Thank you.

20 December 2005

critiqued by Virginia Woolf

[Sebastian Sprott offered Hogarth Press (the press belonging to Virginia and Leonard Woolf) the opportunity to publish his novel. This is Virginia Woolf's response.]

25th March 1925

Dear Sebastian,

Your book has interested me very much, but on the whole we don't think we can publish it; though we are extremely sorry not to. My feeling is that you don't get going till rather late -- it seems as if your theme interested you, and not the people; so that in spite of the fact that the end gets an emotion which is quite genuine, it is too late to tell; and as a whole the book is not pulled off. I only give you these criticims as you asked me; honestly, I don't trust myself on other peoples novels, simply because, as I write them myself, I get my eye out. I feel that you ought to stand more on your own feet, and that at present you accept too brilliantly what other people tell you and are afraid of your own observations. But this may well be nonsense. The other point is that the public won't like the theme or understand it, which of course makes it risky from the publishing point of view. But it will be very interesting to see what you write next, though after this plain speaking we have no right to ask you to let us see it. . .

Virginia Woolf

19 December 2005

Stephen Dobyns

[from Best Words Best Order: Essays on Poetry]

Simplistically . . . how I write a poem. I have a number of aural, emotional and intellectual concerns floating with a series of images like flies circling in the center of a room. I repeat the rhythms and sounds in my head, run through the images as if through a tray of slides, and lean against the concerns as one might lean against a closed door.

The poem comes together when I am suddenly able to join these concerns together under the aegis of one idea or feeling. . . . Once the elements are joined, the rough shape of the poem comes very quickly. Then I spend months straightening it out and trying to become entirely conscious of the meaning, while moving the poem away from my personal concerns . . . to a more general concern.

17 December 2005

origins of modern poetry

In Best Words Best Order: Essays on Poetry Stephen Dobyns says Gerard de Nerval “suffered from a psychosis of reference, meaning that he felt all random events were not random but contained symbolic information capable of being understood.” Dobyns also ooldly claims, “It can be argued that all modern European, American and South American poetry derives from this poem" (translated by Laure-Anne Bosselaar and Dobyns):

Golden Verses

                                                       Everything is sentient!

Free-thinker, do you imagine only man can think
When life bursts from everything in this world?
Your freedom lightly disposes of the powers you hold,
But from your intentions, the universe is absent.

In each and every animal respect the active spirit,
To Nature each flower becomes a blossoming soul,
The mystery of love inhabits every metal,
Everything has power over you. “Everything is sentient!”

Fear, in the blind wall, the eye that watches:
Even to matter itself a voice is attached.
Never permit it serve some unworthy need.

Often, in obscure beings, a God lies hidden,
And, like a nascent eye covered by its lid,
A pure spirit swells beneath the skin of stones.

Dobyns goes on to say, “What Baudelaire realized [partly through study of Poe], however, was that the eye in the wall is a projection of the self.”

If you read or write poetry, you must own this book.

Larry Levis

[A middle fragment of a poem titled “The Letter” from Winter Stars by Larry Levis]

. . . If you want to know, I’m thinking
Of the widow with the wide eyes, Nona Laroche,
who’s dead now, & who for days after the fire,
Could still smell smoke on her clothes. . . .
Some great uncle, if the dead could shrug, & they
Can’t, would say: “They loved fast horses.”

Sometimes I almost believe her soul looks out
of the photograph, almost clears the sill
Of the eyes & comes near; though it does not ever
Move, it holds me while I look at it.
But even today, I can’t conceive of a soul
Without seeing a woman’s body. Specifically,
Yours, undoing the straps of an evening dress
In a convertible, & then lying back, your breasts
Holding that hint of dusk mixed with mint
And the emptiness of dusk. Someone put it
Crudely: to fuck is to know. If that is true,
There’s a corollary: the soul is a canary sent
Into the mines. The convertible is white, & parked
Beneath the black trees shading the river,
Mile after mile. Your dress is off by now,
And when you come, both above & below me,
When you vanish into that one cry which means
Your body is no longer quite your own
And when your face looks like a face stricken
From this world, a saint’s face, your eyes closing
On some final city made entirely
Of light, & only to be unmade by light
Again—at that moment I’m still watching
You—half out of reverence & half because
The scene is distant, like a landscape, & has
Nothing to do with me. Beneath the quiet
Of those trees, & that sky, I imagine
I’m simply a miner in a cave; I imagine the soul
Is something lighter than a girl’s ribbon
I witnessed, one afternoon, as it fell—blue,
Tossed, withered somehow, & singular, at
A friend’s wedding—& then into the river
And swirled away. Do I chip away with my hammer?
Do I, sometimes, sing or recite? Even though
I have to know, in such a darkness, all
The words by heart, I sing. And when I come,
My eyes are closed fast. I smile, under
The earth. They loved fast horses. And someone else
Will have to watch them, grazing on short tufts
Of spring grass beside the riverbank,
When we are gone, when we are light, & grass. . . .

I copied this fragment for Anne Haines, as she prepares to write about the body, and, I venture, the soul.

15 December 2005

Jean Follain, two translations


Dans l’assiete blanche
un peu ébréchée
on mange un morceau de viande saignante
la femme assoiffante
on ne la voit plus.
Sur la route bleue
puis qui devient rouge
de grand chiens passent
comme s’ils avaient
moyen d’exister
durant tous les temps
en portant collier à plaque de cuivre
au nom de leur maître
et sans peur de la nuit.

Meal (translated by W. S. Merwin)

From the white plate
somewhat chipped
a piece of bleeding meat is eaten
the wife who made throats run dry
is no more to be seen.
On the blue road
that turns red a bit later
big dogs pass
as though they had
some way of existing
in all seasons
wearing their master’s name
on their brass collars
and with no fear of night.

Meal (translated by Heather McHugh)

From the slightly chipped
white plate
you eat a piece of rare meat
you no longer see
the woman you thirst for.
On the blue road
which then becomes red
large dogs go by
as if they had
a way of surviving
to the end of time
by wearing collars with brass tags
in the name of their master
and not being afraid of the dark.

13 December 2005

What is art, now?

From Pembroke Magazine, Number 18, 1986: Gerald Bullis assays to paraphrase a segment of Tape for the Turn of the Year, a poem by A. R. Ammons:

my story is not a story—not a narrative of plot, of objective characterization, of theatrical incident—but an improvisatory meditation on how one accepts, or tries to accept, the death of the objective, heroic, guilt-accommodating universe. It is (in a way) a great story, at least in potentia, because it is the story we (meaning “I”) have to tell: that is, it is the only “story” I have to tell, so if it isn’t a great story I will, as if I were Sisyphus, suffer my lostness at home in the telling of it, more or less over and over again, alone; and if it is a great story, you may suffer it with me. It isn’t sequential because the apocalyptic universal stage (with a beginning, middle, and end) fell in. I am in the midst of the rotted shambles and, while I feel that I have a part (perhaps a major one), it isn’t in script, and there is no audience (which makes sense), and so I don’t know what to say, where to go. Yet I do feel that I should perform, if only for the weeds and other nonhuman flora and fauna, and that my performance should be undertaken with integrity and be truthful to some extent—it is impossible to say to what extent—to the ground of my beseeching, which is, all in all, pretty desolate. So my story stands still (yet: persistent) and stirs in itself (law of conservation of energy and matter: natural eurhythmy) like boiling water or hole of maggots. Sometimes when I’m not thinking the old nostalgias seem consistent with these natural miracles; but there isn’t much of that. The deus ex machina went the way of the stage. So what is there to do, to say? The objective stage—that grand mythic superstructure—is gone. Inner resolutions, countermotions, the dialectics of self (interiorized drama) remain: the means where by I may discover peace, may be brought home.

12 December 2005

Alan Michael Parker and friends

Tupelo Press has released a new anthology, The Imaginary Poets, edited by Alan Michael Parker.

In his introduction, Parker writes:

Translate a poem into English, offer a biography of the poet, and then write a short essay in which the poem, the poet, and the corpus are considered -- and make all of it up, without once indicating you have done so. Thus charged were the twenty-two contributors to this volume, who in response produced poems "translated" from eighteen languages including Dirja, Vietnamese, Yiddish, and even from Egyptian hieroglyphs, poems that may be read in the grand literary tradition of heteronyms and alter egos.

The book is marvelous, one astonishment after another. The works are funny, moving, revelatory. Here's the list of contributors:

Aliki Barnstone
Josh Bell
Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Martha Collins
Annie Finch
Judith Hall
Barbara Hamby
Jennifer Michael Hecht
Garrett Hongo
Andrew Hudgins
David Kirby
Maxine Kumin
Khaled Mattawa
D. A. Powell
Kevin Prufer
Anna Rabinowitz
Victoria Redel
David St. John
Mark Strand
Thom Ward
Rosanna Warren
Eleanor Wilner

In this holiday season, buy one copy of The Imaginary Poets for your favorite poet and another for yourself.

Ted Hughes

[from Ted Hughes: Selected Poems 1957 - 1994]

The Thought-Fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately at the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp and hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

11 December 2005

Carol Peters

Web Meme

          -- Google's responses to a search for "Carol needs"

Carol needs assessment information request
Carol needs the song “When Love is Gone”
Carol needs to do her job
Carol needs to be grounded in some very basic things
Carol needs to be developed for future advancement and should seek mentoring from Louise
For Carol the task is merely to recognize a need for information
Carol needs a confidence boost
Carol needs to shut up and let Chad explain
Carol needs the NFBF tax number
Carol needs to find local vendors in Jacksonville that will come
Carol needs our continued help
Carol needs your vote!
Carol, we need to assemble and carefully examine rocks
Carol is meeting the needs of children and young adults
Carol has needs (diary of submission) (not for the faint of heart)
Carol needs feedback from all library managers regarding staff training needs
Carol is well aware of the needs of families that are moving
Carol needs only two parts
A whole new episode of “Carol needs help with the computer!”
Carol needs no introduction
Carol may be the answer to all those needs
Carol talks about the need for storytelling as part of the human experience
Carol needs to see the distribution of mitochondria in cells
Carol will discuss your needs
Carol doesn’t necessarily need a doddering old Scrooge
Carol offers effective solutions
Carol needs a Biology Lesson
Carol needs a changing community
Carol can’t really say that you NEED a root canal in this tooth
Carol needs suggestions for the next meeting
Carol needs to get closer to the target
Carol needs help with a Texas question
Carol needs a cluster of aspens shoved up her ass
Carol needs a new refrigerator
Carol needs a bone marrow transplant
Carol sits handcuffed, needs your help
Carol’s laws need to work
Carol needs to update her website
Carol is not currently enrolled but thinks she needs to look at the option
All Carol needs is a glimmer of hope
Carol needs to learn what is important in this precious life
Carol needs to know that disasters of many kinds can strike right at home
Carol doesn’t need to be endorsed by well-connected top activists
Carol is currently certified at Journeyer level

Charles Simic

[from The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems by Charles Simic]

The Little Pins of Memory

There was a child’s Sunday suit
Pinned to a tailor’s dummy
In a dusty store window.
The store looked closed for years.

I lost my way there once
In a Sunday kind of quiet,
Sunday kind of afternoon light
on a street of red-brick tenements.

How do you like that?
I said to no one.
How do you like that?
I said it again today upon walking.

That street went on forever
And all along I could feel the pins
In my back, prickling
The dark and heavy cloth.

02 December 2005

W. D. Snodgrass

Chapter 3 of To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry carries the title "Disgracing Are Verse: Sense, Censors, Nonsense and Extrasensory Deception".

This is a VERY funny (and thought provoking) chapter. I will give you a taste, but you should buy the book for this chapter alone (the others are also good).

I. Codes, Hums and Puns

"Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge dock florist. Disc ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty rat hut, end fur disc raisin, pimple colder ladle rat rotten hut."

Who has so debauched our bedtime story? Everything's encoded into sounds we must decipher and reconstitute! Once we recognize, under this weird linguistic getup, our heroine's little cloak and pretty red hood, we -- like the "wicket woof" himself -- are likely to exclaim, "Wail, wail, wail . . . evanescent ladle rat rotten hut!"

Still, why crack our shins on such a verbal obstacle course? Why traril this phonetically corrupted child with her "burden barter and shirker car keys" through a "dock florist" of puns and echoes to her "groinmurder's cordage." We'll only find the "curl and bloat Thursday woof" is there already, wearing "err groinmurder's nut cup and gnat gun . . . curdle dope inner bet" and "disgracing is verse." And, while the child questions his disguise, why should we be trying to penetrate her linguistic camouflage? "O Grammar . . . Wart bag icy gut! A nervous sausage bag ice! . . . O Grammar, water bag noise! A nervous sore suture anomalous prognosis! . . . O Grammar, water bag mousey gut! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!" Finally, once the "woof" has "ceased pore ladle rat rotten hut and garbled erupt," what makes us whoop with delight at that stern cautionary moral: "Yonder nor surghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers"? . . .

The language of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut -- the "Anguish Languish" -- was devised by Professor Howard Chace for the disorientation of folk tales. . . .

Such pranks come natural to poets; their mission, after all, is to create language which means other -- preferably more -- than its everyday, dictionary denotation. For recreation, they mock not only artists they scorn, like Joyce Kilmer, but even -- perhaps especially -- those they admire. Kenneth Koch provided parodies of William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, even Shakespeare: "Tube heat or nog tube heat: data's congestion." At poets' parties, the favorite amusement has long been to render classics in improbable voices: W. C. Fields reciting "Lycidas," Groucho delivering "Prufrock" -- or, as noted earlier, to sing great poems to outrageous melodies.

01 December 2005

Alice Fulton

Everyone Knows the World Is Ending
by Alice Fulton

Everyone knows the world is ending.
Everyone always thought so, yet
here’s the world. Where fundamentalists flick slideshows
in darkened gyms, flash endtime mess-
ages of bliss, tribulation
through the trembling bleachers: Christ will come
by satellite TV, bearing millenial weather
before plagues of false prophets and real locusts
botch the cosmic climate—which ecologists predict
is already withering from the green-
house effect as fossil fuels seal in
the sun’s heat and acid rains
give lakes the cyanotic blues.

When talk turns this way, my mother speaks in memories,
each thought a focused mote in the apocalypse’s
iridescent fizz. She is trying to restore a world
to glory, but the facts shift with each telling
of her probable gospel. Some stories have been
trinkets in my mind since childhood, yet what clings is not
how she couldn’t go near the sink
for months without tears when her mother died,
or how she feared she wouldn’t get her own
beribboned kindergarten chair, but the grief
in the skull like radium
in lead, and the visible dumb love, like water
in crystal, at one with what holds it. The triumph

of worlds beyond words. Memory entices because ending is
its antonym. We’re here to learn
the earth by heart and everything is crying
mind me, mind me! Yet the brain selects and shimmers
to a hand on skin while numbing the constant
stroke of clothes. Thoughts frame and flash
before the dark snaps back: The dress with lace tiers
she adored and the girl with one just like it,
the night she woke to see my father
walk down the drive and the second she remembered
he had died. So long as we keep chanting the words
those worlds will live, but just
so long, so long, so long. Each instant waves
through our nature and is nothing.
But in the love, the grief, under and above
the mother tongue, a permanence
hums: the steady mysterious
the coherent starlight.

21 November 2005

Donald Britton

Winter Garden
          for Robert Dash

A permanent occasion
Knotted into the clouds: pink, then blue,
Like a baby holding its breath, or colorless

As the gush and pop of conversations
Under water. You feel handed from clasp to clasp,
A concert carried off by the applause.

Other times, half of you is torn
At the performated line and mailed away.
You want to say, "Today, the smithereens

Must fend for themselves,"
And know the ever-skating decimal's joy,
To count on thin ice

Growing thinner by degrees, taking its own
Sweet time and taking us with it,
To navigate magnetic zones in which

Intense ecstatic figures touch, like worlds,
But don't collide, it being their devotion
To depend on you to name for each

A proper sphere. "Today, I turn to silence;
Let the language do the talking."
X the Unknown and his laughable, loveable crew,

The tumbling balconies of one-of-us-is-a-robot-
And-it's-not-me waves
(Spanking a beach so empty

If you weren't around to trip me
Would I really fall?) and days
When the wind is a bridge across our power

To enumerate, to dig, to plant, to hold
And to communicate the twill-and-tweed-
Colored field's coldness

Toward our game of enticing it indoors,
As if we could erect a rival gate to the departure
Whose uniform destination can't surprise,

Is blind, speaks not,
When on those white and sudden afternoons
I take your eyes, and see the sun set twice.

[from Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms: 85 Leading Contemporary Poets Select and Comment on Their Poems, edited by David Lehman]

18 October 2005

Robert Hass

[from Field Guide by Robert Hass]


Amateurs, we gathered mushrooms
near shaggy eucalyptus groves
which smelled of camphor and the fog-soaked earth.
Chanterelles, puffballs, chicken-of-the-woods,
we cooked in wine or butter,
beaten eggs or sour cream,
half expecting to be
killed by a mistake. "Intense perspiration,"
you said late at night,
quoting the terrifying field guide
while we lay tangled in our sheets and heavy limbs,
"is the first symptom of attack."

Friends called our aromatic fungi
"liebestoads" and only ate the ones
that we most certainly survived.
Death shook us more than once
those days and floating back
it felt like life. Earth-wet, slithery,
we drifted toward the names of things.
Spore prints littered our table
like nervous stars. Rotting caps
gave off a musky smell of loam.

10 October 2005

A. R. Ammons

[from Brink Road by A. R. Ammons]


The crows during
warm fall spells
work their way up

whatever direction
the wind will be coming from
the next windy day

so they can bound downslope
cawing long surprises, dipping at
one another, folding their

wings and like splendid
trash skimming the woods:
when it’s gold and red

and windy and they fall out
of the north, the exhilaration

never to have been earned and they
seem to take the fall for
the only kind, the only one.

21 September 2005

for Ozzie

Evening Light
by Anthony Abbott

The trees undress slowly from the top.
Bare arms arc brownly into the sky. It is
sunset. Orange skirts swirl in an awful
dying light. The ground is littered gold.

I stop the scene with the shutter of my eye—
stop and hold and mark—this blue, these reds
and holding greens—those rusts upon the ground.
I stoop and pick and hold this one dry leaf.

It crumbles in my hand, and I see a picture
from the morning paper speak as if alive.
Five Turkish children killed by earthquake
lie upon the ground, seemingly asleep.

The mother screams above, mouth horror ravaged,
while in Kentucky and Ohio other mothers weep
into clean white handkerchiefs as taps are played
and flags are placed into their hollow laps.

Hats do not suffice. The time is never right.
Beauty is always almost gone. This dress, this
cock of the head, this touch, this curl of hair,
this graying beard, that look over the shoulder.

We are taken so suddenly, the breath goes
in white astonishment. If I had known is not
enough. Say it now. Say it now. Say it now.
Before the shutter clicks once more and closes.

11 September 2005

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moonrise June 19

I awoke in the midsummer not-to-call night, |
                in the white and the walk of the morning:
The móon dwíndled and thínned to the frínge |
                of a fíngernail héld to the cándle,
Or páring of páradisáïcal frúit, |
                lóvely in wáning but lústerless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, |
                of dark Maenefa the mountain;
A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, |
                entangled him, not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight, |
                unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, |
                eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

10 September 2005

Carol Bly

From Carol Bly’s Beyond the Writers’ Workshop:

Our efforts to think and feel beyond simple love of family or love of nature are a fragile enterprise! We will have to keep reminding ourselves of how this civilization, the stuff nonfiction writers [CP: poets and novelists, too] write about, works out cruelly for some, cruelly for all at some times, cruelly all their lives for still others.

Literary colleagues may assure us that such thinking will make us shrill. “I used to love your work so much,” they will say, “back when you just described how people are and you didn’t press for change.” Such friends and colleagues far prefer rereading Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to reading Three Guineas all through once. In Mrs. Dalloway the character Hugh Whitbread was still only an emerging shadow of a villain. He was still just one of Woolf’s aesthetic achievements—an interesting character vaguely benefiting, but only vaguely, from being a privileged player in “the system.” By the time she wrote Three Guineas, Woolf recognized the Hugh Whitbreads as the beneficiaries and manipulators of unethical entitlement because by then she had asked the question: “Who is the victim for whom this civilization doesn’t work out fairly? And now that I have shown you the victim, we had better ask who, exactly, is the predator?”

Of course, the Woolf of Three Guineas is less charming than the scrupulous but still merely sensuous novelist of Mrs. Dalloway. It is odd how easy and gratifying it is to think of men in ascot and waistcoat and striped morning pants, yet how awful it is to think of a major perpretrator of war and poeverty (not just to women—to everyone) in that same morning dress! We may wish that someone had not pointed it out to us that the villain often wears the correct school tie, but the pyschological fact is that once it has been pointed out to us we are pinned. We will look at Hugh Whitbread but see poor women’s buckets and dead soldiers’ heads and limbs on the beach.

Copyright 2001. Who in the world by the late date of 2001 found it “easy and gratifying . . . to think of men in ascot and waistcoat and striped morning pants”? I don’t even find it easy to think of women decking themselves out to attract men. That aside, Bly proceeds convincingly:

Once we . . . writers have asked either question, “Who is the victim for whom this civilization doesn’t work out fairly?” or “Who exactly is the predator?” we can never go back. We will never again equate a sojourn in the wilds with a spiritual journey. From then on, we will see the wilds wistfully, as someplace not yet intruded on and misused by our lot. Enjoying nature is from then on only escape.

09 September 2005

Robinson Jeffers

The Purse-Seine

Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark of the moon;
           daylight or moonlight
They could not tell where to spread the net, unable to see the
           phorphorescence of the shoals of fish.
They work northward from Monterey, coasting Santa Cruz; off
           New Year’s Point or off Pigeon Point
The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color light on the
           sea’s night-purple; he points, and the helmsman
Turns the dark prow, the motorboat circles the gleaming shoal
           and drifts out her seine-net. They close the circle
And purse the bottom of the net, then with great labor haul it in.

                                                                       I cannot tell you
How beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible, then, when the
           crowded fish
Know they are caught, and wildly beat from one wall to the
           other of their closing destiny the phosphorescent
Water to a pool of flame, each beautiful slender body sheeted
           with flame, like a live rocket
A comet’s tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside the
Floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up to watch,
           sighing in the dark; the vast walls of night
Stand erect to the stars.

                             Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light: how could
           I help but recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how beautiful
           the city appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together
           into interdependence; we have built the great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable
           of free survival, insulated
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all
           dependent. The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet they
           shine already. The inevitable mass-disasters
Will not come in our time nor in our children’s, but we and our
Must watch the net draw narrower, government take all powers
           —or revolutaion, and the new government
Take more than all, add to kept bodies kept souls—or anarchy,
           the mass disasters.

                                                 These things are Progress;
Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps
           its reason? Or it lets go, lets the mood flow
In the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria,
           splintered gleams, crackled laughter. But they are quite wrong.
There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that
           cultures decay, and life’s end is death.

                                                                                 - 1937

04 September 2005

My thanks to Steve for the link to this Peter Ackroyd interview occasioned by his new biography of Shakespeare. Ackroyd is one of my favorite writers, and if you've not read his novel Hawksmoor, you've missed a great great work.

30 August 2005

James Longenbach

My thanks to Dan Green for this link to an interview with the fine poet and essayist James Longenbach.

29 August 2005

Kevin Canty

Apparently some readers are tired of listening to Kevin Canty write about alcoholics and other failures, but not me. I have read and will continue to read anything from Canty because he’s an adult who writes of the impossibility of being an adult, of the need to let go, give up, fuck up, sometimes fatally. His characters drink and/or take drugs to help them through lunch, through the horror of five o’clock and all those ghastly hours until nightly oblivion. His characters also fall in love frequently, fast, and hard.

The new novel, Winslow in Love, is that same old thing, a grownup who can’t clean up his act. I felt so at home. I couldn’t put the book down. Canty captures the giving way so well, the speeding through the rotary in the rain on the borrowed motorcycle and realizing you can’t hold the line because you’re afraid to hold the line and that’s why you drop the bike, bang it and yourself up. No, Canty’s Winslow didn’t do that, I did. Before today, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted to anyone except myself that the failure was will, not skill, and my relief at crashing felt immense and pleasurable. I was playing too hard, exhausting myself with possibilities. I needed a hard stop, like a wet curb, and the consequences didn’t matter, or I chose to believe that. What’s amazing is that Canty draws such scenes as ironic arabesques right up to the real-life stop, the place where irony collapses into trauma and electric shock treatments, unemployment and divorce, straight chair and cheap whiskey in the unfurnished apartment.

Canty surprised me with this novel. At the end, I talked back to him, chastised him for tomfoolery, but my objections didn’t survive thinking them through. He knows what he’s doing, knows the amplitude of irony and hope, the humor of a Hallmark card. If you’re a functional adult, skip this book.

28 August 2005

more Lyn Hejinian

[From The Cell by Lyn Hejinian]

It is obstructive to be
           round against the lightness of
           the wall
A social encounter not seeming
           to happen as it will
Nations blossom and reward from
           the vines of latitude and
           the individual person swallows the
Where else would I find
           the space to read
Deliberately to keep the sensory
           and the world apart

The open sky is blue
           with storage, is waves receding
           violently through the trees
And for whom never to
Two people cannot be bare
           at the same time because
           they have to exchange visibility

You can listen to Lyn read some of her work by going to the ever marvy Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY-Buffalo.

this Sunday morning

my bones hang to
gether like pinched dragonflies
shake loose my skin

            -- Sonia Sanchez

24 August 2005

James Galvin

[from The Meadow by James Galvin]

When his arm was fully extended he moved his hand underneath the rock, still slow in the current, until he touched a fin slowly wavering like a gently fanning angel’s wing. In his mind he could see the beautifully speckled body as he moved his hand forward to the slick cold under the gills. He began to wave his hand gently from the wrist like a willow branch trailing the current. He stroked back along the sleek form toward the vent to see how big a fish he was rocking to sleep. It was fourteen inches or so, big for a native brookie, enough for a good breakfast.

He massaged softly, working his hand forward, and when his hand was behind the gills again he knew the fish was dead asleep. In one swift motion he grasped it and lifted it out of the water in a shower of gemlike drops that fell back into the creek, which was itself as full of light as it was of water. With a deft motion of his left hand he shoved the head up and back until he heard a definitive snap. He leapt back to the bank, his hand already reaching into his pocket for his clasp knife.

One cut, slick as a zipper, from vent to gills, revealed the inner mysteries. The second cut popped out a flap under the chin. He inserted his thumb and pulled, removing the lower fins, gills, and viscera. He threw them all in one piece back into the stream. It made a gulping sound where it went under. He slid his thumbnail down the bloodline in the spine, dunked the fish, closed his knife one-handed against his hip, and emerged from the willows, breakfast in hand.

If you don't know Galvin, he's a poet. This particular book is an homage, might be called a memoir, and prose only in that it's not lineated.

I am so baffled by this

Some days I think no one is home in the world. Should we volunteer to pay for abortions for these girls? Could we teach them why NOT to wear Paris Hilton skirts? Is this the final outcome of women's lib?

CANTON, Ohio -- According to a report in the Canton Repository, of the 490 female students at an Ohio high school, 65 are pregnant.

Timken High School officials were not sure why the pregnancy rate soared, but in response to them, the school planned to launch an educational program to address pregnancy, prevention and parenting, according to the report.

[CP: That's certainly going to help]

The newspaper also reported that students will face mounting tensions created by unplanned child-rearing responsibilities, causing students to quit school and plan for a GED, making it difficult for the Canton City School District to shake its Academic Watch designation by the state of Ohio.

[CP: mounting tensions, and wow, let's worry about that Academic Watch designation]

The high numbers come at a time when teen pregnancy rates across the nation are dropping.

According to the Canton Health Department, statistics through July show that 104 of the 586 babies born to Canton residents in Aultman Hospital and Mercy Medical Center had mothers between 11 and 19.

[CP: ELEVEN??????]

The newspaper reports that the non-Canton rate was 7 percent. Canton was 15 percent.

Muriel Rukeyser

Here's a poet I find difficult to quote. For one thing, she wrote many long poems. She also wrote sequences of related poems, e.g., "The Book of the Dead" in U. S. 1 (1938). Here are two poems from The Speed of Darkness (1968):

A Little Stone in the Middle of the Road, in Florida

My son as child saying
is anything, even a little stone in the middle of the road, in Florida.
Nancy, my friend, after long illness:
You know what can lift me up, take me right out of despair?
No, what?

From Word of Mouth

                      Sex of cactus and cypresses.
Tile-orange, green;      olive;      black.      The sea.
One man.      Beethoven radio.      War.
Threat of all life.      Within my belief's body.
Within my morning, music.      High colored mountain
along the seacoast
                                    where the swallows fly. . . .

Speeding back from the border.
                                    A rock came spinning up
cast from the wheels of a car.
                               Crackled the windshield glass.
Glitter before my eyes like a man made of snow
lying over the hood, blind white except for glints
an inch of sight where Languedoc shines through.

You on my one side, you on the other!
What I have is dazzle.      My son; my friend;
tell me this side and tell me that side,
news of the road near Agde.

Word from this side, word from the tree-side—
Spain at our back : agony : before me, glitter,
blinding my eyes, blind diamonds, one clear wound.

Something is flying out of the sky behind me.

Turning, stirring of dream, something is speeding,
something is overtaking.

Stirrings in prisons, on beds, the mouths of the young,
resist, dance, love.      It drives through the back of my head,
through my eyes and breasts and mouth.
I know a harvest : mass in the wine country.
A lifetime after, and still alive.

Something out of Spain, into the general light!
I drive blind white, trusting news of this side,
news of that side, all the time the line of the poem:
Amor, pena, desig, somni, dolor.
The grapes have become wine by the hand of man.
Sea risen from the sea, a bearded king.

The seaward cemetery risen from the sea
like a woman rising.


                                    Phases of sun.
The wine declared god by the hand of man.
                A rumor given me by this side and that side.
We drive in brilliant glitter, in jungle night, in distant war,
in all our cities, in a word, overtaking.


A cry received, gone past me into all men,
speaking, into all women.
           A man goes into the sea,
bearded fire and all things rise from this blaze of eyes,
living, it speaks, driving forth from Spain,

                                              somni, dolor,

These cliffs, these years.      Do we drive into light?
Driven, live, overtaken?

                               Amor, pena, desig.

20 August 2005

Matthea Harvey

[from Sad Little Breathing Machine by Matthea Harvey]

Address to an Absent Flea

Reading the sonnet the old way
was impossible once the period

started leaping about. Through
the magnifying glass you seemed

a gadget God, with a suitably
parasitical air. I am trying not

to let making too much of things
become a habit—I read too slowly

already. Little Itch-Ticket whose
menu has only one item on it,

I think it’s important to be specific.
I’ve never felt desire before.

I won’t believe that was accidental
syntax. If a pen were a turret to me

I too might wait, nest in a tapestry
& save my stories for some bloodless day,

but please come back from wherever
you’ve gone. There is so little left.

18 August 2005

if you're wondering where I am . . .

San Francisco Bay, stalking curlew.

13 August 2005

Margaret Atwood

No stories! No stories! Imagine a world without stories!
But that's exactly what you would have, if all the women were wise.
The Wise Virgins keep their lamps trimmed and filled with oil, and the bridegroom arrives, in the proper way, knocking at the front door, in time for his dinner;
no fuss, no muss, and also no story at all.
What can be told about the Wise Virgins, such bloodless paragons?
They bite their tongues, they watch their smart mouths, they sew their own clothing,
they achieve professional recognition, they do every right thing without effort.
Somehow they are insupportable; they have no narrative vices:
their wise smiles are too knowing, too knowing about us and our stupidities.
We suspect them of having mean hearts.
They are far too clever, not for their own good but for ours.

    - from Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood

A delicious book of what? Essays? Short fictions? Take this book seriously, while laughing aloud. It's about writing, women, the bottom line. Better than chocolate.

And while you're at it, read everything else she's read, starting with The Blind Assassin. So good I read it and then listened to it on tape.

11 August 2005

Re: dreams

[From The Cell by Lyn Hejinian]

Dreams are perfect—it’s illogical
            to think there could be
            mistakes anywhere in them
Nothing intended
Not unless you could say
            the psyche itself is a
But it’s natural that dreams
            don’t change enough—so a
            person repeats them to other
I pose a question and
            immediately the psyche pops up
Not something one would naturally
            name Patricia or Josh
Some nights I experience embarrassing
Wide and near, bare and
There’s entertainment in dreams without
            erudition in reality
Strongly competitive urges
Any immutable information is boring
A voice under the dream
            and reality develops
An invisible reality

                       November 4, 1986

10 August 2005

Mehmedinovic on Kent Johnson's poetry

Below is an exchange between Ammiel Alcalay and Semezdin Mehmedinovic (Bosnian poet, author of Sarajevo Blues; 1998, City Lights; Nine Alexandrias, 2003, City Lights; and numerous other books in Bosnian) about Kent Johnson's Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz; the text was translated from Bosnian into English by Ammiel Alcalay.

Mon. 08 August


I got the copy of Kent's book that you sent today? I read it immediately and was really struck by it: beautiful, humorous, very painful and intelligent. I haven't read anything this fresh in a long time: my hope would be that this poetry has some kind of serious effect or, barring that, that it at least bring back some primary faith in poetry. I'm happy that you're in some way present here; I had the feeling while I was reading the book that it was the direct result of your public work over the past ten years...



i'm going to ask you if I can quote you on this because there is a controversy raging on various poetry blogs now about kent's book and what you wrote here would be perfect...


That would make me very happy - by all means quote me if you think that it is well enough articulated; I think that Kent's book needs to be talked about as much as possible precisely because it is unsettling; it's unsettling to the less talented and less courageous (and that, unfortunately, includes about 90% of the poets in America). I was reading somewhere, that one of the mindless assertions (but today
typical) written on one of the blogs is that the war in Iraq (the one Kent's book is dealing with) is 'old news.' Well, that's a terrifying phrase, not just because the war is ongoing and even more horrendous measures are in preparation but because, let's say, Hiroshima then is old news and poetry shouldn't try to deal with it, as if poetry were some prime time TV show. What must be most unnerving for poets here is the freshness of Kent's book on all levels - on the formal and every other level, because it's alive, it's speaking of reality, while most American poets would still rather go on writing about anything and everything except themselves in the world they're in, and certainly not about things that are so unsettling; what's more, they've been writing about nothing so long, that they're not in any position to write about anything concrete; the freshness of Kent's book completely overshadows most of what's being written now and it doesn't at all surprise me that there would be negative reactions among "the poets." But this actually really saddens me. Because the book opens a dialog with serious problems that all of us on this planet are living with, while a reaction like that makes it seem as if all that is at stake here is cleansing relations between poets and their conscience. But now I'm telling you things you know a lot more about and better than I do. So, that's it, I just want to say that I'm not at all indifferent to what is going on, that the whole thing hits very close to home for me.


08 August 2005

Cormac McCarthy

Although I've read most of Cormac McCarthy's work, Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West somehow slipped by me, so I'm reading it now as a warm up to McCarthy's latest novel, No Country for Old Men, which I'll read next.

McCarthy writes about men as he believes they are underneath the pretense of civilization. Every time I read him, I'm shocked anew at the bleakness of his vision, not that mine is any less bleak. Here's a scrap of the meeting between the kid and Toadvine:

When he woke it was daylight and the rain had stopped and he was looking up into the face of a man with long hair who was completely covered in mud. The man was saying something to him.

What? said the kid.

I said are you quits?


Quits. Cause if you want some more of me you sure as hell goin to get it.

He looked at the sky. Very high, very small, a buzzard. He looked at the man. Is my neck broke? he said.

The man looked out over the lot and spat and looked at the boy again. Can you not get up?

I don’t know. I aint tried.

I never meant to break your neck.


I meant to kill ye.

They aint nobody done it yet. He clawed at the mud and pushed himself up. The man was sitting on the planks with his boots alongside him. They aint nothin wrong with you, he said.

The kid looked about stiffly at the day. Where’s my boots? he said.

The man squinted at him. Flakes of dried mud fell from his face.

I’m goin to have to kill some son of a bitch if they got my boots.

Yonder looks like one of em.

The kid labored off through the mud and fetched up one boot. He slogged about in the yard feeling likely lumps of mud.

This your knife? he said.

The man squinted at him. Looks like it, he said.

The kid pitched it to him and he bent and picked it up and wiped the huge blade on his trouserleg. Thought somebody’d done stole you, he told the knife.

The kid found his other boot and came and sat on the boards. His hands were huge with mud and he wiped one of them briefly at his knee and let it fall again.

They sat there side by side looking out across the barren lot. There was a picket fence at the edge of the lot and beyond the fence a boy was drawing water at a well and there were chickens in the yard there. A man came from the dramshop door down the walk toward the outhouse. He stopped where they sat and looked at them and then stepped off into the mud. After a while he came back and stepped off into the mud again and went around and on up the walk.

The kid looked at the man. His head was strangely narrow and his hair was plastered up with mud in a bizarre and primitive coiffure. On his forehead were burned the letters H T and lower and almost between the eyes the letter F and these markings were splayed and garish as if the iron had been left too long. When he turned to look at the kid the kid could see that he had no ears. He stood up and sheathed the knife and started up the walk with the boots in his hand and the kid rose and followed.

Halfway to the hotel the man stopped and looked out at the mud and then sat down on the planks and pulled on the boots mud and all. Then he rose and slogged off through the lot to pick something up.

I want you to look here, he said. At my goddamned hat.

You couldn’t tell what it was, something dead. He flapped it about and pulled it over his head and went on and the kid followed.

McCarthy is also a prose stylist whose gifts are rarely matched:

Now wolves had come to follow them, great pale lobos with yellow eyes that trotted neat of foot or squatted in the shimmering heat to watch them where they made their noon halt. Moving on again. Loping, sidling, ambling with their long noses to the ground. In the evening their eyes shifted and winked out there on the edge of the firelight and in the morning when the riders rode out in the cool dark they could hear the snarling and the pop of their mouths behind them as they sacked the camp for meatscraps.

The wagons drew so dry they slouched from side to side like dogs and the sand was grinding them away. The wheels shrank and the spokes reeled in their hubs and clattered like loom-shafts and at night they’d drive false spokes into the mortices and tie them down with strips of green hide and they’d drive wedges between the iron of the tires and the suncracked felloes. They wobbled on, the trace of their untrue labors like sidewinder tracks in the sand. The duledge pegs worked loose and dropped behind. Wheels began to break up.

[felloes: pieces of wood composing the rim of a wheel; duledge pegs: dowels joining the ends of the felloes that form the circle of a wheel]

07 August 2005

Carol Peters

       - to Robert Hass

I like blackberry
but not small shoulders
not small
no matter how true
listen how small objectifies
turns shoulders into a thing desired
all I want is desire

06 August 2005

an elegy by David St. John


Vivian St. John (1891-1974)

There is a train inside this iris:

You think I’m crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It’s a child’s finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child’s nail,

A darkened porthole lit by the white, angular face

Of an old woman, or perhaps the boy beside her in the stuffy,
Hot compartment. Her hair is silver, & sweeps

Back off her forehead, onto her cold & bruised shoulders.

The prairies fail along Chicago. Past the five
Lakes. Into the black woods of her New York; & as I bend

Close above the iris, I see the train

Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel
Of the garden path

Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor

Of elms, arched
Like the ceiling of a French railway pier where a boy

With pale curls holding

A fresh iris is waving goodbye to a grandmother, gazing
A long time

Into the flower, as if he were looking some great

Distance, or down an empty garden path & he believes a man
Is walking toward him, working

Dull shears in one hand; & now believe me: The train

Is gone. The old woman is dead, & the boy. The iris curls,
On its stalk, in the shade

Of those elms: Where something like the icy & bitter fragrance

In the wake of a woman who’s just swept past you on her way

& you remain.

05 August 2005


heavens, the poem that appeared here has been accepted by a literary journal, the poet is astonished.

E. E. Cummings

[as found in Mark Strand and Eavan Boland's The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms]

Tulips and Chimneys


the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also,with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps.      While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
. . . .the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

Ralph Angel

[from Neither World, 1995, by Ralph Angel]

Breaking Rhythm

And then the head is at odds with the body.

And then the head strangles your way of thinking.

But don't get me wrong. It's not
that I'm saying life's taking us nowhere,

if I'm not saying yes, I'm a liar, a liar who does not
dwell in the shadow of his own home—

kind of your average, respectable, two-bit junkie
          who thinks he knows what he’s after,
and what he’s after is nightmare. Concussive. Brutal.
          The unending
ritual of eluding detection rising up and taking
shape with flaring nostrils and enormous hands,

and if it just happens to be pain that he’s in right now,
well, at least, pain is who he is for a while.

No big deal. Out loud
the pulse quickens and, very loudly, prolongs itself.

Anger slams the door on a mettlesome friend of a friend,

and then I am boredom paying for groceries,
most happy when you chew on my chin
in luxurious sweat, in our sexual oil,

exhaustion on the subway back to the city. The fact is
I can only hear one part of myself at a time.

And it’s late. And I’m tired. And it sounds like
all or nothing. A fistful of thirst and a cup of hot tea,

the silence shame gathers into no boundary.

The robe. The pocketknife. The loaves of bread.
Mud on the carpets. The shatter of leaves.

The wonder, the wonder, the wonder.

04 August 2005

seeing a fox

People tell me fox live in these here woods, but I'd not seen one until this week when I saw a dead one lying next to the side of the road. A beautiful yellow pointy-nosed fox. Not what I needed.

Adrienne Rich understands about fox:

I needed fox        Badly I needed
a vixen for the long time none had come near me
I needed recognition from a
triangulated face        burnt-yellow eyes
fronting the long body the fierce and sacrificial tail
I needed history of fox        briars of legend it was said she had
        run through
I was in want of fox

And the truth of briars she had to have run through
I craved to feel on her pelt        if my hands could even slide
past or her body slide between them        sharp truth
        distressing surfaces of fur
lacerated skin calling legend to account
a vixen's courage in vixen terms

For a human animal to call for help
on another animal
is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth
come a long way down
Go back far enough it means tearing and torn        endless
        and sudden
back far enough it blurts
into the birth-yell of the yet-to-be human child
pushed out of a female        the yet-to-be woman


03 August 2005

Fleda Brown on Verse Daily

If you are not already in the habit of reading Verse Daily, today's featured poem by Fleda Brown would be a good reason to begin.

02 August 2005

Charles Olson

[from The New American Poetry: 1945-1960 edited by Donald Allen]

The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs

The lordly and isolate Satyrs—look at them come in
on the left side of the beach
like a motorcycle club! And the handsomest of them,
the one who has a woman, driving that snazzy
             Wow, did you ever see even in a museum
such a collection of boddisatvahs, the way
they come up to their stop, each of them
as though it was a rudder
the way they have to sit above it
and come to a stop on it, the monumental solidity
of themselves, the Easter Island
they make of the beach, the Red-headed Men

                                            These are the Androgynes,
the Fathers behind the father, the Great Halves

Or as that one was, inside his pants, the Yiddish poet
a vegetarian. Or another—all in his mouth—a snarl
of the Sources. Or the one I loved most, who once,
once only, let go the pain, the night he got drunk,
and I put him to bed, and he said, Bad blood.

             Or the one who cracks and doesn’t know
that what he thinks are a thousand questions are suddenly
a thousand lumps thrown up where the cloaca
again has burst: one looks into the face and exactly as suddenly
it isn’t the large eyes and nose but the ridiculously small mouth
which you are looking down as one end of
                                                  —as the Snarled Man
is a monocyte.

             Hail the ambiguous Fathers, and look closely
at them, they are the unadmitted, the club of Themselves,
weary riders, but who sit upon the landscape as the Great
Stones. And only have fun among themselves. They are
the lonely ones

             Hail them, and watch out. The rest of us,
on the beach as we had previously known it, did not know
there was this left side. As they came riding in from the sea
—we did not notice them until they were already creating
the beach we had not known was there—but we assume
they came in from the sea. We assume that. We don’t know.

             In any case the whole sea was now a hemisphere,
and our eyes like half a fly’s, we saw twice as much. Every-
thing opened, even if the newcomers just sat, didn’t,
for an instant, pay us any attention. We were as we had been,
in that respect. We were as usual, the children were being fed pop
and potato chips, and everyone was sprawled as people are
on a beach. Something had happened but the change
wasn’t at all evident. A few drops of rain
would have made more of a disturbance.

             There we were. They, in occupation of the whole view
in front of us and off to the left where we were not used to look.
And we, watching them pant from their exertions, and talk to each
the one in the convertible the only one who seemed to be circulating.
And he was dressed in magnificent clothes, and the woman with him
a dazzling blond, the new dye making her hair a delicious
streaked ash. She was as distant as the others. She sat in her flesh

             These are our counterparts, the unknown ones.

They are here. We do not look upon them as invaders. Dimensionally

they are larger than we are—all but the woman. But we are not

small. We are as we are. We don’t even move, on the beach.

             It is a stasis. Across nothing at all we stare at them.
We can see what they are. They don’t notice us. They have merely
and suddenly moved in. They occupy our view. They are between us
and the ocean. And they have given us a whole new half of beach.

             As of this moment, there is nothing else to report.
It is Easter Island transplanted to us. With the sun, and a warm
summer day, and sails out on the harbor they’re here, the Con-
temporaries. They have come in.

             Except for the stirring of the leader, they are still
catching their breath. They are almost like scooters the way
they sit there, up a little, on their thing. It is as though
the extra effort of it tired them the most. Yet that just there
was where their weight and separateness—their immensities—
lay. Why they seem like boddisatvahs. The only thing one noticed
is the way their face breaks when they call across to each other.
Or actually speak quite quietly, not wasting breath. But the face
loses all containment, they are fifteen year old boys at the moment
they speak to each other. They are not gods. They are not even
They are doubles. They are only Source. When they act like us
they go to pieces. One notices then that their skin
is only creased like red-neck farmers. And that they are all
freckled. The red-headed people have the hardest time
to possess themselves. Is it because they were over-
fired? Or why—even to their beautiful women—do the red ones
have only that half of the weight?

             We look at them, and begin to know. We begin to see
who they are. We see why they are satyrs, and why one half
of the beach was unknown to us. And now that it is known,
now that the beach goes all the way to the headland we thought
we were huddling ourselves up against, it turns out it is the
same. It is beach. The Visitors—Resters—who, by being there,
made manifest what we had not known—that the beach fronted wholly
to the sea—have only done that, completed the beach.

                                                  The difference is
we are more on it. The beauty of the white of the sun’s light, the
blue the water is, and the sky, the movement on the painted lands-
cape, the boy-town the scene was, is now pierced with angels and
with fire. And winter’s ice shall be as brilliant in its time as
life truly is, as Nature is only the offerer, and it is we
who look to see what the beauty is.

                                            These visitors, now stirring
to advance, to go on wherever they do go restlessly never completing
their tour, going off on their motorcycles, each alone except for
the handsome one, isolate huge creatures wearing down nothing as
they go, their huge third leg like carborundum, only the vault
of their being taking rest, the awkward boddhas

                                                  We stay. And watch them
gather themselves up. We have no feeling except love. They are not
ours. They are of another name. These are what the gods are. They
look like us. They are only in all parts larger. But the size is
only different. The difference is, they are not here, they are not
on this beach in this sun which, tomorrow, when we come to swim,
will be another summer day. They can’t talk to us. We have no desire
to stop them any more than, as they made their camp, only possibly
the woman in the convertible one might have wanted to be familiar
with. The Leader was too much as they.

                                            They go. And the day

- 1956

01 August 2005

The tall camels of the spirit . . .

I need Richard Wilbur most days.

Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days

I've read three superb novels in the past three months:

- The Master by Colm Toibin
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
- Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

The third I read this weekend because I found it on the New Books shelf at the Southern Pines Public Library and I couldn't resist. Funny how I'm not willing to buy a novel on a whim. Could it be because the blurbs are fake, the reviewers compromised by ego and paychecks, the publishers depraved? With novels I want to know they're great before I commit to putting the book on my shelf, and if they're great, I'll buy them and read them again for all the things I loved and all the things I missed. For example, one reviewer of says that the simulo called Marcus in the third story of Specimen Days has an Emily Dickinson poetry chip. I missed that and will be heading back to find it.

I've read all of Cunningham's novels. I even read The Hours twice because I hated it so much the first time, then listened to friends rave, and once I set Woolf aside and promised her she was not being diminished by the ostensible homage, I was able to appreciate the work. My favorite remains Home at the End of the World and this morning, Specimen Days is running second.

Since so many reviewers spoke slightingly of Specimen Days, I went back to learn what they didn't like. One said the third section "strains credibility." Thank heavens. If I wanted realism, I'd watch television. A few seemed bothered by their ability to figure out what Cunningham was doing, i.e., a novel composed of three separate stories linked in what one reviewer called "mysterious and significant" ways. One reviewer claimed that Cunningham was uncomfortable with Whitman. Another wished the Whitman quotes had been omitted. Reviewers paid by the word reduced the stories to plot points so that the cocktail-party goer wouldn't have to read the book at all to form an opinion, which is only one reason I barely skim reviews until after I've read the book.

I'm glad I read Specimen Days because I can't stop thinking about it. Cunningham is a prose stylist of such skill. He creates characters I fall in love with, here Lucas and Cat and the nameless boy and Simon and Catareen. He creates characters I can pity and despise and also long for like Cat's whitebread boyfriend. He creates expectations and turns them upside down: why Catareen is so green. Cunningham's story lines are rich, alive, compelling. I fall completely into his imaginary world, and when I reread, I try to figure out how he made it happen so smoothly. He can quote Whitman (or Dickinson or Woolf) to me any time he wants. I was fascinated by Cunningham's decisions of which Whitman to use where, which Whitman to quote over and over.

More than anything though, Cunningham has written here about apocalypse, about the collapse of American society, and by implication, the collapse of human society, the opposite of what Whitman wanted to believe possible. He writes movingly of the small lives of people in the midst of it, people who cannot affect anything beyond themselves but who can try to live short moments of their own lives with sincerity.

For you craft freaks, study Cunningham's narration of the first story. He sets himself in a close third person of a twelve-year-old boy who is not "normal." Every narrative paragraph is a minor triumph. Here's one that takes place while Lucas is walking Catherine home after Simon's wake:

She [Catherine] glanced at a place just above Lucas's head and settled herself, a small shifting within her dark dress. It seemed for a moment as if her dress, with its high collar, its whisper of hidden silk, had a separate life. It seemed as if Catherine, having briefly considered rising up out of her dress, had decided instead to remain, to give herself back to her clothes.

The first sentence is pure narrator. The second begins to slip into Lucas's perception of Catherine. The third is pure Lucas.

Okay, I found Marcus speaking Emily. "Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me." The simulos can't help quoting their poets because of their poetry chips. We all need poetry chips. Could I be James Merrill today?

31 July 2005

fox squirrel

One morning I was out riding in the dark and I saw three animals on the cart path ahead of me. I slid off my bicycle and rushed to see them, but the darkness and their swift tree climbing frustrated any closer view. I thought they must be small raccoons. Yesterday I saw the same animal perched on the back of a bench in a yard. Long tail. Black mask of a face. Far too small to be a raccoon, but not a fox or a beaver. Marmot? Wrong state. A few minutes later I met a man who introduced me to the idea of a fox squirrel. This is a beautiful animal.

30 July 2005

Muriel Rukeyser

I’ve been reading Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, originally published in 1949. Some of it I connected to strongly. Other sections seemed dated, or maybe I was being a bad reader. I'm left feeling I should read it all again. Here are some bits I copied down.

A poem invites you to feel. . . . it invites you to respond . . . a poem invites a total response . . . the way is through emotion

in great poetry you feel a source speaking to another source

[Rukeyser quoting Melville] “the man who . . . declares himself a sovereign nature (in himself) . . . may perish; but so long as he exists he insists on treating with all powers upon an equal basis. If any of those other Powers choose to withhold certain secrets, let them; that does not impair my sovereignty in myself; that does not make me tributary. And perhaps, after all, there is no secret.”

The history of a symbol . . . will show the history of human passion for a relationship—in this instance between growth and form.

the rule of perfection or death does not hold in organic life

“I find this poem obscure” tells us about the audience, nothing about the poem

Is the challenger prepared to receive the poem? This is the value of finding a teacher and peers who will listen for the poem—listen for and to the poem.

not being prepared to receive the poem is another way of disowning imaginative experience

Originality is important before the accord is reached; it is the most vivid of the means in a poem, and the daring of the image allows the reader to put off his emotional burden of association with the single words, allows him to come fresh to memory and to discovery. But when the whole poem has taken its effect—even its first effect—then the originality is absorbed into a sense of order, and order then becomes the important factor.

We know that the poetic strategy, if one may call it that, consists in leading the memory of an unknown witness, by means of rhythm and meaning and image and coursing sound and always-unfinished symbol, until in a blaze of discovery and love, the poem is taken.

I think there is choice possible at any moment to us, as long as we live. But there is no sacrifice. There is a choice, and the rest falls away. Second choice does not exist. Beware of those who talk about sacrifice.

I’m moving now to her collected poems.